Monday, October 4, 2010

I Think I Found the Original Literary Context Which Created the Christian Heretic 'Cerdo'

I am very busy right now but I happened to be following a trail of references which led me to Plato's use of Archilochus, the Greek poet. Archilochus (seventh century BCE) wrote a famous narrative about a fox and a monkey which perfectly fits Irenaeus's use of the fox in Book One of Against Heresies. I think that it must have been the original for the reference to 'Cerdo' in the hypomnemata. Here is Martin Steinrück's synopsis of the lost story:

In Archilochus' epode of the fox and monkey (fr. 185 ff. W), the monkey wants to be the king of the animals. The fox meets him. Then he promises him a treasure and leads him to the place where it is supposed to be hidden. But the treasure, whatever it was, is in a trap. The sly (kerdalen) fox outwits the king. There is no doubt about what the fox represents: young men fighting against people who do not deserve their position.

The fact that Plato first cites the fox of Arhcilochus to symbolize the 'heretics' of his own day is certainly where the editor of the hypomnemata got the idea for the contemporary 'cerdo' of the Roman Church. Just read the Republic and compare what Plato says to Irenaeus portrait:

And they produce a host of books written by Musaeus and Orpheus, who were children of the Moon and the Muses--that is what they say-- according to which they perform their ritual, and persuade not only individuals, but whole cities, that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices and amusements which fill a vacant hour, and are equally at the service of the living and the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them no one knows what awaits us.

He proceeded: And now when the young hear all this said about virtue and vice, and the way in which gods and men regard them, how are their minds likely to be affected, my dear Socrates,-- those of them, I mean, who are quickwitted, and, like bees on the wing, light on every flower, and from all that they hear are prone to draw conclusions as to what manner of persons they should be and in what way they should walk if they would make the best of life? Probably the youth will say to himself in the words of Pindar--

Can I by justice or by crooked ways of deceit ascend a loftier tower which may he a fortress to me all my days?

For what men say is that, if I am really just and am not also thought just profit there is none, but the pain and loss on the other hand are unmistakable. But if, though unjust, I acquire the reputation of justice, a heavenly life is promised to me. Since then, as philosophers prove, appearance tyrannizes over truth and is lord of happiness, to appearance I must devote myself. I will describe around me a picture and shadow of virtue to be the vestibule and exterior of my house; behind I will trail the subtle and crafty fox, as Archilochus, greatest of sages, recommends. But I hear some one exclaiming that the concealment of wickedness is often difficult; to which I answer, Nothing great is easy. Nevertheless, the argument indicates this, if we would be happy, to be the path along which we should proceed. With a view to concealment we will establish secret brotherhoods and political clubs. And there are professors of rhetoric who teach the art of persuading courts and assemblies; and so, partly by persuasion and partly by force, I shall make unlawful gains and not be punished. Still I hear a voice saying that the gods cannot be deceived, neither can they be compelled. But what if there are no gods? or, suppose them to have no care of human things--why in either case should we mind about concealment? And even if there are gods, and they do care about us, yet we know of them only from tradition and the genealogies of the poets; and these are the very persons who say that they may be influenced and turned by `sacrifices and soothing entreaties and by offerings.' Let us be consistent then, and believe both or neither. If the poets speak truly, why then we had better be unjust, and offer of the fruits of injustice; for if we are just, although we may escape the vengeance of heaven, we shall lose the gains of injustice; but, if we are unjust, we shall keep the gains, and by our sinning and praying, and praying and sinning, the gods will be propitiated, and we shall not be punished. `But there is a world below in which either we or our posterity will suffer for our unjust deeds.' Yes, my friend, will be the reflection, but there are mysteries and atoning deities, and these have great power. That is what mighty cities declare; and the children of the gods, who were their poets and prophets, bear a like testimony.
[Plato the Republic Book Two]

This is clearly the original context for Ireneuae's heretical fox. Little wonder he is discovered in Plato, the Greek author who is the second most important source for understanding early Christianity after the Torah - some might argue Plato is more important.

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