(Part 6c of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)
Part 6c – The Acuta Crux in Anti-Christian Discourse (2A) – Lucian (2 of 2).
In the previous installment I showed how Lucian used the verb ἀνασκολοπίζω: “impale, fix on a pole” to denote the execution of the original founder of the Christian religion, or then, superstition. I then went over one of his works, Prometheus, to show that he had an immense variety of nouns and verbs at hand to that were used to connote the Roman method of execution by suspension and torture with an inanimate object with no moving parts. And now I will show to you what verb he used in his other works… and how he (or a ghost-writer, perhaps) described how the Romans actually crucified people, that is, fixed to a crux, not necessarily nailed to a cross. (Edit: deleted incorrect information about Pseudo-Lucian.)
B.4. The Voyage to the Lower World.
Cataplus is also known as The Downward Journey, The Voyage to the Lower World, or The Tyrant. Its storyline is about a group of dead people who are carried to the underworld in the boat piloted by Charon. Hermes, who makes his appearance once again, this time brings a small brood of passengers with him to the wharf where Charon is waiting. One of the people is one tyrant by the name of Megapenthes, who tried to escape Hermes’ grasp. Charon’s business companion, Clotho, firsts asks for the souls of the infants, then of the elderly, then of those who died from battle wounds, those who killed themselves for love, rivals to thrones, one murdered by his wife and her lover, and then those killed by the law:
“Now bring in the output of the courts, I mean those who had died by the scourge and by the cross. (τοὺς ἐκ τυμπάνου καὶ τοὺς ἀνεσκολοπισμένους)”
Lucian, Cataplus 6 1, 2
The phrase “by the scourge and the by the cross” is also rendered as “the cudgeled and the crucified. 3” But it the transliteration of the Greek is, “those from the τύμπανον (tympanon) and those suspended on a σκόλοψ (thorn, impaling stake4).” From the Lexica, a τύμπανον was a kettledrum; a drum-stick, staff, cudgel, a wheel of solid wood5. The area of the pediment of a temple where friezes were installed was and is also called a tympanon6. And we have seen before, Celsus used the verb ἀποτυμπανίζω, “crucify on a plank, cudgel7,” to describe the suspension of Jesus in his critique of Christianity, On the True Discourse8, which would reduce the tympanon to a board. So it’s possible those who died violently by law: τοὺς ἐκ τυμπάνου καὶ τοὺς ἀνεσκολοπισμένους were those who died suspended by a plank or those impaled.
B.5. The Lover of Lies.
This, Philopseudes, also The Lover of Lies, The Liar or The Doubter, is a collection of fables, including the famous story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In section 29, during a discussion whether the spirits of the dead walk the earth or not, enters one Arignotus, a Pythagorean, who then states his opinion:
'Ah, but, Eucrates,' said he, 'perhaps all that Tychiades means is, that a spirit only walks if its owner met with a violent end, if he was strangled, for instance, or beheaded or crucified (ἀνεσκολοπίσθη), [or was scourged by another,] and not if he died a natural death.
Lucian, Philopseudes 29 9, 10
Again, we have for “was crucified,” ἀνεσκολοπίσθη, “was fixed on a pole (σκόλοψ), impaled4.”
B.6. Zeus Goes on a Tear.
This parody of a Greek tragedy, Juppiter Tragoedeus, also known as Zeus Tragoedus or Zeus Rants, involves a discussion of the conflicting Stoic and Epicurean ideas on the natures of the gods. In section 19 Momus is reflecting on why people are concluding the gods don’t exist because of what transpires down below on Earth: the disasters and evils that are inflicted by good people by happenstance, whilst unscrupulous bastards roll in unlimited wealth and enjoy continual good fortune and honour, and temple-robbers escape unpunished whilst persons innocent of any crime are continually put to death with repulsively cruel and unusual punishments. And speaking of the punishments:
…detestable scoundrels honoured, rolling in wealth, and ordering their betters about, temple-robbers undetected and unpunished, the innocent constantly crucified (ἀνασκολοπιζομένους) and bastinadoed?
Lucian, Zeus Tragoedus 19 11, 12
Again, we have for “crucified” is ἀνασκολοπιζομένους, “being fixed on a pole (σκόλοψ), impaled4.”
B.7. Jupiter Put on the Spot.
The next is Juppiter Confutatus, or Zeus Cross-examined. In this piece, Zeus is appearing in Court and is questioned as a defendant: why is he always deaf to the prayers and requests of those beseeching him. In section 16, we have a litany of good people suffering misfortune while those wicked and corrupt always enjoy good fortune! For example:
…nor yet why the effeminate Sardanapalus was a king, and one high minded Persian after another went to the cross (ἀνεσκολοπίσθη) for refusing to countenance his doings?
Lucian, Zeus Cross-examined 16 13, 14
|This is how the Assyrians "crucified" people -- impalement.|
And we know that “was impaled” is the proper translation because Sardanapalus was an Assyrian king, and the epigraphy clearly show that the Assyrians didn’t crucify people by nailing them to crosses, but rather, they impaled people.
B.8. The Fisherman.
In this one Revivescentes sive Piscator, or Piscator, The Dead Come to Life or The Fisherman, or The Fisher, Socrates is depicted asking his fellow philosophers how the free-thinking Parrhesaides is to be punished.
First Phil. Impale him (ἀνασκολοπισθῆναι), say I.
Second Phil. Yes, but scourge him first.
Third Phil. Tear out his eyes.
Fourth Phil. Ah, but first out with the offending tongue.
Lucian, The Fisher 2 15, 16
At least this translation gets the meaning of ἀνασκολοπισθῆναι quite right! Martin Hengel sees it as “I think he should be crucified.17”
B.9. On Sacrifices.
This theme, also as De sacrifiis and Of Sacrifice, is a diatribe on sacrifices from a Cynic perspective. In section 6 the discussion focuses on Prometheus and his unhappy suspension in the Caucasus Mountains (you can still go to Russia today and see, hahaha):
…though well disposed to men, he was brought by Zeus to Scythia [the barbarian land par excellence], where he was crucified (ἀνεσταύρωσεν).
Lucian, On Sacrifices 6 18, 19
|Prometheus chained to The Caucasus.|
B.10. In the Court of the Vowels.
And this last In the Court of the Vowels, also known as Lis Consonantium, Judicium Vocalium, Consonants at Law, or Trial in the Court of Vowels, we have Sigma accusing Tau of doing many dastardly things, mostly corrupting people’s speech so that the pronunciation letter ‘Σ’ (‘S’) came out as the latter ‘T’ in daily speech and the spelling soon followed. And Sigma finishes up with a flourish, of inspiring tyrants of devising structures shaped like Tau in order to hang men on them:
Such are his verbal offences against man; his offences in deed remain. Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up the erections on which men are crucified (ἀνασκολοπίζειν). Σταυρός the vile engine (τῷ τεχνήματι τῷ πονηρῷ) is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape--that shape which he gave to the gibbet named σταυρός after him by men.
Lucian, In the Court of the Vowels 12 22, 23
Indeed, for “crucify” we have ἀνασκολοπίζειν, “to impale, fix on a pole (σκόλοψ)4.” But here the object on which men are to be impaled is shaped like a ‘T’! Since the modern definition of “crucify” involves a mere nailing or binding of a person to a cross for suspension until dead, something else is going on here: and the most likely scenario here is that the writer did not care if the executioner used nails or ropes to suspend the person from the larger structure, but he is probably cognizant that the crucified person was suspended on some kind of σκόλοψ: an outrigged acuta-crux, and at the time this paragraph was written, it was normally the case.
And further down in the paragraph, the original Greek for “vile engine” is τῷ τεχνήματι τῷ πονηρῷ (with that cunning device for that base [act])24. Now with an acuta-crux attached as is implied to be the usual case in this paragraph, because the writer says right out that the poor souls were suspended on a thorn, the above translation “vile engine” is right appropriate.
Now this whole paragraph is tricky. It is credited by most to Lucian, certainly, but some consider it, and the rest of the work with it, to have been written by a ghost-writer. And they have a reason: why would Lucian call attention to himself from the Roman Government if he stated right out that tyrants impaled men alive on wooden instruments in the shape of Tau, in the manner that the Government did?
B.11. Return to Peregrine.
In Peregrine we have some other references to the Roman punishment, when Lucian comments on the spectacle of his funeral procession and cremation, fortuitously at the Olympiad at the time, in order to fob himself off as the new Hercules:
However, he had a fine following, and drank his fill of notoriety, as he gazed on the host of his admirers; poor man! he forgot that criminals on the way to the cross (επί τον σταυρόν απάγεσθαι) or in the executioner's hands, have a greater escort by far.
Lucian, On the Death of Peregrine 34 25, 26
The corresponding Greek “on the way to the cross” (επί τον σταυρόν απάγεσθαι) transliterates as “to be led or carried off to the σταυρός, i.e, execution pole. Nothing in this specifiec text shows any indication whether the pole had a crossarm. 27
And at the conclusion of Lucian’s satire, he portrays Proteus as worrying about rheumy eyes when, as Lucian has said so many times, he had so many defects of character!
I myself, not so long ago, saw Proteus with some irritant rubbed on his eyes to purge them of rheum. Evidently we are to infer that there is no admission for blear eyes in the kingdom of Aeacus [a mythological king]. ’Twas as if a man on the way to be crucified (ἐπί σταυρόν ἀναβήσεσθαι) were to concern himself about a sprained finger.
Lucian, On the Death of Peregrine 45 28, 29
In this paragraph Lucian makes reference to the Roman penalty in the phrase “on the way to be crucified (ἐπί σταυρόν ἀναβήσεσθαι),” ἀναβήσεσθαι can either translate as either “about to go up, mount, be fastened or be made fast on a σταυρός, which at least sometimes was the well-known Roman execution pole.
|Puzzuoli Graffito. Note the suspended is riding an|
acuta crux, a thorn-shaped upright peg mounted
midway out on an elaborate support shaped like
an uncircumcized penis.
What should be noted is the frequency he uses the various verbs for the Roman punishment throughout his works: ἀνασκολοπίζω “impale, fix to a pole, suspend on a thorn, crucify” 8 times (or 9 counting In the Court of the Vowels), ἀνασταυρόω “suspend on a pole, impale, crucify” 5 times, ἀναβαίνω “go up, mount” twice (except one of those instances may be ἀνάπτω “to fasten, attach, make fast” instead), κρεμάννυμι “hang”, προσηλόω “nail to”, and σταυρόω “fence with pales, pile drive, crucify”, καταπήγνυμι “plant firmly” and προσπασσαλεύω “peg to” each once. As Lucian uses all these verbs the Greco-Roman Hellenic-speaking population used to describe the various actions of the apparently typical Roman penalty for the suspension of Prometheus in his dramatic play, it is abundantly clear that these different verbs described the Roman penalty of the σταυρός / crux like the reports of blind people describing an elephant. And what’s more, the traditional concept of crucifixion (nail or bind to a two-beam cross, or tropaeum) does not do these verbs sufficient justice, particularly the ones that involve or derive from impaling and the one that indicates the possibility of the use at least one πάσσαλος, a wooden peg, stake, or tree-nail.
Lucian is also cognizant of the σταυρὸς, which he mentioned four times, as not only as the pole on which the condemned person is suspended, but also as the suspension penalty itself. The use of οἴκτιστος θέαμα “most pitiable sight or spectacle” indicates he was knowledgeable of the utterly repulsive sight of such a penalty and the great sadness one must feel for one so suspended. The sight would probably be even more pitiable if the one suspended was also rectally penetrated by an upright wooden ‘peg’, which could have been quite large.
Considering that Lucian lived at a time when the Roman penalty of the σταυρὸς / crux on a Priapus Stake, i.e., a utility pole with a vertically-oriented, outrigged pointed stake in the shape of a thorn, was known and indeed for at least a hundred years before the time of Lucian’s passing away, and that he used the verbs ἀνασταυρόω and ἀνασκολοπίζω more frequently than the others to describe it, he probably would have attributed the death of the then-supposed death of the author of the Christian cult to the same sort of execution.
1. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, John Bowden, tr., Philadelphia, Fortress Press (1977), p. 82, n. 27.
2. Perseus Digital Library, Lucian, Cataplus6.
τοὺς ἐκ δικαστηρίων δῆτα παράγαγε, λέγω δὲ τοὺς ἐκ τυμπάνου καὶ τοὺς ἀνεσκολοπισμένους. οἱ δ᾽ ὑπὸ λῃστῶν ἀποθανόντες ἑκκαίδεκα ποῦ εἰσιν, ὦ Ἑρμῆ (But indeed bring forward those out of a court of law, and I mean, those who were cudgeled / crucified on a plank and those crucified / impaled.)
3. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, Voyage to the Lower World 6.
4. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀνασκολοπίζω, “fix on a pole [i.e., heads on pikes], impale;” σκόλοψ, “a stake for palisades or impaling, a thorn, anything pointed.”
5. Perseus Word Study Tool, τύμπανον.
6. The Free Dictionary.com., Tympanon.
7. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀποτυμπανίζω, “crucify on a plank, cudgel.”
8. Origen, Contra Celsum 2.31
9. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, The Liar 29. Part of this translation [in brackets] is mine, because it was missing from the online translation.
10. Perseus Digital Library, Lucian, Philopseudessive incredulus 29:
ὁ δέ, ‘ ὅρα,’ ἔφη, ‘ὦ Εὔκρατες, μὴ τοῦτό φησιν Τυχιάδης, τάς τῶν βιαίως ἀποθανόντων μόνας ψυχάς περινοστεῖν, οἷον εἴ τις ἀπήγξατο ἢ ἀπετμήθη τήν κεφαλήν ἢ ἀνεσκολοπίσθη ἢ ἄλλῳ γέ τῳ τρόπῳ τοιούτῳ ἀπῆλθεν ἐκ τοῦ βίου, τάς δέ τῶν κατά μοῖραν ἀποθανόντων οὐκέτι:’ (But then, “behold,” he says, perhaps what Eucrates says is, of the spirits of those who having perished by the violent [means] only walk the Earth, as for example if anyone strangles himself, or would have his head cut off, or is suspended up on a pointed stake, or perishes from the hand of another with scourges, but those of the ones having passed away properly [i.e., naturally], no longer.)
11. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, Zeus Tragoedus 19.
12. Perseus Digital Library, Juppitertrageoedeus 19:
…παμπονήρους δὲ καὶ μιαροὺς ἀνθρώπους προτιμωμένους καὶ ὑπερπλουτοῦντας καὶ ἐπιτάττοντας τοῖς κρείττοσι, καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἱεροσύλους οὐ κολαζομένους ἀλλὰ διαλανθάνοντας, ἀνασκολοπιζομένους δὲ καὶ τυμπανιζομένους ἐνίοτε τοὺς οὐδὲν ἀδικοῦντας;… (and thoroughly knavish and even defiled men being prejudged worthy and …becoming too rich and ordering those superior [in character], and indeed temple robbers, however, not being punished yet by escaping unnoticed, and at times men doing nothing wrong are suspended up on pointed stakes and even beaten to death;…)
13. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, Zeus Cross-examined 16 fin.
…καὶ Σαρδανάπαλλος μὲν ἐβασίλευε θῆλυς ὤν, Γώχης δὲ ἀνὴρ ἐνάρετος ἀνεσκολοπίσθη πρὸς αὐτοῦ, διότι μὴ ἠρέσκετο τοῖς γιγνομένοις: (…and Sardanapalus, being effeminate, certainly was King, while [one] right-minded man [after another] was impaled in his presence.)
15. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, The Fisher 2
16. Perseus Digital Library, Lucian, Piscator2:
ἐμοὶ μὲν ἀνασκολοπισθῆναι δοκεῖ αὐτόν.
(Philospoher: Indeed, for me---, I fancy that he should be impaled.)
νὴ Δία, μαστιγωθέντα γε πρότερον.
(Another: Aye, at least first have him chewed up all over by scourges first.)
πολὺ πρότερον τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐκκεκολάφθω.
(Another: First of many, his eyes should be put out.)
τὴν γλῶτταν αὐτὴν ἔτι πολὺ πρότερον ἀποτετμήσθω.
(Another: First of many still, his tongue should be cut out and destroyed.)
17. Hengel, p. 83.
18. Hengel, p. 12.
19. Perseus Digital Library, Lucian, Desacrifiis 6 fin.:
καὶ γὰρ αὖ καὶ τοῦτον εἰς τὴν Σκυθίαν ἀγαγὼν ὁ Ζεὺς ἀνεσταύρωσεν ἐπὶ τοῦ Καυκάσου, τὸν ἀετὸν αὐτῷ παρακαταστήσας τὸ ἧπαρ ὁσημέραι κολάψοντα. (And indeed once more, even this one [Prometheus] Zeus, having led him into Scythia, suspended in a ‘T’ up in the Caucasus, setting the eagle upon him to nosh on his liver each and every day.)
20. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, Of Sacrifice 6 fin.:
How he too fell a victim to the wrath of Zeus, and was carried into Scythia, and nailed up on Caucasus, with an eagle to keep him company and make daily havoc of his liver?
21. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀνασταυρόω, “impale, crucify.”
22. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, Trial In the Court of Vowels 12.
οὕτω μὲν οὖν ὅσον ἐς φωνὴν ἀνθρώπους ἀδικεῖ: ἔργῳ,δὲ πῶς; (Thus indeed then how much in speech he injures men and by any means in deed.) κλάουσιν ἄνθρωποι καὶ τὴν αὑτῶν τύχην ὀδύρονται καὶ Κάδμῳ καταρῶνται πολλάκις, ὅτι τὸ Ταῦ ἐς τὸ τῶν στοιχείων γένος παρήγαγε: (Men cry out and bewail their fortunes, and call down curses upon Cadmus many times for which he introduced the letter ‘Tau’ into the family of letters.) τῷ γάρ τούτου σώματί φασι τοὺς τυράννους ἀκολουθήσαντας καὶ μιμησαμένους αὐτοῦ τὸ πλάσμα ἔπειτα σχήματι τοιούτῳ ξύλα τεκτήναντας ἀνθρώπους ἀνασκολοπίζειν ἐπ᾽ αὐτά: (For they say the tyrants, having followed from his body and in this case with such a schematic they have joined together cut timbers to impale men upon them.) ἀπὸ δὲ τούτου καὶ τῷ τεχνήματι τῷ πονηρῷ τὴν πονηρὰν ἐπωνυμίαν συνελθεῖν. (And from this one [they derive and] join in the wicked name with that cunning device for that vile [act].) τούτων οὖν ἁπάντων ἕνεκα πόσων θανάτων τὸ Ταῦ ἄξιον εἶναι νομίζετε; (So then, of these all together do you consider the letter ‘Tau’ to be worthy on account of so many deaths?) ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ οἶμαι δικαίως τοῦτο μόνον ἐς τὴν τοῦ Ταῦ τιμωρίαν ὑπολείπεσθαι, τὸ τῷ σχήματι τῷ αὑτοῦ τὴν δίκην ὑποσχεῖν. (For indeed I suppose only this to be left remaining equal to the punishment of the letter ‘Tau’, that to have supplied the usage with the schematic from his own [shape].)
24. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, τῷ, definite article, dative case “to the, for the, with the, from the, etc.;” τεχνήματι (dative of τέχνημα), “that which is cunningly wrought, work of art, handiwork;” πονηρῷ (dative of πονηρός), “oppressed by toils, painful, grevious, bad, worthless, knavish, rogue, evil, base.” Cf. Wikipedia article on the Greek Dative Case.
25. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, TheDeath of Peregrine 34.
27. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, απάγεσθαι, “to be led, to be carried off”
28. Sacred Texts Archive, Lucian, TheDeath of Peregrine 45.
30. Perseus Greek Word Study Tool, ἀναβήσεσθαι: future tense infinitive case middle voice of ἀναβαίνω, “go up, mount” (as in mount on horseback or mount on the wheel of torture: i.e., to get on top of a horse or be fastened or bound to the wheel, respectively.); future tense infinitive case passive voice of ἀνάπτω, “fasten up, attach, make fast on or to” (bound tight, nailed, pegged, penetrated and/or impaled).