Texts of the “Life” of St George

When I came to look at St George, my intention was to arrange for the translation of one or two versions of his Life.  What I had not anticipated was to find a mess, where there is still basic scholarly work to do in identifying and classifying versions of the Lives.  Originally I had hoped to list all the texts which contained versions of the martyrdom of St George; or at least the earliest ones.  But this quickly proved futile.  So here is what I was able to work out.


The relationships of the various Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic texts are dealt with in great detail by John E. Matzke, “Contributions to the history of the legend of St George”, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 17,1902, 464-535.[1] Each version of the legend is summarised; and better still, the characteristics of each strand of the tradition are listed.  But Matzke’s splendid article hardly touches on the Greek texts at all.

For the Greek, our main source of texts is K. Krumbacher, Der heilige Georg in der griechischen Überlieferung, 1908, online at Archive.org here, and in high-resolution at the BSB here.  These I list below, indicating page number as K1, K3, etc.  Krumbacher also discussed his texts, and was well aware of many more texts, as his discussion section makes clear.

Some texts are also printed in the Acta Sanctorum, in April volume 3, under 23rd April, the Saint’s Feast Day, and Krumbacher discusses which these are in his list of “Hilfs” texts.  His conclusion section is well worth reading, but he avoids going into the Latin texts.

Huber also prints some Latin texts.[2]

None of the early versions have ever been translated into any modern language, apparently.

Here’s what I can usefully glean.

The Apocryphal Text (O)

The oldest version of the Life of St George is known as the apocryphal version, or O.  The author is given as a certain Passicras, or Passicrates.  This version has reached us as follows:

  • The Latin “Codex Gallicanus” (G).  Passio Auct. Pseudo-Passecrate. BHL 3363.  This is in the Bollandists own library in Brussels, under the shelfmark “23. bibl. 1 Bollandiana 23 Bruz 1 (1842)”[3], and belongs to the second half of the 9th century.  Walter suggests that this is the oldest version of the story,[4] supposedly by a certain Passecrates. – Text: W. Arndt, in: Berichte über die Verhandlungen der kön. Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, philol.-hist. Classe, XXVI (1874), 49-70.  Online here.  Excerpts in the Acta Sanctorum, April vol. 3, p.101, n. 4, 5.  I have asked a translator to have a look at this.
  • The Latin Codex Sangallensis (Sg), Saint-Gall 550, 9th century.  This seems to be derived from the same Greek exemplar as G. – Text: Zarnacke, Berichte über die Verhandlungen der königlich sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, 17, 1875, p.265-277. Online here (but several vols bound together starting with 13 so be careful!).[5]
  • The Greek Vienna Palimpsest, “Pal.” (Krum. p.1).  Cod. Vindobon. lat. 954.  5th century.  Discovered by Detlefsen.[6]  This is part of the Greek version from which G and Sg derive.

Four more Greek versions of the apocryphal legend are given by Krumbacher, who says that these provide the full Greek text of the apocryphal text.  Prior to Krumbacher these were unknown.  They relate closely to the Gallicanus text.

  • Athens version (K. p.3).  Cod. Athen. 422, paper, 1546 AD, f. 277v-291r.
  • Venice version (K. p.16).  Codex Marcianus gr. II 160 fol. 150r-172r.
  • Paris version (K. 18).  Codex Paris gr. 770, parchment AD1315, fol. 59r-72r.
  • Vienna mixed text (K.30).  Codex Vindobonensis theol. gr. 123, 13th century, fol. 37v-43v.

The Coptic versions are also based on the Apocryphal text.[7]  So are the Syriac versions; but they have been revised in the same way as the normal text (but independently), to remove discreditable material.[8]  The Arabic version is also based on the apocryphal text. There are also Ethiopic versions (a late translation from Arabic[9]), Armenian, Old Slavonic, and Sogdian[10] (translated from Syriac), Georgian, and Nubian versions (these close to the Athens form of the Greek)[11] and probably more.

The Normal Text

Most of the articles tell us that this was produced by removing the most outlandish versions of the earlier apocryphal text.

  • The normal text is printed by K. p.41, from two mss.,  Cod. Vatic. 1660[12] (AD 916), fol. 272r-288r (=V) + Cod. Paris 499 (11th c.), fol. 289v-300r. (=P).

Krumbacher also prints an interpolated form of the normal text.

  • The interpolated standard text (K.51).  Cod. Paris. gr. 1534 (11th c.) fol. 107v-124v.

Further Greek texts are given by Krumbacher, each a representative of a large collection of orations, encomiums, etc.  None of these are of any interest here, however.

  • Rhetorical reworking by Theodoros Daphnopates (K. 59)
  • Eulogy: The homily of Arcadius of Cyprus (K. 78)
  • Eulogy: The encomium of Theodoros Quaestor (K. 81)
  • 3 songs, two by Romanus the Melodist (K. 84)
  • The story of the illegitimate birth of St. George (K.103)

The edition of the legend by Symeon Metaphrastes (BHG 676) does exist in print, not by Krumbacher, curiously, but in the Acta Sanctorum, April III. 7-12, printed at the end of the volume.[13]  It is also reprinted in the PG 115, cols. 141-161.

How any of the Latin or other texts relate to the Normal text is unknown to me.

For further research

Krumbacher also lists a mass of Greek manuscripts containing the legend of St George.  The BHG gives a bunch more Greek texts. The BHL gives a mass of Latin texts.  How all these relate to the Greek, or each other, I do not know. Krumbacher chapter 3 discusses the genealogy of the Greek texts.

It may be the limits of my German, I have been unable to find any article that indicates the relationships between all this material in Greek and Latin.  What is needed is a list of them all, in spreadsheet format, with incipit, shelfmark, BHL/BHG/AASS reference, date, and relationship to each strand of the tradition, using the characteristics identified by Matzke.

Does anyone care to undertake such a task?

A final thought, sent in by a correspondent:

I have only just begun looking into hagiography and it seems to me that there are very few “academic” translations. Rather, as there are usually several recensions/version of an hagiography floating around, academics provide summaries.  This seems fair, because it would be a very expensive exercise to translate each recension for little added value. Those hagiographies which are still used for liturgical purposes would have long been translated into their appropriate liturgical language. This is just my own observation. Those who work in the field would be better placed to comment.

  1. [1]Online at JSTOR, JSTOR.
  2. [2]Huber, “Zur Georgslegende”, In: Festschrift zum XII. Allgemeinen Deutschen Neuphilologentage in München, Pfingsten 1906, 175-235. Online here.
  3. [3]Matzke, p.466.
  4. [4]Walter, p.111.
  5. [5]List of volumes here; don’t get confused by the similarly-named series.
  6. [6]D. Detlefsen, “Über einen griechischen Palimpsest der k. k. Hofbibliothek mit Bruchstücken einer Legende vom heiligen Georg”, Vienna, 1858. Online here.
  7. [7]So Matzke p.466, Krumbacher, p.xviii.  Printed in E. W. Budge, The Martyrdom and Miracles of Saint George of Cappadocia. The Coptic text edited with an English translation, London, 1885.
  8. [8]Printed with English translation in E.W.Brooks, “Acts of St George”, in: Le Museon 38 (1925).  Online in v poor quality here.
  9. [9]So Krumbacher, p.xviii.
  10. [10]Hansen, “Berliner sogdische Texte II”; Benveniste, “Fragments des Actes de Saint Georges en version sogdienne”, JA, 1943-5, 91-116. See E. Yarshater, The Cambridge History of Iran: Seleucid Parthian, p.1226.
  11. [11]Gerald M. Browne, The Old Nubian Martyrdom of St George, CSCO 575, 1998.  Preview here.
  12. [12]Not 166, as in Walters.
  13. [13]If you get the PDF from here, it’s on p.1062 of the PDF.  But this is the original edition; the Paris reprint would probably be more readable.

Broken noses, crosses on the forehead – the fate of statues at the end of antiquity

I saw today a truly remarkable statement which I thought that I would share with you.

From the sixth century BC through the fourth century AD, sculpture had been created and destroyed, stolen and repositioned, but always prominently displayed and used in the context of Corinthian religion, economic activity, and urban life. Yet from about the fifth century, creation of new work dropped off rapidly, preceded by a decline in technical ability and availability of raw materials, and closely followed by the defacement and then destruction of most of what existed in public and private contexts. Between the fifth and tenth centuries, the only new sculpture created at Corinth was in the form of architectural members or Christian reliefs for church decoration, while ancient sculpture of “pagan” or “secular” significance alike was steadily marked with crosses, defaced, cut up, reused, or melted down. This new attitude to sculpture was a fundamental change of Late Antiquity, as individually and collectively people both ceased to create new sculpture, and undertook the actual physical destruction of most of what existed.

This late antique change in attitude to sculpture happened all across the Roman Empire, and led both individuals and groups to behave toward the sculpted environment in new and hostile ways.[1]

This astonished me.  Suddenly statues were hardly erected, except perhaps for a few official ones.  Even these might well have a Chi-Rho on the top of the head, out of sight but “making the statue safe”.

The destruction of statues by smashing the nose (or more) is well-known to us.  Indeed it continued into early modern times, much to the mortification of excavators in 1901 where a workman, uncovering a small head of Aphrodite, promptly “battered the head”!  This apparently happened “frequently” in early modern Greece.[2]

There is also the practice of “cross marking”.  Greek crosses, with even sized members, tend to indicate post-Late Antiquity damage.   But this is relatively rare, compared to the quantity of sculpture that survives.

I found a number of examples at an anti-Christian hate site here.  Brown’s paper references a number of the items, which reinforces the point about rarity.

First a head of Aphrodite from the Agora at Athens, with crosses on forehead and chin.

Next, a statue of Germanicus:

A statue of Livia:

A statue of Augustus, from Ephesus, in the Ephesus Museum:

Also from Ephesus but unidentified:

A final one from “Turkey”:

All of these, note, are of people, not of deities.

Why smash the nose?  I believe the answer to this may be found in hagiographical literature, where statues may be possessed by demons, or else talismans for magical purposes.  There is a chain of references to follow, in order to get to the primary sources, but this is for another day.

But I incidentally came across a Jewish source, the Mishna, discussing how to nullify an idol:

“How does one nullify it?”

[If | he has cut off the tip of its ear, the tip of its nose, the tip of its finger, if he battered it, even though he did not break off [any part of] it—he has nullified it.

[If] he spit in its face, urinated in front of it, scraped it, threw excrement at it, lo, this does not constitute an act of nullification” (m. `Abod. Zar. 4:5 [Neusner 1988: 668]). [3]

No doubt this thinking was pretty general.

The chains of references are a bit long in the above volumes.  We could use some better presentation of the evidence on this.

  1. [1]Amelia R. Brown, “Crosses, noses, walls and wells: Christianity and the fate of sculpture in late antique Corinth”, in: Troels M Kristensen, Lea Stirling (eds),The Afterlife of Greek and Roman Sculpture: Late Antique Responses and Practices, Michigan 2016, 150 f.; p.151.
  2. [2]Brown, p.168-169.
  3. [3]Via William G. Dever, Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel, 2006, p.11.

A few more interesting links from my backlog

Here are a few more stories that I saw over the last few weeks, and thought might be of general interest, some concerned with antiquity, others less so.

Ps.Chrysostom, “De remissione peccatorum (CPG 4629)” – now edited with French translation

Another tweet alerts me that Sergey Kim has put online at Academia.edu here a new edition of the pseudo-Chrysostom homily “de remissione peccatorum” (the forgiveness of sins), together with a French translation.  This is very welcome!  It also includes the editio princeps of a Bohairic Coptic version!

Papyri from Nessana?

Nessana is not a name that we associate with papyri.  But while looking for information on St George, I came across mention of them – mostly documents of the community of Nessana in the early muslim period – here.[1]  There’s biblical papyri, texts of the Aeneid (!), and a lot of hagiographical stuff.  And, of course, documents with prices.  The article gives some nice ideas of what things cost at that period.

When a muslim student went to Cambridge in 1816

Quite a different story from Nile Green here, telling the story of a group of Persians sent to Britain to learn from western civilisation just after Waterloo.  It must have been obvious to the Shah that the power of the west was becoming immense, and he understandably wanted to keep up.  One of the students ended up at Cambridge, through the networks of connections through which Georgian England functioned, and came under the patronage of Samuel Lee.

Lee is a figure that was already known to me.  He was the editor and translator of the Theophania of Eusebius, after it was retrieved from the Nitrian desert in the 1840s. But before then, he was already famous as the “Shrewsbury linguist”, an ordinary man who had proven to have immense gifts for language.  It was naturally to Lee that the Persian was entrusted.  I did not know, however, that Lee was an enthusiastic Christian – why do secular writers always try to hide this behind terms like “evangelical”? – and generally a very worthy man.  Of course as a professor, yet social outsider, he was perfect to assist the visitor.

Buying books online? Beware the book-jacker!

A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy the autobiography of rock keyboard player Keith Emerson, Pictures of an Exhibitionist.  I was perplexed to see a series of copies offered for sale, starting at $100 and moving swiftly up.  Then I learned about book-jacking.

From what we’ve been able to piece together, there are about 40 “sellers” on Abe & Amazon … that do not own any of their own stock, but simply hijack other legitimate booksellers’ listings from other websites and then post the listings with inflated prices.

The availability of APIs from Abe, Half.com and (especially) Amazon have made it very easy for people with computer programming skill to become bookjackers and pull the wool over unsuspecting consumers’ collective eyes.  …

At 10 a.m. on Monday morning:
Book A becomes available on Half.com by a legitimate seller for $25
Book A is currently not available on Amazon.com
Shortly thereafter bookjacker software detects the book on Half.com and quickly posts it to Amazon.com. So a few hours later the Marketplace on Amazon looks like:

Bookjacker1, $89.95
Bookjacker2, $89.99
Bookjacker3, $91.11
Bookjacker4, $95.50

After sifting the listings for the Emerson book, it looks like a classic example.  There is perhaps one copy for sale, at a bookshop in London.  The others are all get-rich-quick swindlers.  Beware!

How the quakers got rid of haggling in shops

Slashdot tells me about a video (yuk) on the invention of … the fixed price tag:

Belying its simplicity and ubiquity, the price tag is a surprisingly recent economic development, Aeon magazine writes. For centuries, haggling was the norm, ultimately developing into a system that required clerks and shopkeepers to train as negotiators. In the mid-19th century, however, Quakers in the US began to believe that charging people different amounts for the same item was immoral, so they started using price tags at their stores to counter the ills of haggling. And, as this short video from NPR’s Planet Money explains, by taking a moral stand, the Quakers inadvertently revealed an inefficiency in the old economic system and became improbable pricing pioneers, changing commerce and history with one simple innovation.

The end of tithes, and the British Union of Fascists

The medieval system of agricultural taxes where the (often poor) farmers paid the (often wealthy) rector a “tithe” of the crop was very obsolete in the 20th century, and greatly resented.

In the 1930s the British Union of Fascists was active, and they chose to take up the case of farmers being prosecuted for failure to pay tithes.  The political establishment didn’t like this at all; and the tithe system was quickly abolished.

But I came across a photo of blackshirts in Norfolk confronting bailiffs.  The page then has the very interesting story beneath.  It’s here.

February 1934: BUF black shirts and farm workers defend Doreen Wallace’s Wortham Manor Farm from the bailiffs and the police.

 In 1934, Doreen Wallace and her husband Rowland Rash, who was from a long line of Wortham landowners, refused to pay their tithes for Wortham Manor farm. For sixteen days, some fifty members of the British Union of Fascists surrounded the farm to stop the court’s bailiffs gaining access to remove goods. They were confronted by lines of police drafted in from Ipswich, and then many were arrested on a technicality and carted off to prison in Norwich.

On February 22nd 1934 the bailiffs entered and took £702 worth of goods. Doreen Wallace recalled in an interview many years later that the bailiffs had come down from Durham, as no East Anglian firm could be found to take on the job. The police had to intervene to stop the bailiffs lifting the piglets by ears and tail, a practice outlawed in East Anglia but apparently still acceptable in the north. The bailiffs had previously wanted the farm’s 1934 wheat harvest, but they couldn’t find any farmworkers for miles around who were prepared to take it in for them, a fact of which all East Anglians should be proud. The events are remembered by a memorial on the edge of the Wortham Manor Estate near to Wortham church.

A few miles away across Suffolk, the Elmsett Tithe Memorial recalls a similar incident, in which possessions were seized from the home of a land owner in lieu of payments to the Church. It reads 1934. To commemorate the Tithe seizure at Elmsett Hall of furniture including baby’s bed and blankets, herd of dairy cows, eight corn stacks and seed stacks valued at £1200 for tithe valued at £385.

Charles Westren, the farmer at Elmsett, had refused to pay his tithes to the church. After the seizure, he set up this monolithic concrete memorial on the edge of his land facing into the gateway of Elmsett church, so that anyone leaving a service would be reminded of the injustice of the system. Westren eventually emigrated to America during the Second World War.The legal abolition of the tithes system in England and Wales was set in motion after the War, the system coming to a final end in the 1970s, by which time very few tithes were still collected because of the cost of doing so.

I never knew that ecclesiastical tithes were still being collected in the 1970s.  The injustice with which they were collected in the 1930s is breathtaking.  But, as parishioners and clergy of the US Episcopalian Church found in recent years, or even the presbyterian congregation of Tron church in Glasgow, the brass-faced determination of a certain sort of ecclesiastic, to tear whatever they can get out of the hands of others, even if they don’t need it, is far from dead, even today.

My impression is that the system pretty much ceased to exist in the 1930s after the BUF started to make capital from it.

And that’s your news round-up for now!


A papyrus of the lost Autobiography of Hadrian; and a papyrus of the lost History of Seneca the Elder

The excellent Carole Raddato posted on her blog this image of a papyrus fragment.  It turns out to be a portion from the lost autobiography of Hadrian, which, it seems, was written in letter form.  The papyrus is from Oxyrhynchus (of course).  Here is a part of what she tells us:

This papyrus (OIM E8349), which Is not on display, was found at the site of Backhias (Umm el ‘Atl) in Egypt by the scholars Grenfell, Hunt, and Hogarth who excavated in the Fayum in end of the 19th century. The document is written on the back of a 2nd century AD tax list. It claims to be a letter from the emperor Hadrian to someone named Antoninus, who can be identified as Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius. The papyrus is not large, consisting of only 20 lines, written in two different hands. The first fifteen lines are written clearly, while the last five (which repeat the first five lines on the papyrus) are written far more irregularly, which shows this was a school text.

A translation of the papyrus, from J. Bollansée’s article: “P. Fay.” 19, Hadrian’s Memoirs, and Imperial Epistolography, published in the journal Ancient Society 1994, is as follows:

Imperator Caesare Hadrianus Augustus to his highly-esteemed Antoninus, greeting. Above all I would like you to know that I am being released from life neither untimely nor unreasonably, pitably, unexpectedly or with faculties impaire, though – as I have perceived – I thus may appear to do you wrong, you who sites at my bedside, never ceases to comfort me and urges me to hold on. Consequently I feel compelled to write you the following, not, by Zeus, to cunningly paint some vulgar picture stretching the truth, but to give a straightforward and accurate account of the facts themselves (…)
My natural father was taken ill and died as a private citizen at forty, hence I have survived him by more than half his age; I have approximately reached the same age as my mother, who lived to be sixty. I am presently in my [sixty-third] year…

This text is thought to form part of Hadrian’s autobiography which was probably written in epistolary form to his successor Antoninus Pius. Other Romans had written their political autobiography in this form such as Sulla who wrote his autobiography to his lieutenant L. Lucullus and Augustus who wrote his autobiography to Agrippa and Maecenas. Several literary sources explicitly note that Hadrian wrote his autobiography.

Very nice!

Another recent papyrus find is reported by La Republica.  The papyrus is from Herculaneum and is P.1067, although the article (in Italian) does not give the text.  But there are some fascinating slides of  the whole roll!


A manuscript of a regionary catalogue and a manuscript of the Notitia Dignitatum online!

Update: I misread the announcement of Vat.lat.3394 that it contained the Notitia Dignitatum.  It does not.  Post amended!

A few years ago I uploaded the Chronography of 354 AD to the web, and I included some of the regionary catalogues here as part 14, with notes by me; the lists of buildings, temples, etc in the 14 regions of ancient Rome.

Times have changed, and I learn from the Vatican digitisation project twitter feed that one of the manuscripts of a regionary catalogue has come online, ms. Vat. lat. 3394, late 15th c., belong to Pomponio Leto.  It’s here.  It’s a dull-looking manuscript, but full of hard data!  Here’s the start of region V.

Starts: “75 private bathhouses / 78 cisterns / 12 bakeries (pistrina)”  Interesting to see the differences to the printed version I uploaded.

But this is not all.

We also now have online here the Bodleian’s copy of the Notitia Dignitatum too, which contains lists of military posts.

Shelfmark is Ms. Canon. Misc. 378, written in 1436.  Image 312 (f.153v) is a picture, showing Britain and the forts of the Saxon Shore, while image 313 (f.154r) gives a list of the forces available to the Count of the Saxon Shore.

The manuscript is a “collection of texts on the late Roman Empire, many of which have been illustrated”.  I could wish that it was easier to find out just what the contents actually are!  The browser is as useless as usual, or I might flip through it.  In the end I found a list here.  It includes Polemius Silvius’ calendar, De Rebus Bellicis, Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti philosophi, Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae, and regionary stuff. All useful and interesting to have!


Travel posters for Ruritania! Hurrah!

The Ruritanian novel is a genre that is extinct, because it relies on a world-view likewise extinct today.  Both The Prisoner of Zenda and its unsatisfactory sequel, Rupert of Henzau, belong to the pre-WW1 era.  Winston S. Churchill attempted one, Savrola.  But the genre was already dying in the 1920s when Dorothy L. Sayers described them in Have His Carcase:

When she ought to have been writing, Harriet would sit comfortably in an armchair, reading a volume taken from Paul Alexis’ bookshelf, with the idea of freeing the subconscious for its job. In this way, her conscious imbibed a remarkable amount of miscellaneous information about the Russian Imperial Court and a still more remarkable amount of romantic narrative about love and war in Ruritanian states. Paul Alexis had evidently had a well-defined taste in fiction. He liked stories about young men of lithe and alluring beauty who, blossoming into perfect gentlemen amid the most unpromising surroundings, turned out to be the heirs to monarchies and, in the last chapter, successfully headed the revolts of devoted loyalists, overthrew the machinations of sinister presidents, and appeared on balconies, dressed in blue-and-silver uniforms, to receive the plaudits of their rejoicing and emancipated subjects. Sometimes they were assisted by brave and beautiful English or American heiresses, who placed their wealth at the disposal of the loyalist party; sometimes they remained faithful despite temptation to brides of their own nationality, and rescued them at the last moment from marriages of inconvenience with the sinister presidents or their still more sinister advisers; now and again they were assisted by young Englishmen, Irishmen or Americans with clear-cut profiles and a superabundance of energy, and in every case they went through a series of hair-raising escapes and adventures by land, sea and air. Nobody but the sinister presidents ever thought of anything so sordid as raising money by the usual financial channels or indulging in political intrigue, nor did the greater European powers or the League of Nations ever have anything to say in the matter. The rise and fall of governments appeared to be a private arrangement, comfortably thrashed out among a selection of small Balkan States, vaguely situated and acknowledging no relationships outside the domestic circle.

So it was with some surprise that I found some examples of travel posters, exhorting us to travel by railway to Strelsau in 1938!

Let us hope that the Elphberg monarchy had survived the war, and was prospering in those dark days.  Eastern Europe was a far more interesting place when the hills held the castles of Archdukes.

The poster comes from Deviant Art here., and is carried out by “mbhdesign”.  Other Ruritanian travel posters appear at the site.

How marvellous!  I wish I could give a list of Ruritanian novels.  For who of us would not wish to buy a railway ticket and journey to Strelsau once more?


Debunking idiotic myths about Easter. No, it isn’t pagan. No the Easter bunny doesn’t signify anything

At Easter every year the web witnesses an upsurge of smug howling of idiotic anti-Christian nonsense, about Easter, Ishtar, the Easter Bunny and heaven knows what.  Most of us ignore it for the rubbish it is.

A couple of months ago I came across some extremely capable responses to this from a certain Adrian Bott, who blogs at cavalorn.livejournal.com and tweets as @cavalorn.  Paradoxically his thoughts are captured far better in the series of tweets than in his blog posts, or his article at the Guardian.  I believe that he posts something on this every year; so let’s help a bit, by adding this to the Google search results.

His first Twitter thread concerned how we know that Easter was not a hijacked pagan festival. (Twitter link).

“Let’s start with the basics. How do we know Easter was not a hijacked pagan festival? Paradoxically, we can do this by trying to prove that it *was.*”

Now, we know there was no one people known as ‘the pagans’. There was, rather, an abundance of non-Christian polytheistic belief systems, differing from region to region. The Anglo-Saxon pagans, for example, would not have worshipped the same Gods as the ancient Irish pagans.

So the first question is, if Easter is a stolen pagan festival, then which specific pagans was it stolen from? Going by the name – Easter, allegedly derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre – the only possible candidate is the Anglo-Saxons.

Logically, then, the earliest possible date on which Easter can have been stolen from the pagans is 596, since that was the date on which the first Christian missionaries began to convert the Anglo-Saxons. See Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 791 CE.

And that’s where our theory falls apart; because Easter was already being celebrated long before 596, under its original name of Pesach. In fact, Easter had been celebrated since the 2nd Century. (See Melito of Sardis, Homily on the Pascha.)

In fact, Pascha was already so well established by the time the missionaries arrived in pagan England that the chief missionary, Augustine, had a major spat with the neighbouring ‘Celtic’ Church about the proper date to celebrate it on. (Also Bede.)

Okay, so why do we call it Easter? That was the name of a Goddess, right? Surely that’s evidence that the Church nicked the name of an existing festival in order to make conversion easier?

Granted, we have documentary evidence that Gregory the Great (who sent the missionaries to England) did indeed recommend a policy of acculturation – but he did *not* recommend the adoption of pagan festivals, and as we’ve seen, Pesach was already long established.

Gregory recommends that well-built pagan temples should be repurposed for Christian use, & converts should be allowed to keep on slaughtering and eating animals on sacred occasions, just not as a sacrifice. But both these things were governed by the existing Christian calendar.

Furthermore, mere missionaries simply did not have the authority to add new festivals to the Church calendar. Regardless of how helpful they might have found it to hijack the feast day of Garthog the Colossally Endowed and rebrand it as Twinklemas, they were not allowed to.

And the Pope did not add a new festival to the Church calendar without adding it for the ENTIRE Church. So why should Christians in, say, Rome have a new festival added for the sake of the new converts in Kent?

Here’s the reason why we English call Pascha ‘Easter’. According to Bede, the Anglo-Saxons DID have a festival called Eostur in honour of the Goddess Eostre. It happened in the fourth lunar month of the year.

Bede doesn’t explicitly say so, but it’s highly likely that the full moon of that lunar month marked the opening of the six months of summer; we know that the full moon of the month Winterfilleth opened winter, and the Eostur-month is six months away.

So the Anglo-Saxons are accustomed to getting together on the full moon of the fourth lunar month for a major festival that they call Eostur. It’s a feast over multiple days; a very big deal to them.

Now, the Christian celebration of Pascha is also linked to the full moon, according to a system of calculation that comes down via an entirely different route, and has its roots in Passover. (The old Hebrew calendar used lunar months, too.)

So the English converts call Pascha ‘Eostur’ through sheer force of habit. It’s ‘the big get-together on the fourth full moon of the year, when we do some religion then eat lots of roast ox.’ (The English are still eating roast meat on Easter to this day; quite pagan of us.)

But why would the English people call a Christian festival by a different name to that which their priests called it? Well, the official language of the Church was Latin, and we spoke Old English. So it makes sense that we’d go on using our old familiar name.

Not everyone in Britain did call Pascha ‘Easter’, of course. In some places it was called ‘Pace’, a much more obvious derivation of Pascha. Hence ‘pace-egging’. So no, Easter wasn’t ‘hijacked’. We English are just creatures of habit. End of thread. Thankyouverymudge.

This, I think we can all agree, expresses concisely exactly what most people need to hear.

His next thread deals with the supposed symbolism of the Easter Bunny. (Twitter link)

It’s funny how nobody ever says ‘the money the Tooth Fairy brings symbolises the rich wisdom of adulthood’, or ‘the Tooth Fairy symbolises the benevolent Goddess’. It’s as if people instinctively know that all these assertions of symbolic meaning are inherently bollocks.

The Easter Bunny does not symbolise a damn thing. None of the egg-bringing animals of legend are in any way ‘symbolic’ any more than the Tooth Fairy is. Not symbolic of ‘fertility’ nor of anything else.

But there is a reason why people are now conditioned to read ‘symbolism’ into things like the Easter Bunny, and it’s worth saying a few words about that reason, because there is an asston of class privilege and erasure involved.

Back in the last century, there was a mania for writing oh-so-learned interpretations of folk customs. It was a superb racket to be in, because the basic premise was that the original meaning of the customs had long been forgotten.

So you, the scholarly researcher, could make up – sorry, cleverly deduce – whatever ‘symbolism’ you liked, and there were no ancient pagans around to tell you you were wrong. Of course, if the silly commoners who actually PRACTICED the customs told you you were wrong…

… then you could condescendingly put them in their place. This actually happened. See Hutton’s ‘Triumph of the Moon’.

So what, you may ask, was the chief obsession of the folklorists? What themes did they persistently read into the folk customs, regardless of what the working class celebrants actually told them?

If you answered ‘pagan survivals’ and ‘fertility’ then congratulations. Have a bun.

So there you go. The reason we are currently drowning in this ‘omg it’s all symbolic of pagan fertility’ stuff is that a bunch of arrogant, well-intentioned, scholarly, superior bods not only believed they knew better than the regular people, but said so again and again.

If you want a good way of deconstructing this stuff and showing just how daft it all is, try reading ‘symbolic meanings’ into any everyday phenomenon. It’s easy to do and yields convincing results.

Here’s Ron Hutton again, from ‘Triumph of the Moon’, which anyone interested in this stuff ought to read.

In 1937, the very learned S L Hooke delivered a presidential address to the Folk-Lore Society in which he proposed that football matches on Shrove Tuesday were actually descended from a ritual combat between the forces of light and darkness.

That is the background to all these ‘Easter was pagan because symbolism!!’ assertions. It’s like a farce. But people eagerly swallowed it and we are collectively still feeling the effects to this day.

(Heckler) So why is there an Easter bunny?

Because parents didn’t want children to know who was really responsible for leaving the decorated eggs for them to find.

Why a bunny? Well, it was originally a hare, probably because hares leave nest-like forms in fields.  https://www.dailygrail.com/2016/03/hares-eggs-for-easter/

Deeply interesting.

Finally Adrian address the question: “why do we care?” (Twitter link)

Here are several reasons why I think it’s important to counter the ‘Easter was pagan’ rubbish with properly sourced & attributed facts. 1. Bogus history obscures real history, and the real history is not just rich and interesting, it tells us who we are and how we got here.

2. The ‘pagan Easter’ tropes diminish, deny or outright ignore the influence of Passover on Easter, and that’s been held up as anti-Semitic.

3. Much of the misunderstanding of Easter’s actual lore and history comes from assuming the English name for the festival – Easter – defines the whole event. That’s an absurd degree of Anglocentrism.

4. The bogus Ishtar/Easter connection was originally made in the context of an anti-Catholic rant (The Two Babylons). So there’s anti-Catholicism baked into the whole ‘Easter was pagan’ argument too.

5. Claiming Easter is all about indigenous Anglo-Saxon (thus Germanic) deities is characteristic of certain strains of hard right-wing thought.

6. The myth of pagan Easter is used in some fundamentalist Christian circles to discourage believers from celebrating it.

7. The insistence that ‘the Church hijacked pagan festivals to make it easier to convert and oppress the population’ paints a ludicrously unbalanced and ill-informed picture of how the early Church worked.

8. Facts good. Bullshit bad.

The ‘Easter was pagan’ myth manages to be anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Christian and anti-pagan (because it peddles a false version of pagan belief) which is quite an achievement, really.

Which speaks for itself.

Thank you Adrian for trying to stem the flow of crud every Easter.


Giuliano da Sangallo’s “book of designs”, and the Septizonium

I was looking through the Vatican manuscript Barberini lat. 4424, the “book of designs” by Giulano da Sangallo (d.1516), and I found what seems like an old favourite – a drawing of the Septizonium, the now vanished facade that once stood at the end of the Via Appia to hide the Palatine.  The drawing is on folio 30r of the manuscript (looking at the numbering top right) but inscrutably this is given as f.32r by the online viewer.

I’ve downloaded it, and here it is.  (How one curses the obtrusive watermark, on so faint an item!)

But then I found something even better.

The destruction of the Septizonium (or Septizodium) took place in 1588-9.  The building was unsafe, and Pope Sixtus V wanted the materials for building.  A contemporary account of all this exists in the Vatican.

What I found was an article discussing all this, and giving even more contemporary drawings than I had known.  There is, for instance, a set of plans for all three levels of the remaining fragment, with measurements!

The article is Christine Pappelau, “The Dismantling of the Septizonium – a Rational, Utilitarian and Economic Process?”, in:  S. Altekamp &c (eds), Perspektiven der Spolienforschung 2. Zentren und Konjunkturen der Spoliierung, 2017, 357-379.  It can be downloaded from here.

It is a wonderful article, and shows the difference between the professional scholar and the intermittent searches of amateurs like myself!

But I shall still collect pictures of the Septizonium anyway!


Basil the Great’s condemnation of sodomy? Or Peter Damian? Or Fructuosus?

In a tweet by Matthew Schmitz on Twitter I came across a striking quotation, attributed to Basil of Ancyra / Basil the Great.  Enquiry quickly showed that in fact it came from a work by medieval writer Peter Damian, complete with attribution to Basil.

The publication I found was Peter Damian, Book of Gomorrah: An eleventh-century treatise against clerical homosexual practices, tr. Peter J. Payer, Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1982, p.60-61.  This reads:

However, since we have taken care to use two testimonies from one sacred council, let us also insert what Basil the Great thinks of the vice under discussion so that “on the testimony of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” He says:

“A cleric or monk who seduces youths or young boys or is found kissing or in any other impure situations is to be publicly flogged and lose his tonsure. When his hair has been shorn, his face is to be foully besmeared with spit and he is to be bound in iron chains. For six months he will languish in prison-like confinement and on three days of each week shall fast on barley bread in the evening. After this he will spend another six months under the custodial care of a spiritual elder, remaining in a segregated cell, giving himself to manual work and prayer, subject to vigils and prayers. He may go for walks but always under the custodial care of two spiritual brethren, and he shall never again associate with youths in private conversation nor in counselling them.” [67]

67.  The text is from Regula Fructuosi, ch. 16 (PL 87, 1107A). English translation, C. W. Barlow, “Rule for the Monastery of Compludo”, in The Fathers of the Church, 63 (Washington, DC, 1969), 169.

The Fathers of the Church volume is in fact entitled Iberian fathers: volume 2 : Braulio of Saragossa, Fructuosus of Braga / translated by Claude W. Barlow, 1969.  From this I learn that Fructuosus produced two monastic rules, a Regula monachorum Complutensis, the Rule of the monks of Compludo, and another more general rule.  The former appears in the PL 87, 1099-1132, and Dr Barlow comments ruefully (p.148), “This edition is far from satisfactory, often corrupt, but no more recent study of the text has been made from the manuscripts known to exist in Spain and Portugal.”  Chapter 16 is translated on p.168-9 and reads in full:

16.  Monks who lie, steal, strike, or swear falsely in a manner not fitting a servant of Christ must first be verbally chided by their elders to withdraw from their vice. Then, if one has not yet reformed, he shall be brought three times before the brothers and warned to desist completely. If he still does not change, he shall be severely flogged and shall be secluded in a cell under the rigors of penance, having been sentenced to excommunication for three months; he is to be fed six ounces of barley bread each evening and allowed a small measure of water. Anyone found drunk in the monastery shall also be subject to the aforementioned sentence; likewise, any who write letters or receive them from others without the permission of the abbot or prior. A monk who is too attentive to boys or young men or has been caught kissing or indulging in other indiscreet acts, after the case has been openly proved by truthful accusers and witnesses, shall be publicly thrashed; he shall lose the crown which he wears and with head shaven shall be exposed to shame and disgrace; all shall spit in his face and heap their accusations upon him; he shall be bound in iron chains and held in narrow confinement for six months; and shall be given a small amount of barley bread in the evening on three days of each week. After this time is past, for the next six months he shall live in a separate cell under the watchfulness of a spiritual elder and shall be content with manual labor and continual prayer; he shall seek pardon by vigils and tears and abject humility and penitential laments. He shall walk in the monastery under the constant care and watch of two spiritual brothers, and shall never thereafter join the young in private conversation or companionship.

That’s pretty conclusive.

So the passage attributed to St Basil in fact comes from chapter 16 of a monastic rule attributed to Fructuosus of Braga (d.665 AD).  It has nothing to do with Basil; not even the monastic rule attributed to him.

The twitter post itself attracted some erudite comment.  This from “Matthew Cullinan Hoffman’s note on this quotation, from his translation of St. Peter Damian’s Liber Gomorrhianus”

This quotation, which Damian’s source (probably Burchard’s Libri Decretorum, lib. 17, cap. 35; PL 140, 925D) attributes to St. Basil, is in reality a slightly truncated form of a penalty prescribed for monks by St. Fructuosus of Braga (d. 665) (Regula Monachorum, cap. 16; PL 87, 1107A-B . A section of it also appears in the decrees of Ecgbert, bishop of York (d. 766) (PL 89, 387D), who correctly attributes it to Fructuosus, but in the later Collectio Canonum Quadripartia, (a manual used and referenced widely during the latter part of the early middle ages in France, England, and Italy), it contains no attribution. By the tenth century, collections of canon law such as Burchard’s were incorrectly attributing it to Basil.

Of course as a non-medievalist, I wouldn’t attempt to comment on this background; but it is very useful to tie this down.

Update: My thanks to two correspondents who supplied me with the FOC 63 volume!


Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel – now available online

I am delighted to announce that Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel (Chieftain Publishing, 2014, edited by myself) are now freely available online.  This is, of course, Mischa Hooker’s excellent translation of the Latin, and his marvellous and comprehensive edition and translation of the fragments of the Greek.  It is the best version available anywhere.

You can download the PDF with the whole book, or a zip file with word versions of the English translations, from Archive.org here.  Or you can get them below:

Enjoy, copy, circulate.  If you want to use them commercially, please contact me; otherwise do whatever you like with them!

The printed versions will remain available through Amazon for at least another year.  After that, it all depends on whether sales exceed costs.  The hardback is a frankly astonishing, massive item that I am proud to have on my shelves (n.b. I didn’t typeset or do the cover).

Links: Amazon.com in hardback ($80) and paperback ($45); and Amazon.co.uk in hardback (£50) and paperback (£30).  All are in print.  Please get your university library to buy it!  It would be nice to get back what it cost to produce!

It’s been a long road to produce this volume.  I won’t do it again; but I don’t regret it, but I learned a lot of respect for the publishing industry in the process.  And … we now have worldwide access to Origen.

I hope you like his sermons.  I wonder, indeed, whether they might be preachable even today.