aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Philo of Alexandria, On the Embassy to Gaius 357-359

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Philo is recalling the deputation of which he formed a part in 40 AD: it was visiting the Emperor Gaius (aka Caligula) at a time of unrest between the Greek and Jewish communities in Alexandria. The Emperor had not been helping matters by wanting his own statue set up in the Temple at Jerusalem.

In this grimly comic passage the Emperor responds to the deputation’s protestations that the Alexandrian Jews have been offering up sacrifices in his honour. But his attention seems to be much more focused on the interior decoration of his palace…

“ἔστω” φησί “ταῦτα ἀληθῆ, τεθύκατε, ἀλλ’ ἑτέρῳ, κἂν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ· τί οὖν ὄφελος; οὐ γὰρ ἐμοὶ τεθύκατε.” φρίκηβύθιος εὐθὺς κατέσχεν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ τῷ προτέρῳ καὶ τοῦτο ἀκούσαντας, ἣ καὶ μέχρι τῆς ἐπιφανείας ἀνεχύθη. καὶ ταῦθ’ ἅμα λέγων ἐπῄει τὰς ἐπαύλεις, ἀνδρῶνας κατανοῶν, γυναικωνίτιδας, τὰ ἐν ἐπιπέδῳ, τὰ ὑπερῷα, ἅπαντα, αἰτιώμενος ἐνίας ὡς ἐλλιπεῖς κατασκευάς, ἑτέρας ἐπινοῶν καὶ προσδιατάττων πολυτελεστέρας αὐτός.

εἶτα ἡμεῖς ἐλαυνόμενοι παρηκολουθοῦμεν ἄνω κάτω, χλευαζόμενοι καὶ κατακερτομούμενοι πρὸς τῶν ἀντιπάλων ὡς ἐν θεατρικοῖς μίμοις· καὶ γὰρ τὸ πρᾶγμα μιμεία τις ἦν· ὁ μὲν δικαστὴς ἀνειλήφει σχῆμα κατηγόρου, οἱ δὲ κατήγοροι φαύλου δικαστοῦ πρὸς ἔχθραν ἀποβλέποντος, ἀλλ’ οὐ τὴν φύσιν τῆς ἀληθείας.

‘Assuming that all this is true,’ he said, ‘and you did sacrifice, but to another god, even if it was on my behalf – what good did that do? You didn’t sacrifice to me!’ A shuddering immediately took hold of us when we heard this – a shuddering which came over us also at his first appearance. And while he was still saying this he went into the outer buildings, examining the men’s quarters, the women’s quarters, the ground floor rooms, the upper storey, everything, finding fault with some parts for being defectively fitted out, making plans for other parts and personally giving instructions that they should be more lavish.

Then we were herded around, following close behind him upstairs and downstairs, being mocked and abused by our adversaries, just like in the mimes at the theatre. And the thing actually was a farce: the judge was taking the role of an accuser, and the accusers were taking the role of an incompetent judge who looks at the defendant with hostility and no regard for the nature of truth.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 17, 2011 at 12:00 PM

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