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Monday, January 30, 2006

Saint Anthony

Saint Anthony by Athanasius
Most of what we know about the life of St Anthony is in the Greek vita by Athanasius (d. 373), which soon circulated in Latin. Several surviving homilies and epistles of varying authenticity provide scant autobiographical detail.

Anthony was born near Heraclea in Upper Egypt in 251 to wealthy parents. When he was twenty years old, his parents died and left him with the care of his unmarried sister. In 285, he decided to follow the words of Christ who had said: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21). Anthony gave his wealth to the poor and needy, and placed his sister with a group of Christian virgins, a sort of proto-nunnery at the time.

Christian monasticism had not yet been established, so those who wanted to live an ascetical life retired separately to isolated locations on the outskirts of cities. The pagan ascetic hermits and loosely organized cenobitic communities that the Hellenized Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria described as the Therapeutae in the first century, were long established in the harsh environments by the Lake Mareotis close to Alexandria, and in other less-accessible regions, Philo understood: for "this class of persons may be met with in many places, for both Greece and barbarian countries want to enjoy whatever is perfectly good." (Philo,De vita contemplativa written ca. AD 10)

By the 2nd century there were also famous Christian ascetics, such as Saint Thecla. Saint Anthony decided to follow this tradition and headed out into the alkaline desert region called the Nitra in Latin (Wadi al-Natrun today), about 60 miles west of Alexandria, some of the most rugged terrain of the Western Desert.

According to Athanasius, the devil fought St Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women, which he overcame by the power of prayer, providing a theme for Christian art. After that, he moved to a tomb, where he resided and closed the door on himself, depending on some local villagers who brought him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious. When his friends from the local village came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to a church.

After he recovered, he made a second effort and went back to the desert, further out, to a mountain by the Nile, called Pispir, now Der el Memun, opposite Arsinoë in the Fayyum. Here he lived strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for some twenty years. According to Athanasius, the devil again resumed his war against Saint Anthony, only this time the phantoms were in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes and scorpions. They appeared as if they were about to attack him or cut him into pieces. But the Saint would laugh at them scornfully and say, "If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me." At his saying this, they disappeared as though in smoke, and God gave him the victory over the devils. While in the fort he only communicated with the outside world by a crevice through which food would be passed and he would say a few words. Saint Anthony would prepare a quantity of bread that would sustain him for six months. He did not allow anyone to enter his cell: whoever came to him, stood outside and listened to his advice.

Anthony the Abbot
The one day he emerged from the fort with the help of villagers to break down the door. By this time most had expected him to have wasted away, or gone insane in his solitary confinement, but he emerged healthy, serene, and enlightened. Everyone was amazed he had been through these trials and emerged spiritually rejuvenated. He was hailed as a hero and from this time forth the legend of Anthony began to spread and grow.

The backstory of one of the surviving epistles, directed to Constantine the Great recounts how he fame of Saint Anthony spread abroad and reached Emperor Constantine. The Emperor wrote to him, offering him praise and asked him to pray for him. The brethren were pleased with the Emperor's letter, but Anthony did not pay any attention to it, and he said to them, "The books of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, commands us everyday, but we do not heed what they tell us, and we turn our backs on them." Under the persistence of the brethren who told him, "Emperor Constantine loves the church," he accepted to write him a letter blessing him, and praying for the peace and safety of the empire and the church.

Then he went to the Fayyum) and confirmed the brethren there in the Christian faith, then returned to his old Roman fort. Anthony wished to become a martyr and went to Alexandria. He visited those who were imprisoned for the sake of Christ and comforted them. When the Governor saw that he was confessing his Christianity publicly, not caring what might happen to him, he ordered him not to show up in the city. However, the Saint did not heed his threats. He faced him and argued with him in order that he might arouse his anger so that he might be tortured and martyred, but it did not happen.

Then he went back to the old Roman fort and many came to visit him and to hear his teachings. He saw that these visits kept him away from his worship. As a result, he went further into the Eastern Desert of Egypt. He travelled to the inner wilderness for three days, until he found a spring of water and some palm trees, and then he chose to settle there. On this spot now stands the monastery of Saint Anthony the Great (see below). On occasions, he would go to the monastery on the outskirts of the desert by the Nile to visit the brethren, then return to his inner monastery.

According to Athanasius, Saint Anthony heard a voice telling him, "Go out and see." He went out and saw an angel who wore a girdle with a cross, one resembling the holy Eskiem (Tonsure or Schema), and on his head was a head cover (Kolansowa). He was sitting while braiding palm leaves, then he stood up to pray, and again he sat to weave. A voice came to him saying, "Anthony, do this and you will rest." Henceforth, he started to wear this tunic that he saw, and began to weave palm leaves, and never got bored again. Saint Anthony prophesied about the persecution that was about to happen to the church and the control of the heretics over it, the church victory and its return to its formal glory, and the end of the age. When Saint Macarius visited Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony clothed him with the monk's garb, and foretold him what would be of him. When the day of the departure of Saint Paul the Anchorite, the First Hermit in the desert, drew near, Saint Anthony went to him. Saint Anthony buried Saint Paul the Anchorite after he had clothed him in a tunic which was a present from St Athanasius the Apostolic, the 20th Pope of Alexandria.

When Saint Anthony felt that the day of his departure had approached, he commanded his disciples to give his staff to Saint Macarius, and to give one sheepskin cloak to Saint Athanasius and the other sheepskin cloak to Saint Serapion, his disciple. He further instructed his disciples to bury his body in an unmarked, secret grave, lest his body become an object of veneration. He stretched himself on the ground and gave up his spirit. Saint Anthony the Great lived for 105 years and departed on the year 356. Probably he spoke only his native language, Coptic, but his sayings were spread in a Greek translation. He himself left no writings. His biography was written by Saint Athanasius the Apostolic and titled Life of Saint Anthony the Great. Many stories are also told about him in various collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Some of the stories included in Saint Anthony's biography are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre fantasies. Many pictorial artists, from Hieronymus Bosch to Salvador Dalí, have depicted these incidents from the life of Anthony; in prose, the tale was retold and embellished by Gustave Flaubert.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Gladiators

Culture I: Gladiators (

One cannot gloss over the bloody cruelty of Roman gladiatorial games, but the student of Roman civilization cannot afford to dismiss these contests simply because they offend modern sensibility. To avoid smugness, we must admit that the modern appetite for viewing violence is probably just as strong as the ancient. Any fan of American football knows that one of the sport’s primary attractions is its similarity to warfare. Its brutal violence is reflected in the martial language used to describe this game: aerial and ground attacks, blitzes, bombs, etc. Thanks to film, those of us so inclined are able to satisfy this all-too-human appetite by watching pretend-violence in movies, which today abound with bloody murders, explosions and car crashes.

Now let’s look at Roman gladiatorial combat in its ancient context. We should keep in mind Keith Hopkins' warning: "we are dealing here, not with individual sadistic psychopathology, but with a deep cultural difference."1 Attending gladiatorial contests in the amphitheater was an essential part of being a Roman. Rome was a warrior state that had achieved its large empire by military violence. War was a high-stakes proposition, both for the Romans and their opponents. Thousands of Roman soldiers died in Italy and abroad in countless battles. Roman treatment of the enemy could be very harsh, sometimes even involving the slaughter of non-combatants. In Spain, during the second Punic War, Scipio Africanus the Elder attacked the city of Iliturgi, which had gone over to the enemy, and his soldiers killed all armed and unarmed citizens alike, including women and infants (Livy 28.20.6). In Rome, prisoners of war were often executed in public. In order to ensure military discipline, Roman soldiers could be very harsh on their own kind, as is evident in the practice of decimation, in which one soldier out of every ten guilty of cowardice or dereliction of duty was chosen by lot to be bludgeoned to death by his fellow soldiers.

In such a cultural climate it is not surprising that gladiatorial games were immensely popular and a characteristic symbol of Roman culture for almost seven centuries. It may be no accident that the most dramatic increase in the popularity of gladiatorial games occurred during the first two centuries AD, when the Augustan peace throughout the empire provided little opportunity for citizens to participate in real warfare. If there were not enough real warfare to satisfy Roman tastes, then counterfeit warfare would have to do. Hopkins calls the amphitheater "artificial battlefields" where the Romans "created battlefield conditions for public amusement...War had been converted into a game, a drama repeatedly replayed, of cruelty, violence, blood and death..."2 The crowd in the amphitheater not only a passive witness of this drama, but at its end became an active participant, when it was time to decide whether the loser should die or live. Like any other form of ritual, these contests were implicitly understood by the Romans to express a message important to their social order and that message involved violence, death, and power.

Early in its history the gladiatorial contest developed into a symbolic re-enactment of Roman military success. Different types of gladiators such as the Thracian, the Gaul, and the Samnite, used arms and techniques of foreign armies conquered by the Romans. Roland Auguet calls these contests "the fossilized image of Roman conquests."3 For example, in 310 BC the Campanians, after defeating the Samnites with the help of the Romans, staged games in which the gladiators had to use the arms of the defeated enemy that were left on the battlefield. Livy tells us that the purpose of this display was to express contempt and hatred for the Samnites (9.40.17). When gladiatorial contests were first exported to Rome, the ethnic designations for various types of gladiators (like 'the Samnite') carried a similar message, regularly reassuring the Romans of their military domination and throughout the empire reminding provincials not to challenge the rule of the Romans who watched bloody violence for fun. resulted in his view that gladiators in Rome should be like athletes

Of course, there were pagan Romans who did not approve of these contests. The historian Cassius Dio says that the emperor Marcus Aurelius took extraordinary measures to prevent bloodshed and death for gladiators (71.29.4):

Marcus' disgust with bloodshed resulted in his view that gladiators in Rome should be like athletes fighting without risk of deadly harm; for he never allowed any one of them to wield an iron sword, and the weapons they used had a blunt tip.

Given the blood lust of Roman spectators, one might suspect the accuracy of Dio's claim, even about an emperor who had a life-long aversion to these contests. Dio, however, is a reliable historian, so perhaps it was only a temporary policy or more likely, was only in effect when Aurelius actually was present in the amphitheater. If that was the case, the Roman populace would have only had to put up with these sanitized contests infrequently. In fact he was absent from Rome for about eight of his nineteen years as emperor fighting invading barbarians in the north. If, on the other hand, the ban was in effect for his whole reign, perhaps his extraordinary popularity prevented him from losing the support of the people. At any rate, Aurelius' son and successor Commodus, whose passion for gladiatorial combat was unbounded (he often fought as a gladiator in the arena), had no such qualms about bloodshed.

Aurelius had sensibilities that were unusual for a Roman of any class. Other intellectuals who scorned gladiator contests nonetheless had no real objections to the violence and bloodshed as such. Mostly one hears complaints about the popularity of these games. For example, Tacitus made the following criticism: "Now indeed characteristic and peculiar vices of this city seem to me almost to be conceived in the womb of the mother: love of the theater and a manic zeal for gladiators and horses (Dial. 29)." Cicero points out the scorn that a friend of his had for gladiatorial contests (ad Fam. 7.1.3), probably because it was primarily entertainment for the lower classes. Cicero, however, makes no complaint about the bloodshed of gladiatorial combat, but laments the suffering of animals in the wild beast hunts (ad Fam. 7.1.3). Seneca complains about the bad moral effect of spectacles in general. He says that he returns from spectacles "more greedy, more aggressive, and more pleasure-seeking, more cruel and more inhumane (Ep. 7.3)." His complaint, however, is not against the regular gladiatorial contests, which were held in the afternoon, nor against the morning event in which men had to defend themselves against wild animals, but against the noon entertainments in which condemned criminals fought each other with swords Gladiatorial contests, however, were virtually impervious to criticism. As one might expect, Christian writers strongly objected to these contests, but at the same time they provide us with evidence that Christians were frequenters of the amphitheater, sometimes going directly from church to the games (Tert. De spect. 25.5). Tertullian is a good example of the Christian view of gladiator shows. He calls these shows "murder" and says that "innocent gladiators are sold into the games so that they may become the victims of public pleasure" (De spect. 12.3; 19.4). His main objection, however, is religious. Gladiatorial contests are tainted with idolatry (i.e., worship of pagan gods), since they originated in funeral contests in honor of the dead, whom the Romans deified as Di Manes ('defied shades') (De spect. 3.3; 6.3-4). Moreover, in the amphitheater, which he calls "a temple of all demons" could be found statues of the gods like Mars, the patron divinity of gladiators, and Diana, who presided over the venatio. Men dressed as the gods Mercury (escort of dead to underworld) and Dis Pater (god of underworld) were evident in the arena (De spect. 12.7; Apologia to the Roman Rulers, 15). Tertullian criticizes gladiator shows for the pleasure they evoke in the spectators: "No one comes to pleasure without ignoble desire; no one suffers ignoble desire without negative consequences" (De spect. 15.6). He also condemns the bad emotional effect that gladiator shows (and other spectacles like theatrical performances and chariot races) have on the spectators (De spect. 15.2 ):without the protection of a helmet or shield or faced . The winner of one of these contests would immediately have to fight other condemned criminals until he himself was killed. Seneca calls these combats "pure homicide" (Ep. 7.4).

God has ordered us to treat the holy spirit, inasmuch as it is tender and delicate in accordance with the good of its own nature, with tranquility and gentleness and quiet and peace, not to disturb it with madness, rage, anger, and grief.

A classic example of this Christian objection is Augustine's description of the first time his friend Alypius witnessed gladiatorial combat in an amphitheater (Conf. 6.8).4 Note the powerful effect that events in the arena had on this innocent and naïve young man:

Not abandoning the earthly profession constantly recommended to him by his parents, he [Alypius] had proceeded to Rome to study law and there was violently seized by an incredible enthusiasm for gladiatorial shows. Although he was hostile to and detested such things, certain friends and fellow students of his, when by chance he had run into them returning from lunch, led him, vehemently refusing and resisting, with amicable violence into the amphitheater on a day of those cruel and deadly games, This is what he said to them: “if you drag my body into that place, do you think you can direct both my mind and my eyes toward those spectacles? Despite my presence, I will be absent and thus I will prevail over both you and those sights." Having heard Alypius’ protestations, they nonetheless compelled him to go along with them to the amphitheater, perhaps desiring to test whether he could back up his words with actions. When they arrived there and occupied whatever seats they could, the whole amphitheater was seething with monstrous delights. Alypius closed his eyes so that the awful goings-on might not enter his consciousness, but if only he had stopped up his ears! For when one of the gladiators fell in combat, and a huge shout of all the spectators had powerfully resounded in his ears, overcome by curiosity, and as it were prepared to see whatever had happened and once it had been seen to disdain it, he opened his eyes and was struck with a greater wound in his soul than the gladiator whom he desired to see had received in his body, and he fell more wretchedly than that gladiator whose fall had provoked the shout that entered through his ears and opened up his eyes with the result that his mind, still bold rather than brave and much weaker due to its greater reliance on itself than on you [i.e., Christ], was struck and thrown down,. As soon as he saw blood, he drank in the savagery; and not turning away, kept his gaze fixed and absorbed the madness and delighted in the criminal combat, and was made drunk with bloody delight. Now he was not the same person that he was when he had first arrived, but one of the crowd which he had joined and a true companion of his friends who brought him there. Need I say more? He watched, shouted, became excited, and took away from the amphitheater a madness, which would bring him back not only with those friends who dragged him there in the first place, but also without them and dragging others. And from there, nevertheless, with a very strong and most merciful hand you [i.e., Christ] rescued him and you taught him to have confidence, not in himself but in you; but that happened much later.

Even among Christian apologists there was less concern about the killing5 that went on in the munus than would be the case today. The primary objection of both Tertullian and Augustine was the moral harm done to the spectator. Perhaps one important reason for this is that those who were killed in the munus were mostly from the dregs of society, e.g., slaves and criminals and therefore not worthy of consideration.

Despite these objections, Christian emperors tolerated gladiatorial contests, even Theodosius, whose closing of all pagan cults and sites brought to an end the long tradition of the relatively tame Olympic games. Some Christians, however, indulged in more than passive toleration. There were rich Christians who actively sponsored gladiatorial contests. A pope in the late fourth century AD (Damasus in 367 AD) even recruited gladiators to destroy his enemies. Honorius, Theodosius' son, finally decreed the end of gladiatorial contests in 399 AD.

Gladiatorial contests were not always characterized by capricious and bloodthirsty cruelty. Ideally, the decision of life or death was based on principle of justice. The audience expected a professional performance and rewarded with life those losing gladiators who fought well. An important concern of the spectators was how a gladiator faced death (Sen. Tranq. 11.4).

...we despise gladiators if they are willing to do anything to preserve their life; we favor them, if they give evidence of their contempt for it.

A less than brave gladiator risked the wrath of the spectators (Sen. Ira 1.2.4):

Why do the people get angry at gladiators and so nastily that they think it an injury because [the gladiators] do not perish willingly? [The people] believe that they have been scorned and in facial expression, gesture, and passion are turned from a spectator into an opponent.

From the Roman point of view, the worth of gladiatorial contests lay in the achievement of a high moral level of behavior - of fighting bravely and of dying nobly - one of the most precious ideals in the ancient world. One example of this occurred in a staged sea battle given by Claudius on the Fucine Lake between two naval squadrons, which involved 19,000 coerced convicts. They at first did not want to fight, but they soon began to take heart and display courage. Tacitus writes: although they were criminals, they fought with the spirit of brave men. (Ann. 12.56)." Their reward was exemption from the penalty of wholesale execution. By an a fortiori argument, the virtuous behavior of ordinarily contemptible men like criminals taught a lesson to Roman citizens: if such lowly men could fight nobly, a Roman citizen could do no less. As Pliny the Younger observes (Panegyricus 33.2):

We saw a spectacle then not enervating and dissolute, nor one to soften and break the spirits of men, but one which inspired them to noble wounds and contempt for death, because the love of glory and the desire for victory was seen in the bodies of even slaves and criminals.

A late Roman author says that emperors held gladiatorial games before military expeditions to prepare the Romans for war (Historia Augusta, Maximus et Balbinus, 8.7):

I accept as more truthful the tradition that Romans about to go to war ought to have seen battles and wounds and steel, and naked men contending against each other [i.e, gladiators], that they might not fear armed men or shrink from wounds and blood.

Seneca used the gladiator as a model for his Stoic wise man: just as the gladiator accepts death in the arena, when it is inevitable, the wise man must willingly surrender his life to the deity without hesitation (e.g., Ep. 30.8; Dialogi 9.11.4).

Thus gladiatorial combat, despite its bloody cruelty, was fraught with moral meaning for the Romans. Countless gladiators on countless occasions over a period of 700 years repeatedly displayed those moral qualities that both inspired the Roman people and helped explain to them the dominance of their empire, achieved by martial violence and virtue.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Welcome to Age of Faith WebLog

Welcome to the Age of Faith Web Log.

Welcome to the Hon 102 Discussion Web Log. This should be a fun way to participate further in Hon 102 and earn some extra credit along the way. To begin with, we're going to have few rules and requirements.

1. To count for the full six points of extra-credit, students need to post 15 different comments over at least 10 separate weeks. Only one post per week will be counted for extra credit between April 1 and the rest of the semester. The idea here is that students shouldn't seek to load up on posts at the end of the semester to claim extra credit.

2. Posts that count for extra credit should be at least 100 words long.

3. Posts that count for extra credit should have a connection (however vague) to things medieval.

4. Everyone who contributes to the blog needs to adapt a nickname, report that nickname to the professor, and use the nickname when you post. The professor will be adapting one or more nicknames as well.

5. Avoid personal insults concerning other posters.

6. The Professor reserves the right to change the rules without advance notification.