The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 5

The pagan Paralios has been flirting with Christianity, and talking with his Christian brother Athanasius and the latter’s friend Stephen, who are based at the monastery at Enaton.  He’s gone to the pagan oracle at Menouthis, demanding some answers, and has been snubbed.  So he got angry and went back to Alexandria.  There he started jeering at the pagan students in the school, and has been beaten up.  He has just fled for help to some Christian students, while shouting that he wants to become a Christian.  The pagans have told them not to interfere, this isn’t a pagan-Christian dispute, but a settling of scores with an enemy of theirs.  Now read on!

We had great difficulty, because of some trouble-makers, in pulling Paralios out of these murderous hands. We took him immediately to the monks at the place named Enaton. We showed them the bruises he had received for the Christian religion, informed them how much he had suffered unjustly because he had condemned the error of the pagans, and told them that he had offered to Christ, as a beautiful beginning, the sufferings that he had endured for him.  Immediately the great Salomon (the Superior of the illustrious Athanasius and Stephen) took the monks with him, went to Alexandria, and make known what had happened to Peter [Mongus], who at that time was the Patriarch of God.  Peter was a very capable man and of an ardent piety.  He stirred up against the pagans the majority of the important people of the town, among them the sophist Aphthonius, who was a Christian, and who had many pupils.  Aphthonius told the young men who were taking his course to go with us and help us.  We all decided to go together and denounce the murderous pagans to the bishop Peter.  He added [to our number] his archdeacon and protonotary, which is called in Latin the “primicerius”, and sent us to Entrichius, who at that time was prefect (ὕπαρχος) of Egypt.  Entrichius was a secret follower of the pagans, and the assessor, that he had as Symponos, openly indulged in the cult of the pagan demons.  The latter began to insult us, then he expelled the mass of young people and ordered that only a small number should set forth the matter.  After the pupils of Aphthonius left, there were five of us left: Paralios who, before baptism, had become a confessor; the illustrious Menas whom I mentioned earlier; Zenodotus of Mytilene, a town of Lesbos; Demetrius of Suulmone (?), all four most ardent champions of the faith of God.  Following them, I was there as the fifth.  When the prefect was advised of the gravity of the matter, he ordered that one of us, whichever wanted to do it, should draw up a formal indictment, as seemed good to him.  Paralios then wrote, and accused certain people of having offered pagan sacrifices, and having fallen upon him like brigands.

The prefect ordered the accused to appear before him.  When, from the members of the clergy and the laity, the Philoponoi learned of the affront given to those who had competed in their zeal for good, they learned of the sacrifices and the pagan practices that some had dared to carry out.  They suddenly rose up against the important people and attacked with violence the prefect’s assessor, shouting, “It’s wrong that someone who is a pagan should be a government assessor, and take part in the business of government, because the laws and edits of the autocratic emperors forbid it.”   The prefect had difficulty in rescuing his assessor when he tried.  Us he ordered to keep quiet.  Therefore the whole people rose up against the pagans.  Indeed those who were accused fled, starting with Horapollon, who was the reason why all the pagans were being persecuted.  The prefect, in his love for them, had not disturbed them.

It’s a melancholy, but clearly accurate and contemporary, depiction of intolerance and religious persecution and systematic discrimination.  The pagans are allowed to go on quietly, but are at the mercy of any scumbag who starts shouting and playing the “religion card” to get his own way in some dispute, and their lives and property are constantly at risk.  The patriarch quickly saw a way to exploit the situation to increase his own power and influence, and incited mob violence.

The next section of the Life of Severus of Antioch — who has hardly been mentioned so far! — deals with the vengeance of the mob and the sacking of the shrine of Isis at Menouthis.  This I translated earlier.

2 thoughts on “The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 5

  1. Yes, they definitely seem to go over the edge of “complaining about breaking the peace” and head straight for “scream and beat people up,” in the best Alexandrian mob style. But there’s no particular reason to doubt that the pagans were also doing a mob thing.

    I seriously wonder about the Alexandrians. I mean, the whole Roman world did mobs, but Alexandrians seem to have done them every weekday ending in -y.

  2. I’m a convert myself, so I know about the uncertainty. I’m not altogether convinced about our Paralios, as some of my comments have made clear. Probably he was sincere, but he may well have had his conversion precipitated for him by the attack.

    You’re right about the mob. Indeed this bit of it is terribly familiar. It’s very like the mob violence in Hypatia’s time; indeed it’s like the mob violence in Ptolemaic times! Something about Alexandria, indeed.

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