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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Heretics and vegetables

Posted: 2005-11-03T10:12:40Z

I've been rereading my books and packets from History of Christianity and Patristics this week. Frequently in the evening Josh is hanging around being semi-productive and when I find an amusing passage I read it to him. (We appreciate that late-antiquity Greco-Roman humor, you know.) As a result we have made a discovery: the early Christian apologists and theologians (and, apparently, their opponents) were obsessed with vegetables. Their humorous turns of phrase almost always revolve around produce.

To wit:

"Rightly, indeed, did the Athenians accuse Diagoras of atheism, since he not only divulged the Orphic doctrine as well as the mysteries of Eleusis and of the Cabiri and chopped up a statue of Heracles to boil his turnips, but he proclaimed outrightly that God simply did not exist."

- Athenagoras the Philosopher, Plea Regarding Christians

Radishes seem to be a particular obsession, thus:

"They introduce, however, the novelties of fasts, and feasts, and meals of parched food, and repasts of radishes, alleging that they have been instructed by women."

- Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of all Heresies

And, of course:

"This creation and masterpiece of nature, this Polyclitan canon, as soon as he came of age, was taken in adultery in Armenia and got a sound thrashing, but finally jumped down from the roof and made his escape, with a radish stopping his vent."

- Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus

(this work, concerning a former Christian and then Cynic who had immolated himself at the Olympic Games, is heavily rhetorical, sarcastic and slanderous; you are, however, free to imagine whichever bodily orifice you prefer as containing the radish, and also to speculate which member of the married couple Peregrinus was disporting himself with)

And, of course, exhibit A, formerly my email signature file in senior year at Williams:

" Iu, iu, and pheu, pheu ! Truly we may utter these exlamations from tragedy at such bold invention of ridiculous nomenclature, and at the audacity that made up these names without blushing. For when he says, 'There is a certain Proarche before all things, above all thought, which I call Monotes,' and again, 'With this Monotes there reigns a Power, which I call Henotes,' it is obvious that he admits that he is talking about his own inventions, and that he has given names to his inventions which no one else had given them before. ... There is no reason why someone else shouldn't assign names like these on the same basis: There is a royal Proarche above all thought, a Power above all substance, indefinitely extended. Since this is the Power which I call the Gourd, there is with it the Power which I call Superemptiness. This Gourd and Superemptiness, being one, emitted, yet did not emit, the fruit, visible, edible, and delicious, which is known to language as the Cucumber. With this Cucumber there is a Power of like quality with it, which I call the Melon. These Powers, the Gourd, Superemptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, sent forth the remaining crowd of the delirious Melons of Valentinus."

- Irenaeus of Lyons, The Refutation and Overthrow of the Falsely So-Called Knowledge


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