The Sethians Support their Doctrines by an Allegorical Interpretation of Scripture; their System Really Derived from Natural Philosophers and from the Orphic Rites; Adopt the Homeric
These are the statements which the patrons [531] of the Sethian doctrines make, as far as it is possible to declare in a few words. Their system, however, is made up (of tenets) from natural (philosophers), and of expressions uttered in reference to different other subjects; and transferring (the sense of) these to the Eternal [532] Logos, they explain them as we have declared. But they assert likewise that Moses confirms their doctrine when he says, "Darkness, and mist, and tempest." These, (the Sethian) says, are the three principles (of our system); or when he states that three were born in paradise -- Adam, Eve, the serpent; or when he speaks of three (persons, namely) Cain, Abel, Seth; and again of three (others) -- Shem, Ham, [533] Japheth; or when he mentions three patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; or when he speaks of the existence of three days before sun and moon; or when he mentions three laws -- prohibitory, permissive, and adjudicatory of punishment. Now, a prohibitory law is as follows: "Of every tree that is in paradise thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou mayest not eat." [534] But in the passage, "Come forth from thy land and from thy kindred, and hither into a land which I shall show thee," [535] this law, he says, is permissive; for one who is so disposed may depart, and one who is not so disposed may remain. But a law adjudicatory of punishment is that which makes the following declaration: "Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal;" [536] for a penalty is awarded to each of these acts of wickedness.

The entire system of their doctrine, however, is (derived) from [537] the ancient theologians Musæus, and Linus, and Orpheus, [538] who elucidates especially the ceremonies of initiation, as well as the mysteries themselves. For their doctrine concerning the womb is also the tenet of Orpheus; and the (idea of the) navel, [539] which is harmony, [540] is (to be found) with the same symbolism attached to it in the Bacchanalian orgies of Orpheus. But prior to the observance of the mystic rite of Celeus, and Triptolemus, and Ceres, and Proserpine, and Bacchus in Eleusis, these orgies have been celebrated and handed down to men in Phlium of Attica. [541] For antecedent to the Eleusinian mysteries, there are (enacted) in Phlium the orgies [542] of her denominated the "Great (Mother)." There is, however, a portico in this (city), and on the portico is inscribed a representation, (visible) up to the present day, of all the words which are spoken (on such occasions). Many, then, of the words inscribed upon that portico are those respecting which Plutarch institutes discussions in his ten books against [543] Empedocles. And in the greater [544] number of these books is also drawn the representation of a certain aged man, grey-haired, winged, [545] having his pudendum erectum, pursuing a retreating woman of azure colour. [546] And over the aged man is the inscription "phaos ruentes," and over the woman "pereëphicola." [547] But "phaos ruentes" [548] appears to be the light (which exists), according to the doctrine of the Sethians, and "phicola" the darkish water; while the space in the midst of these seems to be a harmony constituted from the spirit that is placed between. The name, however, of "phaos ruentes" manifests, as they allege, the flow from above of the light downwards. Wherefore one may reasonably assert that the Sethians celebrate rites among themselves, very closely bordering upon those orgies of the "Great (Mother" which are observed among) the Phliasians. And the poet likewise seems to bear his testimony to this triple division, when he remarks, "And all things have been triply divided, and everything obtains its (proper) distinction;" [549] that is, each member of the threefold division has obtained (a particular) capacity. But now, as regards the tenet that the subjacent water below, which is dark, ought, because the light has set (over it), to convey upwards and receive the spark borne down from (the light) itself; in the assertion of this tenet, I say, the all-wise Sethians appear to derive (their opinion) from Homer: --

"By earth I sware, and yon broad Heaven above,

And Stygian stream beneath, the weightiest oath

Of solemn power, to bind the blessed gods." [550]

That is, according to Homer, the gods suppose water to be loathsome and horrible. Now, similar to this is the doctrine of the Sethians, which affirms (water) to be formidable to the mind. [551]


[531] prostatai. This is a military expression applied to those placed in the foremost ranks of a battalion of soldiers; but it was also employed in civil affairs, to designate, for instance at Athens, those who protected the metoikoi (aliens), and others without the rights of citizenship. Prostates was the Roman Patronus.

[532] Or, "their own peculiar."

[533] It is written Cham in the text.

[534] Genesis 2:16, 17.

[535] Genesis 12:1.

[536] Exodus 20:13-15; Deuteronomy 5:17-19.

[537] hupo, Miller.

[538] These belong to the legendary period of Greek philosophy. Musæus flourished among the Athenians, Linus among the Thebans, and Orpheus among the Thracians. They weaved their physical theories into crude theological systems, which subsequently suggested the cosmogony and theogony of Hesiod. See the translator's Treatise on Metaphysics, chap. ii. pp. 33, 34.

[539] ouphalos: some read with greater probability phallos, which means the figure, generally wooden, of a membrum virile. This harmonizes with what Hippolytus has already mentioned respecting Osiris. A figure of this description was carried in solemn procession in the orgies of Bacchus as a symbol of the generative power of nature. The worship of the Lingam among the Hindoos is of the same description.

[540] harmonia (Schneidewin). Cruise reads andreia (manliness), which agrees with phallos (see preceding note). For phallos Schneidewin reads omphalos (navel).

[541] "Of Achaia" (Meinekius, Vindic. Strab., p. 242).

[542] The reading in Miller is obviously incorrect, viz., legomene megalegoria, for which he suggests megale heorte. Several other emendations have been proposed, but they scarcely differ from the rendering given above, which is coincident with what may be learned of these mysteries from other sources.

[543] pros, or it might be rendered "respecting." A reference, however, to the catalogue of Empedocles' works, given by Fabricius (t. v. p. 160), shows that for pros we should read eis.

[544] pleiosi: Miller would read puleosi. i.e., gateways.

[545] Or petrotos, intended for petrodes, "made of stone." [A winged phallus was worn by the women of Pompeii as an ornament, for which Christian women substituted a cross. See vol. iii., this series, p. 104.]

[546] kuanoeide: some read kunoeide, i.e., like a dog.

[547] Some read Persephone (Proserpine) Phlya.

[548] For "phaos ruentes" some read "Phanes rueis," which is the expression found in the Orphic hymn (see Cruice's note).

[549] Iliad, xv. 189. (See the passage from Hesiod given at the end of book i. of The Refutation.)

[550] Iliad, xv. 36-38 (Lord Derby's translation); Odyssey, v. 185-187.

[551] Miller reasonably proposes for to noi the reading stoicheio n, "which affirms water to be a formidable element."

chapter xiv the system of the
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