16 January 2012

Excerpt from the Historia Augusta (Hadrian)

Historia Augusta is the official biography of Imperator Publius Aelius Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus.

The following passage discusses a letter written from Hadrian to his friend Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus circa 134 CE.  It provides good insight into the religious world of Alexandria, which was to Rome as New York is to Washington.  Alexandria rather than Galilee was the birthplace of what later became Christianity.  

Combined with Marcion of Sinope's early version of what was later dubbed the Gospel of Luke and his collection of the recognized letters of Paul, it paints a picture of Christianity's true origins, as well as the actual practices of Judaism and Samaritanism.)

From Historia Augusta, Vol. III, pp. 399-406:

Saturninus was a Gaul by birth, one of a nation that is ever most restless and always desirous of creating either an emperor or an empire. To this man, above all the other generals, because it seemed certain that he was truly the greatest, Aurelian had given the command of the Eastern frontier, wisely charging him never to visit Egypt. For, as we see, this far-sighted man was well acquainted with the Gallic character and feared that if Saturninus visited this turbulent land he might be drawn by association with the inhabitants to a course toward which he was by nature inclined. 

For the Egyptians, as you know well enough, are puffed up, madmen, boastful, doers of injury, and, in fact, liars and without restraint, always craving something new, even in their popular songs, writers of verse, makers of epigrams, astrologers, soothsayers, quacksalvers. Among them, indeed, are Christians and Samaritans and those who are always ill-pleased by the present, though enjoying unbounded liberty. 

But, lest any Egyptian be angry with me, thinking that what I have set forth in writing is solely my own, I will cite one of Hadrian's letters, taken from the works of his freedman Phlegon, which fully reveals the character of the Egyptians.

From Hadrian Augustus to Servianus the consul, greeting. The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. 

There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer. Even the Patriarch himself [refers to the Patriarch of Tiberias, head of the Jewish religion after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE], when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ. 

They are a folk most seditious, most deceitful, most given to injury; but their city is prosperous, rich, and fruitful, and in it no one is idle. Some are blowers of glass, others makers of paper, all are at least weavers of linen or seem to belong to one craft or another; the lame have their occupations, the eunuchs have theirs, the blind have theirs, and not even those whose hands are crippled are idle. 

Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore. And would that this city had a better character, for indeed it is worthy by reason of its richness and by reason of its size to hold the chief place in the whole of Egypt. 

I granted it every favour, I restored to it all its ancient rights and bestowed on it new ones besides, so that the people gave thanks to me while I was present among them. Then, no sooner had I departed thence than they said many things against my son Verus, and what they said about Antinous I believe you have learned. I can only wish for them that they may live on their own chickens, which they breed in a fashion I am ashamed to describe. 

I am sending you over some cups, changing colour and variegated, presented to me by the priest of a temple and now dedicated particularly to you and my sister. I should like you to use them at banquets on feast-days. 

Take good care, however, that our dear Africanus does not use them too freely."

So then, holding such an opinion about the Egyptians Aurelian forbade Saturninus to visit Egypt, showing a wisdom that was truly divine. For as soon as the Egyptians saw that one of high rank had arrived among them, they straightway shouted aloud, "Saturninus Augustus, may the gods keep you!" 

But he, like a prudent man, as one cannot deny, fled at once from the city of Alexandria and returned to Palestine. There, however, when he had begun to reflect that it would not be safe for him to remain a commoner, he took down a purple robe from a statue of Venus and, with the soldiers standing about, he arrayed himself in a woman's mantle and then received their adoration. 

I have often heard my grandfather tell that he was present when Saturninus thus received adoration; "He began to weep," he would tell us, "and to say, 'The commonwealth has lost an indispensable man, if I may say so without undue pride. I have certainly restored the provinces of Gaul, I have recovered Africa, seize by the Moors, I have brought peace to the provinces of Spain. But what does it all avail? For all these services go for nothing when once I have claimed imperial honours.' "

Then, when those who had clothed him with the purple began to hearten him, some to defend his life and others his power, he delivered the following speech: "My friends, you do not know what an evil thing it is to rule. A sword suspended by a hair hangs over your head, on all sides there are spears, on all sides arrows. You fear your very guards, you dread your very attendants. Your food brings you no pleasure, your journeys no honour, your wars do not meet with approval, your arms call forth no enthusiasm. Remember, moreover, that they find fault with a man of any age as ruler. Is he an old man? He is deemed incapable. Is he young? They go on to say that he is mad as well. Why should I now tell you that Probus is beloved by all? In wishing me to be a rival of his, to whom I would gladly yield place and whose general I desire to be, you do but force me to an unavoidable death. One solace I have for my death: I shall not be able to die alone." 

This speech, according to Marcus Salvidienus, was really his own, and, in fact, he was not unlettered, for he had even studied under a rhetorician in Africa and attended the schools of the teachers at Rome.

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