User:Roger Pearse/Serapis Sources

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Varro, De Lingua Latina

Book 5, ch. 57:

Principes dei Caelum et Terra. Hi dei idem qui Aegipti Serapis et Isis, etsi Harpocrates digito significat, ut taceam. Idem principes in Latio Saturnus et Ops.

The first gods were Caelum 'Sky' and Terra 'Earth.' These gods are the same as those who in Egypt are called Serapis and Isis, though Harpocrates with his finger make a sign to me to be silent. The same first gods were in Latium called Saturn and Ops.

Varro (referenced in Augustine, De Civitate Dei, book 18)

Book 18, chapter 5

In these times Apis king of Argos crossed over into Egypt in ships, and, on dying there, was made Serapis, the chief god of all the Egyptians. Now Varro gives this very ready reason why, after his death, he was called, not Apis, but Serapis. The ark in which he was placed when dead, which every one now calls a sarcophagus, was then called in Greek soro\j, and they began to worship him when buried in it before his temple was built; and from Soros and Apis he was called first [Sorosapis, or] Sorapis, and then Serapis, by changing a letter, as easily happens. It was decreed regarding him also, that whoever should say he had been a man should be capitally punished. And since in every temple where Isis and Serapis were worshipped there was also an image which, with finger pressed on the lips, seemed to warn men to keep silence, Varro thinks this signifies that it should be kept secret that they had been human. But that bull which, with wonderful folly, deluded Egypt nourished with abundant delicacies in honor of him, was not called Serapis, but Apis, because they worshipped him alive without a sarcophagus. On the death of that bull, when they sought and found a calf of the same color,-that is, similarly marked with certain white spots,-they believed it was something miraculous, and divinely provided for them. Yet it was no great thing for the demons, in order to deceive them, to show to a cow when she was conceiving and pregnant the image of such a bull, which she alone could see, and by it attract the breeding passion of the mother, so that it might appear in a bodily shape in her young, just as Jacob so managed with the spotted rods that the sheep and goats were born spotted. For what men can do with real colors and substances, the demons can very easily do by showing unreal forms to breeding animals.

Plutarch, Isis and Osiris (Moralia)

ch. 26-9

She herself and Osiris, translated for their virtues from good demigods into gods, as were Heracles and Dionysus later, not incongruously enjoy double honours, both those of gods and those of demigods, and their powers extend everywhere, but are greatest in the regions above the earth and beneath the earth. In fact, men assert that Pluto is none other than Serapis and that Persephonê is Isis, even as Archemachus of Euboea has said, and also Heracleides Ponticus who holds the oracle in Canopus to be an oracle of Pluto.

28. Ptolemy Soter saw in a dream the colossal statue of Pluto in Sinopê, not knowing nor having ever seen how it looked, and in his dream the statue bade him convey it with all speed to Alexandria. He had no information and no means of knowing where the statue was situated, but as he related the vision to his friends there was discovered for him a much travelled man by the name of Sosibius, who said that he had seen in Sinopê just such a great statue as the king thought he saw. Ptolemy, therefore, sent Soteles and Dionysius, who, after a considerable time and with great difficulty, and not without the help of divine providence, succeeded in stealing the statue and bringing it away. When it had been conveyed to Egypt and exposed to view, Timotheus, the expositor of sacred law, and Manetho of Sebennytus, and their associates, conjectured that it was the statue of Pluto, basing their conjecture on the Cerberus and the serpent with it, and they convinced Ptolemy that it was the statue of none other of the gods but Serapis. It certainly did not bear this name when it came for Sinope, but, after it had been conveyed to Alexandria, it took to itself the name which Pluto bears among the Egyptians, that of Serapis. Moreover, since Heracleitus the physical philosopher says, "The same are Hades and Dionysus, to honour whom they rage and rave," people are inclined to come to this opinion. In fact, those who insist that the body is called Hades, since the soul is, as it were, deranged and inebriate when it is in the body, are too frivolous in their use of allegory. It is better to identify Osiris with Dionysus and Serapis with Osiris, who received this appellation at the time when he changed his nature. For this reason Serapis is a god of all peoples in common, even as Osiris is; and this they who have participated in the holy rites well know.

29. It is not worth while to pay any attention to the Phrygian writings, in which it is said that Serapis was the son of Heracles, and Isis was his daughter, and Typhon was the son of Alcaeus, who also was a son of Heracles; nor must we fail to contemn Phylarchus, who writes that Dionysus was the first to bring from India into Egypt two bulls, cand that the name of one was Apis and of the other Osiris. But Serapis is the name of him who sets the universe in order, and it is derived from "sweep" (sairein), which some say means "to beautify" and "to put in order." As a matter of fact, these statements of Phylarchus are absurd, but even more absurd are those put forth by those who say that Serapis is no god at all, but the name of the coffin of Apis; and that there are in Memphis certain bronze gates called the Gates of Oblivion and Lamentation, which are opened when the burial of Apis takes place, and they give out a deep and harsh sound; and it is because of this that we lay hand upon anything of bronze that gives out a sound. More moderate is the statement of those who say that the derivation is from "shoot" (seuesthai) or "scoot" (sousthai), meaning the general movement of the universe. Most of the priests say that Osiris and Apis are conjoined into one, thus explaining to us and informing us that we must regard Apis as the bodily image of the soul of Osiris. But it is my opinion that, if the name Serapis is Egyptian, it denotes cheerfulness and rejoicing, and I base this opinion on the fact that Egyptians call their festival of rejoicing sairei. In fact, Plato says that Hades is so named because he is a beneficent and gentle god towards those who have come to abide with him. Moreover, among the Egyptians many others of the proper names are real words; for example, that place beneath the earth, to which they believe that souls depart after the end of this life, they call Amenthes, the name signifying "the one who receives and gives." Whether this is one of those words which came from Greece in very ancient times and were brought back again we will consider later, but for the present let us go on to discuss the remainder of the views now before us.



7. 1. Therefore beginning a civil war and sending ahead generals with troops to Italy, he crossed meanwhile to Alexandria, to take possession of the key to Egypt.18 There he dismissed all his attendants and entered the temple of Serapis alone, to consult the auspices as to the duration of his power. And when after many propitiatory offerings to the god he at length turned about, it seemed to him that his freedman Basilides offered him sacred boughs, garlands, and loaves, as is the custom there; and yet he knew well that no one had let him in, and that for some time he had been hardly able to walk by reason of rheumatism, and was besides far away. And immediately letters came with the news that Vitellius had been routed at Cremona and the emperor himself slain at Rome.

2. Vespasian as yet lacked prestige and a certain divinity, so to speak, since he was an unexpected and still new-made emperor; but these also were given him. A man of the people who was blind, and another who was lame, came to him together as he sat on the tribunal, begging for the help for their disorders which Serapis had promised in a dream; for the god declared that Vespasian would restore the eyes, if he would spit upon them, and give strength to the leg, if he would deign to touch it with his heel. 3. Though he had hardly any faith that this could possibly succeed, and therefore shrank even from making the attempt, he was at last prevailed upon by his friends and tried both things in public before a large crowd; and with success.


Histories, book IV

83. The origin of this God Serapis has not hitherto been made generally known by our writers. The Egyptian priests give this account. While Ptolemy, the first Macedonian king who consolidated the power of Egypt, was setting up in the newly-built city of Alexandria fortifications, temples, and rites of worship, there appeared to him in his sleep a youth of singular beauty and more than human stature, who counselled the monarch to send his most trusty friends to Pontus, and fetch his effigy from that country. This, he said, would bring prosperity to the realm, and great and illustrious would be the city which gave it a reception. At the same moment he saw the youth ascend to heaven in a blaze of fire. Roused by so significant and strange an appearance, Ptolemy disclosed the vision of the night to the Egyptian priests, whose business it is to understand such matters. As they knew but little of Pontus or of foreign countries, he enquired of Timotheus, an Athenian, one of the family of the Eumolpids, whom he had invited from Eleusis to preside over the sacred rites, what this worship was, and who was the deity. Timotheus, questioning persons who had found their way to Pontus, learnt that there was there a city Sinope, and near it a temple, which, according to an old tradition of the neighbourhood, was sacred to the infernal Jupiter, for there also stood close at hand a female figure, to which many gave the name of Proserpine. Ptolemy, however, with the true disposition of a despot, though prone to alarm, was, when the feeling of security returned, more intent on pleasures than on religious matters; and he began by degrees to neglect the affair, and to turn his thoughts to other concerns, till at length the same apparition, but now more terrible and peremptory, denounced ruin against the king and his realm, unless his bidding were performed. Ptolemy then gave directions that an embassy should be despatched with presents to king Scydrothemis, who at that time ruled the people of Sinope, and instructed them, when they were on the point of sailing, to consult the Pythian Apollo. Their voyage was prosperous, and the response of the oracle was clear. The God bade them go and carry back with them the image of his father, but leave that of his sister behind.

83. Origo dei nondum nostris auctoribus celebrata: Aegyptiorum antistites sic memorant, Ptolemaeo regi, qui Macedonum primus Aegypti opes firmavit, cum Alexandriae recens conditae moenia templaque et religiones adderet, oblatum per quietem decore eximio et maiore quam humana specie iuvenem, qui moneret ut fidissimis amicorum in Pontum missis effigiem suam acciret; laetum id regno magnamque et inclutam sedem fore quae excepisset: simul visum eundem iuvenem in caelum igne plurimo attolli. Ptolemaeus omine et miraculo excitus sacerdotibus Aegyptiorum, quibus mos talia intellegere, nocturnos visus aperit. atque illis Ponti et externorum parum gnaris, Timotheum Atheniensem e gente Eumolpidarum, quem ut antistitem caerimoniarum Eleusine exciverat, quaenam illa superstitio, quod numen, interrogat. Timotheus quaesitis qui in Pontum meassent, cognoscit urbem illic Sinopen, nec procul templum vetere inter accolas fama Iovis Ditis: namque et muliebrem effigiem adsistere quam plerique Proserpinam vocent. sed Ptolemaeus, ut sunt ingenia regum, pronus ad formidinem, ubi securitas rediit, voluptatum quam religionum adpetens neglegere paulatim aliasque ad curas animum vertere, donec eadem species terribilior iam et instantior exitium ipsi regnoque denuntiaret ni iussa patrarentur. tum legatos et dona Scydrothemidi regi (is tunc Sinopensibus imperitabat) expediri iubet praecepitque navigaturis ut Pythicum Apollinem adeant. illis mare secundum, sors oraculi haud ambigua: irent simulacrumque patris sui reveherent, sororis relinquerent.

84. On their arrival at Sinope, they delivered to Scydrothemis the presents from their king, with his request and message. He wavered in purpose, dreading at one moment the anger of the God, terrified at another by the threats and opposition of the people. Often he was wrought upon by the gifts and promises of the ambassadors. And so three years passed away, while Ptolemy did not cease to urge his zealous solicitations. He continued to increase the dignity of his embassies, the number of his ships, and the weight of his gold. A terrible vision then appeared to Scydrothemis, warning him to thwart no longer the purposes of the God. As he yet hesitated, various disasters, pestilence, and the unmistakable anger of heaven, which grew heavier from day to day, continued to harass him. He summoned an assembly, and explained to them the bidding of the God, the visions of Ptolemy and himself, and the miseries that were gathering about them. The people turned away angrily from their king, were jealous of Egypt, and, fearing for themselves, thronged around the temple. The story becomes at this point more marvellous, and relates that the God of his own will conveyed himself on board the fleet, which had been brought close to shore, and, wonderful to say, vast as was the extent of sea that they traversed, they arrived at Alexandria on the third day. A temple, proportioned to the grandeur of the city, was erected in a place called Rhacotis, where there had stood a chapel consecrated in old times to Serapis and Isis. Such is the most popular account of the origin and introduction of the God Serapis. I am aware indeed that there are some who say that he was brought from Seleucia, a city of Syria, in the reign of Ptolemy III., while others assert that it was the act of the same king, but that the place from which he was brought was Memphis, once a famous city and the strength of ancient Egypt. The God himself, because he heals the sick, many identified with Aesculapius; others with Osiris, the deity of the highest antiquity among these nations; not a few with Jupiter, as being supreme ruler of all things; but most people with Pluto, arguing from the emblems which may be seen on his statues, or from conjectures of their own.

84. Vt Sinopen venere, munera preces mandata regis sui Scydrothemidi adlegant. qui <di>versus animi modo numen pavescere, modo minis adversantis populi terreri; saepe donis promissisque legatorum flectebatur. atque interim triennio exacto Ptolemaeus non studium, non preces omittere: dignitatem legatorum, numerum navium, auri pondus augebat. tum minax facies Scydrothemidi offertur ne destinata deo ultra moraretur: cunctantem varia pernicies morbique et manifesta caelestium ira graviorque in dies fatigabat. advocata contione iussa numinis, suos Ptolemaeique visus, ingruentia mala exponit: vulgus aversari regem, invidere Aegypto, sibi metuere templumque circumsedere. maior hinc fama tradidit deum ipsum adpulsas litori navis sponte conscendisse: mirum inde dictu, tertio die tantum maris emensi Alexandriam adpelluntur. templum pro magnitudine urbis extructum loco cui nomen Rhacotis; fuerat illic sacellum Serapidi atque Isidi antiquitus sacratum. haec de origine et advectu dei celeberrima. nec sum ignarus esse quosdam qui Seleucia urbe Syriae accitum regnante Ptolemaeo, quem tertia aetas tulit; alii auctorem eundem Ptolemaeum, sedem, ex qua transierit, Memphim perhibent, inclutam olim et veteris Aegypti columen. deum ipsum multi Aesculapium, quod medeatur aegris corporibus, quidam Osirin, antiquissimum illis gentibus numen, plerique Iovem ut rerum omnium potentem, plurimi Ditem patrem insignibus, quae in ipso manifesta, aut per ambages coniectant.

Clement of Alexandria

Exhortation to the Heathen, ch. 4

There were also two other sculptors of Crete, as I think: they were called Scyles and Dipoenus; and these executed the statues of the Dioscuri in Argos, and the image of Hercules in Tiryns, and the effigy of the Munychian Artemis in Sicyon. Why should I linger over these, when I can point out to you the great deity himself, and show you who he was,-whom indeed, conspicuously above all, we hear to have been considered worthy of veneration? Him they have dared to speak of as made without hands-I mean the Egyptian Serapis. For some relate that he was sent as a present by the people of Sinope to Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of the Egyptians, who won their favour by sending them corn from Egypt when they were perishing with famine; and that this idol was an image of Pluto; and Ptolemy, having received the statue, placed it on the promontory which is now called Racotis; where the temple of Serapis was held in honour, and the sacred enclosure borders on the Spot; and that Blistichis the courtesan having died in Canopus, Ptolemy had her conveyed there, and buried beneath the forementioned shrine.

Others say that the Serapis was a Pontic idol, and was transported with solemn pomp to Alexandria. Isidore alone says that it was brought from the Seleucians, near Antioch, who also had been visited with a dearth of corn, and had been fed by Ptolemy. But Athenodorus the son of Sandon, while wishing to make out the Serapis to be ancient, has somehow slipped into the mistake of proving it to be an image fashioned by human hands. He says that Sesostris the Egyptian king, having subjugated the most of the Hellenic races, on his return to Egypt brought a number of craftsmen with him. Accordingly he ordered a statue of Osiris, his ancestor, to be executed in sumptuous style; and the work was done by the artist Bryaxis, not the Athenian, but another of the same name, who employed in its execution a mixture of various materials. For he had filings of gold, and silver, and lead, and in addition, tin; and of Egyptian stones not one was wanting, and there were fragments of sapphire, and hematite, and emerald, and topaz. Having ground down and mixed together all these ingredients, he gave to the composition a blue colour, whence the darkish hue of the image; and having mixed the whole with the colouring matter that was left over from the funeral of Osiris and Apis, moulded the Serapis, the name of which points to its connection with sepulture and its construction from funeral materials, compounded as it is of Osiris and Apis, which together make Osirapis.

Another new deity was added to the number with great religious pomp in Egypt, and was near being so in Greece by the king of the Romans, who deified Antinous ...


Ad Nationes book 1, chapter 10

Many times have the censors destroyed154 (a god) without consulting the people. Father Bacchus, with all his ritual, was certainly by the consuls, on the senate's authority, cast not only out of the city, but out of all Italy; whilst Varro informs us that Serapis also, and Isis, and Arpocrates, and Anubis, were excluded from the Capitol, and that their altars which the senate had thrown down were only restored by the popular violence. The Consul Gabinius, however, on the first day of the ensuing January, although he gave a tardy consent to some sacrifices, in deference to the crowd which assembled, because he had failed to decide about Serapis and Isis, yet held the judgment of the senate to be more potent than the clamour of the multitude, and forbade the altars to be built. Here, then, you have amongst your own forefathers, if not the name, at all events the procedure, of the Christians, which despises the gods. If, however, you were even innocent of the charge of treason against them in the honour you pay them, I still find that you have made a consistent advance in superstition as well as impiety. For how much more irreligious are you found to be! There are your household gods, the Lares and the Penates, which you possess by a family consecration: you even tread them profanely under foot, you and your domestics, by hawking and pawning them for your wants or your whims. Such insolent sacrilege might be excusable, if it were not practised against your humbler deities; as it is, the case is only the more insolent. There is, however, some consolation for your private household gods under these affronts, that you treat your public deities with still greater indignity and insolence. First of all, you advertise them for auction, submit them to public sale, knock them down to the highest bidder, when you every five years bring them to the hammer among your revenues. For this purpose you frequent the temple of Serapis or the Capitol, hold your sales there, conclude your contracts, as if they were markets, with the well-known160 voice of the crier, (and) the self-same levy of the quaestor.

Ad Nationes book 2, chapter 7

For that Serapis of yours was originally one of our own saints called Joseph. The youngest of his brethren, but superior to them in intellect, he was from envy sold into Egypt, and became a slave in the family of Pharaoh king of the country. Importuned by the unchaste queen, when he refused to comply with her desire, she turned upon him and reported him to the king, by whom he is put into prison. There he displays the power of his divine inspiration, by interpreting aright the dreams of some (fellow-prisoners). Meanwhile the king, too, has some terrible dreams. Joseph being brought before him, according to his summons, was able to expound them. Having narrated the proofs of true interpretation which he had given in the prison, he opens out his dream to the king: those seven fat-fleshed and well-favoured kine signified as many years of plenty; in like manner, the seven lean-fleshed animals predicted the scarcity of the seven following years. He accordingly recommends precautions to be taken against the future famine from the previous plenty. The king believed him. The issue of all that happened showed how wise he was, how invariably holy, and now how necessary. So Pharaoh set him over all Egypt, that he might secure the provision of corn for it, and thenceforth administer its government. They called him Serapis, from the turban which adorned his head. The peck-like shape of this turban marks the memory of his corn-provisioning; whilst evidence is given that the care of the supplies was all on his head, by the very ears of corn which embellish the border of the head-dress. For the same reason, also, they made the sacred figure of a dog, which they regard (as a sentry) in Hades, and put it under his right hand, because the care of the Egyptians was concentrated under his hand. And they put at his side Pharia, whose name shows her to have been the king's daughter. For in addition to all the rest of his kind gifts and rewards, Pharaoh had given him his own daughter in marriage. Since, however, they had begun to worship both wild animals and human beings, they combined both figures under one form Anubis, in which there may rather be seen clear proofs of its own character and condition enshrined148 by a nation at war with itself, refractory to its kings, despised among foreigners, with even the appetite of a slave and the filthy nature of a dog.

Eusebius of Caesarea


Ch. 11, quoting Porphyry:

'Of his power over agriculture, whereon depend the gifts of wealth (Plutus), the symbol is Pluto. He has, however, equally the power of destroying, on which account they make Sarapis share the temple of Pluto: and the purple tunic they make the symbol of the light that has sunk beneath the earth, and the sceptre broken at the top that of his power below, and the posture of the hand the symbol of his departure into the unseen world.

Ch. 16:

How again could Pluto and Sarapis be changed by physical theory into the sun, when the same author declares that Sarapis is the same with Pluto, and is the ruler of the evil daemons? Moreover, in recording oracles of Sarapis how could he say they were those of the sun?

PE IV. ch. 22-23

And who the power presiding over them happens to be, shall be made clear by the same author again, who says that the rulers of the wicked daemons are Sarapis and Hecate; but the sacred scripture says Beelzebul. Hear then how he writes on this point in his book Of the Philosophy to be derived from Oracles.


[PORPHYRY] 'But it is not without reason that we suspect the wicked daemons to be subject to Sarapis, nor from being persuaded only by the symbols, but because all the sacrifices for propitiating or averting their influence are offered to Pluto, as we showed in the first book. But this god is the same as Pluto, and for this reason especially rules over the daemons, and grants tokens for driving them away.

'It was he then who made known to his suppliants how they gain access to men in the likeness of animals of all kinds; whence among the Egyptians also, and the Phoenicians, and generally among those who are wise in divine things, thongs are violently cracked in the temples, and animals are dashed against the ground before worshipping the gods, the priests thus driving away these daemons by giving them the breath or blood of animals, and by the beating of the air, in order that on their departure the presence of the god may be granted.

'Every house also is full of them, and on this account, when they are going to call down the gods, they purify the house first, and cast these daemons out. Our bodies also are full of them, for they especially delight in certain kinds of food. So when we are eating they approach and sit close to our body; and this is the reason of the purifications, not chiefly on account of the gods, but in order that these evil daemons may depart. But most of all they delight in blood and in impure meats, and enjoy these by entering into those who use them.

'For universally the vehemence of the desire towards anything, and the impulse of the lust of the spirit, is intensified from no other cause than their presence: and they also force men to fall into inarticulate noises and flatulence by sharing the same enjoyment with them.

'For where there is a drawing in of much breath, either because the stomach has been inflated by indulgence, or because eagerness from the intensity of pleasure breathes much out and draws in much of the outer air, let this be a clear proof to you of the presence of such spirits there. So far human nature ventures to investigate the snares that are set about it: for when the deity enters in, the breathing is much increased.'

So much then concerning the wicked daemons, the ruler of whom he says is Sarapis. But the same author also teaches us that Hecate rules them, speaking thus:

'Are not these perhaps they over whom Sarapis rules, and whose symbol is the three-headed dog, that is the wicked daemon in the three elements, water, earth, air: these are restrained by the god, who has them under his hand. But Hecate also rules them, as holding the threefold, elements together.'

Firmicus Maternus, On the error of profane religions

XIII. Also learn, most holy emperors, from where the worthy divinity of Alexandria drew his origin. Once we have discovered that he also is a miserable absurdity, the words of our human weakness will be brought back on to the way of the truth. One day when in Egypt an excessive heat had desiccated the corn, and a terrible famine threatened, a young man, son of a pious patriarch, interpreted a dream of the king and announced all that was going to happen. This was Joseph, son of Jacob, who had been imprisoned because of his chastity, but was taken into the government after explaining the dream. Indeed, by gathering and preserving the grain collected during seven years, he mitigated the effects of a famine which lasted for a second period of seven years, by the precaution of his inspired spirit.

2. After his death, the Egyptians raised temples to him according to the ancestral custom of their nation and, to make known to posterity the benefit of an equitable distribution, the bushel with which he had distributed corn to the famished, they placed on his head. To worship him under a worthier name, they gave him one which related to the founder of his line. He was indeed the great-grandson of Sarah, by whom, by the favour of God, Abraham had a son when she was ninety years old: in Greek he was thus called Serapis, i.e. son of Sarah.

3. But this was done against the will of Joseph, or rather because he was dead, because his pious spirit and devoted to the most high god could never have been brought to a crime such as lending his own name to the elements of the error of superstitious men, more especially as he knew that it is against the sacrosanct laws of God that a man gives his homage to a worship of this kind. This is who is worshipped, who is revered in Egypt; it is the image of Joseph that is entrusted to the guard of a crowd of ministers of the temples, and the people, in remembering the events formerly, perpetuate the error of the ceremonies which were instituted in the honour of this virtuous and careful man, and today there is still the same impassioned obstinacy in it.

4. But the impure spirits of demons are attracted to its image as to other idols because of the continual sacrifices that are offered to it. Because the victims and the blood of the animals that are constantly immolated is not used for nothing if not to maintain the substance of the demons, issued from the devil. And that it is indeed thus, it is Porphyry, defender of paganism, adversary of God, enemy of the truth, master of criminal arts, who has let us know this with manifest evidence to support it. Indeed, in the books entitled: On the philosophy of oracles, he has, by proclaiming the grandeur of Serapis, recognized the impotence of the latter. At the beginning of the work, even in the introduction, he said:

"Serapis was invoked, and, locked up in the body of a man, here is what he answered."

5. So what do they say to me, these misled men, who is the more powerful, he who invokes, who orders and who locks up, or he who, being invoked, obeys and who, when he entered the body of the man who receives him, allows himself to be locked up by the power of he who commands him? We are extremely grateful for your book, Porphyry! You have revealed to us what is the nature of your gods. We have learned from you up to what point they are controlled by the orders of men. Your Serapis, a man invokes him, and he arrives; once come, he is imprisoned at the order of a man, and perhaps if he does not wish it, the obligation to speak is imposed on him.

6. It is well that with us your gods are punished by the force of the Christian words, when they started to harm men. They is also well that, when they establish themselves in the bodies of men, your gods are tortured by a fire of spiritual flames which the word of God inspires; thus those who you worship as gods suffer among us, subjected by the grace of Christ to the orders of man, the treatments of the Christian faith, that they undergo appalling torments, and that, overcome, they undergo vengeful pains.

Julian the Apostate

In his Oration Upon the Sovereign Sun, Julian speaks of the deity in these words: "One Jove, one Pluto, one Sun is Serapis."


The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia, Books 10 and 11, Tr. Philip R. Amidon, 1997. pp.80-83.

11.23. I suppose that everyone has heard of the temple of Serapis in Alexandria, and that many are also familiar with it. The site was elevated, not naturally but artificially, to a height of a hundred or more steps, its enormous rectangular premises extending in every direction. All the rooms up to the floor on top were vaulted, and being furnished with ceiling lights and concealed inner chambers separate from one another, were used for various services and secret functions. On the upper level, furthermore, the outermost structures in the whole circumference provided space for halls and shrines and for lofty apartments which normally housed either the temple staff or those called hagneuontes, meaning those who keep themselves pure. Behind these in turn were porticoes arranged in rectangles which ran around the whole circumference on the inside. In the middle of the entire area rose the sanctuary with priceless columns, the exterior fashioned of marble, spacious and magnificent to behold. In it there was a statue of Serapis so large that its right hand touched one wall and its left the other; this monster is said to have been made of every kind of metal and wood. The interior walls of the shrine were believed to have been covered with plates of gold overlaid with silver and then bronze, the last as a protection for the more precious metals. 39

There were also some things cunningly devised to excite the amazement and wonder of those who saw them. There was a tiny window so orientated toward the direction of sunrise that on the day appointed for the statue of the sun to be carried in to greet Serapis, careful observation of the seasons had ensured that as the statue was entering, a ray of sunlight coming through this window would light up the mouth and lips of Serapis, so that to the people looking on it would seem as though the sun was greeting Serapis with a kiss.

There was another like trick. Magnets, it is said, have the power to pull and draw iron to themselves. The image of the sun had been made by its artisan of the finest sort of iron with this in view: that a magnet, which, as we said, naturally attracts iron, and which was set in the ceiling panels, might by natural force draw the iron to itself when the statue was placed just so directly beneath it, the statue appearing to the people to rise and hang in the air. And lest it unexpectedly fall and betray the trick, the servants of the deception would say, The sun has arisen so that, bidding Serapis farewell, it may depart for its own place. There were many other things as well built on the site by those of old for the purpose of deception which it would take too long to detail.40

Now as we started to say, when the letter had been read our people were ready to overthrow the author of [the] error, but a rumor had been spread by the pagans that if a human hand touched the statue, the earth would split open on the spot and crumble into the abyss, while the sky would crash down at once. This gave the people pause for a moment, until one of the soldiers, armed with faith rather than weapons, seized a double-headed axe, drew himself up, and struck the old fraud on the jaw with all his might. A roar went up from both sides, but the sky did not fall, nor did the earth collapse. Thus with repeated strokes he felled the smoke-grimed deity of rotten wood, which upon being thrown down burned as easily as dry wood when it was kindled. After this the head was wrenched from the neck, the bushel having been taken down, and dragged off; then the feet and other members were chopped off with axes and dragged apart with ropes attached, and piece by piece, each in a different place, the decrepit dotard was burned to ashes before the eyes of the Alexandria which had worshiped him. Last of all the torso which was left was put to the torch in the amphitheater, and that was the end of the vain superstition and ancient error of Serapis. 41

The pagans have different views about his origin. Some regard him as Jupiter, the bushel placed upon his head showing either that he governs all things with moderation and restraint or that he bestows life on mortals through the bounty of harvests. Others regard him as the power of the Nile River, by whose richness and fertility Egypt is fed. There are some who think the statue was made in honor of our Joseph because of the distribution of grain by which he aided the Egyptians in the time of famine. Still others claim to have found in Greek histories of old that a certain Apis, the head of a house or a king located in Memphis in Egypt, provided ample food from his own store to the citizens when the grain ran out in Alexandria during a famine. When he died, they founded a temple in his honor in Memphis in which a bull, the symbol of the ideal farmer, is fed; it has certain markings on its hide and is called "Apis" after him. As for the soros or coffin in which his body lay, they brought it down to Alexandria and by putting together soros and Apis they at first called him "Sorapis," but this was later corrupted to Serapis." God knows what truth if any there is in all this. But let us return to the subject.42

11.24. Once the very pinnacle of idolatry had been thrown down, all of the idols, or one should rather say monsters, throughout Alexandria were pilloried by a like destruction and similar disgrace through the efforts of its most vigilant priest. ...

Aphthonius of Antioch, Progymnasmata ch.12

From Amidon's version of Rufinus I learn (p.105): "Another ancient description of the Serapeum is offered by Aphthonius of Antioch; cf. Aphthonii Progymnasmata, ed. H. Rabe [Leipzig, 1926], pp. 38-41 with the commentary of John of Sardis, ed. H. Rabe [Leipzig, 1928], p. 227-230. Cf. also Ammianus Marcellinus 22.16.1213; Expositio totius mundi et gentium 35f.")

Malcolm Heath translation

Description: the temple in Alexandria, together with the acropolis

Citadels are established for the common security of cities - for they are the highest points of cities. They are not walled round with buildings, so much as they wall round the cities. The centre of Athens held the Athenian acropolis; but the citadel which Alexander established for his own city is in fact what he named it, and it is more accurate to call this an acropolis than that on which the Athenians pride themselves. For it is somewhat as this discourse shall describe.

A hill juts out of the ground, rising to a great height, and called an acropolis on both accounts, both because it is raised up on high and because it is placed in the high-point of the city. There are two roads to it, of dissimilar nature. One is a road, the other a way of access. The roads have different names according to their nature. Here it is possible to approach on foot and the road is shared also with those who approach on a wagon; there flights of steps have been cut and there is no passage for wagons. For flight after flight leads higher and higher, not stopping until the hundredth step; for the limit of their number is one which produces a perfect measure.

After the steps is a gateway, shut in with grilled gates of moderate size. And four massive columns rise up, bringing four roads to one entrance. On the columns rises a building with many columns of moderate size in front, not of one colour, but they are fixed to the edifice as an ornament. The building's roof is domed, and round the dome is set a great image of the universe.

As one enters the acropolis itself a single space is marked out by four sides; the plan of the arrangement is that of a hollow rectangle. There is a court in the centre, surrounded by a colonnade. Other colonnades succeed the court, colonnades divided by equal columns, and their length could not be exceeded. Each colonnade ends in another at right angles, and a double column divides each colonnade, ending the one and starting the other. Chambers are built within the colonnades. Some are repositories for the books, open to those who are diligent in philosophy and stirring up the whole city to mastery of wisdom. Others are established in honour of the ancient gods. The colonnades are roofed, and the roof is made of gold, and the capitals of the columns are made of bronze overlaid with gold. The decoration of the court is not single. For different parts are differently decorated, and one has the exploits of Perseus. In the middle there rises a column of great height, making the place conspicuous (someone on his way does not know where he is going, unless he uses the pillar as a sign of the direction) and makes the acropolis stand out by land and sea. The beginnings of the universe stand round the capital of the column. Before one comes to the middle of the court there is set an edifice with many entrances, which are named after the ancient gods; and two stone obelisks rise up, and a fountain better than that of the Peisistratids. And the marvel had an incredible number of builders. As one was not sufficient for the makig, builders of the whole acropolis were appointed to the number of twelve.

As one comes down from the acropolis, here is a flat place resembling a race-course, which is what the place is called; and here there is another of similar shape, but not equal in size.

The beauty is unspeakable. If anything has been omitted, it has been bracketed by amazement; what it was not possible to describe has been omitted.

Google books link to translation by Kennedy

Rhetores Graeci vol.2, 1854, p.47-49 describe the Serapeum.

Kennedy: What Aphthonius calls the acropolis of Alexandria and describes in the following passage is better known as the Serapeum (or Sarapeum), an extensive shrine on a low hill in the southwestern quarter of the city. The Serapeum was dedicated to Serapis (Sarapis), a composite Egyptian and Greek god deliberately created to be patron of the new city. Although Alexander may hare intended that something be built on this hill, construction of the shrine probably did not begin until the third century B.C. at the instigation of Ptolemy III, and the site was much enlarged and adorned by his successors. In A.D. 389 the shrine was destroyed at the instigation of the Christian Patriarch Theophilus under authority from the emperor Theodosius (see Eunapius 457, Sozomen 7.15). Aphthonius' description was perhaps written before that date, but probably relies on another description (dating from after construction of Diocletian's pillar in A.D. 297; cf. below) of a place Aphthonius himself may never have seen and had difficulty describing clearly. But no such description is known.


Citadels, then,87 have been built in cities for the common security; for they are the highest points in the cities, and they are not themselves more fortified with buildings than they fortify their cities. The middle of Athens has embraced the acropolis of the Athenians, and Alexander had a height prepared in his own city, constructed to suit the name he gave it;88 for he set it on the highest point of the city, and it is more sensible to call it an acropolis than that on which the Athenians took counsel.89 Its appearance is as this account will describe.

An akra projects up from the land, going up to a considerable height, and is called an "acropolis" for two reasons: because it is raised to a height and because it has been set on the high point of a city. Roads leading to this acropolis arc not alike; for here there is an incline (anodos) and there an entrance way (eisodos). The roads change their names, being called by their function: here it is possible to go on foot and the way is public and a road for those going by carriage; on another side, flights of steps have been constructed [39R] where it is not possible for carriages to go. Flight of steps follows flight of step, always increasing from the lesser and leading upward, not ceasing until there have been a hundred steps; for the limit of a number is the end [48] that reaches perfect measure.90

At the top of the stairs is a Propylaeon, enclosed by latticed gates of moderate height, and four very large columns rise up, providing several openings into one entrance passage. Above the columns stands the Oecus, fronted by many smaller columns which are not all of the same color, and when compared they add ornament to the design. The roof of the building rises in a dome, and around the dome is fixed a great memorial of things that are.91

On going into the acropolis itself, one enters a single open space, bounded by four equal sides, and its figure is rather like that of a war machine (i.e., a hollow rectangle). In the middle is a courtyard, surrounded by a colonnade. Stoas continue the courtyard and the stoas are divided by equal columns, and as for their measure, it is the largest possible. Each stoa ends [40R] in another crosswise colonnade and a double column divides it from another stoa, one ending and the other beginning again. Small covered structures are built inside the stoas; some are reading rooms for books, offering an opportunity for the studious to pursue knowledge and arousing the whole city to the possibility of wisdom; others were built as shrines to the ancient gods. Gold adorns the roof of the stoas and the capitals of the columns are made of bronze, overlaid with gold. The decoration of the courtyard is not all the same; different parts were done differently. One part has a representation of the contests of Perseus. A column higher than the others stands in the middle, making the place conspicuous.92 A visitor, up to this point, does not ... (the preview is incomplete online)

87 Unlike the other examples of composition, this begins with connective particles (de ara), contributing to the relaxed style; see John of Sardis' commentary on this ecphrasis, translated below.
88 I.e.. the name "acropolis," but the sentence is clumsy and possibly the text is corrupt. Alexander's city is of course Alexandria.
89 The Areopagus?
90 "In its completed form the plateau on which the Temple stood was approached from the north and south sides by a carriage road and from the east side by a flight of 200 steps," John Marlowe, The Golden Age of Alexandria (London: Victor Gollancz, 1971). p. 60. For more information about the Serapeum, see I. A. Rowe, "Discoveries of the Famous Temple and Enclosure of Sarapis at Alexandria." Annales du Service de l'Antiquite de l'Egypte, Cahier supplementaire 2 (1946).
91 "At the top of the steps was a Propylaeum supported by four large columns and approached between two obelisks. Immediately inside the Propylaeum was an Oecus, or circular hall, covered by a gilded dome resting on a double ring of columns," Marlow ibid. The "great memorial of things that are" was probably a religious and historical fresco.
92 This monument, some 80 feet high, was known as "Pompey's Pillar," but was actually erected to commemorate a visit to Alexandria by Diocletian in A.D. 297, when he suppressed a revolt.

Paulinus of Nola, Carmen 19

Poem 19, ll.100-110

... ut Serapi sanctum formaret Ioseph,            
Nomine ferali abscondens venerabile nomen,
Cum tamen ipsa fidem simulacri forma doceret,
Qua modius capiti superest, quia frugibus olim
Ante famem Domino sic inspirante coactis
Innumeras gentes Aegypti ex ubere pavit,          
Et steriles annos annis saturavit opimis.
Sed ne ultra sanctus coleretur honore profano,
Mens arcana Dei devotae pectora plebis
Immissis acuit stimulis, cultumque nefandi
Daemonis everso, fractoque Serapide clausit.


98. Satan has fled from Egypt, where he had taken countless forms and countless names appropriate to different monsters. Thus he fashioned holy Joseph into Serapis; hiding that revered name beneath a name of death; yet all the time the statue's shape revealed the faith, for a bushel overtops its head, the reason being that in ancient days corn was collected at the inspiration of the Lord before a famine, and with the grain from Egypt's fruitful breast Joseph fed countless peoples and filled up the lean years with plenty. But to prevent that holy man's being venerated with further unholy honour, God's hidden mind sent goads to prick the hearts of that devout people. They destroyed and shattered Serapis, and ended the worship of that wicked spirit.


Saturnalia book 1

Martianus Capella

De nuptiis philologiae et Mercurii (On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury), book 2, l. 191 f. (Teubner p.53)

Te Serapin Nilus, Memphis veneratur Osirim,
dissona sacra Mithram Ditemque ferumque Typhonem;
Attis pulcher item, curvi et puer almus aratri,
Hammon et arentis Libyes ac Byblius Adon.
Sic vario cunctus te nomine convocat orbis.	
You the dwellers on the Nile adore as Serapis, and Memphis as Osiris; 
In differing rites as Mithras, and Dis and cruel Typhon; 
Likewise beautiful Attis, and the kindly boy of the curved plough, 
And waterless Libya as Ammon, and Byblos as Adonis. 
Thus the whole world adores thee under various names.

(In order to make sense of this one must be aware that "the boy of the curved plough" is a title of Triptolemus. Virgil's first Georgic has: "and the boy inventor of the curved plough" and Ovid's Fasti has: "He will ... be the first to plough and sow and reap rewards from the tilled soil." Dis is Pluto.)

Theodoret, on the destruction of the Serapeum

Book V, chapter 22

The illustrious Athanasius was succeeded by the admirable Petrus, Petrus by Timotheus, and Timotheus by Theophilus, a man of sound wisdom and of a lofty courage. By him Alexandria was set free from the error of idolatry; for, not content with razing the idols’ temples to the ground, he exposed the tricks of the priests to the victims of their wiles. For they had constructed statues of bronze and wood hollow within, and fastened the backs of them to the temple walls, leaving in these walls certain invisible openings. Then coming up from their secret chambers they got inside the statues, and through them gave any order they liked and the hearers, tricked and cheated, obeyed. These tricks the wise Theophilus exposed to the people.

Moreover he went up into the temple of Serapis, which has been described by some as excelling in size and beauty all the temples in the world. There he saw a huge image of which the bulk struck beholders with terror, increased by a lying report which got abroad that if any one approached it, there would be a great earthquake, and that all the people would be destroyed. The bishop looked on all these tales as the mere drivelling of tipsy old women, and in utter derision of the lifeless monster’s enormous size, he told a man who had an axe to give Serapis a good blow with it. No sooner had the man struck, than all the folk cried out, for they were afraid of the threatened catastrophe. Serapis however, who had received the blow, felt no pain, inasmuch as he was made of wood, and uttered never a word, since he was a lifeless block. His head was cut off, and forthwith out ran multitudes of mice, for the Egyptian god was a dwelling place for mice. Serapis was broken into small pieces of which some were committed to the flames, but his head was carried through all the town in sight of his worshippers, who mocked the weakness of him to whom they had bowed the knee.

Thus all over the world the shrines of the idols were destroyed.

Other notes

Clement of Alexandria, for instance, says that Apis, king of Argos, founded Memphis, also called Serapis (Strom 1.106.45). Epiphan. Pan. 4.2.6 equates Apis with Inachus, who built Memphis. Rufinus, however, is the only one who ascribes a donation of food to him; perhaps he is assuming a connection with Joseph.

The derivation of "Serapis" from soroj and "Apis" is found also in Plutarch De Iside 29.362C (along with other derivations) and in Clement Alex. Strom. 1.106.6