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Chapter XXI.—The Occurrences at Alexandria.

1. Peace had but just been restored when he returned to Alexandria;23102310    This was after the fall of the usurper Macrianus, probably late in the year 261 or early in 262 (see above, chap. 13, note 3). but as sedition and war broke out again, rendering it impossible for him to oversee all the brethren, separated in different places by the insurrection, at the feast of the passover, as if he were still an exile from Alexandria, he addressed them again by letter.23112311    This epistle written by Dionysius during the civil war to his scattered flock is no longer extant.

2. And in another festal epistle written later to Hierax,23122312    Of this Hierax we know no more than is told us here. a bishop in Egypt, he mentions the sedition then prevailing in Alexandria, as follows:

“What wonder is it that it is difficult for me to communicate by letters with those who live far away, when it is beyond my power even to reason with myself, or to take counsel for my own life?

3. Truly I need to send letters to those who are as my own bowels,23132313    cf. Philemon, vers. 12. dwelling in one home, and brethren of one soul, and citizens of the same church; but how to send them I cannot tell. For it would be easier for one to go, not only beyond the limits of the province, but even from the East to the West, than from Alexandria to Alexandria itself.

3064. For the very heart of the city is more intricate and impassable than that great and trackless desert which Israel traversed for two generations. And our smooth and waveless harbors have become like the sea, divided and walled up, through which Israel drove and in whose highway the Egyptians were overwhelmed. For often from the slaughters there committed they appear like the Red Sea.

5. And the river which flows by the city has sometimes seemed drier than the waterless desert, and more parched than that in which Israel, as they passed through it, so suffered for thirst, that they cried out against Moses, and the water flowed for them from the steep rock,23142314    ἐκ πέτρας ἀκροτόμου. The adjective is an addition of Dionysius’ own. The LXX of Ex. xvii. 6 has only πέτρα, “rock.” through him who alone doeth wonders.

6. Again it has overflowed so greatly as to flood all the surrounding country, and the roads and the fields; threatening to bring back the deluge of water that occurred in the days of Noah. And it flows along, polluted always with blood and slaughter and drownings, as it became for Pharaoh through the agency of Moses, when he changed it into blood, and it stank.23152315    ἐποζέσας; the same word which is used in the LXX of Ex. vii. 21.

7. And what other water could purify the water which purifies everything? How could the ocean, so great and impassable for men, if poured into it, cleanse this bitter sea? Or how could the great river which flowed out of Eden, if it poured the four heads into which it is divided into the one of Geon,23162316    Γηὼν; LXX (Gen. ii. 13), Γεῶν; Heb. גִּיחֹון; A.V. and R.V., Gihon. wash away this pollution?

8. Or when can the air poisoned by these noxious exhalations become pure? For such vapors arise from the earth, and winds from the sea, and breezes from the river, and mists from the harbors, that the dews are, as it were, discharges from dead bodies putrefying in all the elements around us.

9. Yet men wonder and cannot understand whence these continuous pestilences; whence these severe sicknesses; whence these deadly diseases of all kinds; whence this various and vast human destruction; why this great city no longer contains as many inhabitants, from tender infants to those most advanced in life, as it formerly contained of those whom it called hearty old men. But the men from forty to seventy years of age were then so much more numerous that their number cannot now be filled out, even when those from fourteen to eighty years are enrolled and registered for the public allowance of food.

10. And the youngest in appearance have become, as it were, of equal age with those who formerly were the oldest. But though they see the race of men thus constantly diminishing and wasting away, and though their complete destruction is increasing and advancing, they do not tremble.”


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