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RJ. Edgeworth: False Prophets89 False Prophets in Lucian and Lewis Robert J. Edgeworth Sometimes a writer feels called upon to denounce a religious leader as a hypocrite and a fraud. The target is sometimes a specific person, sometimes a generic fictional type. The methods of attack have changed very little from ancient times to the present, as may be seen from a comparison oí Alexander the False Prophet by Lucian of Samosata (composed about 180 A.D.) with Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry (published in 1927).1 The subject of Lucian's diatribe is an actual historical figure, Alexander of Abonutichus, who flourished in Asia Minor from c. 150 to c. 170 A.D.2 His influence was great for a generation, as is attested by inscriptions and coins of the era; but since he is almost forgotten today (except by those specialists whose works are mentioned in notes 2 and 3), a brief sketch ofhis career is in order.3 1 '????a?d??? ? ?e?d?µa?t??, in M.D. Macleod, ed., Luciani Opera (Oxford 1972-87) vol. 2:331-59. Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (New York 1927). Gantry's initials suggest his status as formulaic prototype. For the date of the Alexander, see CP. Jones, Culture and Society in Lucian (Cambridge and London 1986) 148, 168. 2 For Alexander's life, see RE 1.1444-45, "(70) Alexandras aus Abonuteichos"; Jones (above, note 1) 134; also A. Birley, Marcus Aurelius: A Biography (New Haven and London 1987) 38, 12122 , 141, 149, 163-64, 256. The entry for Alexander in PIR2 (Berlin and Leipzig 1933- ) 1 A 506 is wholly mistaken: regarding Lucian's Alexander as fiction, A. Stein places Alexander in the mid-first century A.D.; this view is rejected today. Moreover, Stein refers to the divine honors paid to Alexander at Parium; but this Alexander was actually Homer's Paris, the supposed founder of the town: see CP. Jones, "Neryllinus," CP 80 (1985) 40-45, at p. 41. Cf. A. Stein, "Zu Lukians Alexandras," Strena Buliciana = Bulicev Zbornik (Festschrift for F. Bulicev), M. Abramic" and V. Hoffiller (Zagreb 1924) 257-65. G.W. Bowersock also gives a brief summary of Alexander's career in Greek Sophists ofthe Roman Empire (Oxford 1969) 71; a fuller account is found in A.D. Nock, Conversion (Oxford 1933) 93-97; and cf. Nock, "Alexanderof Abonuteichos," CQ 22 (1928) 160-61. 3 Coins: W.H. Waddington, E. Babelon, and Th. Reinach, Recueil général des monnaies grecques d'Asie Mineure 2nd ed. (Paris 1925) 1:166-70 with plate xvii, nos. 7-9, 11-12, 15-18 (of Abonutichus); 545 nos. 225-27, 562 no. 353 (of Nicomedia); 616 no. 2, 623 no. 54 (of Tieion); E. Babelon, "Le Faux Prophète, Alexandre d'Abonotichos," Rev. Num. 4th ser. vol. 4 (1900) 1-30. Inscriptions: CIL 3.1021 (=H. Dessau, ILS 4079), 1022, 8238 (= ILS 4080); P. Perdrizet, "Une inscription d'Antioche qui reproduit un oracle ,d'Alexandre d'Abonotichos," Comptes rendus de 90Syllecta Classica 2 (1990) Born in obscurity, Alexander first came to public notice as the custodian of a very large snake with an unusually shaped head. Apparently the head could be taken to resemble a human head in certain of its features. Lucian says that Alexander had put a cunningly wrought linen mask on the serpent's head.4 We can think of other possible explanations: the creature may have been a freak ofnature, or a mutation, or deformed by accident or design. According to Alexander, this snake was the incarnation of the god Asclepius. The snake's name was Glykon (Greek for "sweetie"), and according to Alexander it had the power of human speech, usually in private, but at times publicly, when ventriloquism may have come into play. Snakes were strongly associated wiüi the god Asclepius and with other Near Eastern healing cults such as that of Eshmoun in Phoenicia.5 One would expect, then, that Alexander's activities would be largely concerned with healing, especially since the second largest outbreak of plague in European history took place at this time.6 But in fact, though some attention was given to cures,7 Alexander devoted most...

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ISSN
2160-5157
Print ISSN
1040-3612
Pages
pp. 89-94
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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