Writings of Lactantius. The Phoenix.
Then she chooses a lofty palm, with top reaching to the
heavens, which has the pleasing  name of phoenix from the bird,
and where  no hurtful living creature can break through, or
slimy serpent, or any bird of prey. Then ∆olas shuts in the winds in
hanging caverns, lest they should injure the bright  air with
their blasts, or lest a cloud collected by the south wind through the
empty sky should remove the rays of the sun, and be a hindrance 
to the bird. Afterwards she builds for herself either a nest or a
tomb, for she perishes that she may live; yet she produces herself.
Hence she collects juices and odours, which the Assyrian gathers from
the rich wood, which the wealthy Arabian gathers; which either the
Pygmæan  nations, or India crops, or the Sabæan land produces
from its soft bosom. Hence she heaps together cinnamon and the odour
of the far-scented amomum, and balsams with mixed leaves. Neither the
twig of the mild cassia nor of the fragrant acanthus is absent, nor
the tears and rich drop of frankincense. To these she adds tender ears
 of flourishing spikenard, and joins the too pleasing pastures
 of myrrh. Immediately she places her body about to be changed
on the strewed nest, and her quiet limbs on such  a couch. Then
with her mouth she scatters juices around and upon her limbs, about to
die with her own funeral rites. Then amidst various odours she yields
up  her life, nor fears the faith of so great a deposit. In the
meantime her body, destroyed by death, which proves the source of
life,  is hot, and the heat itself produces a flame; and it
conceives fire afar off from the light of heaven: it blazes, and is
dissolved into burnt ashes. And these ashes collected in death it
fuses,  as it were, into a mass, and has an effect 
resembling seed. From this an animal is said to arise without limbs,
but the worm is said to be of a milky colour. And it suddenly
increases vastly with an imperfectly formed  body, and collects
itself into the appearance of a well-rounded egg. After this it is
formed again, such as its figure was before, and the phoenix, having
burst her shell,  shoots forth, even as caterpillars  in
the fields, when they are fastened by a thread to a stone, are wont to
be changed into a butterfly. No food is appointed for her in our
world, nor does any one make it his business to feed her while
unfledged. She sips the delicate  ambrosial dews of heavenly
nectar which have fallen from the star-bearing pole. She gathers
these; with these the bird is nourished in the midst of odours, until
she bears a natural form. But when she begins to flourish with early
youth, she flies forth now about to return to her native abode.
Previously, however, she encloses in an ointment of balsam, and in
myrrh and dissolved  frankincense, all the remains of her own
body, and the bones or ashes, and relics  of herself, and with
pious mouth brings it into a round form,  and carrying this with
her feet, she goes to the rising of the sun, and tarrying at the
altar, she draws it forth in the sacred temple. She shows and presents
herself an object of admiration to the beholder; such great beauty is
there, such great honour abounds. In the first place, her colour is
like the brilliancy  of that which the seeds of the pomegranate
when ripe take under the smooth rind;  such colour as is
contained in the leaves which the poppy produces in the fields, when
Flora spreads her garments beneath the blushing sky. Her shoulders and
beautiful breasts shine with this covering; with this her head, with
this her neck, and the upper parts of her back shine. And her tail is
extended, varied with yellow metal, in the spots of which mingled
purple blushes. Between her wings there is a bright  mark above,
as  Tris on high is wont to paint a cloud from above. She gleams
resplendent with a mingling of the green emerald, and a shining beak
 of pure horn opens itself. Her eyes are large;  you might
believe that they were two jacinths;  from the middle of which a
bright flame shines. An irradiated crown is fitted  to the whole
of her head, resembling on high the glory of the head of Phoebus.
 Scales cover her thighs spangled with yellow metal, but a rosy
 colour paints her claws with honour. Her form is seen to blend
the figure of the peacock with that of the painted bird of Phasis.
 The winged creature which is produced in the lands of the
Arabians, whether it be beast or bird, can scarcely equal her
magnitude.  She is not, however, slow, as birds which through
the greatness of their body have sluggish motions, and a very heavy
 weight. But she is light and swift, full of royal beauty. Such
she always shows herself  in the sight of men. Egypt comes
hither to such a wondrous  sight, and the exulting crowd salutes
the rare bird. Immediately they carve her image on the consecrated
marble, and mark both the occurrence and the day with a new title.
Birds of every kind assemble together; none is mindful of prey, none
of fear. Attended by a chorus of birds, she flies through the heaven,
and a crowd accompanies her, exulting in the pious duty. But when she
has arrived at the regions of pure ether, she presently returns;
 afterwards she is concealed in her own regions. But oh, bird of
happy lot and fate,  to whom the god himself granted to be born
from herself! Whether it be female, or male, or neither, or both,
happy she, who enters into  no compacts of Venus. Death is Venus
to her; her only pleasure is in death: that she may be born, she
desires previously to die. She is an offspring to herself, her own
father and heir, her own nurse, and always a foster-child to herself.
She is herself indeed, but not the same, since she is herself, and not
herself, having gained eternal life by the blessing of death.
Text edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson and
first published by T&T Clark in Edinburgh in 1867. Additional
introductionary material and notes provided for the American
edition by A. Cleveland Coxe, 1886.
By an Uncertain Author. Attributed to Lactantius 
There is a happy spot, retired  in the first East, where the
great gate of the eternal pole lies open. It is not, however, situated
near to his rising in summer or in winter, but where the sun pours the
day from his vernal chariot. There a plain spreads its open tracts;
nor does any mound rise, nor hollow valley open  itself. But
through twice six ells that place rises above the mountains, whose
tops are thought to be lofty among us. Here is the grove of the sun; a
wood stands planted with many a tree, blooming with the honour of
perpetual foliage. When the pole had blazed with the fires of
Phaethon, that place was uninjured by the flames; and when the deluge
had immersed the world in waves, it rose above the waters of
Deucalion. No enfeebling diseases, no sickly old age, nor cruel death,
nor harsh fear, approaches hither, nor dreadful crime, nor mad desire
of riches, nor Mars, nor fury, burning with the love of slaughter.
 Bitter grief is absent, and want clothed in rags, and sleepless
cares, and violent hunger. No tempest rages there, nor dreadful
violence of the wind; nor does the hoar-frost cover the earth with
cold dew. No cloud extends its fleecy  covering above the
plains, nor does the turbid moisture of water fall from on high; but
there is a fountain in the middle, which they call by the name of
"living;"  it is clear, gentle, and abounding with sweet waters,
which, bursting forth once during the space of each  month,
twelve times irrigates all the grove with waters. Here a species of
tree, rising with lofty stem, bears mellow fruits not about to fall on
the ground. This grove, these woods, a single  bird, the
phoenix, inhabits,--single, but it lives reproduced by its own death.
It obeys and submits  to Phoebus, a remarkable attendant. Its
parent nature has given it to possess this office. When at its first
rising the saffron morn grows red, when it puts to flight the stars
with its rosy light, thrice and four times she plunges her body into
the sacred waves, thrice and four times she sips water from the living
stream.  She is raised aloft, and takes her seat on the highest
top of the lofty tree, which alone looks down upon the whole grove;
and turning herself to the fresh risings of the nascent Phoebus, she
awaits his rays and rising beam. And when the sun has thrown back the
threshold of the shining gate, and the light gleam  of the first
light has shone forth, she begins to pour strains of sacred song, and
to hail  the new light with wondrous voice, which neither the
notes of the nightingale  nor the flute of the Muses can equal
with Cyrrhæan  strains. But neither is it thought that the dying
swan can imitate it, nor the tuneful strings of the lyre of Mercury.
After that Phoebus has brought back his horses to the open heaven,
 and continually advancing, has displayed  his whole orb;
she applauds with thrice-repeated flapping of her wings, and having
thrice adored the fire-bearing head, is silent. And she also
distinguishes the swift hours by sounds not liable to error by day and
night: an overseer  of the groves, a venerable priestess of the
wood, and alone admitted to thy secrets, O Phoebus. And when she has
now accomplished the thousand years of her life, and length of days
has rendered her burdensome,  in order that she may renew the
age which has glided by, the fates pressing  her, she flees from
the beloved couch of the accustomed grove. And when she has left the
sacred places, through a desire of being born  again, then she
seeks this world, where death reigns. Full of years, she directs her
swift flight into Syria, to which Venus herself has given the name of
Phoenice;  and through trackless deserts she seeks the retired
groves in the place, where a remote wood lies concealed through the
 [A curious expansion of the fable so long supposed to be
authentic history of a natural wonder, and probably derived from
Oriental tales corroborated by travellers. See vol. i. p. 12;
also iii. 554. Yezeedee bird-worship may have sprung out of it.]
 Remotus. The reference is supposed to be to Arabia, though some
think that India is pointed out as the abode of the phoenix.
 Cædis amore furor. There is another reading, "cedit."
 Vellera, "thin fleecy clouds." So Virg., Georg., i. 397; Tenuia
nec lanæ per coelum vellera ferri.
 Per singula tempora mensum.
 Unica, "the only one." It was supposed that only one phoenix
lived at one time. So the proverb "Phoenice rarior."
 Birds were considered sacred to peculiar gods: thus the phoenix
was held sacred to Phoebus. [Layard, Nineveh, vol. ii. p. 462.]
 Aura. So Virg., ∆neid, vi. 204: "Discolor unde auri per ramos
 AŽdoniæ voces. The common reading is "∆doniæ," contrary to the
 i.e., strains of Apollo and the Muses, for Cyrrha is at the
foot of Parnassus, their favourite haunt.
 Aperta Olympi, when he has mounted above the horizon.
 Gravem, i.e., a burden to herself.
 Fatis urgentibus; others read "spatiis vergentibus."
 Studio renascendi.
 Venus was worshipped in Syro-Phoenice.
 Gratum; others read "Graium," Grecian.
 Quà; another reading is "quam," that which.
 Purpureum. There may be a reference to the early dawn.
 Some ancient writers place these fabulous people in India,
others beyond Arabia.
 Aristas. The word is sometimes applied, as here, to spikenard.
 Et sociat myrrhæ pascua grata nimis; another reading is, "et
sociam myrrhæ vim, Panachaia tuæ."
 In talique toro; others, "vitalique toro," i.e., on a
 Genitali, "productive;" observe the antithesis.
 Effectum; others read, "ad foetum seminis instar habent."
 Cum corpore curto; others read, "cum tempore certo."
 Ruptis exuviis. The same word is used by Virgil to describe the
serpent slipping its skin--"positis exuviis."
 Tenues; others read "teneri."
 Thure soluto.
 Exuvias suas.
 In formam conglobat.
 Quem croceum. The word is properly used to denote the colour of
saffron; it is also applied to other bright colours.
 Sub cortice lævi; the common reading is "sub sidere cæli."
 Clarum insigne; others read, "aurum...insigneque."
 Ceu; others read, "seu."
 Gemmea cuspis. Her beak is of horn, but bright and transparent
as a gem.
 Ingentes oculi; others read, "oculos."
 Hyacinthos; gems of this colour.
 i.e., the rays of the sun.
 Roseus; others read, "roseo honore."
 The pheasant.
 Magniciem. Some take this as denoting the name of a bird, but
no such bird is known.
 Pergrave pondus; others read, "per grave pondus," by reason of
the heavy weight.
 Se exhibet; others read "se probat."
 Tanti ad miracula visus. [Deut. iv. 17.]
 Inde; others read, "ille," but the allusion is very obscure.
 Fili, "the thread," i.e. of fate.
 Colit. [Badger's Nestorians, vol. i. p. 122.]
A Poem on the Passion of the Lord
Formerly Ascribed to Lactantius
Whoever you are who approach, and are entering the precincts  of
the middle of the temple, stop a little and look upon me, who, though
innocent, suffered for your crime; lay me up in your mind, keep me in
your breast. I am He who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men, came
hither as a messenger  of offered peace, and as a full atonement
 for the fault of men.  Here the brightest light from
above is restored to the earth; here is the merciful image of safety;
here I am a rest to you, the right way, the true redemption, the
banner  of God, and a memorable sign of fate. It was on account
of you and your life that I entered the Virgin's womb, was made man,
and suffered a dreadful death; nor did I find rest anywhere in the
regions of the earth, but everywhere threats, everywhere labours.
First of all a wretched dwelling  in the land of Judæa was a
shelter for me at my birth, and for my mother with me: here first,
amidst the outstretched sluggish cattle, dry grass gave me a bed in a
narrow stall. I passed my earliest years in the Pharian 
regions, being an exile in the reign of Herod; and after my return to
Judæa I spent the rest of my years, always engaged  in fastings,
and the extremity of poverty itself, and the lowest circumstances;
always by healthful admonitions applying the minds of men to the
pursuit of genial uprightness, uniting with wholesome teaching many
evident miracles: on which account impious Jerusalem, harassed by the
raging cares of envy and cruel hatred, and blinded by madness, dared
to seek for me, though innocent, by deadly punishment, a cruel death
on the dreadful cross. And if you yourself wish to discriminate these
things more fully,  and if it delights you to go through all my
groans, and to experience griefs with me, put together  the
designs and plots, and the impious price of my innocent blood, and the
pretended kisses of a disciple,  and the insults and strivings
of the cruel multitude; and, moreover, the blows, and tongues prepared
 for accusations. Picture to your mind both the witnesses, and
the accursed  judgment of the blinded Pilate, and the immense
cross pressing my shoulders and wearied back, and my painful steps to
a dreadful death. Now survey me from head to foot, deserted as I am,
and lifted up afar from my beloved mother. Behold and see my locks
clotted with blood, and my blood-stained neck under my very hair, and
my head drained  with cruel thorns, and pouring down like rain
 from all sides a stream  of blood over my divine face.
Survey my compressed and sightless eyes, and my afflicted cheeks; see
my parched tongue poisoned with gall, and my countenance pale with
death. Behold my hands pierced with nails, and my arms drawn out, and
the great wound in my side; see the blood streaming from it, and my
perforated  feet, and blood-stained limbs. Bend your knee, and
with lamentation adore the venerable wood of the cross, and with lowly
countenance stooping  to the earth, which is wet with innocent
blood, sprinkle it with rising tears, and at times  bear me and
my admonitions in your devoted heart. Follow the footsteps of my life,
and while you look upon my torments and cruel death, remembering my
innumerable pangs of body and soul, learn to endure hardships, 
and to watch over your own safety. These memorials,  if at any
time you find pleasure in thinking over them, if in your mind there is
any confidence to bear anything like my sufferings),  if the
piety due, and gratitude worthy of my labours shall arise, will be
incitements  to true virtue, and they will be shields against
the snares of an enemy, aroused  by which you will be safe, and
as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest. If these memorials
shall turn away your senses, which are devoted to a perishable 
world, from the fleeting shadow of earthly beauty, the result will be,
that you will not venture,  enticed by empty hope, to trust the
frail  enjoyments of fickle fortune, and to place your hope in
the fleeting years of life. But, truly, if you thus regard this
perishable world,  and through your love of a better country
deprive yourself  of earthly riches and the enjoyment of present
things,  the prayers of the pious will bring you up  in
sacred habits, and in the hope of a happy life, amidst severe
punishments, will cherish you with heavenly dew, and feed you with the
sweetness of the promised good. Until the great favour of God shall
recall your happy  soul to the heavenly regions,  your
body being left after the fates of death. Then freed from all labour,
then joyfully beholding the angelic choirs, and the blessed companies
of saints in perpetual bliss, it shall reign with me in the happy
abode of perpetual peace.
 Limina, "the threshold."
 Venia, "remission."
 Communis culpæ.
 i.e., Egypt.
 Latius, "more widely," "in greater detail."
 Clientis. The "cliens" is one who puts himself under the
protection of a "patronus." Here it is used of a follower.
 Infanda, "unspeakable," "wicked."
 Vivum cruorem.
 Terram petens.
 Nonnunquam; others read, "nunquam non," always.
 Labilis orbis amicos sensus.
 Auseris, an unusual form.
 Occiduis rebus.
 Ista caduca sæcula.
 Rerum usus.
 Extollent. The reading is uncertain; some editions have
 Purpuream, "bright, or shining."
 Sublimes ad auras.
There is no ms authority for ascribing the above to Lactantius. "It
does not, in the least, come up to the purity and eloquence of his
style," says Dupin; and the same candid author notes the "adoration of
the cross" as fatal to any such claim. 
Of the following poem, on Easter, Dupin says: "It is attributed to
Venantius upon the testimony of some mss. in the Vatican Library."
This writer became known to Gregory of Tours, who died about a.d. 595,
and seems to have succeeded him as bishop, dying soon after. Bede
quotes his verse on St. Alban,  --
"Albanum egregium fecunda Britannia profert,"
but styles him "presbyter Fortunatus." He was the author of a poem on
St. Martin, and another, In Laude Virginum. His works were edited by
Brouverius, a Jesuit.
 Note 18, p. 327.
 The reader will be pleased with a reference, on p. 330,
infra, to the (then recent) conversion of our Saxon forefathers in
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