Posted by: ken98 | March 5, 2010

The Lost Generation of 400 – Christians Burning Libraries for Fun and Profit

Day 175 – Ken here (F)(3-5-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.27, pp.80-90)(pages read: 1180)

I seem to have more energy today, but still not doing so hot, having a hard time sleeping of late – but its been a beautiful day – lots of sun, little cool, a good day to get things done – so on we go…

Today will be a short day – Gibbon is in a more wistful mood and concentrates on a lengthy relation of the fall of the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria (with a pungent set of remarks on the LAST destruction of the Library at Alexandria at the hands of a rapacious and popularity-seeking priest-Bishop (Theophilus) by order of Theodosius. The total lack of reverence for the past (which the pagan emperor Julian, had he been alive yet – and he might have been still – would have made the preservation of knowledge, philosophy, and culture the highest priority) is evident.

We are not so far away from considering the ancient world (which JUST BARELY DISAPPEARED) as being the haunt of demons and myths in the popular imagination. These people’s own grandparents are unimaginable to them – something like the experience of the daughters/sons/grandkids of immigrants to the U.S. have when contemplating the lives of their immediate ancestors – the same unimaginable, cultural gulf. The only difference is that this happened in the same country (Pax Romana – the Roman Empire) and the new culture has overrun the old (without, in my opinion establishing replacements). It is a wild and wooly time to be alive.

If you ever wondered how we lost 1000 years of human development and settled comfortably into the Dark Ages in Europe – you’re looking at it right now in Gibbon and vicariously through this blog. We just forgot it. No sane previous emperor would have allowed the wanton destruction of a center of European civilization. Theodosius just forgot. As had everyone else. Fascinating (as Spock would say).

It is the end of the first 4000 years of human history, i.e.-the development of cities and the city-state, and the beginning of the next 2000 years, i.e. – the development of the nation state (which is probably just ending even as I write). We, like the generation of 400 are experiencing a vast sea-change in world culture – always an awkward time to be alive – I think.

anyways…

on to Gibbon…

The Story
 
Destruction of Temple of Serapis – and the Last Destruction of the Library of Alexandria

  • Temple of Serapis becomes the object of a popularity-raising, riches-seeking scheme by Bishop of Alexandria and so is destroyed
  • Great debate over the actual destruction – it is deferred to the emperor Theodosius who cheerfully orders no stone to be left standing – the Library of Alexandria is completely destroyed (it was house within the temple) as an afterthought
  •  
    Theodosius Finally Absolutely Outlaws Paganism (390)(

  • Theodosius outlaws all sacrifices, AND all private pagan ceremonies – ancestors, genius’s of cities, families, etc
  •  
    General Thoughts on Fall of Paganism

  • Paganism was changing even without Christianity – the rise of mystery cults in the first four centuries of the Christian era attests to this
  • But, the public support of the emperors ultimately drove the nail into the coffin of Paganism – but inadvertently transferred a great deal of imagery, myth, ceremony of paganism and superstitions into the Church wholesale as half-converted pagans were FORCED to worship in churches rather than groves and temples – so Paganism didn’t so much lose, as finally morph into something else – Popular Cultural Christianity
  •  

     

    Serapeum  - Last Surviving Column of the building - wrongly ascribed in later ages as a memorial to Pompey (typical beginning of History devolving into Myth - we are officially in the Dark Ages now) - Theophilus the Bishop of Alexandria destroyed the temple so thoroughly (along with the largest library in the World) that no trace remains but a column and a few broken sphinxes of the vast temple/library complex - a great loss - and to what advantage?

    Serapeum - Last Surviving Column of the building - wrongly ascribed in later ages as a memorial to Pompey (typical beginning of History devolving into Myth - we are officially in the Dark Ages now) - Theophilus the Bishop of Alexandria destroyed the temple so thoroughly (along with the largest library in the World) that no trace remains but a column and a few broken sphinxes of the vast temple/library complex - a great loss - and to what advantage?

     
    The Fall of the Temple of Serapis
    In 391 the temple was destroyed, along with the Library of Alexandria – here is a rambling account by Gibbon of the total demolition of the Serapeum by order of Theodosius – the order of Theodosius caused (as was typical of Egyptians AND Syrians) by mobs of fanatically passionate Christians demanding rights.

    Per Gibbon:

    At that time the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria was filled by Theophilus, the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue; a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood. His pious indignation was excited by the honours of Serapis; and the insults which he offered to an ancient chapel of Bacchus convinced the Pagans that he meditated a more important and dangerous enterprise. In the tumultuous capital of Egypt, the slightest provocation was sufficient to inflame a civil war.

    The votaries of Serapis, whose strength and numbers were much inferior to those of their antagonists, rose in arms at the instigation of the philosopher Olympius, who exhorted them to die in the defence of the altars of the gods. These Pagan fanatics fortified themselves in the temple, or rather fortress, of Serapis; repelled the besiegers by daring sallies and a resolute defence; and, by the inhuman cruelties which they exercised on their Christian prisoners, obtained the last consolation of despair. The efforts of the prudent magistrate were usefully exerted for the establishment of a truce till the answer of Theodosius should determine the fate of Serapis.

    The two parties assembled without arms, in the principal square; and the Imperial rescript was publicly read. But when a sentence of destruction against the idols of Alexandria was pronounced, the Christians sent up a shout of joy and exultation, whilst the unfortunate Pagans, whose fury had given way to consternation, retired with hasty and silent steps, and eluded, by their flight or obscurity, the resentment of their enemies.

    Theophilus proceeded to demolish the temple of Serapis, without any other difficulties than those which he found in the weight and solidity of the materials, but these obstacles proved so insuperable that he was obliged to leave the foundations, and to content himself with reducing the edifice itself to a heap of rubbish, a part of which was soon afterwards cleared away, to make room for a church erected in honour of the Christian martyrs. The valuable library of Alexandria was pillaged or destroyed; and near twenty years afterwards, the appearance of the empty shelves excited the regret and indignation of every spectator whose mind was not totally darkened by religious prejudice. The compositions of ancient genius, so many of which have irretrievably perished, might surely have been excepted from the wreck of idolatry, for the amusement and instruction of succeeding ages; and either the zeal or the avarice of the archbishop might have been satiated with the rich spoils which were the reward of his victory.

    While the images and vases of gold and silver were carefully melted, and those of a less valuable metal were contemptuously broken and cast into the streets, Theophilus laboured to expose the frauds and vices of the ministers of the idols: their dexterity in the management of the loadstone; their secret methods of introducing an human actor into a hollow statue; and their scandalous abuse of the confidence of devout husbands and unsuspecting females.

    Charges like these may seem to deserve some degree of credit, as they are not repugnant to the crafty and interested spirit of superstition. But the same spirit is equally prone to the base practice of insulting and calumniating a fallen enemy; and our belief is naturally checked by the reflection that it is much less difficult to invent a fictitious story than to support a practical fraud.

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.28, pp.83)

    The Serapeum, which included the Library of Alexandria, Egpyt, all thats left are a few sphynxes and a column, wrongly ascribed to Pompey - fanatical Roman mobs destroyed the temple so thoroughly that no trace remains - of the building OR the books - a tragedy for the human race

    The Serapeum, which included the Library of Alexandria, Egpyt, all thats left are a few sphynxes and a column, wrongly ascribed to Pompey - fanatical Roman mobs destroyed the temple so thoroughly that no trace remains - of the building OR the books - a tragedy for the human race

     

     
     
     

    Last Word…

     
    Gibbon on How to Effectively Convert the Religion of a People
     
    Gibbon briefly comments on how the Pagans became Christians. He also makes the comment that the DILUTION of the Christian community by the addition of at-best-lukewarm adherents to the Church had probably the opposite effect from what was intended – the effectual paganization of the Church rather than the Christianization of the Pagans.

    He also makes the interesting observation that by the early 400’s Pagans were almost a thing unknown except in bizarre (to Christian eyes) references in laws (such as the ones Theodosius enacted in the late 380’s early 390’s). An interesting observation – that on ONE GENERATION an entire culture had begun to assume the character of an archaelogical artifact – found only in obscure sections of Imperial Law Code.

    This from Gibbon:

    A nation of slaves is always prepared to applaud the clemency of their master who, in the abuse of absolute power, does not proceed to the last extremes of injustice and oppression.

    Theodosius might undoubtedly have proposed to his Pagan subjects the alternative of baptism or of death; and the eloquent Libanius has praised the moderation of a prince who never enacted, by any positive law, that all his subjects should immediately embrace and practise the religion of their sovereign. The profession of Christianity was not made an essential qualification for the enjoyment of the civil rights of society, nor were any peculiar hardships imposed on the sectaries who credulously received the fables of Ovid and obstinately rejected the miracles of the Gospel. The palace, the schools, the army, and the senate were filled with declared and devout Pagans; they obtained, without distinction, the civil and military honours of the empire.

    Theodosius distinguished his liberal regard for virtue and genius by the consular dignity which he bestowed on Symmachus, and by the personal friendship which he expressed to Libanius; and the two eloquent apologists of Paganism were never required either to change or to dissemble their religious opinions. The Pagans were indulged in the most licentious freedom of speech and writing; the historical and philosophic remains of Eunapius, Zosimus, and the fanatic teachers of the school of Plato, betray the most furious animosity, and contain the sharpest invectives, against the sentiment and conduct of their victorious adversaries. If these audacious libels were publicly known, we must applaud the good sense of the Christian princes, who viewed with a smile of contempt the last struggles of superstition and despair.

    But the Imperial laws which prohibited the sacrifices and ceremonies of Paganism were rigidly executed; and every hour contributed to destroy the influence of a religion which was supported by custom rather than by argument. The devotion of the poet or the philosopher may be secretly nourished by prayer, meditation, and study; but the exercise of public worship appears to be the only solid foundation of the religious sentiments of the people, which derive their force from imitation and habit.

    The interruption of that public exercise may consummate, in the period of a few years, the important work of a national revolution.

    The memory of theological opinions cannot long be preserved without the artificial helps of priests, of temples, and of books. The ignorant vulgar, whose minds are still agitated by the blind hopes and terrors of superstition, will be soon persuaded by their superiors to direct their vows to the reigning deities of the age; and will insensibly imbibe an ardent zeal for the support and propagation of the new doctrine, which spiritual hunger at first compelled them to accept. The generation that arose in the world after the promulgation of the Imperial laws was attracted within the pale of the Catholic church: and so rapid, yet so gentle, was the fall of Paganism, that only twenty-eight years after the death of Theodosius the faint and minute vestiges were no longer visible to the eye of the legislator

     

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