On Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians

Clement of Alexandria is rumored to have been a disciple of Peter. He was from Alexandria, Egypt and later became the representative, or “bishop,” of Rome, holding that office from about 88 AD until his death in 99 AD (per Tertullian). He was praised among many of the early Christian church leaders. Clement is considered an apostolic father of the early church, along with Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch. Today, he is venerated as the fourth Pope in the lineage descending from Peter, though Tertullian considered him the immediate successor of Peter. His only surviving extant writing is his letter to the church at Corinth. Tradition holds that Clement was captured and imprisoned under the reign of the Emperor Trajan. While in prison, Clement ministered to his fellow prisoners. He was martyred by being tied to an anchor and cast into the sea. For this reason, he is often considered the patron saint of mariners.

This is a 1480 Italian painting by Fungai of the martyrdom of Pope Clement.

The early church was scattered and did not have a fixed lineage of church authorities. The Liber Pontificalis (Latin for “Papal Book” or “Book of the Popes”) offers a list of biographies of the papacy leading from Peter to the 15th century. It lists Clement as the chosen successor to Peter, though Peter also had two other “bishops” do his bidding in Rome. Today, we call these two men: Pope Linus and Pope Cletus (or Anacletus) the two popes who are often listed as preceding Clement.

There is a series of early Christian Romance literature called the “Clementine Literature” (Clementine Homilies, Clementine Recognitions and so on) which portrays Clement as a hero and the means through which the surviving apostles of Jesus disseminated their teaching to the churches. Clement is referenced in the writings of Paul as a fellow traveler in the faith, and Clement is also referenced in Shepherd of Hermas.

His first (and perhaps only authentic) letter is directed to the Corinthians, though it was written anonymously. Apparently Corinth was a rowdy group of early church-members, as also evidenced in both of Paul’s letters pleading with Corinth to love one another.

Clement’s letter was well-celebrated in the early. It was frequently read aloud along with Paul’s epistles in the early church. It is considered one of the oldest Christian texts aside from the writings of Paul and the gospels. It has been variously dated to 75 AD or even 96 AD.

The letter is intended on the one hand to praise the humility and honesty of the church at Corinth, but also to excoriate their rebelliousness in overthrowing their elders and authorities as a result of an envious coup. Clement reminds them of envy, citing a number of biblical stories, such as Joseph, and Cain and Abel. Clement cites the martyrdom of Peter and of Paul (who was imprisoned seven times). Envy is the way of the world and it has brought great strife to the nations of the world. Clement begs them to look to the example of holy men throughout history for examples of how to behave with humility and hospitality. His plea is for order, following in the holy example of Jesus. It is similar in purpose to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.

Xenophon’s Perfect Country Gentleman in the Oeconomicus

The word “economics” comes down to us from the Greek meaning “household management” and the various contingents of the household. Thus the science of the economy is the science of the household or the estate. The title of Xenophon’s seminal but brief dialogue points us to the theme of the text: household management, or more closely as “the economist.”

The form of the text is a dialogue that is recollected by Xenophon. The setting is a conversation between Socrates and Critobulus (recall that Critobulus also appears in Xenophon’s Symposium). The third character in the text is Ischomachus, “a beautiful and good man,” with whom Socrates recollects a conversation for the benefit of Critobulus. Recall that Critobulus in Xenophon’s Symposium boasts about his beauty and the ability to make other men handsome. The Oeconomicus is a dialogue that lasts XXI chapters.

It begins en media res rather abruptly (like the Hellenica) with Socrates asking Critobulus if he considers household (or estate) management to be a science like medicine, smithing, or carpentry. It comes to light that an “economist” is someone who successfully manages wealth and households. Wealth is said to be that which may benefit a man, while mere money in the pocket of a man who does not know how to use it is like poison which can make men like slaves.

Next, Xenophon asks Socrates for advice in managing his own personal estate. Socrates claims to pity Critobulus over his poverty, which makes Critobulus laugh at the state of Socrates’s property versus his own, to which Socrates mentions that he has enough wealth for his own needs while Critobulus has an image and a reputation and a large household to keep up, therefore he is beholden to other men and always in need of more. Socrates compares his own knowledge of wealth to one who has never played the flute trying to speak intimately about playing the flute.

Throughout the dialogue Socrates comes to light as a teacher of household management (unlike generalship). That is to say, he is a teacher of farming. Xenophon’s Socrates praises household management as the highest art.

Now, Socrates is an ironic man. He claims he does not own income producing assets, thus he lives like something of a pauper, or a beggar, but he lives on the sustenance of his friends, wealthy gentlemen who consider it a privilege to come to his aid. Nevertheless, Socrates has explored the question of why some men are rich and others are poor. He claims to offer to Critobulus another example of the best household manager (s). Critobulus begs Socrates for such a teacher.

The first key to household management is building a house. Some spend great amounts of money for a useless house, and others spend little for a useful house. The next is furniture of value, servants, and the art of farming -including raising horses and animals, and lastly the issue of wives. Cyrus is taken by Socrates to be the model oeconomicus or “economist.” Farming is pleasant but only for those who embrace hard work. It also requires piety, for abundance comes from the gods.

Now, as promised Socrates delivers to Critobulus the image of the perfect gentleman: Ischomachos. It should be noted that the dialogue makes an important shift in chapter VI from the question of household management to the image of a perfect gentleman. It should also be noted that this image arises out of a vulgar conversation: of money, not of virtue. We see the perfect gentleman from the lowly perspective of his needs. The bulk of the dialogue is devoted to Socrates’s recollection of when he learned of the perfect gentleman, further diluting Xenophon’s authorship.

Socrates recalls: By pure luck he goes to visit Ischomachos sitting by the colonnade to Zeus. Socrates wants to know how he spends his time and how he came to be called a perfect gentleman. Ischomachos spends very little time indoors (those affairs are handled by his wife), and in contrast spending his time in crowded parts of the city, Ischomachos spends his time on his farm. The perfect gentleman is rarely at leisure. Socrates eagerly listens. Ischomachos’s wife is modestly educated by Ischomachos. He provides a defense of marriage for 1) procreation, 2) children provide support men in old age, and 3) there is need for men to have a shelter and thus a need for indoor and also outdoor work. Socrates and Ischomachos have a lengthy discussion about marriage and the nature of wives.

Eventually, Socrates puts a stop to the discussion of wives, and Ischomachos mentions that a perfect gentleman must be wealthy and they discuss farming at length.

The dialogue concludes with Socrates satisfied that farming is the easiest and best way for the perfect gentleman to live his life. The dialogue is a curiously framed conversation of the wise man (Socrates) educating the young son of a gentleman farmer Critobulus) in the art of perfect gentlemanship and farming, after he had been instructed in both by a perfect gentleman (Ischomachos).

For this reading I used the Agora Edition of Xenophon’s Shorter Socratic Writings as edited by Robert C. Bartlett, a Professor at Boston College, and a translated by Carnes Lord, a Professor at the US Naval War College.

Socrates’s Desire to Die: On Xenophon’s Apology

Xenophon’s Memorabilia (“recollections”) is his public defense of Socrates, but the title is notably silent about whether or not the recollections are exclusively of Socrates. The text is, instead, rife with the recollections by Xenophon on the Socratic, and therefore, the philosophic life. As an alternative, his shorter Socratic writing, the Apology of Socrates, is clear about who delivers the apologia: Socrates is the subject. The same may be said of Xenophon’s writings of Cyrus, who is also called out by name in the Cyropaedia. Thus both the Apology of Socrates and the Cyropaedia share some things in common. Xenophon’s Apology also shares kinship with Plato’s Apology, as well. Xenophon acknowledges at the beginning of the dialogue that “others have written” on Socrates’s apology. However, perhaps Xenophon acknowledges certain elements lacking from Plato’s account thus his need to give a new account of the apology.

At the outset of his Apology Xenophon announces the goal of the text: to justify Socrates’s “big” speaking, perhaps even boasting about himself. In Xenophon, Socrates speaks in a brash and uncouth manner, in which case Xenophon would agree (to a degree) with Aristophanes’s charge against Socrates of speaking too freely. Whenever reading Xenophon, we are aware of his first-person perspective, unlike Plato’s disguised poetry that often comes from multiple narrators. At any rate, Xenophon’s text is also polemical against what he calls Plato’s “lofty” portrayal of Socrates (he never calls Plato out by name), and Xenophon’s conviction that Socrates clearly prefers death to life, rather than begging for his life from the jury. In this way, Xenophon’s praise of Socrates is regarding his honorable decision to die rather than to debase himself, however Xenophon’s critique of Socrates is against his uncourtly and disrespectful way of speaking that cost him his life (less so the charges against him).

Hermogenes, a close follower of Socrates who also appears in Plato’s dialogue on language, the Cratylus, engages in dialogue with Socrates regarding his defense. In fact, Hermogenes is the source of Xenophon’s text (thus Xenophon, like Plato, removes a certain degree of blame from himself as the author). Socrates responds that he looks forward to a pleasant death that will leave a strong memory in his followers minds -an extraordinarily different account than is found in Plato.

Then Socrates appears before the jury of his accusers, led by Meletus. Socrates remarks on his first charge: that of atheism, or not believing in the gods of the city. He defends himself by noting that everyone, including Meletus, has seen him sacrificing in public. However, to what extent is Socrates replacing his faith, with the practice of following the appropriate religious ceremonies. He replaces speech with deeds as justification for himself.

Next, on the charge of Socrates introducing new gods into the city, he defends himself by comparing his revelations from his daimonian to omens and oracles. How are they different activities? Asks Socrates. His “divine thing” or “divine sign” tends to appear jus as Socrates and companion(s) are about to do something. Suddenly the daimonian advises Socrates against doing something inadvisable. In Plato, Socrates’s divine sign appears at: Theages 128D, 129B; Apology 31D, 40B, 40C, 41D; Republic 496C; Euthydemus 272E; Phaedrus 242B. Socrates further reinforces his statements, after an uproar from the men of the jury, that he has been divinely chosen, as evidenced by Chaereophon’s (an enthusiastic follower of Socrates) inquiry to the oracle at Delphi claimed that no man was more free, nor just, nor prudent than Socrates.

Socrates makes mention of his lifestyle, being moderate and requiring very little money and most continent in his deeds, as well. He is both frugal and possesses fortitude. Could such a man corrupt the youth by behaving in such a way? Meletus takes objection to Socrates, noting that he has persuaded young men to be educated by him rather than from their parents (recall the ‘Thinkery’ in Aristophanes’s The Clouds). Socrates compares himself to a doctor, a healer of the city, and people go to a physician, not their parents, for certain needs.

Xenophon ends his account of Socrates’s apologia without repeating the full trial, as Plato does. Xenophon instead says his account is sufficient to show that Socrates was willing and ready to die. He was not willing to escape death at any opportunity, which is both a praise and criticism of Socrates.

After this brief interlude from Xenophon he recreates the conclusion of Socrates’s trial, per Hermogenes. Socrates compares himself to Palamedes -a man who was wrongly put to death at Troy by Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Diomedes (not mentioned in Homer’s Iliad but is found in the writings of Ovid and Virgil). After leaving the courtroom Socrates goes with his followers to die a happy man, though they are sad. Along the way, he hurls insults at Anytus. And thus, Socrates departed his life in a “cheery” but uncouth way. Xenophon closes his short account of the apology by praising Socrates’s “wisdom” and “nobility of character.” And if a man who is seeking virtue can be a better helper than Socrates, Xenophon claims such a man is most blessed.

For this reading I used the Agora Edition of Xenophon’s Shorter Socratic Writings as edited by Gregory A. McBrayer, a Professor at the University of Ashland and translated by Andrew Patch, along with an accompanying essay by Thomas Pangle.

The War Between the Sexes in Lysistrata

Lysistrata is the only surviving Aristophanean play whose title designates the name of the main character. Most other plays convey the collective name of the Chorus, or else another chief theme of the play. Lysistrata means something like “releaser of war” or “army disbander” and we are invited by Aristophanes to consider her character above all others, as the title of the play suggests.  

The play opens with a complaint -Lysistrata is a political woman, caring chiefly for the concerns of the city (though there is no Euripidean soliloquy, as the play assumes the characters are free peoples engaged in a free enterprise. In other words, there is no need for the audience to be aware of Lysistrata’s private thoughts). Currently, Athens is engaged in the long war with Sparta, and Lysistrata longs for the war to end. She calls together the women of Greece, though they arrive late, in order to propose an unorthodox end to the Peloponnesian War. When the women finally show up, most of the women echo the opinions of other Athenian men -that women should prefer to stay home to care for the servants, the men, and, above all, the babies. One is left to wonder whether or not Lysistrata has any children. We are given scant information about her home, husband, or children in the text.

Lysistrata gathers together the women of Greece (not just of Athens, but also of Sparta and Boeotia, as well) to save Greece from certain destruction. Her plan is for the women of Greece to withhold sexual intercourse with men, until the men can make peace and end the war. The women sacrifice one immediate good, namely sexual intercourse between men and women, for the greater good of peace among the Grecians. The way to achieve peace is by means of war, by waging conflict on those who engage in war. Their ultimate objective is peace through deprivation. The power of the women is not in their actions, but rather in their lack of actions, or at least withholding of actions. The only potential problem with the plan is whether or not women have greater self-control and can successfully withhold sex (Lampito, a representative from Sparta, notes that in Sparta the women have greater power over the men). The implication is the one thing men desire more than victory in war (i.e. victory over other men) is victory in the bedroom. The comparison between war and sexual gratification is striking.

The women depart one another after making a solemn oath over wine, and the women of Sparta go home to the Peloponessus while the women of Athens (who have less power over their men as they are a less orderly polis) occupy the Treasury of Athens. The old men of Athens suddenly realize the female rebellion and attempt to smoke out the sacred treasury building by lighting a fire, but more old women come to aid the occupation with buckets of water.

The play inverts the old Homeric axiom to “let war be the business of the men” so that the more modest sex (women) must take charge over the imbecilic war that has been so foolishly managed by men (recall the botched Sicilian Expedition). Eventually, some of the women start to give in, longing for sex with their husbands, and Lysistrata must continually rally them to the cause. She seems to be the only one capable of perfect continence. Her political power, however, is merely protest. She can only withhold provisions. The women’s political protest takes the form of a strike, and they starve the men of sex, abandoning natural desires in favor of political desires. The debate between men and women is exemplified beautifully between two competing choroi (one of old men and one of old women) as the debate (or “agon”) continues. Indeed, the war has brought about new agonies for Athens as threats of Greek destruction implies destruction of the homes of the women, as well. Thus, the war turns internal and transpolitical as the women build a new alliance based on gender across the Greek territories, and they bring civil strife until peace can be achieved.

Eventually delegates of Sparta and Athens meet (with erections showing forth from their tunics) to bring about a peace agreement in the name of a naked and sexually gratifying woman named “Reconciliation.” Men respond to the actions and in-actions of the women. The play ends in a Dionysian celebration, and a praise of Athena at the Acropolis, though surely it was Aphrodite who brought about the ultimate peace. The normal order and peace among the nations are brought about thanks to Lysistrata and her army of women.

Lysistrata is the most indecent of Aristophanes’s plays, making private and sexual matters public and political, yet it is also the most harmless and perhaps the most moral and just of Aristophanes’s plays. The war of Lysistrata is intended to bring about a harmony of Physis (nature) and Nomos (law or custom) by inverting the two temporarily, in order to bring about a better political order. Her actions are civil, her ends virtuous, though her means are indecent. She is not a revolutionary in the proper sense. 

Lysistrata is likely the most popular of Aristophanes’s works, likely due to its harmlessness and graphic innuendos. Lysistrata is the natural partner of The Knights, which also features an Athenian savior, and in another way of The Acharnians and the Peace, both of which point to the ultimate objective of peace and harmony in the end. However, Lysistrata is also impossible. Few women exist like Lysistrata, seemingly absent of love and family ties, resistant to natural desires, and capable of marshaling an army of other women. Additionally, the alliance of Spartan and Athenian women is also unbelievable, as they are natural enemies. The extension of the inversion of physis and nomos is what makes the joke of the sexual and political dominance  of women over men humorous (i.e. “women on top”). The impossibility made possible by the comedy play is what makes the play laughable, aside from its vulgar thematic content. The true teaching of the play can only be a “likely story” however we are left to wonder whether the poet’s true ambition was to bring about a regime change in Athens.

Both Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazusae were staged within months of the infamous Athenian oligarchic revolutions in 411 BC.

For this reading I used the Loeb Edition translated by Jeffrey Henderson.

Thoughts on Wisdom in Ecclesiasticus

The grandson of the author of Ecclesiasticus opens the book with a prologue of his journey through Egypt translating the text into Greek, which has allowed him to impart great wisdom on his peers, the Egyptian Jewry -for the Torah is good, but only words written in their native tongue carry the greatest power. The author claims to be a teacher of how to achieve wisdom, not unlike the Athenian Sophists. The author labors, like a martyr, for the wisdom of “all people.” The remainder of the text, reflects his grandfather’s book of wisdom (wisdom books were highly popular among Greek-speaking Jews near the turn to the so-called “common era.”)

Naturally, the text is decidedly theological. Wisdom is described as being “created” by God, and can be attained “only” through Him. As echoed elsewhere in the Bible, the “fear” of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Thus, wisdom is quantifiable like a possession, and is rewarded to meek and lowly people, whom God favors. The Lord delights in “faith and meekness” (1:27). How, then, are we to understand the author’s attainment of wisdom through his mysterious book in Egypt? Did he achieve wisdom by reading and learning, or rather through divine intervention, or fear?

However, the poetry of the text is beautiful. In some ways, it reads like a series of maxims for how to live a good life, perhaps similar to the Tao Te Ching or as an extension of Proverbs. But what is meant by a “good life”? Does the text encourage upright moral citizenship? Or merely meek and lowly people to submit to the will of the Shephard? Does it reinforce the laws of the city, or counter them?

According to the text, wisdom is a kind of ontology -one must behave in a fearful, meek, yet just and faithful way. In order to be wise, one must spend time with elders, and speak less but listen more. Give more than you take. Have patience, do not dishonor others. Be selective of your family. Be well-ordered, like a judge; not petty like a beggar, but still meek. Your laughter reveals what kind of man you are. Do all things only according to the proper time and place. Be wise, but not bitter and resentful. Avoid slothfulness, do things only with your own money. Find yourself a silent and obedient wife with a strong mind, and be firm with your slaves. Yet, still follow the Mosaic law and take pity on the poor. Two of his key theological claims are: that man has a freedom of will, and that God rewards virtuous people. Wisdom is personified as a woman -as in later literature as “Lady Wisdom.”

The text closes at the 51st chapter, wherein the author Jeshua son of Sirach (Yeshua ben Sira) admits that he was unfulfilled by the men of the world, but in his despair he called on the Lord who never abandoned him. In this way, he “profited” from his “learning” -and the text closes with a promise of “rewards” if one follows these maxims.

The book has no particular structure, and is considered an apocryphal late Hebrew text. It is included among Catholic and Eastern canons, as well as the King James Bible. The text is rare in that it presents a whole book as if it had come down to us from one single author. It is unique in its declaration of authorship. The author ben Sira, was a famous ancient Jewish scribe of Alexandria, Egypt. Fragmentary Hebrew copies of the text have been found throughout Egypt, and the Greek translation was included in the Septuagint.

For this reading I used an internet-based Project Gutenberg translation.

Thoughts on the Book of Wisdom

The apocryphal Biblical text, sometimes called the “Book of Wisdom” is a collection of 19 chapters intended to encourage readers and listeners to pursue a life of wisdom. It is a non-canonical text that likely emerged from the educated city of Alexandria, Egypt. It is sometimes attributed to Solomon and was listed in the Vulgate as “Liber Sapientiae” or the “Book of Wisdom.” Early Christians considered the text as part of the “Old Testament” with the rest of the Wisdom books, and some Catholics continue this tradition today, however most denominations of Christianity consider the book apocryphal.

The frame of the text is less of a dialogue or a story, and more of a theological treatise or prayer. It is listed as one of the seven “Sapiential Wisdom Books” of the Greek Septuagint, along with Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Sirach (another apocryphal text). It contains more than a hint of influences from Epicureanism, as well as echoes of Stoicism.

The text contains some beautiful poetry, however I was troubled by this book. What is wisdom (understood Biblically)? Why should someone pursue a life of wisdom?

According to Chapter 1, wisdom is akin to “righteousness” -or upright moral behavior. In order to act according to righteousness, one must first be persuaded and reared to do so. Chapter 2 indicates that the unwise bemoan the apparent meaningless in the world (a la Ecclesiastes), while the wise will be rewarded by God with “blessings” and “glorious fruits of their labor.”

Therefore, wisdom (the theologian teaches) should be pursued not for its own sake, as might be said among philosophers, but rather wisdom must be pursued to avoid suffering, and even to gain rewards from God. People should seek wisdom because it pleases God, and he will provide rewards. The text approaches human beings with a promise and a threat.

Both philosophy and theology teach the goodness of wisdom, but theology claims to distribute divine rewards and punishments. For theology, everyone should pursue a life of wisdom, or else face consequences, while philosophy is not necessarily accessible to all. Additionally, philosophy cannot make such a promise of bliss. The historical life of a philosopher is dangerous, and in many cases; deadly, however this is also true of the theologian.

At Chapter 6, the text laments the lack of wisdom of the great kings, who have forgotten that power comes only from God. The writer promises to bring to light the nature of wisdom, he gives an apologia. Where did he receive wisdom? When he was young he “cried out” and the “spirit of wisdom” came unto him from God (7:7) -a greater possession than riches (note: the same claim was made by the Sophists in ancient Athens -that wisdom could be taught and possessed, contra Socrates as described in Plato’s dialogues). Is wisdom the same as knowledge?

The remaining chapters of the text detail an extended prayer of thanks to God for apportioning all things according to wisdom. As in the surviving manuscript of Boethius from the ‘Middle Ages’, Wisdom is personified, as a female person at the right-hand of God. She is praised for her beauty. The author follows wisdom through an abbreviated story of the Torah. The text is intended to be educational for kings, as well as autobiographical, but also a scholarly reflection on theological implications of wisdom. It is a fascinating mix of prose styles in one single short book. However, the philosophical questions still linger at the end of the text: What is wisdom? And, can it be taught?

For this reading I used an internet-based Project Gutenberg translation.