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polytheist extractions

Ammianus Marcellinus, The History 12.1-19

“Yet in the midst of these anxieties, as if it were prescribed by some ancient custom, in place of civil wars the trumpets sounded for alleged cases of high treason; and to investigate and punish these there was sent that notorious state-secretary Paulus, often called Tartareus. He was skilled in the work of bloodshed, and just as a trainer of gladiators seeks profit and emolument from the traffic in funerals and festivals, so did he from the rack or the executioner. Therefore, as his determination to do harm was fixed and obstinate, he did not refrain from secret fraud, devising fatal charges against innocent persons, provided only he might continue his pernicious traffic. Moreover, a slight and trivial occasion gave opportunity to extend his inquisitions indefinitely. There is a town called Abydos, situated in the remotest part of the Thebaid; here the oracle of a god called in that place Besa in days of old revealed the future and was wont to be honoured in the ancient ceremonials of the adjacent regions. And since some in person, a part through others, by sending a written list of their desires, inquired the will of the deities after definitely stating their requests, the papers or parchments containing their petitions sometimes remained in the shrine even after the replies had been given. Some of these were with malicious intent sent to the emperor who (being very narrow-minded), although deaf to other serious matters, on this point was softer than an earlobe, as the proverb has it; and being suspicious and petty, he grew furiously angry. At once he admonished Paulus to proceed quickly to the Orient, conferring on him, as a leader renowned for his experience, the power of conducting trials according to his good pleasure. A commission was also given to Modestus (at that very time count in the Orient) a man fitted for these and similar affairs. For Hermogenes of Pontus, at that time praetorian prefect, was rejected as being of too mild a temper. Off went Paulus (as he was ordered) in panting haste and teeming with deadly fury, and since free rein was given to general calumny, men were brought in from almost the whole world, noble and obscure alike; and some of them were bowed down with the weight of chains, others wasted away from the agony of imprisonment. As the theatre of torture and death Scythopolis was chosen, a city of Palestine which for two reasons seemed more suitable than any other: because it is more secluded, and because it is midway between Antioch and Alexandria, from which cities the greater number were brought to meet charges. Among the first, then, to be summoned was Simplicius, son of Philippus, a former prefect and consul, who was indicted for the reason that he had (as was said) inquired about gaining imperial power; and by a note of the emperor, who in such cases never condoned a fault or an error because of loyal service, he was ordered to be tortured but, protected by some fate, he was banished to a stated place, but with a whole skin. Then Parnasius (ex-prefect of Egypt), a man of simple character, was brought into such peril that he was tried for his life, but he likewise was sent into exile; he had often been heard to say long before this, that when, for the purpose of gaining a certain office, he left Patrae, a town of Achaia where he was born and had his home, he had dreamt that many shadowy figures in tragic garb escorted him. Later Andronicus, known for his liberal studies and the fame of his poems, was haled into court; but since he had a clear conscience, was under no suspicion, and most confidently asserted his innocence, he was acquitted. Also Demetrius, surnamed Cythras, a philosopher of advanced years, it is true, but hardy of body and mind, being charged with offering sacrifice several times, could not deny it; he declared, however, that he had done so from early youth for the purpose of propitiating the deity, not of trying to reach a higher station by his investigations; for he did not know of anyone who had such aspirations. Therefore, after being long kept upon the rack, supported by his firm confidence he fearlessly made the same plea without variation; whereupon he was allowed to go without further harm to his native city of Alexandria. These and a few others a just fate in alliance with truth saved from imminent danger. But as these charges made their way further by entangling snares extended endlessly, some died from the mangling of their bodies, others were condemned to further punishment and had their goods seized, while Paulus was the prompter of these scenes of cruelty, supplying as if from a storehouse many kinds of deception and cruelty; and on his nod (I might almost say) depended the life of all who walk the earth. For if anyone wore on his neck an amulet against the quartan ague or any other complaint, or was accused by the testimony of the evil-disposed of passing by a grave in the evening, on the ground that he was a dealer in poisons, or a gatherer of the horrors of tombs and the vain illusions of the ghosts that walk there, he was condemned to capital punishment and so perished. In fact, the matter was handled exactly as if many men had importuned Claros, the oaks of Dodona, and the once famous oracles of Delphi with regard to the death of the emperor. Therefore the palace band of courtiers, ingeniously fabricating shameful devices of flattery, declared that he would be immune to ordinary ills, loudly exclaiming that his destiny had appeared at all times powerful and effective in destroying those who made attempts against him. And that into such doings strict investigation was made no man of good sense will find fault. For we do not deny that the safety of a lawful prince, the protector and defender of good men, on whom depends the safety of others, ought to be safeguarded by the united diligence of all men; and in order to uphold him the more strongly when his violated majesty is defended, the Cornelian laws exempted no one of whatever estate from examination by torture, even with the shedding of blood. But it is not seemly for a prince to rejoice beyond measure in such sorrowful events, lest his subjects should seem to be ruled by despotism rather than by lawful power. And the example of Tully ought to be followed, who, when it was in his power to spare or to harm, as he himself tells us, sought excuses for pardoning rather than opportunities for punishing; and that is the province of a mild and considerate official. At that same time in Daphne, that charming and magnificent suburb of Antioch, a portent was born, horrible to see and to report: an infant, namely, with two heads, two sets of teeth, a beard, four eyes and two very small ears; and this misshapen birth foretold that the state was turning into a deformed condition. Portents of this kind often see the light, as indications of the outcome of various affairs; but as they are not expiated by public rites, as they were in the time of our forefathers, they pass by unheard of and unknown.” – Ammianus Marcellinus, The History 12.1-19

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