Sunday, September 12, 2010

Against Polycarp [Part Three]

Lucian of Samosata (modern Samsat) was a pagan writer from Commagene, a small kingdom, located in what is now modern south-central Turkey. He was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language known for scoffing wit. Lucian identified himself as being of Syrian extraction but very little is known about him. We aren't sure of the exact duration of his life, but it is probable that he was born not long before 125 CE and died not long after 180.

There are many works which made Lucian a very famous author in the second century but we are only interested in one work in particular - the Death of Peregrinus. It recounts Lucian's apparent contact with a famous Christian martyr in the years leading up to his spectacular death 165 CE. Several renowned Patristic scholars of the last two centuries have pointed out parallels between Lucian's account and our earliest Patristic texts.

Lucian report, as we shall demonstrate shortly, demonstrates that he familiarity with the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna. Yet, strangely, Lucian seems to think that 'Peregrinus' is all of these people. Traditional scholarship has thus failed to make sense of these coincidences. It has failed to explain Lucian's apparent 'error' here and attempts to sidestep the issue completely. Yet this has always been the problem with Patristic scholarship. It fails to grasp that we are being handed an artificial arrangement to distance Irenaeus's teacher from Lucian's 'stranger.'

Indeed it is only because that these men essentially 'believed' in the system established by Irenaeus with the explicit purpose of dividing the Stranger's original body of literature between newly invented figures such as 'Ignatius,' 'Clement' and 'Polycarp' that they end up walking away from the problem of Lucian of Samosata's Peregrinus.

Let us begin by looking at the story of the Stranger as it unfolds in Lucian of Samosata's original narrative. Lucian says that he happened to walking by the gymnasium in Elis ( ), when he happened to hear the cynic Theagenes one of the leading apologists for our Stranger. He defending his master against accusations that his efforts to burn himself alive at the next Olympic games was just a misguided attempt at getting the attention of everyone in the Empire. No one should accuse Peregrinus of vainglory. After all a number of great individuals in history had attempted the same thing including Hercules and Empedocles the philosopher. Then Theagenes himself engaged in some histrionics of his own, suddenly halting his defence of his master bathed in tears and pulling his hair (but not too hard), being carried away by his friends as if he could no longer continue as he was overcome with so much emotion.

Lucian then invents another orator who immediately appears on the stage, whose name is not given but is clearly uttering the thoughts of the satirist at that moment. Theagenes, he said, had concluded his of Heraclitus, but he would begin his with the laughter of Democritus. And then he laughed until his laughter became contagious, and Lucian and the rest joined him.

The orator then went on to tell what he knew, or had heard, about this man Peregrinus, the one who Theagenes identified as representing very ‘image of God.’ Peregrinus was born into a wealthy family in Parium. In his early days, he said, Proteus had been taken in adultery, and compelled to undergo the usual punishment thereof. Not content with scandalous things of that kind, he had, so the story went, been guilty of killing his father and this led to his inheritance of a large estate. Eventually however he was forced to leave his native city, and to wander from place to place. Being in Palestine, he became a Christian, and so rapidly surpassed his teachers, that presently he became their president (Προστάτες). It happened, however, that he was thrown into prison for introducing new mysteries, just as the Crucified One, the object of Christian worship, had done before him. This was a fine thing, the orator said, for Proteus, and greatly ministered to his thirst for fame. The Christians flocked to his assistance, and he soon amassed a large sum of money. The governor of Syria, however, saw that this imprisonment only ministered to Proteus' vainglory, and so after a trial he let him go.

The stranger then, the orator proceeded, returned home, only to find, however, that his crimes were not forgotten. He therefore let his beard grow, and assumed the garb of a cynic philosopher, and declared that he gave all his property to the people of Parium. This made him a fine fellow, but, of course, reduced him to poverty. Peregrinus therefore started a second time on his travels. At first, he threw himself upon the charity of the Christians, but presently ruined himself with them by eating forbidden things. In his distress he begged of the emperor to be allowed to recall his generous gift to Parium, which was, of course, refused.

Our stranger then started on a third journey, this time to Alexandria to visit Agathobulus another Cynic philosopher. There, the orator said, he shaved half his head, and daubed himself with mud, and behaved in a most obscene and ridiculous fashion, and certainly succeeded in gaining the credit of being a most extraordinary fellow.

From Alexandria he went to Rome, where at once he began to abuse everybody, and specially the emperor, the meekest of men ; and, altogether, he behaved in such a way, that it at last became necessary to tell him that philosophers of his stamp were not wanted in Rome. He turned this dismissal to profit, however. Epictetus and others had been dismissed for plain speaking, and why not Peregrinus?

From there he went to Greece where we is said to have been involved in some kind of revolt. Shortly thereafter in 157 CE the stranger ends up in Elis where he started railing against all sorts of things but in particular Herod Atticus, one of the leading men in the Empire at the time. Herod had at his own expense, brought water into the city of Olympia, to the great relief of the spectators at the Olympic games. As, however, he was at that moment drinking the said water when he was attacking Herod, his language was considered intolerable, and he was obliged leave the games.

Nevertheless our stranger returned again, the orator said, at the next Olympiad in 161 CE; but as the people had found him out, and had become accustomed to his tricks, he had determined, by way of novelty, that he would burn himself alive. The orator slyly declares that he probably made a convenient and safe, receptacle for himself in the midst of the funeral pile. Proteus wanted, he supposed, to change his name, and take that of Phoenix, that well-known bird. Theagenes, the orator proceeded, had given them some Sibylline verses about that same Proteus. He would match them, he said, with one of Bacis' oracular utterances. The fox cubs, they heard from Bacis, were to follow this precious cynic to the flames. Was Bacis a worse soothsayer than the sibyl? Would it not be well if Proteus' admirable friends would evaporate (ἐξαέρωσουσι) themselves? That was, he thought, there term for burning.

As the people began to exclaim, "Let them be burned for they are worthy of the fire," the orator stepped down laughing.

Lucian then went on to Olympia to see the end, for the whole thing gave him infinite amusement. He found the Stranger uttering his own funeral oration, recounting his great deeds, and saying that he wished to put a golden crown, or finish, to a golden life, and die like Heracles, and mingle with the air; that he would teach men to despise death, and that he hoped that every man would be his Philoctetes. When Proteus had finished, the more foolish of his audience urged him (as he had hoped) to save his precious life in pity to the Greeks. The more manly folk, however, bade him to fulfil his purpose. You will imagine how I laughed, says Lucian, when his cheek grew deadly pale; and when, from fear, obliged to cease speaking, no one could pity such a vainglorious fool.

Lucian then describes the closing scene. The funeral pile was prepared, and the moon, as was fitting, shone out upon the noble deed, and Proteus appeared, torch in hand. With him was Theagenes, also armed with a torch ; and right well he played the second part in the comedy. They fired the pile from either side. Proteus then — aud note thiswell, Lucian says — divested himself of his wallet, and cloak, and Heraclean club, and stood forth in an unquestionably dirty shirt; then casting frankincense into the fire, and facing the south, and breathing a prayer to his maternal and paternal gods, he sprang into the flames, and was seen no more. As Proteus named the paternal deities, I remembered that murder of his, and could no longer contain my laughter, Lucian remarks.

As Lucian was returning, he met people on the road pressing forward to be in time for the spectacle, which they thought would have taken place in the early morning in honour of the rising sun, after the manner of the Brahmins. Some went on to secure a relic (λείψανον); others returned, and eagerly inquired of him what had happened. To the more intelligent of these inquirers Lucian told the truth ; but for the simple souls that stood open-mouthed to hear the tale, he added, he says, sundry embellishments of his own. For their benefit he introduced an earthquake, and made a bird fly from the midst of the flames. He amused himself mightily at the horror which they displayed, and at the way in which some of them quietly adopted his inventions, and spoke of them as facts within their own knowledge. He adds that they now believed that Peregrinus sent letters to divers cities of repute, and commissioned some of his associates to act as messengers from the shades below, and that he was sure that the cities which had been so honoured would erect statues to his memory.

Such, he says, was the end of the ill-fated Proteus, who had lived only for fame, the enjoyment of which he reaped by the very death which gave it to him.

To make Chronius, to whom he was writing, laugh the more, Lucian adds something further. He reminds his friend of what he (Lucian) had once told him of a voyage from Troas, in which he had been privileged to have Proteus as his companion, when Proteusshowed his luxurious sensual habits, and also his miserable cowardice, in that when the storm overtook them this fine fellow went below and blubbered with the women. About nine days before his death, Lucian says, Proteus having over-eaten himself, and made himself very sick, fell ill of a fever. Alexander, the physician, was sent for, who found him, consumed with fever, rolling on the floor in agony, and asking for a little cold water. The physician refused the request. He reminded Proteus that he had desired death, and told him that death had now come of its own accord to his door, and that there was now no necessity for the fire. Proteus replied that such a death was much too common for him. Lucian had this story from Alexander ; but he says that he himself saw Proteus only a few days before his death rubbing some ointment on his eyes till they watered again. It was as if a man who was going to the cross should trouble himself about an ailment to his finger. Laugh, my friend, he adds, and most of all laugh at those who admire Proteus. Such is Lucian's account of the life and death of Proteus Peregrinus.

Before we go on to compare this account of the martyrdom of Peregrinus with that of the figure called ‘Polycarp’ in the writings of Irenaeus it is worth noting that not all pagan writers shared Lucian’s low estimation of the stranger. First and most importantly from the record of his diatribes in Aulus Gellius' 'Noctes Atticae'. The first of these anecdotes survives only as a title. A citation from Nonius has been attributed to this section and it helps fill out our sense of the scene. The young and wealthy tourist to Rome can be taken as either dull and bored with the talk of the strange Cynic philosopher or mesmerized and agape. Whatever the case, he is the object of Peregrinus' abuse. The more revealing record of Peregrinus in Athens comes from Book XII. Gellius reports that he saw Peregrinus, later called Proteus, established in a hut ouside the walls of Athens, and that he and his companions paid him frequent visits. The Roman visitor came away with a very favorable impression of Proteus and briefly records the subject of one of his disquisitions. He argued that the philosopher would never do wrong, even though he knew that he would go undetected by gods and men; but that those without the moral discipline of the philosopher would be deterred from wrong-doing if they knew no crime can be concealed for long. And he liked to cite two lines from Sophocles to make his point.

Two other details of this report are of interest. Gellius states that it was only after his visit to Peregrinus' hut on the outskirts of Athens that Peregrinus assumed - or received - the name Proteus, but he does not mention Peregrinus' self-immolation at the Olympic games of 165 AD What this seems to mean is that at this point of his career in Athens Peregrinus had not yet assumed the cognomen Proteus, much less Phoenix (which was added, according to Lucian, only in the fated year of 165 AD ['Peregrinus' 27]). It is possible that Peregrinus assumed the name 'Proteus' only once he left his temporary quarters in Athens for Elis and his four appearances at the Olympic games, the first of which came in the year 153. The other detail is only striking by contrast with the hostility of Lucian's 'Peregrinus'. Gellius calls him a "serious and disciplined man" (virum constantem atque gravem). At least one reader has taken this as a silent correction of Lucian’s Peregrinus.

There are two other contemporaries who are witnesses to Peregrinus' career. Significantly, perhaps, both are Christians from the Greek East and both mention him in the apologies for Christianity they address to a Greek audience. The first of these is Tatian, who refers to the philosopher Proteus in his address to the Greeks. He asks:

What is great or wonderful in the activities of your philosophers? They go about with one shoulder bare, do not cut their hair, grow long beards, and let their nails grow into claws, saying that they are in need of nothing, but, in the manner of Proteus, they need a cobbler to make their satchel, a weaver to make their cloak, a wood-cutter to cut their staff, and a chef to satisfy the gourmandise of the wealthy. You, my worthy, mimick a dog. You know not God and you have transformed yourself by your emulation of irrational creatures. You conduct harangues in public as your own eloquent advocate and, if you do not receive a contribution, you pour out abuse and make your philosophy an art of money making. [Oratio 25.1]

The other contemporary witness to the career of Peregrinus is Athena- goras, the Athenian philosopher and Christian, who mentions him as Proteus in the 'Legatio pro Christianis' he addressed to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Aurelius. This must be dated after the death of Peregrinus and before that of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD In his plea for the Christians, Athenagoras mentions a statue of Proteus in Parion as well as the statue and grave of Alexander of Troy which located in the agora of Peregrinus’s native city. He recalls Proteus' self-immolation as if it were a recent event and familiar to Marcus and Lucius, and he adduces the statue of Proteus because it is said to give oracles and he does not believe that Proteus can be responsible for them thus confirming Lucian's vaticinium post eventum that Greek cities would erect statues to the new Cynic hero ('Peregrinus' 41).

Four later references to Peregrinus recalls his spectacular end at Olympia. Philostratus the younger, in the life of Herod, records Herod’s calm and studied response to the abuse Proteus lavished upon him - an anecdote that has a close parallel in Lucian's 'Peregrinus' 19.

There are other posthumous references to Peregrinus. Philostratus the elder wrote a work with the title ‘Proteus the Cynic or Sophist.’ The interest of the elder Philostratus might stem from the public addresses Proteus delivered at the Olympic games. At his first appearance at the sanctuary in 153, Proteus delivered an invective against the luxury of the nymphaeum of Herod Atticus and then, according to Lucian's life, he changed his tune and at the next Olympic games he praised the philanthropy of the great man ('Peregrinus' 19 -20).

It is possible that this second Olympic address was published. A third century book list from Egypt contains the entry [Pe]reginou apologiai. The other possible interpretation of this title, if it does contain the name Peregrinus, is the apology or defense for Peregrinus. Peregrinus' chief associate, Theagenes of Patras, was his principal apologist when he was alive. And in the handbook of Menander Rhetor in the third century one of the paradoxical and challenging topics for praise is identified as "Peregrinus or Poverty." Finally, Lucian's 'Peregrinus' is noticed on its way to the index as a book title in the Suda entry for Lucian of Samosata: the Life of Peregrinus Which Vilified Christianity and Blasphemed Christ himself.

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