Category Archives: Ancient History

(c. 150-c. 215)

from The Miscellanies (Stromata)
   The Praises of Martyrdom
   Those Who Offered Themselves for       Martyrdom Reproved


Titus Flavius Clemens, or St. Clement of Alexandria, was a Greek theologian of the early Christian church, the second known leader of the Alexandrian school of theology. He was born to a pagan family, allegedly in Athens, although his place of birth and the dates of his birth and death are uncertain. He studied under Pantaeus at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, the first Christian scholastic institution of its kind, known for promoting the allegorical method of biblical interpretation. Clement succeeded Pantaeus as its leader from about 190 until 203. Under the leadership of Pantaeus, Clement, and his pupil Origen, this school grew famous as a center of learning at the time.

Clement was the author of Exhortation to the Greeks, the three books of The Tutors, and the eight books of the Stromateis or Stromata, usually translated as Miscellanies, from which the selections here are taken. Clement also wrote Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? In 202 or 203, Clement left Alexandria as a new round of persecutions of Christians began.

In the short selections here, Clement addresses what had become a troubling issue for the church, especially during periods of persecution. Christians were committed to belief in God and the divinity of Christ, and would prefer death to denying this faith. But some writers, notably Ignatius [q.v.] and Tertullian [q.v.], stressed the desirability of martyrdom and exhorted Christians to become martyrs. Indeed, some Christians openly flaunted their faith as a way of courting or provoking their own martyrdom. Clement, in a view the church came to accept, opposes this excess; he honors the genuine martyr, the one who achieves perfection and performs “the perfect work of love” in voluntarily sacrificing his body, but excoriates those who have “rushed on death” or have “presented themselves for capture.” In Clement’s view, they are guilty in much the same way as the murderer and the self-killer, the suicide; while martyrdom is to be respected, the true Christian should do everything possible to avoid it, short of betraying one’s faith.


The Writings of Clement of Alexandria, Vol. II. Miscellanies (Stromata), Book IV, chs. iv, x. tr. Rev. William Wilson. Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. XII.  Edinburgh: T &T Clark, 1869, pp. 145-148, 173-174.


Whence, as is reasonable, the gnostic, when called, obeys easily, and gives up his body to him who asks; and, previously divesting himself of the affections of this carcase, not insulting the tempter, but rather, in my opinion, training him and convincing him,

“From what honour and what extent of wealth Fallen,”

as says Empedocles, here for the future he walks with mortals.  He, in truth, bears witness to himself that he is faithful and loyal towards God; and to the tempter, that he in vain envied him who is faithful through love; and to the Lord, of the inspired persuasion in reference to His doctrine, from which he will not depart through fear of death; further, he confirms also the truth of preaching by his deed, showing that God to whom he hastes is powerful.  You will wonder at his love, which he conspicuously shows with thankfulness, in being united to what is allied to him, and besides by his precious blood, shaming the unbelievers.  He then avoids denying Christ through fear by reason of the command; nor does he sell his faith in the hope of the gifts prepared, but in love to the Lord he will most gladly depart from this life; perhaps giving thanks both to him who laid the plot against him, for receiving an honourable reason which he himself furnished not, for showing what he is, to him by his patience, and to the Lord in love, by which even before his birth he was manifested to the Lord, who knew the martyr’s choice.  With good courage, then, he goes to the Lord, his friend, for whom he voluntarily gave his body, and, as his judges hoped, his soul, hearing from our Savior the words of poetry, “Dear brother,” by reason of the similarity of his life.  We call martyrdom perfection, not because the man comes to the end of his life as others, but because he has exhibited the perfect work of love.  And the ancients laud the death of those among the Greeks who died in war, not that they advised people to die a violent death, but because he who ends his life in war is released without the dread of dying, severed from the body without experiencing previous suffering or being enfeebled in his soul, as the people that suffer in diseases.  For they depart in a state of effeminacy and desiring to live; and therefore they do not yield up the soul pure, but bearing with it their lusts like weights of lead; all but those who have been conspicuous in virtue.  Some die in battle with their lusts, these being in no respect different from what they would have been if they had wasted away by disease.

If the confession to God is martyrdom, each soul which has lived purely in the knowledge of God, which has obeyed the commandments, is a witness both by life and word, in whatever way it may be released from the body,—shedding faith as blood along its whole life till its departure.  For instance, the Lord says in the Gospel, “Whosoever shall leave father, or mother, or brethren,” and so forth, “for the sake of the gospel and my name,” he is blessed; not indicating simple martyrdom, but the gnostic martyrdom, as of the man who has conducted himself according to the rule of the gospel, in love to the Lord (for the knowledge of the Name and the understanding of the gospel point out the gnosis, but not the bare appellation), so as to leave his worldly kindred, and wealth, and every possession, in order to lead a life free from passion. “Mother” figuratively means country and sustenance; “fathers” are the laws of civil polity: which must be contemned thankfully by the high-souled just man; for the sake of being the friend of God, and of obtaining the right hand in the holy place, as the Apostles have done.

Then Heraclitus says, “God and men honour those slain in battle;” and Plato in the fifth book of the Republic writes, “Of those who die in military service, whoever dies after winning renown, shall we not say that he is chief of the golden race?  Most assuredly.”  But the golden race is with the gods, who are in heaven, in the fixed sphere, who chiefly hold command in the providence exercised towards men.  Now some of the heretics who have misunderstood the Lord, have at once an impious and cowardly love of life; saying that the true martyrdom is the knowledge of the only true God (which we also admit), and that the man is a self-murderer and a suicide who makes confession by death; and adducing other similar sophisms of cowardice.  To these we shall reply at the proper time; for they differ with us in regard to first principles.  Now we, too, say that those who have rushed on death (for there are some, not belonging to us, but sharing the name merely, who are in haste to give themselves up, the poor wretches dying through hatred to the Creator)—these, we say, banish themselves without being martyrs, even though they are punished publicly.  For they do not preserve the characteristic mark of believing martyrdom, inasmuch as they have not known the only true God, but give themselves up to a vain death, as the Gymnosophists of the Indians to useless fire.

But since these falsely named [gnostics] calumniate the body, let them learn that the harmonious mechanism of the body contributes to the understanding which leads to goodness of nature.  Wherefore in the third book of the Republic, Plato, whom they appeal to loudly as an authority that disparages generation, says, “that for the sake of harmony of soul, care must be taken for the body,” by which, he who announces the proclamation of the truth, finds it possible to live, and to live well.  For it is by the path of life and health that we learn gnosis.  But is he who cannot advance to the height without being occupied with necessary things, and through them doing what tends to knowledge, not to choose to live well?  I living, then, living well is secured. And he who in the body has devoted himself to a good life, is being sent on to the state of immortality.



When, again, He says, “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye to the other,” He does not advise flight, as if persecution were an evil thing; nor does He enjoin them by flight to avoid death, as if in dread of it, but wishes us neither to be the authors nor abettors of any evil to any one, either to ourselves to the persecutor and murderer.  For He, in a way, bids us take care of ourselves.  But he who disobeys is rash and foolhardy.  If he who kills a man of God sins against God, he also who presents himself before the judgment-seat becomes guilty of his death.  And such is also the case with him who does not avoid persecution, but out of daring presents himself for capture.  Such a one, as far as in him lies, becomes an accomplice in the crime of the persecutor.  And if he also uses provocation, he is wholly guilty, challenging the wild beast.  And similarly, if he afford any cause for conflict or punishment, or retribution or enmity, he gives occasion for persecution.  Wherefore, then, we are enjoined not to cling to anything that belongs to this life; but “to him that takes our cloak to give our coat,” not only that we may continue destitute of inordinate affection, but that we may not by retaliating make our persecutors savage against ourselves, and stir them up to blaspheme the name.

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Filed under Africa, Ancient History, Christianity, Clement of Alexandria, Martyrdom, Selections, Sin

(c. 100-165)

from The Second Apology: Why Christians Do Not Kill Themselves


Saint Justin (the) Martyr, theologian and philosopher, was one of the first Christian apologists, sainted and numbered among the Fathers of the Church. He was born in the city of Flavia Neapolis (now Nabulus, West Bank), a Roman city built on the site of the ancient Shechem, in Samaria. His parents practiced the Roman religion. Justin studied Greek philosophy, especially that of Plato and the Stoics, before converting to Christianity; he also knew Judaism and Greco-Roman religion well. After his conversion to Christianity, he traveled about on foot defending its truths, often entering into violent controversies, and later opened a Christian school in Rome. He developed the conception of a divine plan in history and laid the foundation for a theology of history drawing from both philosophy and Christian revelation.

In Rome, Justin wrote the Dialogue with Trypho, emphasizing the continuity of the Old and the New Testaments, and two Apologies for the Christians, collections of reasoned defenses against Roman allegations of Christian insurrection, directed to the emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Justin’s work in general addressed a philosophically sophisticated Greek and Roman audience. After debating with the Cynic Crescens, however, Justin was denounced to the Roman prefect as subversive and condemned to death; he was scourged and martyred by beheading in Rome during the rule of Marcus Aurelius.

In this very short selection from “The Second Apology,” Justin provides an earnest answer to the sort of flippant remark that might be made by a non-Christian detractor, perhaps a Roman who is influenced by Stoicism and thus views suicide as a potentially rational and prudent act, and who mocks the Christian belief in a personal afterlife. If Christians believe in a personal  afterlife in which one will be received into the presence of God, the detractor seems to imply,  why do they suffer martyrdom rather than commit suicide? Why not kill oneself and go directly to God? Justin’s brief answer alludes to the central Christian values of the educative, formative purpose of human life, the pursuit of moral good and the rejection of evil, and the importance of continuing the Christian faith (i.e., instruction in the divine doctrines), as well as preserving God’s creation, the human race itself; his reasons display the basis of the Christian belief that suicide is wrong.


Justin Martyr,  “The Second Apology of Justin for the Christians Addressed to the Roman Senate,” ch. 4. In Ante-Nicene Fathers,  ed. Philip Schaff,  vol I: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts and  James Donaldson, Edinburgh, 1867.



Lest any one should say to us, ‘All of you, go, kill yourselves and thus go immediately to God, and save us the trouble,’ I will explain why we do not do that, and why, when interrogated, we boldly acknowledge our faith.  We have been taught that God did not create the world without a purpose, but that He did so for the sake of mankind; for we have stated before that God is pleased with those who imitate His perfections, but is displeased with those who choose evil, either in word or in deed.  If, then, we should all kill ourselves we would be the cause, as far as it is up to us, why no one would be born and be instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race might cease to exist; if we do act thus, we ourselves will be opposing the will of God.

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Filed under Ancient History, Christianity, Europe, Justin Martyr, Middle East, Selections, Stoicism


from Letters:
   To Calestrius Tiro
   To Catilius Severus
   To Marcilius Nepos
   To Calpurnius Macer


Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, known as Pliny the Younger to differentiate him from his uncle Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder (23–79) [q.v.], had a successful career in the Roman Senate. He was a consul and governor of Bithynia and Pontica in the years just before his death; his comments on the treatment of Christians in these provinces are among the earliest historical references to Christianity. Pliny’s work is preserved in 10 volumes of letters (some 368 in all) that constitute an important source of first-hand documentation and social commentary concerning life in the Roman Empire at the turn of the 1st century.

Pliny’s Letters include accounts of deliberations about suicide by two friends, one, Corellius Rufus, who killed himself to avoid further suffering from incurable illness, and another, Titius Aristo, who decided not to do so if there were any chance of recovery. In both cases, the prospect of suicide is made known to or discussed with family members, friends, and a physician. There is the famous Arria, who consulted with no one at all, as well as the less famous woman of Lake Como who forces her husband into suicide to avoid a lethal condition by tying herself to him and jumping into the lake. Pliny’s particular interest is in the role of reason in such deliberations about suicide. Nevertheless, for Pliny, understanding a suicide or contemplated suicide does not diminish his grief or anxiety over it.


The Letters of the Younger Pliny, With An Introductory Essay by John B. Firth. New York and Felling-on-Tyne, [date?], Book I, Letter XII, “To Calestrius Tiro”; Book I, Letter XXII, “To Catilius Severus”; Book III, Letter 16, “To Marcilius Nepos,” following the Teubner text, edited by Keil, Available at Project Gutenberg, text #3234. “To Calpurnius Macer,” Book VI, Letter 24. Pliny: Letters and Panegyricus, tr. Betty Radice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969, p. 455. Online at


To Calestrius Tiro

I have suffered a most grievous loss, if loss is a word that can be applied to my being bereft of so distinguished a man. Corellius Rufus is dead, and what makes my grief the more poignant is that he died by his own act. Such a death is always most lamentable, since neither natural causes nor Fate can be held responsible for it. When people die of disease there is a great consolation in the thought that no one could have prevented it; when they lay violent hands on themselves we feel a pang which nothing can assuage in the thought that they might have lived longer. Corellius, it is true, felt driven to take his own life by Reason–and Reason is always tantamount to Necessity with philosophers– and yet there were abundant inducements for him to live. His conscience was stainless, his reputation beyond reproach; he stood high in men’s esteem. Moreover, he had a daughter, a wife, a grandson, and sisters, and, besides all these relations, many genuine friends. But his battle against ill-health had been so long and hopeless that all these splendid rewards of living were outweighed by the reasons that urged him to die.

I have heard him say that he was first attacked by gout in the feet when he was thirty-three years of age. He had inherited the complaint, for it often happens that a tendency to disease is handed down like other qualities in a sort of succession. While he was in the prime of life he overcame his malady and kept it well in check by abstemious and pure living, and when it became sharper in its attacks as he grew old he bore up against it with great fortitude of mind. Even when he suffered incredible torture and the most horrible agony–for the pain was no longer confined, as before, to the feet, but had begun to spread over all his limbs–I went to see him in the time of Domitian when he was staying at his country house. His attendants withdrew from his chamber, as they always did whenever one of his more intimate friends entered the room. Even his wife, a lady who might have been trusted to keep any secret, also used to retire. Looking round the room, he said: “Why do you think I endure pain like this so long? It is that I may outlive that tyrant, even if only by a single day.” Could you but have given him a frame fit to support his resolution, he would have achieved the object of his desire. However, some god heard his prayer and granted it, and then feeling that he could die without anxiety and as a free man ought, he snapped the bonds that bound him to life. Though they were many, he preferred death.

His malady had become worse, though he tried to moderate it by his careful diet, and then, as it still continued to grow, he escaped from it by a fixed resolve. Two, three, four days passed and he refused all food. Then his wife Hispulla sent our mutual friend Caius Geminius to tell me the sad news that Corellius had determined to die, that he was not moved by the entreaties of his wife and daughter, and that I was the only one left who might possibly recall him to life. I flew to see him, and had almost reached the house when Hispulla sent me another message by Julius Atticus, saying that now even I could do nothing, for his resolve had become more and more fixed. When the doctor offered him nourishment he said, “My mind is made up,” and the word has awakened within me not only a sense of loss, but of admiration. I keep thinking what a friend, what a manly friend is now lost to me. He was at the end of his seventy-sixth year, an age long enough even for the stoutest of us. True. He has escaped a lifelong illness; he has died leaving children to survive him, and knowing that the State, which was dearer to him than everything else beside, was prospering well. Yes, yes, I know all this. And yet I grieve at his death as I should at the death of a young man in the full vigour of life; I grieve–you may think me weak for so doing–on my own account too. For I have lost, lost for ever, the guide, philosopher, and friend of my life. In short, I will say again what I said to my friend Calvisius, when my grief was fresh: “I am afraid I shall not live so well ordered a life now.” Send me a word of sympathy, but do not say, “He was an old man, or he was infirm.” These are hackneyed words; send me some that are new, that are potent to ease my trouble, that I cannot find in books or hear from my friends. For all that I have heard and read occur to me naturally, but they are powerless in the presence of my excessive sorrow. Farewell.

To Catilius Severus

Here am I still in Rome, and a good deal surprised to find myself here. But I am troubled at the long illness of Titus Aristo, which he cannot shake off. He is a man for whom I feel an extraordinary admiration and affection: search where you will, he is second to none in character, uprightness, and learning–so much so that I hardly look upon his illness as that of a mere individual being in danger. It is rather as if literature and all good arts were personified in him, and through him were in grievous peril. What a knowledge he has of private and public rights and the laws relating to them! What a mastery he has of things in general, what experience, what an acquaintance with the past! There is nothing you may wish to learn that he cannot teach you; to me, certainly, he is a perfect mine of learning whenever I am requiring any out-of-the-way information.

Then again, how convincing his conversation is, how strongly it impresses you, how modest and becoming is his hesitation! What is there that he does not know straight away? And yet, often enough, he shows hesitation and doubt, from the very diversity of the reasons that come crowding into his mind, and upon these he brings to bear his keen and mighty intellect, and, going back to their fountain-head, reviews them, tests them, and weighs them in the balance. Again, how sparing he is in his manner of life, how unassuming in his dress! I often look at his bedroom and the bed itself, as though they were models of old-fashioned economy. However, they are adorned by his splendid mind, which has not a thought for ostentation, but refers everything to his conscience. He seeks his reward for a good deed not in the praise of the world, but in the deed itself. In short, you will not find it easy to discover any one, even among those who prefer to study wisdom rather than take heed to their bodily pleasures, worthy to be compared with him. He does not haunt the training grounds and the public porticos, nor does he charm the idle moments of others and his own by indulging in long talks; no, he is always in his toga and always at work; his services are at the disposal of many in the Courts, and he helps numbers more by his advice. Yet in chastity of life, in piety, in justice, in courage even, there is no one of all his acquaintance to whom he need give place.

You would marvel, if you were by his side, at the patience with which he endures his illness, how he fights against his suffering, how he resists his thirst, how, without moving and without throwing off his bed- clothes, he endures the dreadful burning heats of his fever. Just recently he sent for me and a few others of his especial friends with me, and begged us to consult his doctors and ask them about the termination of his illness, so that if there were no hope for him he might voluntarily give up his life, but might fight against it and hold out if the illness only threatened to be difficult and long. He owed it, he said, to the prayers of his wife, the tears of his daughter, and the regard of us who were his friends, not to cheat our hopes by a voluntary death, providing those hopes were not altogether futile. I think that such an acknowledgment as that must be especially difficult to make, and worthy of the highest praise; for many people are quite capable of hastening to death under the impulse of a sudden instinct, but only a truly noble mind can weigh up the pros and cons of the matter, and resolve to live or die according to the dictates of Reason.

However, the doctors give us reassuring promises, and it now remains for the Deity to confirm and fulfil them, and so at length release me from my anxiety. The moment my mind is easy, I shall be off to my Laurentine Villa–that is to say, to my books and tablets, and to my studious ease. For now as I sit by my friend’s bedside I can neither read nor write, and I am so anxious that I have no inclination for such study.

Well, I have told you my fears, my hopes, and my future plans; it is your turn now to write and tell me what you have been doing, what you are doing now, and what your plans are, and I hope your letter will be a more cheerful one than mine. If you have nothing to complain about, it will be no small consolation to me in my general upset. Farewell.

To Marcilius Nepos

I have often observed that the greatest words and deeds, both of men and women, are not always the most famous, and my opinion has been confirmed by a talk I had with Fannia yesterday. She is a granddaughter of the Arria who comforted her husband in his dying moments and showed him how to die. She told me many stories of her grandmother, just as heroic but not so well known as the manner of her death, and I think they will seem to you as you read them quite as remarkable as they did to me as I listened to them.

Her husband, Caecina Paetus, was lying ill, and so too was their son, both, it was thought, without chance of recovery. The son died. He was a strikingly handsome lad, modest as he was handsome, and endeared to his parents for his other virtues quite as much as because he was their son. Arria made all the arrangements for the funeral and attended it in person, without her husband knowing anything of it.

When she entered his room she pretended that the boy was still alive and even much better, and when her husband constantly asked how the lad was getting on, she replied: “He has had a good sleep, and has taken food with a good appetite.” Then when the tears, which she had long forced back, overcame her and burst their way out, she would leave the room, and not till then give grief its course, returning when the flood of tears was over, with dry eyes and composed look, as though she had left her bereavement at the door of the chamber. It was indeed a splendid deed of hers to unsheath the sword, to plunge it into her breast, then to draw it out and offer it to her husband, with the words which will live for ever and seem to have been more than mortal, “Paetus, it does not hurt.” But at that moment, while speaking and acting thus, there was fame and immortality before her eyes, and I think it an even nobler deed for her without looking for any reward of glory or immortality to force back her tears, to hide her grief, and, even when her son was lost to her, to continue to act a mother’s part.

When Scribonianus had started a rebellion in Illyricum against Claudius, Paetus joined his party, and, on the death of Scribonianus, he was brought prisoner to Rome. As he was about to embark, Arria implored the soldiers to take her on board with him. “For,” she pleaded, “as he is of consular rank, you will assign him some servants to serve his meals, to valet him and put on his shoes. I will perform all these offices for him.” When they refused her, she hired a fishing-boat and in that tiny vessel followed the big ship. Again, in the presence of Claudius she said to the wife of Scribonianus, when that woman was voluntarily giving evidence of the rebellion, “What, shall I listen to you in whose bosom Scribonianus was killed and yet you still live?” Those words showed that her resolve to die gloriously was due to no sudden impulse.

Moreover, when her son-in-law Thrasea sought to dissuade her from carrying out her purpose, and urged among his other entreaties the following argument: “If I had to die, would you wish your daughter to die with me?” she replied, “If she had lived as long and as happily with you as I have lived with Paetus, yes.” This answer increased the anxiety of her friends, and she was watched with greater care. Noticing this, she said, “Your endeavours are vain. You can make me die hard, but you cannot prevent me from dying.” As she spoke she jumped from her chair and dashed her head with great force against the wall of the chamber, and fell to the ground. When she came to herself again, she said, “I told you that I should find a difficult way of dying if you denied me an easy one.”

Do not sentences like these seem to you more noble than the “Paetus, it does not hurt,” to which they gradually led up? Yet, while that saying is famous all over the world, the others are unknown. But they confirm what I said at the outset, that the noblest words and deeds are not always the most famous. Farewell.

To Calpurnius Macer 

How often we judge actions by the people who perform them!  The selfsame deeds are lauded to the skies or allowed to sink into oblivion simply because the persons concerned are well known or not.

I was sailing on our Lake Como with an elderly friend when he pointed out a house with a bedroom built out over the lake. “From there,” he said, “a woman of our town once threw herself with her husband.”  I asked why.  The husband had long been suffering from ulcers in the private parts, and his wife insisted on seeing them, promising that no one would give him a more candid opinion whether the disease was curable.  She saw that there was no hope and urged him to take his life; she went with him, even led him to his death herself, and forced him to follow her example by roping herself to him and jumping into the lake.  Yet even I, who come from the same town, never heard of this until the other day—not because it was less heroic that Arria’s famous deed, but because the woman was less well known.

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Filed under Ancient History, Europe, Pliny the Younger, Selections

(c. 55-c. 135)

from Discourses:
   How from the Doctrine of Our       Relationship to God We Are to       Deduce Its Consequences
   How We Should Bear Illness
   Of Freedom


Born in Hierapolis, Phrygia (modern Turkey) to a slave woman, Epictetus was himself a slave during his childhood and adolescence. He was lame, according to Origen’s account, from injuries caused by his master Epaphroditus’s twisting his leg until he broke it, although others accounts describe Epaphroditus as a good master. Epaphroditus, himself a freedman of Nero, sent Epictetus to study with the most influential Stoic teacher and theoretician of the time, Gaius Musonius Rufus, and Epictetus was freed by his master, or on the death of his master, sometime after Nero’s death in 68. Epictetus traveled to Rome and began instructing students in Stoicism. In the year 90, he was expelled, along with other Stoic philosophers, by the Roman emperor Domitian, and then moved to Epirus, where he led a large, thriving school of Stoic physics, logic, and ethics. He did not marry, but in his old age, with the help of a nurse, he took in an orphaned child who would otherwise have been exposed. Epictetus’ teachings were collected in two volumes by his pupil Lucius Flavius Arrian: the Discourses, written about 108, of which four of eight books survive, and the Encheiridion (also called the Manual or Handbook), made up of fragments from the Discourses. Arrian explains their informal expression by saying he did not intend to write a book, but to keep notes of what he used to hear Epictetus say “word for word in the very language he used, as far as possible, to capture the directness of his speech.”

Epictetus espoused the Stoic view of the ideal condition for a human being—to be aware of, yet immune to, the bruisings of fortune—to lack all dissatisfaction with anything about the world, to be disappointed by nothing, and to achieve an impersonal point of view. Yet Epictetus also held that if you can help people adjust their desires and attitudes to more realistic levels, you can help them improve their lives. To live in accordance with virtue is to live in accordance with nature, but in giving practical advice, Epictetus clearly realized that lowered expectations were less likely to be disappointed.

A number of Stoic thinkers, especially Seneca, celebrated suicide as the act of the wise man: it was the guarantee of freedom. Epictetus stressed a component of the Stoic view that suicide ought not to be undertaken too quickly to avoid suffering, since people can live best by accepting their powerlessness over circumstances through their capacity for control of the will and by refusing to allow the vicissitudes of life, even illness, to affect them. One need not in general kill oneself to avoid the sufferings of life, and to do so without good reason would be inappropriate. Epictetus used the Platonic (and originally Pythagorean) argument that traded on the metaphor of the person as guard or sentinel, stationed by God at a post, to discourage suicide in response to painful circumstances: “Friends, wait for God, till he give the signal and dismiss you from this service; then depart to him. For the present, endure to remain at this post where he has placed you.” Strategies like analysis, delay, detachment, and so on may minimize fortune’s blows. Yet suicide is the most drastic method of escaping pain, and it can certainly be used when all else has failed: The door, to use the frequent Stoic metaphor, is always open.


Epictetus, Discourses,  Book 1, ch.  9; Book III, ch. 10; Book IV, ch. 1, tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1865), Roslyn, New York: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1944, pp. 27-28, 198-199, 281-282.


How From the Doctrine of Our Relationship to God We Are to Deduce Its Consequences

I think that your old teacher ought not to have to be working to keep you from thinking or speaking too meanly or ignobly of yourselves, but should rather be working to keep young men of spirit who, knowing their affinity to the gods and how we are, as it were, fettered by the body and its possessions, and by the many other things that thus are needful for the daily pursuits of life, from resolving to throw them all off, as troublesome and vexatious and useless, and depart to their divine kindred.

This is the work that ought to employ your master and teacher, if you had one.   You would come to him and say: “Epictetus, we can no longer bear being tied down to this poor body-feeding, and resting, and cleaning it, and vexed with so many low cares on its account. Are not these things indifferent and nothing to us and death no evil?  Are we not kindred to God; and did we not come from him?  Suffer us to go back whence we came.  Suffer us to be released at last from these fetters that bind and weigh us down. Here thieves and robbers, courts and tyrants, claim power over us, through the body and its possessions. Suffer us to show them that they have no power.”

In which case it would be my part to answer: “Friends, wait for God, till he give the signal and dismiss you from this service; then depart to him.  For the present, endure to remain at this post where he has placed you.  The time of your abode here is short and easy for men like you; for what tyrant, what thief, or what court can be formidable to those who count as nothing the body and its possessions?  Wait, do not foolishly depart.”


How We Should Bear Illness

Now is your time for a fever. Bear it well. For thirst; bear it well. For hunger; bear it well. Is it not in your power? Who shall restrain you? A physician may restrain you from drinking, but he cannot restrain you from bearing your thirst well. He may restrain you from eating, but he cannot restrain you from bearing hunger well. “But I cannot follow my studies.” And for what end do you follow them, slave? Is it not that you may think and act in conformity with nature? What restrains you, but that, in a fever, you may keep your reason in harmony with nature?

Here is the test of the matter.  Here is the trial of the philosopher; for a fever is a part of life, as is a walk, a voyage, or a journey.  Do you read when you are walking?  No, nor in a fever.  But when you walk well, you attend to what belongs to a walker; so, if you bear a fever well, you have everything belonging to one in a fever.  What is it to bear a fever well?  Not to blame either God or man, not to be afflicted at what happens, to await death bravely, and to do what is to be done.  When the physician enters, not to dread what he may say; nor, if he should tell you that you are doing well to be too much rejoiced; for what good has he told you?  When you were in health, what good did it do you?  Not to be dejected when he tells you that you are very ill; for what is it to be very ill?  To be near the separation of soul and body.  What harm is there in this, then?  If you are not near it now, will you not be near it hereafter?  What, will the world be quite overturned when you die?  Why, then, do you flatter your physician?  Why do you say, “If you please, sir, I shall do well”?  Why do you give him occasion to put on airs?  Why not give him what is his due (with regard to an insignificant body—which is not yours, but by nature mortal) as you do a shoemaker about your foot, or a carpenter about a house?  It is the season for these things, to one in a fever.  If he fulfills these, he has what belongs to him.  For it is not the business of a philosopher to take care of these mere externals—of his wine, his oil, or his body—but of his reason.  And how with regard to externals?  Not to behave inconsiderately about them.

What occasion is there, then for fear; what occasion for anger, for desire, about things that belong to others, or are of no value?  For two rules we should always have ready—that there is nothing good or evil save in the will; and that we are not to lead events, but to follow them.


Of Freedom

[Socrates] did not even deliberate about it; though he knew that, perhaps, he might die for it.  But what did that signify to him?  For it was something else that he wanted to preserve, not his flesh; but his fidelity, his honor, free from attack or subjection.  And afterwards, when he was to make a defense for his life, does he behave like one having children, or a wife?  No, but like a man alone in the world.  And how does he behave, when required to drink the poison?  When he might escape, and Crito would have him escape from prison for the sake of his children, what did he say?  Does he think it a fortune opportunity?  How should he?  But he considers what is becoming, and neither sees nor regards anything else.  “For I am not desirous,” he says, “to preserve this pitiful body; but that part which is improved and preserved by justice, and impaired and destroyed by injustice.”  Socrates is not to be basely preserved.  He who refused to vote for what the Athenians commanded; he who despised the thirty tyrants; he who held such discourses on virtue and mortal beauty—such a man is not to be preserved by a base action, but is preserved by dying, instead of running away.  For a good actor is saved when he stops when he should stop, rather than acting beyond his time.

“What then will become of your children?”  “If I had gone away into Thessaly, you would have taken care of them; and will there be no one to take care of them when I am departed to Hades?”1  You see how he ridicules and plays with death.  But if it had been you or I, we should presently have proved by philosophical arguments that those who act unjustly are to be repaid in their own way; and should have added, “If I escape I shall be of use to many; if I die, to none.”  Nay, if it had been necessary, we should have crept through a mouse hole to get away.  But how should we have been of use to anybody?  Where could we be of use?  If we were useful alive, should we not be of still more use to mankind by dying when we ought and as we ought?  And now the remembrance of the death of Socrates is not less, but even more useful to the world than that of the things which he did and said when alive.

Study these points, these principles, these discourses; contemplate these examples if you would be free, if you desire the thing in proportion to its value.  And where is the wonder that you should purchase so good a thing at the price of other things, be they never so many and so great?  Some hang themselves, others break their necks, and sometimes even whole cities have been destroyed for that which is reputed freedom; and will not you for the sake of the true and secure and inviolable freedom, repay God what he has given when he demands it?  Will you study not only, as Plato says, how to die, but how to be tortured and banished and scourged; and, in short, how to give up all that belongs to others?

If not, you will be a slave among slaves, though you were ten thousand times a consul; and even though you should rise to the palace, you will be a slave none the less.

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(c. 55-c.117)

from The Annals: The Death of Seneca


Cornelius Tacitus, born in northern Italy or southern Gaul, was a Roman political leader and historian who chronicled Roman history of the 1st century A.D.. He was educated in rhetoric in Rome for a career in law and apparently served in several positions of leadership, including quaestor, praetor, and consul. In the year 112 or 113, he held the position of proconsul, or local governor, in the Roman province of Asia. Tacitus spent the last years of his life working on his histories.

Tacitus wrote two major historical works, the Histories (104–109), arranged into 14 books, and the Annals (c. 115–117), comprised of 16 books. These compositions, of which fewer than half survive today, together provide a history of Rome from the years 14 to 96 A.D..

In the fifteenth book of the Annals, Tacitus relates the suicide of the Stoic statesman Seneca the Younger [q.v.], whose writings on suicide are also included in this volume. According to this account, Seneca was implicated in a conspiracy instigated by the plebeian Piso against the emperor Nero. Earlier in his life, Seneca had been Nero’s tutor, and later, together with Burrus, became a trusted advisor to Nero. It is said that much of the decency and moderation of the first five years of Nero’s rule may be attributed to the guidance of Seneca and Burrus. However, Nero grew envious of Seneca’s fortune and attempted to have him poisoned. After the attempt failed, Nero accused Seneca of involvement in the conspiracy and gave the imperial order that Seneca commit suicide. In Tacitus’ account, Seneca voluntarily complied with the order. He also consented to his wife Paulina’s determination to die with him, and they opened their veins together. After a prolonged period of suffering, poison was administered and eventually caused Seneca to die; Paulina’s attempt at suicide was prevented at Nero’s command once she herself was already unconscious.

Tacitus’ account conveys Seneca’s expectation that his suicide, despite the fact that it was unjustly ordered by Nero, will be viewed as an act of courage, to be rewarded with fame and glory, though less so than Paulina’s suicide. He says to her: “we will leave behind us an example of equal constancy; but the glory will be all your own.” Seneca’s death is often regarded as a model of Stoic suicide.

Tacitus,  The Annals, Book XV, 60-64, ed. E. H. Blakeney, tr. Arthur Murphy, New York: E. P. Dutton; London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1908, Vol. 1, pp. 498-502.


The next exploit of Nero was the death of Seneca Against that eminent man no proof of guilt appeared; but the emperor thirsted for his blood, and what poison had not accomplished, he was determined to finish by the sword.  Natalis was the only person who had mentioned his name. The chief head of his accusation was, “That he himself had been sent on a visit to Seneca, then confined by illness, with instructions to mention to him, that Piso often called at his house, but never could gain admittance, though it was the interest of both to live on terms of mutual friendship.” To this Seneca made answer, “That private interviews could be of no service to either; but still his happiness was grafted on the safety of Piso.” Granius Silvanus, a tribune of the prætorian guards, was dispatched to Seneca, with directions to let him know what was alleged against him, and to inquire whether he admitted the conversation stated by Natalis, with the answers given by himself. Seneca, by design or accident, was that very day on his return from Campania.  He stopped at a villa of his own about four miles from Rome. Towards the close of day the tribune arrived, and beset the house with a band of soldiers.  Seneca was at supper with his wife Pompeia Paulina, and two of his friends, when Silvanus entered the room, and reported the orders of the emperor.

Seneca did not hesitate to acknowledge that Natalis had been at his house, with a complaint that Piso’s visits were not received. His apology, he said, imported no more than want of health, the love of ease, and the necessity of attending to a weak and crazy constitution. “That he should prefer the interest of a private citizen to his own safety, was too absurd to be believed.  He had no motives to induce him to pay such a compliment to any man; adulation was no part of his character. This is a truth well known to Nero himself: he can tell you that, on various occasions, he found in Seneca a man, who spoke his mind with freedom, and disdained the arts of servile flattery.” Silvanus returned to Rome.  He found the prince in company with Poppæa and Tigellinus, who, as often as cruelty was in agitation, formed the cabinet council.  In their presence the messenger reported his answer. Nero asked, “Does Seneca prepare to end his days by a voluntary death?” “He showed,” said the tribune, “no symptom of fear, no token of sorrow, no dejected passion: his words and looks bespoke a mind serene, erect, and firm.” “Return,” said Nero, “and tell him he must resolve to die.” Silvanus, according to the account of Fabius Rusticus, chose to go back by a different road.  He went through a private way to Fenius Rufus, to advise with that officer, whether he should execute the emperor’s orders.  Rufus told him that he must obey. Such was the degenerate spirit of the times. A general panic took possession of every mind. This very Silvanus was one of the conspirators, and yet was base enough to be an instrument of the cruelty which he had combined to revenge. He had, however, the decency to avoid the shock of seeing Seneca, and of delivering in person the fatal message. He sent a centurion to perform that office for him.

Seneca heard the message with calm composure. He called for his will, and being deprived of that right of a Roman citizen by the centurion, he turned to his friends. And “You see,” he said, “that I am not at liberty to requite your services with the last marks of my esteem. One thing, however, still remains. I leave you the example of my life, the best and most precious legacy now in my power. Cherish it in your memory, and you will gain at once the applause due to virtue, and the fame of a sincere and generous friendship.” All who were present melted into tears. He endeavored to assuage their sorrows; he offered his advice with mild persuasion; he used the tone of authority. “Where,” he said, “are the precepts of philosophy, and where the words of wisdom, which for years have taught us to meet the calamities of life with firmness and a well prepared spirit? Was the cruelty of Nero unknown to any of us?  He murdered his mother; he destroyed his brother; and, after those deeds of horror, what remains to fill the measure of his guilt but the death of his guardian and his tutor?”

Having delivered himself in these pathetic terms, he directed his attention to his wife. He clasped her in his arms, and in that fond embrace yielded for a while to the tenderness of his nature. Recovering his resolution, he entreated her to appease her grief, and bear in mind that his life was spent in a constant course of honour and of virtue. That consideration would serve to heal affliction, and sweeten all her sorrows. Paulina was still inconsolable. She was determined to die with her husband; she invoked the aid of the executioners, and begged to end her wretched being. Seneca saw that she was animated by the love of glory, and that generous principle he thought ought not to be restrained. The idea of leaving a beloved object exposed to the insults of the world, and the malice of her enemies, pierced him to the quick. “It has been my care,” he said, “to instruct you in that best philosophy, the art of mitigating the ills of life; but you prefer an honourable death. I will not envy you the vast renown that must attend your fall. Since you will have it so, we will die together. We will leave behind us an example of equal constancy; but the glory will be all your own.”

These words were no sooner uttered, than the veins of both their arms were opened. At Seneca’s time of life the blood was slow and languid. The decay of nature, and the impoverishing diet to which he had used himself, left him in a feeble condition. He ordered the vessels of his legs and joints to be punctured. After that operation, he began to labour with excruciating pains. Lest his sufferings should overpower the constancy of his wife, or the sight of her afflictions prove too much for his own sensibility, he persuaded her to retire into another room. His eloquence still continued to flow with its usual purity. He called for his secretaries, and dictated, while life was ebbing away, that farewell discourse, which has been published, and is in everybody’s hands. I will not injure his last words by giving the substance in another form.

Nero had conceived no antipathy to Paulina. If she perished with her husband, he began to dread the public execration. That he might not multiply the horrors of his present cruelty, he sent orders to exempt Paulina from the stroke of death. The slaves and freedmen, by the direction of the soldiers, bound up her arm, and stopped the effusion of blood. This, it is said, was done without her knowledge, as she lay in a state of languor. The fact, however, cannot be known with certainty. Vulgar malignity, which is ever ready to detract from exalted virtue, spread a report, that, as long as she had reason to think that the rage of Nero was implacable, she had the ambition to share the glory of her husband’s fate; but a milder prospect being unexpectedly presented, the charms of life gained admission to her heart, and triumphed over her constancy. She lived a few years longer, in fond regret, to the end of her days, revering the memory of her husband. The weakness of her whole frame, and the sickly languor of her countenance, plainly showed that she had been reduced to the last extremity.

Seneca lingered in pain. The approach of death was slow, and he wished for his dissolution.  atigued with pain, worn out and exhausted, he requested his friend, Statius Annaeus, whose fidelity and medical skill he had often experienced, to administer a draught of that swift-speeding poison, usually given at Athens to the criminals adjudged to death. He swallowed the potion, but without any immediate effect. His limbs were chilled: the vessels of his body were closed, and the ingredients, though keen and subtle, could not arrest the principles of life. He desired to be placed in a warm bath.  Being conveyed according to his desire, he sprinkled his slaves with the water, and “Thus,” he said, “I make libation to Jupiter the deliverer.” The vapour soon overpowered him, and he was committed to the flames. He had given directions for that purpose in his last will, made at a time when he was in the zenith of power, and even then looked forward to the close of his days.

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(c. 50 A.D.-c. 200 A.D.)

from Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King


The Lotus Sutra, or Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, is one of the earliest Mahayana Buddhist texts and is considered to be the principal Mahayana sutra. Developing somewhat after Hinayana, the more ancient form of Buddhism that later evolved into modern Theravada, Mahayana is the second, though larger, of the two main branches of Buddhist thought. Mahayana Buddhism developed in India between the 2nd century B.C. and the 1st century A.D., and by the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries A.D. had begun to spread into China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, and Central Asia, where further schools such as Pure Land Buddhism and Zen appeared. Mahayana Buddhism is more liberal in its interpretations of the teachings of the historical Buddha than Theravada, with a more mythologized interpretation of the nature of the Buddha; it also incorporates a wider variety of practices. Its monastic communities, or sangha, can include both lay believers and monks, both of whom can seek to become bodhisattva, aspirants to bodhi who seek to reach or enlightenment, who will also help all beings achieve nirvana. Although Buddhism remains widespread in much of Asia, by the 13th century A.D., it had largely disappeared from India.

Little is known about the origin of the Lotus Sutra, also called the Lotus of the True Law, although most scholars place its composition sometime in the 1st century a.d., with its final form being reached around 200 A.D.. The earliest translation of the Lotus Sutra into Chinese was made by Dharmaraksha in 286 A.D., and it has become the most popular Buddhist text in China and Japan. It is the sole canonical text for Japanese Buddhists of the Nichiren sect.

In its fairly simple, accessible literary style, illustrated with parables and poetic images, the Lotus Sutra propounds all the major doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism and focuses on the doctrine of the “one true vehicle [or way],” Ekayana, which includes both the “greater vehicle,” Mahayana, and the “lesser vehicle,” Theravada. In a parable, the Buddha explains the nature of revelation and the way in which it is adapted to the limited faculties of not-yet-enlightened human beings, until they are ready for full revelation.

The dramatic narrative of the Lotus Sutra contains a succession of dialogues that serve to make an impression on the reader of the great wisdom, power, and eminence of the Buddha. The selection presented here centers on a discourse given by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived from c. 563–483 B.C., to a congregation of followers at a famed place called Vulture’s Peak. He is represented as an almost eternal being, omnipotent, nearly free from the cycle of birth and rebirth, though from time to time, he descends to earth and is reborn among humans, as is the case in the discourse at Vulture’s Peak. The discourse stresses the proper use of wisdom, the need for compassion, and the importance of moral living.

The section of the text presented here is a Buddhist version of the myth of the phoenix. In it, a monk, the bodhisattva Mahasattva Sarvasattvapriyadarshana, or the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, feeds himself for 12 years on the substances usually used in sacrificial rituals and then, by self-immolation, sacrifices his perfumed and anointed body to the Buddha. The Bodhisattva’s body burns for 1,200 years before he is reborn, having achieved a “heroic feat.” This is one step on his way to final extinction, having achieved Nirvana.


Lotus Sutra, ch. 23. “Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King,” tr. Burton Watson, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp, 280-289. Footnotes interpolated.


Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King

At that time bodhisattva Constellation King Flower spoke to the Buddha, Saying: “World-Honored One, how does the bodhisattva Medicine King come and go in the saha world?  World-Honored One, this bodhisattva Medicine King has carried out some hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of difficult practices, arduous practices.  Very well, World-Honored One, could I ask you to explain a little?  The heavenly beings, dragons, gods, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings, and the bodhisattvas who have come from other lands and the multitude of voice-hearers, will all be delighted to hear you.”

At that time the Buddha addressed the bodhisattva Constellation King Flower, saying: “Many kalpas in the past, immeasurable as Ganges sands, there was a Buddha named Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue Thus Come One, worthy of offerings, of right and universal knowledge, perfect clarity and conduct, well gone, understanding the world, unexcelled worthy, trainer of people, teacher of heavenly and human beings, Buddha, World-Honored One. This Buddha had eighty million great bodhisattvas and mahasattvas and a multitude of great voice-hearers equal to the sands of seventy-two Ganges. This Buddha’s life span was forty-two thousand kalpas, and the life span of the bodhisattvas was the same. In his land there were no women, hell dwellers, hungry spirits, beasts of asuras, and no kinds of tribulation. The ground was as level as the palm of a hand, made of lapis lazuli and adorned with jeweled trees.  Jeweled curtains covered it over, banners of jeweled flowers hung down, and jeweled urns and incense burners filled the land everywhere.  There were daises made of the seven treasures, with a tree by each dais, the tree situated an arrow-shot length from the dais.  These jeweled trees all had bodhisattvas and voice-hearers sitting under them, and each of the jeweled daises had hundreds of millions of heavenly beings playing on heavenly instruments and singing the praises of the Buddha as an offering.

“At that time, for the sake of the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings and the other numerous bodhisattvas and multitude of voice-hearers, the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra.  This bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings delighted in carrying out arduous practices.  In the midst of the Law preached by the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue he applied himself diligently and traveled about here and there, single-mindedly seeking Buddhahood for a period of fully twelve thousand years.  After that he was able to gain the Samadhi in which one can manifest all physical forms.  Having gained this Samadhi, his heart was filled with great joy and he thought to himself: My gaining the Samadhi in which I can manifest all physical forms is due entirely to the fact that I heard the Lotus Sutra.  I must now make an offering to the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue and to the Lotus Sutra!

“Immediately he entered the Samadhi and in the midst of the sky rained down mandarava flowers, great mandarava flowers, and finely ground, hard black particles of sandalwood; they filled the whole sky like clouds as they came raining down.  He also rained down the incense of the sandalwood that grows by the southern seashore.  Six taels of this incense is worth as mush as the saha world.  All these he used as an offering to the Buddha.

“When he had finished making this offering, he rose from his Samadhi and thought to himself: Though I have employed my supernatural powers to make this offering to the Buddha, it is not as good as making an offering of my own body.

“Thereupon he swallowed various perfumes, sandalwood, kunduruka, turushka, prikka, aloes, and liquidambar gum, and he also drank the fragrant oil of champaka and other kinds of flowers, doing this for a period of fully twelve hundred years. Anointing his body with fragrant oil, he appeared before the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue, wrapped his body in heavenly jeweled robes, poured fragrant oil over his head and, calling on his transcendental powers, set fire to his body. The glow shone forth, illuminating worlds equal in number to the sands of eighty million Ganges. The Buddhas in these worlds simultaneously spoke out in praise, saying: ‘Excellent, excellent, good man! This is true diligence. This is what is called a true Dharma offering to the Thus Come One. Though one may use flowers, incense, necklaces, incense for burning, powdered incense, paste incense, heavenly silken banners and canopies, along with the incense of the sandalwood that grows by the southern seashore, presenting offerings of all such things as these, he can never match this!  Though one may make donations of his realm and cities, his wife and children, he is no match for this!  Good man, this is called the foremost donation of all.  Among all donations, this is the most highly prized, for one is offering the Dharma to the Thus Come ones!’

“After they had spoken these words, they each one fell silent.  The body of the bodhisattva burned for twelve hundred years, and when that period of time had passed, it at last burned itself out.

“After the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings had made this Dharma offering and his life had come to an end, he was reborn in the land of the Buddha Sun Moon Pres Bright Virtue, in the household of the king Pure Virtue.  Sitting in cross-legged position, he was suddenly born by transformation, and at once for the benefit of his father he spoke in verse form, saying:

Great king, you should now understand this.
Having walked about in a certain place,
I immediately gained the Samadhi
that allows me to manifest all physical forms.
I have carried out my endeavors with great diligence
and cast aside the body that I loved.

“When he had recited this verse, he said to his father: ‘The Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue is still present at this time.  Previously I made an offering to this Buddha and gained a dharani that allows me to understand the words of all living brings.  Moreover I have heard this Lotus Sutra with its eight hundred, thousand, ten thousand, millions of nayutas, kankaras, vivaras, akshobhyas of verses.[1] Great king, I must now once more make an offering to this Buddha.’

“Having said this, he seated himself on a dais made of the seven treasures, rose up into the air to the height of seven tala trees and, proceeding to the place where the Buddha was, bowed his head to the ground in obeisance to the Buddha’s feet, put the nails of his ten fingers together and spoke this verse in praise of the Buddha:

A countenance so rare and wonderful,
Its bright beams illuminating the ten directions!
At a previous time I made an offering,
And now once more I draw near.

“At that time, after the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings had spoken this verse, he said to the Buddha: ‘World-Honored One, is the World-Honored One still present in the world?’

“At that time the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue said to the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings: ‘Good man, the time has come for my nirvana.  The time has come for extinction.  You may provide me with a comfortable couch, for tonight will be my parinirvana.’

“He also commanded the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, saying: ‘Good man, I take this Law of the Buddha and entrust it to you. In addition, the bodhisattvas and great disciples, along with the Law of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and the thousand-millionfold seven-jeweled world, with its jeweled trees and jeweled daises and heavenly beings who wait on and attend them—all these I hand over to you. I also entrust to you the relics of my body that remain after I have passed into extinction.  You must distribute them abroad and arrange for offerings to them far and wide.  You should erect many thousands of towers [to house them].’

“The Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue, having given these commands to the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, that night, in the last watch of the night, entered nirvana.

“At that time the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings, seeing the Buddha pass into extinction, was deeply grieved and distressed.  Out of his great love and longing for the Buddha he at once prepared a pyre made of sandalwood from the seashore, and with this as an offering to the Buddha’s body, he cremated the body.  After the fire had burned out, he gathered up the relics, fashioned eighty-four thousand jeweled urns, and built eighty-four thousand towers, high as the three worlds, adorned with central poles, draped with banners and canopies and hung with a multitude of jeweled bells.

“At that time the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings once more thought to himself: Though I have made these offerings, my mind is not yet satisfied.  I must make some further offering to the relics.

“Then he spoke to the other bodhisattvas and great disciples, and to the heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, and all the members of the great assembly, saying, ‘You must give your undivided attention. I will now make an offering to the relics of the Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue.’

“Having spoken these words, immediately in the presence of the eighty-four thousand towers he burned his arms, which were adorned with a hundred blessings, for a period of seventy-two thousand years as his offering.  This caused the numberless multitudes who were seeking to become voice-hearers, along with an immeasurable asamkhya of persons, to conceive a desire for anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and all of them were able to dwell in the Samadhi where one can manifest all physical forms.

“At that time the bodhisattvas, heavenly and human beings, asuras and others, seeing that the bodhisattva had destroyed his arms, were alarmed and saddened and they said: ‘This bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living beings is our teacher, instructing and converting us.  Now he has burned his arms and his body is no longer whole!’

“At that time, in the midst of the great assembly, the bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings made this vow, saying: ‘I have cast away both my arms.  I am certain to attain the golden body of a Buddha.  If this is true and not false, then may my two arms become as they were before!’

“When he had finished pronouncing this vow, his arms reappeared of themselves as they had been before.  This came about because the merits and wisdom of this bodhisattva were manifold and profound.  At that time the thousand-millionfold world shook and trembled in six different ways, heaven rained down jeweled flowers, and all the heavenly and human beings gained what they had never had before.”

The Buddha said to the bodhisattva Constellation King Flower: “What do you think?  Is this bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings someone unknown to you? He is in fact none other than the present bodhisattva Medicine King!  He cast aside his body as an offering in this fashion immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of times.

“Constellation King Flower, if there are those who have made up their minds and wish to gain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, they would do well to burn a finger or one toe of their foot as an offering to the Buddha towers.  It is better than offering one’s realm and cities, wife and children, or the mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes in the ‘lands of the thousand-millionfold world, of all their precious treasures.  Even if a person were to fill the whole thousand-million world with the seven treasures as an offering to the Buddha and the great bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas and arhats, the benefits gained by such a person cannot match those gained by accepting and upholding this Lotus Sutra, even just one four-line verse of it!  The latter brings the most numerous blessings of all.

“Constellation King Flower, among all the rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, for example, the ocean is foremost. And this Lotus Sutra is likewise, being the most profound and greatest of the sutras preached by the Thus Come Ones. Again, just as among the Dirt Mountains, Black Mountains, Small Iron Encircling Mountains, Great Iron Encircling Mountains, Ten Treasure Mountains and all the other mountains, Mount Sumeru is foremost, so this Lotus Sutra is likewise.  Among all the stars and their like, the moon, a god’s son, is foremost, so this Lotus Sutra is likewise.  For among all the thousands, ten thousands, millions of types of sutra teachings, it shines the brightest. And just as the sun, a god’s son, can banish all darkness, so too this sutra is capable of destroying the darkness of all that is not good.

“As among the petty kings the wheel-turning sage king is foremost, so this sutra is the most honored among all the many sutras. As the lord Shakra is king among the thirty-three heavenly beings, so this sutra likewise is king among all the sutras. And as the heavenly king, great Brahma, is the father if all living beings, so this sutra likewise is father of all sages, worthies, those still learning, those who have completed their learning, and those who set their minds on becoming bodhisattvas. And as among all ordinary mortals, the srotaapanna, sakridagamin, anagamin, arhats and pratyekabuddhas are foremost, so this sutra likewise is foremost among all the sutra teachings preached by all the Thus Come Ones preached by all the bodhisattvas, or preached by all the voice-hearers.  A person who can accept and uphold this sutra is likewise foremost among all living beings.  Bodhisattvas are foremost among all voice-hearers and pratyekabuddhas, and in the same way this sutra is foremost among all the sutra teachings.  As the Buddha is king of the doctrines, so likewise this sutra is king of the sutras.

“Constellation King Flower, this sutra can save all living beings. This sutra can cause all living beings to free themselves from suffering and aguish. This sutra can bring great benefits to all living beings and fulfill their desires, as a clear cool pond can satisfy all those who are thirsty. It is like a fire to one who is cold, a robe to one who is naked, like a band of merchants finding a leader, a child finding its mother, someone finding a ship in which to cross the water, a sick man finding a doctor, someone in darkness finding a lamp, the poor finding riches, the people finding a ruler, a traveling merchant finding his way to the sea.  It is like a torch that banishes darkness. Such is this Lotus Sutra. It can cause living beings to cast off all distress, all sickness and pain.  It can unloose all the bonds of birth and death.

“If a person is able to hear this Lotus Sutra, if he copies it himself or causes others to copy it, the benefits he gains thereby will be such that even the Buddha wisdom could never finish calculating their extent.  If one copies these sutra rolls and uses flowers, incense, necklaces, incense for burning, powdered incense, paste incense, banners, canopies, robes, various kinds of lamps such as lamps of butter oil, oil lamps, lamps with various fragrant oils, lamps of champaka oil, lamps of sumana oil, Lamps of patala oil, lamps of varshika oil, or lamps of navamalika oil to make offerings to them, the benefits that he acquires will likewise be immeasurable.

“Constellation King Flower, if there is a person who hears this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, he too will gain immeasurable and boundless benefits.  If there is a woman who hears this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King and is able to accept and uphold it, that will be her last appearance in a woman’s body and she will never be born in that form again.

“If in the last five hundred year period after the Thus Come One has entered extinction there is a woman who hears this sutra and carries out its practices as the sutra directs, when her life here on earth comes to an end she will immediately go to the world of Peace and Delight where the Buddha Amitayus dwells surrounded by the assembly of great bodhisattvas and there will be born seated on a jeweled seat in the center of a lotus blossom. He [2] will no longer know the torments of greed, desire, anger, rage, stupidity of ignorance, or the torments brought about by arrogance, envy or other defilements. He will gain the bodhisattva’s transcendental powers and the truth of the birthlessness of all phenomena.  Having gained this truth, his faculty of sight will be clear and pure, and with this clear pure faculty of sight he will see Buddhas and Thus Come Ones equal in number to the sands of seven hundred twelve thousand million nayutas of Ganges.

“At that time Buddhas will join in praising him from afar, saying: ‘Excellent, excellent, good man!  In the midst of the Law of Shakyamuni Buddha you have been able to accept, uphold, read, recite and ponder this sutra and to preach it for others.  The good fortune you gain thereby is immeasurable and boundless.  It cannot be burned by fire or washed away by water.  Your benefits are such that a thousand Buddhas speaking all together could never finish describing them.  Now you have been able to destroy all devils and thieves, to annihilate the army of birth and death, and all others who bore you enmity of malice have likewise been wiped out.

“’Good man, a hundred, a thousand Buddhas will employ their transcendental powers to join in guarding and protection you. Among the heavenly and human beings of all the worlds, there will be no one like you. With the sole exception of the Thus Come One, there will be none among the voice-hearers, pratyekabuddhas of bodhisattvas whose wisdom and ability in meditation can equal yours!’

“Constellation King Flower, such will be the benefits and the power of wisdom successfully acquired by this bodhisattva.

“If there is a person who, hearing this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, is able to welcome it with joy and praise its excellence, then in this present existence this person’s mouth will constantly emit the fragrance of the blue lotus flower, and the pores of his body will constantly emit the fragrance of ox-head sandalwood.  His benefits will be such as have been described above.

“For this reason, Constellation King Flower, I entrust this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King to you.  After I have passed into extinction, in the last five hundred year period you must spread it abroad widely throughout Jambudvipa and never allow it to be cut off, nor must you allow evil devils, the devils’ people, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas of kumbhanda demons to seize the advantage!

“Constellation King Flower, you must use your transcendental powers to guard and protect this sutra.  Why?  Because this sutra provides good medicine for the ills of the people of Jambudvipa.  If a person who has an illness is able to hear this sutra, then his illness will be wiped out and he will know neither old age or death.

“Constellation King Flower, if you see someone who accepts and upholds this sutra, you must take blue lotus blossoms, heap them with powdered incense, and scatter them over him as an offering.  And when you have scattered them, you should think to yourself: Before long this person will pick grasses, spread them as a seat in the place of practice, and conquer the armies of the devil.  Then he will sound the conch of the Law, beat the drum of the great Law, and free all living beings from the sea of old age, sickness, and death!

“For this reason when those who seek the Buddha way see someone who accepts and upholds this sutra, they should approach him with this kind of respect and reverence.”

When [the Buddha] preached this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, eighty-four thousand bodhisattvas gained the dharani that allows them to understand the words of all living beings.  Many Treasures Thus Come One in the midst of his treasure tower praised the bodhisattva Constellation King Flower, Saying: “Excellent, excellent, Constellation King Flower.  You succeeded in acquiring inconceivable benefits and thus were able to question Shakyamuni Buddha about this matter, profiting immeasurable numbers of living beings.”

  1. Kaṅkara, vivara, and aksobhya are all extremely large numerical units.
  2. As the text makes clear later on, the woman has been reborn in male form.

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(c. 50 A.D.-c. 200 A.D.)

from Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King

Filed under Ancient History, Asia, Buddhism, Lotus Sutra, Selections

(c. 50-c. 125)

Matthew: The Death of Jesus and the    Suicide of Judas
Acts: Paul Prevents a Suicide
I Corinthians: The Body as Temple
Philippians: Paul in Prison: On the    Desire to Die


In addition to the texts of the Hebrew Bible [q.v.], known to Christians as the Old Testament, the Christian Bible also includes the books and letters known as the New Testament. These texts are accounts of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 8–4 B.C. to c. 30–36 A.D.) by his immediate disciples and subsequent followers, expressions of their faith in his divine and human nature as Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God, as well as their understandings of the history of their tradition and God’s purpose for the world. Preserved in koine, the Greek dialect common to the eastern Mediterranean regions, these 27 texts include the four gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the historical book of Acts, the letters by and attributed to Paul, letters from disciples, and the Apocalypse (Revelations) attributed to John. These texts from the 1st and possibly 2nd century A.D. form the scriptures distinctive to Christianity, a new religion arising from Judaism that would distinguish itself from both Judaism and the Roman state religion, and within a few hundred years, would itself become the dominant religion in the West. The effort to compile a single, coherent collection of the authoritative early writings of this new religion began sometime during the last decades of the 2nd century, and it was not until the second half of the 4th century that the New Testament reached its settled, final shape.

The texts presented here—from Matthew, Acts, I Corinthians, and Philippians—are placed in the order in which they occur in the canonical New Testament, though this does not reflect their dates of composition. The earliest, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, was written sometime between 50 and 60 A.D., before he was imprisoned in Rome for the first time. Paul’s first extant letter to the church at Corinth, I Corinthians, was written from Ephesus sometime around Easter, probably in the year 55, during one of his many missionary journeys. The Gospel of Matthew was composed between 80 and 90, and Acts, a history of the early church by the author of the gospel attributed to Luke, has been dated as early as 60 and as late as 125.

The text presented here from Matthew describes the only suicide reported in the canonical gospels, that of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Judas had betrayed Jesus to the Roman authorities, a betrayal that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Although a different version of Judas’s death, not involving suicide, can be found in Acts 1:18–20, the account in Matthew interprets Judas’s self-hanging as a suicide of remorse. Some later commentators have seen Judas’s suicide as an act of ultimate atonement for the sin of betrayal, although by the High Middle Ages, Judas’s suicide was often seen as a greater sin than the betrayal itself. Acts also contains an account of the jailor in Philippi who, responsible for keeping Paul and Silas under close guard, attempts suicide when he believes they have escaped; it is Paul who prevents the jailor’s suicide.

Paul’s letters address many questions about church discipline and practice, questions of morality, and fundamental Christian doctrine. The passage from I Corinthians provides part  of the theological basis for the Christian prohibition of suicide: the view that the body is the  “temple of God,” the place where the soul dwells, the site of the fusion between spirit and flesh that is the human person. Suicide is wrong in part because it destroys the body that is the seat of the soul.

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians provides indirect insight into Christian attitudes about  suicide. As many later writers (e.g., Angela of Foligno [q.v.]) also do, Paul describes his ambivalence about death: he desires to “depart and be with Christ,” and he sees death and the afterlife it promises as “a gain”; but he also recognizes reasons for remaining in the body, reasons that persuade him that it is better not to end his life. This tension between the desire to die and the obligation to live remains of continuing concern in the Christian view of suicide throughout its later history.


The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, eds. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 1299-1301, 1414-1415, 1450, 1488.


Jesus then came with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there to pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. Distress and anguish overwhelmed him, and he said to them, ‘My heart is ready to break with grief.  Stop here, and stay awake with me.’ Then he went on a little farther, threw himself down, and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Yet not my will but yours.’

He came back to the disciples and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, ‘What! Could none of you stay awake with me for one hour?  Stay awake, and pray that you may be spared the test.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’

He went away a second time and prayed: ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done.’  He came again and found them asleep, for their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away again and prayed a third time, using the same words as before.

Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Still asleep?  Still resting?  The hour has come!  The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Up, let us go!  The traitor is upon us.’

He was still speaking when Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared, and with him a great crowd armed with swords and cudgels, sent by the chief priests and the elders of the nation.  The traitor had given them this sign: ‘The one I kiss is your man; seize him.’  Going straight up to Jesus, he said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed him.  Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’  Then they came forward, seized Jesus, and held him fast.

At that moment one of those with Jesus reached for his sword and drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear.  But Jesus said to him, ‘Put up your sword.  All who take the sword die by the sword.  Do you suppose that I cannot appeal for help to my Father, and at once be sent more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say that this must happen?’

Then Jesus spoke to the crowd: ‘Do you take me for a bandit, that you have come out with swords and cudgels to arrest me?  Day after day I sat teaching in the temple, and you did not lay hands on me.  But this has all happened to fulfil what the prophets wrote.’

Then the disciples all deserted him and ran away.

Jesus was led away under arrest to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and elders were assembled.  Peter followed him at a distance till he came to the high priest’s courtyard; he went in and sat down among the attendants, to see how it would all end.

The chief priests and the whole council tried to find some allegation against Jesus that would warrant a death sentence; but they failed to find one, though many came forward with false evidence.  Finally two men alleged that he had said, ‘I can pull down the temple of God, and rebuild it in three days.’  At this the high priest rose and said to him, ‘Have you no answer to the accusations that these witnesses bring against you?’  But Jesus remained silent.  The high priest then said, ‘By the living God I charge you to tell us: are you the Messiah, the Son of God?’  Jesus replied, ‘The words are yours.  But I tell you this: from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven.’  At these words the high priest tore his robes and exclaimed, ‘This is blasphemy!  Do we need further witnesses?  You have just heard the blasphemy.  What is your verdict!’  ‘He is guilty,’ they answered; ‘he should die.’

Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists; some said, as they beat him, ‘Now, Messiah, if you are a prophet, tell us who hit you.’

Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard when a servant-girl accosted him; ‘You were with Jesus the Galilean,’ she said.  Peter denied it in front of them all.  ‘I do not know what you are talking about,’ he said.  He then went out to the gateway, where another girl, seeing him, said to the people there, ‘He was with Jesus of Nazareth.’  Once again he denied it, saying with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’  Shortly afterwards the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘You must be one of them; your accent gives you away!’  At this he started to curse and declared with an oath: ‘I do not know the man.’  At that moment a cock crowed; and Peter remembered how Jesus had said, ‘Before the cock crows you will disown me three times,’ And he went outside, and wept bitterly.

When morning came, the chief priests and the elders of the nation all met together to plan the death of Jesus.  They bound him and led him away, to hand him over to Pilate, the Roman governor.

When Judas the traitor saw that Jesus had been condemned, he was seized with remorse, and returned the thirty silver pieces to the chief priests and elders.  ‘I have sinned,’ he said; ‘I have brought an innocent man to his death.’  But they said, ‘What is that to us?  It is your concern.’  So he threw the money down in the temple and left; he went away and hanged himself.

Acts 16: 16-34: Paul Prevents a Suicide

Once, on our way to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who was possessed by a spirit of divination and brought large profits to her owners by telling fortunes.  She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, and are declaring to you a way of salvation.’  She did this day after day, until, in exasperation, Paul rounded on the spirit.  ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her,’ he said, and it came out instantly.

When the girl’s owners saw that their hope of profit had gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the city authorities in the main square; bringing them before the magistrates, they alleged, ‘These men are causing a disturbance in our city; they are Jews, and they are advocating practices which it is illegal for us Romans to adopt and follow.’  The mob joined in the attack; and the magistrates had the prisoners stripped and gave orders for them to be flogged.  After a severe beating they were flung into prison and the jailer was ordered to keep them under close guard.  In view of these orders, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas, at their prayers, were singing praises to God, and the other prisoners were listening, when suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken; the doors burst open and all the prisoners found their fetters unfastened.  The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open and, assuming that the prisoners had escaped, drew his sword intending to kill himself.  But Paul shouted, ‘Do yourself no harm; we are all here.’  The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and threw himself down before Paul and Silas, trembling with fear.  He then escorted them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They answered, ‘Put your trust in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,’ and they imparted the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house.  At that late hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds, and there and then he and his whole family were baptized.  He brought them up into his house, set out a meal, and rejoiced with his whole household in his new-found faith in God.

1 Corinthians 3: 9-17: The Body as Temple

Or again, you are God’s building.  God gave me the privilege of laying the foundation like a skilled master builder; others put up the building.  Let each take care how he builds.  There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself.  If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones, or with wood, hay, and straw, the work that each does will at last be brought to light; the day of judgement will expose it.  For that day dawns in fire, and the fire will test the worth of each person’s work.  If anyone’s building survives, he will be rewarded; if it burns down, he will have to bear the loss; yet he will escape with his life, though only by passing through the fire.  Surely you know that you are God’s temple, where the Spirit of God dwells.  Anyone who destroys God’s temple will himself be destroyed by God, because the temple of God is holy; and you are that temple.

Philippians 1: 12-26: Paul in Prison: On the Desire to Die

My friends, I want you to understand that the progress of the gospel has actually been helped by what has happened to me.  It has become common knowledge throughout the imperial guard, and indeed among the public at large, that my imprisonment is in Christ’s cause; and my being in prison has given most of our fellow-Christians confidence to speak the word of God fearlessly and with extraordinary courage.

Some, it is true, proclaim Christ in a jealous and quarrelsome spirit, but some do it in goodwill.  These are moved by love, knowing that it is to defend the gospel that I am where I am; the others are moved by selfish ambition and present Christ from mixed motives, meaning to cause me distress as I lie in prison.  What does it matter?  One way or another, whether sincerely or not, Christ is proclaimed; and for that I rejoice.

Yes, and I shall go on rejoicing; for I know well that the issue will be my deliverance, because you are praying for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is given me for support.  It is my confident hope that nothing will daunt me or prevent me from speaking boldly; and that now as always Christ will display his greatness in me, whether the verdict be life or death.  For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body there is fruitful work for me to do.  Which then am I to choose?  I cannot tell.  I am pulled two ways: my own desire is to depart and be with Christ—that is better by far; but for your sake the greater need is for me to remain in the body.  This convinces me: I am sure I shall remain, and stand by you all to ensure your progress and joy in the faith, so that on my account you may have even more cause for pride in Christ Jesus—through seeing me restored to you.

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Filed under Ancient History, Christianity, Middle East, New Testament, Selections

(c. 46-c. 120)

Moralia: The Women of Miletus
Parallel Lives: Cato the Younger


Plutarch, Greek biographer and essayist, sometimes called the founder of modern biography, chronicled the lives of many of the great and celebrated Greeks and Romans. Born in Chaeronea in Boeotia, Plutarch was educated in Athens and traveled widely. He was the author of some 227 works, including the Moralia, a collection of didactic essays and dialogues on a wide range of topics, and the Parallel Lives, biographies and character studies of soldiers and statesmen among the Greeks and Romans, most in pairs, from the legendary age of Theseus and Romulus down to his own time. Plutarch’s philosophical thinking can be described as an eclectic Platonism, with elements borrowed from many other philosophical traditions. For at least 20 years, Plutarch served as a priest at the temple at Delphi; later in life, he returned to Chaeronea and served as a city official.

Included in Plutarch’s Moralia is the collection of stories, Mulierum Virtutes, known as On the Virtues of Women or The Bravery of Women, that Plutarch composed for his friend Clea, who held high office among the priestesses at Delphi where he himself was a priest. In it, Plutarch relates an epidemic of suicide (said to have occurred in 277 B.C.) among the young women of Miletus, presumably girls around the age of puberty when they were about to be married. The story is repeated by many other classical authors, including Aulus Gellius, who attributes it to another work of Plutarch’s, now lost, called On the Soul. Although the measure may be a later addition, the story is well known for its account of an effective deterrent to suicide: public shame.

In the Lives, Plutarch chronicles the suicide of the Roman statesman Marcus Portius Cato, known as Cato the Younger (95–46 B.C.), during the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. As a leader, Cato developed a reputation for honesty, frugality, and personal integrity, and had gained considerable influence among the Roman people; he was considered a potential political threat by the First Triumvirate (Caesar, Pompey, and Marcus Crassus), who sent him to Sicily for two years to try to remove him from politics. Cato sided with Pompey during the civil war in 49 B.C.; he tried to defend Sicily and in the end maintained a hopeless defense against Caesar in the North African city of Utica, near modern Tunis. As Caesar was about to take the city, Cato committed suicide by falling on his sword—though the act proved initially ineffective and the wound was sewn closed by a physician; it was not until he awoke and ripped open the wound that he died.

In this biography of Cato, Plutarch represents him as motivated by two principal reasons,  both consonant with Stoic thinking (though Plutarch himself was generally opposed to Stoicism): Cato considers suicide an act of self-control and personal freedom, a way of avoiding the indignity he would suffer at Caesar’s hand; he also sees his suicide as a way of showing the Roman people that they never need to succumb to slavery, even in defeat. This does not mean, however, that Cato urged suicide upon his people too; rather, he remained behind after they sailed as a model of principled resistance. Plutarch’s account also stresses the resoluteness of purpose that he sees as characterizing Cato’s suicide, including Cato’s allowing his family to understand his intentions, his reading of Plato’s Phaedo (twice), his resistance to his son’s paternalism in hiding the sword, and his determination to complete the deed even after its initial failure. Following the suicide, the people of Utica honored Cato, and his reputation for incorruptibility became legendary.

Plutarch’s accounts have had considerable later influence. Shakespeare [q.v.] followed the Lives, which had first been translated into English in 1579, closely in his Roman history plays, sometimes borrowing passages from Plutarch with only minor changes; Plutarch’s work had considerable influence on Shakespeare’s conception of the tragic hero that is evident, for example, in Antony and Cleopatra. And while some later commentators have depicted Cato’s suicide as immoral, many have used it as an example par excellence of courage; even Immanuel Kant [q.v.], in his Lectures on Ethics, says that “appearances are in its favor,” though he hastens to say that it is “the only example which has given the world the opportunity of defending suicide.”


Plutarch’s Moralia: “Bravery of Women,” XI, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, Loeb Classical Library, London: William Heinemann, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949, p. 509; Plutarch’s Lives: “Cato the Younger,” LXVIII-LXXIII, tr. Bernadotte Perrin, Loeb Classical Library: London: William Heinemann, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919, vol. 8, odd-numbered pp. 401-409.


Once upon a time a dire and strange trouble took possession of the young women in Miletus for some unknown cause. The most popular conjecture was that the air had acquired a distracting and infectious constitution, and that this operated to produce in them an alteration and derangement of mind. At any rate, a yearning for death and an insane impulse toward hanging suddenly fell upon all of them, and many managed to steal away and hang themselves. Arguments and tears of parents and comforting words of friends availed nothing, but they circumvented every device and cunning effort of their watchers in making away with themselves. The malady seemed to be of divine origin and beyond human help, until, on the advice of a man of sense, an ordinance was proposed that the women who hanged themselves should be carried naked through the market-place to their burial. And when this ordinance was passed it not only checked, but stopped completely, the young women from killing themselves. Plainly a high testimony to natural goodness and to virtue is the desire to guard against ill repute, and the fact that the women who had no deterrent sense of shame when facing the most terrible of all things in the world, death and pain, yet could not abide nor bear the thought of disgrace which would come after death.



Thus the supper came to an end, and after walking about with his friends as he usually did after supper, he gave the officers of the watch the proper orders, and then retired to his chamber, but not until he had embraced his son and each of his friends with more than his wonted kindness, and thus awakened anew their suspicions of what was to come. After entering his chamber and lying down, he took up Plato’s dialogue “On the Soul,” and when he had gone through the greater part of the treatise, he looked up above his head, and not seeing his sword hanging there (for his son had taken it away while Cato was still at supper), called a servant and asked him who had taken the weapon. The servant made no answer, and Cato returned to his book; and a little while after, as if in no haste of hurry, but merely looking for his sword, he bade the servant fetch it.  But as there was some delay, and no one brought the weapon, he finished reading his book, and this time called his servants one by one and in louder tones demanded his sword.  One of them he smote on the mouth with his fist, and bruised his own hand, angrily crying now in loud tones that his son and his servants were betraying him into the hands of the enemy without arms. At last his son ran in weeping, together with his friends, and after embracing him, betook himself to lamentations and entreaties.  But Cato, rising to his feet, took on a solemn look, and said: “When and where, without my knowledge, have I been adjudged a madman, that no one instructs or tries to convert me in matters wherein I am thought to have made bad decisions, but I am prevented from using my own judgement, and have my arms taken from me?  Why, generous boy, dost thou not also tie thy father’s hands behind his back, that Caesar may find me unable to defend myself when he comes?  Surely, to kill myself I have no need of a sword, when I have only to hold my breath a little while, or dash my head against the wall, and death will come.”

As Cato said these words the young man went out sobbing, and all the rest also, except Demetrius and Apollonides. These alone remained, and with these Cato began to talk, now in greater tones. “I suppose,” said he, “that ye also have decided to detain in life by force a man as old as I am, and to sit by him in silence and keep watch of him: or are ye come with the plea that it is neither shameful nor dreadful for Cato, when he has no other way of salvation, to await salvation at the hands of his enemy?  Why, then, do ye not speak persuasively and convert me to this doctrine, that we may cast away those good old opinions and arguments which have been part of our very lives, be made wiser through Caesar’s efforts, and therefore be more grateful to him?  And yet I, certainly, have come to no resolve, I must be master of the course which I decide to take.  And I shall come to a resolve with your aid, as I might say, since I shall reach it with the aid of those doctrines which ye also adopt as philosophers. So go away with a good courage, and bid my son not to try force with his father when he cannot persuade him.”

Without making any reply to this, but bursting into tears, Demetrius and Apollonides slowly withdrew. Then the sword was sent in, carried by a little child, and Cato took it, drew it from its sheath, and examined it. And when he saw that its point was keen and its edge still sharp, he said: “Now I am my own master.” Then he laid down the sword and resumed his book, and he is said to have read it through twice.  Afterwards he fell into so deep a sleep that those outside the chamber heard him. But about midnight he called two of his freedmen, Cleanthes the physician, and Butas, who was his chief agent in public matters. Butas he sent down to the sea, to find out whether all had set sail successfully, and bring him word; while to the physician he gave his hand to bandage, since it was inflamed by the blow that he had given the slave.  This made everybody more cheerful, since they thought he had a mind to live.  In a little while Butas came with tidings that all had set sail except Crassus, who was detained by some business or other, and he too was on the point of embarking; Butas reported also that a heavy storm and a high wind prevailed at sea.  On hearing this, Cato groaned with pity for those in peril on the sea, and sent Butas down again, to find out whether anyone had been driven back by the storm and wanted any necessaries, and to report to him.

And now the birds were already beginning to sing, when he fell asleep again for a little while. And when Butas came and told him that the harbours were very quiet, he ordered him to close the door, throwing himself down upon his couch as if he were going to rest there for what still remained of the night.  But when Butas had gone out, Cato drew his sword from its sheath and stabbed himself below the breast.  His thrust, however, was somewhat feeble, owing to the inflammation in his hand, but in his death struggle fell from the couch and made a loud noise by overturning a geometrical abacus that stood near.  His servants heard the noise and cried out, and his son at once ran in, together with his friends.  They saw that he was smeared with blood, and that most of his bowels were protruding, but that he still had his eyes open and was alive; and they were terribly shocked.  But the physician went to him and tried to replace his bowels, which remained uninjured, and to sew up the wound.  Accordingly, when Cato recovered and became aware of this, he pushed the physician away, tore his bowels with his hands, rent the wound still more, and so died.

Before one would have thought that all in the house could learn of the event, the three hundred were at the door, and a little later the people of Utica had assembled.  With one voice they called Cato their saviour and benefactor, the only man who was free, the only one unvanquished.  And this they continued to do even when word was brought that Caesar was approaching.  But neither fear of the conqueror, nor a desire to flatter him, nor their mutual strife and dissension, could blunt their desire to honour Cato.  They decked his body in splendid fashion, gave it an illustrious escort, and buried it near the sea, where a statue of him now stands, sword in hand.  Then they turned their thoughts to their own salvation and that of their city.

When Caesar learned from people who came to him that Cato was remaining in Utica and not trying to escape, but that he was sending off the rest, while he himself, his companions, and his son, were fearlessly going up and down, he thought it difficult to discern the purpose of the man, but since he made the greatest account of him, he came on with his army in all haste. When, however, he heard of his death, he said thus much only, as we are told: “O Cato, I begrudge thee thy death; for thou didst begrudge me the sparing of thy life.” For, in reality, if Cato could have consented to have his life spared by Caesar, he would not be thought to have defiled his own fair fame, but rather to have adorned that of Caesar.  However, what would have happened is uncertain; though the milder course is to be conjectured on the part of Caesar.

When Cato died, he was forty-eight years old.

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Filed under Ancient History, Europe, Plutarch, Selections

(37-c. 100)

from The Jewish War
   The Defeat at Jotapata
   The Fall of Masada


Originally born Joseph ben Matthias in Jerusalem, Titus Flavius Josephus was a Jewish military commander and then historian. He was of priestly and royal descent, educated in both Hebrew and Greek literature. At age 16, he went into the desert, staying with the hermit Bannus; after this, he joined the Pharisees, and in 66 A.D., he reluctantly (or so he claims) took part in the Jewish revolt against Rome. After the Roman siege of Jotapata, Josephus, who as governor of Galilee led its defense, was captured and imprisoned in a Roman camp. He was later freed by the emperor Vespasian and became a Roman citizen. Adopting the Vespasian family name of Flavius, Josephus endeavored to act as a mediator between the Romans and the Jews during the assault on Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70. His attempts at mediation were unsuccessful, as he was distrusted by both the Jews as a traitor and the Romans for being a Jew. Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed by the Roman legions. Josephus returned to Rome where, with imperial patronage, he dedicated himself to writing until his death, sometime between 93 and 100 A.D..

Josephus wrote several works including the Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94; a history of the Jewish people from the Creation to 66 A.D., in 20 books), an Autobiography (c. 99), and Against Apion (c. 97; a defense of the Jewish people and their religion), but he is perhaps best known for his historical account of the Jewish revolt against Rome, The Jewish War (75–79). Much of the account of the revolt is taken from Josephus’ firsthand experiences. The influence of his Hebrew and Greek education, and of his Greek assistants, is also evident in its pages. Perhaps in an effort to defend himself against charges of treason, Josephus paints the Jews as their own worst enemies for being unwilling to bow to Roman might. While Josephus’ historical writings suffer from inaccuracy and frequent exaggeration, and while the details of matters affecting himself, as in the accounts of suicide presented here, may be particularly unreliable—probably at least in part a fabrication designed to please his Roman masters—they nevertheless provide a direct look at the relationship between the Jews and the secular Roman world.

The first of the two selections from The Jewish War is an account of the siege of the fortress of Jotapata. Josephus, the military leader at the fortress, successfully held off a Roman assault for 47 days, but the city fell to Vespasian on July 20, 67. Josephus hid for safety in a cave with 40 other Jews. When discovered by the Romans three days later, Josephus was on the point of surrendering, but his companions urged him to die rather than do so: “we will lend you a right hand and a sword.” Josephus tried to persuade them of the wrongness of suicide; his discourse is presented here, replete with Greek arguments against suicide. He alludes to the Athenian law that the hand of a suicide was to be cut off and buried separately and to a variation of the Pythagorean argument used by Plato that man is the property of God and should not “fly from the best of masters.” He also anticipates a natural-law argument later used by Thomas Aquinas that everything seeks to keep itself in being. Nevertheless, Josephus’ companions insisted on death. Josephus quickly devised a plan whereby each surrendered his throat to one before him, and Josephus, one of the last two in line, escaped.

The second selection is Josephus’ account of the siege of the fortress of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the fortress—built in a seemingly impregnable position at the top of a massive rock promontory on the western shore of the Dead Sea—became one of the last outposts for the Jewish nationalists known as the Zealots. On May 2, 73, during a major offensive by the Roman army, 960 Zealot revolutionaries under the command of Eleazar chose to commit mass suicide rather than to yield to the Roman attack. Eleazar’s arguments favoring suicide are counterparts to those Josephus had used against it: voluntary death gives liberty to the soul; it preserves honor and protects the pride of the Jewish nation; it spares one’s family and oneself from slavery and torture if captured. Incited by Eleazar, each husband killed his wife and children and was then killed by the next man in line; the last man willingly killed himself. Only two women and five children, hiding in the underground aqueducts, survived to tell the tale.


Josephus, The Jewish War, tr. H. St. J. Thackeray, London: William Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927,  Vol. 2 (I-III), 1927;  Vol. 3 (IV-V), 1928, odd-numbered pp. Vol. 2, 665-689, Vol. 3, 591-619. Book III: The Defeat at Jotapata; Book VII: The Fall of Masada.


The Defeat at Jotapata

Meanwhile the defenders of Jotapata were still holding out and beyond all expectation bearing up under their miseries, when on the forty-seventh day of the siege the earthworks of the Romans overtopped the wall. That same day a deserter reported to Vespasian the reduced numbers and strength of the defence, and that, worn out with perpetual watching and continuous fighting, they would be unable longer to resist a vigorous assault and might be taken by stratagem, if the attempt were made. He stated that about the last watch of the night-• an hour when they expected some respite from their sufferings and when jaded men easily succumb to morning slumber -the sentinels used to drop asleep; and that was the hour when he advised the Romans to attack. Vespasian, knowing the Jews’ loyalty to each other and their indifference to chastisement, regarded the deserter with suspicion. For on a former occasion a man of Jotapata who .had been taken prisoner had held out under every variety of torture, and, without betraying to the enemy a word about the state of the town, even under the ordeal of fire, was finally crucified, meeting death with a smile. However, the probability of his account lent credit to the traitor; and so, thinking that the man might be speaking the truth, and that, even if his story were a trap, no serious risk would be run by acting upon it, Vespasian ordered him into custody and made ready his army for the capture of the city.

At the hour named they advanced in silence to the walls. The first to mount them was Titus, with one of the tribunes, Domitius Sabinus, followed by a few men of the fifteenth legion. They cut down the sentries and entered the city.  Behind them came Sextus Calvarius, a tribune and Placidus, with the troops under their command. The citadel had actually been taken, the enemy was ranging through the heart of the town, and it was now broad daylight, before the vanquished ‘inhabitants were aware of the capture. Most of them were worn out with fatigue and asleep, and if any awoke, a thick mist, which happened at the time to envelop the city, obscured their vision. At length, when the whole army had poured in, they started up, but only to realize their calamity; the blade at their throat brought home to them that Jotapata was taken.

The Romans, remembering what they had borne during the siege, showed no quarter or pity for any, but thrust the people down the steep slope from the citadel in a general massacre. Even those still able to fight here found themselves deprived of the means of defence by the difficulties of the ground: crushed in the narrow alleys and slipping down the declivity, they were engulfed in ‘ the wave of carnage that streamed from the citadel. The situation even drove many of Josephus’s picked’ men to suicide; seeing themselves powerless to kill a single Roman, they could at least forestall death at Roman hands, and, retiring in a body to the outskirts of the town, they there put an end to themselves .

Those soldiers of the guard who, the moment it was known that the town was taken, had succeeded in escaping, took refuge in one of the northern towers, where for some time they held their own; but, being surrounded by large numbers of the enemy, they at length surrendered and cheerfully extended their throats to their assailants. The Romans might have boasted that this last phase of the siege had cost them no loss of life, had not one of them, the centurion Antonius, fallen when the town was captured. He was killed by treachery. One of the many fugitives who had taken refuge in the caverns besought Antonius to extend his hand to him, as a pledge of protection and to assist him to rise; the centurion incautiously complied, whereupon the Jew from below instantly stabbed him with his spear beneath the groin, and killed him on the spot.

On that day the Romans massacred all who showed themselves; on the ensuing days they searched the hiding-places and wreaked their vengeance on those who had sought refuge in subterranean vaults and caverns, sparing none, whatever their age, save infants and women. The prisoners thus collected were twelve hundred; the total number of the dead, whether killed in the final assault or in the previous combats, was computed at forty thousand. Vespasian ordered the city to be razed and had all its forts burnt to the ground. Thus was Jotapata taken in the thirteenth year of the principate of Nero, on the new moon of Panemus.

A search for Josephus was then instituted by the Romans, to satisfy both their own resentment and the keen desire of their general, who considered that the issue of the war depended largely on his capture. So the bodies of the slain and the men in hiding were closely examined. But Josephus, when the city was on the point of being taken, aided by some divine providence, had succeeded in stealing away from the midst of the enemy and plunged into a deep pit, giving access on one side to a broad cavern, invisible to those above. There he found forty persons of distinction in hiding, with a supply of provisions sufficient to last for a considerable time. During the day he lay hid, as the enemy were in occupation of every quarter of the town, but at night he would come up and look for some loophole for escape and reconnoitre the sentries; but, finding every spot guarded on his account and no means of eluding detection, he descended again into the cave. So for two days he continued in hiding. On the third, his secret was betrayed by a woman of the party, who was captured; whereupon Vespasian at once eagerly sent two tribunes, Paulinus and Gallicanus, with orders to offer Josephus security and to urge him to come up.

On reaching the spot they pressed him to do so and pledged themselves for his safety, but failed to persuade him. His suspicions were based not on the humane character of the envoys, but on the consciousness of all he had done and the feeling that he must suffer proportionately. The presentiment that he was being summoned to punishment persisted, until Vespasian sent a third messenger, the tribune Nicanor, an old acquaintance .and friend of Josephus. He, on his arrival, dwelt on the innate generosity of the Romans to those whom they had once subdued; assuring him that his valour made him an object rather of admiration, than of hatred, to the commanding officers, and that the general was anxious to bring him up from his retreat, not for punishment – that he could inflict though he refused to come forth – but from a desire to save a brave man. He added that Vespasian, had he intended to entrap him, would never have sent him one of his friends, thus using the fairest of virtues, friendship, as a cloak for the foulest of crimes, perfidy; nor would he himself have consented to come in order to deceive a friend.

While Josephus was still hesitating, even after Nicanor’s assurances, the soldiers in their rage attempted to set fire to the cave, but were restrained by their commander, who was anxious to take the Jewish general alive. But as Nicanor was urgently pressing his proposals and Josephus overheard the threats of the hostile crowd, suddenly there came back into his mind those nightly dreams, in which God had foretold to him the impending fate of the Jews and the destinies of the Roman sovereigns. He was an interpreter of dreams and skilled in divining the meaning of ambiguous utterances of the Deity; a priest himself arid of priestly descent, he was not ignorant of the prophecies in the sacred books. At that hour he was inspired to read their meaning, and recalling the .dreadful images of his recent dreams, he offered up a silent prayer to God. “Since it pleases thee,” so it ran, “who didst create the Jewish nation, to break thy work, since fortune has wholly passed to the Romans, and since thou hast made choice of my spirit to announce the things that are to come, I willingly surrender to the Romans and consent to live; but I take thee to witness that I go, not as a traitor, but as thy minister.”

With these words he was about to surrender to Nicanor. But when the Jews who shared his retreat understood that Josephus was yielding to entreaty, they came round him in a body, crying out, “Ah ! well might the laws of our fathers groan aloud and God Himself hide His face for grief – God who implanted in Jewish breasts souls that scorn death! Is life so dear to you, Josephus, that you can endure to see the light in slavery? How soon have you forgotten yourself! How many have you persuaded to die for liberty! False, then, was that reputation for bravery, false that fame for sagacity, if you can hope for pardon from those whom you have fought so bitterly, or, supposing that they grant it, can deign to accept your life at their hands. Nay, if the fortune of the Romans has cast over you some strange forgetfulness of yourself, the care of our country’s honour devolves on us. We will lend you a right hand and a sword. If you meet death willingly, you will have died as general of the Jews; if unwillingly, as a traitor.” With these words they pointed their swords at him and threatened to kill him if he surrendered to the Romans.

Josephus, fearing an assault, and holding that it would be a betrayal of God’s commands, should he die before delivering his message, proceeded, in this emergency, to reason philosophically with them. “Why, comrades,” said he, “this thirst for our own blood? Why set asunder such fond companions as soul and body? One says that I am changed: well, the Romans know the truth about that. Another says, “It is honourable to die in war’: yes, but according to the law of war, that is to say by the hand of the conqueror. “Were I now flinching from the sword of the Romans, I should assuredly deserve to perish by my own sword and my own hand; but if they are moved to spare an enemy, how much stronger reason have we to spare ourselves? It would surely be folly to inflict on ourselves treatment which we seek to avoid by our quarrel with them. “It is honourable to die for liberty,’ says another: I concur, but on condition that one dies fighting, by the hands of those who would rob us of it. But now they are neither coming to fight us nor to take our lives. It is equally cowardly not to wish to die when one ought to do so, and to wish to die when one ought not.. What is it we fear that prevents us from surrendering to the Romans? Is it not death? And shall we then inflict up an ourselves certain death, to avoid an uncertain death, which we fear, at the hands of our foes?  “No, it is slavery we fear,” I shall be told. Much liberty we enjoy at present! “It is noble to destroy oneself,” another will say. Not so, I retort, but most ignoble; in my opinion there could be no more arrant coward than the pilot who, for fear of a tempest, deliberately sinks his ship before the storm. “No; suicide is alike repugnant to that nature which all creatures share, and an act of impiety towards God who created us. Among the animals there is not one that deliberately seeks death or kills itself; so firmly rooted in all is nature’s law – the will to live. That is why we account as enemies those who would openly take our lives and punish as assassins those who clandestinely attempt to do so. And God – think you not that He is indignant when man treats His gift with scorn? For it is from Him that we have received our being, and it is to Him that we should leave the decision to take it away. All of us, it is true, have mortal bodies, composed of perishable matter, but the soul lives forever, immortal: it is a portion of the Deity housed in our bodies. If, then, one who makes away with or misapplies a deposit entrusted to him by a fellow-man is reckoned a perjured villain, how can he who casts out from his own body the deposit which God has placed there, hope to elude Him whom he has thus wronged? It is considered right to punish a fugitive slave, even though the master he leaves be a scoundrel; and shall we fly from the best of masters, from God Himself, and not be deemed impious? Know you not that they who depart this life in accordance with the law of nature and repay the loan which they received from God, when He who lent is pleased to reclaim it, win eternal renown; that their houses and families are secure; that their souls, remaining spotless and obedient, are allotted the most holy place in heaven, whence, in the revolution of the ages, they return to find in chaste bodies a new habitation? But as for those who have laid mad hands upon themselves, the darker regions of the nether world receive their souls, and God, their father, visits upon their posterity the outrageous acts of the parents. That is why this crime, so hateful to God, is punished also by the sagest of legislators. With us it is ordained that the body of a suicide should be exposed unburied until sunset, although it is thought right to bury even our enemies slain in war. In other nations the law requires that a suicide’s right hand, with which he made war on himself, should be cut off, holding that, as the body was unnaturally severed from the soul, so the hand should be severed from the body.

“We shall do well then, comrades, to listen to reason and not to add to our human calamities the crime of impiety towards our creator. If our lives are offered us, let us live: there is nothing dishonourable in accepting this offer from those who have had so many proofs of our valour; if they think fit to kill us, death at the hands of our conquerors is honourable. But, for my part, I shall never pass over to the enemy’s ranks, to prove a traitor to myself; I should indeed then be far more senseless than deserters who go over to the enemy for safety, whereas I should be going to destruction – my own destruction. I pray, however, that the Romans may prove faithless; if, after pledging their word, they put me to death, I shall die content, for I shall carry with me the consolation, better than a victory, that their triumph has been sullied by perjury.”

By these and many similar arguments Josephus sought to deter his companions from suicide. But desperation stopped their ears, for they had long since devoted themselves to death; they were, therefore, infuriated at him, and ran at him from this side and that, sword in hand, upbraiding him as a coward, each one seeming on the point of striking him. But he, addressing one by name, fixing his general’s eye of command upon another, clasping the hand of a third, shaming a fourth by entreaty, and torn by all manner of emotions at this critical moment, succeeded in warding off from his throat the blades of all, turning like a wild beast surrounded by the hunters to face his successive assailants . Even in his extremity, they still held their general in reverence; their hands were powerless, their swords glanced aside, and many, in the act of thrusting at him, spontaneously dropped their weapons. But, in his straits, his resource did not forsake him. Trusting to God’s protection, he put his life to the hazard, and said: “Since we are resolved to die, come, let us leave the lot to decide the order in which we are to kill ourselves; let him who draws the first lot fall by the hand of him who comes next; fortune will thus take her course through the whole number, and we shall be spared from taking our lives with our own hands. For it would be unjust that, when the rest were gone, any should repent and escape.” This proposal inspired confidence; his advice was taken, and he drew lots with the rest. Each man thus selected presented his throat to his neighbor in the assurance that his general was forthwith to share his fate; for sweeter to them than life was the thought of death with Josephus. He, however (should one say by fortune or by the providence of God?), was left alone with one other; and, anxious neither to be condemned by the lot nor, should he be left to the last, to stain his hand with the blood of a fellow-countryman, he persuaded this man also, under a pledge, to remain alive.

Having thus survived both the war with the Romans and that with his own friends, Josephus was brought by Nicanor into Vespasian’s presence. The Romans all flocked to see him, and from the multitude crowding around the general arose a hubbub of discordant voices: some exulting at his capture, some threatening, some pushing forward to obtain a nearer view. The more distant spectators clamoured for the punishment of their enemy, but those close beside him recalled his exploits and marvelled at such a reversal of fortune. Of the officers there was not one who, whatever his past resentment, did not then relent at the sight of him. Titus in particular was specially touched by the fortitude of Josephus under misfortunes and by pity for his youth. As he recalled the combatant of yesterday and saw him now a prisoner in his enemy’s hands, he was led to reflect on the power of fortune, the quick vicissitudes of war, and the general instability of human affairs. So he brought over many Romans at the time to share his compassion for Josephus, and his pleading with his father was the main influence in saving the prisoner’s life.


The Fall of Masada

The Roman general [Silva] having now completed his wall surrounding the whole exterior of the place [Masada] and taken the strictest precautions that none should escape, applied himself to the siege. He had discovered only one spot capable of supporting earthworks. For in rear of the tower which barred the road leading from the west to the palace and the ridge, was a projection of rock, of considerable breadth and jutting far out, but still three hundred cubits below the elevation of Masada; it was called Leuce. Silva, having accordingly ascended and occupied this eminence, ordered his troops to throw up an embankment. Working with a will and a multitude of hands, they raised a solid bank to the height of two hundred cubits, This, however, being still considered of insufficient stability and extent as an emplacement for the engines, on top of it was constructed a platform of great stones fitted closely together, fifty cubits broad and as many high. The engines in general were similarly constructed to those first devised by Vespasian and afterwards by Titus for their siege operations; in addition a sixty-cubit tower was constructed entirely cased in iron, from which the Romans by volleys of missiles from numerous quick-firers and ballistae quickly beat off the defenders on the ramparts and prevented them from showing themselves. Simultaneously, Silva, having further provided himself with a great battering-ram, ordered it to be directed without intermission against the wall, and having, though with difficulty, succeeded in effecting a breach, brought it down in ruins. The Sicarii, however, had already hastily built up another wall inside, which was not likely to meet with a similar fate from the engines; for it was pliable and calculated to break the force of the impact, having been constructed as follows. Great beams were laid lengthwise and contiguous and joined at the extremities; of these there were two parallel rows a wall’s breadth apart, and the intermediate space was filled with earth. Further, to prevent the soil from dispersing as the mound rose, they clamped, by other transverse beams, those laid longitudinally. The work thus presented to the enemy the appearance of masonry, but the blows of the engines were weakened, battering upon a yielding material which, as it settled down under the concussion, they merely served to solidify. Observing this, Silva, thinking it easier to destroy this wall by fire, ordered his soldiers to hurl at it showers of burning torches. Being mainly made of wood, it quickly caught fire, and, from its hollow nature becoming ignited right through blazed up in a volume of flame. At the first outbreak of the fire, a north wind which blew in the faces of the Romans caused them an alarm; for, diverting the flame from above, it drove it against them, and the fear that all their engines would be burnt up had almost reduced them to despair. Then suddenly the wind veering, as if by divine providence, to the south and blowing with full force in the opposite direction, wafted and flung the flames against the wall, which now through and through was all ablaze. The Romans, thus blessed by God’s aid, returned rejoicing to their camp, with the determination of attacking the enemy on the morrow; and throughout that night they kept stricter watch lest any of them should secretly escape.

However, neither did Eleazar himself contemplate flight, nor did he intend to permit any other to do so. Seeing the wall consuming in the flames, unable to devise any further means of deliverance or gallant endeavour, and setting before his eyes what the Romans, if victorious, would inflict on them, their children and their wives, he deliberated on the death of all. And, judging, as matters stood, this course the best, he assembled the most doughty of his comrades and incited them to the deed by such words as these:

“Long since, my brave men, we determined , neither to serve the Romans nor any other – save God, for He alone is man’s true and righteous Lord; and now the time has come which bids us verify that  resolution by our actions. At this crisis let us not disgrace ourselves; we who in the past refused to submit even to a slavery involving no peril, let us not now, along with slavery, deliberately accept the irreparable penalties awaiting us if we are to fall alive into Roman hands. For as we were the first of all to revolt, so are we the last in arms against them.  Moreover, I believe that it is God who has granted us this favour, that we have it in our power to die nobly and in freedom  – a privilege denied to others who have met with unexpected defeat. Our fate at break of day is certain capture, but there is still the free choice of a noble death with those we hold most dear. For our enemies, fervently though they pray to take us alive, can no more prevent this than we can now hope to defeat them in battle. Maybe, indeed, we ought from the very first – when, having chosen to assert our liberty, we invariably experienced such hard treatment from one another, and still harder from our foes – we ought, I say, to have read God’s purpose and to have recognized that the Jewish race, once beloved of Him, had been doomed to perdition. For had he continued to be gracious, or but lightly incensed, he would never have overlooked such wholesale destruction or have abandoned His most holy city to be burnt and razed to the ground by our enemies. But did we forsooth hope that we alone of all the Jewish nation would survive and preserve our freedom, as persons guiltless towards God and without a hand in crime – we who had even been the instructors of the rest? Mark, now, how He exposes the vanity of our expectations, by visiting us with such dire distress as exceeds all that we could anticipate. For not even the impregnable nature of this fortress has availed to save us; nay, though ample provisions are ours, piles of arms, and a superabundance of every other requisite, yet we have been deprived manifestly by God Himself, of all hope of deliverance, For it was not of their own accord that those flames which were driving against the enemy turned back upon the wall constructed by us; no, all this betokens wrath at the many wrongs which we madly dared to inflict upon our countrymen. The penalty for those crimes let us pay not to our bitterest foes, the Romans, but to God through the act of our own hands. It will be more tolerable than the other. Let our wives thus die undishonoured, our children unacquainted with slavery; and, when they are gone, let us render a generous service to each other; preserving our liberty as a noble winding-sheet. But first let us destroy our chattels and the fortress by fire; for the Romans, well I know, will be grieved to lose at once our persons and the lucre. Our provisions only let us spare; for they will testify, when we are dead, that it was not want which subdued us, but that in keeping with our initial resolve, we preferred death to slavery,”

Thus spoke Eleazar; but his words did not touch the hearts of all hearers alike. Some, indeed, were eager to respond and all but filled with delight at the thought of a death so noble; but others, softer-hearted, were moved with compassion for their wives and families, and doubtless also by the vivid prospect of their own end, and their tears as they looked upon one another revealed their unwillingness of heart. Eleazar, seeing them flinching and their courage breaking down in face of so vast a scheme, feared that their whimpers and tears might unman even those who had listened to his speech with fortitude. Far, therefore, from slackening in his exhortation, he roused himself and, fired with mighty fervour, essayed a higher flight of oratory on the immortality of the soul. Indignantly protesting and with eyes intently fixed on those in tears, he exclaimed:

“Deeply, indeed, was I deceived in thinking that I should have brave men as associates in our struggles for freedom – men determined to live with honour or to die. But you, it seems, were no better than the common herd in valour or in courage, you who are afraid even of that death that will deliver you from the direst ills, when in such a cause you ought neither to hesitate an instant nor wait for a counselor.  For from of old, since the first dawn of intelligence, we have been continually taught by those precepts, ancestral and divine – confirmed by the deeds and noble spirit of our forefathers – that life, not death, is man’s misfortune. For it is death which gives liberty to the soul and permits it to depart to its own pure abode, there to be free from all calamity; but so long as it is imprisoned in a mortal body and tainted with all its miseries, it is, in sober truth, dead, for association with what is mortal ill befits that which is divine. True, the soul possesses great capacity, even while incarcerated in the body; for it makes the latter its organ of perception, invisibly swaying it and directing it onward in its actions beyond the range of mortal nature. But it is not until, freed from the weight that drags it down to earth and clings about it, the soul is restored to its proper sphere, that it enjoys a blessed energy and a power untrammelled  on every side, remaining, like God Himself, invisible to human eyes. For even while in the body it is withdrawn from view: unperceived it comes and unseen it again departs, itself of a nature one and incorruptible, but a cause of change to the body. For whatever the soul has touched lives and flourishes, whatever it abandons withers and dies; so abundant is her wealth of immortality.

“Let sleep furnish you with a most convincing proof of what I say – sleep, in which the soul, undistracted  by the body, while enjoying in perfect independence the most delightful repose, holds converse with God by right of kinship, ranges the universe and foretells many things that are to come. Why then should we fear death who welcome the repose of sleep? And is it not surely foolish, while pursuing liberty in this life, to grudge ourselves that which is eternal?

“We ought, indeed, blest with our home training, to afford others an example of readiness to die; if however, we really need an assurance in this matter from alien nations, let us look at those Indians who profess the practice of philosophy. They, brave men that they are, reluctantly endure the period of life, as some necessary service due to nature, but hasten to release their souls from their bodies; and though no calamity impels nor drives them from the scene, from sheer longing for the immortal state, they announce to their comrades that they are about to depart. Nor is there any who would hinder them: no, all felicitate them and each gives them commissions to his loved ones; so certain and absolutely sincere is their belief in the intercourse which souls hold with one another. Then, after listening to these behests, they commit their bodies to the fire, that so the soul may be parted from the body in the utmost purity, and expire amidst hymns of praise. Indeed, their dearest ones escort them to their death more readily than do the rest of mankind their fellow-citizens when starting on a very long journey; for themselves they weep, but them they count happy as now regaining immortal rank. Are we not, then, ashamed of being more mean-spirited than Indians, and of bringing, by our faint-heartedness, shameful reproach upon our country’s laws, which are the envy of all mankind?

“Yet, even had we from the first been schooled in the opposite doctrine and taught that man’s highest blessing is life and that death is a calamity, still the crisis is one that calls upon us to bear it with a stout heart, since it is by God’s will and of necessity that we are to die. For long since, so it seems, God passed this decree against the whole Jewish race in common, that we must quit this life if we would not use it aright. Do not attach the blame to yourselves, nor the credit to the Romans, that this war with them has been the ruin of us all; for it was not their might that brought these things to pass, but the intervention of some more powerful cause has afforded them the semblance of victory.

“What Roman weapons, I ask, slew the Jews of Caesarea? Nay, they had not even contemplated revolt from Rome, but were engaged in keeping their Sabbath festival when the Caesarean rabble rushed upon them and massacred them, unresisting, with their wives and children, without even the slightest respect for the Romans, who regarded as enemies only us who had revolted. But I sha1l be told that the Caesareans had a standing quarrel with their Jewish residents and seized that opportunity to satisfy their ancient hate. What then shall we say of the Jews in Scythopolis, who had the audacity to wage war on us in the cause of the Greeks, but refused to unite with us, their kinsmen, in resisting the Romans? Much benefit, to be sure, did they reap from their goodwill and loyalty to the men of Scythopolis!  Ruthlessly butchered by them, they and all their families – that was the recompense that they received for their alliance; the fate from which they had saved their neighbours at our hands, that they endured, as though they had themselves desired to inflict it. Time would fail me now to name each instance severally; for, as you know, there is not a city in Syria which has not slain its Jewish inhabitants, though more hosti1e to us than to the Romans. Thus, the people of Damascus, though unable even to invent a plausible pretext, deluged their city with the foulest slaughter, butchering eighteen thousand Jews, with their wives and families. As for Egypt, we were told that the number of those who there perished in tortures perhaps exceeded sixty thousand.

Those Jews, maybe, perished as they did, because they were on alien soil, where they found themselves no match for their enemies. But consider all those who in their own territory embarked on war with Rome: what did they lack of all that could inspire them with hopes of assured success? Arms, ramparts, fortresses well nigh impregnable, a spirit undaunted by risks to be run in the cause of liberty –  these encouraged all to revolt. Yet these availed but for a brief season, and after buoying us up with hopes proved the beginning of greater disasters. For all were taken, all succumbed to the enemy, as though furnished for his more glorious triumph, and not for the protection of those who provided them. Those men who fell in battle may fitly be felicitated, for they died defending, not betraying, liberty; but the multitudes in Roman hands who would not pity? Who would not rush to his death ere he shared their fate? Of them some have perished on the rack or tortured by fire and scourge; others, half-devoured by wild beasts have been preserved alive to provide them with a second repast, after affording merriment and sport for their foes. But most miserable of all must be reckoned those still alive, who have often prayed for death and are denied the boon.

“And where now is that great city, the mother-city of the whole Jewish race, intrenched behind all those lines of ramparts, screened by all those forts and massive towers, that could scarce contain her munitions of war, and held all those myriads of defenders? What has become of her that was believed to have God for her founder? Uprooted from her base she has been swept away, and the sole memorial of her remaining is that of the slain sti1l quartered in her ruins! Hapless old men sit beside the ashes of the shrine and a few women, reserved by the enemy for basest outrage.

“Which of us, taking these things to heart, could bear to behold the sun, even could he live secure from peril? Who such a foe to his country, so unmanly, so fond of life, as not to regret that he is still alive to-day? Nay, I would that we had all been dead ere ever we saw that holy city razed by an enemy’s hands, that sacred sanctuary so profanely uprooted! But seeing that we have been beguiled by a not ignoble hope, that we might perchance find means of avenging her of her foes, and  now that hope has vanished and left us alone in our distress, let us hasten to die honourably; let us have pity on ourselves, our children and our wives, while it is still in our power to find pity from ourselves. For we were born for death, we and those whom we have begotten; and this even the fortunate cannot escape. But outrage and servitude and the sight of our lives being led to shame with their children – these are no necessary evils imposed by nature on mankind, but befall, through their own cowardice, those who, having the chance of forestalling them by death, refuse to take it. But we, priding ourselves on our courage, revolted from the Romans, and now at the last, when they offered us our lives, we refused the offer. Who then can fail to foresee their wrath if they take us alive? Wretched will be the young whose vigorous frames can sustain many tortures, wretched the more advanced in years whose age is incapable of bearing such calamities. Is a man to see his wife led off to violation, to hear the voice of his child crying “Father!” when his own hands are bound? No, while those hands are free and grasp the sword, let them render an honourable service. Unenslaved by the foe let us die, as free men with our children and wives let us quit this life together! This our laws  enjoin, this our wives and children implore of us. The need for this is of God’s sending, the reverse of this is the Romans’ desire, and their fear is lest a single one of us should die before capture. Haste we then to leave them, instead of their hoped-for enjoyment at securing us, amazement at our death and admiration of our fortitude.”

He would have pursued his exhortation but was cut short by his hearers, who, overpowered by some uncontrollable impulse, were all in haste to do the deed. Like men possessed they went their way, each eager to outstrip his neighbour and deeming it a signal proof of courage and sound judgement not to be seen among the last: so ardent the passion that had seized them to slaughter their wives, their little ones and themselves. Nor, as might have been expected, did their ardour cool when they approached the task: inflexibly they held to the resolution, which they had formed while listening to the address, and though personal emotion and affection were alive in all, reason which they knew had consulted best for their loved ones, was paramount. For, while they caressed and embraced their wives and took their children in their arms, clinging in tears to those parting kisses, at that same instant, as though served by hands other than their own, they accomplished their purpose, having the thought of the ills they would endure under the enemy’s hands to console them for their constraint in killing them. And in the end not one was found a truant in so daring a deed: all carried through their task with their dearest ones. Wretched victims of necessity, to whom to slay with their own hands their own wives and children seemed the lightest of evils! Unable, indeed, any longer to endure their anguish at what they had done, and feeling that they wronged the slain by surviving them if it ere but for a moment, they quickly piled together all the stores and set them on fire; then, having chosen by lot ten of their number to dispatch the rest, they laid themselves down each beside his prostrate wife and children, and, flinging their arms around them, offered their throats in readiness for the executants of the melancholy office. These, having unswervingly slaughtered all, ordained the same rule of the lot for one another, that he on whom it fell should slay first the nine and then himself last of all; such mutual confidence had they all that neither in acting nor in suffering would one differ from another. Finally, then, the nine bared their throats, and the last solitary survivor, after surveying the prostrate multitude, to see whether haply amid the shambles there were yet one left who needed his hand, and finding that all were slain, set the palace ablaze, and then collecting his strength drove his sword clean through his body and fell beside his family. They had died in the belief that they had left not a soul of them alive to fall into Roman hands; but an old woman and another, a relative of Eleazar, superior in sagacity and training to most of her sex, with five children, escaped by concealing themselves in the subterranean aqueducts, while the rest were absorbed in the slaughter. The victims numbered nine hundred and sixty, including women and children; and the tragedy occurred on the fifteenth of the month Xanthicus.

The Romans, expecting further opposition, were by daybreak under arms and, having with gangways formed bridges of approach from the earthworks, advanced to the assault. Seeing none of the enemy but on all sides an awful solitude, and flames within and silence, they were at a loss to conjecture what had happened. At length, as if for a signal to shoot, they shouted, to call forth haply any of those within. The shout was heard by the women-folk, who, emerging from the caverns, informed the Romans how matters stood, one of the two lucidly reporting both the speech and how the deed was done. But it was with difficulty that they listened to her, incredulous of such amazing fortitude; meanwhile they endeavoured to extinguish the flames and soon cutting a passage through them entered the palace. Here encountering the mass of slain, instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve and the contempt of death displayed by so many in carrying it, unwavering, into execution.

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(c. 35/50-c. 107)

Epistle: To the Romans


Saint Ignatius of Antioch (also known as Ignatius Theophoros), one of the Apostolic Fathers believed to have been in contact with the Apostles or received instruction from their disciples, served as bishop of Antioch from the late 60s to the early 100s. Early traditions hold that he was converted to Christianity by the Apostle John and consecrated as bishop by Peter and Paul. The exact date of Ignatius’ birth is unknown, but it was probably about 35 A.D., perhaps as late as 50, in Syria; he became bishop of Antioch around the year 69. Little is known about Ignatius’ life except what can be distilled from the seven letters he wrote on his journey in captivity, between his arrest in Antioch and—though this is not certain—his arrival in Rome. When Ignatius reached Rome, according to tradition, he was martyred for the faith: he refused to allow the faithful to obtain his release and was killed by two ravenous lions in the Colosseum, who left in the bloody sand only a few of the larger bones. The dates given for his death range from 98 to 117, with 107 the most likely. Ignatius is revered not only in the Roman Catholic Church but also in the independent West Syrian Church centered in Damascus, and almost every patriarch in the latter since 1293 bears the surname Ignatius in his honor.

Ignatius’ letters—most of them given to fellow bishops for their churches—warn against heresy and urge Christian unity. In this letter to the Romans, one of the seven believed to be authentic rather than forged (as some clearly were) and his last letter from Smyrna, Ignatius argues against being saved from martyrdom, which he welcomes because, he believes, it will bring him into union with Jesus Christ. He foresees that his body will become as “God’s wheat”—ground by the teeth of wild beasts, a sacrifice to God. Ignatius stresses the voluntary nature of his death and his complete willingness to die.

Perhaps as much as any call to martyrdom in early Christianity, Ignatius’ evident eagerness for death among the lions can be seen by later readers as challenging the distinction between martyrdom and suicide. Ignatius does not say that he desires to die simpliciter, a wish that might be interpreted as suicidal but only that he would rather die and come to Christ more than anything else. He clearly does not seek death out of despair, something also often associated with suicide. But he does say that if the beasts do not attack him, he will “compel them” to do so—that is, incite or force (ἐγὼ προσβιάσομαι) the beasts to kill him. Indeed, he asks pardon for this. Ignatius’ expression thus raises the question of whether in this way he would be deliberately bringing about his own death, and what causal, as well as volitional, role he might play.


Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans,” short version, from Ante-Nicene Fathers,  ed. Philip Schaff, Vol I: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Edinburgh, 1867, available online from the Christian Classic Ethereal Library, Calvin College.


Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the report of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if ye spare me.

For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also ye please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will ye, if ye shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if ye are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared; that, being gathered together in love, ye may sing praise to the Father, through Christ Jesus, that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west. It is good to set from the world unto God, that I may rise again to Him.

Ye have never envied any one; ye have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions ye enjoin [on others]. Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world. Nothing visible is eternal. “For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness.

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.

From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits, show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified.” May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this]: I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. “For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? ” Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be ye on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world. Let not envy find a dwelling-place among you; nor even should I, when present with you, exhort you to it, be ye persuaded to listen to me, but rather give credit to those things which I now write to you. For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that liveth and speaketh, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if ye consent. Be ye willing, then, that ye also may have your desires fulfilled. I entreat you in this brief letter; do ye give credit to me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, [so that ye shall know] that I speak truly. He is the mouth altogether free from falsehood, by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray ye for me, that I may attain [the object of my desire]. I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, ye have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, ye have hated me.

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it]. But as for me, I am ashamed to be counted one of them; for indeed I am not worthy, as being the very last of them, and one born out of due time. But I have obtained mercy to be somebody, if I shall attain to God. My spirit salutes you, and the love of the Churches that have received me in the name of Jesus Christ, and not as a mere passer-by. For even those Churches which were not near to me in the way, I mean according to the flesh, have gone before me, city by city, [to meet me.]

Now I write these things to you from Smyrna by the Ephesians, who are deservedly most happy. There is also with me, along with many others, Crocus, one dearly beloved by me. As to those who have gone before me from Syria to Rome for the glory of God, I believe that you are acquainted with them; to whom, [then, ] do ye make known that I am at hand. For they are all worthy, both of God and of you; and it is becoming that you should refresh them in all things. I have written these things unto you, on the day before the ninth of the Kalends of September (that is, on the twenty-third day of August). Fare ye well to the end, in the patience of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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