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59.3.Mulhall

This study argues that the Suda’s article on Adam (Alpha 425) is an encomium dating from Late Antiquity.The Suda is a 10th century Byzantine lexicon compiled by an unidentified scholar or team of scholars that draws from a wide range of both Classical and early Christian sources. The Suda often leaves its readers to guess from where, if anywhere, its compilers are drawing, and the source for the Suda’s article on Adam has to this point been unidentified. The entry is strikingly positive in its outlook on Adam, who usually receives negative press from theologians and Church Fathers who associate him with the Fall of Mankind. This unusually laudatory narration of the life of Adam has too been unexplained. I argue that, based on the late antique rhetorical tradition and schooling, its similarity to the encomia of early Christian Fathers such as John Chrysostom in both style and content, and the explicitly anti-pagan sentiment the article expresses in a vehement psogos (vituperation) against classical learning, the entry must be an encomium on Adam that dates from the 4th-5th centuries.

There is a poverty of scholarship on the Suda in general and there has been none on this article whatsoever, which has denied scholars of Late Antiquity a valuable addition to the corpus of Late Antique rhetoric and to our understanding of early Christian attitudes toward Adam. There is an affluence of scholarship on rhetoric, however, and I have found none more helpful on Late Antique and Byzantine rhetoric than George A. Kennedy, who posits that the encomium was a permanent fixture in the formal education system of the Greek world during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages as a facet of the progymnasmata, or rhetorical training exercises, and that no authors were more emulated than John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus (Greek Rhetoric Under Christian Emperors, 218). Finding in the works of Chrysostom numerous encomia on Old Testament figures that bear close resemblance to the Suda’s entry on Adam, it is clear that, if the later was not directly influenced by the former, it must have derived from a common study of progymnasmata and is without doubt consciously an encomium.

Despite its abundant adulations, the Suda entry does not put forth any variant Christian beliefs and, when discussing Adam’s role in the Fall, attempts to retain the audience’s admiration of Adam by emphasizing the power of the Devil as opposed to the weakness of Adam when he is tempted with that infamous fruit. In order to emphasize the Devil’s guile, the author begins a psogos against the Devil’s deeds on earth and specifically against Classical learning and the Pagan gods, going so far as to call Hesiod “ὁ τῶν á¼€θεμίτων γονῶν ζῳγράφος” (the painter of illicit begettings). It is this psogos, when considered in combination with the similarity this encomium has with those of writers like Chrysostom, that suggests the encomium dates to Late Antiquity. Since the author does not support his hatred of Classical learning with evidence, but rather takes its evil for granted, one can surmise that the author expected his audience to agree with him on the matter of paganism’s nefariousness. Were the encomium written after the fifth century, the psogos would be not only ineffective but in fact distracting, sinceby that time Paganism ceased to pose any legitimate threat to Christianity.
Taking this entry to be from the twilight years of the Roman Empire, one can view this encomium as a snapshot catching literarily the culture of the Classical world metamorphosize into that of the Christian Medieval world. By taking Adam, so often treated with contempt, and making him the object of praise—something that might remind one of Lucian’s The Fly—one might wonder upon reading the Suda’s article for whom one has gained more appreciation: Adam, or the author.

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