In Her Own Words: The Life and Poetry of Aelia Eudocia

  Sowers, Brian P. 2020. In Her Own Words: The Life and Poetry of Aelia Eudocia. Hellenic Studies Series 80. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

4. The Confession: Competing with Magic


In the previous chapter, I argue that the Conversion depends on early Christian prose narratives, especially martyrologies and acta that depict exceptional women. My approach in that chapter focuses on how Justa intertextually engages these exceptional female characters, particularly Thecla and Perpetua. In fact, despite the Conversion’s ostensible interest in Cyprian, Justa receives far more attention and emerges as the story’s main character. She is allotted far more “screen time” than Cyprian, and we learn more about Antioch’s Christian community from her. Because the second book of Eudocia’s epic, the Confession, has a different focus and uses sources differently than the Conversion, it demands a distinct approach. This new approach is doubly necessary, because the narrative shifts from Justina to Cyprian.
As main character of the Confession, Cyprian outlines for the Antiochene Christians his life story, beginning with his initiation into various Greek religious cults and eastern magic rites, culminating in his failed attempt to seduce Justina, which precipitates his conversion. [1] Nearly three-quarters of the Confession, therefore, is a frequently perplexing list of religious and occult arcana. Because this list contains some information about pagan (classical) religious cults and magic rituals, especially how late antique Christian communities understood them, it has received attention from scholars interested in the history of ancient religions. [2] The first part of this chapter traces Cyprian’s mystical journey throughout the Mediterranean and his mastery of various rituals. When possible, I situate these details within their wider religious contexts.
It is important to note, however, that Eudocia and her prose sources are not ideologically neutral to these ancient religious/magic practices. Rather, in keeping with the competitive rhetoric of the time, her tone is decidedly polemical. After Constantine, late antique Christianity adopted a more aggressive stance against their religious competitors, which resulted in a heightened and increasingly intolerant legal and rhetorical posture against traditional ancient Mediterranean religions. [3] As part of this rhetoric, rituals of power were equated with demonology, and their effects were repudiated as deceptive schemes of demons working to undermine God’s redemptive plan (see the opening of the Conversion). Written within this tradition, Eudocia’s Confession (like the Conversion) categorically rejects demonic power by conflating Cyprian’s “demonic” magic with ancient Mediterranean religions, including those of Greece, Egypt, and Babylon. [4] Eudocia’s anti-pagan rhetoric, therefore, stands at odds with her religiously moderate or ambiguous stance at Hammat Gader. Because the Confession fits within a tradition, culminating in the Faust legend, of fictional magicians who make deals with the devil, it is valuable for the history of western literature. [5] This chapter advances the research previously published on the Confession by providing a reading of Cyprian’s travels across the late antique Mediterranean world. [6]
The second part of this chapter examines the narrative relationship between the Confession and the Conversion. Since the original prose versions were written independently of each other but had been incorporated into a single narrative before their versification into an epic by Eudocia, I treat the Conversion and Confession as two episodes of one unified story, however disjointed they may be at times. This approach is not without challenges, as the Confession’s version of the Justina-Aglaidas episode differs from the longer version found in the Conversion in a few essential ways. My aim here is not to resolve all textual and narrative discrepancies between the two accounts but to argue that Eudocia subtly situates the Confession against the Conversion, particularly the Conversion’s intertextual engagement with the Acts of Paul and Thecla (APT). This approach creates a unified way of reading Eudocia as she reads Justina as a new, even more idealized Thecla.
In the final section of this chapter, I conclude with an examination of the literary models behind Cyprian’s character. By the fourth century, when the Confession was first written, and certainly by the time Eudocia turned it into an epic a century later, itinerant wonderworkers were a well-established literary trope. This trope, I argue, influenced the wider Cyprian legend, which, through a series of narrative reversals, exploits and critiques this trope. By contrasting Cyprian with Pythagoras and Apollonius, among others, the contours of his character come into sharper focus.

Cyprian’s Confession

The Conversion ends with Cyprian fully integrated into the Antiochene church, rising to the rank of bishop, and using his (now God’s) power to heal the sick, exorcize demons, and convert the city’s remaining pagan population to Christianity. For her part, Justa, now renamed Justina, has been appointed deaconess and Mother Superior for Antioch’s young Christian women. The Conversion anticipates the final portion of the legend: Cyprian and Justina’s arrest, torture, trial, and execution during the Diocletianic persecution. As a narrative whole, however, the Conversion contains a neatly packaged story about Christianity’s triumph over traditional Mediterranean religions, including magic, and God’s triumph over Satan, which results in mass conversions and rapid growth. In other words, the Conversion is a type of etiological myth about Christianity’s rise and spread, circulated by subsequent generations unaware of its gradual, consistent growth. [7]
The Confession, however, does not pick up where the Conversion ends but begins with Cyprian addressing an Antiochene audience about his desire to convert. Its start in medias res most likely gestures to Apuleius’ Apology and ultimately back to Plato’s Apology and the wider genre of legal defense literature, which frequently begin with carefully devised requests for sympathetic judges/juries (compare Cicero On Invention 1.20). [8] Unlike Apuleius, who argues that his actions have been mistakenly misrepresented as magic, Cyprian readily admits that he learned magic, yet asks for forgiveness. [9] Here, his Confession fits within an emerging tradition of literary poenitentiae and anticipates Augustine’s Confessions, written a few decades later. [10]
Eudocia’s Confession is incomplete and ends at the moment when the presbyter Eusebius would have granted Cyprian forgiveness and welcomed him into the Antiochene church. As it survives, however, her version is bookended with two direct addresses to the Christian community—Cyprian begins by pointing out his tears (II.1–4) and concludes by asking if God can forgive him (II.475–479). This suggests that Cyprian’s primary audience is the Christian leadership or, perhaps, the church as a whole. For that reason, the Confession can be read as a narrative expansion of Cyprian’s mini-confessions found in the Conversion (I.230–239, 285–289). Through this rhetorical tour de force and literal tour across the Mediterranean, Cyprian successfully convinces the Antiochene Christians that he has turned from his previous life, marked by an insatiable curiosity for ritual power, toward a new life marked by a commitment to God’s power.
Nevertheless, despite the Confession’s overtly Christian context, including Cyprian’s admission into the Antiochene church, his defense addresses two different audiences—Christians, potentially skeptical about his sincerity but hopefully moved by his tears (II.1–4), and traditionalists (meaning “pagans”), still committed to idol worship but potentially persuaded by his story about the ineffectiveness of demons (II.5–6). This two-fold audience may reflect the story’s ultimate ideological agenda. As a result of this opening, the Confession has been interpreted as targeted toward a non-Christian readership. [11] If so, then the Confession complements Eudocia’s Homeric cento (Cento 1–6), which similarly begins by addressing a diverse audience, especially those outside the Christian faith. [12] Eudocia’s poem at Hammat Gader also directs its reader toward God, although ambiguously and only at the end. Her surviving poetic corpus, therefore, has a clear proselytizing tone and is speaking, at least partially, to a secular audience.
As literary model of the converted pagan, Cyprian represents Eudocia’s ideal audience. Previously committed to demon worship but now convinced of their weakness, his conversion guides the tone and content of his speech. Moreover, his emerging Christian ideology pervades the story, for instance, when he conflates demons and idol worship into a single, indistinguishable whole or when he describes demons as worthless (μαψιδίων, II.9), unseemly (ἀεικέσιν, II.5), and full of deception (ἀπατήλια, II.6). As secondary narrator, Cyprian consistently uses pejorative language when speaking of demons and traditional religious rituals. These anachronistic moments reflect his eventual realization that demons cannot withstand the sign of the cross and are, therefore, unable to seduce Justina, a failing that directly and explicitly motivates his conversion. [13]
Similar to Simon Magus, the archetypal magician turned Christian (compare Acts 8:9–25), Cyprian converts after realizing God’s superior power. The conversions of Simon and Cyprian presume a zero-sum competitive discourse used throughout the ancient Mediterranean, especially by Judeo-Christian communities as they distinguished themselves from each other and from their religious competitors. Unlike Simon Magus, however, whose misappropriation of divine power elicited apostolic disapproval and solidified his reputation as ideological enemy of Peter and the Church, Cyprian is not motivated by a desire to use the power of the cross for self-serving ends but for the advancement of the faith (I.301–305). [14] In this regard, Cyprian’s two-fold audience (Christian and pagan) corresponds to his own transformation over the course of the narrative. As a newly converted Christian eventually responsible for mass conversions and miracles, Cyprian’s first public address reflects this desire to advance the faith. In other words, rather than simply seeing Cyprian’s pagan audience as a reflection of the Confession’s ideological agenda, his speech is equally consistent within the narrative arc of the Cyprian legend itself.

Cyprian in Greece

To mark the transition from his programmatic introduction to the account of his early life, Cyprian names himself, “I am that famous Cyprian (οὗτος ἐκεῖνος ἔφυν Κυπριανός, II.11).” His ensuing journey spans thirty years, during which he travels from Greece through Asia Minor to north of the Black Sea, south to Egyptian Memphis, and east to Babylon, and ends with his settling in Syrian Antioch, where the Aglaidas-Justina story takes place. His use of οὗτος ἐκεῖνος implies notoriety, someone with a reputation for supernatural power, eventually appointed Satan’s right-hand man and granted unusual honors by Satan and his followers (II.220–230). Not entirely a literary conceit, Cyprian was immensely popular in late antique magic lore beyond the Christianized story, and he continues to be invoked in rituals throughout the world. For instance, the late antique Cyprian love spell is written from his perspective and contains a narrative version of Cyprian’s conversion to Christianity before invoking Gabriel to seduce a young woman. [15] Cyprian currently remains the primary authority invoked in South American rituals that require practitioners to bind or control Satan. [16]
As part of the ancient biographical tradition that projects the virtues and vices of its adult subjects onto their younger selves, Cyprian’s exceptional religious ability begins while just a young child (κοῦρος) in Athens, where his parents dedicate him to Apollo (II.12). [17] As an initiate, the young Cyprian participates in a serpent-based ritual, presumably the Delphic Stepterion. [18] According to Plutarch, the Stepterion was a purification ritual celebrated every eighth year that required the participation of a young boy with living parents. This boy processed with torches and attendants into a hut, which was specifically built for the occasion and which symbolized a serpent’s lair. The boy and his attendants ritually destroyed the hut, set it on fire, and fled into the temple precinct. Shortly thereafter, he would fast in Tempe and would return to Delphi, crowned in laurel and hailed as the serpent’s killer.
Cyprian transforms this popular Greek festival into a Satanic one in a few essential ways. By equating the Stepterion with a beast (θηρός, II.13) and a stomach-traveling serpent (νηδυπόροιο δράκοντος, II.14), he replaces the ritual’s historical and religious features with biblical reference about Satan. The θηρός (II.13) echoes the two beasts (θηρία) found in Revelation 13:1 and 13:11, which, if not directly about Satan, certainly symbolize Satanic forces hostile to God and humanity. The stomach-traveling serpent (νηδυπόροιο δράκοντος, II.14) alludes to God’s curse on the deceptive serpent in Genesis 3:14. By late antiquity, the serpent from the Genesis account was widely assumed to be Satan in disguise.
This association between Cyprian’s early religious occupations and Satan is hardly accidental. On the one hand, his participation in demonic activity and his allegiance to Satan parallel those in Revelation who adopt the mark of the beast and ally themselves against God. On the other hand, through his allusion to Genesis 3, Cyprian equates his early religious upbringing with Satan’s deception of Eve. From a biblical perspective, these allusions bookend world history, from Eden to the Apocalypse. Moreover, as I argue in the previous chapter, Satan models his attempted deception of Justina on his earlier, successful deception of Eve (I.149–172). By using language that explicitly invokes Genesis 3, Cyprian simultaneously admits that he, like Adam and Eve, was deceived by Satan, but he also anticipates Justina’s defeat of Satan and his own conversion.
Apollo and his serpentine ritual are the first of many traditional Greek cults in which Cyprian is initiated, perhaps because Python is a convenient classical proxy for Satan. In fact, the name Apollo may also allude to the demonic leader in charge of the beasts released in Revelation 9:1–11 and may underscore this association between Apollo/Python and the devil. Although such an anti-classical polemic is consistent with the ideological agenda of the Confession, it is equally possible to see a parallel between Cyprian and Apollo through their shared interest in oracular divination, a skill Cyprian repeatedly claims throughout his apology. At the same time, his participation in Greek cults, his connection to Apollo, and his interest in divination have strong resonances in the biographies of Apollonius of Tyana and Pythagoras. [19] These Apollonian and Pythagorean influences on the Cyprian legend are the focus of the final section of this chapter.
While in Athens, the seven-year old Cyprian is initiated into the cult of Phaethon Mithras. [20] Because he excelled at these rituals, his parents encourage him to become an Athenian citizen (II.17). This detail suggests that they were not originally from Athens but want him to have access to positions only open to citizens. From what we know about ancient Mithraism, it was a common practice for parents to dedicate their sons to Mithras. [21] Cyprian’s early training with Apollo and Mithras reflects the extent to which mystery cults, traditional Greco-Roman religions, and rituals of power magic had been conflated by late antique Christian polemicists. [22] In fact, ritual initiations found in the Greek Magic Papyri and elsewhere reflect a similar conflation, often by borrowing language from the mysteries. [23]
Cyprian goes to great lengths to communicate his parents’ involvement in these initiations. Regarding the Stepterion, their involvement is essential, because the child participant needs to have living parents. The other rituals Cyprian mentions do not require direct parental involvement, although their involvement makes sense due to his young age at the time. Moreover, by the second century, magicians beginning their education at very young ages had become a type of literary trope, and we know that parents could and did enroll their children in local religious offices. [24] On the other hand, considering their rather insignificant role in the story as a whole, Cyprian’s parents may serve a didactic purpose, especially when they are compared to Justina’s parents, Aedesius and Cledonia. Both sets of parents begin as committed pagans involved in the religious lives of Athens and Antioch. Whereas Cyprian’s parents encourage his participation in Greek cults leading to his apprenticeship under Satan, Aedesius and Cledonia convert to Christianity, a conversion that, as I argue in the previous chapter, sets in motion Justina’s conversion, her participation in the Antiochene church, and (ultimately) Cyprian’s conversion. The contrasting role that Cyprian and Justina’s parents play in the Conversion and Confession underscores the influence parents have on the religious lives of their children. Therefore, Cyprian’s parents appear as literary warnings for late antique adults against encouraging their children to participate in traditional religious festivals.
In addition to participating in the Stepterion and cult of Mithras, Cyprian serves as torch bearer (δᾳδοῦχος) of a god (II.18–19), likely Demeter at Eleusis. Because only adults from ancient, aristocratic Athenian families served as δᾳδοῦχος, it is extremely improbable that Cyprian held this position at any point in his life, let alone as a young child. This detail is likely a historical error on the part of the original prose author. Perhaps aware that the young Cyprian could not have served as δᾳδοῦχος to Demeter, Eudocia replaces the original τῇ Δημήτρᾳ with the slightly more ambiguous Δηοῖ. Nock also attempts to resolve this error by suggesting that Cyprian served in some comparable position open to children, perhaps as hearth initiate (ὁ παῖς ἀφ᾽ ἑστίας) to Zeus. [25] Because the παῖς ἀφ᾽ ἑστίας was chosen through a lottery system, it was technically open to all Athenian adolescents, although most came from the same old, aristocratic families. [26] Shortly thereafter, Cyprian is initiated as one of the epheboi in the Eleusinian mysteries (II.19–20) and serves in the serpent cult to Athena (II.20–21), where he likely feeds honey cakes to the sacred snake on the Acropolis. [27] Therefore, while still a child, Cyprian participates in the cults of Apollo, Mithras, Demeter/Zeus, Persephone, and Athena.
After rising to the position of temple servant (ζάκορος), Cyprian leaves Athens for Olympus (II.22), where he sees and hears various, confusing supernatural things. For instance, he hears echoes and sounds (II.24–25), which have been interpreted as an allusion to the belief that demons could be born out of echoes from God’s voice. [28] Cyprian also observes basic pharmacology, an essential part of ancient magic, which he describes as plants and roots used by demons (II.25–26). [29] He learns about the seasons, winds, and days of the year, and he watches a choir sing songs and other people perform violent acts (II.27–31). [30] During his forty-eight-day stay on Olympus (II.34–35), Cyprian witnesses a demonic army travel throughout the world deceiving humans (II.36–38) and, one evening, ritually fasts on a diet of freshly picked berries (II.39–40). [31]
At the age of fifteen, under the tutelage of seven hierophants, he advances from observing to performing these rituals (II.40–42). Although the number seven may be symbolic, hierophants were Athenian priests, frequently from aristocratic families, who served in the Eleusinian Mysteries. During late antiquity, the term hierophant could be used for any ritual expert. [32] These seven hierophants teach Cyprian about demons, spirits, and divination, a skill closely associated with at least one well-known late antique Athenian hierophant. [33] Because his parents are still eager that he receive a complete education, he learns everything about the earth, sky, and sea (II.45), including human destruction (II.46), pharmacology (II.47–48), human oppression (II.48)—everything discovered by Satan (II.49–51). By attributing his education to Satan, Cyprian admits his own aberrance and, in so doing, transforms Satan into a type of biblical Prometheus. Like Prometheus, Satan teach humans those practices and skills he had developed. [34] Whereas Prometheus opposes Zeus through assisting humanity and teaching them various arts, Satan opposes God by teaching humanity intentionally harmful arts. By calling Satan the ruler of the earth (ὁ τῆσδε γύης ἀρχός, II.50), Cyprian echoes eschatologically rich biblical passages (John 12:31, 16:11, 2 Corinthians 4:4) that mark Satan’s authority over the earth, sky, and sea as provisional and limited.
When he departs Olympus for Argos, Cyprian augments his cosmological curriculum by becoming initiate of air, water, and earth at a festival for Dawn (Ἠώς, II.52–57). In the prose version, he claims to have been initiated into the mysteries of Hera, whose marriage to Zeus has been interpreted allegorically as the marriage of the ether and air. [35] He continues on to Sparta to see the cult image of Artemis (Keladeine) Tauropolos and to study destructive natural forces, engraved stones (ψήφους γραφίδας), cosmic symbols (χαρακτήρας), and ancient myths (II.60–62). [36] It is tempting to compare these stones and symbols with those found in the Greek Magic Papyri (PGM) and elsewhere. [37] Rituals of power frequently mention inscribed stones and occasionally require practitioners to inscribe words of power onto stones that then were worn or carried to guarantee or enact their efficacy. [38] Some of these words of power are incomprehensible symbols (χαρακτῆρας) representing secret names of deities or commands to deities. [39] Through the act of knowing/writing these secret names and commands, each ritual becomes imbued with power. [40] Sparta, however, is not usually associated with these practices. Considering the ambiguity of Eudocia’s wording and its departure from her prose models, one should not read too much into this section.
From the Peloponnese, Cyprian travels to Phrygia (II.62) in central Asia Minor, where, under divine inspiration, he learns hepatoscopy (divination by inspecting livers). It may strike us as odd that Cyprian makes no direct references to Magna Mater or the Phrygian goddess Cybele, the region’s most popular and wide-spreading cult, [41] although there is nothing explicitly Phrygian about Cyprian’s Phrygian education. What is striking is his use of μαντιπόλος (“frenzied” or “inspired”) to describe his mental state in Phrygia. Beyond mere intoxication, μαντιπόλος implies a mantic experience, what Burkert calls an “intensified mental power,” frequently in reference to Dionysus, who also had deep roots in Phrygia. [42] By late antiquity, μαντιπόλος can simply mean a diviner. [43] Therefore, despite the rather un-Phrygian content of his Phrygian visit, Cyprian describes his mental state with language that has deep roots in eastern mantic traditions.

Cyprian in Scythia

After spending his childhood years in Attica, the Peloponnese, and Asia Minor, the adult Cyprian continues his journey to Scythia (II.65). While there, he learns ornithomancy (divination by tracking the flights or sounds of birds) and divination by analyzing the paths of animals. [44] In addition to these, he learns the sound of wood and stone, voices of the dead, creaking of doors, human anatomy (especially how to make bodies twitch and suffer), and, finally, oaths and other powerful words. Although this seems like a disconnected and disjointed list, some patterns emerge. Located near the borders of the Roman Empire beyond the confines of the Mediterranean, the Scythians, especially their culture and religion, were greatly mischaracterized by classical authors. [45] The Confession operates within this tradition.
In the ancient Mediterranean ideological landscape, divination was contested territory. [46] For instance, despite there being a well-established Italian tradition of bird divination, Cicero (On Divination 1.92) repudiates ornithomancy as an example of eastern influence and identifies oionistes (those who practice ornithomancy) with Phrygia, Pisidia, Cilicia, and Arabia, not his native Italia. [47] Cicero here participates in a well-established Roman practice of projecting potentially threatening religious customs onto foreign or distant people. Within the more general Greco-Roman literary tradition, practitioners of rituals of power frequently hail from “distant” cultures (Thessaly, Egypt, Babylon, etc.). [48] A similar practice is at play here in the Confession. After Cyprian leaves Greece for Phrygia and Scythia, he studies hepatoscopy and ornithomancy, although both forms of divination are equally attested in Greece and Rome. [49] As he travels further from Greece, Cyprian characterizes his studies as increasingly transgressive. This suggests that the Confession operates on two ideological registers: a Greco-Roman register that treats eastern religious traditions—even very ancient ones—with suspicion or hostility and a Christian register that repudiates all other religious practices.
Cyprian’s Scythian education contains a great deal of sounds: bird chirping, the utterances of diviners, noises made by wood and stone, voices of the dead, and creaking of doors. Such sounds play a crucial role in prescriptive magic. [50] Some sounds were to be emulated in the form of hissing, clucking, sighing, groaning, and lip smacking to make rituals more efficacious. [51] Other sounds were to be avoided for rituals to work. [52] Hearing, listening, speaking, and replicating sounds were an essential part of the ritual process, one found in countless prescriptive sources.
Despite the proliferation of sounds and hearing in the PGM, the rhetorical force of Cyprian’s list of sounds is not to elaborate on them or their ritual function but to conflate them into a single catch-all category of divination, idolatry, and necromancy. This bundling of Christianity’s ideological competitors is accomplished by balancing well-known and quite popular methods of divination (necromancy and ornithomancy) with vague descriptions that make the list more “spooky,” such as Cyprian’s multiple references to bodily harm. [53] The inclusion of sounds from stone and wood further conflates cult practices with divination and is consistent with the biblical tradition of describing idolatry as the worship of objects fashioned from wood and stone (Jeremiah 2:27, Jeremiah 3:9, Ezekiel 20:32).
Cyprian also learns divination from songs and texts (II.73). The prose version of the Confession more explicitly indicates that this divination comes through identifying the numerical values of words. This is consistent with ancient gematria or isopsephy, a practice found in ancient theurgy and the Greek Magical Papyri but also commonly employed in Judeo-Christian allegorical exegesis. [54] Despite its varied permutations, gematria emerges from a competitive discourse about sacred or celebrated texts, especially those that contain potentially embarrassing myths and legends. By interpreting these myths as the medium for hidden codes, their historical or ethical problems can be elided over. In fact, of the multiple occasions when Cyprian learns songs, verses, and words of power during his journey, this is the only time he calls them mythoi, which may be an allusion to the ritualized use of literature, particularly classical epics and biblical passages, to predict the future. [55] The prevalence of numerology within the Christian allegorical tradition throughout late antiquity makes Cyprian’s negative depiction of gematria here particularly strange. Instead of a general criticism of numerology, it is most likely a targeted criticism of gematria in non-Christian contexts with non-Christian texts.
These disparate ritual practices are unified under a more general understanding of the limits of nature (στήλας φύσιος, II.74). By invoking φύσις, Cyprian gestures to two over-arching themes found within his Confession. First, he reiterates how his education comprehensively includes all of nature—land, sea, and air. With this proficiency of all three cosmic spheres, he effectively controls all of nature or influences those demons appointed over each sphere. Before running into Justina, he is, at least in his own mind, master of the universe. Second, by alluding to nature’s limits, he highlights the boundary between the acceptable and the unacceptable and, in so doing, subtly situates magic outside the appropriate natural order. [56] Cyprian certainly uses a recurring trope from competitive rhetoric that discredits one’s competitors by insisting they transgress nature or what is natural. Related to this is the popular assumption, both in antiquity and modernity, that magic is an intrinsically transgressive system, the antithesis of nature.
According to this view, magic is transgressive, because its practitioners intentionally undermine socially accepted norms about spiritual and religious traditions. [57] As a result of this social breach, magic practitioners find themselves alienated from their communities and from society as a whole. [58] This model, however, is prescriptive, not descriptive, and prioritizes “religion” as the only acceptable way to engage the spiritual world or the cosmic order. Positioning religion as the antithesis of magic simply employs competitive terminology (religion = natural; magic = unnatural) and ignores the obvious fact that many socially acceptable religious traditions contain rituals that, from an ideologically neutral position, are indistinguishable from those in rival traditions stigmatized as unnatural or transgressive. [59] By late antiquity, early Christianity had already coopted this competitive rhetoric from the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition and had directed its proscriptive attack not only against magic but also against traditional Greco-Roman religions more generally. As a typical late antique Christian convert, Cyprian operates within this competitive mode by repeatedly insisting that his studies overstep human limits. At the same time, by claiming to have earned a reputation among his neighbors and friends in Antioch, he does not give the impression that, prior to attacking Justina, he lurked at the margins of Antiochene society.

Cyprian in Egypt

Now twenty years old, Cyprian leaves Scythia and travels south to Egypt. Late antique Egypt and Persia (Babylon) were the stereotypical places where curious students went to study magic. [60] The Confession here builds on this literary trope when Cyprian arrives in Memphis (II.84). [61] His admittedly vague description of this part of his training focuses on attempting (πειρήθην) things inappropriate for humans and, therefore, builds on his experiences in Scythia. Over the course of the Confession, Cyprian progresses from child novice to adult expert by using a fairly consistent “order of operations.” As a child in Olympus, he simply observes rituals and uses language of visual and auditory perception (ἦχον καὶ ἄκουον, II.24; λεῦσα, II.25; κάτιδον, II.27; εἰσιδόμην, II.30; and εἶδον, II.32). Starting at the age of fifteen, however, he begins to learn various skills (ἦα διδασκόμενος, II.42; μάθοιμι, ΙΙ.44; δαείην, II.59; and ἐδάην, II.64). Now twenty, he advances from learning to doing (πειρήθην).
Cyprian’s Egyptian studies concentrate on demonology (II.86–97), including their origins, names, astrological positions, and ways to invoke or dispel them. [62] Knowing a demon’s name and its astrological position has parallels in prescriptive magical sources, including the PGM, and was a common method of influencing spirits. [63] Assumed here is the belief that secret information could be ritually used to control others, even humans. [64] To further augment his demonic power, Cyprian learns which spirits oppose which demons. These spirits could either be angels or more powerful demons. He then catalogues a somewhat strange list of demonic activity, including swift movement, knowledge, memory, terror, deception, footprints, and forgetfulness.
One practical application of these demonic pursuits is the ability to control nature and cause earthquakes, rainstorms, and other comparable disturbances (II.97–99). The manipulation and control of these elements rhetorically situates Cyprian as preternaturally disposed and part of a long-standing tradition of eastern holy men and magicians. [65] For instance, Pythagoras was said to have been able to predict earthquakes, avert hail storms, and calm rough waters. [66] In the early Christian literary tradition, Jesus, another eastern wonderworker with ties to Egypt and Babylon, also controls the weather. [67] Because Jesus’ calming of the storm is used in his first-century biographies as evidence of his divinity, Cyprian contrasts their ability to control nature by insisting that he merely imitates God’s power. [68] This distinction between appearance and reality is a recurring way through which Cyprian acknowledges Satan’s power but dismisses it as inferior to God’s.
In keeping with the hero’s decent into the underworld, Cyprian experiences an epically inspired vision of hell. [69] There he sees the Titans (II.102), confused here with Giants, imprisoned under the earth and the Titan Atlas (II.104–105) bearing the earth on his shoulders. [70] In addition to figures from classical mythology, he sees a variety of demons, some of which appear like snakes, while others take the form of winds. All of these demons attack humans and inflict harm on the earth. Hard pressed, the earth remains securely on its foundation, a cosmological position reiterated throughout the Confession. [71] The demons are more successful against their human targets, some of whom they possess and use to wage war against those Cyprian describes as holy and righteous, presumably Christians. [72]
This conflict between humans and demons is characterized as an allegorical battle between demonic vices and human (divine) virtues (II.122–164). The Confession here follows a tradition of personification epic begun by Prudentius. [73] If the personifications in Prudentius’ Psychomachia are somewhat theologically simplistic, a view challenged in recent years, those in the Confession are even yet more simplistic, little more than a catalogue with few explanations and no mention of their virtuous opponents until the end. [74] Nevertheless, the Confession’s personifications overlap with those in the Psychomachia: Idolatry, Lust, Anger, Pride, and Greed are all represented.
Cyprian describes seeing Falsehood (II.122), joyless and full of embellishment; Lust (II.123–124), covered in blood and singed by fire; Wrath (II.125–126), a winged feral creature; Deceit (II.126–127), relentless, secretive, and full of trickery; Hatred (II.128–133), gruesome, blind in the front but with four eyes on the back of his head. Hatred prefers darkness over light, has multiple feet sticking out from his head, and has no stomach, since he is without emotion. Jealousy and Envy are next (II.134–135), nearly identical in appearance except for Envy’s mouth, which is shaped like a shovel. Emaciated to death, Morosity (II.136–138) has many eyes, all set on revenge. Cyprian dedicates five lines to Greed (II.139–143), who has a narrow head and two mouths: one in his midriff, the other on his back. Greed’s diet consists of rocks and solid earth, which he consumes insatiably. Next is Cupidity (II.144–146), attractive and keen—her eyes are always open. She is followed by Commerce (II.147–148), ever on the move and carrying on her shoulders the hope for wealth. Then comes Vanity (II.149–150), noble and attractive, but whose beauty is skin deep. Soaring high on her four wings is Idolatry (II.151–154), seemingly able to guard others but unable to protect even herself. Cyprian sees Hypocrisy (II.155–157), full of terror, yet powerless and with a hollow chest. Delirium (II.158–160) appears as half man and half woman, nude, guileless in her evil. Then appears Recklessness (II.161–162), who has a tongue larger than any other part of his body. The final image seen by Cyprian is Insanity (II.163–164), recognized by his nut-shaped head and empty soul.
In addition to these personified vices, Cyprian sees three hundred and sixty-five other demons—one for every day of the week (II.165–170). They spread throughout the cosmos battling against Virtue, Wisdom, and Justice. Unlike in the Psychomachia, where Prudentius emphasizes the victory of each virtue over its corresponding vice, Cyprian implies that his demonic vices successfully defeat virtue and deceive humanity (II.172–173). [75] Their success, however, is limited to the Hellenes (Ἑλλήνων, II.172), namely those who remain beyond the reach of Christianity. Since Christians are armed with the power of the cross, these daily demonic attacks are rendered powerless and ineffectual against them (II.174). Through this, Cyprian foreshadows his own realization of the powerlessness of demons against the cross and anticipates his subsequent conversion.

Cyprian in Babylon

Ten years after arriving in Egypt, the now thirty-year-old Cyprian leaves Memphis for Babylon, where he finishes his training and rises through the ranks, eventually appointed Satan’s right-hand man. Unfortunately, because this section of Cyprian’s account is corrupt or, at least, confused, the reconstruction of many details remains difficult. He begins by emphasizing the antiquity of the Babylonians and their interest in cosmology, with particular expertise in the relationship between aether and fire. [76] According to Cyprian, most Chaldeans think aether rests on flaming fire (ἐπὶ φλογεροῦ πυρός, II.183), but their scholars know that it actually rests on light (ἐπὶ φάεος, II.184). [77] From such experts he learns the nature of aether-based stars, their positions in the sky, the constellations to which they belong, what nourishes them, and their dependence on light (II.185–190). Similar to his catalogue of demons, the aether-cosmos is divided into 365 parts, each of which he studies (II.191–192).
These cosmic forces obey orders issued by their leader, the so-called demiurge (II.193–194). In late antique Gnosticism, the demiurge is the creator of the cosmos, responsible for the formation of the cosmos and actively opposed to the good god. [78] In Christian-influenced Gnostic texts, the demiurge is a conflated with the god of the Old Testament and contrasted with God the Father and the devil. [79] Here in the Confession, the demiurge is a cosmic authority distinct from and possibly subservient to Satan. While the cosmic powers obey him, they have unique interests and can be controlled in various ways (II.195–199). Some, for instance, prefer sacrifices, while others reject them. Some desire the light, while others are bound by oaths and words of power. By learning each spirit’s defining features, Cyprian influences them all. During his study of these cosmic powers, he observes that, despite their individual preferences, they collectively work to deceive humanity, cause them to forget God, and perform all sorts of evils (II.214–217). [80]
Noticing Cyprian’s rise in power, Satan takes a liking to him and compares his beauty and magical aptitude to Jambres (II.222–223). Jambres and Jannes were Pharaoh’s magicians from the Exodus account (Exodus 7:11–12, 7:22, 8:7, 8:18). Not named in Exodus, their reputation and accompanying legend grew in the following centuries, so that they were known and named by first- and second-century Roman authors. [81] Of the various accounts about Jannes and Jambres, one maintains that they were originally entrusted with Moses’ education while he grew up in Pharaoh’s court. Within the classical and Jewish literary traditions, they emerge as the Egyptian magicians par excellence, despite originally serving in the Hebrew Bible as negative foils for Moses and God’s superior power. [82]
The reasons for Satan’s comparison of Cyprian to Jambres and not Jannes are clarified by reading the Confession alongside another late antique pseudepigraphic poenitentia, Jannes and Jambres (alternatively entitled Poenitentia Iamne et Mambre). [83] Generically comparable, Jannes and Jambres may have influenced the form and content of the Confession. [84] Throughout this story, Jambres is depicted as the superior magician to Jannes, and he even repents at the end. [85] While a possible allusion to Jannes and Jambres, Satan’s comparison between Cyprian and Jambres also ironically foreshadows Cyprian’s inability to seduce Justina, a narrative parallel to Moses’ victory over Jannes and Jambres in Exodus. For the time being, however, Satan predicts that Cyprian will become a cosmic leader and entrusts him with a cohort of demons (II.224–229). These public recognitions from Satan encourage his priests to honor Cyprian as Satan’s equal (II.230). In claiming equality with Satan, Cyprian imitates Satan’s rebellion against God, which rhetorically underscores their similarities and alludes, at least obliquely, to Cyprian’s eventual defection from Satan’s faction to God’s camp.
Cyprian proceeds to describe Satan’s appearance: he has a golden sheen, flashing eyes, and long hair (II.231–232). As a type of monarch, he wears a crown decorated with jewels that, together with his clothing, illuminates the underworld (II.232–235). When he moves, the earth shakes (II.235). He sits on a throne surrounded by a demonic host with their eyes fixed to the ground yet prepared for battle (II.236–237). This description of Satan mirrors biblical descriptions of the glorified Jesus, especially those found in Revelation (see Revelation 1:12–16, Revelation 7–8). Cyprian further compares Satan to an Olympian god who illuminates the earth by making the stars shine and plants grow (II.238–239). An angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) desirous of equality with or, perhaps, superiority over God, Satan imitates God’s appearance and actions (II.240–241). By describing hell as a mirror image of heaven, where Satan sits enthroned as supreme ruler, Cyprian confesses that Satan’s mimetic strategy lacks substance and is intentionally deceptive, a type of cosmic smoke and mirror show.
As an imitator of God, Satan encourages humans to participate in animal sacrifice, a practice early Christian polemicists equated with demonic activity. [86] Accordingly, demons sit next to sacrificants and fashion smoke-based illusions to delude them into believing that their idols are alive (II.248–253). In order to reach as many people as possible, Satan demands countless sacrifices of every species (II.254–257), a further illusion or mirror image of the type of worship given to God. To illustrate Satan’s deception, Cyprian contends that he is like fire that is actually ice, or like catching an inedible fish, or like poverty-inducing gold (II.264–266). Because humans fall for these illusions, Satan constructs all sorts of objects: cities, bedrooms, plains, fields, glens, all of which require a precise sacrifice (II.267–274).
Perhaps these references to cities and bedrooms remind Cyprian of events immediately preceding his conversion. Wanting to fear God but paralyzed by fear, Cyprian’s rejection of Satan only comes after Justina proves how powerless Satan and his demons truly are. In a miniature retelling of the Conversion, Cyprian describes how his demons, one by one, flee from Justina and how his monstrous serpent has the strength of a fly (II.278–283). Reducing Satan’s boasts to empty words, Justina tramples his head with her feet (II.286). This action obviously refers to Eve and the Eden story, a central text in the Confession, especially in the construction of Justina as idealized Christian woman. Cyprian realizes his error when he sees demons unable to enter her house and Satan fleeing from her (II.287–293). Instead of a ferocious lion, Satan has become little more than Justina’s plaything, a domesticated cat (II.294–296).

Cyprian in Antioch

Backtracking slightly, Cyprian returns to his arrival in Antioch, where he experiences success in curing people of love, jealousy, rivalry, and other physical desires (II.296–300). [87] When compared to ancient binding spells, Cyprian’s offerings for his Antiochene clientele are fairly predictable and anticipate his eventual seduction of Justina. [88] Because of Cyprian’s growing reputation, a desperate Aglaidas hires him to alleviate his desire for Justina. This event, Cyprian confesses, marks the moment he fully realizes how truly powerless demons are. The Confession’s version of the Justina-Aglaidas episode differs from the version found in the Conversion and reflects not only Cyprian’s now Christian perspective but also a more developed cult of Cyprian and Justina.
Cyprian initially sends his legion of demons against her, but they return unsuccessful (II.305–306). After ten weeks of combining his magic with their attacks (II.310–311), Cyprian asks Satan for help, but he also fails (II.312–317). In the face of these repeated setbacks, Cyprian asks Beliar to make him no longer love Justina. This request suggests that Cyprian has fallen in love with Justina or that his character has been slowly conflated with Aglaidas. A similar conflation between Cyprian and Aglaidas emerges in the Conversion. Beliar, however, is not able to help him, an inability that prompts Cyprian to compare demons to a weak and disabled cavalryman, who foolishly takes credit for his horse’s speed (II.332–334). This realization that demons claim power that is not theirs leads to three conflicts: between Cyprian and his demons, between rivaling factions of demons, and between Cyprian and Satan. These arguments end when Cyprian casts out Satan.
Unfazed, Satan attempts to deceive Aglaidas by passing off a different girl as Justina (II.344–346). Since this girl looks nothing like Justina, Satan’s trick is immediately obvious. He next transforms a demon into Justina (II.348–349). [89] When Aglaidas excitedly says Justina’s name, the demon runs away (II.351). This implies a transfer of power from the sign of the cross and the name of Christ to Justina, whose name, by the story’s end, has ritual power over demons. [90] This scene is also a reversal of the episode found in the Conversion, where Satan disguises himself as a young girl to persuade Justina to leave her bedroom. The Confession replaces an episode that emphasizes Justina’s humanity and near deception with an account of her increased power. This change likely reflects a later stage in the Cyprian and Justina cult when Justina was invoked to protect others.
Distraught, Cyprian experiences insomnia and eventually transforms himself, first into a woman, then into a bird (II.358–359). Although slightly conflated, these metamorphoses ostensibly give Cyprian access to Justina’s bedroom. Yet, even this strategy fails. Upon entering her house, he returns to normal form (II.359–361). Cyprian then transforms Aglaidas into a bird (II.362). Landing on Justina’s roof, he catches her attention but is immediately transformed back into a human. Cyprian insists that Aglaidas would likely have fallen to his death had Justina not kindly helped him down and sent him on his way (II.368–371). She is described as looking out her light-bearing window (ἀπὸ φωτοφόροιο θύρης, ΙΙ.364), a gesture back to her conversion in the Conversion (I.20–22*) that rhetorically underscores how Justina’s window makes her susceptible to outside influence. It also situates Aglaidas’ winged sexual assault alongside Praulius’ message of the Gospel, both of which are described in erotic terms. As I suggest in the previous chapter, Justina’s eroticized reception of Praulius’ message leads to her repeated trips to church and makes her susceptible to Aglaidas’ eroticized attacks.
At this point in the Confession, Aglaidas recedes into the background of the narrative, while Cyprian and Satan continue to attack Justina’s health, an expansion on Conversion I.146, where Satan plans to wear down Justina with fevers. This sickness is incapable of breaking her spirits. In fact, when the doctors predict that she will die, Justina encourages her parents by insisting that she will not die, because she only has a light fever. In addition to this disease, Cyprian and Satan send many others against her, but she defeats them each with the sign of the cross (II.382). Here, the Confession anticipates Justina’s role as healer of various sicknesses in the medieval church. [91]
In a scene that reverses Satan’s strategic attack against Job (Job 1–2), after illness fails to persuade Justina, Cyprian targets her parents’ flocks, herds, and mules. Justina encourages them by reminding them that those who follow Christ are rich in possessions (Matthew 5:12, 6:19–20). When Justina’s neighbors advise her parents to compel her to marry, she strengthens their resolve with the sign of the cross. As a final act of desperation, Satan sends a plague against Antioch with an oracular message that the plague will continue until Justina marries Aglaidas. Justina responds by dispelling the plague from the city. As a result, Antioch’s citizens and those in its environs praise God and blame Cyprian as a local nuisance. The Confession here anticipates the Christianization of Antioch but credits Justina as an active agent in the process. Unlike the Justina found in the Conversion, who serves as Mother Superior for Antioch’s virgins while Cyprian performs miracles and converts the city’s remaining pagans, the Confession’s Justina performs miracles of her own and convinces the city to honor Christ.
Now despised by the Antiochenes, Cyprian realizes the power of the cross and confronts Satan. Whereas, in the Conversion, Satan admits his weakness after Cyprian swears an oath of loyalty, in the Confession, Cyprian preemptively lectures Satan in a prolonged speech that takes up nearly ten percent of the Confession (II.406–447). In this speech, Cyprian condemns Satan as powerless, evil, and incapable of standing against Christ. Because he was deceived by promises of Satan’s power, Cyprian also stands condemned. He instead wishes that he had used the money that funded his magic studies to feed the poor (II.431–435). Worn out, exhausted, nearly a corpse, Cyprian tells Satan that he will beg for mercy from Christ and his servants. He ends his speech by commanding Satan to leave.
Rather than admit defeat, Satan attempts to choke Cyprian to death (II.448–450). With Justina in mind, Cyprian prays for God’s protection and crosses himself, which causes Satan to depart. Before leaving, Satan predicts that God will never forgive Cyprian but will use and abandon him. Unnerved by Satan’s threats, Cyprian ends his story here and asks his Antiochene audience if it is possible for him to receive God’s forgiveness. The crowd remains silent for some time, but someone eventually begins to speak. This is where the manuscript cuts off, thus ending Eudocia’s Confession before Cyprian can be admitted into the Antiochene church.

Origins and Influences

At the beginning of this chapter, I suggested that the Confession, as a literary form, borrows from other apologetic texts, especially Plato and Apuleius’ apologies. Unlike the apologetic tradition, in which the speaker maintains his innocence, Cyprian readily admits his guilt and asks for mercy from God and the Church. In this regard, Cyprian’s Confession anticipates Augustine’s Confessions. These generic influences, however, do not clarify the literary models behind the fictional magician Cyprian.
This section analyzes Cyprian’s fictional or quasi-historical literary influences, comparable to the section in the previous chapter that examines how Justina’s character is intertextually constructed from pre-existing exceptional Christian women, particularly Thecla. Cyprian is more complicated than Justina in a few essential ways. To begin with, the Antiochene portion of the Cyprian legend, namely the story about a magician who sends demons to seduce a young woman, borrows from a primarily Christian tradition, most evident in the Acts of Andrew, although there are also echoes to Lucian’s Philopseudes. [92] This material lays the foundation on which the rest of the story, including Justina’s character, is built. By intertextually engaging with the APT and basing Justina’s character on Thecla, the Cyprian legend adds to the stock story (found in the Philopseudes and Acts of Andrew) a sub-plot about the late antique feminine ideal.
The non-Antiochene material, in contrast, borrows from stories about itinerant wonderworkers, especially those who travel to or from Egypt and Babylon. These include Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana, multiple characters from Lucian’s Philopseudes, and (to a lesser extent) Jesus. [93] Of course, a rich scholarly tradition also situates Jesus as literary heir of these itinerant wonderworkers. [94] Unlike Justina’s intertextually explicit imitation of Thecla, Cyprian does not directly point to any one of these literary figures or their stories. Instead, his legend blends these various sources and turns him into a type of intertextual bricolage, a stock character of the itinerant wonderworker, initially hostile to Christianity but eventually won over through its superior power. As intertextual and ideological foil to these multiple classical characters, the literary Cyprian advances a late antique Christian polemic.
The life and legend of the first-century Pythagorean wonderworker, Apollonius of Tyana, survives primarily in his third-century vita written by Philostratus (hereafter VA), although some details are preserved in Iamblichus’ Pythagorean Life and Lucian’s Alexander. [95] Born into a typical aristocratic family, Apollonius receives his early education in his hometown of Tyana. At fourteen, he leaves Tyana for Tarsus to begin his formal training in rhetoric. [96] Realizing that he has no interest in oratory, he moves to Aegae to study philosophy. His claim to have studied every philosophical tradition is a commonplace coopted by Judeo-Christian intellectuals, especially Josephus and Justin Martyr. [97] At twenty, Apollonius returns to Tyana to administer his father’s estate and give away his inherited wealth. Shortly thereafter, he travels across Cilicia, Pamphylia, Syria, and Arabia and participates in their local cults. According to Philostratus, Apollonius next visits (in order) Nineveh, Babylon, India, Babylon, Nineveh, Antioch, Seleucia, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Lesbos, Athens, Crete, Rome, Spain, Africa, Sicily, Greece, Chios, Rhodes, Alexandria, Ethiopia, Alexandria, Tarsus, Egypt, Corinth, Rome, Greece, Ionia, and Rome. While some of these destinations, such as India, Ethiopia, and Egypt, warrant extended stays, his visits are typically brief and spent participating in local festivals or revitalizing abandoned cults.
The occasional overlap of Apollonius and Cyprian’s itineraries affords a fruitful contrast between them. For instance, during his first visit to Athens (VA 4.17–19), the Eleusinian hierophant forbids Apollonius’ initiation by insisting that a sorcerer (γόης) would defile the sanctuary. He must wait until a later visit to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries (VA 5.19). Like Cyprian, Apollonius visits Sparta (VA 4.27), where he perceives that the legendary Spartan lifestyle had been neglected. Under his supervision, the ephors purge effeminizing influences from the community and return Sparta to their traditional austere lifestyle (compare VA 4.31–34). Whereas Cyprian spends a decade in Egypt, Apollonius spends twenty years in Egypt (VA 6) studying under the Gymnosophists in Upper Egypt and Ethiopia. Since Philostratus goes to great lengths to distinguish Apollonius’ activity from Greco-Roman magic, his vita contains few details about Egyptian rituals of power and, instead, emphasizes the wisdom and asceticism of Apollonius’ Egyptian, Babylonian, and Brahman teachers. On the other hand, he includes episodes of Apollonius’ extraordinary wonders that evoke the “miracles” accounts found in Jesus’ biographies. When we compare the VA to the pseudepigraphic collection of epistles attributed to Apollonius, the competing images about him come into sharper focus. [98] For instance, in these epistles, Apollonius boasts a special relationship with gods and demons (Epistle 52, compare VA 4.44) and claims to be their equal or otherwise unique (Epistle 44, 48). This uniqueness allows him to perform those wonders one reads about in Philostratus’ biography.
Despite Philostratus’ efforts to depict Apollonius as a philosophical “do-gooder,” the wonder-worker is always at hand: his Apollonius exerts control over disease/death (VA 4.45), demons (VA 4.20, 4.25, 4.43, 5.42, 6.27, 6.29, 6.43), and nature (VA 2.4, 2.14, 2.15, 2.33, 3.27, 4.13, 5.11, 5.35, 6.32). He also engages in necromancy (VA 4.11), performs incantations (VA 4.4), interprets visions (VA 1.23, 4.34), and demonstrates prophetic foreknowledge (VA 1.22, 1.34, 4.4, 4.6, 4.18, 4.24, 4.43, 5.7, 5.11, 5.13, 5.30, 5.37, 6.32, 8.26). [99] The similarities between these actions and those claimed by Cyprian bring Apollonius’ biographies and the Confession into conversation. Like Apollonius, Cyprian is initiated into a series of mysteries and uses his skills to predict the future and alter reality. On the other hand, their narrative structures are markedly different. The VA is primarily an episodic account, whereby the reader learns about each of Apollonius’ powers as the need arises; the Confession, in contrast, catalogues Cyprian’s abilities in list form, organized geographically, without providing supporting episodes or narrative content, with the sole exception of the Justina episode.
Despite traveling to some of the same places as Apollonius, Cyprian’s itinerary is not based on Philostratus’ account. For example, the order of their destinations is different in at least one essential way: Cyprian begins in Greece before heading east, whereas Apollonius visits Greece only after traveling east to India. Pythagoras’ eastern journey effectively authorizes his participation in Greek cults, especially when he revitalizes those in abeyance. Cyprian’s childhood participation in Greek cults, in contrast, foreshadows his later participation in eastern magic. For Cyprian, traditional Mediterranean religions serve as a “gateway drug” to more powerful and nefarious rituals of power. Moreover, Cyprian visits Scythia, a destination not mentioned in Philostratus’ vita, and he never travels to India. Studying under the Brahmans is arguably the most important part of Apollonius’ world tour and a sine qua non for itinerant Pythagorean wonderworkers.
From a narrative level, Cyprian’s Confession more closely parallels the life of Pythagoras, at least as it is depicted in his later biographies. [100] According to Iamblichus and Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras is born in Samos, where his earthly father names him in honor of Apollo, his putative divine father. Cyprian, we remember, is similarly dedicated to Apollo as a young child. While Pythagoras’ biographers present contradictory accounts about his early life and education, they agree that, as an adolescent, he is initiated into various mysteries, a further parallel to Cyprian’s Confession. According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras leaves Greece/Asia, first for Syria, where he studies under the priest of Moses and is initiated into other Phoenician mysteries (Pythagorean Life 3). From there, he continues south to Egypt and studies astronomy, geometry, and various religious rituals from the Egyptian priests in Memphis (Pythagorean Life 4). From Egypt, he goes to Babylon, where he studies for twelve years under Chaldean Magi. When his studies are complete, he first returns to Samos and later travels throughout Greece to be initiated into local cults.
Pythagoras’ itinerary (Greece/Asia, Syria, Egypt, Persia) is nearly identical to Cyprian’s, with the exception of Cyprian’s journey north to Scythia. Despite having never traveled to Scythia, Pythagoras learns Scythian culture and rituals of power from a Scythian “Hyperborean,” Aberis, who gives him a magic arrow that allows him to fly and perform purification rites (Pythagorean Life 19). Aberis is depicted as a magician, skilled in hieroskopia (divination through examining entrails) but lacking paideia, which Pythagoras teaches him. For that reason, Cyprian’s journey roughly follows a Pythagorean itinerary.
In addition to having similar destinations, Cyprian and Pythagoras master similar skills, albeit to different ends. During his eastern travels, Pythagoras learns prophecy, science, mathematics, astronomy and nature, and, in the Aberis episode, he learns to fly and to ritually cleanse cities. With these skills, he performs a number of wonders and can even control wild animals (Pythagorean Life 13). Like Philostratus, Pythagoras’ biographers make a concerted effort to depict him as an exceptional and exceptionally powerful Greek philosopher. For that reason, his powers are frequently muted, at least in comparison to the Confession. That said, the legend of Cyprian’s education depends, at least in part, on Pythagoras and Apollonius. As a gesture to Pythagoras, Cyprian learns astronomy, biology, numerology, and nature–essential skills of the Pythagorean philosopher. But like Apollonius, Cyprian also masters diverse arcana, including demonology, magic stones, and incantations. If Philostratus suppresses Apollonius’ ability as a magician, the Confession underscores Cyprian’s magical/demonic education.
Lucian’s Philopseudes, or Lover of Lies, a satirical essay written as a philosophical dialogue about gullible people who place their trust in the supernatural, further clarifies Cyprian’s literary influences. [101] The Lover of Lies is a treasure trove of Greco-Roman tropes about ancient magicians and witches, dating back to classical Athens. Many of these tropes can also be found within the Confession. For instance, Cleodemus, one of Eucrates’ guests, regales his fellow diners with an account about a Chaldean wonderworker who once arrived in his town and performed various services for the community. These include curing a servant of a poisonous snakebite and ritually cleansing the farm of its snakes (Lover of Lies 12). This he accomplishes by drawing all the farm’s snakes to him and blasting them with his breath. In addition to ridding farms of their reptile problem, he also helps lovelorn men seduce women (what Cleodemus calls “sending cupids after people”), engages in divination (invoking daemons), and reanimates corpses.
One of these services, that of erotic seduction, parallels the Cyprian legend in a few essential ways. [102] According to Cleodemus, while serving as tutor for Glaucias, a young aristocratic man, he learns that Glaucias was in love with Chrysis, a married woman (Lover of Lies 14). At his wits end, Glaucias, through Cleodemus’ encouragement, hires the Chaldean wonderworker to procure Chrysis for him. The Chaldean magician accomplishes this with a series of necromantic rituals, including invoking Glaucias’ father, Alexicles, to give his blessing and invoking Hecate to draw down the moon. He next makes a clay Cupid, animates it, and sends it to find Chrysis, which it does. When the sun begins to rise, Hecate and the other spirits (φάσματα) return to Hades, and Chrysis returns to her husband.
Elsewhere in the Lover of Lies, Eucrates tells an autobiographical tale about his trip to Egypt (33–36), where he studies in Memphis under a temple scribe. This narrative, one ancient source for the sorcerer’s apprentice motif, also parallels Cyprian’s journey. [103] As is to be expected in Lucian, Eucrates’ account is hardly serious. He relates how his Egyptian teacher ritually animates objects to perform various domestic duties. By replicating the ritual, Eucrates successfully animates a pestle to draw water for him, only to discover that he does not know the second half of the ritual to un-animate it. Chopping the pestle in half only makes matters worse and results in two animated water-drawing pestles. What follows is a comedic scene of a nearly flooded house and a distraught Eucrates that culminates with the arrival of the Egyptian priest and his refusal to continue Eucrates’ education. The punchline of the story is that Eucrates still remembers only the first half of the animation ritual and, as a result, cannot prove the veracity of his account.
In the previous chapter, I argue that the Conversion borrows from early Christian prose narratives and their depictions of the feminine ideal to present Justina as the ideal, urban woman, superior to her literary models. Rhetorically, Justina out-Thecla’s Thecla, and emerges as a remixed version of the ideal late antique Christian woman. By intertextually contrasting Cyprian with Pythagoras, Apollonius, Cleodemus’ Chaldean, and Eucrates, the Confession has the opposite effect. As a former itinerant wonderworker, Cyprian critiques his models and their reliance on spiritual arcana, which he characterizes as demon worship. This sets the convert Cyprian against his intertextual competitors, who, by association with their shared educations and participation in religious rituals, are discredited as equally deceived. In this regard, the rhetorical force of Cyprian’s language is similar to Lucian’s, although the Confession generally eschews parody and satire.
Part of the rhetorical force of the Confession is the central role of space and place in Cyprian’s account. In Greco-Roman literature, the itinerant wonder-worker trope depends on their foreignness, their otherness. For that reason, ritual experts originate or study from cultures known for magic and other mystical skills, such as astrology and divination. By studying under Egyptian priests in Memphis, Chaldean Magi in Babylon, or Indian Brahmans, these wonder-workers legitimate their power and master skills unknown and inaccessible to those in Greece or Antioch. This trope influences the biographies of Jesus, who, as a child, travels to Egypt and meets itinerant Magi. Like Jesus, Cyprian undermines this tradition through the act of alluding to it. Initially effective, Egypt and Babylon magic are shown to be illusionary and ultimately ineffective. By repeatedly calling his studies demonic, Cyprian, as narrator, situates them as transgressive and harmful.
If magicians travel the world to study demonic smoke and mirrors, Justina, by contrast, possesses a superior power without leaving her house. This is emphasized repeatedly in both the Conversion and Confession. She controls, thwarts, and undermines the learned Cyprian, his legion of demons, and even Satan himself simply by performing the sign of the cross from the safety of her bedroom. Without studying from experts, she heals the sick and saves Antioch from the plague. By invoking Justina as his new model, Cyprian adopts a new approach toward spiritual power, one available to all individuals, even young virgins who only leave their house to attend church. As a Christian, Cyprian performs wonders that help the Christian community and convert Antioch’s remaining pagan population, but these wonders are accomplished through God’s power, not Cyprian’s pan-Mediterranean studies. This polemic against Greek cults and foreign cultures, even very ancient ones, underscores Cyprian’s embrace of Christianity and its increasing hostility to other religious traditions.


[ back ] 1. My translation of Eudocia’s Confession can be found in the appendix.
[ back ] 2. Nock 1927; Nilsson 1947; Festugière 1950.
[ back ] 3. McLynn 1992; Gaddis 2005:68–102; Kahlos 2009; Shaw 2011. For the contours of late antique religious competition, see the excellent essays in Engels and van Nuffelen 2014; Rosenblum, Vuong, and DesRosiers 2014; DesRosiers and Vuong 2016.
[ back ] 4. Compare Kazhdan 1995; Addey 2014:171–213.
[ back ] 5. Zahn 1882; Radermacher 1927; Butler 1948; Butler 1949; Butler 1952; Salvaneschi 1982a.
[ back ] 6. Salvaneschi 1982a; Jackson 1988a; Graf 1997:96–97; Livrea 1998; Livrea 2000; Martin 2005:126–129; Bevegni 2006; Bailey 2009; Jensen 2012.
[ back ] 7. Stark 1996; van Minnen 2006.
[ back ] 8. Apuleius Apology 1; Plato Apology 17a. See also Hunink 1997; Bradley 2014; Noreña 2014; Moreschini 2015.
[ back ] 9. Moreschini 2015:34–39. Compare the apologia within Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana (Robiano 2016).
[ back ] 10. Courcelle 1957:27–28; Courcelle 1963:101–103; Quinn 2002:3–6; Burton 2007:35–43; Mann 2006; Fox 2015.
[ back ] 11. Bailey 2009:4–5.
[ back ] 12. See my discussion of this passage in chapter 2.
[ back ] 13. For the sign of the cross in the early church, especially as a mark of conversion, see Cyril of Jerusalem Catecheses 13.36; Augustine Tractates on the Gospel of John 118.5; Dinkler 1967.
[ back ] 14. The earliest stage of the Simon Magus legend (Acts 8:18-24) is fairly innocuous, as Simon repents for the desire to have the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit, which is seemingly under the auspices of the apostles and their immediate entourage. A century later, the Simon legend culminates in the Acts of Peter, where Simon and Peter face off in a battle of supernatural forces. Although absent in Acts and the Acts of Peter, early Christians associated Simon’s name with early heresies, especially Gnosticism. Compare Justin Martyr (First Apology 26), Irenaeus (Against the Heresies 1.23.1–4; 1.26; 1.56), Hippolytus (The Refutation of all Heresies 6.11.1–19), and Clement (Recognitions 2.5.26–29). See also Hultgren and Haggmark 1996:15–27; Tuzlak 2002; Ferreiro 2005.
[ back ] 15. Jackson 1999:153–158
[ back ] 16. Leitao 2014; Cummins, Diaz, and Zahrt 2016; Leitao 2017.
[ back ] 17. Typically, a kouros is an adolescent teen, although some examples of this word are used for very young children, including those in utero (Iliad 6.59). In context, Cyprian is not yet seven.
[ back ] 18. Plutarch Greek Questions 12; Moralia 418 A–B; Aelian Various Histories 3.1; Philostratus Imagines 2.24. See also Harrison 1903:113–114; Nilsson 1947:170.
[ back ] 19. Nock 1927:411; Dzielska 1986:65–70.
[ back ] 20. Phaethon was commonly conflated with Mithras (Cumont 1927:122–126; Claus 1990:160–162), although Eudocia’s wording here is strange. For more on the form Μιθραῖος, see P.Gurob. 22.10; Callander 1927:239.
[ back ] 21. CIL 6.751b; Cumont 1899:2.93; Nock 1927:411; Liebeschuetz 1994:197–198.
[ back ] 22. Dickie 2001:116–117, 140; Martin 2005:128; Addey 2014:43–82.
[ back ] 23. PGM 4.733–747; 12.315–322, 403–408; Apuleius Metamorphoses 11. See also Graf 1997:97–117; Dickie 2001:28–29, 73–74, 116–117.
[ back ] 24. Compare Lucian Alexander 5; Clinton 1974:113; Dickie 2001:220–222.
[ back ] 25. Nock 1927:411. For more on the position of δᾳδοῦχος, see IG 1413; IG 1414; Toepffer 1889:49, 87n4; Nilsson 1947:170; Clinton 1974:67; Lalonde 2006:118.
[ back ] 26. Esdaile 1909:3; Foucart 1914:277–281; Clinton 1974:113, 98–114.
[ back ] 27. Compare Herodotus 8.41. The white robe worn by epheboi during the procession had been discontinued but was eventually reinstated by Herodes Atticus (Münscher 1912:942; Nock 1927:411).
[ back ] 28. Jackson 1988b:32–37; Jackson 1996:1–20; Bailey 2009:35, based on Testament of Solomon 4:8; Pseudo-Philo Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 53.3–4, 60.3; PGM 13.192–204, 522–546.
[ back ] 29. Scarborough 1990; Gordon 1999:244–252; Graf 2014:390–394; Rücker 2014:86–89.
[ back ] 30. For Ares in later Greek cults, see Farnell 1909:5.396–414.
[ back ] 31. Compare Lucian Menippus 7.
[ back ] 32. IG I2 76.24; Lysias Against Andocides 1; Isocrates Panegyricus 28; Plutarch Alcibiades 33; Hierocles Platonicus In Carmen Aureum 20; Clinton 1974:8–47. On the use of seven as allegory, see Nock 1927:413.
[ back ] 33. Clinton 1974; Kaldellis 2005.
[ back ] 34. Compare Werblowsky 1973.
[ back ] 35. Nilsson 1947:174–175.
[ back ] 36. On the epithet Tauropolos, compare Euripides Iphigenia among the Taurians 1457; Sophocles Ajax 172. For Keladeine, see Iliad 16.183; 20.70; 21.511; Hymn to Aphrodite 118; Hymn to Artemis 1. This cult is likely to Artemis Orthia, whose temple and the image within served an important cultic function during late antiquity. Some connections between the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia and fourth-century Spartan philosophical seers survive (Julian Oration 2.119b-c; Cartledge and Spawforth 2002:183, 190–211; Whitby 2002:23–24).
[ back ] 37. PGM 3.303; 4.937; 7.391; 7.927; 12.201–269. Delatte and Derchain 1964:329; Betz 1992:58n126; Muñoz 2001:144; Ogden 2002:261–274.
[ back ] 38. PGM 12.201–269.
[ back ] 39. Van Rengen 1984:213–233; Martin 2015:265.
[ back ] 40. Janowitz 2002:33–43.
[ back ] 41. Lane 1996; Roller 1999:108–109.
[ back ] 42. Burkert 1985:162–163. Euripides Hecuba 121; Euripides Bacchae 13–14.
[ back ] 43. Manetho Astrologus 6.306.
[ back ] 44. Compare Homer Iliad 1.71–72; Aeschylus Agamemnon 104–204. See also Luck 2006:308–309; Augustine The Divination of Demons 3.7, 4.8.
[ back ] 45. Herodotus 1.1–144; Thucydides 2.97; Lucian The Scythian or the Consul; Lucian On Mourning 21; Rice 1957; Cartledge 2002:69–71; Braund 2004a; Braund 2004b.
[ back ] 46. Janowitz 2001; Flower 2008.
[ back ] 47. Compare On Divination 2.80.
[ back ] 48. Dickie 2001; Spaeth 2014.
[ back ] 49. Aeschylus Prometheus Bound 484–499; Flower 2008:69. Greek mantic practices tend to borrow from eastern ones (Flower 2008:32–37).
[ back ] 50. Janowitz 2002:45–61.
[ back ] 51. PGM 13.946; Plotinus Enneads 4.4; Luck 2006:6, 55; Brisson 2013:450–452.
[ back ] 52. PGM 36.134–160.
[ back ] 53. The role of cemeteries and the dead in magic rituals is well-attested: Plato Laws 933a-e; Philostratus Life of Apollonius 4.16; Plutarch Moralia 585E–F; Iamblichus Pythagorean Life 148; Gager 1992:214–215; Ogden 2001:3–16; Wilburn 2012:238–246.
[ back ] 54. Stambursky 1976; Fideler 1993:25–36; Janowitz 2002:50–52; Ast and Lougovaya 2015. For Pythagorean numerology, see Guthrie 1988:41, 53; Afonasin 2016; Izdebska 2016.
[ back ] 55. PGM 1.328–331; Schwendner 2002; Struck 2002; Sandnes 2009:45–47.
[ back ] 56. For more on φύσις, see Heinimann 1945; Naddaf 1992; Patzer 1993; Vergnières 1995; Naddaf 2005; Müller 2006.
[ back ] 57. Frazer 1907; Luck 1962; Aune 1980; Thomassen 1999; Luck 2006.
[ back ] 58. Graf 1991a; Graf 1997; Ogden 2001:xviii–xix.
[ back ] 59. Styers 2004; Naddaf 2005:86–87.
[ back ] 60. Ogden 2001:203. For more on Egyptian religion and magic, see Hornung 2001; Lopez 2001; Taylor 2001; Ciraolo and Seidel 2002; David 2002; Mirecki and Meyer 2002; Ogden 2002; Kaper 2003; Maravelia 2003; Noegel, Walker, and Wheeler 2003; Dieleman 2005; Martin 2005; Szpakowska 2006; Bricault, Versluys, and Meyboom 2007.
[ back ] 61. Thessalus of Tralles De virtutibus herbarum 1–12; Lucian Philopseudes 33–36. Ogden 2006:123–127.
[ back ] 62. Compare Porphyry On Abstinence 2.37–39. For Egyptian demonology, Quack 2015 contains a good discussion and recent bibliography.
[ back ] 63. PGM 4.261–274; 7.505–528; 13.213–224; 61.24–31; PDM 61.28. See also Janowitz 2002:33–43.
[ back ] 64. Compare Catullus 5.11–13.
[ back ] 65. Herodotus 7.191; Tibullus 1.2; Ovid Heroides 6; Ovid Amores 1.8; Apuleius Metamorphoses 1.9.
[ back ] 66. Porphyry Life of Pythagoras 28–29.
[ back ] 67. Mark 4:35–41; Matthew 8:23–27; Luke 8:22–25. Compare Matthew 27:51–53. See also Berenson Maclean 2004; Busch 2015.
[ back ] 68. Compare IG 3.1403 and Wisdom 17:3 from the Septuagint.
[ back ] 69. Hardie 2004. The vision of the underworld becomes a fairly central part of late antique theurgy (Proclus Commentary on Plato’s Republic 1.37, 2.153). Copeland 2014.
[ back ] 70. Compare Hesiod Theogony 711–745.
[ back ] 71. On this cosmological debate in antiquity, see Aristotle On the Heavens 294a.
[ back ] 72. Late antique Christian authors commonly depict their earthly opponents, particularly pagans and heretics, as demon-possessed (compare Ephesians 6:12–13). See Pagels 1995; Juergensmeyer 2000:182–185; Gaddis 2005:180.
[ back ] 73. Haworth 1980; Mastrangelo 2008.
[ back ] 74. Nugent 1985:11–14 traces the history of this criticism. Compare now Stabryła 2005.
[ back ] 75. Compare James 1999:71–72.
[ back ] 76. Aether was the fifth element, which made up celestial bodies at the furthest issue of the cosmos (Guthrie 1981:270) and was the home of the celestial gods (Apuleius On the god of Socrates 7.137; Moreschini 2015:124).
[ back ] 77. Compare Plotinus Enneads 4.5.7; Sambursky 1958.
[ back ] 78. Williams 2000; Pearson 2007:276.
[ back ] 79. Pearson 2007:160–161.
[ back ] 80. Contrast this depiction of the demiurge and his cosmic powers with that found in the Poimandres (Pearson 2007:277–281; Lewis 2013:113–114).
[ back ] 81. Pliny Natural History 20.2.11; Apuleius Apology 90.
[ back ] 82. Pietersma 1994.
[ back ] 83. von Dobschütz 1912:84; James 1920:34; Schneemelcher 1991:1.38–40.
[ back ] 84. Bailey 2009:13–16.
[ back ] 85. For a different reading of this section, see Bailey 2009:14–15.
[ back ] 86. Compare Augustine The City of God 18.51, Epistle 17 (Kahlos 2009:124, 128–129). Themistius (Oration 5) attempts to distinguish between magic arts and sacrifice (Kahlos 2009:85–86).
[ back ] 87. Compare Lucian Philopseudes 12–14.
[ back ] 88. Gager 1992.
[ back ] 89. In the prose version, this demon is Beliar.
[ back ] 90. Sowers 2017.
[ back ] 91. Jensen 2012; Sowers 2017.
[ back ] 92. I discuss the relationship between the Cyprian legend and the Acts of Andrew in the previous chapter.
[ back ] 93. Nock 1927; Berenson Maclean 2004; Paschalis 2011.
[ back ] 94. Rather than summarize the history of this debate, which began in antiquity, see the summary and bibliography in Martin 2005:119–126.
[ back ] 95. For more on Apollonius, see Harris 1969; Dzielska 1986; Aitken and Berenson Maclean 2004; Jones 2006a; Bowie and Elsner 2009; Paschalis 2011; Robiano 2016. For the material preserved by Iamblichus and Lucian, see Gorman 1985.
[ back ] 96. Marrou 1964:381–390; Morgan 1998:190–239; Cribiore 2001:220–244; Watts 2006:31; Reydams-Schils 2015.
[ back ] 97. Josephus Life 1–12; Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 2. See also Lamberton 2001.
[ back ] 98. Penella 1979; Jones 2006b.
[ back ] 99. Mead 1980:110–118; Dzielska 1986:85–127.
[ back ] 100. For more on Pythagoras, see Carcopino 1968; Guthrie 1989; Riedweg 2005; Cardini 2010; Mele 2013.
[ back ] 101. Ogden 2007:105–114.
[ back ] 102. Ogden 2007:109–111.
[ back ] 103. Ogden 2007:231–270.