The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 7

The pagan Paralios has just been converted after violent Christian-pagan rioting in Alexandria.

Paralios then concerned himself with his two other brothers, who were pagans living at Aphrodisias.  One of them was the scholasticos of the country, and was named Demochares.  The other was called Proclos, and was the sophist of the town.  He wrote a warning letter to them both, in which he recounted all that had happened.  He urged them to immediately turn their minds to the way of repentance and to embrace the cult of the One God, i.e. the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity.

He undertook to teach them from the facts what was the power of Christianity.  He reminded them from history, such as the rebellion of Illos and Pamprepios.

“Do you remember,” he said to them, “how many sacrifices we offered, as pagans, in Caria, to the gods of the pagans, when we asked them, these pretended gods, while dissecting the entrails and examining them by magic, to tell us whether, with Illos and Pamprepios and all those who rebelled with them, we would vanquish the emperor Zeno, of pious memory?  We received a multitude of oracles together with promises that the emperor Zeno would be unable to resist their sudden attack, and that the moment had come when Christianity would disintegrate and disappear, and when pagan worship would resume.   However the event showed that these oracles were false, just as happened with those given by Apollo to Croesus and to Pyrrhus the Epirote.”

He continued, “You know the following facts.  When we sacrificed afterwards, in those places outside the city, we were left deprived of any sign, any vision, any response, although previously we had become used to experiencing some illusion of this kind.   Plagued with confusion, we searched and asked ourselves what this meant.  We changed the place of sacrifice.  In spite of this these so-called gods remained mute and their worship without any effect.  Also, we thought that they were angry with us, and the idea eventually came to us that perhaps someone with us was privately opposed to what we were doing.  So we questioned each other and asked if we were all of the same opinion.  We then found that a young man had made the sign of the cross in the name of Christ, and that he that by this rendered our effort vain and our sacrifices ineffective, these so-called gods often fleeing from the name [of Christ] and the sign of the cross.  We did not know how to explain this.  Asclepiodotus and the other fornicators and magicians then set themselves to investigate.  One of them thought that he had imagined a solution to the problem and said, “The cross is a sign which indicates that a man has died a violent death.  So it is reasonable that the gods abhor figures of that sort.”

After reminding his brothers of these facts in the letter that he sent them, Paralios, the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, added, “And if that is true, my brothers, and if these gods run away from anything that reminds and shows them that people have died a violent death, why, in the mysteries of the Sun, do the so-called gods not appear to the initiates until the priest produces a sword stained with the blood of a man who has died a violent death?  Also the friends of the truth can testify by this that the sign of the cross made on his forehead by a young man showed that the so-called gods were nothing.  On the other hand, invoking the name of Jesus Christ, that this is the invocation of God and that it inspires fear in the wicked demons, showed that he who fled could be conquered.[1]  The violent murder of men was much sought-after by the gods of the pagans, because they are wicked demons.  They are like their father the devil, about whom our Saviour said, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning.’  It is for this reason that they only consent to make their revelations at the sight of a man who has been killed violently as a result of their machinations, and which facilitates their oracles.  It is again for this reason that they ordered that men should be sacrificed to them, as say those who have told the story of their belief, and even Porphyry, who rages against the truth.”

It is by these stories and warnings that Paralios sought to divert his brothers from error, under the inspiration of the great Stephen and of his [Paralios’] brother Athanasius.  He himself applied himself with such eagerness to the divine philosophy that many of the young students imitated him and embraced the monastic life in the convent of the admirable Stephen, who took them all into the threads of the apostolic teaching.  John also had the pleasure of enjoying his friendship.   Each of them is today a director in the convent, and equal in virtue to his predecessors, one of whom became the adjutant (βοηθός) of the cohort (τάξις) of the Prefect of Egypt, the other cultivated true philosophy, after having studied medicine and secular philosophy to a remarkable degree.  The great Stephen was the teacher of men of this standard.

When, after some time, Stephen, the common teacher of us all, was returned to God, Paralios returned with his brother Athanasius to Caria, to convert his brothers.  He founded there a Christian community, whose direction he relinquished, as was right, to his brother and his father.  A little time later he departed for “the eternal tents” and was received into the bosom of Abraham.  Athanasius lived for some time longer.  He also baptised many pagans in Caria, and by his conduct caused many people to become zealous, then he rejoined the divine Stephen and Paralios, who was their common pupil, and came to the end and the happiness reserved for those who have conquered in the faith of Christ.

Amen to that.   Such a picture of student life and conversion might be paralleled in our universities today, where the course of many a godly life is given the shape and direction that it will follow in later life.

Paralios may have begun in two minds, but he ended up a part of the great movement of mankind, to use life wisely, towards Christ our Saviour; a movement which is found in every age and nation, and of which I too am a humble member.

An interesting point in the letter of Paralios; he refers to Porphyry’s book against the Christians.  Is this evidence that it was still in wide circulation at this time, ca. 500?  It had been condemned by Constantine in 325, but this must have had no effect since Theodosius II reissues the edict in 448.  We need not suppose that the Theodosian edict had any more effect that Constantine’s; for late emperors had great difficulty in getting their laws put into force without local support.  Perhaps it was still circulating, and being read with interest, in Alexandria in 500 AD?

  1. [1]The French translator comments that the end of this sentence is obscure, and embarassed the Syrian who annotated the Life.

Let’s do that jargon thing, Mr. Porphyry

I’ve started translating Porphyry’s Ad Gaurum, on how unborn babies get souls.  It uses quite a few technical terms, and although I have Festugiere’s French translation to hand, examination of the Greek is unavoidable, and puzzling over what each word means likewise.

Porphyry begins his treatise thus:

In general, men of learning and almost all physicians have wondered whether it is necessary to consider embryos [1] as living beings, or whether they have merely a vegetative [2] life.  The real character of living beings is perception [3] and impulses [4].  Vegetative beings are those which have the functions of nutrition and growth without the accompaniment of perception and impulses.  Therefore, since embryos, in their behaviour, show no imagination or impulses,  and are governed only by the functions of growth and nutrition, as evidenced by observation in each case, it is necessary to admit that embryos are similar to plants, or equivalent to plants. 

Now all four words marked with notes seem to be  technical terms. 

Note 1, ’embryo’, is ἔμβρυον, which Festugiere renders “embryo” but I suspect means specifically “unborn baby”.  (Am I alone in detesting the word and use of the term ‘foetus’ to refer to such?)

Note 2, ‘vegetative’, is φυτικός, plant-like, which I have so far treated with “vegetative”.  But I wonder if there is a better word to use?

Note 3, ‘perception’, is αἴσθησις , or perhaps judgement, discernment, rendered as “sensibility” by Festugiere (shades of Jane Austen!).  I’m not happy that I understand what is being said here.

Note 4, ‘impulses’, is ὁρμῇ, which Festugiere renders as l’impulsion.  Amusingly this is rendered in NT Greek as “assault”, and with a range of meanings in LSJ.

Then I discovered this version of a Bryn Mawr review of Luc Brisson, Marie-Hélène Congourdeau, Jean-Luc Solère (ed.), L’Embryon: formation et animation. Antiquité grecque et latine, traditions hèbraïque, chrétienne et islamique. Histoire des doctrines de l’Antiquité classique 38.   Paris, 2008.

[Véronique Boudon-Millot] first reviews the widely differing views of [Galen’s] predecessors (Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics) and pays attention to the almost insoluble translation problems as far as terms like Greek kuêma (embryo) and embruon (foetus) are concerned. She finally argues that in Galen’s (and others’) view an embryo does have life from the beginning but that is a form of life ‘in potency‘ that only gradually develops into life in the full sense of the word. Stages in that development are, e.g., the beginning of heartbeat and of movements, and the final stage is of course breathing that is only reached at birth.  …

Next, Tiziano Dorandi discusses the textual history of Ad Gaurum, a work formerly attributed to Galen, but since Kalbfleisch’s edition of 1895 to Porphyry. This important treatise is wholly dedicated to the question of how an embryo is ensouled, but has been preserved in only one manuscript. Dorandi traces the indirect tradition of the text in the form of quotations and paraphrases in later authors such as John Philoponus and Michael Psellus and assesses their value as textual witnesses.

Gwenaëlle Aubry also focuses on Ad Gaurum but deals only with its concept of epitêdeiotês: the embryo is said to be a plant in actu but also a living being in potency kat’ epitêdeiotêta, which she translates by ‘according to receptivity.’ “Si l’on peut, selon Porphyre, dire de l’embryon qu’il est animal en-puissance, c’est donc en un tout autre sens que celui qu’ entend Aristote: ce n’est pas parce qu’il serait capable, déja comme embryon, et à un certain stade de son evolution, de developper par lui-même les facultés distinctives de l’animal, mais parce qu’il est, à la naissance, et à terme seulement, apte à recevoir l’âme animal” (155).  …

Marie-Hélène Congourdeau, too, like Dorandi, deals with the Byzantine reception history of Porphyry’s Ad Gaurum, especially in John Philoponus (who uses it as one of his sources for opposite arguments), Michael Psellus (who by and large agrees with Porphyry), and the 14th century anonymous author of Hermippus sive de astrologia (who combats Porphyry’s embryological ideas). There is some overlap with Dorandi’s piece here, but only to a limited degree, for Congourdeau is more interested in the Byzantines’ philosophical argumentation than in their value for textual criticism.

Who says you can’t find useful technical information on the web?  Now if only I could find the book online!  But sadly I don’t know where French-speaking pirates hang out.  I’m not sure, in truth, that my French would be quite equal to so technical a discussion anyway; for all these essays are in French.  But even this review has given me something.


Porphyry Ad Gaurum in Festugiere’s translation

The volume of Festugiere, La Revelation d’Hermes Trismegiste III, which contains a French version of Porphyry Ad Gaurum, has arrived!  My local library is open late on Tuesdays, and I drove into town and collected it. 

All I’ve read so far is the opening portion of the prologue, in which Porphyry argues that unborn children and newborn babies are properly vegetables in nature, rather than living sentient beings.  I fear we all know what motive lies behind such an argument — a defence, against Christian criticism, of the evil pagan practices of procuring abortion and infanticide.    Dehumanising those whom we propose to treat in an inhumane manner is a standard method whereby men who are set on evil deeds attempt to quiet their consciences.

Still, it should make for an interesting read.  There is no English translation.  Festugiere’s translation is clear and accessible.  I may run it over into English.  First I need to explore the volume a  bit  more, and see what else he says about it. 

It also contains a translation of Iamblichus On the Soul, a work about which I know nothing.  Iamblichus was the he-witch who successfully played on the gullibility of Julian the Apostate and lured him to practice theurgy, or so I believe we are told by Libanius.


From my diary

Lots of emails yesterday and today.

Firstly and most importantly, the PDF containing Eusebius has come back.  This should be the last, final version.  I will check it over at the weekend — otherwise the translator will lynch me — but that means the book is done.  The next stage will be creating a cover, sending it off to Lightning Source, and stuff like that.  I expect to get some free time in 2 weeks, so it may work out quite nicely.  Many thanks indeed to Bob the typesetter!

An email reached me from the translator of Michael the Syrian, asking what a “sar” or “saros” might be.  These terms occur in the Babylonian history of Berossus, as a measure of time.  Berossus is lost, but the Chronicle of Eusebius quotes it, and so these curious terms drift down the centuries.  I offered my best suggestion, and a selection of materials that I gathered on the subject.  Eusebius reckons that a “sar” is 3,600 years, but I suspect it was 18 years.

Another email arrived from a translator, and we may do the Ad Gaurum of Porphyry, on the creation of the soul.  I need to look again at the text and work out a price, and reply (probably tomorrow).


Porphyry’s introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos

I’m thinking of commissioning a translation of Porphyry’s Introduction to the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy.  It’s 44 pages of the CCAG volume 5, and I estimate it’s worth $1,000 to me.  The work will require knowledge of the technical vocabulary of ancient astrological texts, so I’ve asked a scholar with knowledge in this area whether he knows anyone who’d be interested and competent.  It will be interesting to see if there is.

The point of the translation is to reduce by one the number of untranslated works of Porphyry.  I have some doubts whether the content will be of much interest, but the sum is relatively small, and the enquiry is worth making.

UPDATE: A commenter tells me that it was translated last year by Andrea Laurel Gehrz, An Introduction to the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, Moira Press, 2010, here.  So I will cancel this commission.

UPDATE: And a second commenter tells me that it was translated again (!) last year by James Holden and published by the American Federation of Astrologers, together with a lexicon of technical terms by Serapio (who?) here:

This book contains a translation of the Introduction to the Tetrabiblos written by famous third century philosopher Porphyry. It is a sort of Astrological Dictionary, defining most of the technical terms used by the Greek astrologers of the Classical Period. The volume also contains a translation of the short treatise on astrological technical terms by Serapio of Alexandria.

About the translator: James Herschel Holden, M.A. is the Research Director of the American Federation of Astrologers and has been especially interested in Classical and Medieval astrological works.

Usefully the comment also gives this list of translations of ancient astrologers, which reviews both volumes:

Holden is technically more correct than Gehrz. The Greek original in fact flows (or so I presume) more or less as Holden has rendered it.  … Holden’s translation is not idiomatic to modern English speakers. With Holden’s translation we struggle to understand what Porphyry has (presumably) stated clearly. We are additionally hobbled by Holden’s refusal to fully translate. We are left with “kollesis” as well as the presumably atypical use of the word, “application“. Much of what Holden has translated is very nearly gibberish. We come now to the Gehrz translation, which rings with clarity.

The site is a non-scholarly one.  But it is useful to know that a translation exists of Firmicus Maternus’ Matheseos.  It is interesting to learn of Dorotheus of Sidon, a 1st century AD verse astrologer, whose work exists in Persian translation!  Rhetorius is then listed:

Rhetorius the Egyptian seems to have lived around 505 AD; he compiled a valuable compendium of the works of Antiochus & Porphry, with excerpts from Vettius Valens & some other earlier writers. His book seems to have been entitled, From the Treasury of Antiochus, an Explanation & Narration of the Whole Art of Astrology. A number of chapters are nearly identical to chapters in Porphyry’s Introduction. This probably indicates that both Rhetorius & Porphyry independently borrowed those chapters from Antiochus of Athens.

For Serapio, we get this:

The identity of Seraphio, his dates, are unknown. It is speculated he lived in the first century BC or AD, which is rather vague, and that his book (more like a monograph) was compiled around 1000 AD, perhaps, again, by Demophilus.

Which is a little baffling.  Then there are a couple of translations of Manilius (1st c. AD) including the Loeb, and then of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, one of which is also a Loeb.


Porphyry, Ad Gaurum

In my last post I mentioned some works by Porphyry which have not been translated into English.  One of these was the Ad Gaurum, on how the soul enters the unborn child.  The text was edited: K. Kalbfleisch, Abhandlungen der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin; Philosophische-historische Klasse, 1895 p. 33-62.  That is one of those infuriating German series which have both a scientific and a scholarly sub-class.  Even in paper form, it tends to be hard to find the right volume!  Inter-Library Loans get it wrong.  And so forth.

Since it was published in 1895, it should be out of copyright.  But I cannot find it online.  (UPDATE: It’s here)  But I then found this page from the IRHT in France.  Apparently the text is preserved in a single manuscript, Cod. Supp. gr. 635, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale.  And there have been three translations, one in French and two in German:

  • À Gauros. « Sur la manière dont l’embryon reçoit l’âme », par A. J. Festugière, La Révélation d’Hermès Trismégiste, t. III, Les doctrines de l’âme, Paris, 1953, Appendice II, p. 265-302.
  • Porphyrios, Die Beseelung der Embryonen, par K. Limburg, Diss. Köln, 1975.
  • Grundfragen der Embryonalentwicklung aus der Sicht eines Neuplatonikers : Übersetzung und Bearbeitung der Schrift des Porphyrios « Über die Beseelung der Embryonen », par U. Jurisch, Diss. med. Erlangen-Nürnberg 1991.

The German translations were both in dissertations.  I’m not sure how to access continental dissertations, I must say.

The page refers to the need to examine the manuscript under ultra-violet light because of water damage.  It all seems to be notes for a forthcoming text and translation, directed by Luc Brisson, which will be more extensive than the Festugière translation (which they refer to as excellent).

Apparently Porphyry makes use of material from Genesis in the book.  If so, it is really remarkable that the work has escaped attention.

UPDATE: The Festugiere book is still for sale.  Three volumes, $150.  Now that’s what I call a barrier to learning!


From my diary

So much literature remains inaccessible.

Last night I was thinking about the works of Porphyry.  He is a well-known figure, the arch-enemy of the Christian writers of the early 4th century, and the hero of those moderns who share his animosities.  Most of his output is undoubtedly lost. 

Yet more survives than we might suppose.  One reason we tend to think only of a handful of texts — the Letter to Marcella, the 4 books On Abstinence, the fragments of Against the Christians, the Life of Plotinus, the Life of Pythagoras, the Isagoge — is that these are what exists in English.

The other night I became aware that his Introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos existed, and had even been printed, in the Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum V.4.  I quickly found that no English translation existed.  Last night I set out to explore what existed in other modern languages.

A German text and translation of his commentary on Ptolemy’s Harmonics does exist.  How interesting a work on ancient musical theory might be I do not know — although we might guess!  But in the process I came across a page on my own site, which I had long forgotten — Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie’s list of Porphyry’s works.

The list is not  much good — no bibliography — except that it does give a good idea of what did exist and what does.  The extant works are marked with an asterisk.  But what about all these extant works? —

  • Question and Answer to the Aristotelian Categories.
  • To Gauros Concerning the Way in which foetuses are Animated.
  • Concerning Prosody (modulation in pitch).
  • On the Harmonics of Ptolemy.
  • An Introduction to The Astronomy of Ptolemy — the CCAG text

The list gives no indication as to where the texts might be found, nor whether any translations existed.  Two of the works are plainly about music, and so probably of limited interest.

I wondered whether there was anything online at, that marvellous collection of French translations.  They did indeed have quite a few French translations of “Porphyre“.  But it seemed to be much the same selection as I have.

Even the fragments of the books Against the Christians are not really online.  My own attempt at this was never completed.

Porphyry is very popular with the sort of writer who doesn’t like Christianity.  But I could wish that these writers praised him less, and translated him more.  It is rather absurd, after all, that the best collection of his works is held on a site dedicated to patristics!   I’m sure Eusebius and the others who wrote Contra Porphyrium would be amused, and gratified to see their enemy embalmed amongst the footnotes of the church.  Porphyry himself, I suspect, might utter a phoenician curse!


Porphyry on astrology

I’ve become aware that the 3rd century anti-Christian writer Porphyry of Tyre wrote at least some work on astrology.  This seems to be very obscure, tho, and I’m not quite sure what exists.  Nothing seems to exist in translation.  I did come across a reference to Porphyry, Introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (CCAG vol. 5 part 4, 212); but there may be others.  The CCAG is the Catalogus codicum astrologorum graecorum — a catalogue of astrological manuscripts, in which the editors have helpfully printed excerpts.

Vol. 5 part 4 is online, and the index at the back reveals what looks like a full text — pages 185-229, no less, 44 pages in 55 chapters.  It’s been edited from half a dozen manuscripts, and had been published before back in the renaissance.  5 lines is 43 words = 8.6 words/line, 31 lines a page = 267 words/page, 44 pages = 11,748 words, which at 10c a word comes out at $1,175 to translate … if I knew anyone who was interested and capable in what must require a serious understanding of Greek astrological terminology.

Tempting, tho!


Problems with Berchman’s translation of the fragments of Porphyry “Against the Christians”

I’ve been looking at Harnack’s edition of the fragments of Porphyry’s work against the Christians, and comparing bits of Berchman’s translation against it.  Berchman did not translate Harnack, but had his own ideas; nevertheless, we can connect the two.

Fragment 21, from Jerome’s prologue to his commentary on Galatians, reads:

Quod nequaquam intelligens Bataneotes et sceleratus ille Porphyrius in I. operis sui adversum nos libro Petrum a Paulo obiecit esse reprehensum, quod non recto pede incederet ad evangelizandum, volens et illi maculam erroris inurere et huic procacitatis et in commune ficti dogmatis accusare mendacium, dum inter se ecclesiarum principes discrepent.

which Berchman renders as:

Porphyry, completely ignorant and criminal, in the first volume of his work against us, says that Peter was reprimanded by Paul, that he did not go out immediately to evangelize. And thus he wanted to brand him with the blemish of error, the lie of impertinence, and of publicly fictitious teaching because between these princes of the church there were difficulties.

Now this didn’t look very good to me, not least because which bit renders “Bataneotes”.  Searching for this word, I discovered that the 19th century Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation had included this prologue, and renders this passage thus:

That wretch Porphyry Bataneotes [*] by no means understood this, and, therefore, in the first book of the work which he wrote against us, he raised the objection that Peter was rebuked by Paul for not walking uprightly as an evangelical teacher. His desire was to brand the former with error and the latter with impudence, and to bring against us as a body the charge of erroneous notions and false doctrine, on the ground that the leaders of the Churches are at variance among themselves.

[*] Probably from Batanea, the ancient Bashan, where Porphyry is said to have been born.


Eusebius’ lost work against Porphyry – extant in 1838?

Eusebius’ refutation of Porphyry’s attack on the Christians is lost; but it seems it may not have been lost that long ago.

Does anyone know whether there are manuscripts still in Rodosto, a town 60 miles west of Istanbul and now known as Tekirdag? Or if not, where the mss of the expelled Greek community now are?

I ask because of references to manuscripts of Eusebius of Caesarea against Porphyry. There is a statement in Harnack’s edition of the fragments of Porphyry’s Against the Christians, p.30:

A listing of manuscripts in Rodosto, written between 1565 and 1575, on p.30b: Eusebiou tou Pamphilou Kata Porphuriou (s. Forster, De antiquitatibus et libris ms. Constantinopolitanis, Rostochii, 1877; cf. Neumann in Theol. Lit. Ztg. 1899, col. 299). In 1838 a great fire broke out in Rodosto.

It would be most interesting to know whether this ms. exists anywhere.   Does anyone know who would know?

I wonder if Forster and Neumann are online.

Harnack’s next paragraph continues with a statement that an ms. in the Iviron monastery on Mt. Athos, codex 1280 (s. XVII) which contains Eusebius, biblos peri ths euangekiwn diaphwnias; Eis thn prophhthn Hsaian logoi t konta [sic]; [Kata] Porphyriou logoi l’ [sic]; topikon logos a’ etc (see Meyer, Ztschr. fur. K.-Gesch. XI, p.156).

But this last is probably a red herring.  Long ago I scanned and translated MEYER, Ph., Der griechische Irenäus und der ganze Hegesippus im 17. Jahrhundert, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (1890) pp. 155-158 (English translation).

Iviron 1280 mainly contains church music, but at the end is a letter with a couple of pages containing merely a list of books, which mentions Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Methodius against Porphyry, plus Eusebius Against Porphyry and his Biblical Questions (diaphonias).

There are a number of these lists from the renaissance and later in existence. Nigel Wilson has written that at least some of them look like the productions of dealers in the East, intended to draw in the too eager western buyer in order to do a ‘bait-and-switch’ scam. One of them even looks like a deliberate joke.