The Acts of Thecla, probably written in the mid-second century, was popular account of a woman disciple of the apostle Paul, lured away from her aristocratic life of luxury and future marriage, who faced serial (failed) executions and became an apostle. By the late fourth century, an enormously popular pilgrimage shrine to Thecla existed in the city of Seleucia (modern Silifke, Turkey). Sometime around 445 an anonymous inhabitant of Seleucia and devotee of the saint decided to expand the Acts of Thecla into a fuller narrative account, to which he appended a selection of miracles performed at her shrine, Hagia Thekla. The result, a literary diptych known as the Life and Miracles of Thecla, did not enjoy anywhere close to the popularity of the Acts of Thecla, which continued to circulate in various forms and expansions. It nonetheless provides a clear window into how the life of a popular saint could be reimagined to speak to fifth-century Christian contexts.
The first part of the work, the Life (technically, “Acts” [πράξεις, praxeis], but conventionally called “Life” to distinguish it from the earlier Acts of Thecla) has not been translated into English. The second part, the Miracles, has been translated into English by Linda Ann Honey in her 2011 University of Calgary dissertation. The editor of the Greek text, Gilbert Dagron, included a French translation of both the Life and Miracles in his critical edition.
In his prologue the author proclaims that his labor was conceived by his patron (Achaius) as a dedicatory effort to the saint. He also clarifies his process: he has kept to the original plan of the Acts, only elaborating here and there. His primary contribution consists of much fuller speeches for the main characters (a classical rhetorical technique known as ethopoeia or prosopopoeia: “speech-in-character”). That these are imagined speeches he acknowledges at several points in the Life, while insisting they are “likely” versions of what the characters would have said. He also at times quotes directly from the Acts. The author also provides more detailed geographic information and amplifies some themes (such as Thecla’s girlhood isolation, her subsequent “manly” demeanor, and her status as “martyr”) while diminishing others (such as the novel explanation provided for Thecla’s famous autobaptism in chapter 20).
I have used the text edited by Dagron, Vie et miracles de Sainte Thècle: Texte grec, traduction et commentaire, Subsidia Hagiographica 62 (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1978), 168-282. Chapter numbers follow Dagron; headings and all marginal notes are my own. I have also included [bracketed references] to parallel scenes in the Acts of Thecla (using the chapter numbers of J.K. Elliott from The Apocryphal New Testament). Finally, since they are key aspects of the Life’s creative composition, I have flagged the INVENTED SPEECHES in the margins. Many thanks to my Advanced Greek Students at Harvard Divinity School who read portions of the Life with me: Sara Boston, Julia Hintlian, John Reilly, and Aidan Stoddart.
You may link to, share, or reproduce this translation with attribution. You may not make any commercial use of this work. Any suggestions for corrections or additions to the text or annotations are more than welcome: andrew [at] andrewjacobs [dot] org.
This composition undertaken by us is a history and an account of the ancient deeds which were performed by the blessed Thecla, the apostle τῆς ἀποστόλου (tēs apostolou), a masculine form with a feminine definite article and martyr. It has been taken out of another, older history and arranged according to its outline. It should be known that we have entered upon this task not as though we were saying more extensive or more beautiful or even more accurate than what was said before, but as a way of fulfilling our vow: to dedicate something from our meager and humble abilities to the great martyr who, because of her goodness, takes pleasure in the smallest things. We have also been eager to bring to completion the command of a pious man, of whom perhaps I shall make some mention throughout my composition. The author gives his patron’s name below (Achaius) and mentions him again in the final chapter. Nonetheless I should see fit to observe for the readers of this composition, in the present as well as later on, that if something additional has been said by us—for so it has been—it was not said outside the bounds of the classical composers. πάλαι συγγραφέντων (palai sungraphentōn); as the author makes clear below, the addition of prosopopoetic speeches adds a historical flair to the text, although he claims to eschew overly “archaizing expression” For while we have followed the plan and order of what was said and done at the time of the martyrdom, just through a different (so to speak) style and vocabulary, we have adapted the task previously undertaken by others and dedicated it to the greatest martyr. By interweaving into it speeches where possible, we have imparted to it (at least I think so) an old-fashioned beauty, while keeping the particular and distinct form of speech for each character. I have concerned myself very little with classicizing ἀττικιζούσης (attikizousēs), literally “atticizing,” a reference to the formal standards of Greek oratory from the second century onward vocabulary or archaizing expression, only truth and clarity, and we have paid attention to the order of things, so that no one should be at all ignorant of what was said or done by the apostle and martyr, nor additionally of the things said or done by others because of her.
Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Thucydides the Athenian, and whoever after them was among those who composed ancient or recent histories, each affirmed that they came upon their task of composition based on their own decision and willingness. But as for me, I came upon the history of the apostle and martyr Thecla after being frequently incited by a divine message and urged by the advice of the best of men—I mean Achaius, the best and wisest of all. Not out of fear that these things would become obsolete or obscure as time went on—for the deeds of the saints remain always secure, steadfast, and immortal, preserved by God for his eternal fame and for the benefit of the people still living on earth—but so that we might adorn ourselves and them through this sacred task, and so that we might fulfill that vow which we brought forth long ago; literally, “gave birth to," ὠδίνομεν (ōdinomen); the author uses this image again in his final chapter and so we might make evident to the people afterward the man who commanded us to do these things. This is also what the wondrous Luke was seen to have done in the divine Gospel and in the book concerning the apostles, affixing Theophilus at the beginning, to whom also he dedicated the task of the divine composition (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). Now I shall begin here the virginal history.
The Word of God was born from God and the Father from the beginning and from the time when he was the Father—for there was never a time when he was not the Father, being eternally with the Son and eternally abiding with each other, the Father with the Son, the Son with the Father, light with light, eternally living water with eternally living spring; and he was born and became incarnate from the holy Virgin Mary, eternally unwed, ἀείπαιδος (aeipaidos), literally “eternally a child,” used of Mary and ancient ascetics to show lifelong chastity in recent days, and he dwelled on earth for the salvation of the human race, which is why he became a human. The circle of apostles was established by Christ himself while he was still giving commands on the earth; but the many and countless flocks of martyrs sprouted up and proliferated after the ascent of the Christ himself into heaven. In this time Thecla lived, not after many men and women martyrs but she was the second one immediately after the apostles and Stephen the martyr, whom the word of truth recognized first; but she was the first among women. As a result Stephen leads the way among men fighting on behalf of Christ and because of Christ, while Thecla leads among women, contending in similar contests. Thus do they excel.
Paul in Iconium
The divinely-sounding θεσπέσιος (thespesios) may mean simply “divine,” but in the context of how Thecla first encounters Paul the sound of his voice is important Paul, who started out as a Jew and a persecutor, zealous for his ancestral law, as he himself says somewhere (cf. Gal 1:13-14), but who was found worthy of divine baptism, of preaching, and of being an apostle—just as we have learned from the blessed Luke (cf. Acts 9)—was then engaging in his apostolic course. Now this Paul was racing around the world for the instruction, κατηχήσει (katēchēsei), “catechesis” or religious instruction calling, and salvation of the gentiles and he was in the area of Iconium to preach piety there. [ATh 1] This is a city of Lycaonia, not very far from Oriens, but rather bordering a part of Asia and lying on the outskirts of the territory of Pisidia and Phrygia. Having come there, and having been found worthy of hospitality of Onesiphorus The Life omits a scene (ATh 2-4) where Onesiphorus goes out to meet Paul on the road, including a famous description there of Paul as “small, bald, bow-legged, unibrowed, hook-nosed.” and having been kindly received as a guest, he was also the neighbor of the virgin Thecla. In the Acts Thecla does not appear until after Paul’s preaching. Unwittingly and without intending it, he was guided by the Holy Spirit so that, from so close a proximity and unseen, Paul might convey the faith to the virgin and he might emit and radiate down the rays of piety to the girl still sitting under the gloom of error. Indeed, this is what happened. For while he was teaching in Onesiphorus’s home, and many were listening, gathered together for this and because of this, the virgin—
—who started out from a noble family, from among those exceedingly distinguished by nobility, wealth, and beauty
—who was already old enough to marry
—who frequently incited distress and quarrels among many of the well-born young men (on account of what always incites distress and quarrels for well-born young men in love who want to marry the most beautiful and best woman)
—but who was now, through her mother Theocleia, engaged to Thamyris, a man more well-born than the sort of well-born men who were found throughout that city, who was superior to all others in all things
—while her nuptials were still in a state of delay and postponement, the virgin was by one of the windows in her home which was next to another widow that was in another house, that of Onesiphorus, and this is how she heard Paul’s voice.
At first she was awestruck, as she was hearing a strange and unfamiliar sound (just as Christ wanted, so that such a pretty thing might be ensnared). And as she was attending to these words of the divine address, immediately she was stung in her soul by his statements and she was transfixed to the window as if by the iron nails of Paul’s words. The image of being nailed down by another's words evokes magic spells (defixiones or katadesmata) used to “bind” another to one’s will. My thanks to Sarah Porter for pointing this allusion out to me.
[ATh 5-6] What sorts of things was Paul saying? PAUL: PREACHING ON PURITY
“Men, you have gathered together to hear some strange and impossible thing from me, a strange preacher, and while I shall truly say strange and impossible things, they are nevertheless divine and salvific; they are things I have learned from the Word of God himself, who was born and appeared on earth in a human form and nature and instructed us in this angelic and heavenly way of life. πολιτεία (politeia)
“How blessed In the Acts of Thecla Paul also delivers a series of “beatitudes” formally reminiscent of Matthew 5 but focused on bodily purity and angelic life; the Life eschews the simple form “blessed is the one who…” opting instead for increasingly complex formulations using “blessed.” is that one who is a genuine contemplator of God, who keeps his soul free from human evils, undiluted, unmixed, and unsullied!
“Blessed also is that one who does not abandon his flesh to the most shameful of the pleasures, as he will gaze unimpeded upon God forever!
“He is no less blessed who, having been born according to the law of nature, proceeds through life as if he were never born at all, pure and undefiled, and enjoying this life only insofar as to enjoy the best things which are pleasing to God, but not enjoying the worst things which upset God.
“I say that this is very good and procuring the same blessedness: choosing marriage and pitching a wedding tent, just as God commanded it, but having enjoyment of wives only so as to give life to others from them and in their stead: certainly this differs in no way from virginity in terms of dignity. Paul’s beatitudes in the Acts of Thecla make no such concession to chaste marriage only for reproduction.
“Then again someone might say that they share in the same blessedness who, out of reverence and fear of the divine, take care for the chastity of their souls and bodies, who take care for an intact virginity, the best of all things, and who imitate the life of angels while on earth, such that they might share completely in the same freedom from passion and the same portion.
“By much more still and besides I think they are blessed who also keep intact and inviolate the grace of their baptism, and who do not contaminate the garment of Christ through shameful deeds or words, but preserve it in the same conditions in which they received it from the beginning until the end. Yet still I have considered them worthy of imitation who take thought for the self-sufficiency the very rare word ἀνενδείας (anendeias) here does not make a lot of sense; some manuscripts have ἐνδείας (endeias), which would render “take thought for the deprivations of…” of the needy and the poor, and seek after the same mercy from the greatest God.
“But before all of these, it is necessary to keep faith in Christ and affection for him always undiminished, unshakeable, unwavering, unchanging, and without stumbling. While the head of the virtues is always unwavering and unchanging, the whole body of piety will also be healthy, and it will easily head straight to heaven, and there it will share then in the kingdom and glory and portion, and will have the enjoyment of those divine and intact crowns and rewards: most blessed is the one who attains these, while the one who misses the mark is the most pitiable, I suppose, and truly worthy of punishments in Death.”
So, speaking and advising, divinely-sounding Paul made clear such things to all those citizens who were continually present; as a result he led each of those who were listening—whether men or women—into a great and boundless desire for his words of piety. The house was overflowing with a great throng and that street was overflowing with men as well as women, as well as the young and the old, all with pleasure neglecting food or drink and neglecting their work in their homes and in the marketplace, hanging upon only the speech and the teaching of Paul.
Thecla enchanted by Paul
That virgin stayed in her home and was still held to that most beloved window: [ATh 7] for the modesty of her age, and the law that those who were still virgins must not be out and about but keep quiet inside, still constrained her noble desire and persuaded her to stay inside; although she felt sick and irritable, she had no idea what she might do. While they were present and listening, she who was not there and had not seen Paul was caught instead by Paul’s words; and she was held fast to the window, as if it were administering that most beloved voice to her and rendering her in no way inferior to those who were looking upon him and standing around Paul.
So the girl was somber and determined; she was by no means willing to step away from the window or have a share of food or water or to beautify the neglected parts of her body, as is the custom for girls, with clothing and dabs of perfumes and colorful make-up and braided hair. This worried Theocleia—whom the story knows is the girl’s mother— An odd aside, as the author had mentioned Thecla’s mother by name in chapter 1, suggesting perhaps some cutting and pasting. The names Thecla and Theocleia are related; usually Thecla is understood as a diminutive of Theocleia, but Dagron wonders whether Thecla might be an “indigenous name” elaborated and Hellenized into Theocleia. and led her to an ignoble suspicion and fearfulness. That she was so excited about the stranger and had abandoned all the things that were both necessary and pleasant of life engendered the unfair suspicion that might be expected for those who were unfamiliar with the matter. And so, as quickly as she could, her mother sent for Thamyris, as he alone might be able to persuade and convince the girl who was engaged to him.
For even so, as is often the case, before the mingling and intercourse take place, a certain desire throughout this section “desire” translates forms of the Greek ἔρως (erōs) has come to be born for those who have as yet only been joined together verbally. The young man desires the girl, of whom he has not yet had any experience, and the young lady desires the boy; before the wedding feast and the bridal chamber, she engages with him as if with a husband, although she is not wed to him; and although the wedding is yet to come, a certain pleasure and a gracious delight creep up in their respective thoughts. And before the marriage-bed, as seems natural, they engage with what comes after the marriage-bed. [ATh 8] So then Thamyris came when he was summoned. He was dreaming of what he hoped for, and because of this running eagerly, but he found what he had not hoped for, and because of this laid blame on his haste. For immediately Theocleia addressed such words to him:
[ATh 9] THEOCLEIA: PLEA TO THAMYRIS “My shame precedes my words, Thamyris, along with my tears, and I feel shame before saying anything and I cannot bear the insult against my child at what I’m going to say. Nevertheless, then, hear about this calamity from someone who doesn’t want to speak of it! For your Thecla has gone beyond our prayers and hopes for her; she spurns me, her mother; she spurns you, her fiancé; she doesn’t want to know anything about what’s going on in her own house. She desires some stranger, a swindler and drifter, who is occupying the house next door—to the detriment of our house!—so that he may leave after he takes her as his prisoner, as if out of some mill-house or brothel. ἐκ μυλῶνος ἢ τέγους τινός (ek mulōnos ē tegous tinos); clearly some idiom, presumably for places where lower-class or enslaved women could be assaulted with impunity So then hurry up and rush to her, Thamyris, and snatch her away from his clutches while she gazes at another man; call her back to us and preserve the ancient good fortune of your family and mine. Let us not become some shameful tale, a most wicked story for all humankind. Use tender and complimentary words on her, and, as if with some oil, soften the unyielding and defiant nature of her soul with flattery. This willful and rigid attitude would never know how to yield to force, but could instead be relaxed by persuasion and appeasing words. So go to her graciously and with compliments, and perhaps you will draw her back to you and restore her once more to freedom and order and to the modesty and temperance σωφροσύνην (sōphrosunēn); a cardinal virtue which in men usually signifies self-mastery and restraint and in women sexual modesty or chastity befitting to virgins and girls.”
As Theocleia said these things and implored him, immediately Thamyris was filled with a whirling dizziness and he sank from immeasurable joy to immeasurable grief. Nevertheless he went in to the virgin, [ATh 10] downcast, timid, and tearful, still at a loss as to what he might say to her; while scarcely bearing up his grief he said such things to her:
“I THAMYRIS: PLEA TO THECLA am at a loss as to how I might begin my conversation with you, girl most beloved of all to me! For what you’ve done now has reduced me and your mother to helplessness. What’s going on with you now doesn’t accord either with your customs and manners nor with your previous modesty and dignity. It is an assault, I think, from some crooked and evil demon, trying to turn you out of your right mind, overturn the previous good fortune of your household, and attach to all of us shameful reproach instead of most noble acclaim. Nonetheless be persuaded now by me, your Thamyris: for I am yours, even if not yet in marriage then by law and by the agreements which have I have made with you. Now turn away from that window, turn away from lending your ear to that stranger and vagrant who—I don’t know how!—has crept into this city. Let no untoward story about you make the rounds, like: ‘The child of noble Theocleia, As in the Acts, Thecla’s father goes unmentioned (although see below at chapter 11, where the proconsul may be speaking generally of Thecla’s having a father without specific knowledge of him). Thamyris here delivers his own invented speech within the invented speech of the Life’s author. fiancée of Thamyris, first of the city, but now spurning all of it: wealth and birth and mother and the noble tales of her family, still more her previous upbringing and education; she has crept out to some stranger and vagrant and the pride of the city has become the plaything of some sort of prisoner or supplicant. He serenades while sitting by one window, she has been ensnared by his songs while clinging to another window. And her mother is disdained although she exhorts her and keeps close to her at all hours; her fiancé is ignored—in a short time her husband!—as he admonishes her and pleads with her. She belongs entirely to him and to his words and deceitful spells!’ So hurry, most beloved, and flee from such accusations and reproaches; stop your listening to that polluted voice, put your modesty and temperance before this tricky and strange pleasure; now leave behind that window: it’s no place for a well-born girl and will be by no means conducive to your good reputation! If you don’t take what I’m saying as vulgar, since you are still a virgin, let us consummate the marriage we already long for, with the propitious divinity!”
Thamyris used these and yet still more such words; Theocleia was pleading together with him, forcing her daughter to be persuaded, proffering her breast and gray hair, gestures of mourning begging not be dishonored by this irrational sickness. But the virgin was entirely unreceptive to these words: she was fixed firmly only to Paul’s voice, refusing so much as to look at Thamyris or give heed to her mother as she exhorted her; but she was like those women who have been seized by God, looking at one thing alone, that to which the longing and word on behalf of Christ drew her. Because of this the house was filled with ululation and lamentation and everything became filled with sorrow and grief.
Thamyris encounters Paul’s false friends
[ATh 11] This was the state of their home when Thamyris got up and ran off from the house; he came to the courtyard door of Onesiphorus, pressing on to Paul. But he stopped his rush when he happened upon Demas and Hermogenes there. The two of them were not good men but were pretending to be. They were with Paul, whose notice they had not escaped, Since the Life omitted the scene where Onesiphorus encounters Paul on the road to Iconium, it also omitted the first appearance of Demas and Hermogenes who appear less holy next to the apostle. Unlike in the Acts, the Life specifies that Paul is not fooled by their pretense. but were to that point enjoying the apostle’s goodwill, either so that they might be improved from such an association or so that they might have only themselves to blame for the ill-advised way they persisted in evil. Now Thamyris was asking them who this stranger was, and from where—talking about Paul—what he wanted and what he was saying and doing. Demas and his friend made note of the man’s haste and anger—for it did not escape them that Thamyris was full to bursting with anger—and they immediately laid bare the poison long hidden and buried in their entrails, since now it had an opportunity to act against Paul, and they said to Thamyris:
“Most DEMAS & HERMOGENES: ACCUSATIONS AGAINST PAUL noble of men (which is now clear to us from what we have seen and what we have learned from you, for most things can be determined as virtuous or evil by sight and sound), about these things you ask us now, listen as truth leads the way! Who this stranger is, where he comes from and what sort of person he is, we don’t know clearly. But he is a cheat and a drifter, a reject from the common social order and from correct social structure and he has corrupted all things—this we know, and indeed most clearly, we have learned frequently from what comes out from that one. For he is trying, with all his might, to cast out, overturn, and corrupt the path contrived by nature for the human race from marriage and procreation. Through new and bizarre teachings he presses to confuse all human nature, laying down rules against marriage, theorizing literally, “philosophizing,” φιλοσοφῶν (philosophōn) about virginity, new terms now and for the first time expressed by him. And he tries to proclaim and introduce some sort of resurrection of bodies long dead and dissolving into the earth, a new subject not yet heard from anybody, although the true and accurate ‘resurrection’ is preserved and accomplished every day in human nature itself: for the succession of children born from us is what exists and is desired, with the image of those sowing and reproducing being renewed again in their children, and so in this way ‘resurrecting,’ such that we seem to see those who long ago passed away in the living people who are once more with us.”
Paul’s arrest and trial
While both Hermogenes and Demas were saying these things, Thamyris was brimming with yet more anger; but once he received the clearest public declaration against Paul, at present he grew calm and he turned his attention to a banquet; [ATh 13] The Life omits a scene (ATh 14) in which Demas and Hermogenes suggest Thamyris have Paul arrested by the governor. he received them as guests and invited them in, as though offering this banquet to them as the price for their accusation against Paul, so that he might make them even more eager later. Just as the day began, [ATh 15] not so much as waiting for the sun to rise, with some commoners and market-goers, δημοτῶν τινων καὶ ἀγοραίων (dēmotōn tinōn kai agoraiōn): urban factions rounded up for mob action, perhaps a creative misreading of the Acts’ clearer ἀρχόντων καὶ δημοσίων (archontōn kai dēmosiōn), “leaders and officers” and with people used to daring all things, he set upon Paul. Each of those accompanying him had anger as a weapon and the tool of each one’s craft could be found in their hands.
As “SOMEONE”: DENUNCIATION OF PAUL this went on someone In Acts 15 “the whole throng” (πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος, pas ho hochlos) calls out to condemn Paul cried out: “Let him be hit, let him be struck, let him be dragged to court, this cheat and criminal, this inventor of new laws alien to nature, roaming around for the destruction and corruption of cities, who acts wickedly and abominates marriage, which was founded for temperance and the creation of legitimate children, and who on the pretense of virginity creates evil laws!”
As he was still saying these things many others also came forth, insolent and rash men, insolently and violently leading Paul. Everything was full of clamor and disturbance and howling, as if some soldiers were suddenly attacking a town and pillaging everything. Thamyris ran with them in great strides (as someone might say poetically an allusion to Homer: Iliad 7.213, 15.306, 15.686 ) toward the courthouse; he was leading Paul with his own hand to the court as if he were casting some tyrant from the Acropolis. Entering through the courthouse gates and standing at the tribunal he began with these words: [ATh 16]
“I THAMYRIS: DENUNCIATION OF PAUL suppose, Judge, that this is proof of the goodwill of the gods and of your own good fortune: that this destroyer and polluter, residing here to do evil to the entire city, has been made manifest and has been brought under our laws. Now let it be up to you and your system of justice to render assistance to the empire presently established, and to render assistance to the laws, to be of aid to the common condition of humanity which is in danger of no longer existing. How this is I shall say in brief: The man standing here before your bench and your court, who he is in sum, where he has come from, I cannot say: for this person is a stranger, unknown to all of us. Courteous in form and appearance, as you can now see, he is producing some new and bizarre teaching against the common race of humanity, reproaching marriage, which is—as someone might say—the foundation, root, and source of our nature. Look what has come to light from it:
—fathers, mothers, children, families, cities, districts, and villages;
—sailing and farming and all sorts of crafts of the land;
—empire and commonwealth and laws and reigns and law-courts and armies and commands;
—philosophy and oratory and all the outpouring of speech;
—and, what’s greater, shrines and sacred precincts and sacrifices and rituals and initiations and prayers and litanies!
All of these things, and as many more we have left aside because of a surfeit of words, are accomplished and done through people, and the person is the fruit of marriage. This man, of whom I was speaking, reproaches marriage and censures it, and he persuades many others to hate it; he praises a kind of virginity, which I can’t even say what it is at this point, but I have heard some saying that he praises and marvels at celibacy, literally, “marriagelessness,” ἀγαμίαν (agamian); cf. 1 Cor 7 and not having intercourse or living together according to the law, neither husbands with wives nor wives with husbands, but embracing childlessness and solitude. This is nothing else than condemning everything all at once to destruction: families and nations and cities and villages and districts and crafts and works and occupations and simply everything, and, to put it succinctly, leaving the earth desolate and uninhabited. For if all people were convinced of this, quickly this human race would fail to produce life. Now I have told you what has been said and dared by him in a kind of summation. But now let it be for you, Judge, to demand punishment from him, as one convicted for the greatest evils, and render assistance to all of us whose greatest and first prayer is to take a wife, to kindle the wedding torch, to sing the bridal song, and to leave behind children, and the children of children; render assistance to that most excellent marriage, from which you yourself came and by which you gained children. By all means you shall look upon many and marvelous grandchildren, befitting to you as their grandfather and great-grandfather, should you not hesitate in your judgment!”
Once these things had been said by Thamyris, Demas—or perhaps it was Hermogenes?—standing a little ways off, responded, speaking low and rapidly: “Correctly, DEMAS or HERMOGENES: ACCUSATION OF CHRISTIANITY cleverly, and wisely have you spoken out against this Paul! But you have neglected to add to your statements the one greatest point: that he is a Christian. This is what is especially inimical to the laws, and this will place him more quickly under punishment and will lead to the pit of his destruction.”
When Thamyris had made his statement, the judge next asked Paul who he was and from where and what he had been doing: “For you are not entirely unaware of what Thamyris has spoken against you,” he said. [ATh 17] Now then Paul said:
“Proconsul, PAUL: DEFENSE AND DENUNCIATION OF PAGANISM most noble of men, I am neither the creator nor the inventor of my teaching, for which they now accuse me. Its true creator, teacher, and legislator is God, who took mercy and pity on this human race and who has now sent many others and now me, proclaiming his compassion for all of us. As a result we can dig up and yank out the illness deeply rooted in us, which long ago overcame us out of ignorance, error, and deceit; we can make public, disclose, and show to all people the evils of idolatry concealed long ago, I mean the rituals and initiations, the animal sacrifices and homicides, which have made inroads into this life through myths and certain appealing stories, filling up the world with totally impious and loathsome activity. These have by no means been spoken of nor tallied up, but are entirely unspeakable and accursed. For it is especially through either these myths or these fabrications that the God who really is went unrecognized, the one who is both steward ταμίας (tamias), a title used for Zeus in ancient Greek poetry and creator of the universe, while tens of thousands of demons were worshiped, demons of fields, of hell, and agitators; promiscuous demons, malevolent and avenging and ill-omened and pitiless, forever desiring lawless murders, forever thirsting for their share of meat, for slaughter and smoke and gore and burning fat and blood, in exchange for earthquakes, in exchange for famines, feeding on and lusting after ποινηλατοῦντες (poinēlatountes), literally “pursuing like an avenging fury” everything under the sun! But what’s even more unholy and abominable than these things: that, through these most excellent myths, adulteries, fornications, pederasties, incests, and child-corruption were being venerated and honored. Isn’t it because of these that we get Aphrodite and Ares, Hera and Zeus, Zeus (again!) and Ganymede, Leda and the swan, and the bull swimming through the sea with Io? Paul (or the author) is confusing his myths: Zeus, as a bull, swam with Europa across the sea; Io was turned into a cow by Hera. About dogs and sheep and cows and—still even worse!—cats and hawks and crocodiles made into gods, what more could one say? How do the interpreters of your polytheism not blush when they make these things into gods, and transfer them from earth into heaven? I myself have been frequently amazed, and I am still amazed! Because of these and all the other wicked sorts of impiety, God is the one (as I said) who has mercy and pity on this nature, as the one who formed and created it. He allotted us, the apostles, through his only-begotten Son in order to circulate and visit the entire world, and purify it from those evils I spoke of and those I omitted. We are to introduce faith, knowledge of God, piety, which above all are designated and certified by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy and venerable Trinity, the uncreated and consubstantial divinity, eternal and immutable, indivisible and limitless, beyond time and the universe, of the same honor and throne and glory, ungraspable, incomprehensible, on which all things have depended and to which all things extend, and there is nothing which has been separated from it. After this we are to proclaim also the coming of the Word of God himself among humanity which took place with flesh: for while he is God as he is from God and is always with the Father, he appeared also with flesh, born according to the common law of human nature, but from a virgin and unmarried woman, so that he might rescue what he had formed and created and free us from the ever tyrannical demons and, even beyond all these things, so that he might teach us holiness and temperance, and advise us about chastity and virginity and holy abstinence, and advise those who are willing and convinced to set out on the path to God through virtue and perseverance, but not so that he might require those who are unwilling or unconvinced to yield to these divine laws and decrees—for neither force nor fear could ever become the creator of virtue. Noble things are voluntary and do not come from constraint. Now marriage also is a medicine of God and an aid which has been bestowed upon the common race of humanity, as well as being an antidote to fornication (cf. 1 Cor 7:9) and a source and channel and succession of the common race, contrived from the same creator of all for salvation, protection, and longer-lasting life for human beings, succeeding one after the other and renewing the ever perishable nature over and over, until the time for the consummation and the resurrection of everything sets aside this form of the world and introduces instead a better and more divine portion. For the mortal must be clothed with immortality and the corruptible changed into incorruptibility (1 Cor 15:53), and all of us must run back once more to our former homeland and city, which place is heaven, whose architect and creator is God. I proclaim these things, I teach these things, because of them I wander the whole world, because of them even now I have come here: whoever wants to and is able, let him judge me for them and let him persecute me! For I am prepared to rush headlong into every trial and danger on behalf of truth.”
Thecla visits Paul in jail
This is how Paul replied to Thamyris, and incited no small amount of wonder at the things said clearly and frankly by him on behalf of the faith. The proconsul found no cause for punishment against Paul from the great hue and cry of Thamyris, or from his mocking and rabble-rousing speech; then again he found some of the apostle’s speech praiseworthy but other parts laughable, as if he were listening to unusual and novel stories. At the same time he contrived to create some postponement in the case and in the clamor against the man: he ordered Paul thrown into prison so he might hear from him again.
While this was going on, and that great disturbance and tempest were subsiding, the virgin [ATh 18] knew nothing that had been done and so was experiencing great anxiety over what had been done to the teacher. But when she was informed of everything by the rumor racing around all over, she contrived and executed a plan too impetuous for a girl, too masculine for a woman, and too fervent for an initiated Christian. She removed her adornment—for she had a lot, and it was worth a lot—bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and all the rest of the vulgar inventions of women, and with them she bought the ability to see and look upon Paul. For her desire for piety was leading her into more daring ideas and actions. She bribed one of those enslaved to her, one posted at watch at the gates; she paid him with her bracelets and so rendered the rogue more sympathetic and made him by this a traitor to the woman who owned him. She managed this and left the house, her heart pounding, trembling and changing color at an undertaking so daring and uncharacteristic of a girl; so she went out and, faster than you could say it, she made her way to the prison, taking advantage of an opportune moment for such stealth: for the night was deep and dark, providing plenty of safety for fugitives or thieves. Then with similar bribes she cajoled the jailkeeper—for he was a local soldier, very easily bribed by a bit of profit, and a betrayer, of the sort for whom betrayal is frequently a danger to their soul—and finding the gates free to her she ran in to Paul. Coming in and simply appearing near him, she astounded all those who were present then and she inspired great awe, such that they were all made faint; and she astounded Paul himself, since she dared something more audacious than is typical for a woman or a girl, but she did not make him completely give up on the hope in Christ. That is, despite her audacious behavior Paul still wants to bring her to Christian faith. Dagron suggestively compares Thecla’s sudden appearance through locked doors to Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to the apostles. So he addressed her and sat her down next to him; he shared divine and heavenly words he ought to share, and through them he was able to escort her and accompany her down the aisle to Christ, speaking out—I imagine—like this:
“I PAUL: EXHORTATION TO THECLA have been bound up, as you see, my girl, because of you, denounced by your fiancé Thamyris. I was in pain until the present, not because I was bound up or locked away—for at no point have I forgotten what I have already suffered, and what I shall suffer, and what I know I have to suffer on Christ’s behalf—but because I was afraid, indeed exceedingly afraid, that having been bound I would never make any use of my bonds and I would leave this city without fruit or benefit, not having restored anyone to life ζωγρήσας (zōgrēsas) may also mean “take alive,” i.e., capture and led them to Christ. But look! You have appeared, coming from who knows where, and you have relieved this fear! From what I have suffered because of you, and perhaps what I shall suffer, already I see my harvest begin to grow. I think you are the harvest, you who have just now run to me, you who hint that my crop of piety and faith is already fulsome and mature. ὥριμον (hōrimon) can mean “ripe,” like the crop of Paul’s analogy, or “nubile,” that is, of marriageable age For this very first thing—being inflamed from that small and dim spark of my words; then immediately spurning mother, wealth, family, a city of no small significance, and a fiancé of great distinction; then, having already lifted up the cross, being prepared to run the course of the good news—with how much joy do you supposed it has filled the heaven, the powers in heaven, Christ himself? As for him I think right now he is smiling down at the Devil who, once upon a time, gloated and muttered against human nature but who now will be made sport of and quickly demolished by you alone, still a tender young girl! Only let no fear upset you still, my daughter, let no trick deceive you, let no earthly longing divert you, let no fire or iron put off this noble confession. Do not have a female and unmanly mindset; do not, now that you have surrendered yourself to the King of Heaven, still be anxious about the Tyrant, that is, the Devil mentioned earlier even if from the highest reaches he casts temptation before you (cf. Matt 4:8-10), even if from the clouds he wages war against you, even if he mobilizes every instrument of impiety against you, every arrow and snare. He will use many and boundless things to delude you: through words, through actions, through promises, through whippings, through flattery and compliments, through fire and beasts, through judges and the public and executioners. If he should sense just a little your persistence and power in Christ, he will quickly scurry and scamper off faster than you could say it; he will flee from you more than from that Job whom at one time he besieged with myriads of evils, but whom he then proclaimed his conqueror. But come now: I shall describe for you in speech the Enemy, my daughter, you whom I bring forth in these bonds of mine, so that you might be able to discern him well and easily. As for this one who seems fearsome to humans: on the one hand he is audacious, shameless, daring, thoroughly depraved, quarrelsome, and belligerent; but he is also unpredictable, cunning, full of compliments, crafty in every trickery and clever in his machinations, always transforming and changing himself for all those people who fall down before him. What’s more he is cowardly, flaccid, ignoble, and weak; he knows to run away from the slightest serious threat. If he sees some Christian who is fearful, cowardly, careless, loving life more than God, he sets upon him, he faces off with him, he mobilizes every machination against him—through pleasures and through sufferings—until he has separated that pitiable and wretched one from the right hope and faith, and he draws him down into his abyss, fitting for him alone. On the other hand, if he sees someone steadfast and virile, of exalted consciousness and purpose, well-armed with the weapons of faith, such a one he approaches at the outset through compliments and flattery and some sort of artifice, gently and quietly serenading and enchanting him, and attempting to entice him and drag him down with the luxuries of this life, so that by relaxing his endurance he might strip away his piety. If he should catch sight of someone who has not yet given up, not yet given in, not at all been captured by such things, but steadfastly and firmly resisting, then he will come at him through more fearsome weapons, terrifying and frightening him, baring a sword, lighting a fire, goading judges, rousing publics, arming executioners, and preparing beasts. If he sees someone standing up to these things, the faithful soldier of Christ arrayed until death and slaughter, immediately he is undone, he gives in and shrinks away, he falls down and runs away, he lifts up his hand and admits his defeat. For the martyr, both when living and in dying, is no less fearsome than he is! That’s how he is and how he is prepared, my daughter, the one whom you yourself are going to struggle against. But, just as I said, since you have Christ as your king and ally (indeed already as your bridegroom) and you have fixed your resolve, succeed and prevail and hold sway! For you will hold sway, I know well, against every scheme cooked up against you, and through everything you will triumph over the Tyrant. Not only through yourself but through many others. For you will make disciples out of many others and you will lead them to your bridegroom, like Peter, like John, like each one of us who are apostles, among whom also you will be numbered, I know this well!”
Likely these and other such things were said in the prison, as one was teaching and the other was being taught. But once more Thamyris appeared to Paul with an even greater and more violent compulsion. For the fact that it was not at that moment apparent or evident where Thecla was fueled more ardent hostility from Thamyris against Paul. When day broke and the rays of light began to shine down, all those girls who were enslaved to Thecla and kept watch over the girl were lingering around her bedroom, as if their mistress was about to get up at any moment and make her usual demands of them, demands of the sort a mistress typically made and those enslaved in service provided. By the time sun was high over the earth, still no cry had been heard from Thecla, who was usually giving orders to her girls; the enslaved girls said to themselves and to each other, “What is this? Is our young ward ἡ τροφίμη (hē trophimē), a somewhat affectionate term emphasizing their care for Thecla still sleeping until now? Has some sort of trouble come upon her? Has illness or sudden death fallen upon her, and that’s why her voice has not yet come forth?” As they were still saying these things, and all of them were coming into her bedroom—for the time of day gave them reason to suspect something unfortunate—they didn’t find the virgin there at all; instantly they filled the house with a cry and wailing, such that Theocleia, upon learning why the cry and lamentation were occurring, became breathless and speechless; [ATh 19] then the whole city was filled with tumult, and the public with distress and disturbance, while others ran around elsewhere trying to find the girl. For they were calling the girl’s flight a common misfortune of the city.
Now while this was going on Thecla was sitting at Paul’s feet and enjoying the divine teachings with an untroubled and serene mind. In the meantime Thamyris appeared, as soon as a certain one of the enslaved household members informed him that the virgin was with Paul. Rushing in and realizing that this was so, Thamyris became even more inflamed and was driven close to madness that the girl was truly bewitched and stolen away by Paul. That she had run away, that she was sitting like this, close up, at the apostle’s feet, that she seemed as if bound to him, made certain and unambiguous at that time to those seeing them the incorrect and untrue suspicious of licentiousness. Many have often been impugned not only by a tawdry action but even by an appearance or a rather curious glance. So now this conveyed an equal suspicion to those who saw them. It was for those who didn’t know Paul and Thecla to suspect something strange and untoward against them, not knowing why the girl was sitting by him or why Paul was speaking with her. But when Thamyris observed what he would not even expect in a bad dream, Thecla together with Paul, he started to shake and was agitated all over, such that it nearly ended in his swooning and death from his excessive anguish. When a passionate rage and jealousy take hold, the misfortune winds up in plain old madness and insanity. Nonetheless, seizing Paul with the commoners and enslaved people he had with him, he led him forcefully to the court, allowing nothing unsaid or undone against Paul from what his anger wanted and his jealousy commanded. As a result Cestillius (for that was the name of the proconsul) The name appears as “Castelius” in ATh 14 for fear of Paul—for he had also succumbed to the man, and a certain longing had also entered him for the things he had said about piety—and for reverence of Thamyris and those shouting around him at what had truly been done so shamelessly and daringly—that a dignified and well-bred girl had been kidnapped and convinced to disregard all the best things and choose the shameful and most dishonored of all things—after whipping him a little expelled Paul from the city and he did not suffer anything after more violent than that.
[ATh 20] Then Thecla was brought before Cestillius, since her mother Theocleia cried out that she should be led forth and administered punishment for her disorderly and bizarre action. When she came into view she filled everyone with wonder and amazement. Just being seen she dazzled everyone with her beauty (and this was a body which had been neglected) and she filled the judge with pity and tears and all those looking in common with disquiet and fear at the way her mien and gaze were held high, proud and severe. For in no way was she conceding to those present, nor was she shrinking down, but she appeared like some young lioness in the midst of many gazelles. The proconsul deployed such words as these toward her:
“I CESTILLIUS: EXHORTATION TO THECLA see, my girl, that you are not wanting in nobility, gravity, thoughtfulness, and bodily attractiveness, indeed that you possess all the finest qualities, which I myself and all those here can surmise from what we see. I cannot say, then, why you flee from marriage, a thing which is serious and precious and praised by all alike, humans and gods. This law, to speak concisely, fills the whole world with people and other animals, and it fills the air with birds, it grants to the sea to nourish what is in the sea. Marriage is that which sets right the nature of death, introducing those who are to come in place of those who have been plundered by it, so that our human race is practically immortal, with people always cropping up who replenish the nature, order, and need of those who have passed away. It is the teacher of temperance, and the most excellent limit and guardian, forever preventing unnatural pleasures and intercourse through its regulation on intercourse. It also distinguishes the legitimate from the bastards and those not well born, and is the most accurate guide to good breeding. It knows how to protect as inviolate the founding names of families. It apportions the succession of property to those who are suitable as is suitable. So why do you run away from marriage, such a venerable and most excellent possession? For your father, who chose marriage and honored marriage, acquired you, who are so beautiful, and marriage has brought forth into light and the present life each of us who is well born. And each of us goes forth from this life utterly but introduces through marriage another of the same sort. Now as for Thamyris: he is wonderful and well-bred and not unworthy of your bridal bed and marriage. For he is also of a distinguished family, and has copious wealth, and is the most powerful man in the city. You see how he has grown mad for you, considering you his everything, and has attached his hopes to you alone. Do not begrudge yourself or him this fortunate marriage; do not begrudge the city your offspring, coming soon from you, by whom the city will be adorned, and your family will be adorned! You will not ever leave behind life without a memorial, as children always pass on to children your sort of reputation. Now if you have heard something from this stranger and old man, This is the first time Paul is described as an “old man,” γέρων (gerōn) disregard his words and drivel like nonsense and myths, or else you will blame yourself for your thoughtlessness toward them. For you don’t have the age or understanding yet to judge teachings like this, but it is for you rather to be seated with your loom and spindle, which nature has, so to speak, allotted only to women. But believe me, pass over from this empty deception and foolishness, choose better and more advantageous things, be joined to Thamyris, and become for all of us a cause for celebration and joy and splendor. I myself shall officiate at your wedding, I shall encircle you and I shall encircle your bridegroom with the longed-for crown, I shall pray for this: that I may celebrate the wedding of your children.”
But although the proconsul mildly and gently urged the girl to change her intention, Thecla did not utter any sound at all, deciding that it was not befitting feminine decency or virginal modesty to make her voice public at all, and to expose her virginal tongue before a vulgar audience. In the Acts Thecla does not speak because she is still enchanted by Paul; the Life ascribes her silence to proper feminine modesty. For nothing is so appropriate for a woman, nothing so fitting, as silence and keeping quiet. She did not share her voice at all with anyone. She stood there—if it is not audacious to say—like a she-lamb, silent before the one shearing her (cf. Isa 53:7, Acts 8:32), striving not to utter anything, dreaming that she might soon suffer something because of Christ; by her untroubled stance, without a tremor, she indicated her perseverance in the face of tortures. A great calm was over them: Thecla was giving no reply, Cestillius was at a loss as to what he might do, and the public wondered at the girl’s firmness and refusal to yield. Theocleia from somewhere furiously cried out: “Judge! THEOCLEIA: DENUNCIATION OF THECLA Why do you delay? Why do you put off pronouncing punishment for this lawless one who is no bride”– for I shall use her very words The author indicates he is using Theocleia’s own words from the Acts of Thecla in this phrase. –“and why do you defer and delay lighting the fire for her? Let her be burned and destroyed, she who spurns glorious and ancestral marriage, choosing instead a life of a courtesan and a woman shamefully enslaved! She has run away from a bridegroom with such a bride-price to entangle herself with this vagabond and stranger and she has inflicted the greatest shame on her entire homeland, on her family and city, and on me, who gave birth to a child for such evil, so that my life might become a tragedy!”
Deeply suffering at these statements made piteously by Theocleia, the proconsul kept an eye on Thamyris as well, as someone with great power and justly in a rage since he was deprived in this way of a most beautiful wife. Anxious about the teachings being murmured about and pertaining to the Christians, [ATh 21] he ordered Thecla to be handed over to the fire, in order that, at the same time, the power of Christ would be shown plainly and the grace of the martyr would dazzle forth, and the trouble Paul took would not be fruitless.
Thecla’s first martyrdom
So then, once everyone had collected wood from all over, and when the flame had been raised up into the upper air, she was ordered to go up into the blazing fire. As the girl was eager for this deed, she looked at the fire and then turned eagerly, with great joy and a gladdened soul, with a direct, cheerful, and unwavering gaze, and Christ showed himself to her in the form of Paul: cheering on her eagerness, stimulating her perseverance, intensifying her nature, so that when the virgin saw him (for she truly supposed that it was Paul and not Christ) she smiled a little and said to herself:
“See, THECLA: PLEA TO PAUL Paul is looking out for me and guarding me, so that, should I become discouraged and weaken, and flinch before the fire, I won’t give up the correct and blessed confession. But by Christ, who was preached to me by you yourself, Paul, I shall not betray piety nor shall I dishonor your teaching! Only stand by a little, my teacher, and call down Christ upon me so that he might cool and dampen fire this by the breath of the Holy Spirit, and he will bear up the weakness of my nature with his help!”
[ATh 22] And after these words, having first made the sign of the cross in herself, or rather making her whole self a copy of the sign of the cross by stretching out each of her hands, she leapt immediately into the fire and braved the flame boldly and without hesitation, as if it were no different than high noon and a sweltering time of day. But due to this the flame itself, forgetting its nature, in reverence and fear of the cross, became a chamber for the virgin rather than a furnace, and it did not allow the onlookers to see Thecla naked. Raised up and bent all around it formed a wall on all sides against their prurient gaze, fulfilling the need of a little bedroom rather than that of a fire. For they say that the Hebrew youths in Babylon the Great of the Medes—there were three of them—encountered that sort of benevolent fire when God tempered that fire (Dan 3:21-27). But in that case that’s all that happened, and the wonder ended; but in this case even the earth bore witness to the unnatural violence, echoing with some great booming sound, and the sky produced a rainstorm, without first becoming covered in vapors or clouds, which are believed and said to be the indications of rainstorms; this was arranged to happen by God for the honor and assistance of the martyr. This water fell from it with huge and numerous hailstones, which struck many of the Iconians, exacting punishment for their audacity in the very midst of that audacity; but it freed the virgin from what seemed to be fire.
Thecla finds Paul
[ATh 23] While these things were going on in the city, and everyone was cowering in terror and fear and were regretting and keenly lamenting the things they had dared against Thecla, Paul was passing time somewhere outside the town in some tomb together with Onesiphorus. But he wasn’t unconcerned with those struggles and terrifying events. He was exceedingly fearful and continued without food and lay prone on the ground, weeping and crying out to Christ on behalf of the girl as she struggled. None of the events escaped his notice, as he was near the city, and not a few people had been chattering about these things. As the fasting extended, Onesiphorus’s children were reacting poorly under the deprivation and long hunger—for they had nothing for nourishment, no bread, nothing to drink, no cooked dish, as they were fugitives and in hiding—and they begged Paul to let them make their way to town to buy things they needed. It was only natural that they were suffering: pain and discouragement don’t touch young children like hunger and thirst, for this is the greatest calamity for children. So they were allowed by Paul to go and make purchases; and they went out taking his tunic (there was nothing else for them to do, since they had no money). At that moment, the martyr who was delivered from the fire, still in distress because of Paul and wandering around, met up with Onesiphorus’s children, who, when they recognized her, led her to Paul. [ATh 24] She found him cast upon the ground, imploring and asking God for what he already had right by his feet.
Then right away the martyr cried out and said: “Blessed THECLA: PRAISE OF GOD are you God, King, Creator of the universe, and Father of your great and only-begotten Son, I myself thank you, miraculously freed from the threat of fire and violence, having beheld this man, my savior and teacher Paul, from whom I received the good news of the might of your kingdom, the greatness of your authority, the divinity in Trinity which is unchanging, of equal power, of equal station, the mystery of the incarnation of your only-begotten Son, the boundless activity and power of the Holy Spirit, the unalloyed, genuine, and saving profit of the faith, the path of true knowledge of God, the present advantage of a manner of life πολιτεία (politeia), which is this context refers to asceticism entirely according to God and the blessed reward to come not long afterward.”
When Paul heard this he sprang up from the ground, lifted up all at once by the virginal voice as if by some machine. Perhaps a catapult? Dagron suggests a theatrical device. Being somewhere between pleasure and terror, at that point he also began to pray: “It PAUL: PRAISE OF GOD is difficult and very taxing to find a hymn of thanks worthy of your benevolence, my Master! What speech could befit your goodness, your gentleness, power, wisdom, with which you put have put everything together and rule over it—no speech could befit it!—with which you arrange things, apportioning to all of the common creation, and to each one of us, your own care and forethought! I thank you nevertheless, as much as a person can, for the salvation—strange and beyond hope!—of Thecla who is enslaved to you, and that your gift has come into being swiftly from my request, and that the tribulation of my dangers and pains on her behalf have not been without profit. Look! Through my tribulations and bonds and scourgings here a martyr and disciple has been added to your ranks and, soon after, a preacher of the good news! εὐαγγελίστρια (euangelistria), a late and rare Greek word Since it is pleasing to you, this crop of virginity has shot forth, which I know well will bear fruit for us in many myriads of virgins! For the seed of this grain is prolific and genuine and worthy of your storehouse.”
[ATh 25] When Paul had said such things, they all turned from great despondency to delight: Paul himself, Onesiphorus, the virgin, Onesiphorus’s children, such that they got hold of both drink and food, and no one was lacking in any way from what was leading to spiritual rejoicing. While they were still eating what circumstance and necessity allowed—there were some greens and bread, and water to drink—Thecla said to Paul:
“I THECLA & PAUL: IN DIALOGUE have been saved through you, Paul, and I have come to the manner of life and faith in Christ; but I think it is still not safe for me to be separated from you and to dwell in this city. That is, Iconium For you have learned well how impious and rash it is, not just by hearsay but by actual experience. So I shall follow you, cutting off most of this girlish and misleading hair, so we’ll readily be able to avoid onlookers who meddle in such matters. This altered form, I think, will overshadow what you call my beauty and attractiveness.”
Paul said: “I want to, but I am afraid of both the present time and even more so of you. The former because it is not lacking in lustfulness, and you because you have so much beauty and youth, such that it would not be possible for those looking at you to remain calm, no matter how much they want to. May no other war be waged against us, perhaps even more violent than the preceding one, which rattles your mindset and prepares it to backslide, somehow growing numb and being betrayed by this feminine nature and weakness. This war is difficult enough for men to overcome, even more so for women and for girls who have just come forth from nurseries and private quarters.”
Thecla said in return: “But I shall suffer none of these things, for God, who assisted me on the fire, will by all means assist me also in face of other dangers, even if the enemy should devise machinations more convoluted than these against us. Only you yourself, my teacher, give me the seal in Christ: for having been armed with this weapon I shall cower before no one, I shall no longer fear anyone, I shall appear superior to every danger, I shall appear superior to every temptation and demon. Only give me the seal in Christ!”
He said: The Life supplies a response to Thecla’s request for baptism lacking in the Acts. “Well then, since these things have seemed fitting to you so they shall be: as for now you will join me on this journey and, once you’ve waited for a little time, you will encounter grace through the holy baptism, which is the only undefeatable power of salvation, safety, and faith for those who have placed their hope and confidence entirely in Christ.”
[ATh 26] When he said these things immediately he undertook the journey, after invigorating Onesiphorus together with his children and sending him back to his own city and home. As in the Acts it is unclear why Onesiphorus and his family accompanied Paul in the first place, only to return home a few days later; and, also as in the Acts, when Thecla returns to Onesiphorus’s house (below, ch. 27) it seems uninhabited. But these are the things which were done in Iconium and they had such a result: wonders which are beyond human nature but are not unreasonably ascribed to divine power.
Arrival in Antioch and confrontation with Alexander
Now they were nearing Antioch—I mean Syrian Antioch, the noble and mighty, which can claim to be where Christians were first called by that right and blessed name (cf. Acts 11:26); not the Pisidian one, next to Lycaonia, even if the Pisidians should wish it!—and they were approaching the gates; there what had disconcerted Paul from the beginning befell him. While they were not yet entirely visible to all those passing their time at the gates of the city, Thecla’s beauty ran out before them like some bolt of lightning. It lit upon the eyes of Alexander; it inflamed him completely and set him on fire. As a result the man could not hold off or put off even for a little while that wickedness; but like mad dogs or people possessed by demons he rushed straightaway at that virginal and all-holy body. The passion or “sickness”: πάθος (pathos) of lovers begins, so they say, from the eyes, but the wickedness sinks down into the very soul, making raving and demented what was to that point temperate.
Now this Alexander was Syrian by birth, well-born and wealthy, and at that time he was the leader of fair Antioch, and he supplied her with every pleasure and delight. From this the greatest power of the city had accrued to him. For by nature every populace is an unsteady and unstable thing, and they mete out good fortune to those who delight them and drive them mad with pleasure rather than extolling those men who supply what is useful and helpful; as a result, for the most part they exult in those who feverishly excite them literally, “create a Bacchic frenzy,” ἐκβακχεύουσιν (ekbaccheuousin) with all manner of licentiousness and delight. Now the people of Antioch are more inclined to luxurious living, and whoever provides them with the makings of pleasures and spectacles and delights is truly a lover of city, public, and honor. So this was Alexander, who was in every way splendid and distinguished: as he looked, as he gazed upon the virgin with eyes that were neither pure nor temperate, he was seized by the girl’s power. He went up to Paul as if to a pimp or procurer; although he was in a disordered state he made use of a kind of feigned orderliness: he solicited a lot, he offered a lot, like a man about to burst into flame; but he missed his mark, since Paul denied that the woman belonged to him in any way whatsoever—if indeed it were possible to know for sure that she was a woman! Then he quite violently made a go at Thecla, entwining himself with her and feverishly pushing against her, so that the virgin cried out and said:
“What THECLA: DENUNCIATION OF ALEXANDER violence! What lawlessness! What thoughtless tyranny! What shameless and brazen licentiousness! Having fled to this city as a harbor and a haven of temperance, I am beset in her by the more ferocious waves of wantonness! For I am a stranger and unknown, but not without a city or reputation or honor. For my city is the splendid Iconium and my family is distinguished and not a little wealthy! I spurned marriage and a bridegroom, the illustrious Thamyris, and with a passion for temperance and virginity and for becoming enslaved to Christ in a most blessed enslavement better than any freedom; because of this I was exiled and cast out of the city. I am not outcast, as you suppose, because of shameful passions which are fitting for you, as though I were trading on my beauty and offering it for sale to whoever wants it. By no means! May I not bring shame in this way upon my benefactor, God, and may I not forget in this way what I promised to God, such that I make lies out of the covenants I formed with him through Paul. Do not force the stranger, do not force the one enslaved to God!” This line appears also in the Acts, as the author acknowledges in the next sentence.
I could not use more moving words than these phrases of the martyr. As she was crying out in this way and pleading with him not to do anything worse, Alexander increased his violent assault; so the virgin dared and resolved to something more audacious than is typical of a woman: she ripped at his military cloak, χλαμύς (chlamys), a more formal cloak than the regular himation that preening and enviable garment, she removed his splendid, golden, radiant crown, and she made him a laughing-stock in front of everyone. (On that site a worthy sanctuary was built to the virgin which preserves its structure until today; it celebrates and attests to this victory. Everyone who passes through and looks upon the site together with the shrine immediately calls to mind what happened there back then, and seems once more to look upon Thecla triumphant and Alexander stripped, defeated and derided. I suppose the glory of that site will carry on for all time.) The author obviously refers to a shrine at the gates of Antioch commemorating this event, perhaps one shared with Stephen the (other) protomartyr.
[ATh 27] Now Alexander, insulted and disappointed, was carried away to opposing conditions of enchantment φίλτρον (philtron), literally a “love-spell,” echoing the magical allusions of the opening chapters and hate, and he didn’t know what ought to do, divided as he was between anger and desire, inclining one moment to one and the next to the other. At last he rushed to the court and handed over Thecla, not so much overcome by his anger as giving up on his licentious deed. He might have overlooked and disregarded it, even if the insult had been much more harmful than this, if only after the insults he had been able to enjoy the passion which had so wickedly fallen upon him. But now the more ferocious cruelty and wildness of the girl made him into her enemy, since he was insulted and overcome, and he had completely failed to attain what he unlawfully desired.
Now the virgin was pleased to be handed over for judgment; she was already calling the punishment a victory and an addition to the struggles of the martyrs. But since she was mistrustful of Alexander, that he wouldn’t leave her in solitude and alone, and might take away her virginity by force—the virginity for which she had risked all this—she asked a favor of the judge: not the she would not suffer any of the preordained tortures, but only that she remain chaste and be kept pure from the defilement of fornication. For as unconcerned as she was with cowardice when it came to the dangers, so much was she concerned with the safety of her virginity. But God gave some forethought to this. From among the women who were around her—for rumor concerning this Thecla had drawn many women together—he put forward for this and incited a certain Tryphaina (as she was called): in the ineffable way of which he was fond, to always offer to those in such a state means and solutions out of intractable and unmanageable situations. Now this same Tryphaina, distinguished by her kinship with the emperor, abounding in wealth, and cultivating virtue in her way of life and manner, was entrusted with and received Thecla. She did this as she felt sorry for the virgin, at what she had tyrannically and violently suffered as she drew punishment for her temperance; but she also wanted to have her as a consolation in place of her daughter who had just died. The name of the child was Falconilla.
Display of the beasts
[ATh 28] When one day had passed, Thecla was brought forward by Alexander, condemned to punishment through the beasts: now Tryphaina followed along, not bearing that the one who had just been entrusted to her should already be surrendered to whomever wanted it. Something happened there, a miraculous act truly worth of a sign from God: the meanest lioness (or so they figured) was bound συνδεθεῖσα (sundetheisa) is here literal but once more evokes the language of love-spells to Thecla but ignored her own nature, as if she were an enslaved servant who had from the start been reared with the girl; she sat down beside her and cuddled around her feet, and took special care with her teeth, I suppose, so that nowhere, even accidentally, would she injure or bother the martyr’s gospel-spreading feet. This astounded the whole city at once as it filled all the onlookers with a certain speechlessness. The cluster of women could not bear to hold back their wonder quietly—for it is a gender predisposed toward pleasure and disquieted by fear—but they were crying out at those acting so daringly against the martyr, not insofar as she was a martyr, but as a woman suffering pitiable things and having to pay an unreasonable penalty for her temperance, for her devotion, and for not being surrendered to fornication and bodily licentiousness.
Falconilla’s apparition and Thecla’s intercession
This parade of beasts was breaking off and the cry from the women was breaking off, as well, and once again Tryphaina took Thecla and brought her to her house, no longer only because of mercy and pity, but thanks now to this one miracle and thanks to what she had seen in a vision during the night. For when evening had fallen, and Tryphaina had gone to sleep, Falconilla appeared to her and seemed to say such things to her mother:
“Mother, FALCONILLA: PLEA TO TRYPHAINA I urge you to leave behind this great grief on my account, and not to weep pointlessly, and not to wear away your very soul with lamentations. You’re not doing me any good through these things, and you destroy yourself alongside me. So beg of Thecla, who is living with you, who has become a child for you in my place, that she intercede for me before God, so that I might encounter his benevolence and gentle attention, and that I might be transferred to the region of the righteous ones. For already here,” she said, “there is great wonder at Thecla, at how splendidly and courageously she is fighting on Christ’s behalf.”
When Falconilla seemed to have said these things and immediately flew away—for this is the nature of a dream: to appear surreptitiously, to be visible and converse vaguely and ambiguously, and to fly away again invisibly—Tryphaina got up at these statements, being at once pleased and tearful: the bit of suffering at the sight of her daughter and the pleasure at the recollection of Thecla. [ATh 29] She said to the virgin, not far off and sleeping right next to her:
“My TRYPHAINA: PLEA TO THECLA child, God-given child, since God brought you here and cast you into these embraces of mine, so that you might completely alleviate this misfortune of mine, and so you might claim as Christ’s the soul of my daughter, Falconilla, and so that you might furnish her through your intercession with what was lacking from faith: pray and beg Christ the King to grant to you from his grace the repose and everlasting life of my daughter. For Falconilla herself also begs this of you through the vision which has come upon me tonight.”
When Tryphaina had said these things, the virgin, as she had a soul always ready for prayer and importuning the divinity to do what was fitting, considering both the suitable form of the prayer and the prayer itself, without delay quickly set to it. Raising her holy and completely chaste hands to heaven, this is how she spoke to God:
“Christ, THECLA: PLEA TO CHRIST King of Heaven, Son of the Great and Highest Father, who gave me the grace to believe and to be saved, who shined upon me with the light of your truth, who has already deemed me worthy to suffer on your behalf, grant to Tryphaina, enslaved to you, that her desire for her daughter be fulfilled. Her desire is for that one’s soul to be counted among the souls of those who have already come to believe in you, and to find repose in the paradise of happiness and delight. Extend this reward to her also on my behalf, Christ my Master. For behold, as you see, she has become the guardian of my virginity, she has supported me after your Paul, she has warded off for me the furious passion of Alexander, she is cooling me off ἐναποψύχει (enapopsuchei) is odd here, as it usually means something like “grow cold” or even “expire”; one manuscript variant, ἐναναπαύσει (enanapausei), “she will grant me repose,” might make more sense but Dagron leaves the more difficult reading in place in her bosom after the fright of beasts. For although she is a queen she has humbled herself for me because of desire and fear of you. On behalf of all of these things she asks for this, she desires this: that her only and beloved child meet with some repose.”
As she was praying these and other such things, Tryphaina was crying out something mournful, dirge-like, and piercing, no longer mourning for her daughter’s death but now singing a dirge for Thecla, as she was no short time later going to be caught by the beasts, with a lovely body and so great a mind.
Thecla’s second martyrdom
[ATh 30] While Tryphaina was in this state, Alexander came to collect Thecla and bring her to the animal spectacle. κυνηγέσιον (kunēgesion) literally means “pack of hounds,” and so metonymically “dog-hunt”; by this period it refers more generally to fights using animals Everything had been prepared for it and already the spectators had occupied the arena and were rowdy and casting blame for the delay in time. He said: “The governor is seated and the crowd is rowdy: give her over, I’m leading off the beast-fighter.” As a result Tryphaina, stung by these words and inflamed, cried out bitterly and mournfully and Alexander turned tail in flight. Such were the words of Tryphaina:
“Woe, TRYPHAINA: LAMENT OVER THECLA woe to me, this second and more difficult grief! These tortures take hold of me, one after another, and there is no means of help or consolation from any quarter! For I am childless and bereft of kin, and I am cursed with widowhood and have been reduced to helplessness on all fronts. But I seem to have found the means in these difficulties and in this surfeit of trouble: I must take refuge in the God and helper of Thecla. So now the God of Thecla, who told me the good news of your might and pointed out to me the true and straight path of the piety of your commandments, reveal yourself now to Thecla, who is enslaved to you, and help her as she faces dangers, and show all of us how facing danger because of you and under your care is truly good and indisputable. For if she should meet now with some succor, there is no one who will not make a dash for your kingdom!”
[ATh 31] While Tryphaina was still saying these things, some city soldiers came, dispatched from the governor with orders that the girl be taken away by force. Now then Tryphaina was unable to resist and so yielded to the force; she did not simply hand the girl over to them but, grabbing on to her hand, she left with the soldiers, filling the marketplace with her tears and lamentations, beating her breast and ululating over Thecla as if over a corpse, and calling out such things as this:
“O TRYPHAINA: LAMENT OVER THECLA (continued) wickedness of the demons! How they have greedily used these misfortunes against me! I was the unlucky mother of a single child and then, look! I accomplish the carrying forth of a second daughter, as you see. “carrying forth,” ἐκφορά (ekphora), has the connotation of carrying forth to burial And it’s harder: I conducted Falconilla to the tombs when she had died, as is the rule, while Thecla is still living and has committed no fault worthy of death. But so that she not hand herself over to corruption and impious fornication, and defile her soul along with her body, here I am handing her over to the mouths of the beasts. O violence! O tyranny! O city of the Antiochenes, which is going to be bloated with so much pollution and guilt!”
At these words Thecla, having been pierced and in great pain in her soul, let loose many streams of tears; emitting a loud, sharp cry and she too prayed to God with such words as these:
“My THECLA: PRAYER TO GOD God and my help, in whom I have trusted greatly and placed my all my hope: I left behind my homeland and spurned my mother and despised marriage, and now look and see what is being done against me, deliver me from these fearsome and untamed beasts, just as you have already set me free so recently from all-devouring fire, give back the reward to Tryphaina, enslaved to you, for all her pains on my behalf. For you see how, in order to appease you and keep me a virgin, she withstands every drunken outrage and insult. Because of her and her compassion for me I have not been deprived of my virginity and I have prevailed in Alexander’s fury against me. I take up this fight along with the temperance of which you and I are fond, caring little for the beasts, because of you, who are assisting me from heaven and because of her, who is guarding me on earth. This is part of your forethought over me, to provide a harbor among such fierce and untamed waves, bringing me through the great tempest of those beasts.”
[ATh 32] She stopped praying and a great fear loomed from all around: from the beasts, from those goading the beasts with lashing of whips and clamor, from the public's agitation and the chaos of their cries, from the lamentation and ululation of the women. For they were also there in a part of the arena and their opinion on the virgin was divided. Some of them rejoiced in what was being done against Thecla, insofar as they were lewd and licentious; but as for the others who were temperate and orderly, they were pained at what was happening, and felt pity for the city at this misfortune, as though soon after it would suffer some widespread evil over so great an evil act of bloodthirstiness. Now many of these women possessed an eagerness and an aim to perish with Thecla, so acutely were they suffering at this this terrible and unreasonable misfortune. [ATh 33] While all of them were held in suspense, gawking at this one thing, the strangeness of the spectacle, the virgin was brought in, snatched away from Tryphaina’s hands, stripped naked of clothing, so that this might be some provocation for the lions to rush against her: for the brightness of bodies always draws the attention of the eyes of beasts. This rationale for Thecla’s nudity is not present in the Acts; martyr acts often shocked audiences with the nudity of women victims. Once this preparation was made, the mean lioness was once more sent against her, such that the arena was filled with mourning and tears because of it. This most excellent lioness was displaying the fury and onslaught of a lioness, but then as she approached, she appeared more like an enslaved servant girl: not only did she not touch that holy and all-chaste body, but having laid down at the virginal feet she provided her security from the other beasts. She annihilated the more overconfident of the she-bears coming at her and destroyed it at once; but as she went out to meet with a lion who was more angrily darting out against her, she tangled with him and was also destroyed. This filled the spectators with great distress, since the lioness who was her ally was taken away from her.
But they were entirely unable to conceive that the deed that was done was a miracle and not in the nature of the beast. While what had happened before was wondrous, that the lioness would not take hold of Thecla, it was even more wondrous that she defended her. For beasts are always beasts and they have the nature they have. So then it is for God to alter them into what he wants, and to curb their assaults and render some of them as docile and obedient to the saints but otherwise as untamed and vicious to others. Something similar occurred with the fire in Iconium and, if you please, the three youths in Babylon. For there the fire was truly fire: very hot, all-consuming, destructive—for that is the nature of fire—but, commanded by God, it provided to them and to her the effect of dew and a refreshing breeze (cf. Dan 3:17-27). As for Daniel, the Hebrew youth whom they say, when he was caged up with lions, was released safe and sound from those beasts, it was not because the nature of the beasts desired it but because the power of God made it happen. But among the Babylonians, among whom this wonder occurred, this is all that happened, that the young man was not destroyed; but here the beasts chose to wage war against each other on behalf of Thecla: how much more outstanding is this miracle among us!
[ATh 34] Although this first ordeal was rebuffed, right away a throng of many more ferocious beasts was let loose upon Thecla. Now that martyr’s mind was not occupied with fear of the beasts and with their growling, but she was entirely focused on her prayer. I think that, as she prayed in interior silence, she used words like these: Once again the author draws attention to his own creativity.
“My THECLA: PRAYER TO CHRIST master Christ, how great is my gratitude to you for your counsel and purpose for me that, although I was a girl, still cloistered and unknown to many, kept for marriage to Thamyris, you brought me forth through your own Paul, and you then found me worthy of your seal and grace through him; you gave me labors and dangers to taste on your behalf, in Iconium through the fire and here through these many untamed beasts; you have displayed me in public in the arena, not overlooking my salvation but exercising καταγυμάζων (katagumazōn), literally “training in the gymnasium” my faith in you and my purpose. For all of this, not yet worthily, I thank you all the same that I have been found by you wholly worthy of these sufferings and brandings. στιγμάτων (stigmatōn), which would be metaphorical “marks” but often connote the tattooing of convicts and enslaved people Since I see the Enemy, still great and oppressive, increasing my dangers, more and more, I have been afraid, since I am weak in nature and already worn down by these evil acts, that I shall grow sluggish in the face of the rest of this struggle and remain uninitiated and without my crown and—what’s more difficult—that I shall slip away from your kingdom. If you see fit, cloak me now in death: resolve this fear for me through a baptism of death; resolve for them their toil against me. If I give up my life then they will give up entirely the violence and tyranny against me.”
When she was saying these things (as seems likely), she turned by chance and saw a pool the word used here, κολυμβήθραν (kolumbēthran), is almost uniquely used for baptismal fonts; Acts of Thecla used the term ὄρυγμα (orugma) which means something like “pit,” and has the connotation of a military trench and water and seals swimming in it, beasts who were themselves sea-going and man-eating, and which had likewise been prepared for Thecla’s punishment. Calling out a few brief words to Christ, and so saying: “In your name, Lord, I am baptized on my last day!” she leapt into that water, desiring the consummation of death and the release to Christ. The author of the Life changes Thecla’s motivation: she seeks the martyr’s baptism through death, and so gives herself up to the seals, whereas in the Acts her goal was to baptize herself, regardless of the dangers in the water. Thecla’s words are from the Acts and retain the grammatical ambiguity there: the verb βαπτίζομαι (baptizomai) can be passive (“I am baptized”) or middle (“I baptize myself”). When this was accomplished, the whole public resounded and rebuked this strange and fatal audacity: to plunge headlong and recklessly into the water that so clearly held death from the seals. While this is what the virgin welcomed gladly, only so that she might meet with the consummation in Christ, the whole populace wailed at this—too foolhardy and horrible!—and showered the animal spectacle with tears like snow. But the martyr was not neglected: for suddenly a heavenly fire flashed up and fell upon the waters; it removed from the beasts their ability to act and it cloaked Thecla, who was naked, and provided for her the requirement of a private chamber.
But even as these divine signs were occurring no reverent fear came upon the irreverent Alexander. To this throng of beasts he added another throng, like some violent wind rousing up waves upon waves; he didn’t realized he was striving to conquer the one who can’t be fought against—for who ever knows how to conquer God?—and was already vanquished. [ATh 35] Now the women spectators, moved by great compassion or even by God, contrived such a thing as this in opposition: they cast down a multitude of perfumes and unguents; by drawing out vapor through the fire they cast a spell on the beasts with the variety of scents and lulled them into a deep sleep. The result was that, although Thecla was caught among many beasts, she enjoyed great freedom among them. God did not usually use an excess of power to repulse those who were being impious without restraint, but with fleas and frogs and mice and locusts and other such things he was always fighting against those who aspire to great power (cf. Exod 7-10); instead of a serious task he makes a game out of the destruction of atheists who think they’re exalted, just as was happening here. As this was going on, Alexander was even more shameless. He said to the governor: “I have bulls, dangerous and exceedingly frenzied; if you just order her bound up to them we shall quickly see the end of her punishment.” When the governor heard this, although he was unwilling, he gave the order, displaying on his face his grief at this matter. As for Alexander, having devised the use of fire alongside the natural ferocity of the bulls, he applied it through burning stakes to the breast of the bulls. He didn’t notice that he was already vanquished: the fire annihilated the bulls and burned through the bonds and released the virgin from her bonds, not touching her at all. This clever scheme ended up as its opposite for the clever schemer and deviser against the wisdom and power of God.
[ATh 36] Even as this threat came its end, Tryphaina, losing heart at this long duration, swooned and passed out at the magnitude of her distress over Thecla; right away she was brought down from the arena to the Planks—there was a place there called “planks.” The Greek word used without clarification in the Acts of Thecla here acquires an unhelpful gloss: ἄβακες (abakes) means something like “board” or “slab” (and enters Latin as abacus, “counting-board”). Here it seems to refer to a gangway near the arena entrance. This filled the whole city at once with great fear and terror—for immediately the evil event was broadcast—and filled the judge with intense dread. Alexander was shocked and trembling, falling prone on the ground, using such words as these to the governor:
“Mightiest ALEXANDER: EXHORTATION TO THE GOVERNOR of rulers, I was the one who was insulted and mistreated in my own body by this woman, or demon, or evil spirit: I don’t know what I shall call this alien and strange beast, who even appears more shameless than all the other beasts! She hasn’t suffered from them any of the harm she was supposed to suffer, perhaps out of some witchcraft or some other stronger art and rite she has prevailed over such wild and untamed nature. Let her leave here, let her be cast out of the city, let her be taken away to others, let her then be gone and grant to others the experience of her strange and novel nature. Wondrous ruler, this fear which has shaken and rattled this city all around is not normal: that Tryphaina quickly died because of this woman condemned to fight the beasts. If she has truly died, and this becomes clear to her kinsman the emperor, τῷ Καίσαρι (toi Kaisari), “the Caesar” I am the one who shall be destroyed, and this very city will be destroyed, and you will be in danger, since you overlooked so difficult a tragedy as this. So if you are convinced by me, cast her out of the city, let us attend to the salvation of this imperial woman, if we have any reason or consideration for our own safety!”
Excursus on miracles and magic
[ATh 37] The governor, quite disturbed at these words but also pleased that he was rescued from such an unnatural and violent judgment, called for Thecla to be brought closer. He asked who she was and what she had done to show herself stronger than the beasts, perhaps inappropriately coming to a suspicion and an idea not fitting for Thecla. For to those who happen to be in ignorance of the divine and of the force bestowed upon holy people from God even the wonders of the saints are suspect. They don’t suppose these are God’s or the indications of a pious soul, but products of some kind or sorcery or magical art, judging what we do according to their consistently evil actions. But that’s not how it is. For a person performing magic μάγος ἄνθρωπος (magos anthrōpos) who wants to create something new and perform some miracle first sets upon homicide and animal slaughter and other such foul deeds: for he would not produce anything strange or unusual were it not from the abomination and cooperation of these things. If someone is familiar with Apollonius of Tyana, in Cappadocia, from those who have recounted his life Apollonius lived in the first century but was most well-known from the third-century life by Philostratus, which some Christians later purported was an attempt to counter the reputation of Jesus —to speak of the most famous of a great many such figures—he is entirely familiar with the polluted and unholy results of the man’s skill in sorcery: certain invocations of gods and of souls, calling down demons, undetected acts of wickedness, such that he was not eagerly welcomed among the Gymnosophists in Ethiopia and in India, According to Philostratus, Apollonius was welcomed among the wise sages of India but found the Gymnosophists of Ethiopia less impressive. but was very quickly sent away, since he was not a holy or sacred person, nor truly a philosopher, but possessed a great deal of pollution from his sorcery. The Julians and Ostaneses and Simons and such a coterie of wicked men, Three figures associated with magic: Julian probably refers to “Julian the Theurgist,” the supposed author of the Neoplatonic “Chaldean Oracles”; Ostanes was the mythical foreigner supposedly responsible for introducing “magical arts” to Greece and Rome (so Pliny, Natural History 30.2.8-10); Simon Magus emerges from Acts 8 to become the scurrilous founder of all Christian heresy, to whom the Life refers just below. of what might someone now accuse them? To merely recall them is to be filled with pollution!
As for a man who is holy and suited to God, living a well-ordered life, out of prayer alone, a few words, and not many tears he makes happen very easily and handily what he wants God to bring about for him.
Of this sort was Elijah, who uttered a few small things and proffered some rustic phrases, yet accomplished great things (1 Kgs 17:1). And certainly he kept performing entirely great deeds, the one who merely by saying “As the Lord lives, before whom I have stood this day, there will be rain on the land only if it is through my mouth” closed up the skies for three whole years and six months and kept it cloudless, and then opened it up and made it produce rain when it seemed right to him (1 Kgs 18:41-45; cf. Jas 5:17-18).
Of this sort was Moses, who just from prayer and stretching up his holy hands to the sky defeated an entire people in battle (that is the Amalekites [Ex 17:11]). And again in this way he ordered a sea, so great and unstable an element, to be its opposite—for he divided it for the passage of the people, and brought it together again—and also he accomplished this by prayer (Ex 14).
Of this sort was Peter, who just through prayer and a barbarian-sounding voice The author conflates Peter’s phrase in Acts 9:40—“Tabitha, get up,” where Tabitha is the name of the disciple also known in Greek as Dorcas—with Jesus’ saying in Mark 5:41 “Talitha kum” which (as Mark glosses) is Aramaic for “little girl, get up.” Since the author of Acts no doubt meant to allude to this Marcan scene, the Life’s confusion is understandable. also raised the dead (Acts 9:40); and gates that were secured and very well locked he threw open and he melted away the chains which enclosed him (Acts 12:7-10); and Simon, that notorious magos, who seemed to be flying into heaven, he drew him back down and flung him down onto the earth from that ethereal sphere. Now Rome, the greatest and imperial city, was witness to this miracle. This incident comes from the noncanonical Acts of Peter.
Of this sort was Paul, who shook an entire prison from its depths and nearly brought it down (Acts 16:26), who raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:9), and who blinded Elymas, someone renowned for sorcery (Acts 13:8-11).
So too through similar types of prayers and words was Thecla able to overcome fire and lions and bulls and sea-creatures!
Thecla’s defense and release
So then she responded and said to the judge:
“I THECLA: DEFENSE BEFORE THE GOVERNOR am as you see: a woman, a young girl, a stranger, and alone. God is my champion and my patron, and his only-begotten Son, who from long ago has existed and co-existed and been forever with his Father, but has now been seen on the earth and been proclaimed through many others and through my own teacher, Paul. So then, having confidence and faith in this Jesus, Paul in his Iconian preaching referred only to “Christ” I prevailed over the many fearsome beasts of Alexander and indeed over the tyranny and unholiness of that nobleman Alexander. Everyone who genuinely has confidence and faith in him will come upon gifts equal to or even greater than mine. For he is,” she said—it would probably be better to add nothing to the very words the martyr used, for they were more sublime and theological than you find in women’s understanding— The author departs from his typical prosopopoetic practice and cites directly from the Acts of Thecla, which he proceeds to do signaled by the repetitious use of “she said” (φησί, phēsi) “he is,” she said, “the touchstone of salvation and the realization of immortal life, furthermore the refuge of the distressed and the relief of the afflicted, the shelter of the despairing. And, to put it quite simply,” she said, “whoever does not have faith in him will not live but will die forever.”
[ATh 38] When the martyr said these things, the governor was amazed at the intensity and manliness of the girl, and at the dignified and philosophical tenor of her words; more out of embarrassment rather than pity, and amazement rather than mercy, he ordered that she be dressed in customary clothing and that she receive ornament fitting for a reverent and temperate woman. In contrast to the Acts of Thecla, in the Life the feminine ornament Thecla surrendered at the jail in Iconium is replaced in Antioch. When the clothing was brought to her, and the governor in his own voice invited her to make use of the clothing, the virgin received his words with pleasure and in response said:
“God THECLA: THANKS TO GOD AND THE GOVERNOR assisted me when I was stripped naked and provided to the beasts as food, and granted me the shelter from his light, and covered me in his glory when I was in an inglorious moment and shape; you, who merely have power on earth and have dressed me in these clothes, at the moment of the resurrection and kingdom may he clothe you in unceasing and unending salvation and, instead of these corruptible and perishable things, may he reward you with his immortal and eternal gifts.”
When Thecla had prayed such things, the governor, wanting to make her shine even more gloriously and distinctively, in his own voice and with such words, declared to the Antiochene public:
“Men GOVERNOR: PRAISE OF THECLA of Antioch: what Alexander said and asserts against this girl, it seems, is neither reliable nor true. It’s necessary not to make his anger into a judge of her way and manner of life, but instead the great marvel of the deeds just now accomplished in her case. We have all observed them in common; these matters are numerous and miraculous and truly worth of a divine sign. Her being cast out to so many and such harmful beasts—such that it often caused a great shudder because of them for those of us seated above and watching—and her coming back safe and sound, how could it not be clear even to the very stupid that some god from heaven truly shields her and fights for her, on account of her life of temperance, of modesty and dignity befitting well-born girls? You were watching just now how she stood among the beasts, reached out her hands to heaven, and drew down from there aid against the beasts—this great wonder stunned me above all else into a daze—and how some of the beasts didn’t approach her at all, while others as they approached instead were playing the part of some fearful supplicant, lying down and cuddling at the girl’s feet, and those who rushed to harm her were destroyed by their own fellow beasts. And when that great cry and lamentation advanced into the very upper air, the animal spectacle was filled with it, the whole city was filled with it, as such a great and miraculous and superior wonder, contrary to human nature, had taken place. Why shouldn’t we send her forth with fitting praise, as august, as temperate and as she is respectably enslaved to God, as the cause of divine and miraculous wonders occurring in this city, such that she has taught the women among us not to consider anything more honorable than temperance, even if it were necessary to face off against fire or sword or beasts? Have no more fear, my girl! You will no longer receive any evil trial! Should we wish to inflict one upon you you would suffer no harm, since you have been armed with invincible and adamantine weapons. But go forth to those whom you desire and wherever you wish: only establish your god as kindly and favorable to us, whoever he is!”
Thecla and Tryphaina reunited
[ATh 39] When the public heard these things, they applauded and sang out in hymns full of praise for God. Many of the women hurried to Tryphaina; they brought the good news of Thecla’s deliverance to her—how she was set free from the beasts and was hastening on to her—and as a result, when she heard these things, Tryphaina was reanimated, so to speak, and brought back to life again and wondered when and where she would see Thecla. When she did see her she clung to her and embraced her and then let loose tears of delight over her; as she welcomed her she said to her:
“My TRYPHAINA: THANKS TO THECLA child, I have rejoiced at seeing you so unexpectedly saved and rescued from the trial of so many evils. I have rejoiced even more that not only were you saved against all hope, but that I have seen the proof of the words concerning the resurrection, which you spoke so often to me, come to pass in you first of all. That you so clearly escaped death and an end already made evident has produced in me a sufficient and very confident assurance! As a result I have also been persuaded about my only beloved daughter Falconilla, that what was requested has truly come to pass through your prayer. But come now! Become the heir of all that I have! For if you have not begrudged me the good things which are in heaven, shall I jealously withhold from you these earthly and perishable things? Now come and assume the status of Falconilla for me also in the succession of property: for I think this would please her.”
As Tryphaina said these things, all the women rushed together to her house and there was nothing going on except getting their fill of rejoicing and discussing God. As a result Tryphaina’s home was a church rather than a dwelling. Beginning her instruction κατηχήσεως (katachēsēōs), that is religious instruction (“catechesis”) from this home, so to speak, the martyr by her discourse of faith made Tryphaina one of her own and not a few of those who were in service to Tryphaina, the ranks of enslaved boys and girls, and she enlisted them in Christ’s army through the seal. While Thecla’s earlier autobaptism was glossed as an attempt at achieving martyrdom here she unequivocally baptizes Tryphaina and her household.
Thecla and Paul reunited
Although there was such excessive joy over Thecla herself, and Tryphaina was completely agape at her with longing and constantly inflamed, and the city too possessed the greatest glory over her, [ATh 40] nevertheless the martyr was wondering about Paul and she had nothing else to say except: “Paul” and “Where is Paul?” and “Who will show me where he is, the one whom Christ has given to me as a governor and guide to his way of life and to the faith?” For although she was already well-known and famous from her wondrous deeds, she did not then disregard her teacher: she was still very beholden to him, understanding that these things especially accrued to her from him: faith, life, miracles and, greater and more outstanding, being completely attached ἁρμοσθῆναι (harmosthēnai) can have the specific sense of “attached to in marriage” and joined together to Christ. For once one has received the seed one must count on what comes after. While she was greatly fretting and diligently searching, she was informed that Paul was in Myra (that is the capital city of Lycia). Learning this, and without any delay, she left Antioch, putting on something more manly to wear in order to conceal with her outfit the shining bloom of her youth—for none of these misfortunes was able to bedim or obscure her beauty, but had instead made it more honorable and conspicuous by the beauty of her soul. She made for the city of Myra, separated from Antioch by no little sea and land. Longing for the teacher cut it short for her and for those following along in her longing: they were the young men and women enslaved to Tryphaina.
As she came into the city of Myra, she found Paul himself doing his usual favorite things: teaching, exhorting, admonishing, instructing through his discourse about faith. Many Lycian men and women were attending to this teaching of Paul’s. As she suddenly came near and appeared she filled all of them with wonder and speechlessness, and Paul with fear: for the previous misfortunes moved him to suspicion of other bad things. So then drawing her away at some distance from the sight of the crowd and those present—so that no one, wounded by her beauty, might become the cause of more serious matters—he asked her all the things done by her, and asked her again. As he heard about each one of the things that happened to her in Antioch, he was amazed at the virgin for her endurance, her perseverance, and her courage, literally, “manliness,” ἀνδρεία (andreia) but he was amazed at God for his splendid assistance concerning her and he exulted over Tryphaina, as she also contributed so much to the martyr in her contest. With great joy at these words, as it seems, in reply she said to Paul:
“My THECLA: ON PAUL'S TEACHING teacher, the things I have acquired through you and through your teaching are numerous and surpass description. What is a rather brief explanation of her self-baptism in the Acts is greatly expanded here into a long theological confession of Nicene orthodoxy that repeatedly emphasizes the “consubstantial” (ὁμοούσιον, homoousion) Trinity.
“For through you I have come to know God, the king of all, and his Son, the Only-begotten who reigns with the father and is Creator of all, and the Holy Spirit who reigns with the Father and the Son and sanctifies and perfects all, a consubstantial Trinity of equal honor and status.
“Through you I have come to know the equal status, the undifferentiation, and the same glory of the divinity in Trinity.
“Through you I have come to know the ineffability, the unreachability, the immutability, the incomprehensibility of the power in Trinity.
“Through you I have come to know that the consubstantial Trinity is in heaven and above the highest heaven, literally, “above the heaven of heaven,” ὑπὲρ τὸν οὐρανὸν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (huper ton ouranon tou ouranou)and on the earth and under the earth, and everywhere and over and through all things.
“Through you I have come to know that the consubstantial Trinity is in nature and condition intelligible and sensible, seen and unseen, and rational and irrational. This last pair of opposites λογικῇ καὶ ἀλόγῳ (logikēi kai alogōi) is a bit surprising; perhaps the author means something more like “understandable and not understandable.”
“Through you I have come to know that the consubstantial Trinity is in each and in all and throughout all, and it fills all and is filled by all.
“Through you I have come to know that the consubstantial Trinity is not grasped by a mind nor spoken in a word nor observed by eyes nor contained in a sound nor touched by a hand but observed by faith and worship alone.
“Through you I have come to know that the consubstantial Trinity is all-powerful, all-observant, all-embracing, without beginning, uncreated, beyond time, without end, invincible.
“Yet still further through you I have come to know the great mystery, which is beyond every rational and intelligible notion, of the birth of the Only-begotten according to flesh.
“Through you I have come to know the power of the wonders, the miracles, and the teachings of Christ.
“Through you I have come to know the cause and the benefit of the cross, the death, the resurrection, and the assumption of Christ into heaven.
“Through you I have come to know how the consummation, the resurrection, the judgment, the second coming of Christ are free of lies and deception.
“Through you I have come to know that the kingdom in heaven and the unending blessedness of the saints is without mixture and without end.
“Through you I have come to know that Hell, the fire, the river of flame, the terrors and punishments and tortures in Death are boundless and impartial. The author uses distinctly classical terms here. “Hell” is “Tartaros,” “river of flame” is “Pyriphlegethon,” one of the rivers of the Underworld in classical literature (see Odyssey 10.513, where it is mentioned with the more famous Styx), and “Death” is “Hades.”
“Through you I have come to know the delight of Paradise, the rest free from toil, the banquet free from effort that sets itself.
“Through you I have come to know the grace and power of the divine washing and baptism by word and experience.
“Through you I have learned the grace of chastity and virginity.
“Through you I have learned the usefulness of abstinence and perseverance.
“Through you I have learned the profit of prayer, of fasting, of charity.
“Through you I have learned about the crowns reserved for the sufferings on behalf of Christ and because of Christ, and the struggles and pains and, quite simply, the prizes and rewards of complete piety and a way of life according to Christ reserved for those who love him.
“These things then have accrued to me through you and through your teaching, and there are a great many more besides. If something is left out from what I’ve said, once you’ve added it on release me right away. For already the time has come for me to leave and to make for my own city, Iconium. As for you, do not stop praying and beseeching on my behalf, so that I might finish the course of piety to the end without impediment or dishonor, and that I might make for the Kingdom of Heaven and receive Christ as my king and my bridegroom, because of whom I have suffered these things, and perhaps I shall suffer again and I shall be victorious again. But you alone, my teacher, do not ever cease praying and pleading on behalf of me, your daughter. For you have begotten me in your bonds according to Christ.”
[ATh 41] In response to these things Paul said:
“Now PAUL: PRAISE OF THECLA you have done well in all these things, virgin, and through all of them the might of the faith has accrued to you; already you have prevailed in the apostolic toils and races, such that you now lack nothing as an apostle here and below Paul uses a feminine form, αποστολή (apostolē) and successor of the divine preaching. So go and teach the word, and finish the gospel-spreading race, and share my eagerness on behalf of Christ. This is why Christ has chosen you through me: so that he might acquire you as an apostle, and so that he might entrust to you some of those cities which have not yet been catechized. For it is necessary for you to multiply the talents of gold (cf. Matt 25:14-29).”
When Paul had said such things, the martyr left behind for Paul the property that had been given to her from Tryphaina—there was a lot of gold and expensive clothing—for the care of the poor; responding to these things with “Commend me to Christ!” she took to the road to Iconium.
Thecla returns to Iconium
[ATh 42] When she finished the journey and was inside the town she avoided her mother and family and her home and headed for Onesiphorus’s house, in remembrance and longing for the place where first a ray of light began to shine on her, I mean of faith and knowledge of God. Looking at the place where Paul was sitting then and teaching, she fell face-down on it and kissed and watered the ground with her tears; she declared with such words as these:
“God THECLA: PRAISE TO GOD (she said) who became known to me here and there through the good graces of your Only-begotten Son and through the teaching of Paul; God (she said) who found me worthy of the contest through fire and bonds and beasts; God (she said) who granted a shield to me from your light when I was naked, who granted me the seal and the divine bath, who found me worthy to see Paul again, so that I might once more be strengthened by words from him, who guided me back to this city of mine and to this salvific home which is beloved to me: allow me, even in all things afterward, to do what is pleasing to you and to your Son, and never to stop fighting on behalf of the piety and faith which has become clear to me from you, even if every day it be necessary for me to encounter fire and beasts and bonds and jails. As for me, every death and danger on behalf of piety is preferable to the delight and banquet in paradise: that I might only appear worthy to suffer because of you and for you always!”
Thecla goes to Seleucia
[ATh 43] So having said these things, and then having discussed a few things with her mother Theocleia about faith and conduct according to Christ (for Thamyris had already died), she hurried off for Seleucia. It is odd that the author did not invent a prosopopoetic speech of Thecla to her mother here, particularly since she does address Theocleia directly in the Acts of Thecla. Instead we get thus fulsome description of the topography of Seleucia, the author’s home. This is a city which lies at the outskirts of the territory of Oriens, presiding and having preeminence over every city of Isauria, abutting a sea and neighboring a river. The name of the river is Calycadnus; it comes down from the inland regions of Cetis and passes through the region and numerous cities. On its journey toward us it incorporates other rivers from their respective regions and locations and becomes that which we see. It ends at us and at the neighboring sea, which stretches to the east and to the south and separates us from Cyprus. The city is wonderful and most elegant, being of such a size that it lacks no grace in its proportion. So splendid and charming that she exceeds most, she is the equal of others, and she rivals Tarsus for her beauty, on account of her boundaries and Because (as he says) “one doesn’t brag about mountains,” Dagron corrects ὀρῶν (orōn), “hills” to ὅρων (horōn), “boundaries” disposition, and her temperate climate, abundance of fruits, lavishness of wares, readiness of waters, grace of baths, illustriousness of those in office, eloquence of arts, literally, “Muses” (μουσῶν, mousōn) brilliance of its public, fluency of its orators, and the grandeur of those in military uniform. On one point alone is she inferior in her great rivalry that is, with Tarsus and in a way slightly subordinate and forgoing her precedence to her: that the other is the homeland and city of the great Paul, from whom it became possible for us to have the holy virgin.
So then: having arrived at this city and finding it pleasing, Probably the oldest form of the Acts of Thecla ends with Thecla preaching in Seleucia and then dying. she made for the neighboring hill which rose up to the south and made a dwelling-place for herself, like Elijah on Carmel or like John in the wilderness. She fortified herself against the demon Sarpedon, who occupied a ridge over the sea and deceived many and led them astray from the faith through various deceptions and fraudulent oracles. She also fortified herself against the lofty and warlike demon Athena, who like a vulture (according to Homer) perhaps even now was occupying the tower named for her; to the weavers dwelling in that area and to the foolish little people she cries out and brandishes her grimy and fringed aegis, so that we might make a little fun of all those people there who, in an Athenian manner, dwell on the acropolis and revere Pallas. The first two miracles in the second part of this two-part work, the Miracles of Thecla, relate Thecla’s displacement of the demons Sarpedon and Athena on the hill that would become known as “Hagia Thekla” (Saint Thecla’s). In the third and fourth miracles, Thecla drives out Zeus and Aphrodite.
The end of Thecla’s life
Having preached the good news of the saving word and catechized and sealed and enlisted many in Christ’s army, and having performed an even greater number of miracles—like Peter in Antioch and greatest Rome, Paul in Athens and among all the nations, John the greatest theologian in Ephesus— The author compares Thecla to other apostles in their missionary territories; in the account of her miracles which follows in the second part of this work, she remains identified as a “stranger” (ξενή, xenē) who has come to liberate the Seleucians from idolatry. and especially having drawn in everyone to the faith through miracles, she by no means died, as the fulsome and very reliable story goes, but she sunk down while still living and went down into the earth, Two longer endings of the Acts of Thecla, which seem to post-date the Life, have Thecla going underground to escape ruffians sent by local doctors jealous of her healing ability. In a short version, she re-emerges in Rome looking for Paul, finds him dead, dies soon after and is buried there. In a longer version, she enters into the rock forever (as here). as it was pleasing to God to separate and split open for her that ground in the place where the divine and holy and liturgical table was fixed, set up in a round colonnade shining with silver; and for every suffering and every illness she sends forth streams of cures from that very spot, as if from some fountain of virginal grace pouring out cures from there for those who ask and beg. As a result it is a place of healing for all people, and is established as a common site of propitiation for all the earth. You might never find her shrine (or indeed, city, for now it has been built up into a city with respect to its form, its bustle, and its beauty) without locals or foreigners, with everyone streaming into it from everywhere: some only for honor and prayer, eager to offer up and dedicate something of their own to her; others for treatment and assistance from the illnesses and pains and demons oppressing them.
The author’s final exhortation
I shall produce a memorial through another labor and book, if God wills it and the virgin helps me. The second part of this diptych treats 46 miracles performed at Hagia Thekla, mostly around the author’s lifetime. For we need a great deal of labor and time for the assembly and more accurate recounting of the miracles accomplished by her, always and even until now, of which not a few miracles have been performed by her for me. No one who has ever been ignored when begging for treatment or release from ailments, or who has been deceived by suspicious and dubious statements—such as those from the most excellent demons and oracles!—or has failed to find any treatment at all has left disparaging her great reputation. Everyone, in every way, receiving something of what they request or need, thus departs singing her praises, thanking her, blessing her, such that they reckon they have found miracles and cures greater than were rumored and hoped for. O virgin and martyr and apostle, Here the author uses a masculine form: ἀπόστολε (apostole), omitted entirely in some manuscripts may it be possible for us—the one who ordered me (I mean that holy man who is your ward) The author mentions Achaius in his prologue, here called Thecla’s τρόφιμος (trophimos), also used of Thecla by her enslaved servants in ch. 10; perhaps Achaius is an officiant in Thecla’s shrine or a recipient of one of her miracles. and myself, who was convinced and brought forth this longstanding desire to produce in some form the narrative of your deeds—to find you always propitious and kindly, advocating on our behalf for what is fitting before God, being always present with us, and guarding us, and providing for us through yourself what is lawful for you provide, and procuring for us through God what is most noble and most excellent, and useful, and favorable to you, virgin, and to Christ our God who provides, to whom all glory is fitting, all honor and might, now and forever and for eternity. Amen.