Chapter 3. Writing Dialogue

In my final chapter I will discuss three very different examples of Greek Christian dialogue-writing, two of them from the late antique period, the third composed later, but with a dramatic date in late antiquity. The first has attracted attention already, but is so unusual that it deserves its place here. The second also seems unusual, but was followed by other examples of not dissimilar type; it also illustrates an important feature of Christian argumentation. The third case I will consider may be included among the anti-Jewish dialogues, though it is a far from typical one. All three may be regarded as exceptional, yet at the same time highly suggestive. These cases cover only some of the many questions and lines of inquiry arising from our subject, but they point to the sheer variety as well as to some of the possibilities and directions inherent in this very wide-ranging way of writing.
The first author to be considered is Methodius, apparently from Olympus in Lycia and living in the late third and early fourth centuries. Much has been written about Methodius already, although little is known about his life, not even whether he was actually a bishop, as Jerome says. [1] He is best known as the author of the Symposium, but three other dialogues are attributed to him, not so well preserved, on free will, on the resurrection and on creation. All Methodius’s dialogues are literary and ostensibly Platonizing; however, one of his main aims was to engage with the ideas of Origen (also the author, or perhaps rather the subject of reports of actual discussions, of a dialogue dealing with the Father and the Son, bodily resurrection and the soul). [2]
By far the best known of Methodius’s dialogues is the Symposium, and while it is known particularly for reasons other than its dialogue form, its status as a dialogue has currently come to the fore. The Symposium covers a wide range of topics, including Scriptural exegesis and eschatology, but the dialogue as a whole offers an extended argument for virginity as a means to attaining Christian virtue and the ascent of the soul. It has therefore attracted a large literature from scholars interested in questions of asceticism, gender, and virginity in early Christianity, and Elizabeth Clark has treated it more than once as a key text in the development of Christian literary, and especially gender, discourse. [3] Even though Scriptural allusions far outweigh classical ones in the text, it is obvious that it is modeled in some sense on Plato’s Symposium, which had a long afterlife as a prototype for certain kinds of literary dialogue.
The Symposium is one of the few Christian dialogues which feature in more general discussions, for example in the book by Vittorio Hösle already mentioned, where Methodius’s Symposium is cited as part of the story of the reception of Plato’s dialogue of the same name. [4] Methodius does indeed reveal himself as a writer of literary ambition. In the Symposium he substitutes chastity for Plato’s eros as the theme, [5] and goes much further than Gregory of Nyssa’s De anima in making not just the central character but all the speakers female. The dialogue is set in a garden belonging to a lady called Virtue (Arete), [6] the daughter of Philosophy, who is very beautiful and is dressed in white, “like a mother greeting us after a long absence,” while the participants in the discussion are ten virgins. The setting and dramatis personae recall not only the Symposium and Phaedrus but also the wise virgins in Matthew 25:10, [7] and the dialogue ends with an iambic hymn with an acrostic, addressed to Christ the Bridegroom. The naming of the leading virgin as Thecla is both literary and deliberate, with a clear reminiscence of the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, where Thecla stands for the power of virginity—she is described as having been instructed in “divine and evangelical doctrine” by St. Paul himself. In one of the common features of literary dialogue, the main conversation is reported—two women, Euboulion and Gregorion, [8] meet and in response to the other’s invitation Gregorion recounts [9] what she had been told by Theopatra, one of those present and the speaker of the fourth discourse, [10] about a banquet held at Arete’s house, when Arete had invited each of the ten guests to compete for a prize by delivering a speech in praise of virginity (parthenia); each speech is presented as a logos, without dialogic introduction. One of the speakers argues that marriage is not inferior to virginity while another adopts the Pauline teaching whereby marriage is the lesser state, allowed because of human weakness. Their themes range from Old and New Testament exegesis to philosophy, allegory and eschatology. [11]
Not surprisingly, in view of her name and associations, Thecla is declared the winner, having spoken in eschatological terms about the Church. [12] She and Arete then take the lead in the stanzas of a remarkable acrostic hymn in iambics while the remaining ladies sing the refrain. In the hymn Thecla addresses Christ, who is addressed in the refrain as the Bridegroom, and cites in successive stanzas an interesting list of Scriptural exempla of virtue, and especially of chastity: Abel, Joseph, the daughter of Jephtha, Judith, Susanna, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary. Representing the choir of bridesmaids, Thecla addresses Christ as “the young bridegroom,” and the “virginal” Church. Chastity is enthroned in heaven and Thecla alludes to her own martyrdom. The reported dialogue having concluded, with three short interludes between Euboulion and Gregorion and a few touches aiming at verisimilitude, [13] the two original speakers draw the work to a close in a framing epilogue (itself a dialogue on the soul that balances the introduction), referring to a mysterious lady from Telmessos in Lycia, who apparently provided Methodius’s inspiration.
As the text’s editor points out, the speeches in the Symposium are far more homiletic and didactic than dialectical, although there is a small attempt at genuine exchange between Marcella and Theophila. [14] The textual strategies that Methodius employs to advocate virginity include an adventurous attitude to passages in the Old Testament, a strongly Pauline emphasis, for instance in the use of I Corinthians 7:37 in the speech of Thalia, [15] and praise of virgins as the “brightest lights” mentioned in I Corinthians 15:41 and the “dove” in Song of Songs 6.8–9 (the latter a passage used by Epiphanius, also a reader of Methodius, in his Panarion). [16]
The Symposium is a strange text. Vittorio Hösle finds in Methodius some fertile material for comparison, but he does not attempt to square the circle by putting the dialogue in its historical or theological context. Methodius also has unusually high literary ambitions. The Symposium does not fit the usual pattern of controversialist Christian dialogues, and has been read as a sympotic dialogue, with a large number of speakers each making an intervention. [17] Jason König even regards it as “our best surviving example of Christian sympotic writing.” König is willing to allow to Methodius a rather subtle engagement with the agonistic features of sympotic dialogue and compares Methodius and Macrobius in their shared “cautious” transformative attitude to traditions of sympotic polyphony. [18] Within this sympotic frame, Methodius has boldly transferred the male world of Platonic dialogue (Diotima excluded) to a female one, while at the same time transforming Plato’s homoerotic undertones and his discussion of eros into a paean to Christian chastity.
On the other hand, despite König’s comparison of Methodius with Athenaeus and Macrobius, I would argue that the Symposium has little in common with the world of high-level literary conversation that we find for example in Athenaeus’s Deipnosophists, expounded so elegantly in this series for both Athenaeus and Plutarch by Christian Jacob. [19] Richard Lim is also less than convincing when he suggests that the Symposium’s sympotic dress links it to the cultic context of common meals among early Christians, “a shared sympotic or convivial context among his Christian readers that was very different from that of the usual readers of literary and philosophical dialogues.” [20] König himself struggles with his sympotic reading. As he admits, there is not much food in Methodius’s Symposium, unless allegorical. Methodius “distorts and defamiliarises … in order to produce a distinctively Christian mode,” and we read that his engagement with the techniques of sympotic conversation and debate is “rather anxious” and “ambivalent.” [21] It is not surprising, then, that there is nothing else quite like it; on this basis, Methodius’s experiment was a failure.
We need to read the Symposium in the context of Methodius’s other known dialogues. These are variously preserved: the dialogue On Free Will (De autexousio), probably earlier than the Symposium, survives in an Old Slavonic translation but only partially in Greek; On the Resurrection (Aglaophon), in three books, also survives in Slavonic translation, near-complete, with the Greek and Syriac in fragments; it alludes to Plato’s Protagoras as well as to the Phaedo and Symposium, and, like the dialogue on free will and the Symposium, also to Homer; finally the Xeno, criticizing Origen’s view of eternal creation, and known only from Photius. [22] Given the state of their transmission, it is hard to judge the literary quality of the three dialogues apart from the Symposium, but they too are ambitious. Aglaophon, or On the Resurrection, for instance, is long, and the dialogue is reported in the first person by Euboulius, representing the point of view of Methodius. Its opening is also Platonizing. The dialogue is staged in Patara in Lycia, in the house of the physician Aglaophon, who had converted the vestibule of the house into a hospital. Here Theophilus was “philosophizing” on the nature and resurrection of the body while sitting in an armchair (219.9, 13), by “answering the questions” (219.13–220.1) of Sistelius, Auxentius, Memmianus, Aglaophon and other “citizens” who sat on the floor; in just such a scene in Plato’s Republic, the aged Cephalus, the father of Polemarchus, sits in a cushioned chair with others ranged around him in a semicircle in his son’s house in the Peiraeus. Methodius’s dialogue begins with the arrival of Eubulius, accompanied by Proclus from Miletus, who, on the same pattern as in Methodius’s dialogue on free will, is presented as a companion of the main speaker with opposing views. Soon Eubulius is chosen as the judge of the contest (220.5–6). Aglaophon contains allusions to the Phaedo, Protagoras, Symposium, and Phaedrus. Both this and On Free Will (in which an orthodox speaker debates with two heterodox) refer self-consciously to their dialogic presentation, and in On Free Will the orthodox speaker puts the questions.
Methodius’s works found readers, including the author of the anonymous dialogue known as Adamantius (ca. 330?) dealing with Marcionites, Bardesanites and Valentinians. [23] Methodius’s work was used by Epiphanius of Salamis, author of the Panarion (370s), and his dialogues feature in later florilegia, in Syriac and Slavonic translations and in Photius. [24] Methodius’s eschatology found a resonance in the late seventh-century Syriac Apocalypse of Ps. Methodius, wrongly ascribed to our Methodius. Finally, it has been argued that literary elements in On Free Will were imitated by the early seventh-century poet George of Pisidia. [25]
Methodius thus emerges both as an advocate of asceticism and a critical reader of Origen; [26] to use Goldhill’s words, he has taken Plato’s eros and set it within “the Christian parameters inscribed paradigmatically” in the Symposium, laying his emphasis on the virtue of sophrosune. [27] But Methodius was also a dialogue-writer of literary pretensions who, it seems, made a deliberate choice to cast his work in this form, perhaps influenced by Origen’s own dialogue, and clearly with literary as well as philosophical and theological aims. What is interesting is that the same Methodius also wrote works that were not in dialogue form—something that is also characteristic of other dialogue-writers, including my next example. We tend to forget how enormous and varied was the output of Christian writers in the late antique period. [28] The totality of Christian writing is colossal, and within it dialogues are only a small part (debate and argument in the broader sense occupy much more space). We need not only to analyse the surviving dialogues for their own sake but also to place them within the context of the much wider body of Christian writing, as well as in the work of the individual author.
The puzzle of Methodius is that he remains so obscure as a historical personage, albeit one who has achieved a certain fame among modern scholars, if mainly for the very oddity of his Symposium. He may have misunderstood Origen, and his philosophy is hardly at the level of Plato, but a seventh-century epigram praises him for “opening the mouth of logismoi and bringing in the grace of the Holy Spirit.” [29] He was read and translated by Rufinus into Latin in the cause of anti-Origenism, and into Slavonic. He was an energetic if somewhat mysterious writer and exegete, and there was more to him than gender and asceticism. Even though he is not one of the rhetoricians included by some scholars in a Third Sophistic, [30] he deserves at least a marginal place in the history of late antique and Christian literature.
My second Greek example is deliberately chosen as a contrast. It is also later in date (mid-fifth century), much more directly controversialist, and far less literary. This is Theodoret’s Eranistes, usually dated to ca. 447. Theodoret himself was soon afterwards forbidden by the Emperor Theodosius II to leave his bishopric at Cyrrhus, and was condemned by the second Council of Ephesus in 449. Theodoret was also a very different figure—a prominent and very active bishop and a controversial theologian, historian, hagiographer, and writer in many genres. The Eranistes makes no pretensions to literary scene-setting. It consists of three exchanges between two speakers, an Orthodoxos and Eranistes (“gatherer”, “collector”). Views of the Eranistes differ: for Frances Young it “beautifully illustrates the clarity and conciseness of Theodoret’s style.” [31] Paul Clayton has analysed the theological argument in some detail in relation to Theodoret’s position, but with no mention of the work’s dialogue form, [32] while Adam Schor, who has recently used it in his study of Theodoret using social network analysis, regards it as outwardly a dialogue, but actually “a vital debate,” a Dyophysite apology before the trial of Eutyches and “Theodoret’s boldest foray into Christology,” written in a period of high controversy and personal crisis for Theodoret. [33] A reviewer of Schor’s book took a much dimmer view, admitting that the Eranistes is “a good piece” but that many people loathed Theodoret. [34]
The three dialogues that comprise the Eranistes are certainly not open. As the text tells us, they are designed to prove respectively that the divine nature of Christ is immutable, that the two natures are unmixed, and that the godhead is impassible. The titles, Atreptos, Asunchutos, and Apathes, pick up the very themes that were the subject of heated debate even before the Council of Ephesus. As we saw, Frances Young offers a sympathetic reading; she points out places where Eranistes is given a more positive role in the argument, especially in the second dialogue (Theodoret “has the skill to use the dialogue form effectively to present both sides of the case”), [35] though Orthodoxos naturally wins in the end. In the third dialogue also, she thinks that “the discussion has not been unfairly presented,” and that it shows that an open-minded reader of Theodoret’s work could have reached an accommodation. “Perhaps the purpose of the Eranistes [after ‘twenty years of debate’] was to try and convince the less extreme Alexandrians that they should abandon Eutyches and recognize how much common ground they had with the moderate Antiochenes.” [36] In other words the Eranistes was less a polemic than a genuine attempt at rapprochement.
However, I am less interested here in the content than the form. Theodoret explains himself in the preface: “the argument will proceed dialogically, with questions and answers, theses and antitheses, and all that is characteristic of the dialogue form. However, I will not put the names of the questioners and respondents in the dialogue itself, like the ancient Greek philosophers, but before the beginning of the paragraphs (that is, in the margins [rather like a dramatic script]). For they wrote for people who had every kind of paideia, and for whom argument was their life, whereas I want my arguments to be easy to read, and help easy to find, even for those who have no training in argument (logoi)” … “The speakers will be called Orthodoxos (the one who argues on behalf of the apostolic dogmas) and Eranistes (the other).” [37] The work may look more like a set of questions and answers, [38] though the latter tend to be more scholastic (aporiai) or pastoral; but clearly Theodoret had consciously thought about, and rejected, a more Socratic format.
It will probably seem to most readers that Theodoret here bears out the charge that Christian dialogues had a foregone conclusion. In 449, the year of the Tome of Pope Leo, Theodoret was condemned, along with Ibas of Edessa and Domnus of Antioch, by the so-called Robber Council of Ephesus (Ephesus II), which also condemned Flavian of Constantinople and reinstated Eutyches. The condemnation was overturned two years later at Chalcedon in AD 451, after considerable efforts had been made even after a positive move by Pope Leo to establish that Theodoret could be admitted to the Council, but was reasserted by the Council of 553 in Constantinople. [39] Theodoret’s doctrinal opponent and target in the Eranistes was clearly Eutyches, who proclaimed the one nature of Christ after the union, although the name is never mentioned, and the work as a whole is part of Theodoret’s assertion of his own position at a time when Dioscorus, Cyril’s successor in Alexandria, favored Eutyches, and when Theodoret was again coming under attack.
The Eranistes is not a dialogue of the Platonic type, and most scholars have been unreceptive towards it. It is barely mentioned in the useful introduction to Theodoret’s writings in the series The Early Church Fathers, and not included in the selection of texts there; [40] equally it receives only the most passing mentions in a recent study of Theodoret focusing on his role as bishop. [41] Despite what the author claims, there is no sign that it actually persuaded his theological opponents.
Yet Theodoret was a prolific writer who had probably studied at Antioch and was very well trained not only in Greek rhetoric but also, it seems, in philosophy. Although most of his life was spent in Aramaic-speaking regions he wrote in Greek, not only in his theological works but also in the many letters he wrote in his capacity as a bishop, [42] and while he had more connection with Syriac than has formerly been recognized, his theological, philosophical and rhetorical engagement as shown in his surviving works was with Greek intellectual culture. [43] His apologetic work, the Cure for Hellenic Maladies, followed Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius in turning Plato to Christian use. [44] As its preface shows, the Eranistes itself is not without literary or intellectual pretensions. According to Richard Lim, the work really was designed to help Theodoret’s readers and “favours clarity” over the “ludic free play” of Platonic dialogues. [45] It is indeed interesting that Theodoret should have felt the need to explain his procedure, and also, as Lim says, that he chose the dialogue form. However, we should not take Theodoret’s claim of simplicity at face value, and it was a trope he shared with many other Christian writers. Nor is the Eranistes best interpreted by being “set alongside” Theodoret’s Historia Religiosa, as a work supposedly demonstrating the author’s wish to insert himself somewhere in the space between those with Greek paideia and the uneducated wider Christian population. [46] Rather, it is a product of passion and of personal and intellectual engagement with contemporary and highly technical (and important) doctrinal disputes. It also demonstrates the wide range of dialogue types and their utility in Christian argument.
It appears that Theodoret had much less knowledge of Aristotle than of Plato. This has been held to be common among patristic authors, some of whom criticized the resort to Aristotelian dialectic and syllogisms and professed to associate it with heretics, whom they termed “new Aristotelians.” [47] Theodoret professedly stood on the side of those who categorized the employment of Aristotelian dialectic in doctrinal argument as technologia rather theologia. [48] A further important feature of the Eranistes is that each of its three dialogues ends with a florilegium of patristic citations. The work also has an Appendix, consisting of 40 summaries of the arguments of each dialogue, which is also preserved separately. In his recent book Adam Schor says that the Eranistes “intermixed” three genres: dialogue, florilegia and “dialectical syllogism.” [49] Scholars including the work’s editor have taken a remark by Theodoret at the end of his preface to refer to the Appendix: “After the three contests we will add more material, appending a collection (syllogismos) to each part.” Much later, Byzantine writers of dialogues did frequently draw up lists of syllogisms to support their arguments, [50] but if Theodoret was doing the same this would be a very early example. The most natural interpretation of his words is that he is not using the word syllogismos in its technical sense and that he is referring to the florilegia. Yet the forty summaries appended to the work as a whole, even if not classic syllogisms in themselves, clearly point forward to the future.
The florilegia are important. Like the vanquished Jews in the Adversus Iudaeos texts, Eranistes marvels at the discussion and admires Orthodoxos’s erudition, whereupon Theodoret gives to Orthodoxos concluding lines likening the selection of proof texts to the activity of bees searching for the right flowers—they often find themselves among dangerous blossoms, but choose the right ones. [51] The key was to produce citations that could be agreed to be unquestionably orthodox, and Theodoret finds no less than 237, even excluding the citations from Leo that were inserted later. [52] Proof texts had been a feature of Christian dialogue since Justin, [53] but doctrinal florilegia as such seem to have been a development coinciding with the arguments around the Council of Ephesus in 431, as it became more and more necessary to “prove” rival doctrinal positions. [54] We can see the development represented by Theodoret in terms of the technologizing of Christian doctrinal debate, and with it also of Christian dialogues. [55] Theodoret may already have produced a florilegium himself during his earlier arguments against Cyril, but the source of the three florilegia accompanying the Eranistes is not entirely clear. [56] It has been argued that the Eranistes draws on an earlier florilegium prepared at the time of the Council of Ephesus, possibly by Theodoret, [57] but others derive these florilegia from his lost Pentalogos, also from soon after 431. The level of Theodoret’s own agency in collecting the actual citations is of course an interesting question, though not strictly for the present discussion.
Theodoret was not the first to cast a theological debate in terms of an orthodox versus a heretical speaker. His rival and enemy Cyril of Alexandria (with whom he had exchanged a war of pamphlets before the Council of Ephesus) had himself written seven dialogues on the Trinity and two on Christology, calling the two speakers A and B. [58] Like Theodoret in the Eranistes, Cyril explains his technique in a preface to his dialogues on the Trinity, [59] referring to the dialogues as a logos consisting of seven logidia. Cyril’s opponent is Hermias, a man “highly qualified,” and the style is “informal,” an exchange of questions and answers between two speakers. [60] Interestingly, the word used by Cyril for this conversational style (aneimene) is what is prescribed for dialogue, as distinct from rhetoric/oratory and philosophy, in the influential handbook of Demetrius, On Style: [61] the style for dialogue should be like that of conversation, that is, simple and informal, as in the opening of Plato’s Republic, and resembling an extemporary utterance.
Cyril’s modern editor clearly found his preface unusual, and comments that Cyril seems to have named real people, yet without the Platonic characterization and scene-setting one might have expected. [62] Cyril’s early work, the De adoratione, is also a dialogue, or rather a series of dialogues between himself and a certain Palladius on Old Testament exegesis, recently described as having an Atticizing style and (less convincingly) “Platonic” dialogue form. [63] Closer to the Eranistes, Cyril’s Thesaurus drew on writings of Didymus against the Eunomians, which also points to the conclusion that doctrinal dialogue was already in use in the fourth century (seven Ps. Athanasian dialogues survive between an Orthodox and Anomoeans, often attributed to Didymus, though not certainly by him). [64]
The model of short, sharp exchanges between two speakers was also used, for example, in the Dialogue of Ps. Athanasius and Zacchaeus, dated to the late fourth century in a recent study by Patrick Andrist, though placed in the sixth by Vincent Déroche, [65] and was followed in later centuries, for instance by Anastasius, the late sixth-century patriarch of Antioch, in a dialogue set in Jerusalem between an Orthodox and a Tritheite, which consists of 907 lines of short exchanges followed by a final exposition by Orthodoxos. [66] Like Theodoret, though more briefly, the author explains in the introductory paragraphs that he inserted designations for his speakers for the sake of providing clarity for his readers. [67]
The interest of the Eranistes for us as students of Christian dialogue lies in its formalism, its use of the terminology of classification, its use of florilegia of proof texts, and its place in the spectrum of anti-heretical literature or heresiology. The Eranistes is a complex work, combining several elements that were to be important in the later history of the Christian dialogue form. It perfectly demonstrates the close connection between dialogue, apologetic and polemic that is apparent in the second-century examples, and it also marks a significant step in the formalization of anti-heretical literature. Lists of patristic citations were no idle adornment: they formed part of the proceedings of the Council of Ephesus, and the stakes were high in terms of the future of individuals and groups, including that of Theodoret himself. [68] Richard’s work has demonstrated that individual writers drew on core sources in different ways to suit their purpose, and Theodoret cites from heretical sources with the explicit expectation that his opponent will find these more convincing. Establishing the sources of such florilegia is usually complex, and the editor of the Eranistes argues against earlier theories of a second edition by Theodoret incorporating extracts from the Tome of Leo (449), and argues that Theodoret based the florilegia on his own earlier work and his own research, the material from the Tome being due to later interpolation. But the existence of a complex and extensive manuscript tradition for the Eranistes is indicative of its afterlife during the centuries following its composition, and of responses to it that differed markedly from those of modern scholars.
In assessing the development of Christian dialogues and the ways in which they became intertwined with polemical and controversialist literature, we need to look beyond a straightforward comparison with their Platonic and other classical predecessors. Christian dialogues were not innocent literary productions: their purpose was to influence thought, and in many cases also to demonstrate the weakness of opposing arguments, whether those of imaginary Jews, doctrinal rivals or, later, Muslims, and while still casting their own arguments in dialogue form they used all possible techniques of polemic, classification, proof texts and appeals to authority and hierarchy. It is true, then, that they do not represent open-ended discussion, because, to resort to an over-used cliché, they are about power, or, at least, about the assertion of authority in a highly competitive situation. [69] The issues at stake were real, urgent, and often practical in their application to individuals. An adequate reading of what may seem to us an artificial form of literary production must encompass more than a consideration of the relation of literary dialogues to “real” debate, or to literary and philosophical predecessors and models: it needs to move to an analysis which asks how they formed opinion, how they contributed to the definition of “orthodoxy,” and how they acted to establish an approved and accepted mindset. Multiform as these dialogues clearly were, they were nevertheless a tool of opinion-formation, and their rhetorical techniques need to be approached from that perspective. The late Thomas Sizgorich set out some of the rhetorical strategies found in Christian texts in term of “boundary maintenance” and “narratives of identity” between competing groups; [70] as we saw in chapter 2, individuals were equally caught up in this competitive and challenging situation. In this broader enterprise polemic was an essential tool, and polemic infiltrated the supposedly benign and open dialogue form as practiced by Christians from a very early stage.
Many problems surround the understanding of these texts, not least the fact that there is still a fundamental need for more critical editions; [71] for instance, questions of readership and circulation, and the relationship of dialogues with other forms of Christian writing with similar objectives, especially sets of questions and answers. [72] The fictive apocryphal dialogue represents a further extension of the range, including for example the debate with a number of Jews under the auspices of Constantine and Helena in the so-called Acts of Sylvester. [73] Another large body of material to be considered is provided by embedded dialogue passages in other texts, especially martyr acts and hagiography. Reported dialogue in council acts is yet another large topic. We have seen already that dialogues could take many forms; the dialogue as a stand-alone literary form is only one of them.
I will end by illustrating the highly complex interplay between historical “evidence,” literary and fictional dialogue, and the complications of dating and establishing the actual text in question, by considering just one more example, a mysterious dialogue that is part of a wider dossier of texts and that purports to have taken place between Gregentius, archbishop of Taphar (Zafar), the capital of the kingdom of Himyar in southern Arabia, and a learned Jew called Herban. [74] Its dramatic date is the sixth century, evidently before the emergence of Islam, and it provides a mythical account of the Christianization of Himyar under Ethiopian rule, but the text itself is much later, indeed perhaps as much as four centuries later.
Though supposedly set in Himyar, the dialogue opens with a scene-setting frame, saying that it was held at the command of the king (basileus) and in the presence of the “senate” and every possible learned man including learned Jews (Scribes and Pharisees) summoned from every city. [75] Though obviously fictional, the dialogue is of interest in the context of the considerable amount of recent scholarship on Himyar and its religious situation in the sixth century, and poses intriguing questions of date and provenance as well as form. [76] The pre-Islamic kingdom of Himyar has attracted the attention of historians for its large numbers of late antique monotheistic inscriptions, its period of Jewish rule, during which fell the so-called “martyrdom” of the Christians of Najran in the early sixth century at the orders of its then Jewish ruler, and its subsequent period of Christian rule from Ethiopia (Axum), with attempts by its ruler Abraha to extend control over other parts of Arabia, before it came under the control of the Sasanians in the 570s. [77] The task is made more difficult by the complexity of the relevant texts, among which our dialogue occupies a peripheral, but undoubtedly intriguing role.
This extremely long work enjoyed a wide circulation, and more than 50 manuscripts are known. [78] Someone evidently thought it worthwhile in the tenth century to compose a lengthy and detailed conspectus of Christian arguments against Judaism and to give it a fictional setting in South Arabia several centuries earlier; the resulting literary composition found eager readers. The dialogue offers little by way of detail about the historical Himyar. Its conclusion slides further into imaginative hagiography: after lengthy debate, Herban and the Jews challenge Gregentius to show them the resurrected Christ, after which the archbishop withdraws and prays, at which the earth shakes and Christ himself appears in the presence of the king and his notables, surrounded by a purple cloud, and addresses the company, at which the Jews are struck with blindness like Saul on the road to Damascus. Gregentius promises that their sight will be restored if they accept baptism and promptly baptizes one of them as a proof, after which Herban and all the rest are baptized. [79] The king stands as Herban’s sponsor, names him Leo and enrols him in the senate, and all Jews in cities everywhere are baptized, a feature which betrays the dialogue’s fanciful nature. Gregentius then asks the king to make a law according to which the baptized Jews must marry their sons and daughters to Christians, thereby Christianizing the land of Himyar. [80] With this fairy tale the dialogue ends, with the happy Christianization of Himyar under the blessed Gregentius and his royal patron and the death and burial of Gregentius at Zafar, saying nothing about the historical fate of Himyar under the Sasanians or the eventual arrival of Islam.
One interesting point comes early on, when the Jew laments the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures had ever been translated into “the elaborated language of the Greeks,” thus allowing Christians to debate them, [81] for Justinian’s Novel 146 (AD 553) permitted the use of Greek or other languages in place of Hebrew for the reading of the Scriptures in synagogues, and (grudgingly) allowed the use of the Aquila translation as well as the Septuagint. In another telling note of verisimilitude, which links the dialogue with the Life, Herban is said to have noticed notes being taken of the discussion by Palladius, Gregentius’s scholasticus, whom he had supposedly brought from Alexandria. [82] Gregentius’s tone is often scathing and Herban is reduced to silence, and the Jews are astonished, while the king rejoices with the notables at Gregentius’s success. He is still present on a third and fourth day, and for the climactic appearance of Christ.
This is a strange and extraordinarily long dialogue, with many features that are unusual in the context of other Adversus Iudaeos literature. The dossier in which it is preserved is highly complex and its date and authorship uncertain to say the least. Yet behind it must lie, besides a dim awareness of some historical features of pre-Islamic Himyar, the end of Christian rule there, and perhaps of the wider seventh-century context, a consciousness of the continuing utility of Christian-Jewish dialogue over a period of many centuries and of the imaginative potential and enduring attractiveness of the dialogue form.
In this chapter we have considered three examples (four, if we include the dialogues of Cyril of Alexandria), chosen for their contrasting qualities. There is no typical dialogue, any more than there is a standard Greek term used in manuscripts as the titles of such texts. Yet the dialogue had an extraordinary persistence as a literary form. It was surely its flexibility that made it so popular and gave it such a long life in the Greek east.


[ back ] 1. See Musurillo and Debidour 1963:9–11. I am indebted in the discussions of Methodius and Theodoret that follow to the excellent work done by my research assistant Alberto Rigolio; I am also grateful to Virginia Burrus for letting me see her paper on the Symposium in advance of publication, to Dawn La Valle for stimulating discussion and to Ryan C. Fowler for helpful email communication. For some of the material in this chapter, see also Averil Cameron, forthcoming  a.
[ back ] 2. For which see Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.33, 37. Origen’s dialogue with Heraclides: Scherer 1960, English translation, Daly 1992:57–78.
[ back ] 3. E. A. Clark 1999; 1995:364, “a treatise probably composed in the early years of the fourth century”; 2008b; 2009; Goldhill 1995:1-4, 43-44.
[ back ] 4. For instance Hösle 2012:450–451 and often.
[ back ] 5. Musurillo and Debidour 1963:50n2; Zorzi 2002, 2003, both accessed 22.1.13; Nygren 1953.
[ back ] 6. It is intriguing that the addressee of one of Iamblichus’s letters, on self-control (sophrosune), is also called Arete: see Dillon and Polleichtner 2010, Letter 3. For the setting of the Symposium as a locus amoenus: Hösle 2012:231; for König 2012:156, 159, it is a “fantasy space,” and the protagonists constitute a “fantasy community.”
[ back ] 7. Prologue, 7–8. English translation, Musurillo 1958.
[ back ] 8. Methodius also uses the name Euboulios elsewhere, seemingly in reference to himself.
[ back ] 9. For the trope of a dialogue within a dialogue see Goldlust 2010:98; dramatic (direct) and reported (indirect, narrative) dialogues: Hösle 2012:166–168.
[ back ] 10. Where she explicitly cites Psalms 136 and other Old Testament passages and expounds the meaning of the rivers of Babylon; as Musurillo points out, Arete’s garden is a replica of Paradise and the banquet is an eschatological banquet (Musurillo and Debidour 1963:15).
[ back ] 11. See Musurillo and Debidour 1963:14–19, and on Methodius and Plato, pp. 23–25.
[ back ] 12. Symposium, discourse 8, para. 181, Musurillo and Debidour 1963:210.
[ back ] 13. For instance in the first interlude Euboulion exclaims at the length of Thalia’s speech (“an ocean of words”), and Gregorion encourages her to persist and listen to the others; Theopatra has told her that she herself spoke next, and her speech follows. In the third intervention, between the ninth and tenth speeches, both speakers fear for the understandable nervousness of Domnina, who is yet to speak and has to compete with all the others who have already spoken.
[ back ] 14. Musurillo and Debidour 1963: paras. 34–40, pp. 75–79.
[ back ] 15. Musurillo and Debidour 1963: discourse 3, paras. 91–92, pp. 125–126.
[ back ] 16. E. A. Clark 1999:147–148, 286, 288, 352.
[ back ] 17. See König 2009:98, 104; cf. 102–113; König 2012:151–176; Bril 2005; Hoffmann 1996:121–130.
[ back ] 18. König 2009:106, 112, cf. 113: both authors are “engaging with those [sympotic] traditions intricately, reshaping them for their own new contexts and new uses.” For Macrobius see König 2012:chap. 8 and Goldlust 2010.
[ back ] 19. Jacob 2012. There were many different ways of referencing Plato’s Symposium, as Jacob’s discussion of Athenaeus makes clear (Jacob 2012:27), and Methodius’s was all his own.
[ back ] 20. Lim 2009:159.
[ back ] 21. König 2012:165; cf. also 171–172 on the uncertainty between competitiveness and consensus in the dialogue, and 175, where König admits that Methodius’s engagement with “traditional Greco-Roman ideas of sympotic playfulness and sympotic contest” was “not entirely comfortable.”
[ back ] 22. Surviving and reconstructed text: Bonwetsch 1891, with Buchheit 1958 and Patterson 1997. In general on Methodius, see Bracht 1999; 2011
[ back ] 23. See E. A. Clark 1992:168–170; English translation by Pretty, in Trompf 1997.
[ back ] 24. On the Resurrection found its way into the Syriac Florilegium Edessenum (Rucker1933:10–12). But the Slavonic translations seem to derive from confusion of this Methodius with the later “apostle to the Slavs.”
[ back ] 25. Franchi 2009.
[ back ] 26. Whom he misunderstood, according to E. A. Clark 1992:96.
[ back ] 27. Goldhill 1995:43.
[ back ] 28. For this question see Averil Cameron 1998.
[ back ] 29. Sternbach 1892, no. 46, addressed to the “holy” Methodius; see Franchi 2009:79.
[ back ] 30. See Averil Cameron, forthcoming a.
[ back ] 31. Young 1983:278.
[ back ] 32. Clayton 2007:chap. 7.
[ back ] 33. Schor 2011:121, 184–185, 208.
[ back ] 34. Wickham 2012:337.
[ back ] 35. Young 1983:281–282.
[ back ] 36. Young 1983:283.
[ back ] 37. Ettlinger 1975 and 2003:preface. For the practice of placing names in the margins see Wilson 1970:305; Lim 1991:81–82, both discussing Theodoret; Andrieu 1954:part 2, 283–344, especially 304–315. For a precedent among Platonic dialogues, cf. the opening of the Theaetetus, 143 b–c, with Ford 2009:34n20, “dropping things like ‘I said,’ or ‘he replied.’” See also Cyril of Alexandria’s Dialogues on the Trinity, on which see below.
[ back ] 38. Theodoret knew the difference, and himself produced Questions on the Octateuch (Fernandez-Marcos and Saenz-Badillos 1979); the Questions and Answers to the Orthodox is a work attributed to Justin Martyr that has been assigned to Theodoret, though scholars are divided on its authorship; see Papadogiannakis 2012:21–22.
[ back ] 39. Ettlinger 1975:3–4.
[ back ] 40. Pásztori-Kupán 2006, cf. 20 (“his work against Monophysitism”).
[ back ] 41. Urbainczyk 2002:27, 30.
[ back ] 42. Azéma 1955–1968, 1982.
[ back ] 43. Millar 2007; Johnson, forthcoming.
[ back ] 44. Siniossoglou 2008 is dismissive of Theodoret’s knowledge of Plato, but see Papadogiannakis 2012. Papadogiannakis 2012, chapter 5, discusses the literary aspects of Theodoret’s writing (though not the Eranistes).
[ back ] 45. Lim 2009:165.
[ back ] 46. Lim 2009:165–166.
[ back ] 47. See Elders 1994; Runia 1989; the teaching of Aristotle: Ierodiakonou and Zografidis 2010.
[ back ] 48. See Lim 1995a:122.
[ back ] 49. Schor 2011:184–185.
[ back ] 50. See Bydén 2004. Bydén connects the cases he discusses with the Byzantine debates with the Latins about the union of the churches, but the phenomenon was considerably wider; see also Aerts 1997:657–658.
[ back ] 51. Eranistes, p. 253; the figure of the bee: Ciccolella 2006.
[ back ] 52. Clayton 2007:218 with detailed discussion.
[ back ] 53. See Skarsaune 1987.
[ back ] 54. Richard 1951 (2011).
[ back ] 55. “Short proofs” and florilegia: Ierodiakonou and Zografidis 2010:856–858, and cf. Uthemann 1981a.
[ back ] 56. Ettlinger 1975:26.
[ back ] 57. Theodoret Letter 170.
[ back ] 58. Ed. Durand 1976–1978; cf. Durand 1964.
[ back ] 59. Such prologues are another regular feature, as are metapoetic authorial statements about the chosen literary form and explanations for its use.
[ back ] 60. Durand 1976–1878:128–129.
[ back ] 61. On Style 19–21, Roberts 1969:78–79; cf. 222–225, p. 64.
[ back ] 62. Except for the prologue, further attempts at verisimilitude in the seven dialogues on the Trinity are rare, and dialogues III, IV, VI and VII all end with a doxology.
[ back ] 63. PG 68. 133–1125; see Blackburn Jr. 2009:31; Young 1983:246–248; cf. Young 1997:262–263. Schurig 2005:38 argues against classifying the work as an example of erotapokriseis, while according to Blackburn, citing Weber 2000, it is a “didactic dialogue.”
[ back ] 64. PG 28. 1115–1268, 1291–1338; see Heron 1973 (not by Didymus, but late fourth-century).
[ back ] 65. Andrist 2001; cf. Déroche 1991:276.
[ back ] 66. See Uthemann 1981b.
[ back ] 67. Uthemann 1981b: lines 7–8.
[ back ] 68. Graumann 2009.
[ back ] 69. Averil Cameron 2007, 2012.
[ back ] 70. Sizgorich 2009: chaps. 1 and 2.
[ back ] 71. The need is far greater for the Byzantine period.
[ back ] 72. Jacobs 2007:329, referring to “a space for the dialogic cacophony of different voices even as they were ostensibly refining and narrowing the bounds of ‘orthodox’ identity”; see above, chapter 1.
[ back ] 73. The earliest version of this text seems to go back to the fifth or sixth century; it contains a debate, in twelve sessions, between Constantine, his mother Helena, pagan judges and twelve Jewish scholars.
[ back ] 74. In addition to the Dialexis (CPG 7009) the dossier also includes the Life of Gregentius and the so-called Laws of the Himyarites; all are impressively edited with English translation by A. Berger (Berger 2006). Berger concludes his discussion of the date of composition (Berger 2006:92–107) by arguing that the dialogue dates from the mid-tenth century, and that although written in higher style, it is by the same author as the Life, and perhaps written in the Constantinopolitan monastery of Maximina (see Berger 2006:40).
[ back ] 75. A, lines 1–15, Berger 2006:450. The meeting-place is described as the “Threlleton,” probably evokes the Trullanum of the palace at Constantinople and suggests awareness of the Council held there in 691–692: see Déroche 1991:151–152; Berger 2006:94. Berger argues that the dialogue was probably composed in Constantinople (against Shahid 1979 and Olster 1994).
[ back ] 76. See Fiaccadori 2006.
[ back ] 77. See Beaucamp et al. 2010; Gajda 2009; Robin 2012; Robin, forthcoming; Bowersock 2012:chap. 1.
[ back ] 78. Andrist 2000:285; the Greek text was printed with a Latin translation in 1586, paraphrased in Modern Greek in 1646 and translated, and even dramatized, in Turkish in the nineteenth century (Berger 2006:160–162).
[ back ] 79. Berger 2006:E, 480–708, pp. 783–799.
[ back ] 80. Berger 2006:E, 695–709, p. 798.
[ back ] 81. Berger 2006:A, 44–45, p. 455. Excellent discussion of the argumentation and structure of the Dialexis by Berger 2006:114–134, noting that Herban is “portrayed in quite a vivid manner” (122).
[ back ] 82. Berger 2006:80.