Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - The Acuta Crux in Patristic Writings (12)

Panel of a mural icon of The Crucifiction.
At least Jesus has a foot-rest.
How are the robbers being supported????

(Part 7l of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)

Part 1      Part 2      Part 3      Part 4
Part 5a    Part 5b    Part 5c    Part 5d
Part 5e    Part 5f     Part 5g    Part 6a
Part 6b    Part 6c    Part 6d    Part 6e
Part 7a    Part 7b    Part 7c    Part 7d
Part 7e    Part 7f     Part 7g    Part 7h
Part 7i     Part 7j     
Part 7k


Arnobius  (fl. 284-305 ce, d. 330 CE) doesn't say much, as far as I know, except he acknowledges that the death of a Roman execution pole, or crux, was very shameful.
"But," says my opponent, "the dieties are not inimical to you, because you worship the omnipotent God, but because you both allege that one born a men are, and put to death on the cross (crucis supplicio interemptum), which is a disgraceful punishment even for worthless men (quod personis infame est vilibus), was God, and because you believe that he still lives, and because you worship him in daily supplications."
Arnobius, Against the Heathen 1.36.1 1
Here "put to death on the cross" is not an exact translation of crucis supplicio interemptum, which translates better as: "[he was] done away with by the punishment of the crux," which last could mean any wooden of executionary suspension, even an impaling stake. And "which is a disgraceful punishment even for worthless men," the Latin quod personis infame est vilibus translates better as "which is disgraceful, disreputable, notorious, infamous for mean, worthless men," There is even reference to a phrase called the digitus infamis: the middle finger, i.e., flipping the bird (ex.: Persius Satires 2:33).
"But he died nailed to a cross (sed patibulo adfixus interiit)!" What is that to the argument? For neither does the kind and disgrace of the death change the words or deeds, nor will the weight of His teaching appear less; because He freed Himself from the shackles of the body, not by a natural separation, but departed by reason of the violence offered to him.
Against the Heathen 1.40.1 2
According to Arnobius' detractor, Jesus wasn't exactly nailed to a cross (tropaeum), but rather, fastened to a patibulum, i.e., a crossarm of a Roman execution pole. Of course, nailing was the usual method of fastening. No mention is made of an acuta crux (sedile / cornu); but then again, no mention is made of ropes, either, which in my opinion would be necessary to keep the person suspended if no acuta crux was provided. And Arnobius here acknowledges the intrinsic character, hideousness and vileness of the death: qualitas et deformitas mortis. At the end of his response to his detractor's retort, he comes close or even alights on the essential character of the Roman pole: "but departed by reason of the violence offered to him," sed vi inlata decessit, "but passed on from the violence [or (more rarely) virile force] inflicted on him." Well we all know what virile means: male, masculine. And male force inflicted on someone may connote forced penetration.
No innocent person foully slain is ever disgraced thereby, nor is he stained by the mark of any baseness (nec turpitudinis alicuius conmaculatur nota), who suffers severe punishment (poenas graves), not from his own desserts, but by reason of the savage nature of his persecutor (cruciatoris perpetitur saevitatem).
Against the Heathen 1.40.5 3
"Nor is he stained by the mark of any baseness" is a quite accurate translation of nec turpitudinis alicuius conmaculatur nota, "nor is he defiled by any mark of indecency [or shame, infamy, turpitude, etc.]" Similarly with "severe punishment", poenas graves. On the other hand, "but by reason of the savage nature of his persecutor," cruciatoris perpetitur saevitatem is better translated as: "but he endured the fierceness, [or harshness, cruelty, savagery] of his cruciator [torturer]," which may have been the Roman execution pole itself: which could have been called in the language of the Roman street as a carnifex κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν, with the double entendre of: an executioner par excellence, and an executioner on the 'prominence'. 4
And yet, you who laugh because we worship one who died an ignominious death, do not you too, by consecrating shrines to him, honour Father liber, who was torn limb from limb by the Titans?
Against the Heathen 1.41.1 5
"Died an ignominious death" again is accurate: morte functum ignominiosa ridetis, which literally translates as "[was] engaged [or kept busy] with an ignominious [or disgraceful, shameful, infamous] death." This sort of disgrace, of course, is the death of the crux (pole) and the patibulum (crossarm), and its infamy is made more plain if the pole at this time is understood as being equipped with a spike that, when the suspended person slumps into the downward position, it pierces the anus.

Indeed, Pseudo Manetho in Apotelesmatica indicates this understanding was present in the later Empire of the Third Century C.E. (translation mine with help of Perseus Greek Word Study Tool and the LSJ Greek-English Lexicon):
στρεβλά κολαζόμενι σκολοπηίδα μοιραν όρωσιν
πικροτάτοις κέντροισι προσαρτηθέντες εν ήλοις,
οιωνωνκακά δειπνα, κυνων δ' ελκύσματα δεινά 
Punished with limbs twisted out, they see the fate of the impaled as their lot,
To the sharpest spurs* they are fastened with nails,
evil meals of birds, and dreadful draggings-away of dogs. 
Apotelesmatica 4.198-200 6
* "In most bitter torment" is also valid.
 The above translation (mine) seems to be the most sensible and straight-forward translation of the original Greek without encountering difficulties, which are unavoidable when the translator is thinking of a mere two-beam cross. Note also, "spurs" could also be translated as "virile members." 6 So we have arrived once again at the recognition that the Roman execution pole is a Priapus stake.

Compare with an anonymous epigram from the Anthologia Latina:
Noxius infami districtus stipite membra
Sperat et a fixa posse redire cruce.
The noxious [criminal], limbs outstretched by the infamous stake
And hopes to be able to return from the planted crux.
Anthologia Latina 415.23f. 7
But what is the writer referring to here with the planted crux (fixa cruce)? Is he referring to the greater gallows, whose pole is planted in the ground, or to the acuta crux, which is firmly 'planted' into the tormented sufferer? Hahahahaha, it is just as unclear in the Latin as it is in the English, the reference and meaning is in the mind's eye of the beholder. Translators who render cruce as "cross" impart an assumed clarity of meaning to this turn of phrase. 7 In reality it could mean the one or the other, which probably means it means both.


1. Adversus Nationes 1.36.1:
'Sed non', inquit, 'idcirco dii vobis infesti sunt, quod omnipotentem colatis deum, sed quod hominem natum et, quod personis infame est vilibus, crucis supplicio interemptum et deum fuisse contenditis et superesse adhuc creditis et cotidianis supplicationibus adoratis.'
2. Adversus Nationes 1.40.1:
'Sed patibulo adfixus interiit'. Quid istud ad causam? Neque enim qualitas et deformitas mortis dicta eius immutat aut facta, aut eo minor vedebitur disciplinarum eius auctoritas, quia vinculis corporis non naturali dissolutione digressus est sed vi inlata decessit.
3. Adversus Nationes 1.40.5:
Nemo umquam innocens male interemptus infamis est, nec turpitudinis alicuius conmaculatur nota, qui non suo merito poenas graves sed cruciatoris perpetitur saevitatem.
4. Hermann Fulda, Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, Breslau, Verlag von Wilhelm Koebner (1878), p. 112.

5.  Adversus Nationes 1.40.5:
Et tamen, o isti, qui hominem nos eloere morte functum ignominiosa redetis, nonne Liberum et vos patrem membratem ab Titus dissipatum fanorum consecratione mactatis?
6. Martin Hengel, John Bowden, tr., Crucifixion, Philadelphia, Fortress Press (1977), p. 9. Hengel cites Koechly's translation of the passage thusly:
Punished with limbs outstretched, they see the stake as their fate;
they are fastened (and) nailed to it in the most bitter torment,
evil food for birds of prey and grim pickings for dogs.
Hengel cites that "Professor Carnick conjectures ἔνηλοι for the allegedly difficult εν ήλοις. The adjective ἔνηλος [Perseus GWST: clavius] is attested by the old glossaries with the meaning 'nailed', see Liddell and Scott, 9th ed., 1940, s.v. Cf. 1.148f...: άλλον δ' ακλειως μετέωρον ανεσταυρώσας, ου τέτατ' ανδροφόνοις περί δούρασιν ήλοπαγής χείρ." Which translates as: "But having crucified [impaled] another ingloriously up in the air, where the hand fixed with nails was fully stretched snugly around man-killing poles." This sheds light upon the Greek στρεβλά in 4.198, which the Perseus GWST returns as "twisted, crooked," and Koechly translated as "outstretched:" the arm is actually both torqued and outstretched. But the phrase εν ήλοις is still difficult until one notes one of the lines in the Perseus-LSJ entry for εν shows that when the proposition is used with a dative, it can indicate the "instrument, means, or manner" of how an action is done. And ήλοις is the plural dative of ἧλος. So εν ήλοις "in nails" can mean "with nails". 

Next we attack "the stake" for which the Greek has σκολοπηίδα: apparently the singular feminine accusative (direct object) of σκολοπηϊς, "the fate of the impaled." Perseus has difficulties figuring this out, I needed to discover the declension in a similarly-declined noun: σανίδα / σανίς.

And finally "in most bitter torment:" the Greek is πικροτάτοις κέντροισι: both are in the plural neuter dative, πικροτάτοις (πικρός) being an adjective in the superlative "as pointed as can be, most sharp, most keen, most bitter" and κέντροισι (κέντρον) being a noun, "any sharp point, goad, spur, instrument of torture, (metaphorically) torture." Cf. Claudia Moser, Naked Power: The Phallus as an Apotropaic Symbol in the Images and Texts of Roman Italy, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons (2006), p. 24,, "The phallus could be depicted as a weapon, something that pierces, κέντρον (sharp point, spur, goad), κῆλον (arrow, shaft),  ξίφος (sword), μάχαιρα (large knife, short sword, dagger, gladius), δόρυ (stem, tree, spear-shaft)." So we have a good indication in κέντρον of the virile member of the Roman crux. Connected with this is the participle ελκύσματα, "draggings-away," the LSJ has also "rendings, drawings, tearings of bodies." So it is unclear if the virile member of the crux punctured through the abdomen or not. Merely tearing and savaging the crucified man's innards while he rides the point is barbaric enough!

7. Hengel, p. 7. Hengel and Bowden have the lines translated as follows: "The criminal, outstretched on the infamous stake, hopes for escape from his place on the cross."

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