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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 9

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 291

Chapter 9.—Of the Long Life and Greater Stature of the Antediluvians.

Wherefore no one who considerately weighs facts will doubt that Cain might have built a city, and that a large one, when it is observed how prolonged were the lives of men, unless perhaps some sceptic take exception to this very length of years which our authors ascribe to the antediluvians and deny that this is credible.  And so, too, they do not believe that the size of men’s bodies was larger then than now, though the most esteemed of their own poets, Virgil, asserts the same, when he speaks of that huge stone which had been fixed as a landmark, and which a strong man of those ancient times snatched up as he fought, and ran, and hurled, and cast it,—

“Scarce twelve strong men of later mould

That weight could on their necks uphold.” 799

thus declaring his opinion that the earth then produced mightier men.  And if in the more recent times, how much more in the ages before the world-renowned deluge?  But the large size of the primitive human body is often proved to the incredulous by the exposure of sepulchres, either through the wear of time or the violence of torrents or some accident, and in which bones of incredible size have been found or have rolled out.  I myself, along with some others, saw on the shore at Utica a man’s molar tooth of such a size, that if it were cut down into teeth such as we have, a hundred, I fancy, could have been made out of it.  But that, I believe, belonged to some giant.  For though the bodies of ordinary men were then larger than ours, the giants surpassed all in stature.  And neither in our own age nor any other have there been altogether wanting instances of gigantic stature, though they may be few.  The younger Pliny, a most learned man, maintains that the older the world becomes, the smaller will be the bodies of men. 800   And he mentions that Homer in his poems often lamented the same decline; and this he does not laugh at as a poetical figment, but in his character of a recorder of natural wonders accepts it as historically true.  But, as I said, the bones which are from time to time discovered prove the size of the bodies of the ancients, 801 and will do so to future ages, for they are slow to decay.  But the length of an antediluvian’s life cannot now be proved by any such monumental evidence.  But we are not on this account to withhold our faith from the sacred history, whose statements of past fact we are the more inexcusable in discrediting, as we see the accuracy of its prediction of what was future.  And even that same Pliny 802 tells us that there is still a nation in which men live 200 years.  If, then, in places unknown to us, men are believed to have a length of days which is quite beyond our own experience, why should we not believe the same of times distant from our own?  Or are we to believe that in other places there is what is not here, while we do not believe that in other times there has been anything but what is now?


Footnotes

291:799

Virgil, Æn., xii. 899, 900.  Compare the Iliad, v. 302, and Juvenal, xv. 65 et seqq.             “Terra malos homines nunc educat atque pusillos.”

291:800

Plin. Hist. Nat.. vii. 16.

291:801

See the account given by Herodotus (i. 67) of the discovery of the bones of Orestes, which, as the story goes, gave a stature of seven cubits.

291:802

Pliny, Hist. Nat. vii. 49, merely reports what he had read in Hellanicus about the Epirotes of Etolia.


Next: Chapter 10

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