“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.

Suburbanbanshee:

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!

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

  1. I agree that the quote is incorrect and purposefully misleading, and that is of course not ok and should be corrected.

    However, it seems to me the original quote is still very misogynistic. Why single out “evil women” instead of “evil people”? There is an implication that evil women are much more dangerous than evil men, and perhaps even a suggestion of a much greater potential for evil in women than in men. Whereas, as a matter of fact, evil men have caused enormously more suffering in history than any evil woman (or wild animal), if only because they had almost all economic and military power.

    So, while the quote is incorrect, perhaps it does convey some of the underlying meaning of the original one.

  2. I’m curious as to the real author. So far we have a few hints:
    – he’d already written several biographies of excellent women (probably Christian saints; the Virgin is likely)
    – his native language is Greek on account he mistakes Sirach for Solomon i.e., Ecclesiasticus for Ecclesiastes
    – his habit is to describe Prophetic admonitions as “Wisdom” that is [Hagia-]Sophia
    – he knows a bit about Mediterranean peasant agriculture

  3. Re: Who is this guy?

    Well, if it’s a priest doing a sermon series, the course of the Eastern lectionary year would bring a lot of good women to talk about, both OT and NT.

    (looks up info) Apparently, the normal Sundays had Gospel and Epistle readings. But there were readings from the OT as well as the saint’s Gospel.. at Vespers services, on feast days. And obviously, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist is a feast day.

    Maybe this sermon was at the Mass, but aimed at people who’d been at the Vespers the previous evening? Is Jezebel the OT reading at John the Baptist’s vespers in any of the old lectionaries?

    Re: misogyny — If you’ve got readings about good men or evil men, you tend to talk about good men or evil men parallels, and the same with good or evil women (unless you can bring in a popular saint or hero).

    And of course, the Book of Revelation is _built_ on having good man/evil man contrasts and parallels, as well as good woman/evil woman contrasts and parallels. Including the “new Jezebel” chick teaching heresy, as a parallel to Babylon; and with both as a contrast to the Woman clothed in the Sun and the New Jerusalem/Bride.

    Come to think of it, though, modern sermons never never never talk about evil women. Oh, no, can’t hurt our female fee-fees. (And maybe that’s a good idea, speaking as a woman — after one priest preached on how Christmas/Gospel in the heart was more important than Christmas crafts and homemaking, and he nearly got murdered with looks by crafter ladies in the congregation. And I heard about it years later from a woman I knew, who was still mad about it. If somebody decided that she was Jezebel being preached against, it could be bad.)

  4. Re: misogyny — Well, of course the sermon writer wanted to use that quote about dragons! Ha! It’s funny! I’m a woman, and I think it’s funny. (But it’s not about me – it’s about Karen. Right? Right?….)

    And of course it’s literally safer to live with wild animals than with a malicious person, of either sex. Look at the crime statistics. And what does the short story tell us is “The Most Dangerous Game”? Humans are dangerous when considered as animals, and when considered as rational beings with psychological weapons.

    But a fair number of women have the trick of “taming” men with strong personalities and bad atttitudes, whereas very few men are able to “tame” a woman who has both a strong personality and a bad attitude. (Which is probably why Shakespeare thought “The Taming of the Shrew” would make a funny play — because it is role-reversal.)

    Sadly, a lot of women, who have not developed the ability, think that they do. Hence the “bad boy” complex. (“I can change him!”)

  5. Isn’t the original a bit like the progenitor of the common (and mostly accurate) phrase, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”?

  6. Daniel – It does sound somewhat similar. Of course there are similar proverbs (and similar proverbs about the male sex too) all around the world, but it would be interesting to see if there is some direct link.

    Re: patristics in general, EWTN is livestreaming the Ratzinger Schulerkreis conference in Rome, and one of the theologians just pointed out that the definition of the Church Fathers narrowed a lot in modern times, because people used to be calling folks from the High Middle Ages “the Fathers.” I thought that was interesting.

  7. I notice that St. John Chrysostom gets an awful lot of attacks by anti-Christians out of the post-Nicene fathers (with only St. Augustine coming to mind as a bigger ‘target’). This isn’t even the first misogynist pseudo-Chrysostom “quote” I’ve seen; “What else is woman but a foe to friendship …” from the Malleus Maleficarum floats around even more as a pseudo-Chrysostom from what I know.
    Can’t they just give Johnny Golden-mouth a break?

  8. Chrysostom had disagreements with one of the empresses, but he also had an entire church lady crew who supported him. (Most prominently the deaconess St. Olympias.)

    Same thing with Jerome. He had tons of female students and supporters, so calling him misogynist is ridiculous.

    And Augustine had issues, but that was not one.

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