Palladas c.325 CE

The Hellenic world was "turned on its head"

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia

"Tell me whence comes it
That thou measurest the Universe
And the limits of the Earth,
Thou who bearest a little body
Made of a little earth?
Count thyself first
And know thyself,
And then shalt thou
Count this infinite Earth.
And if thou canst not reckon
Thy body's little store of clay,
How canst thou know
The measures of the immeasurable"

Palladas (250's/260's to 331-c.350 CE)


Editorial Comments

Palladas: A selection of Hellenic epigrams from the Nicene Boundary Event in the Age of Constantine

REF Epigram of Pallas Comments: WILKINSON Comments: Editor
AP 9.528 The owners of Olympian palaces, having become Christian, dwell here unharmed; for the pot that produces the life-giving coins will not put them in the fire. W1;p.38; The gist is easy enough to follow. Statues of the gods were being melted down to produce coins [folles], but some bronzes managed to avoid this fate by reinventing themselves in a Christian context.

Eusebius says "The city named after the Emperor was filled throughout with objects of skilled artwork in bronze dedicated in various provinces. To these under the name of gods those sick with error had for long ages vainly offered innumerable hecatombs and whole burnt sacrifices, but now they at last learnt sense, as the Emperor used these very toys for the laughter and amusement of the spectators." [VC 3.54.3]

The bishop has misrepresented Constantine's motives - didacticism was surely not the point - but Eusebius correctly notes that the preserved bronzes had ceased to function as cult objects. Whatever people may have thought about the power inherent in these images, they were not tended by priests and they were not the recipients of sacrifice. Rather, they were installed in order to provide Constantinople with the grandeur that it should possess as a New Rome. This is the only context that fully explains Palladas' poem. The usual fate of pagan statues captured by Constantine was to be turned into coins, but some brazen gods managed to avoid this end by converting to Christianity - that is, by leaving their pagan cult behind and taking up residence in the new Christian capital of this very Christian emperor.

[W2; p.181]It is noteworthy, however, that he jokingly attributes the gods' survival to the fact that they converted to Christianity.

If the gods survived by converting to Christianity, then how would the humans survive?

The Nicene Boundary Event: " A catastrophe for the Hellenes, who have been led astray and are the objects of wrath."
AP 10.90 O, the great wickedness of envy! A certain person hates the fortunate man whom God loves. Thus we are irrationally deceived by envy, and thus we are readily enslaved to folly. We Hellenes are men reduced to ashes, holding to our buried hopes in the dead; for everything has now been turned on its head..
W1; p.43-46; Eusebius says: "When [Constantine] saw his opponents persisting, already with sword in hand, the Emperor then became very angry and with one blow put to flight the whole opposing force, and won victories over enemies and demons alike. He then judged the Godhater himself, and afterwards his supporters, according to the law of war, and imposed on them appropriate punishment. With the tyrant those who conspired in the war against God paid the just penalty and died." [VC 2. 17-18]

This is precisely the story that is told in verse by Palladas. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that both he and Eusebius were writing about the same events. There is no need to suppose any direct literary relationship between the two; both were undoubtedly conforming to the victor's propaganda.

Hellenes are men reduced to ashes, holding to their buried hopes in the dead; for everything has now been turned on its head. (by Constantine).
AP 10.91 When a certain person hates the man whom God loves, he exhibits the height of folly. For he clearly girds himself for battle against God himself, incurring supreme wrath for his envy; for one must love the man whom God loves.
W1; p.53; His two important epigrams on the fortunate man whom God loves confirm that the civil war of A.D. 324 was (on the level of imperial ideology) a religious war. They explicitly take up Constantine's position that Licinius was fighting against the Christian god and that the pagan deities proved ineffective. Palladas' assessment, moreover, is that Constantine's victory resulted in a complete reversal of fortunes for Christians and pagans in the East. The latter were reduced to the ashes of mourning, with nothing but the shattered hopes that they had placed in their defeated gods. This is expressed in similarly doleful terms in another epigram that belongs to this period (See below) Constantine is "The man whom God loves". "One must love the man whom God loves"
AP 10.82 Surely we are dead and only seem to live, we Hellenes, having fallen into misfortune, pretending that a dream is in fact a way of life. Or are we alive while our way of life is dead?
W1; p.53 What were these misfortunes? And why does he say that the pagan way of life was dead? Though he provides no specifics, Palladas may be alluding here to some or all of the several disadvantages for the traditional cults reported for this period by Eusebius. The bishop claims that Constantine prohibited pagan worship, as well as the erection of cult statues, divination, and all sacrifices.108 This is not the place to revisit the long debate over Eusebius' reliability on this point, but it would be rash to discount his testimony altogether.109 Indeed, unless we are willing to contend that Palladas also misrepresents the character of the age, it appears quite certain that (whatever the precise this was a difficult period for adherents of the traditional cults in the Greek East. The Hellenes were dead. Life was docetic. Was Constantine's dream a new way of life? The Hellenic way of life was dead.
AP 10.89 If Rumour is a goddess, she too is angry with the Hellenes, leading them astray with uncertain reports. Rumour, should you suffer anything at all, is at once manifestly true; and the swiftness of events often anticipates even Rumour.
W1; p.53 "... the references to a catastrophe for the Hellenes, who have been led astray and are the objects of wrath, create a very close link with AP 10.82, 90, and 91. AP 10.89 should be restored to its proper place alongside these three, thus in the aftermath of the civil war of A.D. 324. Any attempt to identify a context that is more specific than this will inevitably be conjectural, but it is possible that the epigram has something to do with rumours of a full-scale campaign against the pagan temples. Our evidence that rumours of this sort were circulating after the civil war comes from Constantine himself in his Letter to the Eastern Provincials... Apparently, some residents of the East were initially under the impression that the long arm of the state was going to wield a hammer against the pagan temples as it formerly had against the churches. Constantine's edict seems designed in part to quash these rumours and to prevent private acts of vandalism and violence. Might these be the circumstances that occasioned Palladas' epigram? The goddesses were angry at the "gentiles" (Hellenes). The times were swiftly changing.
FORTUNE: Things have been turned upside down, so I see, and we have now seen Fortune suffer misfortune. From Temple to Tavern.
AP 9.180 Fortune, who manages life like a tavern, who possesses a nature like unmixed wine, and who formerly mixed things up and poured them out - even she is now a tavern-keeper rather than a goddess, and she has chanced upon a vocation that suits her manner of life.
W2; see pages 183-185 ...

The four epigrams on the converted temple of Tyche, therefore, are a further meditation on the upheaval experienced by the pagan cults under the new Christian regime.

AP 9.181 Things have been turned upside down, so I see, and we have now seen Fortune suffer misfortune.
The conversion of this cult site probably occurred during the construction of Constantine's city.... Tyche, in all of her guises, was one of Palladas' favourite subjects. This particular series of epigrams, however; evidently alludes to a singular event. Tyche, he says, who formerly managed life as if it were a tavern (180.1), is now a barmaid instead of a goddess (180.4); this is accordingly a suitable xé/VT) (180.5); she works in a tavern though she had once governed a temple (183.3); she is even a humble server there of hot water or hot drinks (183. 4). There can be scarcely any doubt that these are allusions to a cult site of Tyche that had been converted into a drinking establishment. For Palladas this was an invitation to apply his wit to the subject of 'Fortune's misfortune'. TEMPLE
AP 9.182 And you, Lady Fortune, how is it that you have suffered misfortune? How have you, who furnishes fortunes, become unfortunate? Learn to bear your own twists of fate, and instruct yourself in the unfortunate vicissitudes that you furnish for others.
As it happens, we are able to piece together some of the changes to the cult of Tyche in this city under Constantine. Reportedly, he commissioned two new 'temples', one housing a statue of Rhea, who was the Byzantine Tyche, and the other a statue of Roman Fortuna that the emperor had exported from the old capital. TO
AP 9.183 So, Fortune, you too are mocked for your changed circumstances; and at the end you have not even been spared your own fortune. You who once had a temple now keep a tavern in your old age, and in plain view you serve warm draughts to mortals. It is fitting that you too should groan at your lot, O volatile goddess, now that you, just like mortals, suffer your own change in fortune. .
The innovation seems rather to have been an instance of Constantine's tendency to take up some of the least offensive elements of pagan religion and transform them into expressions of imperial ideology. In this case, the new Tychaion was obviously an expression of the emperor's audacious claim for his new capital, viz. that it was a second Rome. All of this raises a very relevant question.

What, if anything, happened at this point to the locus of Tyche-veneration where Pompey had erected a statue and inscription in the goddess's honour? John Lydus says that the place was converted into a tavern at some unspecified point between the first century b.c. and his own day (the sixth century) .... . John Lydus and Palladas both attest that it was transformed into a tavern. And Palladas' testimony allows us to date this transformation with high probability to the reign of Constantine I.

COINAGE: Bearing victories to the "Christ-loving City"
API 282 Here we are, the Victories, the laughing maidens, bearing victories to the Christ-loving city. Those who love the city fashioned us, stamping figures appropriate to the victories.
317_CE_SisciaW2; p.181, FIG. 3. Coin ... 335 CE
RIC VII (Antioch), no. 92 Obv.: CONSTANTINOPOLIS; helmeted bust 1., spear over shoulder. Rev.: anepigraphic; Victory standing on prow. Marks: SMANI.

Image from constantine the great coins

The Christ-Loving City? Looks like the NT Bible was a Big Hit in the Christ-Loving City.
If gods have learnt to serve the times, what will humans learn to do?
AP 9.441 I marvelled, seeing at the cross-roads Jove’s brazen son, once constantly invoked, now cast aside, and in wrath I said : “Averter of woes, offspring of three nights, thou, who never didst suffer defeat, art to-day laid low.” But at night the god stood by my bed smiling, and said : “Even though I am a god I have learnt to serve the times.” The source of this epigram is this page. There it has a title "On a Statue of Heracles", with the note that the statue had doubtless been cast down by the Christians. If gods have learnt to serve the times, what will humans do?
The twelve newer gods can forgive all sins ...
AP 10.56.17-18 We are left to trust in her oaths and in her religious scruples; but after her oath she can seek out twelve newer gods.
W2; page 189 ... This is the final couplet of Palladas' longest extant epigram - an eighteen-line attack on the infidelity of women. Nothing, he says - neither youth nor age, neither beauty nor deformity, neither gaiety nor severity - is a reliable indicator of a woman's chastity. Men are left to trust that their lovers remain true to their oaths; but even then, if a woman is unfaithful, she can seek out twelve newer gods... The idea seems to be that after she has sworn an oath of fidelity by the twelve pagan deities, the unchaste woman can simply acquire forgiveness by means of twelve newer ones (sc. the Apostles). The Christian emphasis on forgiveness of sins was thought by some pagans to be a very reckless approach to ethics. It comes in for sharp criticism, for example, in Julian's send-up of Constantine in the Caesares .... As one would expect of Palladas, the sarcastic reference to Christian absolution at the end of this epigram is made in a riddling form. But why especially the Apostles? And why does he call them gods? The one thing that must have been obvious to even the least well informed was that Christians acknowledged only one deity (or at any rate, no more than two or three). Julian places the following words into the mouth of Jesus ... "He that is a seducer, he that is a murderer, he that is sacrilegious and infamous, let him approach without fear! For with this water will I wash him and will straightway make him clean. And though he should be guilty of those same sins a second time, let him but smite his breast and beat his head and I will make him clean again." (See the Caesares)
Constantine imposes penalties under Roman law for divorce ...
AP 11.378 I am unable to bear both a wife and grammar too - grammar is unprofitable, and my wife is unjust (unmanageable?). From both I suffer death and fate. Thus, just now, I have barely escaped from grammar. But I am unable to flee from my man-hating wife, for a piece of paper and Roman law prevent it. W1; page 49 ... This epigram contains a chronological clue that has been hitherto overlooked. Whether or not the poet genuinely wanted to divorce his wife, his claim that a piece of paper (sc. his marriage contract) and Roman law prevented him from doing so is sensible only at certain points in the history of the Empire. In the first place, no one would be justified in saying such a thing before Constantine. Whatever the situation prior to the late Republic, unilateral divorce (as opposed to divorce by mutual consent, which remained unrestricted until the time of Justinian) had been very straightforward under Roman law between the first century and A.D. 331. This is the year in which Constantine imposed penalties that made it all but impossible for women and extremely difficult for men.

Any woman who divorced her husband against his will without being able to prove that he was a murderer, a sorcerer, or a tomb-defiler forfeited all of her property and could be sent into exile. A man was permitted to repudiate his wife only if he could prove that she was an adulteress, a sorceress, or a procuress (conciliatrix) . Should the wife be innocent of these crimes, the divorcing husband had to restore her dowry and he was forced to remain single for the duration of his life. Any future attempt on his part to remarry entitled the first wife to financial compensation. Constantine's legislation did much more than merely discourage unilateral divorce; it seems to have been an attempt to stamp out the practice in all but the most extreme cases. This revolution in Roman divorce law supplies a terminus post quem of A.D. 331 for Palladas' epigram.

One can only imagine that this Constantinian reform was an extremely unpopular measure. But our knowledge of its fate in subsequent years is hampered somewhat by the fact that no manuscript preserves the third book of the Theodosian Code.

Whether a not a loop-hole, another law appears two years later (333 CE) to the effect that the Christian Bishops could override Roman law.

"Judicial decisions made by bishops are to be upheld. Enforcement is to be the responsibility of the prefect. If a party to a law suit may request the case to be heard by a bishop rather than a secular judge, the request is to be granted."

[Codex Theod, ref not known as yet]

Wilkinson, "Palladas and the foundation of Constantinople", Concluding Comments:

Palladas should now assume his rightful place alongside Eusebius of Caesarea as an early (if also enigmatic) witness to the very early years of Constantine's city. More important perhaps than the topographical hints to be gleaned from Palladas' epigrams is his perspective on the religious character of Constantinople in the 330s. The conversion of Tyche's temple was one more example for him of the manner in which the traditional cults had suddenly been undermined. And statues of the gods that adorned the city's public spaces had, he says, converted to Christianity. Not only had they ceased to be objects of pagan cult, they had taken on the religious character of the emperor and of the emperor's new capital. Most strikingly of all, Palladas calls Constantinople 'the Christ-loving city'. None of this should be surprising. At about the same time, Eusebius of Caesarea was confidently declaring the birth of a new Christian capital, dedicated to the God of the martyrs and purged of all idol-worship.

In modern scholarship, however, not everyone has found this claim to be wholly credible. Some have detected incongruous elements in the public religion of the capital: from quasi-pagan monuments like the new Tychaion, to the appearance of Victories and other conventional figures, to the Helios imagery of Constantine's statue in the Forum. The presence of these and similar features cannot be denied and may seem to contradict Eusebius' claim. Indeed, if 'pagan' and 'Christian' are to be treated as pure categories, then there can be no doubt that Constantinople contained a 'mixed' or even 'contradictory' religious environment. But on this score others have already pointed the way forward. Because Constantine himself was avowedly Christian, whatever he endorsed in the realm of public religion in his city was also perforce Christian - however much discomfort some elements might have caused a visiting bishop from Caesarea.

Palladas is now our second extant witness from the 330s, and he seems to corroborate Eusebius' testimony on this point. Whatever continuities with the pagan past that we might now detect, Constantinople was perceived by Constantine's subjects to be a Christian city from its inception.

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