Anthony Alcock: Three short texts relating to Severus of Antioch – now online

Anthony Alcock is continuing his series of translations from Coptic and Arabic.  Today he emailed over a translation of three short texts in Arabic, relating to Severus of Antioch.  The original language material may be found in the Patrologia Orientalis 2 (1907).

This is very welcome.  Thank you very much, Dr. A!


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 12

The place is Beirut (or Berytus as it was then) in the early 6th c. A.D.  Zacharias Rhetor, the author of the Life, and Severus of Antioch, its subject, are young men – students – at the famous law school.  The latter is considering becoming a Christian.  The two have decided to study the church writers together.

The work, by an eye-witness, gives an interesting picture of student life at that period, which is not unrecognisable even today.  Note that “philosophy” here means asceticism.

We agreed, and set to work.  We began with the treatises that different ecclesiastical authors have written against the pagans.  After that, we read the Hexameron of the very wise Basil, then his individual discourses and letters, then the treatise addressed to Amphilochius, the refutation he wrote Against Eunomius,  as well as the oration addressed to young men, in which he teaches them how they can benefit from the works of the pagans.

Then our reading continued, and we arrived at the writings of the three divines, Gregory and the two illustrious ones, John and Cyril.

It was only Severus and I who did these profitable readings during the time agreed.  But every day we went in company to the church to attend the evening service.  We had with us the admirable Evagrius, whom God had sent to Berytus expressly in order to urge lots of young folk to exchange the pointlessness of the legal profession for the philosophy divine.   This Evagrius was from Samosata, and had been instructed in the schools of Antioch the great.  When he was young, it happened that he was caught up in the passions of youth, and he went to see a spectacle being given in that city.  A riot followed, and he was injured.   Straightened out by this injury, he came to abhor the shameful spectacles, and thereafter assiduously frequented the holy churches, joining with those who, at that time, were singing all night in the church of the very illustrious Stephen, the proto-martyr.

These people were devoted to practical philosophy, which, in most cases, was not inferior in any way to the monks.  After applying himself to the preliminary learning, Evagrius wanted to rise up to philosophy and to embrace the monastic life completely.  But his father forced him to go to Phoenicia to study law, at the time when I also was going there.  At the same time the admirable Eliseus (=Elisha), originally from Lycia, also came to Berytus for the same reason.  Eliseus was a man who was very sweet and very humble.  He lived simply and was full of compassion for those who needed food and clothing.

The friends that we make at university are often friends for life.  It seems that it was much the same for Zacharius.  At any rate he clearly remembers fondly, decades later, the friends of his youth.

So do we all, even if they have grown grey and weary since.  Truly “such were the Grecians of our time.”


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 11

Zacharias Rhetor is talking ca. 500 AD to Severus of Antioch, who is considering becoming a Christian.

Filled with joy, I replied, “I came to this town to study civil law, because I love the science of law.  But since you also care about your salvation, let me propose a project which, without harming the study of law or requiring much leisure, will give us a knowledge of rhetoric, philosophy, the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and theology.

“What is this project?” he asked.  “Because you’re making a great big promise there, if it is possible, without neglecting the study of law, for us to also acquire such a lot of good things, especially the last one, which is the most important of all.”

Z: “We study law, according to what I have learned, all week except for Sunday and Saturday afternoon.”

S: “Indeed, on the other days of the week we attend the lectures which our masters give on the law, then we repeat them, for our own benefit at home, and we rest for half the day before Sunday, the day (Sunday) which even the civil law directs us to consecrate to God.”

Z: “Then if it suits you, we will reserve for that period the writings of the doctors of the church, i.e. those of Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, John, Cyril, etc.  Let our fellow-students do as they like, we shall revel in theology, and in the sentences and profound knowledge of ecclesiastical writings.”

S: “It is for this reason, my friend,” replied Severus, “that I asked you at the outset whether you had brought with you all these books.  However, now that, thanks to God, we have agreed on something, you will have to make us get the good things you mentioned, because I shall not leave you during the time in question.”

And off they went into the Fathers.

The dialogue sounds a little unreal to me; but this is, in the end, a hagiographical text, and probably the words are composed later.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 10

Let’s continue reading Zacharias Rhetor’s eye-witness account of the life of Severus of Antioch.  The date is the late 5th century.  The two friends have now gone to Beirut (ancient Berytus) to study law.

Shortly afterwards, the man of God (=Severus) came to me.  He greeted me cheerfully and said, “God has sent you to this city because of me.  Tell me how I may be saved.”  I raised my eyes to heaven with joy and thanked God that He had inspired this thought and made him think about his salvation.  Then I took his hand and said, “Since your question relates to matters of faith, I will take you to the temple of the Mother of God, and there I will tell you what the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers have taught me.”  When he heard these words, Severus asked me if I had with me the books of the great Basil, the illustrious Gregory, and of the other teachers.  I told him that I was carrying many of their works.  So then he came with me to the temple of the Mother of God.

First he recited with me the necessary prayers.  Then he put to me the same question (as before).  Beginning with the book of Genesis, written by the great Moses, I made him see the concern of God for us; how He had created all that exists, and likewise took us from nothingness, and had placed our first ancestors in the paradise; how He had given them, as beings endowed with reason and masters of themselves, the law of salvation, concerning what they should do; and how they despised the sovereign commandments, by the deception of the serpent, and lost this blessed life and exchanged immortality for death, of which the law had warned them in advance.

Saying all this to him, I showed him Adam and Eve — they was a painting of them in the temple — clad in tunics of skin, after their expulsion from paradise.  I then showed him the numerous miseries that resulted from this, all caused by the cunning and power of the demons, which we had voluntarily unleashed against ourselves, in obeying he that was at the head of all rebellion.  Then I mentioned the mercy of God towards us.   In His goodness He did not allow his creature to perish, which had been incorruptible, which would never have been subject to the miseries of human nature, once born to enter the hereafter, which would have received immortality superior to its nature, if it had kept the law of God.

Then I continued, “After the natural law, God also gave us the written law, by the intermediary of Moses.  He also came to the assistance of nature through the intervention of many holy prophets.  But when He saw that the wound required a stronger medicine, the Word of God and the Creator God came to us, having been made man by the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Rising sun, he shone, onto the high places where we sat  in the shadows and in the shadow of death!  He was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the flesh, and by the power of the Holy Spirit came from a virgin and immaculate womb.  He left his mother with her virginity.   This was the first proof that He gave of His divinity: by a miracle He produced a conception without seed and without sin, and a birth above nature.  He then tried to separate us from the power of the devil, the rebel to whom we had sold our soul, and voluntarily accepted the cross in His body for us.  He gave His body to death as the price of our ransom, and rose again on the third day, having broken the tyranny of the devil and the perverse demons, his assistants, and the power of death. He raised us with him, made us sit down with him in Heaven, as the Scripture says, and showed us the new way of salvation which leads to Heaven.  He conquered the whole earth through His apostles, and He abolished the oracles of pagan magic, and the sacrifices of demons, established a single catholic church over all the world, and taught us to repent and to seek refuge in Him through the redemptive baptism, which symbolises the burial of three days and the resurrection of the saviour of us all, Christ.”

When I had also produced numerous other proofs (of the divinity of Christ), of which the gospels are full, I said to Severus, “It is therefore necessary, my friend, for all intelligent people to seek refuge in Him by means of the life-giving baptism.”

— “You have said well,” he said, “but we must stop at this point.  Because I am busy here with the study of law.”

— “If you listen to me,” I said, “or rather, if you listen to the holy Scriptures and the universal teachers of the church, first flee from the shameful shows, the horse-racing and the theatre, and those where we see wild beasts pitted against some wretched men.  Then, keep your body in a state of purity, and every day, after you finish studying law, offer to God the evening prayers in the holy churches.  In fact it is right that we who know God should do evening duty in the churches, while others usually spend their time playing dice, wallowing in drunkenness, drinking with prostitutes and even degrading themselves completely.”

Severus promised to do this and observe this (habit).  “Only,” he said, “you will not make a monk out of me.  Because I am a law student, and I greatly love the law.  Now, if you want something else, say so.”

I think that’s enough for the moment.  How accurately this dialogue is reported might be questioned, of course.  But no doubt something of the kind passed between them.

Note the reference to combat between wild beasts and poor men.  One does not think of the arena as being in operation ca. 500 AD, but it must have been, for otherwise the observation would lack point.

The description of the variety of student life in the evening — some praying, others drinking or degrading themselves in various ways — is probably typical of university life, even today.  It is remarkable how little change there is, in some ways!


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 9

We continue reading the French translation of the Life of the early 6th century Patriarch of Constantinople (and controversial political figure) Severus of Antioch.

What I’m doing, in these posts, is taking the old Patrologia Orientalis translation from here, and running it through Google Translate (which is doing a rather fine job, I notice), and posting a corrected version here.  Since a lot of people still don’t know French, the exercise makes the Life more accessible.

The Life was composed by his friend Zacharias Rhetor, in response to various politically-motivated slanders.  But it gives a marvellous picture of students at university in late antiquity.  Since Severus and his friends lost the argument, in the Greek world, the text is preserved only in a Syriac translation.

The year is somewhere around 500 AD.  The tolerant emperor Anastasius is on the throne in Constantinople.  Rome has fallen to the Barbarians; but in the Eastern Empire, nobody seems to want to mention this.  Teachers of Latin are still found in Eastern schools.

When the illustrious Severus was about to leave Alexandria and go to Phoenicia in order to study law, and with the idea of becoming a lawyer, he invited me to go with him.  But I told him that I still needed to study further the speeches of the orators and philosophers, because of the pagans, who boasted and glorified themselves so much in these studies, so that we could battle in public against them in this respect.  So Severus preceded me to Phoenicia, but only by a year.  This completed, I went to Berytus in my turn to study civil law.

I expected to have to suffer from the students known as “edictales” all that those must endure who are newly arrived in that town to learn law.  In truth they endure nothing shameful.  It merely overwhelms them with joking, and tests the self-possession at the time of those who are mocked and the subject of amusement.   I was expecting above all to suffer at the hands of Severus, today this holy man.  In fact I thought that, being still young, he would imitate the custom of the others.

On the first day I went into the school of Leontius, son of Eudoxius, who then taught law, and who enjoyed a high reputation among all those interested in the law.  I found the admirable Severus sitting with many others near the master in order to listen to the lessons on the law.  Although I thought that he would be an enemy to me, I saw that he was favourably disposed towards me.  In fact he greeted me first, smiling and rejoicing!   I also thanked God for this remarkable prodigy.  When we, who at that time were the “dupondii”, withdrew, having completed our exercise, while those in Severus’ year stayed on for their marks, I went running to the holy church named Anastasia (Church of the Resurrection) in order to pray.  Then I went to the one named the Mother of God, which is situated within the town, close to the port.  After completing my prayer, I walked around outside the church.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 8

The story continues.

But let no-one think that this story is irrelevant to our subject.  Our intention is to show that the accusation made against the great Severus is entirely unfounded.  Far from ever deserving the accusation and reproach of idolatry, he was constantly with those who gave proof of their zeal against the pagans, and he praised their conduct.   He was a Christian by faith, but he was still only a catechumen at this time.  As he was then applying himself to the study of secular knowledge, he could not show himself so that everyone [thinks] he lived in Phoenicia.  However the following fact proves that at Alexandria he was well above any pagan ideas.  Sometime after the destruction of the idols, the pious Menas, who had prophesied for Severus the dignity of a bishop, left the human life.  He immediately made his way to the one whom he loved, adorned with numerous virtues: virginity of body and soul, love of neighbour, humility, perfect charity and great sweetness.

At that time I was afflicted by a physical illness, and the pagans thought that we were receiving chastisement for what we had done to their gods, in our zeal for religion, and for the idols which we had burned.  They spread a rumour that I too was certainly going to die at this time.  When it turned out that, by a miracle due to the kindness of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I was delivered from sickness, I pronounced the eulogy of the illustrious Menas in a funeral discourse.  I made mention of the destruction of the pagan idols, I recalled their annihilation by fire, before all the people of the town; then, finally, I recalled all that had happened, as was right, on the tomb of he who, through his great amiability and love of his neighbour, was even the admiration of the pagans, before the zeal which was showed against them.  The great Severus rejoiced so much and felt such lively joy on hearing this oration, and boasted of the words uttered by myself against the pagans, as if they were his own, that he applauded me more than everyone.  Meanwhile the pagans, whom we had invited to come and hear, and who had come without knowing what was to be said, wept to some degree over their misfortunates and one of them shouted angrily, “If you had the intention of speaking against the gods, why did you bring us to the tomb of your friend?”

I have been obliged to speak of these things because of the slanderer in question.  Because I have never sought to talk about my own affairs, which are those of a man immersed in sin and unworthy to write the story, not only of the great Stephen, of Athanasius and Paralios, but also of Menas, as well as their friends who competed in zeal with them, and principally of Severus, who is the reason for this work, and whose stay in Phoenicia we will likewise tell.


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.

The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 6

Severus has yet to put in an appearance, as Zacharias Rhetor is busy telling us all about his own student experiences in Alexandria ca. 500 AD.

Paralios, having offered God an exploit of this nature, received the baptism of the Redeemer when the Easter festival arrived, along with many pagans who had been zealous for idolatry until their old age, and had long served the wicked demons.  Also baptised with him was the admirable Urbanus, who today is professor of Latin grammar in the imperial city, and Isidore of Lesbos, brother of the Zenodotus whom I mentioned earlier, as well as many others.  After burning all the formulae of invocation of the gods of the pagans, i.e. the demons, that he possessed, he [Paralios] received baptism.  In fact these were tormenting him before the divine baptism, and filling him with terror after the idols had been burned, and he came to my house to ask me what he should do.  I went back with him, having with me a Christian book, and thinking to read to him the homily of exhortation of Gregory the Theologian, relating to the redemptive baptism.  I found him, following a struggle with the demons, very burdened and very depressed.  He could hardly breathe, he said, under the influence of the Christian words.  I asked him whether by chance he had with him the formulae to invoke the gods of the pagans.  He admitted that he had, when his memory was appealed to, that he possessed papers (χάρτης) of this sort.  I said to him, “If you want to be delivered from this obsession with demons, deliver these papers into the flames.”  This he did in front of me, and, from that moment, he was delivered from his obsession with demons.  After that I read to him the homily of exhortation of the divine Gregory.  Then he heard these words, “But do you like in the world, and are you soiled with public business, and would it be hard for you to lose the divine mercy?  The remedy is simple: if it is possible, flee from the forum and society, attach to yourself the wings of the eagle, or rather of the dove, to speak more appropriately.  (What is there, indeed, in common between you and Caesar, or the affairs of Caesar?)  Tarry where there is neither sin or darkness, where there is no snake who bites along the road, and prevents you from walking in the way of God.  Free your soul from the world, flee Sodom, flee the fire, take the road without turning back, for fear that you may be turned into a pillar of salt, save yourself on the mountain of faith so that you do not perish.”  After, as I was saying, Paralios had heard the reading of this passage, he shouted, “Let us take wings and fly to the divine philosophy, with the redemptive baptism.”  It was with this thought that he approached the divine baptism, and that he was initiated into the divine mysteries.  On the eighth day after baptism, when he had to take off the clothing of the newly baptised, he went along with my brother Stephen, who was studying literature and learning medicine, to the joy of the monastic life.  He stayed there during the night, unknown to me, because he had found me too weak, to tell the truth, ran with him to Enaton, and went to the convent of the great Salomon, near the illustrious Stephen.  After earnestly petitioning his brother Athanasius, he took the monastic habit (σχῆμα), and embraced the divine philosophy among them, at the same time as my brother.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 5

The pagan Paralios has been flirting with Christianity, and talking with his Christian brother Athanasius and the latter’s friend Stephen, who are based at the monastery at Enaton.  He’s gone to the pagan oracle at Menouthis, demanding some answers, and has been snubbed.  So he got angry and went back to Alexandria.  There he started jeering at the pagan students in the school, and has been beaten up.  He has just fled for help to some Christian students, while shouting that he wants to become a Christian.  The pagans have told them not to interfere, this isn’t a pagan-Christian dispute, but a settling of scores with an enemy of theirs.  Now read on!

We had great difficulty, because of some trouble-makers, in pulling Paralios out of these murderous hands. We took him immediately to the monks at the place named Enaton. We showed them the bruises he had received for the Christian religion, informed them how much he had suffered unjustly because he had condemned the error of the pagans, and told them that he had offered to Christ, as a beautiful beginning, the sufferings that he had endured for him.  Immediately the great Salomon (the Superior of the illustrious Athanasius and Stephen) took the monks with him, went to Alexandria, and make known what had happened to Peter [Mongus], who at that time was the Patriarch of God.  Peter was a very capable man and of an ardent piety.  He stirred up against the pagans the majority of the important people of the town, among them the sophist Aphthonius, who was a Christian, and who had many pupils.  Aphthonius told the young men who were taking his course to go with us and help us.  We all decided to go together and denounce the murderous pagans to the bishop Peter.  He added [to our number] his archdeacon and protonotary, which is called in Latin the “primicerius”, and sent us to Entrichius, who at that time was prefect (ὕπαρχος) of Egypt.  Entrichius was a secret follower of the pagans, and the assessor, that he had as Symponos, openly indulged in the cult of the pagan demons.  The latter began to insult us, then he expelled the mass of young people and ordered that only a small number should set forth the matter.  After the pupils of Aphthonius left, there were five of us left: Paralios who, before baptism, had become a confessor; the illustrious Menas whom I mentioned earlier; Zenodotus of Mytilene, a town of Lesbos; Demetrius of Suulmone (?), all four most ardent champions of the faith of God.  Following them, I was there as the fifth.  When the prefect was advised of the gravity of the matter, he ordered that one of us, whichever wanted to do it, should draw up a formal indictment, as seemed good to him.  Paralios then wrote, and accused certain people of having offered pagan sacrifices, and having fallen upon him like brigands.

The prefect ordered the accused to appear before him.  When, from the members of the clergy and the laity, the Philoponoi learned of the affront given to those who had competed in their zeal for good, they learned of the sacrifices and the pagan practices that some had dared to carry out.  They suddenly rose up against the important people and attacked with violence the prefect’s assessor, shouting, “It’s wrong that someone who is a pagan should be a government assessor, and take part in the business of government, because the laws and edits of the autocratic emperors forbid it.”   The prefect had difficulty in rescuing his assessor when he tried.  Us he ordered to keep quiet.  Therefore the whole people rose up against the pagans.  Indeed those who were accused fled, starting with Horapollon, who was the reason why all the pagans were being persecuted.  The prefect, in his love for them, had not disturbed them.

It’s a melancholy, but clearly accurate and contemporary, depiction of intolerance and religious persecution and systematic discrimination.  The pagans are allowed to go on quietly, but are at the mercy of any scumbag who starts shouting and playing the “religion card” to get his own way in some dispute, and their lives and property are constantly at risk.  The patriarch quickly saw a way to exploit the situation to increase his own power and influence, and incited mob violence.

The next section of the Life of Severus of Antioch — who has hardly been mentioned so far! — deals with the vengeance of the mob and the sacking of the shrine of Isis at Menouthis.  This I translated earlier.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 4

The pagan Asclepiodotus has passed off the illegitimate child of a priestess of Isis as the child of his sterile wife, claiming that Isis had cured her.  The student Paralios, vacillating between his pagan friends, and Stephen, the friend of his Christian brother Athanasius, has learned the story.

Paralios, believing that this story was true, made it known to his brother, and to those who were with him, as a remarkable thing.  He said that this demonstration from facts had greater force than any argument from logic, and he gloried in it as an obvious pagan miracle.  The divine Stephen, having heard the story of this nonsense, said to Paralios, “If a sterile woman, my friend, has given birth, she will also have milk, and the pagans must verify the matter, by the intermediary of an honourable lady of a family known at Alexandria.  She can see it and establish this prodigy and miracle, and so it will not seem that the daughter of an important official of Caria, and the wife of a philosopher, is insulted (?).”  This language seemed reasonable, and Paralios forwarded the proposal of the monks to the pagan philosophers.  But these, thinking that nobody could be allowed to impugn this fabulous story, said to Paralios, “How dare you demand the impossible!  Do you think to persuade people [the philosophers] who remain unshakeably attached to the truth, and who don’t waste time on things of this sort?”  But as it seemed ……………. sent …………….. so the outcome for Paralios was that he moved away from the teachings of the pagans.

He produced yet another fact, which is as follows.  While at Menouthis, Paralios saw Isis, i.e. the demon who this goddess represents, who said to him in a dream, “Beware of that one, he’s a magician.”  Now it happened that the man in question had also come to learn grammar, and studied with the (same) master and that the demon revealed to him (the same thing) about Paralios, when he went to Menouthis.  Each made his vision known to his friends at the school of Horapollon, and each learned what his fellow-pupil said about him, and each was persuaded that he was telling the truth and that his fellow-pupil was lying.

Also Paralios recalled the teaching of the great Stephen; he remembered that both Stephen and Athanasius had spoken long discourses with him on the evils of the malevolent demons, telling him that these were in the habit of stirring up men, one against another, because they enjoyed wars and fighting and were the enemies of peace.

However Paralios wanted to know the truth about these things.  Indeed he reflected on what was the custom of the demon, and about the error, and about what went on in these places.  Until then he believed that his companion was lying.  So he returned to Menouthis.  He offered the customary sacrifices to the demon and prayed that he would let him know by an oracle if it was himself who was a magician, or his enemy, and whether such an oracle had really been given to both of them.   The demon, not tolerating the idea that the oracles in question might be tainted by contradiction and wickedness, did not deign to reply.  Paralios then begged the demon for a number of days not to leave the question unanswered because, he said, he wouldn’t try to refuse him, or the other gods, his submission and honours if he received entire satisfaction on this subject.  The demon persevered in his silence, and didn’t even give him sight of the customary illusion of his epiphany.  After waiting for a long time and offering many sacrifices, Paralios grew angry, and had no more doubts about the wicked teaching of the demons.  He praised the great Stephen, who had really told him the truth, and he prayed, as the latter had told him to do, “Creator of all things (etc.)”, adding these words by the great Stephen, “Show me your truth and do not let me be seduced by this demon who loves fighting, who arms men against each other and who stirs up quarrels; nor by the other evil demons like him.”  In fact he had been advised to address a prayer to the creator of everything, because it was desired to get rid of, immediately, the invocation of the gods of the pagans and the demons, of Chronos, Zeus, Isis, and names of that sort, and to accustom him little by little to the truth of the teachings [of the gospel]; it was desired that he should recognise no other creator of everything than our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the Father made the world, the principalities, the powers, and the dominations, as it is written, “All things were made by him,” says the Theologian, “and nothing was made without him.”  After this prayer, Paralios returned to Alexandria.  He uttered many words against the gods of the pagans, saying with David, “All the gods of the nations are demons, but the Lord is the creator of the heavens.”

He mocked Horapollon, Heraiscus, Ammonius, and Isidore (who finished up being recognised as a manifest and troublesome magician) and the rest of the pagans, (jeering) at what went on at Menouthis, the impurities of all kinds and the lubricity of the priestess of Isis, affirming that she engaged in debauchery with anybody who wanted to, that she was no different to a prostitute who gives herself to the first man who comes along.

The pupils of Horapollon, who were attached to the follies of the pagans, could not bear the sarcasm and  reproaches of Paralios.  So they fell upon him in the very school where they were studying.  They waited for the moment when few Christians were present and when Horapollon had left.

It was the sixth day of the week, which is called Friday, during which all the other professors, so to speak, used to teach and expound at home.  Paralios was beaten up; his head was a mass of bruises and his whole body was covered with some kind of injury.  After succeeding, with difficulty, in getting a little away from them — he had a robust constitution — he sought refuge and assistance with the Christians, while a mob of pagans surrounded him and kicked him.  Now we were present at that moment, having a philosophy course.  The philosophers as well as Horapollon used to teach in the school on Friday as normal.  There were three of us; myself, Thomas the sophist, who loved Christ in all things (he is with me in Gaza), and Zenodotus of Lesbos.  As we were constantly in the churches with those who are called (at Alexandria) Philoponoi, and in other places are called “zealots”, and in still others “companions”, and as we appeared rather redoubtable (to the pagan pupils) to some degree, we approached the troublemakers, who were many, and told them that they were not doing well at all, in making someone suffer so who wanted to become a Christian.  It was, indeed, what Paralios was shouting.  The pagans wanted to deceive us and soothe us with their claims, saying, “We’ve no quarrel with you, but we will avenge ourselves on Paralios as an enemy.”

Since Christianity was the state religion, and paganism was illegal, there must have been a definite undercurrent here.  Ancient states were not policed, so a great deal could go on that was in theory illegal.  So it came down to pressure. Zacharias and his friends were implicitly saying, “You don’t want us to report you as pagans to the authorities here, do you?”  And the pagans were saying, “This isn’t a Christian-pagan thing; this guy has insulted us and is getting some payback.”

It’s notable that Zacharias does not disguise that Paralios had indeed provoked a riot, and was now playing “the religion card”.   This might have been unintelligible a century ago.  Sadly it is not so now.

We’re all familiar with how the “race card” can be played today by unscrupulous members of ethnic minorities.  Indeed I recall a Nigerian IT contractor in one job, who had consistently refused to do what he was told and kept interfering with an important computer system.  My boss of the time, a very diffident and somewhat leftist man, had no choice other than to sack him and have him escorted off site, or else be sacked himself.  The security staff arrived to march the Nigerian to the exit; whereupon the latter suddenly discovered that he was a victim of “racism”, and shouted this claim all the way to the gate.   It was a false claim, but one that gave him power.  Sadly for him his misconduct was inarguable.

Likewise anybody who has read the History of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria will recognise how disputes between individuals often led to one side claiming to be Moslems in order to bring down the state on their foes.

It seems that, when equality before the law is lost, when the rulers of a state privilege some group on ideological grounds, non-members of that group will continually endure injustice on all sorts of occasions from the unscrupulous.  Clearly something similar prevailed in the 6th century in Alexandria.

Did Paralios really convert at Menouthis?  The story indicates that there was only his word for it.  I suspect that we may reasonably doubt it; and we may reasonably suppose that he merely claimed this later.   Probably he was still vacillating when he came back to Alexandria, but was very annoyed with the shrine at Menouthis and its supporters.  On this theory, once in a dispute with his fellow pagans that he was going to lose, the lure of the “Christian card” was too strong to resist.  It would take a man of more principle, than Paralios then was, not to use it while being beaten up!