Fun with footnotes again – a sentence suggesting Christian villainy, and the text of the reference

Yesterday’s post, investigating a paragraph on Dirk Rohmann’s book, drew some comment on the last sentence:

In John [Chrysostom]’s metaphorical words, the apostles have “gagged the tongues of the philosophers and stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.” This passage echoes a similar statement in an unpublished manuscript (attributed to John) which asserts that “the senate decrees have been overthrown, the philosophers and orators have been put to shame, and the Areopagus has been wiped out.” This statement could be right because it is attested that in the last quarter of the fourth century large private mansions were constructed on the Areopagus hill, traditionally a place that housed archives.[13]

[13] Watts (2006), 80–81. – Watts, Edward J. 2006. City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. Berkeley: University of California Press.

I had in fact intended to look into this myself.  The sentence suggested to me that the meaning was as follows:

  •  The rise of Christianity in the empire led to the destruction of pagan literature and written documents of all sorts.
  •  The Christians destroyed the Areopagus and the archives kept there.
  •  We know this because large private houses were built there at the end of the fourth century.

But in fact we learn that Dr R had no such intention, and the sentence was merely intended to offer evidence for the abandonment of the Areopagus by that date.

However the reference given is Watts’ City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria.  And … there is a preview of this online, including pages 80-81!  [Update: in fact the whole book is online at here!]

Watts seems like a rather good book, which I would very much like to read!  He tells us that Athens was sacked by the Herulian barbarians in 267.  This ruined the fortunes of the leading citizens, who were unable to repair public buildings.  But by the late 4th century things were recovering, and a period of opulence ensued.

The section that concerns us is as follows:

To understand the challenges faced by Plutarch’s school, one must first explore the economic and religious changes Athens underwent in the later fourth and fifth centuries. Both archeological and epigraphic sources indicate that, contrary to the trend of the previous century, relatively widespread prosperity took hold among the Athenian upper classes in the later fourth century. The most striking evidence for the new wealth of the city comes from the ruins of a number of large houses constructed in the mid- to late fourth century on sites scattered throughout the city.1 The remains of the most elaborate of these houses were found grouped together on the north slope of the Areopagus hill. Dating from the last quarter of the fourth century, these houses were extraordinary in both their size and their layout.2 At a time when the average Athenian house occupied something in the neighborhood of 130-150 square meters, the Areopagus houses ranged in size from 1000 to 1350 square meters.3 These large houses had distinctive architectural features (like apsidal rooms)4 and elaborate interior decorations such as were common to urban and suburban villas of the time.5 Broad upper-class prosperity is seen from the remains of other Athenian buildings as well. These include the massive Palace of the Giants in the Agora,5 an elaborately decorated complex of buildings and enclosed gardens that occupied over 13,500 square meters of space,7 and public construction of a stoa complex containing a mysterious round building.8

Epigraphic evidence from the later fourth and early fifth centuries tells a similar story. Inscriptions describing the efforts of private individuals to pay for the physical rehabilitation of the city begin to appear in the mid-fourth century. In the later fourth century, a new gateway to the Acropolis was constructed.9 Similarly, private funding paid for the renovation of the theater of Dionysus, the erection of a sundial, and the carving of a set of honorary statues to a prefect responsible for renovating the Library of Hadrian.10 The inscriptions mark some of the men responsible for these projects as teachers, but it seems best to see this public spending less as an indication of the wealth of teachers and more as proof of the general prosperity of the period.

The source of this activity is particularly interesting because many of the people responsible for this renewed public euergetism were demonstrably pagan. Traces of this can be seen in several well-known public inscriptions. One such inscription honors the prefect Herculius. It marks him as a defender of the city whose image rests beside that of Athena.11 Another inscription records civicly sanctioned honors for Dexippus, who is “dear to the gods.”12 These references ought not be taken as mere rhetorical convention. Wealthy Athenians in the late fourth and early fifth centuries worked hard both to maintain the vitality of pagan worship in their city and to demonstrate this vitality publicly. On May 27, 387, a man of senatorial rank named Musonius celebrated a taurobolium, an initiatory rite that culminated in a very public acclamation of the devotee’s piety, and displayed an inscribed commemoration of this act.13 Another (undated) taurobolium memorial also survives from this period.14 As was the case with taurobolia commemorations in fourth-century Italy, these monuments were intended to preserve the memory of specific public acts of pagan religious self-expression.15 Less exotic public manifestations of pagan devotion also occurred. Wealthy pagans continued to pay for the Panathenaiac procession16 and, through their influence, the Athenian temples remained intact until the middle of the fifth century.17

Given the general decline of city councils in the fourth-century Roman East, the vigor shown by the Athenian councilor class is remarkable.18 Indeed, its vitality is particularly notable because this Athenian recovery occurred despite the fact that most historically prominent families had been devastated by the Herulian attack. It seems, however, that this activity was due as much to a sense of pagan civic patriotism as to a re-emergence of economic power among Athenian city councilors. Simply put, fifth-century pagans valued Athenian civic institutions and were willing to assume certain extraordinary burdens to keep them viable. There was a reason for this. At a time when imperial and provincial administrators were pursuing policies largely favorable to Christianity, the city council could serve as a governing organ that preserved certain features of pagan civic life. Possibly because of this continued relevance, participation in civic government remained a source of pride to Athenian pagans. Civic office in general and the archonship in particular remained an important achievement in one’s political career, even in the later fifth century,19 and evidence suggests that the archonship was an office that was often tied to prominence in the pagan community.20 Beyond simply valuing the office, Athenian pagans also respected the continuity of the institution. In some cases, pagans even continued to mark each year with the name of the eponymous archon, a deliberate contrast to the system of dating employed by the Christian court.21

Well that’s very interesting.  Indeed I have to force myself to stop quoting at that point, because it’s all fascinating, and very readable.

This gives a different picture.  The houses are not being built by Christians intent on erasing the pagan past; they’re being built by pagans on the town council intent on preserving and enhancing it.

Likewise there is no mention of archives, although I had certainly thought (evidently wrongly) that this was the point of the comment.  I was unable to find any mention of archives on the hill of the Areopagus anywhere.  The state archives were kept in a nearby temple, of the Mother of the Gods, the Metroon, as far as I am aware.  I am entirely ignorant here, of course.

Watts tells us that the city was so badly damaged by the Herulians that the buildings around the agora were not rebuilt, but used as a garbage dump; and that leading Athenian families from the 2nd and 3rd centuries disappear.  Did any such archives perish then, rather than in the late 4th century?

Interesting to see how the author’s intention comes across quite differently to the reader!


Fun with footnotes – the Laudatio Apostolorum of ps.Chrysostom

I do enjoy looking into footnotes.  I’ve been looking into another couple on a passage in Dirk Rohmann’s book, which we encountered a few days ago.  (I’m ignoring footnotes that I’m not looking at; but giving the context).

In John [Chrysostom]’s metaphorical words, the apostles have “gagged the tongues of the philosophers and stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.” This passage echoes a similar statement in an unpublished manuscript (attributed to John) which asserts that “the senate decrees have been overthrown, the philosophers and orators have been put to shame, and the Areopagus has been wiped out.”[12] This statement could be right because it is attested that in the last quarter of the fourth century large private mansions were constructed on the Areopagus hill, traditionally a place that housed archives.

[12] Voicu (1997), 515: “Senatsbeschlüsse sind von den Aposteln umgestürzt, Philosophen u. Redner  beschämt u. der Areopag vernichtet worden”, referring to the unpublished manuscript Cod. Vat.  Gr. 455 fol. 119v. (Voicu, Sever J. 1997. “Johannes Chrysostomus II (Pseudo-Chrysostomica).” RAC 18:503–15)

Mmmm… unpublished manuscripts!!!

…the senate decrees have been overthrown, the philosophers and orators have been put to shame, and the Areopagus has been wiped out…

That does sound rather interesting.  I wondered what the context is?  What is this “unpublished manuscript”?  So… I thought I’d see what I could find!

The RAC seems to be the Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum which no normal person has access to.  It’s not accessible online.  That’s annoying.  Presumably nobody ever looks at it.

My next thought was that perhaps the manuscript itself was online?  Maybe I could take a look at it?  Maybe get a text transcribed, or translated?  After all, 15,000 Vatican manuscripts are now online.  But unfortunately this is not one of them.  Okay…

But surely the Pinakes database, maintained by the IRHT, will list the manuscript and it’s contents?  Well indeed they do!  The entry is here.  The manuscript appears to be a Byzantine homiliary, of the 10th century, and the passage comes from a very short work (folios 118v-120v), entitled Laudatio SS Apostolorum (= Praise of the holy apostles), CPG 4970 (BHG 0160i), incipit Οἱ πρὸ τῆς κλήσεως ἁλιεῖς καὶ μετὰ τὴν κλῆσιν πάλιν ἁλιεῖς, and ending ὅτι ἔδει ἐξ ὕψους μεγάλαις ταῖς πτέρυξιν ἐφιπτάμενον τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα φίλους θεοῦ καὶ προφήτας κατασκευάζειν… ἀμήν.  Three manuscripts are listed – Thank heavens for the thoroughness of the IRHT cataloguers!  The CPG entry tells us no more; a couple of items of inaccessible bibliography are listed by the BHG.  A google search reveals another article by Sever J. Voicu, likewise inaccessible.[1]  I infer that the work does indeed have some interesting features!

We can do nothing with this work at the moment.  It’s quite unusual, these days, that I can’t find some kind of access online to some of this stuff.  But of course this was once normal.  It’s a reminder of what is still offline.

But once the manuscript comes online at the Vatican site, I must have a look.  If the manuscript is legible – and Greek manuscripts tend to be heavily abbreviated – then I might try to get a transcription made; and then a translation.  It might be fun!

There is nothing we can do at the moment, however.  Nice footnote, to nice stuff.

  1. [1]S.J.Voicu, “Echi costantinopolitani di sant’Ireneo. Note su una pseudocrisostomica «Laudatio apostolorum» (CPG 4970)”, in Ultra Terminum Vagari. Scritti in onore di Carl Nylander, a cura di B. Magnusson, S. Renzetti, P. Vian & S.J. Voicu, Roma: Edizioni Quasar. Associazione Internazionale di Archeologia Classica, 1997, 357-366.

Hunting the wild misquotation again: the perils for the author of not verifying your quotations

A week or so ago I saw on Twitter a quotation attributed to John Chrysostom, which read as follows:

Chrysostom liked to gloat that the apostles had gagged the tongues of the philosophers and stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.

The author of the tweet was a certain Catherine Nixey, who is an arts journalist for the Times of London.  She has a book out claiming that the Christians deliberately destroyed almost all ancient literature, or some illiterate nonsense like that.

The tweet appeared in a thread which began here like this:

Patrick Walsh‏ @Walsh_e_Patrick Sep 7
Did Christians erase classical wisdom? Stunning advance copies of THE DARKENING AGE by Catherine Nixey just in – publication 21st September

I’m not sure who Patrick Walsh is, but he seems to post announcements of book launches.  Anyway this one met with criticism, and @catherinenixey joined in in response.  She then posted our tweet above.  (The link to her tweet is here; but there is now no purpose in clicking that link, as we shall see.)  I happened to see it; and responded.  Screen grabs are below!

As I always do, I wondered whether John Chrysostom did say this, and if so, in what context.  So I needed a source.  As I went along, I replied to Nixey, starting here:

Her response was to brush my results aside and demand I follow her so that she could talk to me by direct message.  She did this a couple of times.

And then… suddenly she deleted her account.  This I discovered when I logged in, intending to write to her.

Then I messaged George Morley, who seems to be her publisher, asking why her account had vanished.  I saw no reply.  So I can only infer that her publisher got windy about how things were going, and told her to stop tweeting fast.

Rather than peering at those screen grabs, let me lay out what I saw.

A google search quickly revealed her source.  This proved to be Dirk Rohmann’s Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity, De Gruyter (2016), Google Books preview page 207 (actually p.202 in the printed book):

Name-checking Pythagorean philosophy, John [Chrysostom] justifies the obliteration of ancient philosophies by the beginning of the Gospel of John, implying that the word (lógos) of God is absolute and unchallenged: “Has not all that with good cause perished and been utterly obliterated? – Indeed with good cause and according to the Word!”⁹ In his Demonstration against the Jews and Pagans John demonstrates Jesus’ divinity as a corollary of the success of Christianisation and the subsequent dissolution of the ancient traditions.¹⁰ This, he suggests, is because the apostles were given power over the demons. In John’s metaphorical words, the apostles have “gagged the tongues of the philosophers and stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.”¹¹ This passage echoes a similar statement in an unpublished manuscript (attributed to John) which asserts that “the senate decrees have been overthrown, the philosophers and orators have been put to shame, and the Areopagus has been wiped out.”¹² This statement could be right because it is attested that in the last quarter of the fourth century large private mansions were constructed on the Areopagus hill, traditionally a place that housed archives.¹³

So there is not much question about where Nixey got her idea of Chrysostom gloating over the destruction of pagan literature.  Footnote 11 supplies the reference:

11. Chrys. Jud. et gent. 5.3 (PG 48:820): φιλοσόφων ἐπιστομίζειν γλῶσσαν, ῤητόρων ἀποῤῥάπτειν στόματα.

This is Chrysostom, Against the Jews and Pagans, a little known work.  Certainly these words say what Nixey said – they gagged the tongues of the philosophers, they stitched shut the mouths of the rhetoricians.

But that quote gives no context.  What we need is an English translation.  I learned from the bibliography at Fourth Century that one does exist, in Fathers of the Church 73, Chrysostom Apologist, p.210-11.  So here is, not just six words, but the whole of chapter 5.  It is not long.

Chapter 5
The Mission of the Apostles Foretold

(1) After these events, he would send forth his apostles, as Isaiah had foretold. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, of those who bring glad tidings of good things,”‘ he said. Look what part of the body he praised. He lauded their feet, which took them everywhere they went. Furthermore, David showed the manner and source of their strength and success when he said: “The Lord shall give the word to them who preach the good tidings with great power.”

(2) It would not be by wielding weapons, nor by expenditure of money, nor by strength of body, nor by abundance of armies, nor by any other such means that the apostles would conquer the world. They would gain victory by a mere word, since that word had great power and was proved by signs and wonders. For they preached Christ crucified, they wrought miracles and. in this way, they conquered the world. It was on this account that David said: “The Lord shall give the word to them who preach the good tidings with great power,”‘ because this was his way of speaking of the miracles and wonders they worked.

(3) And it was the result of an ineffable power that the fisherman, the publican, and the tent maker, at their mere commands, raised the dead to life, drove out demons, drove off death, stopped the tongues of philosophers, stitched shut the mouths of rhetoricians, overcame kings and rulers, and were victorious over barbarians, pagans, and every nation.

(4) Indeed, David described the situation well in that way. For it was by that word which God gave them that they accomplished all those things they did. And it was with God’s great power that they brought the dead back to life, changed sinners into just men, restored sight to the blind, and drove out disease from the body and evil from the soul. And where did they get that power? That it came from the Holy Spirit is made quite clear from these words: “And they were filled with the Spirit,”’ and both men and women prophesied.

(5) Tongues seen in the form of fire settled on each one of them, as Joel had long before predicted when he said: “I shall pour out a portion of my spirit on all flesh, and your sons will prophesy and your daughters will see visions, and your young men will dream dreams before the coming of the great and illustrious day of the Lord.” [By “the great and illustrious day” he meant both the day of the Spirit and the day which would come at the consummation of the world.] This same prophet predicted salvation through faith—for he did not remain silent on this—when he said: “And it will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved

Surely this is just a preacher, going through the events of Acts?  Nothing more.  How is this innocent retelling of the Acts, of the doings of Peter, Paul, and friends, a call for book-burning, fire and sword?  What sort of person would read this like that?

Anyway I posted the screen grab, and asked Catherine Nixey whether she felt that her “quote”, verbally accurate though it was, was a fair representation of what Chrysostom wrote.

Her response was to delete her account.  And that makes me feel rather guilty.  I hope that I did not do her harm.

One final thought.  In view of the attempt to erase the discussion, probably by the publisher, here is a screen grab demonstrating that the @catherinenixey account did indeed exist.  It’s not much; but I am unaccustomed to this kind of thing, so I did not capture her comments.

Does anyone know how to see deleted tweets?