Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Of the expedition against the Persians.
p. 104 Chapter XVI.—Of the expedition against the Persians.
No sooner had the Persians heard of the death of Constantius, than they took heart, proclaimed war, and marched over the frontier of the Roman empire. Julian therefore determined to muster his forces, though they were a host without a God to guard them. First he sent to Delphi, to Delos and to Dodona, and to the other oracles 649 and enquired of the seers if he should march. They bade him march and promised him victory. One of these oracles I subjoin in proof of their falsehood. It was as follows. “Now we gods all started to get trophies of victory by the river beast and of them I Ares, bold raiser of the din of war, will be leader.” 650 Let them that style the Pythian a God wise in word and prince of the muses ridicule the absurdity of the utterance. I who have found out its falsehood will rather pity him who was cheated by it. The oracle called the Tigris “beast” because the river and the animal bear the same name. Rising in the mountains of Armenia, and flowing through Assyria it discharges itself into the Persian gulf. Beguiled by these oracles the unhappy man indulged in dreams of victory, and after fighting with the Persians had visions of a campaign against the Galileans, for so he called the Christians, thinking thus to bring discredit on them. But, man of education as he was, he ought to have bethought him that no mischief is done to reputation by change of name, for even had Socrates been called Critias and Pythagoras Phalaris they would have incurred no disgrace from the change of name—nor yet would Nireus if he had been named Thersites 651 have lost the comeliness with which nature had gifted him. Julian had learned about these things, but laid none of them to heart, and supposed that he could wrong us by using an inappropriate title. He believed the lies of the oracles and threatened to set up in our churches the statue of the goddess of lust.
This is probably the last occasion on which the moribund oracles were consulted by any one of importance. Of Delphi, the “navel of the earth” (Strabo ix. 505) in Phocis, Cicero had written some four centuries earlier “Cur isto modo jam oracula Delphi non eduntur, non modo nostra ætate, sed jam diu, ut nihil possit esse contemptius:” Div. ii. 57. Plutarch, who died about a.d. 120, wrote already “de defectu oraculorum.”
The oracle of Apollo at Delos was consulted only in the summer months, as in the winter the god was supposed to be at Patara: so Virgil (iv. 143) writes
“Qualis ubi hibernam Lyciam Xanthique fluenta
Deserit, ac Delum maternam invisit Apollo.”
Dodona in Epirus was the most ancient of the oracular shrines, where the suppliant went
ἐκ δρυὸς ὑψικόμοιο Διὸς βουλὴν ἐπακούσαι.”
Od. xiv. 327.
“The oracles” were potentially “dumb,” “Apollo…with hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving,” as Milton sings, at the Nativity, but it was not till the reign of Theodosius that they were finally silenced.104:650
νῦν πάντες ὡρμήθημεν θεοῖ νίκης τρόπαια κομίσασθαι παρὰ θηρὶ ποταμῷ τῶν δ᾽ ἐγὼ ἡγεμονεύσω θοῦρος πολεμόκλονος ῎Αρης104:651
These four illustrations, occurring in a single sentence indicate a certain breadth of reading on the part of the writer, and bear out his character for learning. (cf. Gibbon and Jortin, remarks on Eccl. Hist. ii. 113.) Socrates, the best of the philosophers, is set against Critias, one of the worst of the politicians of Hellas; Pythagoras, the Samian sage of Magna Græcia, against Phalaris, the Sicilian tyrant who
“tauro violenti membra Perilli
Torruit;” (Ovid. A. A. 1. 653)
but did not write the Epistles once ascribed to him. Theodoretus probably remembered his Homer when he cited Thersites as the ugliest man of the old world;—
“He was squint-eyed, and lame of either foot;
So crook-backd that he had no breast; sharp-headed, where did shoot
Here and there spersed, thin mossy hair.
Il. ii. 219. Chapmans Trans.
And the juxtaposition of Pythagoras and Nireus suggests that it may possibly have been Horace who suggested Nireus as the type of beauty:—
“Nec te Pythagoræ fallant arcana renati,
Formaque vincas Nirea,” (Hor. Epod. xv.)
though Nireus appears as κάλλιστος ἀνήρ in the same book of the Iliad as that in which Thersites is derided, and Theodoret is said to have known no Latin.
Next: Of the boldness of speech of the decurion of Berœa.
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