Christianism logo image



1      Julius Caesar 100 - 44 B.C.E.

2      Suetonius

3      The Roman Republic

4      Cicero, The Letters to His Friends

5      Julius Caesar

following: emphasis on Fiction

6      Latin Fiction

7      English Literature and the Classics

8      Rhetoric at Rome

9      Life and Letters in the Fourth Century

10    Roman Letters

11    Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World

12    Greek Fiction














from: Julius Caesar, Man, Soldier, and Tyrant, Major-General J.F.C. [John Fredrick Charles] Fuller, Rutgers University Press, 1965. [Note: this prolific military author, chose the author, T. Rice Holmes [see 2080], as his principal guide].

"Caesar's Assassination [March 15, 44 B.C.E.]"

          "....When the conspiracy was first hatched is not known. Later, Cicero accused Cassius, Trebonius, and Antony of having on two occasions planned it;4 but he is an unreliable authority. Such evidence as there is points to Cassius as the ringleader,5 and it was he who prevailed on Marcus Brutus, Cato's nephew and son-in-law, to join the conspiracy. Both had fought under Pompey against Caesar, had been pardoned after Pharsalus, and, as already mentioned, had been made praetors by him. While Cassius hated Caesar, and Caesar suspected him,6 Brutus was devoted to Caesar until his return from Spain, and Caesar's affection for him led some to suppose that he was his natural son.7 In all there were more than sixty conspirators, and many had been Caesar's close and trusted friends.

          The avowed object of the plot was tyrannicide, which in the eyes of both Greeks and Romans was righteous and just. A perpetual dictatorship conflicted with every concept of the Republic, and the plotters were well aware that under Caesar's autocracy their opportunities for financial gain and political power would vanish, and the prestige of the Senate would be obliterated by further dilutions. In short, the way of life the senators had been following since the Second Punic War would end...." [303].

[footnotes to the preceding]

          "4Cicero, Philippics, II, 26 and 34.

            5Suetonius, Div. Iul., LXXX.

            6Plutarch, Caesar, LXII, 4–5; and Brutus, VIII, 9.

            7Appian, Civil Wars, II, 112." [303].

          "....Early on the Ides of March [March 15, 44 B.C.E.] the conspirators posted a party of gladiators, provided by Decimus Brutus, in Pompey's theatre [see Addition 27, 1253], in case their services should be needed; then they assembled in the adjoining hall to await Caesar. When, at the appointed hour, he did not come, they grew anxious, and sent Decimus Brutus, 'who was so trusted by Caesar that he was entered in his will as his second heir,'5 to fetch him. Brutus, 'his devoted friend',6 urged him to come, and succeeded in persuading him to change his mind by saying: 'If he was fully resolved to regard the day as inauspicious it was better that he should go in person and address the Senate, and then postpone the business.'1

          Caesar then stepped into his litter, and on the way to the Senate, a teacher of Greek philosophy, Artemidorus by name, thrust into his hand a roll of paper in which the conspiracy was divulged, and said: 'Read this, Caesar, by thyself, and speedily.'2 Caesar took it, but was prevented by the crush of the people from doing so.


          Because it was customary for the magistrates, when about to enter the Senate House, to take auspices, Caesar did so. They proved inauspicious. Nevertheless, in defiance of the portents, he laughed at Spurinna, the soothsayer, and called him a false prophet, 'because the Ides of March were come without bringing him harm.' Spurinna replied, 'that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.'3

          Caesar entered the hall, and because Antony was a powerful and courageous man who might give trouble, Trebonius engaged him in conversation at its entrance. When Caesar had seated himself on his gilded chair, Tillius Cimber came forward and petitioned him for the recall of his brother, who had been banished. When Caesar rejected his appeal, Cimber seized hold of his purple robe, and pulled it away to expose his neck. It was the signal for the attack. Casca, who was close to Caesar, aimed a blow with his dagger at his throat, but missed it. Cimber then seized Caesar's hand; nevertheless, Caesar sprang from his chair and threw Casca to the ground. The other assassins then closed on him. Cassius wounded him in the face, and when Brutus struck him in the thigh, Caesar cried out in Greek: 'You too, my child?'4 He then fell dead at the foot of Pompey's statue. In all he received twenty-three wounds, but in the opinion of the physician Antistus, 'except the second in the breast,' none was mortal.5 ...." [304-305]. [See: Addition 27, 1253].

[footnotes to the preceding]

          "5Plutarch, Caesar, LXIV, 1.

6Dio, XLIV, 18, 1." [304].

          "1Plutarch, Caesar, LXIV, 3.

2Ibid., LXV, 1.

3Suetonius, Div. Iul., LXXXI, 4.

4Ibid., LXXXII, 3. Dio (XLIV, 19, 5) says: 'Thou too, my son?'

5Suetonius, Div. Iul., LXXXII, 3." [305].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Suetonius [c. 69 - after 122], with an English Translation by J.C. Rolfe, In Two Volumes, I, Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd., MCMLXXIX (1913).

"The Lives of the Caesars

Book I

The Deified Julius [Julius Caesar 100 (102) - 44 B.C.E.]" [3].

[footnote, not referenced above] "aCaesar was beloved by the Jews, not only because he had overthrown Pompey [106 - 48 B.C.E.], who had violated their Holy of Holies, but because of many acts of kindness besides." [116].

          "LXXXVIII. He [Julius Caesar] died in the fifty-sixth year of his age [44 B.C.E.], and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people. For at the first of the games which his heir Augustus [First Roman Emperor 27 B.C.E. - 14 C.E. (63 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.] gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour,b and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue.

          It was voted that the hall in which he was slain be walled up, that the Ides of March be called the Day of Parricide, and that a meeting of the senate should never be called on that day.

          LXXXIX. Hardly any of his assassins survived him for more than three years, or died a natural death. They were all condemned, and they perished in various ways—some by shipwreck, some in battle; some took their own lives with the self-same dagger with which they had impiously slain Caesar." [119] [End of Book I].

● ● ● ● ●



from: The Roman Republic, and The Founder [Julius Caesar] of the Empire, T. Rice Holmes, Volume III (50–44 B.C.), Russell & Russell, 1967 (1923). [See: 327-352].

          "The funeral oration of Mark Antony [c. 83 - 30 B.C.E. (fell on his sword)] had achieved its aim, and Shakespeare [1564 - 1616] has transmuted it into a possession for all time; but Gaius Matius left a tribute to the memory of Caesar, which, although it is at present known only to the few who are versed in Latin literature, may eventually be recognized as of greater worth. Matius had offended the assassins and their sympathizers by helping to defray the cost of the games which Caesar had instituted in connexion with the foundation of the temple of Venus; and Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.] had made remarks about this and other matters which were repeated to Matius and wounded him. Cicero composed an apology which did honour to Matius if not to himself;2 and Matius, gladly accepting his explanation, replied in a letter which seems to me the noblest that has come from antiquity [see 2081-2083].3" [349]. [See: 2077 (Holmes)].

          "2[Cicero] Fam., xi, 27.

3Ib., 28, 2-5, 7-8." [349].

_____ _____ _____


from: Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.], The Letters to His Friends, With an English Translation by W. Glynn Williams, In Three Volumes, II, Harvard University Press, William Heinemann Ltd, MCMLIX (1929).


C. Matius to Cicerob

["bIn this remarkable letter, a literary and historical...[3 Greek words], Matius [Gaius Matius (also: Caius Matius)] reveals himself as a man of broad-minded charity, outstanding courage, and unswerving fidelity in friendship—an example of Roman humanitas, virtus, and constantia." [502]]

Rome, end of August, 43 B.C.

          Your letter gave me great pleasure, because I recognized that your opinion of me was what I had hoped and prayed for. And although I was never in doubt as to that opinion, still, as I attached the highest possible value to it, I made every effort to maintain it unimpaired. But, conscious as I was of having done nothing that could hurt the feelings of any good citizen, I was the less inclined to believe that you, a man distinguished by so many admirable accomplishments, should have lent a ready ear to any allegation of the kind, especially considering how cordial and uninterrupted has been, and is, my attachment to you. And now that I know that all is as I wished, I shall reply to those charges which you have so often rebutted on my behalf, as was reasonably to be expected in view of your exceptional goodness of heart and the friendship between us.

          I am well aware of the obloquy people have heaped upon me since the death of Caesar. They put it down to my discredit that I am sorely grieved at the death of a very intimate friend, and resent the fall of one I loved; for they declare that patriotism must come before friendship, just as if they have already demonstrated that his death has been of benefit to the State. But I shall use no ingenious arguments; I frankly confess I have not reached their high level of philosophy. For neither was I a follower of Caesar in our civil dissensions, though at the same time I did not abandon a friend, however much I was offended by his action; nor did I ever give my approval to the civil war, or even to the cause of the quarrel, which I was most anxious to see stifled at its very birth. It follows that in the triumph of my personal friend I was not fascinated by the sweets of either promotion or pecuniary profit—prizes of which the others, though they had less influence with him than I had, availed themselves with unrestrained avidity. I may also add that my own private estate was diminished by that very law of Caesar,a thanks to which the majority of those, who are now exulting over Caesar's death, were enabled to remain in the State. I strove that mercy should be shown to our defeated fellow-citizens as earnestly as I strove for my own life.


          It is possible then that I, who desired the security of all, should feel no resentment at the fall of him from whom that boon was obtained, especially when the very same men were responsible at once for his unpopularity and his death? "You will smart for it then," they say, "since you dare to condemn what we have done." What unheard of insolence, that some men may boast of a crime, which others may not even deplore without being punished for it! Why, even slaves have always had this much freedom, that their fears, their joys, and their sorrows were subject to their own control, and not that of another; and now even those privileges they are trying to wrest from us by intimidation—that at any rate is what your "champions of liberty" are perpetually saying.

          But they are beating the air, and for this reason—there is no peril, the apprehension of which will ever induce me to desert the cause of duty or humanity; for never have I thought that an honourable death should be shirked, often that it should be even welcomed. But why this indignation against me, if my only wish is that they should regret what they have done? My desire is that all the world should feel the bitterness of Caesar's death. Ah but, as a loyal citizen, it is my duty to desire the safety of the constitution! Well, unless my past life, as well as my hopes for the future, prove without a word of mine that such is my earnest wish, I make no claim to demonstrate it by speechifying.

          For that reason I beg of you with special earnestness to attach more weight to facts than to words, and if you feel that true expediency lies in right conduct, to take my word for it that to hold any communion with the lawless is impossible. Am I then, in the evening of my life, to effect a radical change in the principles I maintained in the heyday of my youth, when even a serious error might have been excused, and with my own hands unweave the texture of my life? That I will not do, nor on the other hand make the mistake of doing anything to cause offence, except being pained at the grievous fall of one who was very closely bound to me, and a most illustrious man. But even if I were otherwise minded, I should never disavow my own actions, and thereby get the reputation of being a rogue in wrongdoing, and a coward and hypocrite in concealing it.

          Ah, but I undertook the management of the games celebrated by the young Caesar, in honour of the elder Caesar's victory! Well, that is a matter of private obligation, and has nothing to do with the constitution of the Republic; anyhow it was a duty I was bound to perform as a tribute to the memory and eminence of one very dear to me, even though he was dead, and a favour I could not refuse, when he claimed it, to a youth of such brilliant promise and so entirely worthy of his namesake.


          I have also often visited the house of Antony [Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) c. 83 - 30 B.C.E. (fell on his sword)], the consul, to pay my respects to him; but you will find that those very men, who consider me lacking in patriotism, are constantly going to him in crowds, with the intention of asking him for something, or of carrying something away with them. But what arrogance is this, that whereas Caesar never put any restriction upon my associating with whomsoever I pleased, yes, even those for whom he had no liking himself, those who have robbed me of my friend should endeavour, by calumniating me, to prevent my choosing my own friends!

          However, I am not afraid either that the sober self-restraint of my life will fail, as time goes on, to triumph over the mendacity of gossip, or that even those who do not love me for my constancy to Caesar, will not prefer to have friends like me rather than like themselves.

          If my prayers are granted me, I shall pass what remains to me of life in retirement at Rhodes; if any accident intervenes to prevent it, I shall live at Rome, but only as one whose lifelong desire is to maintain the right.

          I heartily thank our friend Trebatius [Roman lawyer, etc.] for having disclosed your frank and friendly feelings towards me, and also for having made it my duty with more reason than ever to respect and revere one whom it has ever been my pleasure to regard as a friend. A hearty farewell to you, and pray maintain your esteem for me.'

[503, 505, 507, 509, 511].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Julius Caesar, And the Foundation of the Roman Imperial System,

"There may be many Caesars

'Ere such another Julius."


W. Warde Fowler, G.P. Putnam's Sons, [Second Edition 1897] 1907 (c1891).


"....But in any biography of Caesar it is impossible not to allude with gratitude and reverence to the great genius and learning of Professor Mommsen; for even if they venture to dissent from some of his conclusions, all students of classical antiquity will allow that his life-long labours have wrought as great a change in the study of Roman history, as the work of his great hero [Julius Caesar] brought about in the Roman state itself.

          Oxford, November 12, 1891." [ix].

[Note: J.M. Robertson, infers similar qualitative reactions (as Fowler to Mommsen (above paragraph)), to W. Warde Fowler, in: A History of Freethought, 2 Vols., 1936 (see Index)].

          "Caesar was thus born [100 (102) B.C.E. (murdered 44 B.C.E.)] into a world full of doubt and insecurity, with problems confronting the statesman which few could understand, much less attempt to solve. The frontiers of this unwieldy empire had to be protected, and the generals to whom this task was committed had to be controlled. the conquered territories, or provinces as they were called, must be governed equitably, and gradually Romanised, if they were to be held together in any strong bond of union. Italy itself was disaffected, and demanding admission to the privileges of Roman citizenship. The capital was swarming with a mongrel, idle, and hungry population, who claimed to be the Roman people, and to legislate for the whole empire. The senatorial constitution was falling to pieces, and the only alternatives were mob rule or military rule. The distribution of wealth was fearfully unequal; capital and pauperism faced each other menacingly, and both were bred and maintained on a slave system unparalleled in its degradation. The slaves themselves constituted a permanent danger to the state. Piracy abounded on the seas, brigandage and murder in Italy. Lastly, the ideas of loyalty, obedience, self-restraint, were growing steadily rarer among the rulers at the very time they were most called for. The outlook was a terrible one. Rome and her empire must surely come to an end, unless some statesman should arise, able enough to comprehend the problems, and strong enough to put his hand to their solution." [8-9].



          He who pursues his reading from Caesar's death [44 B.C.E.] into the period of the Empire, cannot fail to be struck by a change which becomes more and more decided as he goes onwards. It is not so much the history of Rome that he is studying, as the history of the civilised world; the history, that is, of the various dependencies of Rome, and of their relations to the central authority. Even when following the lead of a conservative historian like Tacitus, whose political horizon was not much wider than that of Cicero, we feel this change in some degree. But it is only fully realised when we pass beyond Tacitus to the reigns of Hadrian and the Antonines, and when we have learned to appreciate the immense value of the fresh material that the collection of inscriptions has of recent years placed within our reach, enabling us to recognise in the life and institutions of the provinces the really essential facts in the history of the Empire.

          It is when we have learnt this lesson that we begin to understand the full force of Caesar's work, and his place in the history of the world. We seem to have passed out of the close atmosphere of a great town, where our view was on every side shut in, and where the chatter of cliques and pedants was continually misleading us, into a wide and open country, and a freer and fresher air. We feel the bracing effect, just as we believe Caesar to have felt it during those nine years of strengthening discipline in Gaul. Whether we study the government of the Empire, or its law, its religion, its society, its army, we feel that a great change has taken place, and that even if it be a change which in some ways, as for example in art and literature, has lowered the level of human effort, it is yet one which has raised the mass of mankind in material well-being, and has made them the constituent body of great protective political union. And more than this, it has even brought within their reach a simple and universal doctrine of right and wrong; a rule of conduct based on beliefs and hopes, for which the older world, which knew no such union, could not, so far as we can guess, have ever found a place. Under the Empire art and literature slowly decay, with the decay of that civic or national life in which they seem best to flourish; but in the imperial unity room is found for other influences more suited to the needs of the age and of more universal efficacy.

          Let us take an illustration of this change from the history of religion, which has not as yet been touched on in these pages. The religious ideas of the old Greeks and Italians had been, like their politics, strictly local in character. Just as every little community was ideally independent of every other, so also each had its own peculiar worships, in which god and priest, temple and ritual, were conceived as belonging to that locality only. To transfer a worship from one city to another was a matter of extreme difficulty—nay, it was even impossible, unless the god himself signified in some way his readiness to move. No doubt certain worships, like certain states, gained a wider renown and a more universal influence; but the great mass of Greeks and Italians were wholly without any idea of a religion binding upon all men, just as they could at most but dimly perceive that man has any duties outside his own political community.

          The conquest of the world by Rome took off the keen edge of all these narrow ideas and prejudices. Local politics lost their interest, and local religions their prestige. Rome may be said to have cast a great shadow over the peoples of the Mediterranean, and the details and the brightness of all their civic life and religion


were obscured as the light lessened. By Caesar's time the obscurity was great, and was probably telling on the public and private morality of the world. What power for good there had been in the old worships had been irretrievably weakened, and there was no sign of anything to take its place. The age of local religions was past, and no universal belief or practice seemed likely to knit the peoples together. As in politics, so in religion, the Graeco-Roman world was, in the last century B.C., in a state of chaos.

          But after Caesar's death [March 15, 44 B.C.E.] we at once begin to find that the world is open to a universal cult. The form which it took is to us strange enough, and at first sight inexplicable. But we do not need here even to touch on the questions which lie around the curious phenomenon of the worship of the Caesars; what we have to notice is simply the fact that it rapidly spread over the whole Empire, mingling with, or superseding, the older religious forms, and that it became a most powerful instrument in holding together the whole political system. Caesar was not indeed himself the man intentionally to start on its course an idea so hollow; but it was he who, by turning the eyes of all men on his own unique personality, made it possible for something like a universal worship to take the place of the dying local religions. This worship lasted for a while as a reality, and lingered some time longer as a survival; but it could not long satisfy the wants of mankind, for it laid down no rule of conduct, and raised neither hope nor fear for the future. But it showed that the world was open to a new and real [?] religion; it put the finishing touch to the destruction of the old local worships; it established a connection between the government of the world and its religion; it was in a certain sense the foreshadowing of the acknowledgement of CHRISTIANITY [CHRISTIANISM] as the religion of the Roman Empire. And it is but a single illustration of the difference between the world before Caesar and after him, and of the extraordinary force which his work and his personality exercised on the minds of men. He stood, as we said at the outset, at the end of a long series of revolutionary tendencies, and sums them up; he also laid the foundation-stone of a new era of the world's life.

          It cannot then be said of Caesar, as it has been said of Pericles,* that in destroying an ancient constitution which had in its time done good work, he did but initiate a period of degeneracy. Among the Romans themselves the seeds of degeneracy had long been sown; they had passed through their period of freedom and glory, and what they were still to contribute to the world was not to be the fruit of their own peculiar genius. For the world which Rome had conquered, it was not a period of degeneracy which Caesar initiated, but one of hope and development; the interests of the rulers were now no longer in antagonism with those of the ruled. For the selfish rule of a city-aristocracy had been substituted the autocracy of a single hard-working man; and henceforward the governed knew that they might expect to be protected from enemies within and without the limits of the Empire, and that they might hope to rise eventually to the political status of their rulers.

          At first, indeed, when Caesar's murder had left the world again without a master, all was once more chaos. It was only after thirteen years of division and discord that the man whom Caesar had probably destined to be his successor, found himself at last in the position which his uncle had occupied. Then came the period of organisation—an organisation based in the main on Caesar's foundation, leaving it only where for the time there was need of a more skilful adaptation to the wants and feelings of weary humanity. A long life, an incomparable tact, and a deep dislike of


war, enabled Augustus [1st Roman Emperor: 27 B.C.E. - 14 C.E. (63 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.)] to complete this organisation, and to hand it over to a successor [Tiberius] of no mean ability. But of necessity there were weak points in it, and in the reigns of Tiberius [Emperor 14 - 37 C.E. (42 B.C.E. - 37 C.E.)] and his successors these came to light, and all but wrecked it. A better season set in, when in 69 A.D. Vespasian took the helm into strong hands, and from that time to the death of the last of the Antonines, the whole vast region which had known Caesar's footsteps, from Britain to the Euphrates, and from the Rhine to the African deserts, enjoyed, on the whole, peace, plenty, and prosperity. And for many centuries afterwards, when the world was once more torn asunder by internal division and barbarian invasion, men still found a hope of salvation in the two inseparable ideas of [1] the great Empire and [2] its monarch [compare: [1] Imperialism and [2] Monotheism], each of them now illuminated

[where is the illumination in the first 3 centuries? Only, in the fictional stories, of Christian apologists, and perennial preachers. From the fourth century, to the present, Christianism ("Christianity") has not been exemplary illumination, but, commonly, dungeon darkness!]

by the CHRISTIANITY [CHRISTIANISM] for which Caesar's work had made space in the world."

[379-384] [End of text]. [See: Addition 26, 1266 (Gibbon)].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Latin Fiction, The Latin Novel in Context, Edited by Heinz Hofmann, Routledge, 1999.

"Introduction Heinz Hofmann


In comparison with the Greek novels the texts of the Latin novel which are known to us are rather limited: In Greek literature we have the tight corpus of the five extant 'ideal' love romances by Chariton, Xenophon of Ephesus, Achilles Tatius, Longus, and Heliodorus.1 Moreover we know of quite a few novels whose fragments are preserved on papyrus and which allow us to get at least a rough idea of their contents;2 this knowledge is supported by some mosaics dating from the second and third centuries AD and showing scenes from two lost Greek novels.3 Finally we have a number of texts both extant and in fragments which do not belong to the type of the 'ideal' love romance but which contain various adventure stories and comparable fictional narratives and are being subsumed under the genre of the novel where they form the group of the so-called 'fringe novels'...." [1].

          "In Latin literature we only know three novels proper: Petronius' Satyrica, Apuleius' Metamorphoses, and the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri. We also know of another text by Apuleius which presumably was a novel entitled Hermagoras and from which a few quotations are transmitted.4 But we do not have a single Latin papyrus with fragments from a Latin novel: this is mainly because, thanks to the favourable climatic and geological circumstances, the bulk of ancient papyri was preserved and found in Egypt which belonged to the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire so that with a few exceptions all papyri contain Greek texts. Even the papyri carbonized in the Villa dei papiri in Heruclaneum during the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD 79 are almost exclusively Greek, testifying the interest of the owner of the villa in Greek—mainly Epicurean—philosophy."

"there are some texts which belong to the group of 'fringe novels'—the Trojan narratives by Dictys and Dares and the Latin versions of the Alexander Romance—and there are quite a number of Lives of Saints and Apocryphal Acts of Apostles which may, as their Greek counterparts, be considered as hagiographic fiction mainly written for the purpose of entertainment and edification of a Christian audience." [1-2].


Like Roman literature in general, the samples of Latin novel [novels] too are adaptations from Greek literature. Very early, in the second half of the third century BC, Roman authors returned to Greek literature, which they considered superior both formally and aesthetically to the literary forms of their native Italy, and tried to translate and adapt Greek genres to the Latin language...." [2].


"Of the Alexander Romance numerous Greek recensions are transmitted..., and the same is true of the Apocryphal Acts of Apostles and most of the Latin Lives of Saints..., and even of another 'fringe' text, the Life of Apollonius of Tyana [see Addition 26, 1182-1248] by Philostratus (cf. Bowie 1994, 187ff.), it is known that it [Life of Apollonius of Tyana] was translated into Latin by Virius Nichomachus Flavianus (394), a leading member of the pagan senatorial aristocracy in Rome."


"Historiography and biography are present in the various versions of the Alexander Romance, but also in the Apocryphal Acts of Apostles and the Lives of Saints: These texts in their turn draw heavily on the model of the Acts of the Apostles [and, some were models for "Acts of the Apostles"?], commonly attributed to St Luke, which form part of the earliest New Testament canon, and try to capture their audience by combining edification with suspense and excitement when they narrate the most incredible adventures of the new heroes of faith and chastity. This PROCESS OF ADAPTATION AND REWORKING OF EARLIER NOVEL TEXTS even went so far that Lives of fictive saints have been composed entirely from the material of pagan romances...." [3].


The audience of the Latin novels is broadly speaking the same as that of the Greek novels, and this is true for all texts of Latin fiction, also for historiographic and hagiographic fiction. It certainly was a consumer literature but not a mass literature because, as J. Morgan rightly observed, 'MASS LITERACY NEVER EXISTED IN THE ANCIENT WORLD'.15 Literacy in antiquity was always limited to a small minority, and those capable of reading longer literary texts were only a small group within those who possessed a certain knowledge of reading and writing for official and administrative purposes.16 More important than reading literary texts was therefore listening to their authors and recitators: the performance of literature in the public through the authors themselves or specialized groups of performing artists who were organized in unions formed an integral part of cultural life in antiquity (Engels and Hofmann 1997a: 46ff.). In particular, the representatives of the so-called Second Sophistic, those wandering poets and declamators like Lucian of Samosata and Maximus of Tyre, Dio Chrysostomus and Aelius Aristides, Favorinus of Arles and Apuleius, who gave 'recitals' of their own texts in the theatres and odeons, the market-places and colonnades, the gymnasia and baths, the municipal buildings and imperial palaces, were the main mediators of literature and also of Latin and Greek fiction. We know, for instance, from Apuleius [c. 124 - after 170?], this 'ultimate word artist' (Fantham 1996: 252), that he recited speeches and poems of his own in both languages, Latin and Greek, in the theatre in Carthage and elsewhere in the Greek and Roman world, and not only speeches and poems, but also his philosophical works on Socrates and Plato and his novel The Golden Ass, whose single books not only fill a papyrus roll (volumen) of average length, but form also a convenient discourse for a public lecture of about 60 to 90 minutes.17 Literary communication


among Christians worked in similar ways. THERE MUST HAVE BEEN MANY CHRISTIANS WHO WERE NOT ABLE TO READ THE ADVENTURES OF PAULUS AND THECLA, PETRUS AND CLEMENS, MALCHUS AND HILARION, but must have enjoyed themselves tremendously when listening to someone who was reading, or almost performing, these texts to them." [6] [End of IV].


Latin novels [that have survived], as has been stated above, are few, but Latin fiction in the broad sense as it is understood here abounds in texts. Therefore the contributions in the present volume discuss not only the three novels proper—Petronius' Satyrica, Apuleius' Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass and The History of Apollonius King of Tyre—, but pay also special attention to their Greek models and the inserted tales which are often, as in the case of the tale of Cupid and Psyche, miniature novels or novellas in their own right. In addition there is the huge mass of 'historical novels', including the Trojan narratives of Dares and Dictys and the numerous recensions of the Alexander Romance, truly a texte vivant, oscillating between the more historically conceived History of Alexander the Great by Q. Curtius Rufus and the quite fictitious adventures of Alexander's encounters with the Brahmans and other gurus, peoples and monsters reported in later novelistic texts. Saints and martyrs as the new heroes of the ancient world [pause] turning Christian [pause] found their way into Latin fiction by the third and fourth century: as they received their share of the adventures of the heroes and heroines in 'classical' fiction, they occupy a corresponding space in the later pages of ancient fiction and, consequently, also in this volume. This inclusion of CHRISTIAN FICTION in a volume on Latin fiction need no longer be defended nowadays after we have achieved the insight that both Christian and non-Christian texts are products of one and the same culture and derive ultimately from one and the same concept of art, literature and the life which is mirrored in them." [7] [Heinz Hofmann].

[See: Article #4, 106 (van Manen)].

"Hagiographic Fiction as Entertainment Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich"

"I Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

Christian antiquity produced a series of writings which have as their theme the missionary journeys and activities of the apostles. OF THESE, ONLY LUKE'S ACTS OF THE APOSTLES WAS ACCEPTED INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON; the others are considered apocryphal.7 The oldest and most significant of them are the Acts of John, of Peter, of Paul, of Andrew and of Thomas. These originated towards the end of the second, and in the third century AD; with the exception of the Acts of Thomas they are only fragmentarily preserved. In the case of the rest we are mainly dealing with later reworkings, expansions and continuations of the above-named Acts [Acts of the Apostles]...." [190].


"IV The Saint's Lives of Jerome

As a Christian educative writer Jerome [c. 347 - 419 or 420]14 had already made his [fiction] debut with the miracle of the septies percussa (the woman struck seven times) (Epist. 1). It is the story of a miscarriage of justice, which a modern reader may regard as absurd, macabre and trivial in an extreme degree. But it corresponded to the late antique taste for sensational juridical literature [compare: role of Pilate, in the New Testament], which we find also in some of the martyr acts [compare: Jesus and crucifixion, in the New Testament]. A young man and a young woman, both Christians, are imprisoned on a trumped-up charge of adultery, tried and tortured. The man admits under torture whatever is expected of him; the woman defies the procedures, which are graphically described by Jerome. Both are condemned to death. The man is beheaded, the woman, although struck three times on the neck, is not killed. A second executioner strikes her down with four blows; she appears to be dead, but wakes up in the presence of the priests who are about to bury her. She is nursed back to health in secret. Meanwhile, the death sentence, regardless of this miracle, remains in force. Then Evagrius, the wealthy patron of Jerome, appears and obtains an amnesty from the emperor." [198-199].

"the 'aim of entertainment' of Christian literature is not an end in itself, but, as was indicated at the outset, in a sense a 'rhetorical chess move' which serves the achievement of higher ends.22 ALL THE TEXTS WE HAVE CONSIDERED WERE WRITTEN, ULTIMATELY, WITH PROPAGANDISTIC INTENTION. They do not simply offer a surrogate for the world, but they create it, by winning adherents for particular Christian forms of life. If the effect of the texts was not so direct that every reader of Jerome's Lives himself went into the desert, or every reader of Gregory's Dialogi equalled the saints in virtue, yet they contributed to the creation of a spiritual climate in which the form of life being praised represented the accepted norm. This process has quite concrete consequences [Yes! Like the world tyranny of Christianism ("Christianity")!].

          It is no accident that many of the writings in question are addressed to influential personalities. Jerome, for example, sent his first monk's life to the wealthy Paulus of Concordia. He could be certain that this educated man would appreciate properly the literary techniques which were employed in the Vita Pauli. Jerome certainly did not suppose that his aged addressee would convert to a hermit, but rather that he, as the owner of a large library, controlled the appropriate infrastructure to have the work reproduced and thus to disseminate it among his peers, the educated Christian upper class of the western half of the empire (Rebenich forthcoming). It was worth winning these as potential supporters: for even Christian projects need to be financed.

          An extreme example of the way in which an apocryphal text can influence the course of history is the Acts of Silvester,23 FICTIONAL ACCOUNT OF THE CONVERSION OF CONSTANTINE by Pope Silvester ["Sylvester I, St, Bp. of Rome from 314 to 335" (Ox. Dict. C.C.)] in Rome. This popular writing, which is transmitted in numerous versions, did more to form the image of the first Christian emperor in the Latin West than the historically reliable [?] Life of Constantine of


Eusebius of Caesarea [c. 260 - c. 339]. It stylized him as an adept of the Roman bishop Silvester, who is said out of respect for this holy man with his miraculous powers to have left Rome and installed the Pope there in a quasi-imperial position. The Acts of Silvester have been shown to have laid the foundations for the 'Donation of Constantine', which attached itself to a quite concrete formulation in this text.


namely the claims of the Popes to a certain sphere of influence, to wit the 'Patrimonium Petri', later to be known as the 'Ecclesiastical state'. Fiction and reality often lie closer together than seems at first sight to be the case." [206-207] [End of chapter].

"16 The Rediscovery of the Latin Novels Robert H.F. Carver"

"III Epilogue

It is difficult not to romanticize the humanists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. To book-hungry men such as Petrarch [1304 - 1374] and Boccaccio

[1313 - 1375], Poggio [1380 - 1459] [see 1989 ("Bracciolini, Poggio")] and Niccoli [c. 1364 - 1437] (to mention only the most famous), we owe the survival of a significant portion of Classical learning. But as we have seen, the notion of the 'Rediscovery of the Latin Novels' as a linear sequence of discrete and dramatic 'finds' is something of a chimera; 'recovery' and 'appropriation' are more accurate terms for the complex of processes by which little-read texts become widely known. And even that term 'Latin Novels'—the product of


—is problematic in the context of transmission and recovery...." [264].

● ● ● ● ●


from: English Literature and the Classics, Tragedy by Gilbert Murray, Platonism by J.A. Stewart, Theophrastus by G.S. Gordon, Greek Romances by J.S. Phillimore, Ciceronianism by A.C. Clark, Vergil by H.W. Garrod, Ovid by S.G. Owen, Satura by R.J.E. Tiddy, Senecan Tragedy by A.D. Godley, Collected by G.S. Gordon, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1912.

"Greek and English Tragedy

A Contrast" [Gilbert Murray]

          "I wish in this lecture merely to discuss the first fundamental contrast1 between Greek and English tragedy, that the English tragedy is primarily an entertainment, the Greek a religious ritual." ["7"].

"Fundamentally Tragedy was the mimetic [imitative, etc.] dance of the Dionysus Religion developed and transfigured by certain influences that we shall consider later. It was a ritual dance, a Drômenon, or 'Thing Done', a Sacer Ludus; under slightly different circumstances it would have been a mystery.

          It was a dance; not of course a dance like our dances, a mere gay movement of the feet. A primitive dance was the use of the whole body, the whole being, to express that overflow of dim thought or emotion which could not express itself in articulated speech. The dance is a rhythmical yearning of the whole body towards the emotion that we cannot define, the desire that is beyond our power to compass.

          And it was the dance of the Dionysus Religion. What was that Religion? Let us not confuse the issue by asking 'Who was Dionysus?' To that question there is no answer, because of course there was no such person. DIONYSUS WAS A FICTION, THE RITUAL OF DIONYSUS A REALITYthe reality in fact out of which the fiction [Dionysus] was developed or projected [(as I recall) William Robertson Smith 1846 - 1894, wrote that the ritual precedes the myth]. It is the ritual of the Spring, of the New Year, of 'le Renouveau'—the Renewal after the dead winter of all the life of the world. Such rituals regularly generate out of themselves shadowy daimones or spirits or gods. This vegetation ritual is so widespread that the so-called 'vegetation-spirit'—the personified life of the world which fades, dies, and is reborn: the 'he' that we call 'it' when we say that 'it' is raining or fine or cold—has many different names and constitutes an element in innumerable worships. I have tried elsewhere to show how deeply the external form of Tragedy has been affected by the ritual of this worship and the recurrent life-history of this Year-spirit, who meets his enemy, dies, and is announced as dead, is wept for, rediscovered, and revived in glory.1" [8-9].

"We must remember that THERE WAS THEN NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN HISTORY AND MYTH: the death of Agamemnon was as much history as the defeat of Xerxes." [10].


"Greek tragedy as we know it is drama, and intense drama. That indeed is obvious. The thing that we have to realize is that through it all there remains the spirit of the Sacer Ludus. It is drama, but it is also religion." [10].

"probably every few years, if we knew the unwritten history of these centuries, we should find that for some little community the dead god did not rise again, and they would wait wondering, full of the sense of horrible and unpardoned sin, despairing or performing ghastly rites, waiting till famine finished them off, or their neighbours discovered that they were weak enough to be safely enslaved.

          We must not forget, too, the personality, definite and almost human, of this Rebirth in the mind of primitive man. PRIMITIVE MAN NEEDED SO VERY LITTLE TO CREATE A PERSON [compare: JESUS—a FICTIONAL character] FROM; he needed no human shape, indeed no shape at all: that thing, whatever it was, that was in the new trees and flowers or the new vintage, that thing itself was a person—it might be Dionysus; it might be the Korê or Maiden—and, what is more, it was the same person who had been here at the beginning of last year and then had died. It was always a return, a rebirth. Just so the new generation of tribesmen were the old ancestors returned, safe from the keeping of Earth the ancient Life-giver. They looked forward normally not to some remote heaven, but to a cycle of life, death, and return from death, a return on which everything depended and for which the tribe prayed as their salvation." [12-13].

"In all Greek tragedies, even those that are full of free thought, the whole permeating atmosphere is that of religion." [15].

          "Tragedy developed, as I have said, under various influences. But most of all its own inherent instinct led it steadily in the direction of drama. It ceased merely to wail for a death and dance for a resurrection. It began to study character and human feeling: to think what sort of person died and what sort of person killed him, and why he did it, and how they both felt and what things they may be supposed to have said to express their feelings. It developed the interest in character as character and in situation as situation. Now the psychology of a divine being is almost inevitably monotonous and uninteresting. Consequently the stories were humanized. The old gods were made into human heroes. When we think of Agamemnon and Oedipus, of Clytemnestra and Phaedra, it is hard to realize that they were ever mere gods or daimones. Yet we know that they were. It is the hand of the dramatist that has drawn them down from heaven and made them living and human and full of character." [19-20].

"Greek tragedy....has no utter villains, no insipidly angelic heroines. Even its tyrants have some touch of human nature about them: they have at least a case to state. Even its virgin-martyrs are not waxen images. The psychology is not the psychology of melodrama, specially contrived so as to lead to 'situations'. It is that of real human nature imaginatively observed or profoundly felt...." [20].


"The Greek Romances" [J.S. Phillimore [see Addition 26, 1192-1203]]

"As in their [Greek] mythology, no imagination, lovely, quaint, frightful, or obscene, that ever crossed the most visionary, the most grotesque, the most morbid, the most perverse moods of the brain, but was embodied for ever in the symbol of a myth; so in their [Greek] literature, from the very beginnings of Epic, there is such mastery in the art of telling a story...." [89].

"Once you destroy a State's political independence, you throw the individual back on his own single resources of emotion. How is he to amuse himself? THERE ARE TWO INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES, and only two, so significant that they make all else seem silly as a 'temperance' drink in comparison with wine: RELIGION and LOVE. The Greeks have never been passionately interested in Religion as the social expression of heroic goodwill, only as matter for the curious speculations of individual dilettanti. So the love motif becomes inevitably for them the only certain stimulus of excitement. And for those who understand by Romance something in which the love interest predominates, Greek literature is in mid-romance by the end of the fourth century B.C." [92].

          "The point has been disputed whether the Novel owes anything to influences definitely un-Greek. There is no room for doubt. Xenophon and his like play the part of fertilizing insects. The Novel is an import. But why should it be held a humiliation for the Greeks to import raw material? The old boast that Greek art sprang by miracle fully armed from Athena's head has been rudely shaken by the unveiling of the backgrounds.

          In any case, can we resist the induction which results from merely setting down the names of the earliest ascertained writers in whom an inchoate ["rudimentary"; etc.] Romance is discernible? Stesichorus of Himera, Ctesias of Cnidos, Xenophon the adventurer, Timaeus1 of Taormina. A meticulous analysis might discover traces in Herodotus of Halicarnassus. Add to these the veins of romantic legend embedded in the local histories of Ionian cities, especially the two which were never to lose their primacy in this kind—Ephesus and Miletus. What is the inference? That Romance is something which arises always on the borders of Hellenism, and often derives its themes from over the border, e.g. a Cyrus and a Dido." [94-95].

          "We have seen that the rudiments of the Novel appeared here and there on the edge of the Greek world, where it fringed Persian, Egyptian, and Phoenician influences." [99].


"after a judicious jettison we are left with five usually admitted specimens of what a Greek novel was. But these are not all: an extremely important addition must be made—Flavius Philostratus's [Philostratus "the Athenian" c. 170 - c. 245] Apollonius of Tyana [see Addition 26, 1182-1248].

          The title of the book, not a...[Greek word] but...[Greek words], instantly warns us (though the warning has been generally disregarded) that this does not profess to be a biography, and instantly suggests the...[Greek words]. It [APOLLONIUS OF TYANA] IS IN FACT A HISTORICAL NOVEL WRITTEN WITH A PURPOSE. The author by training and by genius inclines to the Cyropaedia as a model; and what with his very superior powers, what with the subject prescribed to him by his imperial patroness Julia Domna [c. 167 - 217 (see Addition 26, 1182)], produces a novel which stands a good way apart from all the rest. Certainly it is no...[Greek word]—anything but; a...[Greek word] it is, and fulfils one of Photius's conditions. It owes nothing to poetry, much to Strange Tales of Travel, and all that backstairs literature of credulous fervour and simple-minded curiosity which Reitzenstein [Richard Reitzenstein 1861 - 1931] so well depicts, and which had at last fought its way to respectability—and to Court, after some such struggle as the vernaculars had to fight with the pride of Latinity in Europe at the last Renascence.

          But the Apollonius is not the sole example of a survival from the historical didactic romance as attempted in the Cyropaedia. Charito's Chaereas and Callirrhoe has a background of history—at least of historic names; the lovers' romance is dignified by making Callirrhoe daughter to Hermocrates of Syracuse, and her adventures involve the very King of Persia himself. But there is no more decisive proof of Philostratus's superiority than a comparison of these two books in point of history. His work has been appealed to for a serious authority on the Flavian emperors, while Charito's work presents grave anachronisms in the very scheme; and the details make no pretence to historicity." [104-105].

"all the other novelists are deeply indebted to Flavius Philostratus for the perfection which the expressive arts of language—all that the technical term Ecphrastic [yours to define (ecphrasis: "a plain declaration or interpretation of a thing." (O.E.D.))] connotes—realized in his masterly hands. He is much the greatest name in this First Renascence, the Atticist Renascence, which, beginning under the Antonines, matured and closed under the Severi; it is thanks to him that Greek [relation to purported Koine (Greek) of the Septuagint, and New Testament?] regained an absolute accomplishment and facility of expressiveness for subtle and nice phrasing; and the Novel, viewed largely, is, in its accomplishment, a phase of this Atticist Renascence....

I do not think the influence of the Philostrati [see Addition 26, 1187] has yet been fully appreciated in the development of the Novel.1" [105-106].


"Ciceronianism" [A.C. Clark]

          "We find in the second century A.D. two views of heathen literature. The first is that of Tertullian [c. 160 - c. 220]. 'What is there in common between Athens and Jerusalem, between the Academy and the Church? We need no curiosity after the coming of Jesus Christ, no inquiry after the teaching of the Gospel. When we believe, we do not desire to believe anything beyond.' So also, he [Tertullian] says, 'beware of those who have devised a Stoic, a Platonic or dialectical Christianity.' If this view had prevailed, the teaching of Cicero must have been blotted out, since it was only in such a form of Christianity that it could find any place. The other view is voiced by the learned Platonist, Clement of Alexandria [c. 150 - 211-215], who compares the obscurantists to the sailors of Odysseus who stop their ears with wax so that they may not hear the song of the Sirens, 'Come unto us, much wandering Odysseus...we know all that shall happen on the fruitful earth.' The comparison was very just. The wisdom of the ancients was a Siren song. The Church did not stop her ears and was possessed by the haunting melody. The first apologetic work of the Christian Church was the so-called 'pearl of Christian Latin', the Octavius of Minucius Felix [died c. 250]. In this dialogue, which is Ciceronian in form, argument, and thought, the speakers are Caecilius the heathen and Octavius the Christian. Caecilius argues that reason can tell us nothing of the gods, and that it is best to acquiesce in the national religion. Octavius borrows from Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.] arguments used by the Stoics, for example, that from 'design', to prove the existence of a creator, and shows that philosophy and revelation agree. 'We must hold', says he, 'either that the Christians are now philosophers, or that the philosophers of old were Christians.' He [Octavius] makes a bolder use of the sceptical weapons found in the armoury of Cicero, reproducing his arguments against divination, and declaring that prodigies are impossible. 'If they took place in the past, they would take place still. Since they are impossible, they never took place [compare: David Hume 1711 - 1776].' So also the tales of the sons and daughters of the gods must be untrue, since they have no sons or daughters now. These arguments against the miraculous are singular in the mouth of a Christian, and many must have felt that Christianity had found a dangerous ally." [123-124].

          "The Christian writers at the end of the third century, and throughout the fourth, followed on the whole in the path of Minucius [Minucius Felix d. c. 250], not in that of Tertullian [c. 160 - 220]. Thus, Arnobius, referring to the destruction of Christian books by the Pagans, says that, to be logical, they should also burn those of Cicero, which are full of similar arguments. His disciple, Lactantius [c. 240 - 320], 'the Christian Cicero,' was saturated with reminiscences of his prototype. He says that Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.] was a perfect philosopher as well as orator, and finds in him anticipations of Christian teaching [see Article #3, 161 (Cicero)]. Thus he refers to the 'wellnigh inspired utterance' of Cicero in De re publica iii. 3, when he founds morality upon the 'law of God written in every human heart'. He also makes use of the negative side of Cicero's teaching, and [Lactantius] boldly declares that the arguments used in the third book of the De natura deorum destroy all religiones, a statement afterwards repeated, though with a different application, by Voltaire [1694 - 1778]." [124-125].


          "At the end of the fourth century the Church is no longer suffering, but triumphant. It was only natural that Christian writers should feel some scruples concerning the teaching of THE GREAT FREE-THINKER [CICERO] who had been their ally in their onslaughts upon Paganism. The chief names are those of St. Jerome (340–420). St. Ambrose (340–397), and St. Augustin [commonly, St. Augustine] (354–430). St. Jerome tells us that, after he had surrendered all earthly ties, he could not bring himself to part with the library which he had collected with such zeal, and that he sinned by reading Cicero even on fast-days. He was once seized by a fever and given up for dead. While lying unconscious, he was in a vision brought before the judgement-seat and asked, 'What art thou?' He goes on, 'I replied, "A Christian." The voice came back, "No, thou art not a Christian, but a Ciceronian, since where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also."' Then he fell on his face, and swore that never again would he keep, or read, books containing worldly wisdom. After this promise he rallied and was cured of his malady.1 St. Jerome rated his strength too highly. The Siren's song never ceased to haunt him, and he [St. Jerome] was taunted with perjury by a rival, who said, 'Whence comes your fluency, your brilliancy of thought, your power of expression? If I am not mistaken, you still read Cicero in secret.' Jerome replies that his promise was only for the future. He cannot blot out of his mind what he has learnt: to do this he must needs drink the waters of Lethe of which the poets tell." [125-126].

          "The chief figure in Latin literature throughout the Middle Ages was Virgil

[70 - 19 B.C.E.], who was considered to have foretold the coming of the Messiah in his fourth Eclogue [see Article #3, 65 (Virgil)], and to have expounded under the person of Aeneas the wanderings of the human soul." [129].


"Senecan Tragedy" [A.D. Godley]

"Seneca [c. 4 B.C.E. - 65 C.E.] is fond of gross physical horrors". [240].


          These dramas, then, are Roman in their dramatic weakness. But REGARD THEM NOT AS DRAMAS, BUT AS VEHICLES FOR MORAL DISQUISITION, which in part they are, and they are also Roman in their strength. For strength they undoubtedly have: it would be a grave injustice, and very ungrateful too, to toss them aside as mere unskilful copies of Greek tragedy. When the Romans took the trouble to speculate, what most interested them was morals. The greatest of the Silver Age writers are primarily moralists. Let Juvenal [c. 55 or 60 - c. 127] bewilder our judgment as he will with much rhetorical exaggeration, behind it all is a true saeva indignatio for outraged morality. Tacitus [c. 56 - c. 120] is far less interested in politics than in ethics. One need not speak of Seneca himself. Since the later days of the Republic the ethical aspect of Stoicism—that Stoicism which the sensible man Cicero found it easy to laugh at on occasion, but which the idealist Cato carried into practical life, to the embarrassment of politics—had appealed strongly to the Romans. Many were surprisingly captivated by that Stoic fantasy of an impossible virtue which could defy the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: perhaps not so surprisingly either, for Nero and Domitian often deprived men of every other possession, and if a violent death must be faced the Stoicism which called death an actual good was the best way of making terms with a painful situation. SENECA'S TRAGEDIES ARE PENETRATED THROUGH AND THROUGH WITH THE PHILOSOPHY OF SENECA THE PROSE-WRITER [see Addition 34, 1632 (Gibbon)]: that is, a philosophy Stoic in the main, yet eclectic, not refusing to borrow from the Academics or even the Epicureans occasionally. However, it is Stoic on the whole; and we may say broadly that all Seneca's characters talk in the vein of the Porch [see Addition 26, 1240-1241 (Stoa)]. Perhaps a captious critic might find here another mark of want of verisimilitude in the Senecan drama; for how, he might ask, could persons living by the light of pure reason, and counting all external goods as nothing in comparison with virtue, have ever allowed their passions to get their affairs into such a mess? That is perhaps a frivolous [an excellent] question. Seneca himself, who ranked virtue above all things, was a millionaire, and Nero's tutor. However that be, Stoicism meets us on every page: the Stoicism of Seneca the philosopher. Virtue is superior to all externals: tyranny and oppression give it but more scope....


          TO THE GREEK, THE REALIST, DEATH IS AN EVIL. To the Senecan characters death is nothing, even a positive good: suicide is a luxury: just as under the early Empire, we are told, the more reasonable teachers of Stoicism found it necessary to warn their too ardent pupils that suicide might degenerate into mere selfish gratification of a desire. Even Polyxena, nay even the child Astyanax, dies like Cato [apparently, Cato the Younger 95 - 46 B.C.E. (suicide)], with an expressed conviction that death is an actual good. 'I would rather', says Oedipus in the Phoenissae, 'be forced to die than prevented from dying.' No great dramatist [Seneca] has ever so contradicted the common voice of humanity. This contempt of death partly resembles that of the Christian martyr; but the animating sentiment is wholly different, and the Christian dies, after all, only to live." [241-243].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Rhetoric at Rome, A Historical Survey, M.L. Clarke, Cohen & West Ltd, 1962 (1953).


The Greek Background

Illae omnium doctrinarum inventrices Athenae, in quibus summa

dicendi vis et inventa est et perfecta.


The history of rhetoric begins in Sicily in the fifth century B.C., with Corax and Tisias. The art of speech had of course been cultivated before their time, for as long as Greek had been spoken it had been spoken eloquently. But there is no reason to doubt the truth of the ancient tradition, which goes back to Aristotle [384 - 322 B.C.E.], that the two Sicilians were the first to lay down systematic principles of speaking.1 They may justly therefore be considered the founders of rhetoric.

          The rhetoric of Corax and Tisias was born from the experience of the law courts.2 The tyrants had been driven out, and claims for the restitution of private property were coming before the courts. The man who could offer some useful hints on how to present one's case would not want for pupils. This it seems is what Corax and Tisias did. Their art was utilitarian and connected with the courts, and for all the accretions which rhetoric underwent in the course of centuries, its originators set the tone. Ancient rhetoric was always more concerned with forensic oratory than with any other type.

          The earliest rhetoric was, moreover, as befitted its practical character, concerned mainly with argumentation. Its leading idea was the argument from probability. A small man has assaulted a large man and has to defend himself in the courts. 'Is it likely,' he may argue, 'that a man of my size would have attacked one of his size?' The large man too can draw arguments from the same source; was it likely that he would have assaulted the small man, knowing that the argument from probability would be all in his opponent's favour? It was Corax and Tisias who first discovered the possibilities of this type of argument.3" [1].

          "The existence of the Bible and its supreme importance for Christians sharpened the conflict with pagan culture. The Englishman brought up on the Authorised Version is accustomed to regard the Bible as a literary masterpiece; the Roman brought up on Cicero thought far otherwise. The earliest Latin translations of the Bible were unpretentious unskilful versions, which in their anxious desire to represent the original literally often departed from correct Latin usage.2 They were an inevitable stumbling-block to the educated man. Augustine [354 - 430] in his early days [when his brain was fresher] found them unworthy to be compared with Cicero;3 Jerome [c. 347 - 419-420], as we have seen, was disgusted by the style of the Old Testament prophets. The main cause, according to Lactantius [c. 240 - 320], of the failure of the Scriptures to convince the educated was that the prophets wrote in ordinary simple language and were therefore despised by those 'who will not listen to or read anything which is not polished and eloquent, and will allow nothing to enter their hearts which does not charm the ears with its pleasing sound'.4" [149].



Rhetoric and Christianity"

"...there was a sense in which Christianity can be called a rhetorical religion. The massive [? (see Appendix III, 726-727 (Hardouin))] works of the Latin Fathers show us that a Christian leader in the early centuries was a writer and speaker, teacher, controversialist, letter writer, preacher, one who used to the full the written and spoken word. The Fathers did all this as a matter of course; they had been brought up in the pagan schools, had in many cases taught rhetoric. They had learnt the art of persuasion and self-expression, and this art they used to the full in the service of their religion.5" [149-150].

"To Augustine the whole rhetorical system was bound up with dishonesty. The greater the deceit the more the praise.10 Rhetoric was 'mendacious folly', oratory 'wordy and polished falsehood'.11 ....

'I studied the authorities on rhetoric', writes Augustine, '....and desired to excel therein, an aim leading to damnation and puffed up with the joys of human vanity.'15 Writing of the period shortly after his conversion, when he retired to Cassiciacum, he refers to his writings of that period as 'still breathing the pride of the schools'.16

          So much for Augustine's criticism of rhetoric. But he was not content with mere criticism. He [Augustine] was aware that rhetoric had its uses, and in his later life, when he was now fully committed to the Christian life and doctrine, he set himself to produce a new theory of rhetoric adapted to the needs of the Christian teacher.17 The De Doctrina Christiana is a treatise on the uses of the Scriptures; the subject is divided into two parts, firstly how to understand them and secondly how to communicate to others the fruits of one's understanding. The second part, which is treated in the fourth book, may be described as a Christian Ars Rhetorica, or better, a Christian De Oratore, for the work has more in common with Cicero than with the scholastic tradition.18

          The tone is serene and uncontroversial. There is no hostility to rhetoric, which is recognised to be not without its he says elsewhere, 'The rules of rhetoric are none the less true, although they can be used in the interests of falsehood; but because they can also be used in the interests of truth, rhetorical skill is not in itself to be blamed, but rather the perversity of those who misuse it.'20" [150-151].

          "So far Augustine [354 - 430] follows Ciceronian doctrine. But the differences from Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.] are as remarkable as the resemblances...." [153].

[See: Addition 34, 1588 (Augustine)].


          "Augustine might draw up a programme of Christian studies, but he did not establish a Christian educational system. The pagan schools of literature and rhetoric continued to function until the disruption of ancient society by the barbarians. Christians sent their sons to them, because there were no other schools;42 they even taught in them themselves, as is shown by the fact that Julian [Emperor 361 - 363 (331 - 363)] tried to exclude them [Christians] from the teaching profession. Nor, it seems did they attempt to reform the schools from within; Julian's objection to them was the negative one that they did not believe what they taught and that they did not honour the gods honoured by the authors they expounded.43 Christian teachers went on with the old curriculum, and they do not seem to have attempted to modify it at all in the interests of their religion.44 A Christian rhetorician in his capacity of rhetorician would differ little if at all from a pagan one. Victorinus [died c. 303] did not consider it necessary to resign from his chair of rhetoric at Rome on his conversion, and he presumably went on giving the same lectures after as before his change of religion.

          Thus rhetoric remained part of the cultural background of the educated Christian, and not only of nominal Christians like Ausonius [c. 310 - c. 395], but even of those who adopted the new faith without reserve. A letter to Augustine [354 - 430] of the year 412 gives us a picture of a group of educated Christians engaged in intellectual discussion. We find them beginning with questions of rhetorical theory and technique on traditional lines. They pass on to poetry and philosophy, and were it not that they end up with theology, they might well be a group of pagan men of learning.45 THE OLD TRADITION WAS TOO STRONG FOR ANY RADICAL CHANGE TO TAKE PLACE IN SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.

          We have to pass on to the very end of ancient civilisation before we find any attempt made to found a Christian system of education. In the sixth century Cassiodorus observed that whereas the study of secular writers flourished—for the public schools of literature and rhetoric still survived under Theodoric46—there was no public teaching of the Scriptures, and proposed the setting up of Christian schools, 'from which the soul could attain to everlasting salvation and the tongue of the faithful be adorned with a chaste eloquence'.47 The disturbances of the times prevented the fulfilment of this design...." [154-155].


"The vitality of Roman culture, it may be suggested, depended on the survival of independent influences to counteract the dominance of rhetoric in the school system. If we regard the last century before Christ as the golden age of Latin literature, it is surely in part due to the fact that rhetoric was then kept in its place and that other studies flourished by its side. Cicero studied in the Academy as well as under the rhetoricians; Lucretius was an adherent of a school which regarded rhetoric with hostility. Virgil had experience of the same school; he passed from his rhetoric master to the Epicurean Siro, and who can doubt that he profited by the variety in his education? Horace, if we can judge from his own account, missed the rhetoric school and passed straight from studying literature at Rome to studying philosophy at Athens. It is doubtful whether for all the learning and love of literature which flourished among the educated in the imperial period [27 B.C.E. - 476 C.E.?] the general level of culture was ever so high as in the first century before Christ. Pliny's [Pliny "the Elder" 23 - 79 C.E.] range of interests is narrower than Cicero's [106 - 43 B.C.E.], and Fronto's [c. 100 - c. 166 C.E.] is narrower than Pliny's. THE DECLINE REFLECTS THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF RHETORIC and the weakening of other elements in Roman culture." [164].

"Rhetoric is well enough, if kept within limits. But it should not be allowed to dominate the educational system and absorb the interests of the educated man so far that other more valuable studies languish. In short, as the Emperor Julian [Emperor 361 - 363 (331 - 363)] put it: 'Do not despise the art of words; do not neglect rhetoric, do not give up your familiarity with the poets. But devote more attention to the sciences [charming! from Julian? (see 1849 (Johnson, on Julian))].[']13" [164] [End of text].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Life and Letters in the Fourth Century, Terrot Reaveley Glover M.A., Classical Lecturer and formerly Fellow of St. John's College Cambridge, Late Professor of Latin in Queen's University Canada, Russell & Russell, 1968 (1901).

[Note: much Christian tendez].

"The Life of Antony is a Greek novel telling about a Coptic monk, a simple tale but on fire for those prepared for it. It offered in the desert a holy life, dependent on grace alone, victorious over all devils, Neo-Platonist or otherwise, free from all the cares and sorrows of a sinful world and unvexed by the worldliness of a sinful church...." [18].

          'AT THE LAST IT WAS THE STORY OF ANTONY THAT COMPLETED AUGUSTINE'S CONVERSION. A tale of an unlettered Copt, triumphing by divine grace over evil in forms which Augustine had found irresistible, because attractive, this little book had stirred mankind, and the scholar saw how "THE UNLEARNED RISE AND SEIZE HEAVEN, WHILE WE WITH OUR LEARNING WITHOUT SENSE WALLOW IN FLESH AND BLOOD." Torn this way and that, ashamed and aspiring, he heard from behind him the mutterings of the flesh, and before him he saw the Church, "serene and gay with an honest happiness," surrounded by pure men and pure women of every age. He seemed to hear the Church saying to him: "And can you not do what these do and these? Or do they do it of themselves and not in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave them to me. Why do you stand in yourself—and yet do not stand? Cast yourself on Him; fear not, He will not withdraw Himself and let you fall. Cast yourself on Him without a care; He will receive you and heal you" (viii. 11, 27). As in great perturbation he lay under a tree in the garden, he heard a child crooning "Tolle, lege; tolle, lege." We get an indication of the man's temperament in the process of thought through which he at once went. The words were unusual; he had never noticed a child's game in which the refrain occurred, and the childish jingle impressed him the more. Not all men would have caught the words at such a time or have had Augustine's store of observation of childhood1. He remembered then how Antony had found an oracle in a chance verse of Scripture, and he thereupon opened the epistles of Paul at a venture and lit on the words "Not in riotings and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in concupiscence" (Romans xiii. 13, 14). He accepted this as a divine message to himself, and took the course the Church had seemed to urge and surrendered himself to God (viii. 12, 28—30).

          He [Augustine 354 - 430] very soon gave up his work at Milan, and withdrew for a while to a country house at Cassisiacum with a group of friends, including his mother and his son2. Apart from studies of Virgil and other literary subjects, their time was chiefly occupied by discussions, which were taken down by a shorthand reporter, and are still extant. In these his language is not so avowedly Christian as in the Confessions, for he is still trying to couch the new thought in the old terms, but the new thought is there and if not yet fully developed it is still Christian. From Cassisiacum he returned to Milan and was there baptized by Ambrose at Easter (387). His mother [the influence of mothers! see Addition 15, 936 (Luther). Much Christian Apologetics, is inspired by the mother of the apologist [H.L. Mencken gave me the


clue [see Appendix X, 828 (Mencken); Article #4, 172 (Nazianzen)]. That simple!] had seen him "standing where she did," and when shortly afterwards she died at Ostia she died content....' [214-215].

"Chapter XV

Greek and Early Christian Novels

....[Greek quotation] Odyssey viii. 572

          No study of the fourth century [and, previous centuries] would be complete which did not in some degree take account of its fiction. Yet to deal with it all and with precision would be an extremely difficult task. To begin, a good story—a story then that appeals to a large number of readers will probably be spread abroad not merely in abundance of copies but in various languages. It will be translated from one tongue to another, and as it travels it will undergo alterations. Passages will be added and others will be omitted. Eventually when criticism takes the much travelled story into consideration, widely differing recensions of it are found, and it is sometimes no easy matter to say which is the original formhas it been expanded by a Syrian translator or CUT DOWN BY A GREEK? Many of the tales with which we have to deal describe an almost entirely artificial world, and offer nothing beyond their style as a guide to the critic who will date them, and in some cases this is hardly any help at all, so that a novel like that of Longus is loosely dated as of the second to the fourth century. Others conceal the date of their creation of set purpose and flaunt a false one, and though the falsehood may be readily detected, the true date can often only be determined by long and tiresome critical processes, with the result that critics come to very different conclusions. [compare: Old Testament. New Testament.]

          If however we bear in mind that, while the dates of the first appearances of the particular books to which we have to refer are in many cases highly conjectural, these works yet represent the popular taste for long after as well as before the period with which we are dealing, and that their kind, if not themselves, has profoundly influenced actual productions of our period, we may without material error draw some real advantage from our study.... [compare: Old Testament. New Testament.]

clearness will be gained by giving a very short sketch of the course of development that GREEK FICTION has followed1.


          We may...classify our material very roughly in some five groups, premising that in many cases it will be difficult to say under which heading this or that work should more properly come, as the same book may share the characteristics of more than one class. Our five classes may then be taken as

(a) the tale of Troy and cognate legends of early Greece,

(b) the literary offspring of Plato in two families—the descendants of Atlantis and of Er the Armenian,

(c) the history, degenerating into the romance, of Alexander, with two great subdivisions, the tale of the hero, and the tale of travel,

(d) the avowed love-tale, and



          'The romance of travel was pushed beyond all reason till "things beyond Thule" (a reference to the romance of Antonius Diogenes) was a by-word for an impossible story. Ethiopians and Indians and especially Brahmans were the stock-in-trade of this kind of writing, along with big-eared men, dog-headed and one-eyed men [see Addition 26, 1212 (Augustine)], who reappear in Sir John Mandeville [assumed name, unknown author, 14th century]. Lucian [c. 120 - after 180 C.E.] in his True History parodies this class of fiction, naming as his great models Ctesias and Iambulus, and above all "Homer's Odysseus, who is their leader and teacher in this nonsense." Anticipating Jules Verne he goes from the earth to the moon, and travels probably ten thousand leagues under the sea, perhaps with more comfort than the Frenchman's heroes, for he finds a large island inside a big fish. Incidentally he reaches the Islands of the Blessed, and meets Homer who writes him a poem, and Odysseus who gives him a message for Calypso. There is not, as in Gulliver, any special satire against society in this piece, except the general satire against "the established practice of lying that marks philosophers"—no doubt a fling at the Utopia-makers.' [362].


          "Our fifth class [e (see 2107)], while still fiction, is of rather a different character. I group here anecdotes, which swell into imaginary episodes of history for a purpose. Josephus [c. 37 - c. 100] quotes an old tale of a most friendly interview between Alexander the Great [King 336 - 323 B.C.E. (356 - 323)] and the Jewish High Priest, invented as a document to support national claims. Such devices were not unknown to the Romans, and later on were revived with great effects in the Donation of Constantine and the False Decretals. OF COURSE THESE ARE FORGERIES, but there are other productions surely meriting a less severe name. There is a great deal of Jewish apocalyptic writing, every book bearing the name of some great worthy of the past who did not write it. Their object was to justify the ways of God to men, and to explain why good and evil fall to men as it seems without distinction of vice and virtue, and above all why the nation, God's chosen people, the righteous people, fared so ill. Enoch is made to prophesy and see into things invisible in order to encourage the writer's contemporaries to faith and courage. Antiquity was not very severe as a rule in the domain of criticism, and saw nothing morally questionable in attributing a document to a great name to secure its reaching its goal. The book of Enoch had a wide influence not only on other similar literature but on some of the New Testament writers. Among the heathen, poems reputed to be by Orpheus were circulated at a late date, and abundance of oracles were invented by Jew and Christian for the Sibyl, but as these are in verse we perhaps need not further consider them.

          These then are our five classes...." [363-364].

          "Eventually Greek romance and literature generally fell into the hands of sophists and rhetoricians. We may say, this happened under Roman rule, recent discoveries shewing [commonly, showing] that the erotic novel as we know it was already in full bloom in the first century. Rhetoric pervaded everything. Romancers, poets, emperors and fathers of the Church, all are tinged with it. The sermon of the Christian preacher was called by the same name as the declamation of the rhetorician (homilia, logos), and indeed was modelled after it1. East and West, Roman and Greek, felt the effects of the rhetorical school." [364].

          "That Christian writers should be influenced by their environment is not surprising. They are harshly judged sometimes in our days for faults they shared with heathen contemporaries: rather unjustly so, for the really remarkable thing is that they are on the whole so free comparatively from them, and after all they are known and read because they were so free. Everybody knows Tertullian's faults, and as they are not those of to-day they attract attention. How many critics of Tertullian could give as good an account of Philostratus or Porphyry or even Apuleius? There is no comparison between the men. Tertullian has many faults of style which they have, but he is clean, he is serious and he is truthful. There is no one so terribly in earnest as he with his seriousness born of penitence, but he flashes with assonance, antithesis and epigram to match the most flippant. But the writers with whom we are dealing are smaller men and more obscure. Yet they too, while reflecting their age, are marked by the seriousness of the new view of life.


          In the first place the CHRISTIAN NOVELISTS, if I may so call them, while they often shew the same faults as the heathen, do not shew them in such excess. Their pictures of life and society are still very apt to be conventional, and if not conventional, at least unreal [compare: "Jesus"!]. Their characters are often wooden [compare: Jesus, et al.] and their history is sadly to seek. But, whether the reader count this for better or for worse, they have less of the rhetorical style, they are less self-conscious in their writing, less clever. They have fewer arts and do not attempt to fly so high. Secondly, they are more alive and more serious. They are conscious of new motives in life, of new inspiration, and it is these that as a rule have led them to write, and their writing reflects the quickened spirit. [compare: New Testament]

          In almost every kind of literature they challenged the heathen world. They had no new story of Troy, but they had a new tale of truth [which was (is)?], and Juvencus wrote about 330 his four books of Evangelic History—a marvellous feat. He made a harmony of the gospels in Latin hexameters, in a plain honest style, wonderfully faithful to the original and yet not without some poetic quality, though the metre is a little monotonous. Apollinaris tried the same in Greek but his work did not survive.


          The romance of the hero is represented by a long list of false gospels, some more or less dependent on the canonical four [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (all Fiction!)], but all tending to embellish and decorate them with fanciful incidents and other rhetorical devices. Acts of the apostles are perhaps even more numerous, and these permit the interweaving of the romance of travel. Not many of them but some have elements of the love-tale." [368-369].

          'It will be recognized that there is much here ["Xanthippe and Polyxena"] very like the Greek novel—kidnappings, surprising deliverances, magic and the wonderful lioness. The last suggests Androcles, but is probably a combination of the beasts that will not destroy Thecla (in the Acts of Paul and Thecla) and the speaking ass "descended from Balaam's" (in the Acts of Thomas). There is however a clear difference between this Christian work and the heathen models, for the heroine's virginity is the expression of a definite faith and service, and also THERE IS NOTHING IN THE TALE THAT COULD BE CALLED FOUL [description?], AS THERE IS IN EVERY (OR NEARLY EVERY) GREEK NOVEL. In all probability the book was designed to supplant such stories. It was not the first Christian novel to borrow a framework from the enemy.' [378].

"Dr James says indeed that we may owe some even of the present-day ideas of heaven and hell to the apocalypse of Peter, and in this case Paul ["The apocalypse of Paul the Apostle"] has perhaps contributed too." [383].


          'It should not be hard to understand the influence of the book [Life of Antony]. It was widely read and imitated. Jerome's Life of Paul is a copy of it—a wretched, rhetorical, soulless imitation of a great book. Very soon it was actually attributed to Athanasius, who had the credit of it till Weingarten reclaimed it for its anonymous author.

          Of its effect on thoughtful people we have a striking illustration in St Augustine. He tells us he had reached a more or less satisfactory solution of his doubts, and now "desired to be not more certain about Thee, but more stable in Thee" (Conf. viii. 1, 1), and while he hesitated to commit himself to the Christian life as he now saw it should be, he heard the story of Antony for the first time. He was profoundly moved by the contrast between this ignorant man's achievement of holiness and the low level with which he himself for all his learning was content. Then resolving to try a sors Biblica [(Internet) "drop bible open and read 1st passage that catches your eye"], suggested by the episode of Antony hearing the text "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and come, follow me," he opened at the text in Romans [apparently, "Romans xiii. 13, 14" (see 2105)] [see 1583 (Gian Conte)] which struck home1. The great point to notice here is that the essence of the book [Life of Antony] is that doctrine which Augustine, by his own experience, was being led to make the centre of his faith and teaching—the doctrine of grace [meaning?].

          Here ends our study of the novels. In their own way they reflect their age, the over-elaboration and sterility of style, the failure of civic ideals, the growing individualism, and something of the new life still struggling for expression in the Church.' [386] [End of text].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Roman Letters History from a Personal Point of View, Finley Hooper, Matthew Schwartz, Wayne State University Press, c1991.



the Younger

Gentleman and Public Servant

Mt. Vesuvius, 24 August A.D. 79. The volcanic eruption on that date is one of the best-remembered events of Roman times. Three towns were devastated. The excavations and restorations at two of them, Pompeii and Herculaneum, are popular tourist attractions today. Sculptures and paintings from these sites are on display in the National Museum in nearby Naples. At Pompeii, the exhibits in the local museums include plaster casts that show people and animals as they fell. The letters in this chapter were written by a survivor of the disaster, who describes what he saw and how he felt.

          Pliny the Younger (ca. 61 to ca. 120) is so named to distinguish him from his mother's brother, Pliny the Elder (ca. 23 to 79), who wrote the encyclopedic Natural History, one of the enduring works of ancient times. On the day of the eruption, the younger Pliny, then seventeen, was with his mother visiting his uncle, the commander of the navy at Misenum, located on the Bay of Naples. It fell upon the elder Pliny to take charge of rescuing victims, but while doing so, he himself, like so many others, died of suffocation. The younger Pliny tells how he and his mother escaped. The letter was addressed to the historian Tacitus [c. 56 - c. 120 C.E.], who had written asking for firsthand information.


[Pliny the Younger] For several days past there had been earth tremors which were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania ["region of west central Italy...." (Ox. Classical Dict., 1996). Included the area of Pompeii]; but that night the shocks were so violent that everything felt as if it were not only shaken but overturned. My mother hurried into my room and found me already getting up to wake her if she were still asleep. We sat down in the forecourt of the house, between the buildings and the sea close by. I don't know whether I should call this courage or folly on my part (I was only seventeen at the time) but I called for a volume of Livy [59 B.C.E. - 17 C.E.] and went on reading as if I had nothing else to do. I even went on with the extracts I had been making. Up came a friend of my uncle's who had just come from Spain to join him. When he saw us sitting there and me actually reading, he scolded us both—me for my foolhardiness and my mother for allowing it. Nevertheless, I remained absorbed in my book.

By now it was dawn, but the light was still dim and faint. The buildings round us were already tottering, and the open space we were in was too small for us not to be in real and imminent danger if the house collapsed. This finally decided us to leave the town. We were followed by a panic-stricken mob of people....' [71-72].


          'G.W. Bowersock, in Julian the Apostate [Harvard, 1978], states:

"All his [Julian (Emperor 361 - 363 (331 - 363))] writings, taken together, provide an insight into character and disposition such as can be had for no other classical figure apart from Cicero [106 - 43 B.C.E.]."5' [133]. [See: 1849 (Johnson, on Julian)].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World, Edited by Christopher Gill and T.P. Wiseman, University of Texas Press, 1993.

'Chapter Four

Lying Historians:

Seven Types of Mendacity

T.P. Wiseman


          FOR SENECA IN THE FIRST CENTURY AD, IT WAS AXIOMATIC THAT HISTORIANS ARE LIARS. There is a passage in his Quaestiones Naturales (7.16.1f.) where, discussing comets, he brushes aside the theory offered by Ephorus [c. 405 - 330 B.C.E.] with a damning remark: 'It takes no great effort to refute him—he's a historian.' And yet history, of all genres, was supposed to tell the truth. In the only theoretical discussion of historiography that survives from antiquity, Lucian's essay How to Write History (Hist. conscr.),1 that principle is stated without irony or embarrassment (39): 'The historian's one task is to tell it as it happened...the one particular characteristic of history is this, that if you are going to write it you must sacrifice to Truth alone.'

          Seneca [c. 4 B.C.E. - 65 C.E.] justifies his paradox with a sardonic little digression on the practice of history as mere entertainment:


Some historians win approval by telling incredible tales; an everyday narrative would make the reader go and do something else, so they excite him with marvels. Some of them are credulous, and lies take them unawares; others, are careless, and lies are what they like; the former don't avoid them, the latter seek them out. What the whole tribe have in common is this: they think their work can only achieve approval and popularity if they sprinkle it with lies.

Writing in a different genre, as the narrator of the 'pumpkinification of Claudius', Seneca gives a brilliant impersonation of the irresponsible historian:2


I want to put on record the business transacted in heaven on 13 October...No concession will be made to umbrage taken or favour granted. This is the authentic truth. If anyone inquires about the source of my information, first, I shan't reply if I don't want to. Who's going to compel me?...If I do choose to reply, I'll say whatever trips off my tongue. WHO EVER DEMANDED SWORN REFEREES [examiners, etc.] FROM A HISTORIAN? But if it is obligatory to produce the originator of the account, let the inquirer ask the man who saw Drusilla on her way to heaven.


          In the first passage, Seneca has in mind the telling of marvel-stories more appropriate to poetry, and that idea is present in the Apocolocyntosis too: the contrast with sworn testimony was usually applied to poets, and Seneca makes one of his characters describe the events as an appendix to Ovid's Metamorphoses.3 However, the reference to Drusilla's apotheosis shows that in the second passage he is thinking mainly of flattery and panegyric.4 ....' [122-123].

          'Are we to infer that for some authors, at least, 'lying' was too crude a term for what historians were tempted to do? If so, it was certainly not a general reluctance. Lucian (Hist. conscr. 7) had not inhibitions about describing panegyric in history as a lie (pseudos). Nor, conversely, had Josephus [c. 37 - c. 100] (Jewish Antiquities 20.154–5), in his criticism of historians' malice:


[Josephus] Many have written the history of Nero. Some have been favourable to him, careless of the truth because he benefitted them. Others, out of hatred and hostility towards him, have behaved like shameless drunkards in their lies, and deserve condemnation for it. I am not surprised at those who have lied about Nero, since even in their accounts of events before his time they have not preserved the truth of history.

Naturally, Josephus distances himself from such authors. 'Let them write as they like, since that is what gives them pleasure. As for me, I am aiming at the truth' (20.156)—by which he means impartiality.' [127].

          'Seneca, as we saw at the beginning, was no great admirer of historians. Another passage of his Quaestiones Naturales (4.3.1) leads us into a more fundamental definition of lies in history:


[This is] what historians do: when they've told numerous lies of their own choice, they pick out one thing they don't want to guarantee, and add the phrase 'my authorities must take responsibility for this'.

Ever since Herodotus [c. 484 - 430-420 B.C.E.] (7.152.3), it was a commonplace of historical writing to annotate certain items with the plea that 'I'm reporting what I was told, I don't necessarily believe it'.42 But according to Seneca, historians make this virtuous declaration at random, to give the illusion that the rest of what they say is guaranteed.' [135].


          "We are now better placed, I think, to see what Seneca was getting at. His sardonic assumption is that all historiography is irresponsible aphēgēsis; THE HISTORIAN IS MERELY A STORY-TELLER, AND STORY-TELLERS ARE LIARS. Remember Odysseus at the court of Alcinous:49


Alicinous [Alcinous] answered: 'Odysseus, as we look at you we cannot think you to be a deceiver and a cheat, though the dark earth breeds a great crop of such, FORGERS OF LIES drawn from places beyond our ken.'

Seneca would have agreed with Lucian that the Phaeacians were simple folk.

          The most revealing part of his indictment is that historians tell lies 'of their own choice' (ad arbitrium suum). Cicero's Atticus used a similar phrase—'it's your choice' (tuo arbitratu). 'Write what you want,' said the City Prefect to the imperial biographer; 'you can safely say whatever you like.' Josephus said the same about the historians of Nero. Seneca himself in his guise as narrator, will say 'whatever trips off his tongue'—a proverbial phrase used also by Lucian to describe what bad historians do.50" [137].

[footnote] "50. Cicero, Brutus 42; Historia Augusta, Aurelian 2.2; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.156; Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 1.2; Lucian, Hist. conscr. 32." [137].

[See: Addition 34, 1580-1632; Addition 36, 1991 (Seneca)].

● ● ● ● ●


from: Greek Fiction The Greek Novel in Context, Edited by J.R. Morgan and Richard Stoneman, Routledge, 1994.

"it is worth drawing attention to the parallelism between the Alexander Romance and a number of early Christian texts which used the generic mix of works like the Alexander Romance to present their own worldviews [see 2248]. A STUDY BY REISER22 [M. Reiser (Tübingen)] HAS DETAILED THE MANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE ALEXANDER ROMANCE AND MARK'S GOSPEL, which range from syntactic features to aspects of narrative style including parataxis and repetition, absence of complex narrative, vagueness of geographical and chronological reference, ideal scenes and the miracles which accompany the deaths of Jesus and Alexander. Both texts thus exhibit the linguistic and stylistic features of popular literature in the service of a portrait of a unique figure. The question-and-answer session with the Brahmans is not entirely unlike the question-and-answer sessions of Jesus and his disciples in the Gospels, though the roles of teacher and taught are reversed. Both types of texts are drawing on the same kind of tradition, catering for the same kind of appetite for wondrous tales with a meaning, or pithy savings (chreiai)...." [Richard Stoneman] [124-125].


Early Christian Fiction

Richard I. Pervo

I Narrative and Fiction in Ancient



Narrative 'fiction' (by which I mean composition rather than concoction [see Addition 26, 1240 ("combinations and abbreviations of...extant works")]), treating Christian subjects and serving religious ends, begins with the formation of stories about Jesus into a coherent narrative plot, continues with the composition of works featuring apostles and issues in stories about holy men and women, a genre that has arguably never died.1" [239].

"Gospels and Acts

The anonymous author of what is now called 'The Gospel of Mark' [see Addition 36, 1974, 1976 (Leidner)] apparently produced the first work conforming to the description given above [apparently: "Early Christian Fiction"]. ITS HERO, JESUS OF NAZARETH, embarks upon a career of teaching and wonder-working that excites the authorities to plan his death. When Jesus goes to Jerusalem at the time of a religious festival, tension rises, but his enemies are frustrated until one of his intimates sells him out. Following his trial and execution, women disciples who visit the tomb hear that Jesus has been raised.


          The narrator shapes the plot in an ironic fashion: the religio-political establishment wishes Jesus executed for acts of beneficence. They succeed in putting him to death, unaware that by this very act they are conforming to God's plan of redemption. Mark begins and ends abruptly. Matthew and Luke give the story of a biographical orientation with stories of Jesus' birth and childhood, then extended it to provide appearances of the risen Christ.

          If the canonical gospels have dramatic plots and exciting content of a popular variety, they contain relatively little adventure or melodrama, apart from the Passion story. The third of the evangelists, traditionally called 'Luke', wrote a sequel, now called Acts, focusing upon the travels, deeds and speeches of Christian leaders, especially Paul, the central figure. ACTS gives larger scope to adventure than to instruction and HAS AFFINITIES WITH [IS] ANCIENT FICTION. PAUL COVERS MUCH OF THE TERRITORY OVER WHICH THE LEADING FIGURES OF GREEK NOVELS WANDER, and his life, too, is marked by intrigue, captivity and narrow escapes from death, including deliverance from shipwreck.

          The marcan shape, itself inspired by Jewish stories of the fate of the suffering righteous, predominates in Acts, which gave it a new and enduring vitality. A literary examination of the composition of Gospels and Acts reflects a growing tendency toward the production of coherent, extended narrative. This is quite evident in the work of Luke, whose Gospel constitutes a substantial literary 'improvement' over that of Mark, and whose second volume ["Acts"] reflects yet further advances: in place of pithy sayings, distinct anecdotes and brief miracle stories there are set speeches conforming to rhetorical patterns and a wealth of narrative incident.

          From the historical perspective the composition of full-scale narrative gospels appears, apart from combinations and abbreviations of the extant works, to have soon subsided. The 'Gospels' of the second and later centuries begin where Mark, so to speak, left off. They are essentially discourses of the glorified, risen Christ. The Gospel of John, with its lengthy addresses (cf. John 13–17), begins to point in this direction. Narrative flourished in the composition of various acts ["'Apocryphal Acts'"]." [240-241].



"1. The undeniable fact that THE FIRST CHRISTIANS WERE THE GREATEST LIARS AND FORGERS THAT HAD EVER BEEN IN THE WHOLE WORLD, and that they actually stopt at nothing.

2. The undeniable fact that it was not the ignorant and vulgar among them, but THEIR BEST SCHOLARS, THE SHREWDEST, CLEVEREST, AND HIGHEST IN RANK AND TALENT, who WERE THE PRACTITIONERS OF THESE FORGERIES."

[Robert Taylor, Diegesis, 1829, 404].