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Reading for Jan. 8, 2013

Author: Justin Martyr

Reading: Hortatory Address to the Greeks, ch. 10–25

Pages: ANF 1:277–283


  1. Does anyone know the source of the poetry that Justin quotes in this passage, or is the source simply “obscure Greek literature”? I know that Justin claims that Orpheus and the Sibyl are writing testaments to the biblical God, but I’ve always considered Orpheus and the Sibyl part of Greek myth, not authors of real texts.

  2. Which quotations in particular are you thinking of? The sayings of the Sibyls (there were a number of them) were collected in various texts which were in circulation in Justin’s day, only some of which are extant today.

    Christians commonly interpreted parts of the writings of pagans as being true prophecies of Christ. In this passage we see Justin taking that interpretation, and we’ll come across lots of other places in our reading. Virgil’s fourth Ecologue, with its prophecy of a miraculous birth, was commonly interpreted in this way, and no coincidence that Christians reinterpreted what was probably meant as flattery to Caesar Augustus as a prophecy of Christ. The Sibyl is mentioned in the medieval Latin hymn Dies Irae which is part of requiem mass:

    Dies iræ! Dies illa
    Solvet sæclum in favilla:
    Teste David cum Sibylla!

    The day of wrath, that day
    Will dissolve the world in ashes
    As foretold by David and the sibyl!

    • Thanks for the information! Usually, I think of the Sibyl as the one “hanging in the case” at the beginning of Eliot’s poem.

      Mostly, I was taken aback by the long poem that he ascribes to Orpheus, in which Orpheus recants his earlier religious errors and encourages worship of the one God. It was always my understanding that Orpheus, who went into Hades to rescue his wife but looked back, was as mythical as the story. The poem is in Chapter 15.

      • I don’t know about Orpheus. But clearly Justin and many of his contemporaries regarded him as a historical figure, and there were books in circulation attributed to him.

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