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E00338: Five poems in Greek, ascribed to Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390), rebuke excessive feasting and drinking, and the offering of gold, silver and food during festivals at the shrines of martyrs. Probably written in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor); recorded in the 10th c. Greek Anthology.

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posted on 2015-03-12, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Greek Anthology, Book 8 (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epigrams ), 166-169, 175

Εἰ φίλον ὀρχησταῖς ἀθλήματα, καὶ φίλον ἔστω
θρύψις ἀεθλοφόροις· ταῦτα γὰρ ἀντίθετα.
εἰ δ’ οὐκ ὀρχησταῖς ἀθλήματα οὐδὲ ἀθληταῖς
ἡ θρύψις, πῶς σὺ Μάρτυσι δῶρα φέρεις
ἄργυρον, οἶνον, βρῶσιν, ἐρεύγματα; ἦ ῥα δίκαιος
ὃς πληροῖ θυλάκους, κἂν ἀδικώτατος ᾖ;

‘If the feats of martyrdom are dear to dancers, then let luxury be dear to the victorious martyrs. But these two things are contrasting. Now if these pains are not for dancers nor luxury for martyrs, how is it that you offer the martyrs, silver, wine, food, belching? Can the man who fills his guts be righteous, even if he be most unjust?’

Μάρτυρες, εἴπατε ἄμμιν ἀληθῶς, εἰ φίλον ὑμῖν
αἱ σύνοδοι; τί μὲν οὖν ἥδιον; ἀντὶ τίνος;
τῆς ἀρετῆς· πολλοὶ γὰρ ἀμείνους ὧδε γένοιντ᾿ ἄν,
εἰ τιμῷτ᾿ ἀρετή. τοῦτο μὲν εὖ λέγετε.
ἡ δὲ μέθη, τό τε γαστρὸς ὑπάρχειν τοὺς θεραπευτὰς
ἄλλοις· ἀθλοφόρων ἔκλυσις ἀλλοτρία.

'Tell us, martyrs, truly: are gatherings pleasing to you?
- What could be dearer?
- But for what purpose?
- For the sake of virtue. For, if virtue was honoured here, many would become better.
- You are right in this. But drunkenness and enslavement to the belly is for others. Intemperance is alien to the victors.’

Μὴ ψεύδεσθ’, ὅτι γαστρὸς ἐπαινέται εἰσὶν ἀθληταί·
λαιμῶν οἵδε νόμοι, ὠγαθοί, ὑμετέρων·
Μάρτυσι δ’ εἰς τιμὴν ἓν ἐπίσταμαι· ὕβριν ἐλαύνειν
ψυχῆς καὶ δαπανᾶν δάκρυσι τὴν πιμελήν.

'Do not lie that the victors endorse the belly. These are laws of your own glutton gullets, good people. I know only one way of honouring the martyrs: drive away sin from your soul, and consume your fatness by your tears.'

Μαρτύρομ᾿, ἀθλοφόροι καὶ μάρτυρες· ὕβριν ἔθηκαν
τιμὰς ὑμετέρας οἱ φιλογαστορίδαι.
οὐ ζητεῖτε τράπεζαν ἐΰπνοον, οὐδὲ μαγείρους·
οἱ δ᾿ ἐρυγὰς παρέχουσ᾿ ἀντ᾿ ἀρετῆς τὸ γέρας.

'Be my witnesses, victors and martyrs: the belly-lovers have turned your veneration into sin. You seek no sweet-smelling table, nor cooks. But they offer you belching rather than the treasure of righteousness.'

Δαίμοσιν εἰλαπίναζον, ὅσοις τὸ πάροιθε μεμήλει
δαίμοσιν ἦρα φέρειν, οὐ καθαρὰς θαλίας·
τούτου Χριστιανοὶ λύσιν εὕρομεν, ἀθλοφόροισι
στησάμεθ᾿ ἡμετέροις πνευματικὰς συνόδους.
νῦν δέ τι τάρβος ἔχει με· ἀκούσατε οἱ φιλόκωμοι·
πρὸς τοὺς δαιμονικοὺς αὐτομολεῖτε τύπους.

'Those who once wished to worship demons celebrated impure banquets in honour of the demons. We Christians abolished this, and instituted spiritual gatherings for our victorious martyrs. But now I am in some dread. Listen to me, revellers: you desert us for the rites of the devils.'

Text and translation: Paton 1919; 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 - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the veneration of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects


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.


The Greek Anthology contains a number of epigrams ascribed to Gregory of Nazianzus, which rebuke immoderate behaviour at the necropolises, including aspects of the cult of martyrs (also see E00323). 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 of Gregory's bishopric. If these are genuine works of Gregory, they were were most probably written in Cappadocia rather than during his episcopate in Constantinople. Their target is people who organised and funded eating and drinking feasts at the shrines of martyrs, which, according to the author, differed little from pagan festivals, since their main attraction was the pleasure of feasting rather than the spiritual benefit of worship.


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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