An English translation of Martin of Braga’s “De correctione rusticorum”

Rather to my surprise I found a website online dedicated to the 6th century writer Martin of Braga, best known for a work De ira which is based on Seneca’s lost work of the same title.

The site is run by Angus Graham and is here. (Update 2017: link repointed to  He also scanned a bunch of Latin texts, from the edition of Barlow (mirrored at the Bibliotheca Augustana page), and these are available in zip form, together with a Word document translation of De correctione rusticorum (in file BRAGARUSE.DOC).

It was the latter for which I was looking, because it witnesses to some unusual paganism in what is now Portugal in his period.  The translation, made in 2001, is very smooth and I make no bones about giving some relevant sections here:

[7] Then the devil and his agents, demons who had been cast down from heaven, seeing man in ignorance abandoning God his creator and led astray by created things, began to reveal themselves in different forms, speaking to man and demanding things of him, and in the lofty mountains and leafy forests he made offerings, considering them to be gods. They gave themselves the names of evil men who spent their lives in all manner of sin and wickedness. The one called himself Jupiter, who was a magician and whose incestuous adultery was so great that he took his own sister as wife, whose name was Juno; he corrupted his daughters, Minerva and Venus, shamefully committing incest even with his grand-daughters and all his family. Another of these demons called himself Mars, who was the cause of strife and discord. Yet another of these demons preferred the name of Mercury, and he was the inventor of all theft and crafty deceit; to him greedy men render sacrifice as if he was a god of profit, throwing down heaps of precious stones at crossroads. Another of these demons, having given himself the name of Saturn and living in all cruelty, even devoured his own children. Yet another of these demons pretended to be Venus, who was a slut. Not only did she commit countless adulteries, but she was even her own father, Jupiter’s, slut, and Mars, her brother’s.

[8] This is the sort of degenerate men there were in those days, who common people ignorantly honoured for their wicked inventions, whose names were assumed in this way by demons so that men would worship them as gods and offer them sacrifices and imitate the deeds of those whose names they invoked. Those demons even persuaded men to build temples to them and to place there images and statues of wicked men and to set up altars, at which the blood not just of animals but even of men was shed for them. But besides this, many of these devils who were banished from heaven hold sway over the rivers, the springs and the forests, and ignorant men worship them and make sacrifices to them as if they were gods. And in the sea they are called Neptune, in the rivers Lamia, in the springs Nymphs, in the forests Diana, and they are all no more than evil demons and spirits who harm and harass unfaithful men who do not know how to defend themselves with the sign of the cross. Yet they cannot do harm without the permission of God, for men have angered God and do not believe with all their heart in Christ’s faith, and are so doubting that they give the names of these demons to each day of the week, calling these days by the names of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, where these created no days, but were wicked and evil men among the Greeks.

[9] … What folly it therefore is that man, baptised in the faith of Christ, does not honour the Lord’s day, but says to honour the days of Jupiter, and Mercury, and Venus and Saturn, who have no days of their own, but rather were adulterers and sorcerers and were wicked and who died evilly in their own land! Yet as we have said, it is with these kind of names that foolish men show veneration and honour to demons.

[10] In the same way the error was insinuated among the ignorant and simple that the year should begin on the calends of January, which is altogether fictitious. For as holy scripture tells us, the first year began at the equinox of the eighth of the calends of April. As we may read: ‘and God divided the light from the darkness’. Since in all true division there is equalness, so on the eighth of the calends of April the day has as many hours as does the night. And so it is false that the year should begin on the calends of January.

[11] With what anguish should we speak of that foolish error of observing the day of the moth and the mouse, and is it right to say that a Christian may worship the moth and the mouse in place of God? …

[16] … So why do some of you who have renounced the devil and his angels, his worship and his evil deeds then go back to worshipping the devil? For lighting candles by rocks, by trees, by springs and at crossroads – what is this other than worshipping the devil? Celebrating the feast of Vulcan and the calends, decking tables, laying laurel wreaths, placing the right foot first, throwing food and wine over the hearth-log, casting bread into the spring, what else is this but worshipping the devil? Women that invoke Minerva at their looms, that choose the day of Venus to get married, and that regard a particular day as auspicious for travel – what else is this but worshipping the devil? Making spells with herbs to do injury and thereat invoking the names of demons – what else is this but worshipping the devil? And there are many more things that would take too long to tell. …

[18] … How unjust and shameful it is that those who are pagans and ignorant of Christian faith should worship the idols of demons, should observe the day of Jupiter or some other demon, and refrain from toil even though these demons neither have nor have they created any day. And we, who worship the true God and believe that the Son of God was resurrected from the dead, should so poorly revere the day of His resurrection, that is Sunday!

Again we see the idea of not working on Thursday present among the ignorant folk whom Martin evangelised, and various kinds of superstition.

It is tempting to think here of Thor, rather than Jupiter, for this was a German society in this period, not a classical one.  But of course this can only be speculation.  The gods specified earlier are certainly the Olympians, but Martin’s concern seems mainly to be to break the link between the days of the week and paganism, rather than any fear of these gods being worshipped now.  The observances are much more petty.

Martin is very careful to remind his hearers that none of the demons have any power when confronted with the sign of the cross.  This is not an abstract treatise, but a real problem and a real solution demanded.  Those who do not follow Christ will always fall into superstition.

Somebody needs to collect all the testimonia for late paganism.  Until this is done no individual piece of data can be more than interesting.

UPDATE (2017): I find that the Angus Graham site vanished in 2016.  The link above is to the Wayback Machine at

UPDATE: I think that I will append the page contents.  This information should not be allowed to vanish from the web.

Martin of Braga: Opera omnia
Martin, abbot of Dume, bishop of Braga, saint, died in 579 (feast day 20 March). Later in the middle ages, his works were sometimes attributed to Seneca. His Formula vitae honestae (= De quattuor virtutibus) was especially widespread.

Texts presented here are taken from ed. Claude W. Barlow, Martini Episcopi Bracarensis Opera Omnia, Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, XII, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1950. This publication is now out of copyright. You have here the bare text: I do not include Barlow’s rich critical apparatus or his thorough and enlightening discussion.

There is a recent edition of the De correctione rusticorum giving the Latin text, a Spanish translation, and a discussion: José Eduardo López Pereira, Cultura, Relixión e Supersticións na Galicia Sueva: Martiño de Braga ‘De correctione rusticorum’, Monografías 39, La Coruña, Universidade da Coruña, 1996 (ISBN 84-89694-08-7).

The text De Pascha is included by Barlow; more recent scholarship has questioned its place in Martin’s canon because of its occasional manichaean and priscillian content. The minutes of the two councils of Braga may very well not have come from Martin’s pen; however, he played a sufficiently prominent role at them that they should certainly be considered as reflecting his acta if not his opera.

Back to Albertano.

Back to texts.

Opera omnia:

Moral Treatises:

Pro repellenda iactantia
(Barlow, pp. 65-69)

Item de superbia
(Barlow, pp. 69-73)

Exhortatio humilitatis
(Barlow, pp. 74-79)

Councils and canons:

First council of Braga
(Barlow, pp. 105-115)

Second council of Braga
(Barlow, pp. 116-123)

Canons of St. Martin
(Barlow, pp. 123-144)

Other works:

Sententiae Patrum Aegyptiorum
(Barlow, pp. 30-51)

De ira
(Barlow, pp. 150-158)

De correctione rusticorum
(Barlow, pp. 183-203)
• My own English translation is included in the Opera *.zip file.

Formula vitae honestae
(Barlow, pp. 236-250)

De trina mersione
(Barlow, pp. 256-258)

De Pascha
(Barlow, pp. 270-275)

(Barlow, pp. 282-283)


Original sources for his life
(Barlow, pp. 288-304)

You can download Martin’s Opera (141k *.zip file) by clicking here.

Angus Graham.

Honouring “Jupiter’s day” in the 6th century AD

From Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 13, chapter 5:[1]

(5) Now, I believe that the unfortunate practices which have remained from the profane customs of the pagans have under God’s inspiration been removed from these places because of your reproaches.

However, if you still know some people who practice that most sordid and disgraceful act of masquerading as old hags and stags,[2] rebuke them so harshly that they will repent of having committed the wicked deed.

If, when the moon is darkened, you know that some people still shout, admonish them, telling them what a grave sin they are committing, for in wicked boldness they are confident that by their shouts and sorcery they can protect the moon which is darkened at certain times by the Lord’s bidding.

Moreover, if you still see men fulfilling vows to fountains or trees, and, as was already said, consulting sorcerers, seers, or charmers, hanging devilish phylacteries, magic signs, herbs, or charms on themselves or their family, rebuke them harshly, telling them that one who docs this evil loses the sacrament of baptism.

Since we have heard that some men and women are so much deceived by the Devil that they do no work or weaving on Thursday, we assert before God and His angels that anyone who wants to do this will be condemned to the place where the Devil will burn him, unless he corrects his grave sin by prolonged hard penance. I do not doubt that those most unfortunate and miserable people who refuse to work on Thursday in Jove’s honor neither fear nor blush to do so on Sunday. Therefore, rebuke most harshly those whom you know do this. If they refuse to amend their life, do not allow them to have conversation with you or to come to your banquet. Moreover, if it is your affair, even whip them so that they may at least fear physical blows, if they do not think about the salvation of their soul.

As we think of our danger, dearly beloved, on our part we advise you with paternal solicitude. If you willingly hear us, you will both give us joy and arrive happily yourselves at the kingdom. May He deign to grant this, who, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns world without end. Amen.

I am told that, in Sermon 193,[3] “Caesarius had cited the sinfulness of the gods as a reason for not calling the days of the week after them.”  Curiously the Patrologia Latina only seems to print around 20 sermons.  The Latin text referenced is that of G. Morin in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, issued by Brepols in the 1950’s and so inaccessible to me.

  1. [1]Caesarius of Arles, Sermons, volume 1 (1-80),Fathers of the Church 31 (1956) p.78.  Preview here.  I have broken up the chapter into paragraphs for readability, but in the original it is given as a single block of text.
  2. [2]As done in some pagan celebrations on New Year’s Day. (Translator note)
  3. [3]See footnote 65 here.

Major pagan temples still operating in the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5-6th century?

The edicts of Theodosius I which closed all the temples and made offering sacrifice, in public or private, a crime of high treason were, of course, not enforced.  The code that transmits these edicts to us, the Theodosian code, itself bears witness that late emperors found the greatest difficulty in getting their edicts put into effect.  A far-reaching edict, affecting the lives of half the empire, could not have any effect unless a programme of enforcement was also created.  There is no evidence that one was.  The edicts were, therefore, a gesture.  Like some of the religious laws of Charles II, they were, in the words of Bishop Burnet, intended to terrorise rather than to be enforced.  They created a legal structure of mild but definite legal discrimination, rather like those of modern days where anyone may be denounced for thought crimes by any member of a favoured minority.  But most of the time nothing much happened.

An interesting statement came to my attention this morning:

Imperial toleration is suggested by the fact that the prohibition of sacrifices was widely disobeyed in the fifth and sixth centuries. Ancient shrines such Heliopolis (Baalbek) and Carrhae (Harran) are reported to have operated throughout the fifth and sixth centuries despite repeated imperial efforts to suppress these cults. Even in most Christian Edessa, “the blessed city”, organized communities of pagans were still sacrificing to Zeus-Hadad in the last quarter of the sixth century.[1]

Let’s have a look at the references for this.

First, Baalbek, ancient Heliopolis, in what is today Lebanon.  The Chronicon Pascale states for the year 379:[2]

The huge and celebrated temple of Baal at the city of Heliopolis, constructed of three stones of marble, he [Theodosius I] turned into a church.

Well and good, although one may ask how reliable this information is.  It certainly indicates some form of rescript by Theodosius.  But we have already discussed how effective imperial letters were.

We then move to the time of Justinian, when a lightning bolt struck the temple.  The Syriac Chronicle of ps.Zacharias Rhetor[3] tells us that this was in 836 A.Gr. (=525 AD):

…the temple of Solomon in the city of Heliopolis in the forest of Lebanon, as to which Scripture mentions that Solomon built it and stored arms in it [was burnt]. And to the south of it are three wonderful stones, on which nothing is built, but they stand by themselves, joined and united together and touching one another; and all three are distinguished by effigies, and they are very large. And in a mystical sense they are set, as it were, to represent the temple of the knowledge of the faith in the adorable Trinity, the calling of the nations by the preaching of the gospel tidings. There came down lightning from heaven, while the rain fell in small quantities: it struck the temple and reduced its stones to powder by the heat, and overthrew its pillars, and broke it to pieces and destroyed it. But the three stones it did not touch, but they remain perfect; and now a house of prayer has been built there, dedicated to Mary the Holy Virgin, the Theotokos.

The destruction of the temple is confirmed by John of Ephesus, found in ps.Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, for the year 866[4], which gives the following description of the temple:

In this town of Baalbek there was a grand and opulent temple of the idols.  It is said that it was one of the important constructions by Solomon.  Its length was 150 cubits and its width 65.  It was built with stones of immense size, each up to 15-20 cubits long, 10 cubits high, and 4 cubits deep in the inside of the temple.  Its columns were high, massive and amazing to see.  The roof, made from great cedars from Lebanon, was covered with lead everywhere.  Its doors were of bronze.  Rams’ heads made of bronze, three cubits tall, which one could see from the interior, were placed under each timber of the roof. The other ornaments were so remarkable that this temple, by its splendour everywhere, held the pagans to their error.  Sacrifices, vows and burned offerings to demons were offered in the temple unceasingly, and nobody was able to discredit it.

So the temple was plainly still in operation.  The discrepancy of dates is interesting, however.

Later still Michael the Syrian writes, that in the 7th year of Justin:[5]

South of the temple of Solomon at Baalbek, a city of wooden houses in Lebanon, mentioned in Scripture which says that Solomon built and adorned it (1 Kings 7), are found three enormous stones on which nothing is built.  They stood together by themselves and were linked together.  They were remarkable for their apppearance and all three were very large.  They were placed there as a symbol of the Trinity.  However in this year the thunder fell and destroyed the entire temple and pulverised its stones, but did no  harm to these.  Now a temple of the Mother of God has been built in this place by the efforts of the emperor.

Soon afterwards, Michael the Syrian tells us:[6]

At this time [Tiberius II, year 2] the pagans who were at the town of Heliopolis attacked the Christians and  tried to destroy them by the edge of the sword.  Learning this Tiberius Caesar sent  Theophilus with an army.  He captured, crucified and put to death a great number of them.

Second, Carrhae (Harran).  Theodoret records (IV, 15), at the reign of Valens:[7]

On the quieting of the tempest and restoration of complete calm, they were ordered to return home, and were escorted by all the people, wailing and weeping, and specially by the bishop of the church, who was now deprived of their husbandry. When they reached home, the great Barses had been removed to the life that knows no pain, and the divine Eulogius was entrusted with the rudder of the church which he had piloted; and to the excellent Protogenes was assigned the husbandry of Charrae, a barren spot full of the thorns of heathendom and needing abundant labour. But these events happened after peace was restored to the churches.

Procopius tells us that, during the reign of Justinian, the invading Persian king Chosroes treated Harran with special favour[8]:

Therefore Chosroes moved forward, taking with him all the captives. And the citizens of Carrhae met him holding out to him great sums of money; but he said that it did not belong to him because the most of them are not Christians but are of the old faith.

Michael the Syrian witnesses to paganism in Harran in the time of Justinian here:[9]

Then a human hand was sent from Sebaste, in the country of the Samaritans, as being that of John the Baptist.  It raised questions in many, because it was sent by Marinus of Harran, a man pagan in name and in deed.  However the emperor, with all the city, received it with great pomp and venerated it.  It was placed in a reliquary of gold.

Finally Edessa.  The reference given for this from Michael the Syrian actually relates to Heliopolis.[10]  This leaves us with the following references, neither of which I can access: “John of Ephesus, Historia ecclesiastica, iii.3.28 (ed. and trans. E. W. Brooks, Historiae ecclesiasticae pars tertia, Corpus scriptorum christ. orient. [hereafter C.S.C.O.], Script. Syr., iii. 3, Louvain, 1935-6, pp. 115-16); cf. J. B. Segal, Edessa, “the Blessed City” (Oxford, 1970), pp. 106-8)”.

Does all this actually justify the claim originally made, I wonder?  It shows that there were numbers of pagans still in the east.  The temple at Heliopolis, despite the rescript of Theodosius, had clearly continued in being.  But we can’t really say that there was no disruption, that there was continuity at major shrines.  Rather there was imperial negligence, interrupted by periodic enforcement of the ban on paganism in response to local events.

  1. [1]K. W. Harl, “Sacrifice and Pagan Belief in Fifth- and Sixth-Century Byzantium”, Past and Present 128 (1990) 7-27, esp. p.14. JSTOR.
  2. [2]Ed. L. A. Dindorf, 2 vols., Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae [C.S.H.B.], Bonn, 1832, i, p. 561.  Online here.
  3. [3]Zacharias of Mytilene, Chronicon, viii.4 (trans. F. J. Hamilton and E. W. Brooks, The Syriac Chronicle known as that of Zachariah of Mytilene, London, 1899, pp. 204-5.  Online here and here.
  4. [4]F. Nau, “Analyse de la seconde partie inedite de l’histoire ecclesiastique de Jean d’Asie, patriarche jacobite de Constantinople (+585)”, Revue de l’orient chretien, 2 (1897), pp. 490-1.  Online here.
  5. [5]Michael the Syrian, Chronicon, ix. 16.  Ed. J.-B. Chabot, Le chronique de Michel le Syrien . . . 1166- 1199, 4 vols., Paris, 1899-1910, ii, p. 179.  Online here.
  6. [6]Michael the Syrian, Chronicon, x.12. Ed. Chabot, ii, p. 318. Here.
  7. [7]Theodoret, Historia ecclesiastica, iv. 18 here.
  8. [8]Procopius, De bello Persico, ii.13.7.  Here.
  9. [9]Michael the Syrian, Chronicon, ix.33.  Ed. Chabot, ii, p. 270. Online here.
  10. [10]Michael the Syrian, Chronicon, x.12 (ed. Chabot, ii, p. 318).  See above.

Ancient Egyptian idols destroyed in the life of Severus of Antioch

Here is another statement from Mango’s article:

At the end of the fifth century a great number of idols, salvaged from the temple of Isis at Memphis, were concealed in a house behind a false wall. But their presence was detected by the Christians.  The statues were loaded on twenty camels and taken to Alexandria where they were exposed to public ridicule and destroyed.

The reference is to the Life of Severus of Antioch, by Zacharias Rhetor (d. 553), published in the Patrologia Orientalis II (1903), p.27-37.[1]  Originally composed in Greek, it survives only in Syriac.  The last date in it is 512 AD, as it finishes before the events of the patriarchate of Severus.  I’ve turned the French translation from the PO into English, and I have found that it is a very interesting read indeed.

Some introduction to the context is necessary.

The scene is set in Alexandria in the late 5th century.  The emperor Zeno is on the throne, and Peter Mongus is the (monophysite) patriarch of Alexandria.  The intellectual life of the city is lively, and the city is full of students.  Many of the teachers are Christians, and there are plenty of zealous young men actively interested in the controversies of the day, and doing church work.  These call themselves the Philoponoi — the “lovers of work”.  But circles of pagan teachers such as Horapollon are still teaching in Alexandria, even though paganism is officially illegal and has been for a century.  Some of these pagans are in touch with a temple and oracle of Isis at nearby Menouthis.  Students come from all parts of the Eastern Roman Empire to study.  There is also a (monophysite) monastery at Enaton, headed by a certain Salomon.  The Pachomian monasteries are Chalcedonian, and there is one at Tabennesiote.

Paralios of Aphrodisias in Caria is one of these students who have come to Alexandria to get an education.  He is a pagan, but has a brother who has gone into the Enaton monastery, and taken the name of “Athanasius”, where he works with a fellow monk and former sophist named Stephen.  But Paralios has been instructed by his family to have no contact with Athanasius.  He attends the lectures of Horapollon and Asclepiodotus; and then sneaks out to talk to Athanasius, and the shrewd Stephen.  The latter plants doubts in his mind about paganism.  For a while Paralios shuttles between the two camps.  He visits Menouthis and listens to the oracle; and then hears criticism of the stupidity and superstition of paganism at Enaton.

He learns from Asclepiodotos of a pagan miracle; that the latter has had a child, even though his wife is too old.  Stephen pointedly asks whether or not the sterile wife is also nursing the child.  Paralios’ investigation suggests that the child is actually a fraud; the illegitimate son of one of the Isis priestesses.  For his pains, he gets beaten up.  The Christian students are outraged, and there are disturbances.  The uproar is so great as to cause the monophysite monks at Enaton and the Chalcedonian Tabennesiote monks to make common cause against the pagans.

Now read on.  The speaker is Zacharias himself.

*    *    *    *   *    *   *    *

At the news of these facts, the great Stephen called us to Enaton, at the Convent of Salomon. He asked Paralios, if he could reveal the pagan idols hidden at Menouthis. Paralios said that he would reveal them, that he would hand over the altar, and prove the sacrifices that they had dared do. Thereupon, we decided once again, with the most illustrious Salomon, to go and make known these things to the Bishop Peter. Once there, Paralios promised before Peter to reveal the idols, the altar and the sacrifices, and to make known the priest of the idolatrous error. The high priest of God, Peter, then gave us some members of the clergy and invited by letter those who lived in the convent called “of the Tabennesiotes”, located at Canopus, to help us eradicate and overturn the demonic gods of the heathen.

After praying, as was right, we went to Menouthis and came to a house which was totally covered with pagan inscriptions (hieroglyphics).  In one corner the wall was double.  Behind this wall, the idols were hidden.  A narrow entrance in the form of a window led into it, and this is how the priest went in to conduct the sacrifices.  Hoping that our search would lead to nothing, helpers of the priestess who lived in this house – they were indeed aware of the uprising that had taken place in the town – had filled up the mouth of the entrance with stones and lime.  In addition, so that the recent nature of the masonry might not be observed, and so that we would not discover the ruse and the artifice, they placed a cabinet full of incense and popana (?) in front of the place, and above that they suspended a lamp which was kept burning until daylight.  The result was that Paralios was initially a little troubled and embarassed, not knowing what had happened to the entrance, in the form of a window.  However, not without difficulty, he discovered the ruse.  He then made the sign of the cross, took down the lamp, moved the cabinet aside and revealed the entrance which was blocked at that moment with stones, by recent masonry work.  He then asked the Tabennesiotes who were accompanying us to help, to bring an axe; then he ordered one of them to open what had been freshly constructed and to make the original aspect (of the opening) appear.  The Tabennesiote then entered.  When he saw the multitude of idols, and the altar covered with blood, he cried out in Egyptian, “There is only one God!”, meaning by this that the error of polytheism must be extirpated.  First he handed us the idol of Kronos, which was entirely filled with blood; then all the other idols of the demons, then a varied collection of idols of every species, including dogs, cats, monkeys, crocodiles, and reptiles; because in the past the Egyptians worshipped also these animals.  He also handed us the rebel dragon.  His idol was of wood, and it seems to me that those who worshipped this serpent, or rather that the latter wanted to be worshipped in this way, recalled the rebellion of the first creatures, who did so by the wood (tree) on the advice of the serpent.  It was said that these idols had been removed from the temple of Isis at Memphis by the priest of that period when it was realised that paganism had lost its strength and was abolished.   They had been hidden, as we have said.   It was hoped – a vain and futile hope – that they would not be discovered.

We gave to the flames, in Menouthis itself, those of the idols which, because of their high antiquity, were already largely deteriorated.

The inhabitants who lived in the town thought, under the influence of the demons who possessed them, that it was impossible for them to go on living if any outrage was inflicted on the idols; they believed that they would die on the spot.  So we wanted to show them by the facts that all the power of the pagan gods and the demons was broken and abolished since the coming and incarnation of the Messiah, the Word of God, who voluntarily suffered for us on the cross, in order to destroy every adverse power; for He said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, and I have given you the power to trample underfoot serpents and scorpions and all the power of the enemy.”  And it was for this reason that we gave one part of the idols to the flames.  As for the other idols, we made an inventory of those that were of brass, and that were made with a certain ingenious art, as well as those which were of marble, of every form, without forgetting the brazen altar and the wooden dragon.  Then we sent this description to the city, to Peter the patriarch of our Lord Jesus Christ, and asked him to tell us what to do.

Those who passed for Christians at Menouthis, and those who were part of the clergy of the church of the town, were, with the sole exception of their priest, quite weak in their faith, to the point that they were enslaved to the gold that the pagans gave them so that they would not prevent the latter offering sacrifices to idols.  Evening arrived on the day on which we had done these things, and it was necessary to guard the idols, once the inventory had been made, so that they were not stolen, but they (the weak Christians) declared that they believed that they would suffer some kind of diabolical harassment in guarding them (the idols), and took the view that it was for us to guard them.  On their side the pagans living at Menouthis thought and said that we would infallibly die during the night.  The priest, seeing the fear of the Christians and the clergy – he was a good and faithful man, who adorned the virtues of the monastic life, as well as those of old age, and whose way of life was simple – led us, after he had given us a meal, into one of the chambers of the church, where the idols had been placed.  He said to us, “At this point I despise the idols, and trample them underfoot, and inflict every outrage upon them, not thinking in any way that these are anything.”  Then he prayed for us, and invited us to guard the idols throughout the night, without fear.  “He himself,” he said, “would be, as usual, occupied with the service of God.”

We spent the whole night guarding the idols.  We sang, “Let all those be ashamed who love the works of sculpture, and trust in their idols”, (Ps. 96:7) and then, “The gods of the nations are demons; but the Lord is the creator of the heavens,” (Ps. 95:5) and then, “The idols of the nations are of silver and gold, a work of the hands of men. They have a mouth and do not speak ….”,(Ps. 113:12-13)  as well as the words that follow and are like them.

In the morning, when we got up, we found the pagans astonished to see us still alive.  So greatly was the worship of certain demons and the error rooted in them!  We then ran once more with our Tabennesiote monks to the house where the idols had been found and where the sacrifices had taken place and we demolished it from top to bottom.  This was indeed the order of the archbishop.

Sunday arrived, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the tomb and broke the power of death.  All the people of Alexandria, at the hour of the celebration of the office, made thousands of imprecations against Horapollon, and shouted that he should no longer be called Horapollon but Psychapollon, i.e. “He who loses souls”.  Hesychios, who is admirable for his virtues (it was he that told me these things; at the time he was the leader of the Philoponoi, but now he is a priest), had stirred up everyone to zeal, with the help of Menas, who we mentioned earlier and whom it seemed right to leave in the town.   The patriarch of God in his sermon made known to everyone the description of the idols which we had sent, in which were indicated the material of which they were made and the number of idols that had been found.  Thereupon the people were inflamed, carried all the idols of the gods of the pagans, whether in the baths or in the houses, placed them in a heap and set fire to them.

A few days later we returned to the city (Alexandria).  Together with the idols, we also brought their (the pagans’) priest with us.  In fact it had been possible, with the help of God, to capture him also.  Twenty camels were loaded by us with the various idols, although we had already burned some of them at Menouthis, as we have said.  We brought them into the centre of the city, following the order which we had received from the great Peter.  The latter immediately summoned around him, before the prefect of Egypt, the commanders of the regiments of soldiers, and all those who held senior office, as well as the senate, the important people, and the owners (= the “possessors”) of the city.  When he sat down with them, he had the priest of the idols brought in, and ordered him to stand in a raised place.  Then, after the idols had been uncovered, he began to question him.  He asked him what this idolatry meant, which was exercised on a material without a soul, and ordered him to give the names of all the demons and say what was the cause of the form of each of them.  At this time all the people had rushed in to see what was happening.  He listened to what was said, and then laughed at the disgraceful deeds of the gods of the pagans whom the priest had made known.  When the brazen altar and the wooden dragon had arrived, the priest confessed to the sacrifices which he had dared to carry out, and said that the wooden dragon was the one who deceived Eve.  He believed this, he said, by tradition from the first priests.  He said that the pagans worshipped the dragon.  This was therefore given to the fire at the same time as the other idols.  One could then hear, somehow, all the people shout, “Here is Dionysos, the hermaphrodite god! Here is Kronos who hates infants! Here is Zeus, the adulterer and seducer of young people! This one is Athena, the virgin who loves war; that one Artemis the huntress and enemy of strangers.  Ares, that demon there, makes wars, and Apollo, that’s the one who kills lots of people.  Aphrodite, she presides over prostitution.  There are also some who have taken care to run away.  As for Dionysus, he protects drunkenness.  And see, among these idols the rebel dragon is also found!  Among their number there are again dogs and monkeys, and, in addition, families of cats; for these too were gods of the Egyptians.”  The people also laughed at the other idols.

If some of them had hands and feet, he [someone else is now speaking; presumably there is a lacuna] broke them and cried out jokingly in the language of the country, “Their gods don’t have any karoumtitin (?).  Look at Isis, who has come to wash them!”  Then he overwhelmed the pagans in a host of jokes of this kind, and praised Zeno, of pious end [this phrase seems out of place], who held at that period the sceptre of the empire, he praised Peter, the great patriarch, as well as the notables of the city who were sitting with him.  Then everyone retired, praising God on the subject of the destruction of the error of the demons and the worship of idols.  As for the priest of the pagan turpitude, it was ordered that he should be held for a more detailed investigation.

After these events, the great Stephen, remembering the fable of the sterile woman and the supposed child, and thinking what a great liar Asclepiodotos was, was worried in case the latter deceived people in Asia with his nonsense.  Also the great Salomon secretly advised the archbishop to order that a court record of the depositions be drawn up by the defensor of the city, so that he could ask that the priest be interrogated on the subject of the child.  This was done, and the priest confessed to all the things we have mentioned, because it is from him that we learned this.  When the imposture of Asclepiotodos was known to everyone, the illustrious Stephen decided along with the great Peter to address a synodal letter to Nonnos, the bishop of Aphrodisias, in which he made known to him all the machinations of the pagans that the priest, during his interrogation, had put in writing (?) on the subject of the supposed child, and in which he was exhorted to reveal to all the history of this fable.  But this synodal letter was never received.  He who was charged to carry it, at been, on his arrival in Caria, corrupted by a bribe, as we learned later.  In consequence the pagans of Aphrodisias believed for some time that the history of this fable was true, until the judge Adrastos took an interest – he was a pious man, who was the scholasticos of the country – and took care to bring from Alexandria to Caria, with the help of the prefect of Egypt at that time, a copy of the court record concerning this fable.

After he had offered an exploit of this kind to God, Paralios received the baptism of redemption, when Easter arrived, at the same time as many pagans, who had been full of zeal for idolatry until their old age, and had served the perverse demons for a long time.  With them also was baptised the admirable Urbanus, who today in this imperial city is a teacher of Latin grammar, and Isidore of Lesbos, brother of Zenodotos whom I mentioned earlier, as well as many others.  …

UPDATE: I find that Google Translate makes a very decent effort at translating the French text.  Have a look at it here.  You have to use your mind a bit, but you will still get a lot out of it.

UPDATE2: There is a complete English translation of this work available: The Life of Severus by Zachariah of Mytilene, tr. Lena Ambjörn, Gorgias (2008), 134p.  Amazon here.  It seems that the text itself was first published by J.Spanuth (ed.): Zacharias Rhetor: Das Leben des Severus von Antiochen in syrischer Uebersetzung, Gottingen (1893); and edited again and translated into French by F. Nau in ROC4 (1899), p.343-353, 544-571, and ROC 5 (1900), p.74-98.  The text is preserved only in Ms. Sachau 321, no. 26 in the catalogue of the Berlin mss., p.94.  The ms. dates from 741 AD, as a scribal note on fol. 173v tells us; the ms. was written by the priest and stylite Theudas (? Theodosius?) of the monastery of Psilta at the time when Stephanus was Abbot, i.e. A. Gr. 1052, which is 741 AD.

  1. [1]Edited by M.-A. Kugener.  The PO2 volume is online here; the French translation in it has been digitised by Marc Szwajcer at here.  There are emendations by E.W.Brooks in the JTS 5 (1904) p.369 f.  An English translation of portions of the Life, with commentary, can be found in R. A. Darling Young, “Zacharias: The Life of Severus” in Ascetic behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity: a sourcebook, ed. V. L. Wimbush, Fortress Press (1990), p.312-28.  For an overview of the social context see Frank R. Trombley’s excellent work, Hellenic Religion and Christianization c.370-529, 2 vols, Brill (2001), Vol. 2, p.1 f. Preview here.  Also Peter Brown, Power and persuasion in late antiquity: Towards a Christian empire, Wisconsin (1992), p.130. See also Christopher Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity: Topography and Social Conflict, JHU (2006), p.187, who makes the interesting point (p.188) that, judging from the rise of biblical names in tax rolls, only 10% of the countryside remained pagan by 400 AD. There is an article, Elżbieta Szabat, The ‘great persecutions’ of pagans in 5th century Alexandria. Palamedes 7 (2012), 155-176.  Here if you have a subscription.