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E01163: The Greek Confession of *Kyprianos of Antioch (martyr, S01704), of the mid 4th c., recounts the career of a magician who became a Christian after failing to seduce the pious Christian girl Ioustina by his magic.

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posted on 2016-03-01, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Confession/Penance of Kyprianos of Antioch (BHG 453)


1. The text is written in the first person singular, addressing the readers, both Christian and pagan. Kyprianos’ parents dedicate him to Apollo, and, at the age of seven, he is initiated into the mysteries Mithra. Living as a stranger in Athens, he is admitted as a citizen, and, at the age of ten, he is initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries and serves at the temple of Pallas Athena on the acropolis. He spends forty days on mount Olympus, having visions of demons. He is later initiated at Argos, Elis, and Sparta. He then goes to Phrygia and Scythia to learn divination. At the age of twenty, he goes to Memphis in Egypt, where he studies the categories and natures of demons, which he enumerates in detail. At the age of thirty, he goes to the Chaldeans to study the air, the light, and their demons. He meets the Devil himself who honours him as a good servant, gives him a retinue of demons and promises to make him a demonic ruler after his death. The Devil’s appearance is impressive, but his nature is deceptive, because he has no real substance, but only deceives the spirits of humans.

2. What makes Kyprianos seek God and realise the impotence of the demons is their failure to conquer Iousta/Ioustina. He settles in Antioch in Syria, where he practices magic. A certain young man called Aglaides/Aglaidas asks to be joined to the young woman Iousta/Ioustina. Kyprianos, himself now possessed by desire for her, tempts the girl by his magic for seventy days, but fails. Kyprianos and Aglaidas ask Belial at least to rid them from the desire, but he is unable to do it. On the fiftieth day, the demon of fornication attempts to deceive Aglaidas by offering him another girl presented as Ioustina, but the fraud is revealed as soon as Aglaidas calls out the name of Ioustina. Kyprianos himself is transfigured into a woman and a bird, but his magic vanishes as soon as he reaches Ioustina’s door. He transforms Aglaidas into a bird in order to enter Ioustina’s room, but, when she emerges, he resumes his form, and almost dies falling off a branch. Kyprianos assails with his magic Ioustina’s parents, their flocks and animals, and sends a plague to the people, giving an oracle that it will stop if Ioustina marries Aglaidas. Her prayers, however, defeat the plague and pacify the populace. The people glorify Christ and accuse Kyprianos of treason. He realises the superiority of the sign of Christ and rebukes the devil who attempts to kill him, but Kyprianos calls upon the God of Ioustina and frees himself by the sign of the cross. As the devil leaves, he threatens Kyprianos that Christ will never accept him or forgive his impiety. Kyprianos now addresses directly a Christian audience, expressing his dismay about these words and asking if he can obtain pardon from Christ. They keep silent except a certain Timotheos who speaks out and encourages Kyprianos by saying that the Devil is a liar and that Jesus is the truth and forgiveness. He advises him to meet the bishop.

3. Kyprianos makes a long confession of his crimes and acts of impiety, expressing his despair about wishing to worship the true God, but being overwhelmed by his own sinfulness.

4. Everyone is perplexed, but a certain Eusebios reassures him that he can obtain forgiveness, and declares that he accepts Kyprianos’ confession. Kyprianos requests proofs from the Christian scriptures to show that crimes like his can be forgiven, and Eusebios gives a list of scriptural stories of penitence and forgiveness. He promises that Kyprianos will learn more when he goes to the Christian service, and invites him to the evening prayers and the Sunday service with the bishop. Kyprianos experiences the heavenly service, hears the scriptures and meets the bishop. When Ioustina hears about his conversion, she cuts her hair (i.e. dedicates herself to a life of virginity) and distributes her belongings to the poor. Aglaidas also converts. Kyprianos distributes his own property, and joins Eusebios the presbyter, preaching and converting many.

Text: Bailey 2009.
Summary: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Kyprianos and Ioustina/Justina, martyrs of Antioch : S01704

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region Asia Minor Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

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

Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


The Confession of Kyprianos is very probably a mid-4th century Christian apocryphon, which, by the early 5th was collated together with the texts known as the Conversion and the Martyrdom (Passion) of Kyprianos and Ioustina (see E01164 and E01165). The three texts were rewritten in the form of Homeric hexameters by the Empress Eudocia in the mid-5th century (see E01166). In later times, however, this hagiographic trilogy was rarely reproduced in full. Most manuscripts include only one or two of the three documents. The Confession is preserved in six manuscripts of the 10th-11th centuries, on which see: The text survives in two recensions, long and short. The first edition of the text was based on the long recension. It was produced by Prudentius Maran in 1726, and later re-edited in the Acta Sanctorum in 1760, based on the manuscript Par. gr. 1506. An edition of the short recension was published by Michael Gitlbauer in 1878, based on Vat. gr. 1809. A preliminary critical edition of the long recension was produced by Robert Bailey in 2009, on which see: R. Bailey, The Confession of Cyprian of Antioch: Introduction, Text, and Translation, MA Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 2009. The Confession of Kyprianos had a lasting and broad impact, circulating in Latin, Coptic, and Slavonic versions. It is condemned as apocryphal in the Gelasian Decree.


The story of the magician Kyprianos and the pious Christian girl Ioustina belongs to the category of early Christian apocryphal literature, being very probably a purely literary product, without historical background. It thus is a fine example of an apocryphal text whose popularity led to the rise of a cult, and to the production of hagiography, with its heroes being established in popular conscience as historical figures. The text addresses the reader directly, speaking in the first person singular. Its narrative is organised into three parts: starting with an extensive autobiographical account of Kyprianos’ career as a pagan philosopher and magician (1-8); the defeat of the demons before Ioustina and the cross in Antioch (8-14); a dialogue between Kyprianos and the Christians Timotheos and Eusebios, in which the former offers a lengthy confession of his sins, and the latter accepts it and encourages him with scriptural proofs of God’s mercy (15-28). Following the norms of classical biography, the structure of the first part describes Kyprianos’ life systematically according to the stages of his age, the places he visited and the different categories of ancient occultism he was initiated into: the young Kyprianos is initiated to the pagan mysteries in Greece, and studies divination in Phrygia and Scythia; at the age of twenty he goes to Egypt to study the nature of demons, and at thirty he goes to Chaldaea to learn astrology; his career culminates in a personal meeting with the Devil. These details betray some familiarity with the sacral topography and ‘specialised’ traditions of Greco-Roman paganism (though with substantial inaccuracies), with the image of the pagan holy man as portrayed by novels like Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius and Lucian’s Philopseudes. The second part, recounting the defeat of Kyprianos’ magic by Ioustina in Antioch, echoes influences mostly from apocryphal Christian writing (e.g. Acts of Paul and Thecla, Acts of Andew, Acts of John, Acts of Thomas). Finally, the lengthy dialogue between Kyprianos, confessing his own sins, and the Christians Timotheos and Eusebios accepting the confession, presents similarities with the Old Testament apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres. The Confession of Kyprianos was one of the most popular Christian apocrypha, with a success comparable to that of the legend of *Thekla. Its precise date of composition is unknown, but it is usually ascribed to the mid-4th century, and certainly written before 379, when Gregory of Nazianzus consulted it, having found it as part of a corpus ascribed to Cyprian of Carthage. Gregory uses the Confession in his summary of the life of Cyprian in his Oration 24, describing it as a text of great popularity (see E00886).


Text, translation and comments: Bailey, R., "The Confession of Cyprian of Antioch: Introduction, Text, and Translation," MA Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 2009. Bailey, R., "The Acts of Saint Cyprian of Antioch: Critical Editions, Translations, and Commentary," PhD diss., McGill University Montreal, 2017. German translation: Zahn, T., Cyprian von Antiochien und die deutsche Faustsage (Erlangen: A. Deichert, 1882), 136-153. Further reading: Delehaye, H., “Cyprien d'Antioche et Cyprien de Carthage,” Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 314-332. Krestan, L., and Hermann, A., "Cyprianus II (Magier)," Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 3 (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1957), 467-477. Sabattini, T.A., "S. Cipriano nella tradizione agiografica," Rivista di Studi Classici, 21:2 (1973), 181-204.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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