“Amongst all savage beasts none is found so harmful as a woman” – a quote from John Chrysostom?

A regular visitor to this blog also runs her own blog at suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com. She has been looking into a supposed quotation from John Chrysostom.

“Among all savage beasts none is found so harmful as a woman.” – John Chrysostom

The quotation circulates on the web, but predates the internet.  It forms part of a dossier of anti-Christian quotes, made in the feminist interest.

With all such quotes, it is advisable to locate a reference, and this she has done in admirable fashion.  It turns out – as too often – to be a bad-faith misquote from one of the pseudo-Chrysostom texts.

A quick explanation for those unfamiliar with the pseudo-Chrysostomica. John Chrysostom is the greatest of the Greek fathers, and manuscripts of his genuine works are incredibly numerous.  Works whose author had been lost in transmission often were attributed to him in these same manuscripts, and are known as “pseudo-Chrysostom”.

The text is “In decollationem s. Iohannis”, “On the decapitation of St John”. The reference number CPG 4570.  The incipit is: “Πάλιν Ἡρωδιὰς μαίνεται”. The Greek text (online here) is printed in the Patrologia Graeca vol. 59, columns 485-490; and also in Henry Savile’s generally superior edition of the works of Chrysostom (at Archive.org), volume 7, p.545-549.  There is also an ancient Latin translation, CPL 931, printed in PL 95, 1508-1514.  Dom Andre Wilmart’s “La collection de 38 homelies latines de Saint Jean Chrysostome”, JTS 19 (1918), 305-327, lists it as number 15 in the collection of “Chrysostom” sermons translated into Latin in antiquity.

But “suburbanbanshee” has gone a step further.  She has made a translation into English of the whole work, from the Greek text, in two parts.  Here is the introduction, and the translation:

She has also found a useful article by Maia Barnaveli, in the journal Phasis, 2014, “Motivations for the Beheading of John the Baptist in Byzantine and Old Georgian Writings”.  From this we learn of a Georgian translation of the text, found in the “Sinai Polycephalon” – sounds like a manuscript, but a printed version exists.  There are probably translations into other ancient languages also.

The Greek for the supposed quote (l.12 of the link) is

Ἐμοὶ μὲν δοκεῖ μηδὲν εἶναι ἐν κόσμῳ θηρίον ἐφάμιλλον γυναικὸς πονηρᾶς.

Indeed, it seems to me that no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women.

So we immediately can tell that the quotation with which we started – “Amongst all savage beasts none is found so harmful as a woman” – is not accurate in any way.  This is not about “woman”, about all women in general, at all.

In fact, when we look at the text as a whole – about Herodias – then we quickly see that it isn’t even  a fair quotation of the sense.  For the next words are:

Surely the sermon by me now is in regards to evil women, not about virtuous and sensible [ἀγαθῆς καὶ σώφρονος] women. And indeed, I know many women to be honestly behaved and virtuous [εὐσχήμονας καὶ ἀγαθὰς], whose lives I have recounted, along with the reward of their works — for edification, and for stirring up a love of good things.

The author is taking pains NOT to express the opinion that the quote attributes to him.


There’s a longish list of supposed quotes from the Fathers that shows up repeatedly in supposedly feminist works. The quotes are almost always in identical wording of an English translation, and they never provide citations from the Fathers. Rather, they cite other feminist authors, who also turn out to have cited other feminist authors as authorities. It shows up in the Congressional Record, in Irish letters to the editor, and in the Antioch Review from 1954… but with never a citation.

And rightly concludes:

Not a Chrysostom quote.  Not quoted correctly.

It is marvellous to have a translation of another pseudo-Chrysostom sermon as a by-product of the investigation!  Thank you!


From my diary

I’ve been clearing my inbox a little today, since I had a bit of time, and popping out a couple of blog posts.  Things are still not back to normal, but it is wonderful to be able to blog a bit.  I need to get back to doing proper Latin again too, but the pressure of mundane stuff still forbids.

Sitting in a cafe this morning, I was thinking about the two different texts of John the Deacon.  Chapters 12 and 13 deal with the legend of the three generals, sent by Constantine to put down a revolt among the Taifal Goths settled in Asia Minor, and then accused of treachery in a palace intrigue.  St Nicholas appears to save the day.  In Greek this particular story predates the full-length lives of St Nicholas, and circulated independently.

Out of the blue, I found myself wondering whether the same was true in Latin.  Is there an independent chunk of text of this sort?  If so, I wondered, did Falconius interpolate it into his text?  It is pretty clear that Mombritius simply printed the manuscript before him.  But Falconius prints two alternative lists of chapters at the end, many from the Life of St Nicholas of Sion.  So it is indeed clear that Falconius was messing with his text.  Unfortunately I could not work out from the BHL whether such an item did circulate independently.

I’m coming round to the view that Mombritius is the basic text of John the Deacon, and that Falconius is a rogue, the product of a pre-critical scholar accumulating materials from several sources.  This is unfortunate, since my translation was made from Falconius, but it will have to be faced once I can get back to it.  I’m not going to collate manuscripts.  This would involve half a lifetime of study of the western tradition of St Nicholas, which I do not have to give, nor wish to.

It’s a reminder of the risks of scholarship.  Give me any day an innocent humble copy, errors and all, over some too-clever “corrected” text by someone who isn’t as clever as he thinks.  The first duty of scholarship is to transmit to the future what we have received.


The September Poems in the Chronography of 354

A number of manuscripts contain an image for September.  But here again it is the Vatican Barberini manuscript that gives us the 4-line poem, the tetrastich:

Turgentes acinos, varias et praesecat uvas
September, sub quo mitia poma iacent.
Captivam filo gaudens religasse lacertam
Quae suspensa manu mobile ludit opus.

The swelling berries and the different coloured grapes,
September cuts them down; beneath him lie the ripe fruit.
Delighted to have tied up the captive lizard with a string;
Which suspended from a raised hand plays an active game.

September 5 is Vindemia, the start of the grape harvest.  The lizard can be a pest (Pliny, Natural History 30, 89), but on a thread in a container it produces medicine (NH 30, 52).

The 2-line verse (distich) is as follows:

Tempora maturis September vincta racemis
Velate e numero nosceris ipse tuo.

The season of September, covered September, temples girded with ripe grapes;
Blindfolded Concealed, you will be recognised by your number.

I made these translations months ago, and I cannot remember if I revised them, so I apologise for any errors.

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vatican Barberini lat.2154B (online here), fol. 20r, gives us the most accurate version of the drawing, complete with the tetrastich in the right margin, and the first line of the distich at the bottom:

Vatican Barberini lat. 2154 pt. B, f.20r – September

The redrawn16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (V), folio 10v (online here):

MS Vienna 3146, f.10v – September

Divjak and Wischmeyer give us an image from the important (but offline) Brussels manuscript 7543-49, fol. 201r.

Brussels MS 7543-49, fol. 201r. (B)

They also give an image from the Berlin manuscript, f.234:

Berlin, f.234 – September

From Divjak and Wischmeyer, I learn that the depiction is of the wine harvest.  The cluster of grapes, the figs on a tray at the top left, and the two large amphoras / jars, set in the ground, to hold the new wine, seem clear enough.  The lizard on a thread is of uncertain meaning, as is the basket with skewers on top.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).

UPDATE: Thank you Diego for correcting the distich!  And to Michael Gilleland for pointing out that “suspensa” must have a short “a” and so be nominative and agree with lacerta.


Should we bring back Gelasius of Cyzicus?

The publication of an English translation of Gelasius of Cyzicus (see here) brings us back to the question of just who was the author.  All the editions until recently attributed this work to “Gelasius of Cyzicus”.  In the recent GCS NF 9 edition, the editor, G. C. Hansen, reviews the origin of this, and roundly dismisses it as a mistake.  He suggests that the author is now unknown.  Consequently he calls it the Anonyme Kirchengeschichte, or AKG.  Under this rather awkward title it has appeared in subsequent literature, although often with “Gelasius of Cyzicus” in brackets.

Hansen’s arguments are not easy to follow unless your German is better than mine.  This is not helped by a page of untranslated Greek quotations from Photius.  But the argument is as follows:

  1. There is no manuscript with an incipit with the author or title.
  2. Nobody ever refers to the work by that name during the centuries in which it was around.
  3. Photius, who quotes it, says it’s by Gelasius of Caesarea.  But his quotations are not conclusive.
  4. The name of “Gelasius of Cyzicus” first appears on the first printed edition, the editio princeps, in 1599, edited by the Scotsman Robert Balfour.
  5. Balfour actually explains where he gets the name from!  He prints on page 16, the last page of the introduction, here, a letter from his publisher, Federic Morel, telling him to put an author on it, and offering a suggestion from Pierre Pithou, based on extracts from Photius which he sticks on the bottom.
  6. The only manuscript that contains the name is a Vatican manuscript, where there’s a note in the margin in the hand of Leo Allatius.  But Allatius only went to Rome after Balfour’s edition came out.  So this is probably based on seeing Balfour’s edition.  It’s not an independent witness.

This is well reasoned, as far as it goes.  Hansen doesn’t quote the letter of Morel, but it reinforces his point.

I couldn’t transcribe the Greek, but here’s my attempt at a transcription:

Narro tibi, mi Balforee. Libros sine autore miseras, ut liberos nullo certo patre, vindiciis obnoxios. Placuit clarissimo & eruditissimo I. C. Fr. Pithoeo, patrem acciri e castris Photii, cuius testimonium mox subiiciam,ut quiuis lege agere possit.

Alium etiam accersivi vindice iniuriae quam iisdem libris intulerant notarum praepetes ministri, ut taxu?afoij vocat Ausonius:

Codicem inquam docta & laboriosa manu exaratum, quem e locuplete Bibliotheca sua ornatissimus & doctissimus Senator Petrus Stella nobis deprompsit, liberaliter communicavit, & saepe una mecum, qua humanitate est, cum exemplo tuo Schedisque nostris contulit. Nullus opinor pietatis & literarum amans erit qui gratiam non sciat, habeat, & si possit referat. Quod si haec nondum ex animi sententia castigata sunt, aequi bonique consulendum, & pa\r diwamin nihil audendum. Vale,& nos quod facis, ama. Lut. IX Kal. Ian. 1598.

I don’t have time to translate this properly, but, ignoring the fluff, we perhaps get something like this:

Listen, Bob.  You sent me books without an author, like fatherless children, liable to be attributed to anyone.  So I got the really serious scholar Pithou to take a look, who pulled out an author from Photius – quoted below – so that anyone who wants to do legal stuff can do so.  I’ve also hauled up another, rather more carefully written, manuscript for you, thanks to our friend Petrus Stella (Pierre de l’Estoile), whom everyone says is a good guy.

Let’s remember just who Morel is.  As the title page tells us, he’s the publisher of Balfour’s edition.  He’s the guy who’s got to sell it.  Editions of patristic authors were printed for money.

Clearly Morel is not keen on trying to publish an anonymous text, and no blame to him (and I bet the GCS publishers might have felt the same, if anyone had asked them!).  Balfour has told him earlier that the manuscript is rather rubbish.

It’s telling that Balfour prints the letter, rather than taking responsibility himself.  Hansen is right to be wary.  This looks like a commercial consideration, not a scholarly one.  We only have Morel’s word as to what Pithou thought.

What Hansen fails to do is to examine whether there is a case for keeping the name “Gelasius of Cyzicus”.

I think we’d better take a look at what Photius has to say.  These can easily be found in the English translation here by doing a Ctrl-F and searching for “Gelasius” on the web page.

88.  Read an account of the Proceedings of the Synod of Nicaea, in the form of a history, in three volumes. The author states that …  Such is the contents of this book. In another copy, containing the same account, the title gives the name of the author as Gelasius, bishop of Caesarea8 in Palestine. The style is mean and common. Who this Gelasius was, I have been unable to discover for certain, since up to the present I have met with three bishops of Caesarea named Gelasius, and have at least read the works of two. One of these works is a polemic Against the Anomoeans, the two others, one of which we have just referred to, deal with ecclesiastical matters. The title, where we have found it, is Three Books of Ecclesiastical History by Gelasius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine.  The work begins as follows : The proceedings of the holy, great, and universal synod of bishops, assembled, so to speak, from all the provinces of the Roman empire and Persia, and so on. … The writer states that he lived in the time of Basiliscus, who seized the throne after Zeno had been driven out, and that he found and read the account of the proceedings of the council written on an old parchment, while living in his father’s house. From his recollections of this, and with the aid of other writings which supplied him with useful information, he compiled his history. He also mentions and cites some passages from a certain Gelasius, whom he also calls Rufinus. He says that he was a native of Cyzicus, and that his father was a priest in the same place. So says the author of this work, and such is its contents.

Photius quotes the opening words of the book, and so we can see that this is definitely our work.

89.  The other book [by the same author, on “ecclesiastical matters”], which I have referred to above, is entitled Preface of the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine to the Continuation of the History of Eusebius Pamphili. It begins, as follows: …

The author states that he was encouraged to write the work by his uncle Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem. I have read elsewhere that this Cyril and Gelasius translated the history of Rufinus the Roman into Greek, but did not compose any history of their own.

It is evident that this Gelasius was older than the other, if he flourished in the time of Cyril of Jerusalem.  He also certainly differs from him in the greater eloquence of his language, although both are inferior to the author of the treatise Against the Anomoeans, also called bishop of Palestine. For the latter Gelasius, by his diction, learning, and logical methods, his use of which, however, is somewhat inept, leaves the other two far behind, whose style appears to be much inferior. I have not yet been able to learn whether any of these is the author of the [first] work referred to, or who compiled it and supplemented it by his own additions.

So … we have two works, by “Gelasius of Caesarea”.  The second one is clearly a real continuation of Eusebius, based on Rufinus.  The first one, however, is not by the same author – the “eloquence” is pretty limited – but by some other “Gelasius of Caesarea” who says in his work that he was born in Cyzicus.

In cod. 102, Photius also reads the real Gelasius of Caesarea’s Against the Anomoeans, but sheds no more light on our text.

Finally, in the AKG itself, we find this passage:

1.8.1 So far, Eusebius. However, Rufinus, or rather, Gelasius records these things as follows: “After these events, the Roman Senate asked Licinius (who became the Godloving Constantine’s brother-in law by marrying his sister Constantia) to rule together with Constantine. Soon after, Constantine sent Licinius to the east against the tyrant there, in order to see to the safety of the Christians there. For since he enjoyed such great favors from God, the pious Constantine was eager to offer thank-offerings to his benefactor.

This makes perfect sense, now that we know (from Photius) that a Gelasius translated Rufinus into Greek and produced a continuation of Eusebius, along with his uncle Cyril.  This passage becomes evidence that the AKG is using this Gelasius-Rufinus text.

So what do we have?

  • The author of the AKG comes from Cyzicus – he says so in his own work.
  • His work circulated under the name of “Gelasius of Caesarea”, at least in the 9th century.  One of the two manuscripts Photius had gave it that title.
  • Photius knows three different authors of that name; the author of the AKG, the author of the (lost) continuation of Eusebius, and the author of Against the Anomoeans.  He doesn’t know who the author of the AKG was, tho.

So Photius tells us that the AKG in his time was attributed in a manuscript to an otherwise unknown Gelasius of Caesarea.  We can tell that the author was born in Cyzicus.  He is not the same guy as the chap who wrote a continuation of Eusebius.

From this, it seems reasonable to say that the author was a chap called Gelasius, who lived in Caesarea but who came from Cyzicus.  Isn’t it reasonable to call him “Gelasius of Cyzicus” so we don’t get mixed up with either of the other two Gelasius’?

The problem here is that, quite obviously, the name “Gelasius of Caesarea” may be a bogus ascription in a manuscript, even in the time of Photius.  One of his manuscripts had no ascription.

It’s a thought, anyway.  It’s not very satisfactory, but it is what is in the historical record.  Should we just stick with Gelasius of Cyzicus?  For convenience, and in honour of Photius?


Euthymius Zigabenus, Commentary on the Epistles

Nicholas Antzaras writes to say that he has started a blog to report his progress, working on a text and translation of the Commentary on the Epistles by the Byzantine bible commentator Euthymius Zigabenus. It’s at https://zigabenusepistles.com/

So far he has collected the manuscripts and is busy collating them to produce a critical text.  This is extremely necessary work, and very hard work too.

He is also, quite rightly, translating the pre-critical text (by Kalogeras) already available to him into English.   It sounds strange, in a way, doing the translation first; but this is often how scholars work.  The reason for doing so is that there is no finer way to get familiar with every word of a text, and discovering where it is deficient, than to make a translation.  Anybody can print a text.

He’s also blogging about what he’s doing, and the tools that he is using to do it.  I think that a few of us might find a few tips from this!  Compared to my own lackadaisical approach, his schedule for translation is very organised indeed!

I’m sure that we all wish him all the best with the project.  Whatever he does will be useful to everyone.


Gelasius of Cyzicus now online in English!

Great news!  The first English translation of Gelasius of Cyzicus has appeared!  It’s at the Fourth Century website of Glen L. Thompson, and may be found here.  There’s a PDF for each of the three books, and a webpage with the medieval chapter headings, or rather book summaries, here.

I’m sure that more than a few people may wonder who Gelasius was, and why we care.

Well, we all know the standard Ecclesiastical Histories of the 4-5th centuries – Eusebius, Sozomen, Socrates, Theodoret, etc.  But there is an additional Greek work from the same period, from the late 5th century.  This was first published in 1599 by the Scottish scholar Robert Balfour, under the name of Gelasius of Cyzicus, with the title of the History of the Council of Nicaea.  It’s CPG 6034.  Both the author name and title are more than doubtful, and the work was given a new critical edition by G.C. Hansen under the title of Anonyme Kirchengeschichte.  It’s in the GCS series, GCS NF9 (2002).  (There was a 1918 edition, as GCS 28).

The book is not a history of the council of Nicaea.  It’s an ecclesiastical history.  It’s not all that reliable, either – material about the Holy Spirit is back-projected to the time of Nicaea.  But it is still an early text, and it is thought to make use of material from the lost Ecclesiastical History of Gelasius of Caesarea.

So it is great to see that the complete translation has appeared at last!  (I posted about its beginnings back in 2017 here)  Marvellous news!

Glen and his team at Fourth Century are also at work on a couple of related projects.  The first is to collect and make accessible the texts leading up to the Council of Ephesus in 431.  The other is a harmony of Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, making it easier to work out who says what and when.  Both projects must be essential resources for anybody interested in the history of the period.

It’s great to see things being pushed forward!


From my diary

I must apologise for the continued silence.  The business of moving house, and letting my old house, has continued to fill my life to the brim with urgent business that will matter nothing once it is done.  So this post is really just to let people know that I am still alive!  I’m gradually winning, I think.

I hope to get to write my September post about the poems of the Chronography of 354 in the next week or so – before October, anyway!