Saturday, August 29, 2015
Photo by “Bencherlite” from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Watching History Happen
Josephus tells us how easily the priests of the Isis cult were corrupted during the reign of the emperor Tiberius.
In Rome there was a woman named Paulina; one who, because of the dignity of her ancestors, and because she always lived a virtuous life, had a great reputation. She was also very rich; and although she was of a beautiful countenance, and in that flower of her age in which women are usually most devoted to pleasure, yet she led a life of great modesty. She was married to Saturninus, a man whose excellent character matched hers in every way.
Decius Mundus, who was a man very high in the equestrian order, fell in love with this woman. She was too dignified to be seduced by presents, and had already rejected them, though they he had sent her a great many of them. Because of that he fell more deeply in love with her. He even promised to give her two hundred thousand Attic drachmae to spend one night with her; and when this would not prevail upon her, and he was not able to bear this misfortune in his amours, he decided the best thing to do would be to starve himself to death for want of food because Paulina refused him. He determined with himself to die after such a manner, and set about it in earnest.
Now, Mundus had a freed-woman, who had been made free by his father, whose name was Ide, one skilful in all sorts of mischief. This woman was very much grieved at the young man’s resolution to kill himself (for he did not conceal his intentions to destroy himself from others), and came to him, and encouraged him by what she said: she made him hope, by some promises she gave him, that he might spend a night with Paulina. When he joyfully listened to her appeal, she said she wanted no more than fifty thousand drachmae to entrap the woman.
So when she had encouraged the young man, and gotten as much money as she required, she did not use the same methods he had used before, because she saw that the woman simply could not be tempted by money. But as she knew that she was very much given to the worship of the goddess Isis, she devised the following stratagem: —She went to some of Isis’s priests, and upon the strongest assurances [of concealment], she persuaded them by words, but chiefly by the offer of money, of twenty-five thousand drachmae in hand, and as much more when the thing had taken effect; and told them the passion of the young man, and persuaded them to use all means possible to beguile the woman. So they were drawn in to promise so to do, by that large sum of gold they were to have.
Thus the oldest of them went immediately to Paulina; and when he was admitted, he desired to speak with her by herself. When that was granted him, he told her that he was sent by the god Anubis, who had fallen in love with her, and demanded that she come to him. Upon this she took the message very kindly, and valued herself greatly upon this condescension of Anubis. She told her husband that a message had been sent to her, and she was to sup and lie with Anubis. He agreed to her acceptance of the offer, since he was fully satisfied with the chastity of his wife.
So she went to the temple; and after she had supped there, and it was the hour to go to sleep, the priest shut the doors of the temple. The lights were also put out in the holy part of it. Then Mundus leaped out (he had been hidden there) and did not fail of enjoying her, who was at his service all the night long, since she thought he was the god.
When he had gone away, which was before those priests who knew nothing of this stratagem were stirring, Paulina came early to her husband, and told him how the god Anubis had appeared to her. Among her friends also she declared how great a value she put upon this favor, who partly disbelieved the thing, when they reflected on its nature, and partly were amazed at it, because they had no reason not to believe it, when they considered the modesty and the dignity of the person.
But now, on the third day after what had been done, Mundus met Paulina, and said, “Well, Paulina, you have saved me two hundred thousand drachmae, a sum you might have added to your own family. Yet you have not failed to be at my service in the way I invited you. As for the reproaches you laid upon Mundus, I care nothing for names; but I rejoice in the pleasure I reaped by what I did, while I took to myself the name of Anubis.”
When he had said this, he went his way: but now she began to come to the sense of the grossness of what she had done, and rent her garments, and told her husband of the horrid nature of this wicked contrivance, and prayed him not to neglect to assist her in this case. So he disclosed the fact to the emperor; whereupon Tiberius inquired into the matter thoroughly, by examining the priests about it, and ordered them to be crucified, as well as Ide, who was the occasion of their perdition, and who had contrived the whole matter, which was so injurious to the woman. He also demolished the temple of Isis, and gave order that her statue should be thrown into the river Tiber. But he only banished Mundus, but did no more to him, because he supposed that what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love. These were the circumstances which concerned the temple of Isis, and the injuries occasioned by her priests.
——Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3. Adapted from the translation by William Whiston. This adaptation is explicitly released into the public domain; or, where that is not possible, permission is granted to use it for any purpose.