[St. Pachomius Library]

Agathias Scholasticus

VI Century
Agathias was a lawyer and public official in Smyrna, but his main interests were literary. He had received an outstanding education in Constantinople, whither his family had moved from Myrina in Asia Minor. (According to one source, this move was to further the education of Agathias' brilliant sister, who was also a writer and a legal scholar.) He was a close associate (and possibly son-in-law) of the lawyer-poet Paul Silentiarius, and emulated Paul's career. His writings include both religious and secular poetry; some of the latter is rather at odds with Christian sexual morality, although it is unclear to what extent this is the result of the later Roman tendency to slavishly imitate ancient models.

Agathias is best remembered today as the editor of The Circle, a large collection of East Roman epigrams which Constantine Cephalas in the X Century would amalgamate with similar compilations from classical times to create the famous Greek Anthology. Rather like Auden editing the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Agathias chose to include an extensive sampling of his own works, with the result that he is the best-represented, though sadly perhaps not the best, Greek Anthology poet -- something which has by no means altogether pleased later generations!

There has been a curious tendency to present Agathias as a pagan; translated selections from the Anthology often include specimens of his erotic verse, but almost never of his sacred meditations. Paganism still had a few advocates in the intellectual circles where Agathias moved, but he himself, like most of his peers, was almost certainly a Christian believer. A good analogy might be to the Cavalier poets of XVII Century England, with their blend of mystical Anglicanism and Arcadian mythological fantasy.

Agathias was also an important historian of events in his own era; his writings on this subject too have been misrepresented as pagan, despite overt Christian asides and favourable references to converted barbarians as "our fellow-Orthodox".

Norman Hugh Redington

Under construction --- far from complete! Read with caution.