Never did anyone prophesy so many of this special kind of prophecies written post eventum, as in the first centuries of Christianity. The rapid conquest of minds by the new ideal and the solid establishment of the Christian churches betrayed the hand of God and this transfiguration of the face of the world at this point stirred up those spirits who believed themselves obliged to resort to the theory of a Evangelical Preparation in order to explain it. In the same way, it was impossible to imagine that the most intelligent or inspired pagans had not had some presentiment or secret revelation of the mystery of Redemption.
It was to satisfy this need for the faith that some people, who were well-intentioned but not very scrupulous in their choice of methods, composed new Sibylline oracles and put into circulation a crowd of prophecies announcing the arrival of the Messiah which had, they said, been left in earlier times at the sanctuaries of Apollo. Some set themselves also to excavate the works and biographies of the philosophers in order to discover there features and doctrines which a tendentious interpretation could easily disguise as signals of prescience of the great event. Certain apostles of dissident Christian sects, whose uncultivated customers would not suspect trickery, did not hesitate to resort to falsifications of old literary works in order to nourish the faith of their followers. It appeared, moreover, that this was an excellent means of propaganda towards those faithful to paganism, who, often, fled the influence of Christianity only to cling to the remains of the too mystical doctrines of the magi, astrologers and theurgists and were thus badly armed to uncover impostors.
But in so inserting Christianity into paganism, in making Orpheus, Pindar, Plato, Hermes Trismégistes and many others pass for Christians before the event, the orthodox faith was extremely likely to appear lessened or even to be contaminated. The Church took care: some of these theologians had gone down this path to their cost. One such was Aristocritos (5th century) who, using all the resources of an approximative learning and a too flexible and accomodating spirit, had, in a book entitled Qeosofi/a (1), sought to prove that the most eminent spirits among the Hebrews and the Greeks had had, by the grace of God, the divination of the mysteries and preliminary knowledge of certain doctrines of Christianity, but who, in the judgement of orthodox theologians, had only succeeded in showing that the doctrines of Judaism, Hellenism and Christianity were the same, which was damnable in the first degree. This system of accommodation, which relates strongly to the method of interpretation practised by the Stoics in the study of earlier philosophy, was not to the taste of firm and clear-sighted spirits. Also, the book of Aristocritos appears among the works sullied with the Manichaean heresy, which are anathematised in an old formula of abjuration of Manicheism (2).
By a fortunate coincidence, it seems that significant extracts of this work have been preserved: these are the Χρησμοι ̀ τῶν ἑλληνικῶν θεῶν (Prophecies of the Hellenic gods) which appear in a manuscript of Tubingen and whose text was published by Buresch in Klaros, pp. 89-131. This opusculum relates a great number of oracles attributed to Apollo, Serapis, Artemis and to the Sibyl (3), as well as predictions and doctrines of the philosophers with mystical tendencies (Orpheus, Plato, Porphyry, Hermes, etc), which might have announced the mystery of Redemption and exposed certain dogmas of the Christian faith.
(1) On the meaning of this title see §§ 5 and 6 of the Chresmoi of Tubingen (BURESCH, Klaros, p. 95 ff.): [Greek omitted]
(2) Brinkmann, Rhein. Mus., LI (1896), pp. 273-289.
(3) See on this on the role played by the sanctuaries of Ephesus and Claros in the religious syncretism of the first centuries, Ch. Picard, Ephèse et Claros (Paris, 1922), pp. 705 ff., and 715 ff.
Such a book was not an isolated event in the religious literature of the first centuries and the Middle Ages. One observes the same tendencies and the same processes in a series of opuscula, for the most part unpublished, which are found in certain manuscripts (1). Cardinal Pitra has previously published (2) the text of one of these small works, preserved in a manuscript of the Vatican (gr. nÂ° 2200) and which carries the title: Συμφῶϝ́α (Symphonia). The author sought to demonstrate the agreement of earlier philosophers with the New Testament on the three doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Redemption, by quoting the doctrines and prophecies of Apollo, Hermes Trismegistes, Solon, Aristotle, Porphyry, Plutarch, Antiochus (a priest of Heliopolis) and of Scamandre (?).
In the Parisinus graecus 1168 (13th century), is found reported under the title: Χρησμοὶ καὶ θεολογίαι Ἑλλήνων φιλοσόφων (Prophecies and theologies of the Hellenic philosophers), a further series of prophecies, from which Freudenthal published the incipit (3). Here we sees appearing, beside Hermes Trismegistes and Apollo, Aristotle, Solon, Thucydides, Chilo, Plutarch, Antiochus (of Colophon), Plato, Istanes (= Ostanes), etc.
Of the same order must be the Σοφῶν Ἑλλήνων ἀρχαίων ἀνδρῶν προφητεῖαι εἰς τὴν σαρκωσιν, which a manuscript of the National Library of Athens (nÂ° 373, 15th century), once contained (ff. 145v-147r). The writing unfortunately has disappeared, so that except for the names of the quoted authors and some initials of each text, there remains almost none of it. Among the prophets there appear: Thales, Solon, Don Trismegiste (4), Plato, Thucydides, Sophocles, Aristotle, Plutarch, besides Josephus, Ozias, Apollo and the Sibyl.
The legend of the Seven Sages, which was then in its decline, presented a quite suitable framework and a traditional scenario which was attractive enough to tempt the authors of theosophical tales.
(1) To this category also belongs the Ἐξήγησις τῶν πραχθέντων ἐν Περσίδι, published and commented on by E. Bratke, Das sogenannte Religionsgesprach am Hof der Sasaniden, dans les Texte und Untersuchungen, t. XIX, nÂ° 3.
(2) Analecta sacra et classica spicilegio Solesmensi parata, t. V (1888), 2nd part, pp. 305-308.
(3) Rheinisches Muséum, XXXV (1880), pp. 417 s. Freudenthal relates these texts to those which are found in a codex of the Bodlean (Coxe, Catal. bibl. Bodl., I, p. 76, nÂ° 51) and which is in very bad condition.
(4) Don is a very bad transcription of the Egyptian Tehuti = Thoth, often associated, in the hermetic writings, with Trismegistes. Also Thales became Thoules in this manuscript.
A manuscript of the 13th century of the National Library of Athens, nÂ° 1070, contains, on f. 186r, following a collection of Ἀποφθέγματα καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ζ̕ φιλοσόφων (Apophthegms and sayings of the seven philosophers), the very unusual tradition of which I will make known some day, some Προφητεῖαι τῶν ἑπτὰ σοφῶν (prophecies of the seven sages), which constitute a curious document. A counterpart may be found in a manuscript of Patmos, whose text, unfortunately disfigured by many lacunae, was published by Sakkelion (1).
The Seven Sages are meeting in Athens near a temple. They are: Bias, Solon, Chilon and — O surprise! — Thucydides, Menander, Plato and Titan (2). They ask Apollo to tell them whose this temple is and to whom it will belong after him. In language as obscure as emphatic, Apollo announces the incarnation of the Λόγος of the divine Trinity in the Virgin Mary. Thereupon each Sage gives his prophecy, where the same topic is repeated with variations. The chapter ends with an extract of a work similar to the Theosophy of Aristocritos: a long oracle in verse, given by Apollo and found at Delphi in the first year of the reign of Anastasius (491), is reported (3). The first oracle of Apollo also appears in the Συμφονία of Vaticanus and the Theosophy of Aristocritos (p. 111); but there it has nothing to do with the Seven Sages and the question is put to the god by the inhabitants of Athens (4).
In another manuscript of Athens, National Library nÂ° 701, of the 16th century, on ff. 252v and following, is found a curious chapter entitled Διήγησίς τινος φιλοσόφου περὶ τῶν ἑπτὰ Ἑλλήνων τῶν φιλοσόφων διὰ τὴν ἄνω προβοιαν.
(1) Bulletin de Correspondance hellénique, I (1877), p. 6.
(2) The name Titan does not appear in the Athens ms. Its introduction into the account in the Patmos ms. perhaps arises from a confusion: the address to Apollon in the Athens ms. and in the Theosophy (pp. 111, 19) contains, indeed, the Τιτάν epithet, which has disappeared from the text of the Patmos ms. Moreover, in this one, the question is put to Apollo by Titan. This name is not that of the character in the old mythology, but one of the many transcriptions of the Egyptian 'Tehuti'.
(3) This text begins with the word ὅτι, which indicates an extract. It was published by Buresch, Klaros, p. 130.
(4) This is the same oracle which, according to the Paris ms. is given by Apollo to Jason "during the construction of a temple at Argos". But, as Freudenthal observes, the original text spoke about the construction of the ship, the Argo: by a quite amusing mistake, the vessel (genitive ναός; in doric) became a temple (ναός) and Ἀργώ, became Ἄργος!
Here, the novel of the Seven Sages or the Seven Philosophers (1) underwent new transformations. First of all none of the names in the ancient legend are present any longer: with Plato and Trismegistes (2), which already appear in the tale in manuscript 1070, are associated Homer, Aristotle, Plutarch, Ares and Bleomydes (3). The setting is also very different. The Seven Sages are at this meeting in Athens at the time of a visit which they make to Diogenes sitting on his terrace. After a long discussion which covers questions of geometry, astronomy, physics and astrology, Diogenes asks them: "What will Divine Providence do in the future for mankind?" Each Sage announces in his own manner the incarnation of the Logos, its passion, its resurrection, and the foundation of the Church. Diogenes stores these answers in his Φυσικὴ Ἀκρόασις, which he deposits in the temple of Apollo. When the empereur Constantine arrived at Athens and threw down this temple to raise in its place a sanctuary dedicated to the Mother of God, he discovered the book of Diogenes and had it transported to Constantinople, "for the confirmation of our faith and the confusion of the wrongthinking", the author adds, who thus naively reveals his intentions.
It is interesting to note that the prophecies reported in this short tale offer few agreements with the text of manuscript 1070, although the
subjects covered, the language and the tendencies of the two opuscules extremely
resemble each other. It will be also noticed that the temple of Apollo is used once again as decoration, although it is not employed
to the same ends as in manuscript 1070 and in the Theosophy of Aristocritos.
Finally, the same theme is developed further in an opuscule allotted to St Athanase and entitled: Ἀθανασίου τοῦ μεγάλου ἐξηγητικὸν περὶ τοῦ ἐν Ἀθήναις ϝναοῦ (Athanasius the great, exegeticon on the temple in Athens). It is preserved in a manuscript of the Vatican of the 16th century, nÂ° 1198, whose extremely defective text was published just as it is by the Benedictines (1777).
Though it was reprinted by Migne in the Patrologia Graeca, t. XXVIII, cols. 1428 ff., it evaded the attention of Buresch.
(1) In the text, the VII are usually called οἱ φιλόσοφοι (philosophers); once οἱ σοφοί (sages).
(2) This time he bears the name ὁδῶν or ὁδών, which we must split up as ὁ Δῶν. 'Don' is also the name given to Trismegistes in the ms. 373.
(3) This is apparently means Nicephorus Blemmydes, an author of 13th century, who passed for an astrologer and alchemist.
I collated in vain a manuscript of Athens (B.N. nÂ° 431, 18th century) which contains the same chapter, without obtaining any interesting variants. But, as the text can be amended in many places using the chapters of the manuscripts described above and it provides us with the material for some interesting observations on this subject, I have considered it useful to append an accurate edition of it to this study.
The opuscule attributed (obviously wrongly) to St. Athanasius, originally constituted only one chapter of a larger work whose title is: Περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ καὶ περὶ τῶν διδασκαλείων καὶ τῶν θεατρων ἐν Ἀθήναις (On the temple and on the academy and theatre in Athens). The author reveals his intentions in a kind of Prologue, which is found, in a not very different form, in the Quaestiones Ad Antiochum, c.136 (Patr. Gr., XXVIII, p.682), a work also attributed wrongly to St Athanasius. He is interested in the conversion of pagans and he proposes two methods suitable to bring them to the knowledge of God (Θεογνοσία). He says that it is advisable to present uneducated people with arguments drawn from observation of the miracles of Nature. Everything that is unusual in this area is supernatural and attests the existence of God. The author quotes certain physical phenomena (some of which are borrowed from the paradoxographical novels), that he declares are contrary the laws of Nature and, consequently, produced by the will of God. Ancient philosophy saw, in the order which reigns in the Universe, a proof of the existence of God; our author, on the contrary, draws the same conclusion from the apparent signs of disorder.
To convince the educated pagans, it is necessary to employ another method and to
lead their attention to prophecies of ancient Sages which announce the advent of Christ.
Here, to be strictly accurate, begins the theosophical tale, related to the various texts which we discussed above. Long before the birth of Christ, a Greek sage named Apollo, inspired by God, had raised in Athens a temple to an unknown God. The seven philosophers of Greece, Titon (1), Bias, Solon, Chilon, Thucydides, Menander and Plato, met one day and questioned Apollo there on the meaning of this dedication.
(1) Called elsewhere Don, Titan, Thot, Tât, etc
The answer that they obtained is the same oracle of Apollo which is given in the
Theosophy of Aristocritos, in the Συμφωνία, and
in the text of the manuscript of Paris.
After commenting on this answer, the author quotes prophecies of the Seven Sages on the mystery of the Redemption. Finally, he gives again the reply that Hermes gave to another Greek sage named Asclepius, who questioned him on the nature of the Divinity.
The characters who are put on stage in this account are the same ones as those
who appear in the tale of the manuscript of Athens, nÂ° 1070, and of the manuscript of Patmos.
But Apollo is no longer a god of paganism: the author has made him quite simply
a sage. Moreover, the temple of Athens, which, in the Theosophy and in manuscript 1070, is not indicated with
precision, but which is apparently dedicated to Apollo, like that of manuscript 701,
has become a temple devoted by Apollo to an unknown God. However, we know by popular
tradition which temple it is. A legend, which grew up around the account of the evangelization of the Athenians by St. Paul, where it is a question of an
altar dedicated to an unknown God (Acta Apost., XVII, 23), supposed that
this altar had been a temple and that this temple was the Parthenon.
According to the Anonymous of Vienne (Τὰ θέατρα καὶ διδασκαλεῖα τῶν Ἀθηνῶν), a small opuscule which describes Athens in 1460, the temple of the Mother of God, located on the Acropolis, had been formerly dedicated by Apollos (!) and Eulogios to an unknown god. The legend is mentioned again in the Letter addressed to Kraus by Simeon Kabasilas in 1578, in the notice of the map of the city drawn up by the Capuchins and in the Relation of Guillet (1672). Several travellers even claimed to have read the inscription ΑΓΝΩΣΤΩ ΘΕΩ (To an unknown god) on the frontispiece or the door of the temple (1). We can understand why the author of the theosophical prophecies chose to use this place, already surrounded with Christian legends, as a setting for his romantic account.
Curiously Byzantine art did not remain indifferent to these theological daydreams. Thus under the external porch of a church on the Mount Athos, at the monastery of Iviron, a painter
(1) On all these documents, see De Laborde, Athènes aux XVe, XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1884), I, pp. 20, 53, 78, 217 ; II, pp. 31 et 32.
has represented the Seven Sages, each holding a streamer, on which the prophecies attributed to them may be read. Inscriptions name them as Chilon, Solon, Thucydides, Sophocles, Plato, Aristote and Plutarch (1). The Guide of Painting, work of the monk-painter Dionysios of Fourna (2), also attests the existence, among the Byzantine painters, of a tradition relating to these kind of representations. The Master indicates there under which features it is necessary for "the philosophers of Greece who spoke on the incarnation of Christ" to appear: Apollonius (a variant of Apollo), Solon, Thucydides, Plutarch, Plato, Aristote, Philon (alternative for Chilon), Sophocles and Thoulis, king of Egypt (= Thales). He also gives the prophetic texts which must be written on the cards carried by these characters: naturally, the majority of them are known to us from the opuscules which we have just cited.
If one compares the text of the prophecies of Περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ with those of the Συμφωνία, Parisinus 1168, Atheniensis 1070, and the Guide of Donysius, significant divergences of attribution appear, set out in the following table:
|Περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ (On the temple)||Συμφωνία||Athen. 1070||Paris. 1168||Guide of Dionysius|
|Apollo to the Sages||Apollo||Apollo to the Sages||Apollo to Jason||Apollonius|
|Menander||Plato||Plutarch / Thucydides||Plato / Thoulis|
|Hermes||Hermes||Bias||Solon / Hermes||Thucydides|
The idea of imagining a link between Hermes and Asclepios was suggested to the author of the Περι του ναου (On the temple) by the dialogue form in which certain hermetic writings appear. Moreover, the doctrines allotted to Hermes are distinguished from the sentences and the prophecies given by the Sages where these are authentic: they are borrowed, indeed, from the Λόγοι πρὸς Ἀσκληπιόν, of which St. Cyril and Didymus of Alexandria preserved almost the same extracts.
(1) DIDRON, Manuel d'Iconographie chrétienne (Paris, 1845), p. 151, note.
(2) Ibid, pp. 148 ff.
The first part of the response of Hermes is found in the Diatribe against Julian, I., p. 35 (= Patrol. gr. LXXVI, p. 556 ; cf. Didymus, De Trinitate, — Patrol. gr., XXXIX, p. 756) : [Greek omitted] The second appears in the work of St Cyril (cf. Didymus, p.757) in this more complete and also less obscure form: [Greek omitted] The third is formed of the combination of the two hermetic texts cities by St. Cyril, I, p. 33 :
As can be seen, the theosophist drew the elements of his oracles from some
pretty murky sources. Among the other prophecies, some contain much too transparent allusions to the incarnation of Christ
to be borrowed from works which were not Christian: such are the predictions of Titon and Solon (=
Chilon in 1070) and the vox Heraclitea honoured in Menander (= Plato, 1070).
Others are rather philosophical, like the sentence of Plato and the agnostic declaration of Thucydides (= Menander, 1070).
However, in the prophecies allotted to Bias (= Solon, 1070) and to Chilon (= Thucydide, 1070),
some phrases like ὁ λόγος οὐσιοῦται, αὐτοπατωρ, φλογὸς ὑπερβάλλον ἀθάνατον πῦρ,
evoke again the theology of Trismegistes (1). One observes, moreover, similar influences in
the oracles of the Theosophy of Aristocritos (p.
e.g., Â§Â§ 13, 15, 21, 42), which is also inspired by the hermetic and gnostic writings (2).
(1) Cf. the fragments of Hermes, I, 6; X, 12, 16 and 18; Stobée, Ed., I, p. 389, 10, W.
(2) It is in the light of these relationships that terms like Θεογνωσία and ἀγνωσία, employed by Ps.-Athanasius, and γνῶσις, found in the Theosophy, Â§ 6, acquire significance.
If we take account of these characteristics and relate them to some other features which suggest heresy, it is not strange that this book was condemned by ecclesiastical censure. As its title indicates, the text attributed to St. Athanasius was to form the first chapter of a more extended work, devoted to the monuments of Athens: Περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ καὶ περὶ τῶν διδασκαλείων καὶ τῶν θεατρων ἐν Ἀθήναις (On the temple and on the academy and theatre in Athens). This title, which appears to announce a rather archaeological subject that religious, is calculated to astonish us. The Anonymous of Vienna, where the principal ruins of Athens are listed with the baroque names and legends created by the Middle Ages, is also entitled: Τὰ θέατρα καὶ διδασκαλεῖα τῶν Ἀθηνῶν (On the theatre and academy of Athens); and, if the tradition which it reports on the temple of the unknown god is closely related to that of the Περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ, we can believe that this is not mere chance. It would not be too bold to suppose that, in the lost chapters of the theosophical opuscule, it discussed what were called in the Middle Ages the "Schools of the Philosophers" and the "Theatres" of Athens. The author undoubtedly reported the legends attached to some of these monuments and used them to edify his readers in the doctrines and the feelings, marked with Christianity, which he lent to the philosophers. It is thus that we see, in the tale in manuscript 701, Diogenes receives, on his terrace (the Φανάρι του Διογένης in texts of the Middle Ages and 17th century) (1), the visit of the Seven Philosophers, who come to discuss with him the mystery of the Incarnation. In the same way, the account of the legends relative to "Theatres" was to decorate theosophical prophecies and moral sentences similar to those which are attributed in our texts to Menander, Euripides and Sophocles (2).
(1) See, on this subject, my article on the Lantern of Diogenes, in le Musée Belge, 1922, pp. 309 ff.
(2) Theosophy, Â§Â§ 86 and 87; ms. of Athens, nÂ° 373.
[Edition of the Greek text of the Περὶ του ναοῦ omitted]