The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 3

From the Life of Severus of Antioch (6th c. AD), as written by Zacharias Rhetor:

Shortly afterwards occurred the events relating to Paralios and Horapollon the grammarian, from which we learn that he [Severus] who has been slandered, contrary to the divine laws, is innocent of the slanders of his infamous slanderer.  Here’s what was the origin of these events.

Paralios was from Aphrodisias, which is the metropolis of Caria.  He had three brothers, two of whom were engaged in idolatry and appeased the evil demons by invocations, sacrifices, incantations and by the arts of magicians; and the third, Athanasius, a man of God, had embraced the monastic life at Alexandria, in the convent called Enaton, at the same time as the illustrious Stephen.

After his early education, during which he studied civil law in Phoenicia, Athanasius went to Alexandria on business.  There he met Stephen, who I have just mentioned, who since childhood had been animated with an ardent piety and was exercising the functions of a sophist, i.e. a teacher, and he saw fit to reject, along with him, the pointless hopes of the bar.  As by a sign from God, each of them received the yoke of the true philosophy from the hand of the great Salomon, at this period the superior of those who cultivated philosophy in the convent in question.  He was a man of sound mind who was distinguished by the virtues of the monastic life.

Paralios, after being raised as a pagan in his own country by his two other brothers, went to Alexandria with the desire to learn grammar.  Before his departure, his brothers had strongly recommended him not to to speak a word to the aforementioned Athanasius.  So he went to the grammarian Horapollon.  The latter knew his art in a remarkable way, and his teaching was praiseworthy; but he was of the pagan religion, and full of admiration for demons and magic.  In engaging with Horapollon, the paganism of Paralios deepened further; along with his master, he was determined to offer sacrifices to idols.  At length Paralios, overcome by natural feelings, burned with the desire to finally see his brother Athanasius.  So he went to the monastery of Salomon, and was captivated by the holy pair, Stephen and Athanasius.  With the help of God’s spirit they easily overcame the numerous pagan objections and questions which they heard Paralios make.

Stephen was indeed very wise, and well aware of both the divine teachings and of encyclopediac knowledge.  After reading numerous treatises by the doctors of the church, who combatted the pagans, he had received from God the grace to triumph over them entirely, talking with them; and his zeal for religion made him seem like the great Elijah.  So he refuted the sophistical objections that the pagans made to the Christians, and then he retorted on Paralios the sleaziness of the pagans, the infamous mysteries of their gods, the lying oracles of polytheism, the obscure and shifty responses of their gods, their ignorance of the future, and other demonic deceptions.  He persuaded Paralios to submit some doubts of this kind to Horapollon, Heraiskus, Asclepiodotus, Ammonius, Isidore, and to the other philosophers who were with them; and then to weigh in a just balance what was said on both sides.  For many days Paralios had conversations on this subject with the pagans, and he found their responses feeble and unfounded.  He then produced a fact which deserves to be remembered and written down.

Asclepiodotus of Alexandria, who was involved with enchantments, practiced magic, made demoniac invocations, and who had thus commanded the admiration of the pagans for his philosophy, had agreed with his namesake (= Asclepiodotus), who at that time boasted of honours and dignities given to him by the king, and who held the first place in the senate of Aphrodisias, to give him his daughter in marriage.  He lived a long time in Caria with his wife, and wished to have children.  But his wish was not fulfilled, God inflicting on him as punishment, because he was involved with the evil practices of magic, the loss of his children and the sterility of his wife.  Since his father-in-law was  upset that his daughter had no children, our philosopher imagined an oracle (or perhaps he was tricked by the demon represented by Isis), according to which the goddess promised him children, if he went with his wife into the temple which this goddess had at Menouthis, a village fourteen miles from Alexandria, and near to the [locality] called Canopus.  So he persuaded his father-in-law to allow him to take his wife and go with her to this place.  He had promised his father-in-law to return home with his wife and the child she would have, but Asclepiodotus (of Alexandria) went to Alexandria, having deceived his namesake (= Asclepiodotus of Caria).

He stayed at Menouthis for some time, and offered a considerable number of sacrifices to demons.  But this achieved nothing.  The sterility of his wife persisted there too.  Having believed that he had seen Isis lying next to him, he heard those,  who interpreted dreams there, and who served the demon represented by Isis, say that he must join himself to the idol of the goddess, and then join himself with his wife; thus a child would be born to him.  Our philosopher believed this pretty crude deception, as the priest who had advised him from the start came back again, and he joined himself to the stone which represented Isis, and then, after the stone, to his wife.

Despite this, she remained sterile.  Then the priest advised him to go with only his wife to the village of Astu, to remain there some time, and then to take as his child one who had been born from the priestess, a compatriot of his, a short time earlier.  Because the gods and the fates, he said extravagantly, wanted him to do so.  Asclepiodotus likewise followed this advice, went with his wife, without anyone else accompanying them, to the mother of this child.  He gave her a certain amount of money, and took her child.  Then he returned to Alexandria, boasting that a sterile woman had given birth after all this time.  In consequence all those who were involved in the folly of the pagans boasted greatly about this fable, as if it was true, and praised Isis, and Menouthis, the village of the goddess, where someone doing a good deed had buried the temple of Isis under the sand, to the point where not a trace of it could be seen.

Fascinating stuff!


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