Sonntag, 21. Juli 2019

Pagan oracles in Didymus of Alexandria's De Trinitate

The first "lines of an oracle" (stikhoi khrêsmou) Didymus cites in On Trinity, already in book 2, chapter 27, seems to be written by a trinitarian Christian (Pneuma men athanatoio Theou Patros, etc.); perhaps they are from a pseudo-Sibylline book. But in book 3, he goes on to quote a considerable number of actual pagan oracles. Whether actually given by a public oracle, or produced in a different manner, is impossible to say, and he never gives exact sources beyond "the Greeks/pagans" (are we even sure they are oracles? I don't know). I will give each in the original Greek and Latin translation of the Patrologia Graeca (vol. 39), followed by my translation:

[#1] "Believe in the god* and worship him*, but do not investigate (him)!"
*"The god" might be either the gods as a class or species [like 'man' for humankind], or a specific god, especially the creator or cosmic god. Didymus, who immediately adds the following, wants to suggests the latter interpretation:

[#2] "But The God* is deathless, all-ageless, undisturbed,
Unspeakable under(?) hidden plans, self-begotten,
Himself giving birth to himself, always young, not created.
He is the parent of truth, he is the true wise one."

(*I.e. the demiurge/cosmic god.)

The language is reminiscent of some pagan oracles in Lactantius; an interesting feature is the last half-line, an apparent echo of Heraclitus, who had used "the wise" (albeit he used sophón, not sophós) as a name for what his Stoic interpreters considered his teaching about the cosmic god. (To what extent this was already present in his text, or whether it was more of a creative rereading, is impossible to say.)

The next oracle is again about The God (the Stoic cosmic god/the Platonic demiurge), but Didymus wants to see it as a confirmation of monotheism:

"There is one God/God is one."

But in pagan terms,

"One is The God,"

that is, the first and highest god, as the rest of the oracle tells us:

[#3] "One is The God: he is the all-highest king of all beings (hapantôn)
And he begat as the all-first parent, both root and (first) principle."

The next two oracles occur in a discussion of God the Son:

[#4] "For the offspring of The God give birth to ineffable things.
And he is above all passivity and all nature."

[#5] "The immortal God himself carries all things; he as his own
Parent and root comes to be, and (his own) end and son."

What the offspring of The God are is unclear to me; they could be the gods within the cosmos (loosely following Plato's Timaeus), but then what are the ineffable things they in turn produce? The term "son" in #5 illustrates the (self-)completeness of The God, as also in the following:

[#6] "For not from birth-pangs did The immortal God, nor from wombs'
birth canal, (first) see the light; but circling with the mind's
Ineffable rotation, self-delivered
He is born, from himself: he being both father and son."

Of a different character is the following, which may be talking about the gods generally:

[#7] "Without falseness is the mind of The great God; but among mortals
Who lie, difficulties follow, and bad fortune."

The last word, dusmorapath, is not a word at all; the Latin translates as if from dusmora, which I follow. I have no idea what is going in the Greek.

The following could almost serve as a summary of Stoic cosmology:

[#8] "All things are full of The God, he is the limit and beginning of all things,
Carrying all things, dissolving them and again increasing them."

The following seems connected to #7, in spirit if not textually:

[#9] "All things are all-supreme gifts of The immortal God,
But outstanding is the great utility of truth among humankind."

The next is again similar to #5 and #8:

[#10] "The immortal God himself leads himself; and from him are
All things, and they are brought to light in the mind of The great God."

#11 seems to hold to the unnameability of The God, but uses "name" metaphorically of the god himself:

[#11] "For the immortal king, The God, is a name that never ends,
Never perishes, never ceases."

[#12] "All things are full of/filled with god."

The original form of this sentiment was "all things are full of gods", a saying attributed to Thales. Variations in the singular sometimes reflect a Stoic view.

Didymus' metrical form of the phrase may be pulled from #8, from either of two other oracles in which it occurs, or quite possibly another one now lost. One is found in the Tübingen Theosophia 1.39, the other is cited both by John Philoponus and by Olympiodorus:

[#12B] "All things are full of god, and he hears all things, right through rocks and through the earth and within a man himself, who has concealed his thought (noêma) in his breast." (M. Griffin & R. Sorabji, Olympiodorus. Life of Plato and On Plato First Alcibiades, 2015, p. 112)

[#13] "The deathless God, all-supreme, dwelling in the ether,
Imperishable, undisturbed, eternal, always alike."

[#14] "For often things are said which mortals have strength to hear;
but there are greater meanings in the words.
It is necessary to look sharply with pure eyes.
And to (reach) the truth of The God, take the rich gifts,
Going a different path, more divine than words."

"Eyes" is used metaphorically here, for some non-verbal capacity (see #15); but what I have translated as "words" can also mean "myths", so perhaps the oracle is playing with that as well.

[#15] "Flee swiftly from earthly passions, flee far away,
you who possess the superior eye of the soul and the steadfast rays,
so that the great heavy rains of the body might be held in check
by a pure soul and the ethereal radiance of the Father."

This is Ruth Majercik's translation, in The Chaldean Oracles. Of all of Didymus' oracles, it is the one that is closest to Chaldaean vocabulary and ideas, but it doesn't seem to be actually Chaldaean.

[#16] "All things are subject to the nods of the mind of The great God.
He is the principle, and the source of life, and eminent dignity,
And power (kratos) and force, and imperishable strength of might,
And forceful power (dunamis), and revolving necessity."

This is an oracle attributed to Apollo by the Tübingen Theosophia 1.32, where an additional line of it is given.

[#17] "Do not shake ineffables; do not investigate the god.
For the strength of a human is not so great
As to find the all-overseer, ungraspable nature
By searching out and contriving.
But you will easily grasp him if you are persuaded
That greatest is the creator of all things."

[#18] "All things are splendid gifts of The God to humanity;
Either he's produced something good and fortunate, or something perfect,
Or something beloved; beautiful gifts of The God are prepared for all."

In this case, it might again be the class of gods rather than the cosmic god that is being talked about.

[#19] "The power (kratos) of The immeasurable God and his limitless strengh
Has power over all things, and alone rules all things."

[#20] "For The God marks out all things for humanity
As he wishes, and untaught he hears all things from(?) mortals."

[#21] "The cares of The celestial God are ineffable for mortals,
And all individual things are divided by unutterable providences,
Whose immeasurability a mortal cannot grasp with any measure."

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