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E00323: Four poems in Greek, ascribed to Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390), rebuke those who bury 'impure men' near martyrs, and those who build shrines for martyrs, using stone stolen from other tombs. Probably written in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor) or in Constantinople; recorded in the 10th c. Greek Anthology.

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posted on 2015-03-02, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Greek Anthology, Book 8 (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epigrams ), 170, 172-174

Τρισθανέες, πρῶτον μὲν ἐμίξατε σώματ᾿ ἀνάγνων
ἀθλοφόροις, τύμβοι δὲ θυηπόλον ἀμφὶς ἔχουσι·
δεύτερον αὖτε τάφους τοὺς μὲν διεπέρσατ᾿ ἀθέσμως,
αὐτοὶ σήματ᾿ ἔχοντες ὁμοίια· τοὺς δ᾿ ἀπέδοσθε,
πολλάκι καὶ τρὶς ἕκαστον· ὃ δὲ τρίτον, ἱεροσυλεῖς
μάρτυρας οὓς φιλέεις· Σοδομίτιδες ἥξατε πηγαί.

'Thrice worthy of death, first you laid beside the martyrs the bodies of impure men, and common tombs now have their own priest. Secondly, you wickedly destroyed some tombs, although you had similar ones yourselves; and others you sold, often each tomb thrice. In the third place, you commit sacrilege towards the martyrs you presumably love! Drop down, fiery founts of Sodom!'

Τυμβολέται, γάστρωνες, ἐρευγόβιοι, πλατύνωτοι,
μέχρι τίνος τύμβοις Μάρτυρας ἀλλοτρίοις
τιμᾶτ᾿, εὐσεβέοντες ἃ μὴ θέμις; ἴσχετε λαιμούς,
καὶ τότε πιστεύσω Μάρτυσιν ἦρα φέρειν.

'Tomb looters, gluttons who live but for belching, broad-backed, how long will you continue to honour the martyrs by the spoils of the tombs of others, presenting your lawless deeds as piety? Contain your greed, and then I will believe that you honour the martyrs.'

Τιμὴ Μάρτυσίν ἐστιν ἀεὶ θνήσκειν βιότητι,
αἵματος οὐρανίου μνωομένους μεγάλου,
τύμβοι δὲ φθιμένοις· ὃς βήματα δ᾿ ἧμιν ἐγείρει
ἀλλοτρίοισι λίθοις, μηδὲ τάφοιο τύχοι.

'To honour the martyrs means to be constantly dying in this life, winning a greater life in heaven. Tombs belong to the dead. Let him who erects shrines to us out of stones belonging to others himself lack a tomb.'

Μάρτυρες, αἷμα θεῷ μεγάλην ἐσπείσατε λοιβήν,
καὶ μέντοι θεόθεν ἄξια δῶρ᾿ ἔχετε,
βήμαθ᾿, ὕμνους, λαούς, εὐχῶν σέβας. ἀλλ᾿ ἀπὸ τύμβων
φεύγετε, νεκροκόμοι, Μάρτυσι πειθόμενοι.

'Martyrs, you poured out your blood, a great libation to God, and from God you have fitting reward, shrines, hymns, congregations, the devotion of prayers. But you worshippers of the dead, do as the martyrs bid you, and keep away from tombs.'

Text and translation: Paton 1916-1918; translation modified.


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nazianzos Constantinople

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nazianzos Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nazianzus

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Condemnation/rejection of a specific cultic activity

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people


The Greek Anthology is a collection of Greek epigrams from dating from the Archaic period to the 9th century AD. It was initially compiled by Meleager of Megara (100-90 BC), whose collection was edited and expanded by Philip of Thessalonica (under Nero), Agathias of Myrina (AD 567/8) and finally by Konstantinos Kephalas (c. AD 900). The word epigram literally means an inscription. Although most Greek inscriptions were in prose, the word came to be specifically connected to those written in verse, and eventually to include poetic texts which were not necessarily inscribed. From the earliest period of Greek literature, epigrams were mostly sepulchral or dedicatory: they either memorialised the dead or marked the dedication of an object to a god. Book 8 consists entirely of epigrams by Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-390). Since most of them are sepulchral, they were included as an appendix to Book 7, which contains sepulchral epigrams from the Classical period. Gregory was born in c. 330 to a wealthy Christian family in Cappadocia. He was educated at Nazianzos, Kaisareia/Caesarea, Athens, and Alexandria, and in 361 he returned to Nazianzos where he was ordained priest by his father, Gregory the Elder, who was bishop of Nazianzos. He was ordained bishop of Sasima in Cappadocia by Basil of Caesarea in 372, but stayed in Nazianzos, administering the local community after the death of his father. After retreating as a monk in Isauria for some years, he moved to Constantinople in 379, in order to lead the struggle for the return of the city to Nicene Orthodoxy. Two years later, the Arians were ousted by the emperor Theodosius I, and Gregory became bishop of Constantinople. In 381, he convened the Council of Constantinople, at the end of which he resigned his throne and retired to Cappadocia where he died in 390.


Some of the epigrams of Gregory of Nazianzus in the Greek Anthology rebuke immoderate behaviour at the necropolises, including aspects of the cult of martyrs (see also E00338). The purpose of writing these polemical texts in verse is unknown. It perhaps suggests that they were addressed to an educated readership, possibly the urban elite. If these are genuine works of Gregory, it is unknown if they were written in Cappadocia or during his episcopate in Constantinople. The target of the epigrams quoted here is people who buried their dead very close to the tombs of martyrs, thus obliterating the location of the latter. It also addresses those who destroyed tombs and used their stone to build chapels (?) for the martyrs (described as bēmata/βήματα in the text). According to epigram 170, people buried their dead so close to the martyrs’ tombs that it was no longer possible to discern the burial of the saints. The description is interesting, because it suggests that, at this stage, the martyrs were worshipped at common graves, rather than in special shrines or churches. Our translation of the first two verses (πρῶτον μὲν ἐμίξατε σώματ᾿ ἀνάγνων ἀθλοφόροις, τύμβοι δὲ θυηπόλον ἀμφὶς ἔχουσι = 'first you laid beside the martyrs the bodies of impure men, and common tombs now have their own priest') takes the phrase as referring to common tombs being falsely venerated as tombs of martyrs, with priests celebrating services at them. W. R. Paton translates the phrase as 'their tombs [of the martyrs] contain pagan priests'.


Edition and Translation: Paton, W.R., The Greek Anthology. 5 vols (Loeb Classical Library; London, New York: Heinemann/Putnam's, 1916-1918). Paton, W.R., rev. Tueller, M.A., The Greek Anthology, Books 1-5, 2nd ed. (Loeb Classical Library; London, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). (With updated bibliography) Other editions: Beckby, H., Anthologia Graeca (Munich: Ernst Heimeran Verlag, 1957). Conca, F., Marzi, M., and Zanetto, G., Antologia Palatina. 3 vols. Vol. 1 (Classici Greci; Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 2005). Waltz, P., Anthologie Grecque (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1928). Further reading on the Greek Anthology: Cameron, A., The Greek Anthology: From Meleager to Planudes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). Further reading on the poetry of Gregory of Nazianzus: Simelidis, C., Selected Poems of Gregory of Nazianzus (Hypomnemata. Untersuchungen zur Antike und ihrem Nachleben; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009). Vertoudakis, B.P., Το όγδοο βιβλίο της Παλατινής Ανθολογίας. Μία μελέτη των επιγραμμάτων του Γρηγορίου Ναζιανζηνού (Athens: Kardamitsa).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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