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  • City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity by Dayna S. Kalleres
  • David Brakke
Dayna S. Kalleres City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015 Pp. xvi + 374. $95.00.

If we think that late ancient Christians who wanted to fight demons had to leave the city and head to the desert to wage such warfare, it may be because much of early monastic literature says so. According to the Life of Antony, the hero's true combat with demons did not begin until he departed "to the tombs, which happened to lie far outside the village" (v. Ant. 8). When Antony settled in the deserted fort in the desert, the demons cried out, "Leave our places! What have you to do with the desert?" (v. Ant. 13) Antony's disciple Ammonas warned a group of monks who were thinking of leaving the desert and practicing their asceticism in a village that city-based monks are "unable to conquer their passions or to fight against their adversary" (Ammonas, ep. 12.5–6). Monks and the authors who praised them presented desert monks as the paradigmatic Christian opponents of the demons and the wilderness as the only arena in which such combat could be successful. It is understandable, then, that nearly all modern studies of early Christian spiritual combat have focused on desert monks and the literature associated with them.

Dayna Kalleres's City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity rightfully corrects that trend: not only did demons inhabit late ancient cities, she demonstrates, but Christian preachers sought to make their urban followers engaged soldiers in the struggle against Satan and the demonic. Kalleres attributes our neglect of urban demons both to the weighty influence of monastic literature (and the influential scholarship based on it) and to a tendency of scholars who study the late ancient city and its bishops to "view demons reductively," as "a language of alterity or an othering rhetoric," and thus to present "a disenchanted and secularized interpretation of both the city and the church in late antiquity" (11). Spooked by the animism that Edward Tylor and others attributed to "primitives," Western scholars tend to play down animistic features of worlds they consider like their own (including late ancient Christianity). In contrast, Kalleres offers "a radically different standpoint … by accepting and portraying the late antique culture of suprahuman presence and power" (21). Kalleres fears that this will make some people "uncomfortable," but we must acknowledge "the enchanted and animated world of late antique demonologies" (ibid.).

The book treats three late antique cities and their bishops—John Chrysostom in Antioch, Cyril in Jerusalem, and Ambrose in Milan—in three parts of decreasing length. Part One explores the "enchanted" landscape of urban Antioch. It examines how John Chrysostom sought to make his followers soldiers in spiritual warfare against the demonic and encouraged them to thwart Judaizing Christians through public use of exorcist words against them. Part Two turns to Jerusalem and uses primarily apocalyptic literature to reconstruct the fourth-century city as alive with both demons and the hope of redemption. It then considers Cyril's [End Page 328] catechetical lectures as training Christians to see the city in this way and potentially to act violently based on that vision. Part Three focuses on Ambrose and the Basilica Crisis of 386: the discovery of Protasius's and Gervasius's relics, their translation into Ambrose's church, and the accompanying exorcisms demonstrated the superiority of Nicene Christianity (in comparison to Arians) in the struggle against the demonic.

In order to explore "late antiquity's experiential reality," Kalleres seeks a historical "style that depends heavily upon vivid description and speculation" (237). Throughout the book, therefore, Kalleres employs the present tense even for historical events of the distant past, in order to bring them to vibrant life: e.g., "Hilary of Poitiers arrives in the city soon after Valentinian comes to power in 364, and he spends some time preaching against Auxentius to the Nicene community. Soon after his arrival, he attempts to dethrone Auxentius in 364 by charging the bishop with heresy" (212...


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pp. 328-329
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