From my diary

I’ve been poking around the web, trying to find out how we identify a particular image of a goddess as “Isis”.  No doubt the answer is some examples of an ancient statue with the goddess’ name on the bottom.  But I’ve had no luck so far in finding an example.

In the process I came across something interesting.  I did a search in the PHI Greek epigraphy database here  (ignore the corpora at filling most of the page — the search is right at the bottom).  The interface is not that friendly, but a search on “isidi” and hitting enter gave back a shoal of inscriptions; some 535 of them.  (Unfortunately there seems to be no way to specify this as a whole word match, so you get substrings of other words).

What was interesting, once I scrolled past the first few matches, was that the vast majority of them included “Sarapi” as well; fewer, but still a good many also add “Anubi” and sometimes “Harpokrati”.  Here’s an example:

Σαράπιδι, Ἴσιδι, Ἀννούβιδι {Ἀνούβιδι}, Ἀντιβοΐδης Δικαίου

or this, from Delos, 94-3 BC (ID 2039, PH 64483 — not sure how I should reference these inscriptions):

Δίκαιος Δικαίου Ἰωνίδ[ης, ἱερεὺς γενόμενος Σαράπιδος, ὑπὲρ τοῦ δήμου τοῦ Ἀθηναίων καὶ τοῦ δή]μου το[ῦ Ῥωμαίων καὶ βασι]λέως Μιθ[ρ]αδάτου Εὐπάτορος Διονύσου καὶ τοῦ ἑαυτοῦ πατρὸς Δ[ικαίου τοῦ — — — — Ἰωνίδου καὶ τῆς μητρὸς — — — Σαράπιδι, Ἴσι]δι, Ἀνούβιδ[ι, Ἁρποκράτει καὶ] μελαν[η]φόροις καὶ θεραπευταῖς, ἐπὶ ἐπιμελητοῦ τῆς νήσου Ἀρόπου [τοῦ patr. dem., ἱερέως δὲ nom. patr. Παι]ανιέως καὶ τῶν [ἐπὶ τὰ ἱερὰ nom., patr. Ἁλ]αιέως [καὶ nom. patr, dem. ζακορεύοντος? — — —]ρος.

Δίκαιος Δικαίου Ἰωνίδ[ης ὑπὲρ τοῦ δή]μου το[ῦ Ἀθηναίων καὶ βασι]λέως Μιθραδάτου Εὐπάτορος Διονύσου καὶ τοῦ ἑαυτοῦ πατρὸς Δ[ικαίου, Σαράπιδι, Ἴσι]δι, Ἀνούβιδ[ι, Ἁρποκράτει καὶ] μελαν[η]φόροις καὶ θεραπευταῖς, ἐπὶ ἐπιμελητοῦ τῆς νήσου Ἀρόπου [dem., ἱερέως nom. Παι]ανιέως καὶ τῶν [ἐπὶ τὰ ἱερὰ nom., dem. καὶ nom. Ἁλ]αιέως [ζακορεύοντος? — — —]ρος.

Anyone care to give us a translation of this?  I note the name of king Mithradates Eupater Dionysus, and mention of the Romans and Athenians.

People sometimes refer to a triad of Isis; but what comes across is that Harpocrates is rather marginal.

More on literary sources for Isis

I’ve continued to collect ancient literary sources about Isis.  I have a set of working notes (in no particular order) here.  There seems to be a lot of wild talk around about Isis too.

Today my objective was to discover the attitude of Augustus to the cult.  I have read unreferenced claims that Augustus described the cult as “pornographic” — but have yet to find a source for this.  But I did eventually locate the source that showed that he pushed the cult outside the pomerium, not in Tacitus, as several books claim, but in Cassius Dio.

But there is still a lot to do.

The difficulty of orientation: trying to learn about Isis

I’ve been thinking about Mithras and Mithra, Roman and Persian.  Some of the comments on my recent post, Why Cumontian Mithras studies are dead, suggested that Roman syncretism could not be left out of account, and that any eastern cult that entered the Roman world was likely to undergo modification. 

There is much truth in this.  We all remember the Indian gurus who competed for custom among the hippies with westernised versions of their teachings.  The Hare Krishnas come rather readily to mind.  A couple of generations earlier, we find eastern Fakirs in Edwardian drawing rooms.  But then again, all this is rather vague.  How do we know what happened?

I started thinking about an obvious contender for this syncretism and assimilation: the Egyptian cult of Isis.  Isis is an ancient Egyptian goddess, part of the pantheon together with Ra and Osiris and Horus and the rest.  Yet there were temples of Isis in Rome itself, and elsewhere in the empire.  Surely this would be an excellent candidate cult for examination?  After all, we can learn a lot about the pre-Graeco-Roman cult from Ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions; and then we have a goodish amount of material from the Roman period.

So thinking, I naturally wanted to know just what the data base for the cult of Isis in the Roman world was.  And … there I started to get stuck.

I wanted to know who the scholars are that one should read.  There is, no doubt, much dross and hearsay out there.  Indeed it took only one click on a Google search to find a book about “Isis and Early Christianity” or some such … how drearily predictable.   A bibliography would be a wonderful thing.

For I am entirely a layman on Isis.  I know nothing about it.  In this respect I am just like most people.  Where does one get a reading list of sound sources?  Just who are the good scholars?

One wouldn’t look to Wikipedia for this; indeed if it acquired such a bibliography, some troll would delete it.  And indeed the Wikipedia Isis article displays the usual mixture of hearsay and low-grade sources.

My own approach would be to read whatever I can find, and tabulate the ancient Graeco-Roman literary sources.  It may not be the best way; but it is impossible to avoid learning a great deal in the process.

Legends about what the Chronicon Pascale says

After Eusebius invented the idea of the “Chronicle of World History”, subsequent writers produced considerable numbers of these.  As a rule these start with Adam, using the Bible and Eusebius to cover stuff up to Constantine, and then whatever continuations and paraphrases were available.

The Chronicon Pascale is an example of this genre.  It’s a Greek World Chronicle, composed around 630 AD in the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius, just half a dozen years before the Arabs charge out of the desert and find no-one in any shape to resist them.  No translation of the whole thing exists, apart from the renaissance Latin version printed in the Patrologia Graeca 92.  Whitby and Whitby made an English translation of the portion from 284 AD onwards.

Bill Thayer of Lacus Curtius forwarded me an email in which someone raised an interesting query:

…in “The Story of Religious Controversy”, a book written in 1929 by Joseph McCabe. In the chapter entitled “Morals in Ancient Egypt,” he is speaking of the son of the goddess Isis–Horus–and says: “An early Christian work, the ‘Paschal Chronicle’ (Migne ed. xcii. col 385), tells us that every year the temples of Horus presented to worshippers, in mid-winter (or about December 25th), a scenic model of the birth of Horus. He was represented as a babe born in a stable, his mother Isis standing by.”

I hope we all know better than to believe the crude falsehoods about Christian origins circulated by bitter atheists online.  But does the CP say any such thing?  I went off to look.

Skimming over the Latin side , I find a discussion of Jeremiah’s prediction of Christ, starting in col. 383, “De Jeremia”.  This starts with one of the messianic passages, mirrored in Matthew – which he quotes – and then says is also in Hebrews.  Then he goes on (my own rough translation of key points):

“Jeremiah was from Anathoth, and was killed in Taphais in Egypt by being stoned by the people, and sleeps in the place where Pharaoh’s palace is, (..because he was very respected..) because when they were infested with the aquatic animals, called Menephoth in Egyptian and crocodiles in Greek. Even today those faithful to God who take some of the dust of that place can drive crocodiles away”

One may hope that no-one actually experimented with live crocodiles to verify this.

Then follows a story that Alexander, when he came to Egypt, and heard about the “arcana” which he had predicted, removed the prophet’s relics to Alexandria, for some other similar magic which I can’t quite make out.  It then continues:

“This sign Jeremiah gave to the priests of Aegypt, predicting the future, that their idols would be destroyed and ? by a boy saviour born of a virgin, and laid in a manger.” 

It goes on:

“Quapropter etiamvero ut deam colunt virginem puerperam, et infantem in praesepi adorant.

For which reason (?) they honour a pregnant virgin goddess and worship an infant in a manger.

When king Ptolemy asked why, they told him that they received this secret from the holy prophet handed down by their fathers. The same prophet Jeremiah, before the destruction of the temple, …”  (more stuff about prophecy).

Migne quotes a note by DuCange (25) which says that this bit about a virgin comes from Epiphanius and Simon Logothetes (who?).  No reference is given, unfortunately, and I was unable to find it in the Panarion.

This last bit is probably the kernel of the story that we see in highly embroidered form above.