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Chapter XV.—The Sethians Support Their Doctrines by an Allegorical Interpretation of Scripture; Their System Really Derived from Natural Philosophers and from the Orphic Rites; Adopt the Homeric Cosmogony.

These are the statements which the patrons531531    προστάται.  This is a military expression applied to those placed in the foremost ranks of a battalion of soldiers; but it was also employed in civil affairs, to designate, for instance at Athens, those who protected the μέτοικοι (aliens), and others without the rights of citizenship.  Προστάτης was the Roman Patronus. of the Sethian doctrines make, as far as it is possible to declare in a few words. Their system, however, is made up (of tenets) from natural (philosophers), and of expressions uttered in reference to different other subjects; and transferring (the sense of) these to the Eternal532532    Or, “their own peculiar.” Logos, they explain them as we have declared. But they assert likewise that Moses confirms their doctrine when he says, “Darkness, and mist, and tempest.” These, (the Sethian) says, are the three principles (of our system); or when he states that three were born in paradise—Adam, Eve, the serpent; or when he speaks of three (persons, namely) Cain, Abel, Seth; 67and again of three (others)—Shem, Ham,533533    It is written Cham in the text. Japheth; or when he mentions three patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; or when he speaks of the existence of three days before sun and moon; or when he mentions three laws—prohibitory, permissive, and adjudicatory of punishment. Now, a prohibitory law is as follows: “Of every tree that is in paradise thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou mayest not eat.”534534    Gen. ii. 16, 17. But in the passage, “Come forth from thy land and from thy kindred, and hither into a land which I shall show thee,”535535    Gen. xii. 1. this law, he says, is permissive; for one who is so disposed may depart, and one who is not so disposed may remain. But a law adjudicatory of punishment is that which makes the following declaration: “Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal;”536536    Ex. xx. 13–15; Deut. v. 17–19. for a penalty is awarded to each of these acts of wickedness.

The entire system of their doctrine, however, is (derived) from537537    ὑπὸ, Miller. the ancient theologians Musæus, and Linus, and Orpheus,538538    These belong to the legendary period of Greek philosophy.  Musæus flourished among the Athenians, Linus among the Thebans, and Orpheus among the Thracians. They weaved their physical theories into crude theological systems, which subsequently suggested the cosmogony and theogony of Hesiod. See the translator’s Treatise on Metaphysics, chap. ii. pp. 33, 34. who elucidates especially the ceremonies of initiation, as well as the mysteries themselves. For their doctrine concerning the womb is also the tenet of Orpheus; and the (idea of the) navel,539539    ὀυφαλος: some read with greater probability φαλλὸς, which means the figure, generally wooden, of a membrum virile. This harmonizes with what Hippolytus has already mentioned respecting Osiris. A figure of this description was carried in solemn procession in the orgies of Bacchus as a symbol of the generative power of nature. The worship of the Lingam among the Hindoos is of the same description. which is harmony,540540    ἁρμονία (Schneidewin).  Cruise reads ἀνδρεία (manliness), which agrees with φαλλὸς (see preceding note). For φαλλὸς Schneidewin reads ὀμφαλός (navel). is (to be found) with the same symbolism attached to it in the Bacchanalian orgies of Orpheus. But prior to the observance of the mystic rite of Celeus, and Triptolemus, and Ceres, and Proserpine, and Bacchus in Eleusis, these orgies have been celebrated and handed down to men in Phlium of Attica.541541    “Of Achaia” (Meinekius, Vindic. Strab., p. 242). For antecedent to the Eleusinian mysteries, there are (enacted) in Phlium the orgies542542    The reading in Miller is obviously incorrect, viz., λεγομένη μεγαληγορία, for which he suggests μεγάλη ἑορτή. Several other emendations have been proposed, but they scarcely differ from the rendering given above, which is coincident with what may be learned of these mysteries from other sources. of her denominated the “Great (Mother).” There is, however, a portico in this (city), and on the portico is inscribed a representation, (visible) up to the present day, of all the words which are spoken (on such occasions). Many, then, of the words inscribed upon that portico are those respecting which Plutarch institutes discussions in his ten books against543543    πρὸς, or it might be rendered “respecting.” A reference, however, to the catalogue of Empedocles’ works, given by Fabricius (t. v. p. 160), shows that for πρὸς we should read εις. Empedocles. And in the greater544544    πλείοσι: Miller would read πυλεῶσι. i.e., gateways. number of these books is also drawn the representation of a certain aged man, grey-haired, winged,545545    Or πετρωτὸς, intended for πετρώδης, “made of stone.” [A winged phallus was worn by the women of Pompeii as an ornament, for which Christian women substituted a cross. See vol. iii., this series, p. 104.] having his pudendum erectum, pursuing a retreating woman of azure colour.546546    κυανοειδῆ:  some read κυνοειδῆ, i.e., like a dog. And over the aged man is the inscription “phaos ruentes,” and over the woman “pereëphicola.”547547    Some read Persephone (Proserpine) Phlya. But “phaos ruentes”548548    For “phaos ruentes” some read “Phanes rueis,” which is the expression found in the Orphic hymn (see Cruice’s note). appears to be the light (which exists), according to the doctrine of the Sethians, and “phicola” the darkish water; while the space in the midst of these seems to be a harmony constituted from the spirit that is placed between. The name, however, of “phaos ruentes” manifests, as they allege, the flow from above of the light downwards. Wherefore one may reasonably assert that the Sethians celebrate rites among themselves, very closely bordering upon those orgies of the “Great (Mother” which are observed among) the Phliasians. And the poet likewise seems to bear his testimony to this triple division, when he remarks, “And all things have been triply divided, and everything obtains its (proper) distinction;”549549    Iliad, xv. 189. (See the passage from Hesiod given at the end of book i. of The Refutation.) that is, each member of the threefold division has obtained (a particular) capacity. But now, as regards the tenet that the subjacent water below, which is dark, ought, because the light has set (over it), to convey upwards and receive the spark borne down from (the light) itself; in the assertion of this tenet, I say, the all-wise Sethians appear to derive (their opinion) from Homer:—

“By earth I sware, and yon broad Heaven above,

And Stygian stream beneath, the weightiest oath

Of solemn power, to bind the blessed gods.”550550    Iliad, xv. 36–38 (Lord Derby’s translation); Odyssey, v. 185–187.

That is, according to Homer, the gods suppose water to be loathsome and horrible. Now, similar to this is the doctrine of the Sethians, which affirms (water) to be formidable to the mind.551551    Miller reasonably proposes for τῷ νοΐ the reading στοιχείο ν, “which affirms water to be a formidable element.”


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