Posted by: ken98 | January 29, 2010

Scoundrel Saints, Emperor Reality Shows, and More Egyptian Riots

Day 140 – Ken here (F)(1-29-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.23, pp.900-910)

We finish chapter 23 today with miscellaneous tangents on George of Cappadocia (who also happens to be St George of England – and whom gibbon has nothing but scorn for), and a short review (again) of Julian and Athanasius and the riots in the city of Alexandria. Chapter 24 starts out with a short review of Julian’s Caesars – a long list of faults and virtues of the preceding 3 centuries of emperors – Gibbon is very fond of it. It is embedded, in a kind of context-less way, like a short essay at the beginning of the chapter.

The Story
George of Cappadocia (St George) – Gibbon Hates Him

  • Cappadocia is in the center of Turkey (Asia Minor) – apparently lots of famous ecclesiastical Georges came out of Asia Minor – this George is one of the most famous
  • Gibbon hates this Bishop George – he builds up this long diatribe against him, showing him to be amoral, and reveals in the end that this George of Cappadocia is actually the (semi-mythical) St. George of England (actually written very well (end of chapter 23)
  • George, son of a fuller, is a nouveau-riche government bacon supplier. He is a “parasite”, a “sycophant”, who lies and flatters his way into imperial favor
  • George eventually becomes Bishop of Alexandria (by attaching himself to the imperial Arian party – a huge deal – Alexandria is one of the 4 great cities of the empire), and manages to get the Egyptians to hate him by confiscating taxes, enriching himself enormously
  • Eventually, Athanasius manages to get back his post as Bishop of Alexandria, George is deposed, and imprisoned, and killed. The Egyptians now turn again and consider him a martyr and a saint
  • Over time (see below) George is mixed up with dragons and magicians and eventually becomes the familiar Saint George of England – Gibbon is almost enraptured as he reveals the sordid details of Britain’s own St. George.
    Julian, Athanasius, and the Riots of Alexandria

  • Athanasius is re-elected after George is dethroned, imprisoned
  • Julian responds by demanding Athanasius’ exile from Egypt – his sentence is not carried out immediately (the Egyptians LOVE Athanasius)
  • Julian demands it again – the Prefect over Egypt begins his persecution of Athanasius – Athanasius begins his Star-Wars-Obi-Wan-Kenobi routine of living in the shadows, but remaining a major power in the church, attending the major Councils of the Church, etc incognito.
    Julian’s Caesars – A Laundry List of Imperial Vices and Virtues or an Emperor Reality Show

  • Julian writes a long poem (among his many works in the short period he was Caesar, Augustus), during his nights after doing all his governmental, administrative, military work
  • Poem delineates all the faults, virtues of each emperor -then brings up the final 6 who are the best of the best – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Constantine – with the winner: Marcus Aurelius
  • Painting of Saint George Killing the Dragon by Gustave Moreau.  Gibbon hates Saint George (George of Cappadocia) and isnt ashamed to write about it (even though George IS the patron saint of his own country - England)

    Painting of Saint George Killing the Dragon by Gustave Moreau. Gibbon hates Saint George (George of Cappadocia) and isnt ashamed to write about it (even though George IS the patron saint of his own country - England)

    The Scoundrel Saint George of England
    Saint George – England’s patron saint has a lurid history – this per Gibbon (sorry for the long quote – this is Inimitably Gibbon – especially note the SURPRISE ENDING)

    George, from his parents or his education, surnamed the Cappadocian, was born at Epiphania in Cilicia, in a fuller’s shop. From this obscure and servile origin he raised himself by the talents of a parasite; and the patrons whom he assiduously flattered procured for their worthless dependent a lucrative commission, or contract, to supply the army with bacon. His employment was mean; he rendered it infamous. He accumulated wealth by the basest arts of fraud and corruption; but his malversations were so notorious, that George was compelled to escape from the pursuits of justice.

    After this disgrace, in which he appears to have saved his fortune at the expense of his honour, he embraced, with real or affected zeal, the profession of Arianism. From the love, or the ostentation, of learning, he collected a valuable library of history, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology; and the choice of the prevailing faction promoted George of Cappadocia to the throne of Athanasius. The entrance of the new archbishop was that of a barbarian conqueror; and each moment of his reign was polluted by cruelty and avarice.

    The Catholics of Alexandria and Egypt were abandoned to a tyrant, qualified by nature and education to exercise the office of persecution; but he oppressed with an impartial hand the various inhabitants of his extensive diocese.
    oppresses Alexandria and Egypt.

    The primate of Egypt assumed the pomp and insolence of his lofty station; but he still betrayed the vices of his base and servile extraction. The merchants of Alexandria were impoverished by the unjust and almost universal monopoly, which he acquired, of nitre, salt, paper, funerals, etc.: and the spiritual father of a great people condescended to practice the vile and pernicious arts of an informer. The Alexandrians could never forget, nor forgive, the tax which he suggested on all the houses of the city, under an obsolete claim that the royal founder had conveyed to his successors, the Ptolemies and the Caesars, the perpetual property of the soil. The Pagans, who had been flattered with the hopes of freedom and toleration, excited his devout avarice, and the rich temples of Alexandria were either pillaged or insulted by the haughty prelate, who exclaimed in a loud and threatening tone, “How long will these sepulchres be permitted to stand?” Under the reign of Constantius he was expelled by the fury, or rather by the justice, of the people; and it was not without a violent struggle that the civil and military powers of the state could restore his authority, and gratify his revenge.

    The messenger who proclaimed at Alexandria the accession of Julian announced the downfall of the archbishop (361) George, with two of his obsequious ministers, count Diodorus, and Dracontius, master of the mint, were ignominiously dragged in chains to the public prison. He is massacred by the people, December 24, At the end of twenty-four days the prison was forced open by the rage of a superstitious multitude, impatient of the tedious forms of judicial proceedings. The enemies of gods and men expired under their cruel insults; the lifeless bodies of the archbishop and his associates were carried in triumph through the streets on the back of a camel; and the inactivity of the Athanasian party was esteemed a shining example of evangelical patience. The remains of these guilty wretches were thrown into the sea; and the popular leaders of the tumult declared their resolution to disappoint the devotion of the Christians, and to intercept the future honours of these martyrs, who had been punished, like their predecessors, by the enemies of their religion.

    The fears of the Pagans were just, and their precautions ineffectual. The meritorious death of the archbishop obliterated the memory of his life. The rival of Athanasius was dear and sacred to the Arians, and the seeming conversion of those sectaries introduced his worship into the bosom of the Catholic church.

    The odious stranger, disguising every circumstance of time and place, assumed the mask of a martyr, a saint, and a Christian hero;. and worshipped as a saint and martyr and the infamous George of Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St. George of England, the patron of arms, of chivalry, and of the garter.

    (DEF v.2 ch.23, pp.901-903)

    Book Cover of Julian's Caesars - Loeb Edition - part of his collected works - In the original Greek and in English Translation (1913) -  a handy volume to have around to spend some time with a witty, self-deprecating (and once VERY POWERFUL) man

    Book Cover of Julian's Caesars - Loeb Edition - part of his collected works - In the original Greek and in English Translation (1913) - a handy volume to have around to spend some time with a witty, self-deprecating (and once VERY POWERFUL) man

    Julian’s Ceasars – a kind of Emperor’s Reality Show

    Gibbon loves Julian – his writing style, his wit, his philosophical dedication to reason and learning. In a strange, long one paragraph stand-alone essay, Gibbon writes a brief review of Julian’s Caesars at the very beginning of chapter 24, just before we launch into the last year of Julian’s life and his Persian campaign (an English translation of Julian’s Caesars here).

    This from Gibbon:

    The philosophical fable which Julian composed under the name of the Caesars is one of the most agreeable and instructive productions of ancient wit. During the freedom and equality of the days of the Saturnalia, Romulus prepared a feast for the deities of Olympus, who had adopted him as a worthy associate, and for the Roman princes, who had reigned over his martial people and the vanquished nations of the earth.

    The immortals were placed in just order on their thrones of state, and the table of the Caesars was spread below the moon, in the upper region of the air. The tyrants, who would have disgraced the society of gods and men, were thrown headlong, by the inexorable Nemesis, into the Tartarean abyss. The rest of the Caesars successively advanced to their seats; and as they passed, the vices, the defects, the blemishes of their respective characters, were maliciously noticed by old Silenus, a laughing moralist, who disguised the wisdom of a philosopher under the mask of a Bacchanal.

    As soon as the feast was ended, the voice of Mercury proclaimed the will of Jupiter, that a celestial crown should be the reward of superior merit. Julius Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, and Marcus Antoninus, were selected as the most illustrious candidates; the effeminate Constantine was not excluded from this honourable competition; and the great Alexander was invited to dispute the prize of glory with the Roman heroes. Each of the candidates was allowed to display the merit of his own exploits; but, in the judgment of the gods, the modest silence of Marcus pleaded more powerfully than the elaborate orations of his haughty rivals. When the judges of this awful contest proceeded to examine the heart and to scrutinise the springs of action, the superiority of the Imperial Stoic appeared still more decisive and conspicuous.

    Alexander and Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, and Constantine acknowledged, with a blush, that fame, or power, or pleasure, had been the important object of their labours; but the gods themselves beheld with reverence and love a virtuous mortal, who had practised on the throne the lessons of philosophy, and who, in a state of human imperfection, had aspired to imitate the moral attributes of the Deity. The value of this agreeable composition (the Caesars of Julian) is enhanced by the rank of the author.

    A prince, who delineates with freedom the vices and virtues of his predecessors, subscribes, in every line, the censure or approbation of his own conduct.

    (DEF v.2, ch.23, pp.909-910)

    and a sample of Julian’s easy-going style – the contest among the emperors before the Gods of who was the most worthy:

    [328] When Marcus Aurelius began to speak, Silenus whispered to Dionysus, “Let us hear which one of his paradoxes and wonderful doctrines this Stoic will produce.” But Marcus turned to Zeus and the other gods and said, “It seems to me, O Zeus and you other gods, that I have no need to make a speech or compete. If you did not know all that concerns me it would indeed be fitting for me to inform you. But since you know it and nothing at all is hidden from you, do you of your own accord assign me such honour as I deserve.” Thus Marcus showed that admirable as he was in other respects he was wise also beyond the rest, because he knew “When it is time to speak and when to be silent.”

    Constantinus was allowed to speak next. On first entering the lists he was confident enough. But when he reflected on the exploits of the others he saw that his own were wholly trivial. [329] He had defeated two tyrants, but, to tell the truth, one of them was untrained in war and effeminate, the other a poor creature and enfeebled by old age, while both were alike odious to gods and men. Moreover his campaigns against the barbarians covered him with ridicule. For he paid them tribute, so to speak, while he gave all his attention to Pleasure, who stood at a distance from the gods near the entrance to the moon. Of her indeed he was so enamoured that he had no eyes for anything else, and cared not at all for victory. However, as it was his turn and had to say something, he began:

    “In the following respects I am superior to these others; to the Macedonian in having fought against Romans, Germans and Scythians, instead of Asiatic barbarians; to Caesar and Octavianus in that I did not, like them, lead a revolution against brave and good citizens, but attacked only the most cruel and wicked tyrants. As for Trajanus, I should naturally rank higher on account of those same glorious exploits against the tyrants, while it would be only fair to regard me as his equal on the score of that territory which he added to the empire, and I recovered; if indeed it be not more glorious to regain than to gain. As for Marcus here, by saying nothing for himself he yields precedence to all of us.”

    “But Constantinus,” said Silenus, “are you not offering us mere gardens of Adonis as exploits?”

    “What do you mean,” he asked, “by gardens of Adonis”?

    “I mean”, said Silenus, “those that women plant in pots, in honour of the lover of Aphrodite, by scraping together a little earth for a garden bed. They bloom for a little space and fade forthwith.” At this Constantinus blushed, for he realised that this was exactly his own performance.

    (Translation by W.C.Wright, 1913, p. 328 – 329 (of the Greek text))

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