Sunday, December 13, 2009

Between Jacob and Choricius

"The unifying power of the mimes and their mythological stories provoked the wrath of Jacob of Sarug and others, but his mellifluous Syriac verses tell us what pleasure these entertainments gave ordinary citizens.  'Do you agree to cherish gods who love adultery?' he asks.  'Is your ear willing to have the report of the house of Zeus the adulterer fall upon it?  Is it good for you to see the depravity of female idols?  Can you endure, being the servant of Jesus, to take delight in Apollo?  Do you believe the mimings concerning the hero Heracles?'  And the response he imagines his enraptured listeners offering up to him in justification is this:  'The dancing of that place cheers me up. . . . I do not go to believe.  I go to laugh.  And what do I lose if I laugh and do not believe?'
"This is the laughter and the cheer of the mosaics we see today.  The response of the Christian patron of the mimes, as imagined by Jacob of Serug, is precisely the justification offered by the Christian apologist Choricius[, who]. . . .
"provides [a perfect parallel] with Jacob's Christian enthusiast.  The eminent orator of Gaza took up the objection, echoed in Jacob, that watching adultery on the stage was naturally corrupting.  But he went on to argue:  'Since the whole affair is a kind of playfulness, its objective is song and laughter.  Everything is contrived for spiritual refreshment and relaxation.  It seems to me that Dionysus, who is, after all, a laughter-loving God [φιλογέλως γὰρ ὁ θεός], has taken pity on our nature.  Different cares disquiet different people--the loss of children, grieving over parents, the death of siblings, the demise of a good woman.  Poverty gnaws at many, and dishonor brings grief to many others.  It seems to me that Dionysus takes pity on mankind and provides an opportunity for diversion in order to console those who are dispirited. . . . The god is generous and well disposed to humanity, so as to provoke laughter of every kind.'"

G. W. Bowersock, Mosaics as history: the Near East from late antiquity to Islam, Revealing antiquity 16, ed. G. W. Bowersock (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2006), 61-63.

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