I don’t think they like us, Batman!!!

At the Antiochepedia blog, a gorgeous quotation from Ernest Renan[1].  Here is the English translation[2].  The paragraphing is mine, and I have continued the quotation to  the end of Renan’s paragraph:

… Antioch, at the end of three centuries and a half of its existence, became one of the places in the world where race was most intermingled with race. The degradation of the people there was terrible. The peculiarity of these focuses of moral putrefaction is, to reduce all the races of mankind to the same level.

The degradation of certain Levantine cities, dominated by the spirit of intrigue, delivered up entirely to low cunning, can scarce give us a conception of the degree of corruption reached by the human race at Antioch.

It was an inconceivable medley of merry-andrews, quacks, buffoons,[14] magicians, miracle-mongers, sorcerers, priests, impostors; a city of races, games, dances, processions, fetes, debauches, of unbridled luxury, of all the follies of the East, of the most unhealthy superstitions, and of the fanaticism of the orgy.[15]

By turns servile and ungrateful, cowardly and insolent, the people of Antioch were the perfect model of those crowds devoted to Caesarism, without country, without nationality, without out family honor, without a name to keep.

The great Corso which traversed the city was like a theatre, where rolled, day after day, the waves of a trifling, light-headed, changeable, insurrection-loving[17] populace– a populace sometimes spirituel,[18] occupied with songs, parodies, squibs, impertinence of all sorts[19] The city was very literary [20], but literary only in the literature of rhetoricians.

The sights were strange; there were some games in which bands of naked young girls took part in all the exercises, with a mere fillet around them[22]; at the celebrated festival of Naiouma troupes of courtesans swarmed in public in basins[23] filled with limpid water [24]. This fete was like an intoxication, like a dream of Sardanapalus, where all the pleasures, all the debaucheries, not excluding some of a more delicate kind, were unrolled pell-mell.

This river of dirt, which, making its exit by the mouth of the Orontes, was about to invade Rome[25] had here its principal sources. 

Two hundred decurions were employed in regulating the religious ceremonies and celebrations [26]. The municipality possessed great public domains, the rents of which the decemvirs divided between the poor citizens[27]. Like all cities of pleasure, Antioch had a lowest section of the people, living on the public or on sordid gains.

14. Juvenal, Satires, iii, 62 et seq.; Stacc. Silves, i. vi. 72.
15. Tacitus, Annals ii. 69.
16. Malala, p 284, 287, et seq.; Libanius, De Angariis p 555 et seq.; De carcere vinctis, p 445 et seq.; ad Timocratem p 385; Antiochichus, 323; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, i.16; Lucian, De Saltatione 76; Diodorus Siculus, fragment of book xxxiv, No. 34 (p 358 ed Dindorf); John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt. 5 (vol vii p 113); lxxiii on Matt 3 (ibid. p 712); De consubst. contra Anom., 1 (vol i, p 501); De Anna, 1 (vol iv, p 730); De David et Saule, iii. 1 (vol iv, 768, 770); Julian, Misopogon p 343, 350, edit. Spanheim; Actes de Sainte Thecle attributed to Basil of Seleucia, published by P. Pantius (Auvers 1608) p 70.
17. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, iii. 58; Ausonius, Clar. Urb. 2; Julius Capitolinus [=Augustan History], Verus 7; Marcus Aurelius 25; Herodian ii. 10; John of Antioch in the Excerpta Valesiana p 844; Suidas at the word Iobiano/s.
18. Julian, Misopogon p 344, 365, etc.; Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists, p 496 edit. Boissonade (Didot); Ammianus Marcellinus, xxii. 14.
19. John Chrysostom, De Lazaro ii. 11 (vol 1, p.722, 723).
20. Cicero, Pro Archia, 3, making allowance for the usual exaggeration of an advocate.
21. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, iii. 58.
22. Malala, p 287, 289.
23. John Chrysostom, Homily vii on Matt 5, 6 (vol vii, p.113); See O Müller, Antiquit. Antioch. p 33, note.
24. Libanius, Antiochichus, p. 355, 366.
25. Juvenal, iii. 62 et seq. and Forcellini, in the word ambubaja, where he observes that the word ambuba is Syriac.
26. Libanius, Antioch. p.315; De carcere vinctis, p. 455; Julian, Misopogon, p. 367 edit. Spanheim.
27. Libanius, Pro rhetoribus, p 211.

(I have silently fixed or augmented one or two places in the references where it seems to me that most people would have difficulty).

In some places I feel that the translator has softened Renan’s prose.  The “avilissement des âmes” — the decay of souls — becomes the “degradation of the people”. 

Likewise why render “mimes” as “buffoons”?  We all know what the Roman mimes were!

It’s a vivid picture indeed, and one that almost perfectly describes … this evening’s viewing on television.

  1. [1]Ernest Renan, Les Apôtres, Paris, 1866, page 219, online here.)
  2. [2]Ernest Renan, The Apostles, New York, 1866, ch. 12, p.198, online here.

Two maps of ancient Antioch

Whenever I read a fantasy novel, I love to see a map.  Likewise I love to see maps of ancient cities.  In a way, the latter are like the former, except that they once actually existed.  Imagine entering the city, and walking along the main street!

Chris Ecclestone has posted two maps of ancient Antioch here.  Somehow this makes his excellent Antioch site much clearer.  I hope that he will make  a permanent link to them from the top of his site.

I notice outside the walls the shrine of St. Babylas, which caused Julian the Apostate so much upset when he tried to restore the oracle at Daphne.

Early Islamic description of Antioch

I mentioned earlier that an early Islamic description of ancient Antioch was published by I. Guidi, ‘una descrizione araba di Antiocheia’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, Cl. di scienze morali, storiche e filolgiche, ser. 5, vol 6, pp. 137-161 (1897).  It’s only 24 pages, half of which at least is an Italian translation.  I wistfully wondered what a translation from the Arabic might cost.

Christopher Ecclestone has been in touch.  It seems that an unpublished English translation exists, done by William Stinespring in 1932 as part of a PhD thesis!  He went on to be professor of Divinity at Duke University for years, but never published it.  I don’t know what the copyright position on it is, but I hope that someone has put it the web somewhere.

In addition I learn that one of Archbishop Laud’s manuscripts — isn’t it odd how scholarly bishops are often persecutors? — in the Bodleian Library in Oxford contains a different and longer recension of the same text.  A Syriac original is posited; but read for yourself!

An Armenian text is examined by Clara Ten Hacken, which draws on the same material, and there is also an article by Margoulioth about it.

Recreational use of a nymphaeum in ancient times

A few weeks ago the Antiochepedia site mentioned that an unspecified Arabic source 1 suggested that skin diseases could be cured by bathing in the town water supply.  This rather horrible idea seemed unusual; but I wonder.

When I was in Leptis Magna, I saw the nymphaeum there.  The temple was essentially a facade onto a massive concrete storage tank, which collected water from the rivers and stored it for use by the city.  Temples of the nymphs are associated with springs, and sources of water in general, and thus with the urban water supply.

This leads me to wonder if this is what we are looking at here in Antioch as well; the miraculous supply of life-giving water being associated with the gods — the nymphs, here — and curative powers associated with the latter?  If so, the procedure above would make more sense.

Note: 1.  Antiochepedia doesn’t say what it is, other than ‘Guidi’, but a google search on Antioch and Guidi says that this seems to be a short early Islamic text, much of it fanciful.  I. Guidi, ‘una descrizione araba di Antiocheia’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, Cl. di scienze morali, storiche e filolgiche, ser. 5, vol 6, pp. 137-161 (1897).  It’s only 24 pages, half of which at least is an Italian translation.  I wish this existed in English.  I wonder what it would cost to translate.  Not a lot, I would guess.