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E00559: Greek epigram by Agathias Scholastikos, probably originally an inscription, referring to a wax-painted image of *Michael the Archangel (S00181) in Constantinople, and describing the depiction of an angel as an act of daring, which can induce spiritual gain. Written in the late 6th c., and recorded in the 10th c. Greek Anthology.

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posted on 2015-05-27, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Greek Anthology, Book 1 (Christian Epigrams), 34


εἰς τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν Πλάτῃ

Ἄσκοπον ἀγγελίαρχον, ἀσώματον εἴδεϊ μορφῆς,
ἆ μέγα τολμήεις, κηρὸς ἀπεπλάσατο.
ἔμπης οὐκ ἀχάριστον, ἐπεὶ βροτὸς εἰκόνα λεύσσων
θυμὸν ἀπιθύνει κρέσσονι φαντασίῃ·
οὐκέτι δ᾽ ἀλλοπρόσαλλον ἔχει σέβας, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἑαυτῷ
τὸν τύπον ἐγγράψας ὡς παρεόντα τρέμει·
ὄμματα δ᾽ ὀτρύνουσι βαθὺν νόον· οἶδε δὲ τέχνη
χρώμασι πορθμεῦσαι τὴν φρενὸς εἰκασίην.

'Agathias Scholastikos

On the same [an image of the Archangel Michael] in Platē

Wax has moulded like a figure - oh for daring! - the invisible chief of the angels, although he is bodiless! And yet it is not without grace, for a mortal looking on the image directs his spirit to higher contemplation. He no longer has an indefinite devotion, but, engraving the image in himself, he reveres it as if it were real. The eyes trigger deep thinking, and art can sail imagination by its colours.'

Text: Paton and Tueller 2014. Translation: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Michael, the Archangel : S00181

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Images and objects - Images described in texts Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Literary - Poems


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

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

Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

Greek Anthology

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the validity of cult forms

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image


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 1 of the Greek Anthology contains Christian epigrams from Late Antiquity to the 9th century. It was compiled c. 880-900, containing a considerable number of poems copied directly from monuments. The scholar responsible for the transcriptions may have been Gregorios Magistros, a colleague of Kephalas. Epigrams 1-17 and possibly others were taken down from inscriptions at Constantinople and two of them, namely No. 1 (inscription from the bema arch of St. Sophia) and No. 10 (inscription from the church of St. Polyeuktos) have been found in situ, thus confirming the accuracy of the entries in the Anthology.


This is one of the epigrams attributed by their titles to the author Agathias Scholastikos (presumably Justinian’s historiographer Agathias of Myrina, c. 530-582/594). The identity of the dedicant and the context of the dedication are unknown. Platē is the name of one of the Prince Islands near Constantinople (Yassıada), but also the name of a locality on the Golden Horn. Alternatively, the word may be a miscopied toponym. Like epigrams 33 and 36 (E00558, E00561), this one also contains a reference to the 'undepictability' of the angel, and an attempt to justify the production of an icon as an object promoting pious devotion. These epigrams provide an important testimony of considerations on the legitimacy of depictions in the age before Iconoclasm, with a specific focus on images of incorporeal beings, the angels.


Edition and Translation: 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). 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). Cline, R. Ancient Angels: Conceptualizing Angeloi in the Roman Empire, Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2011, 158 ff.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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