Cappadocian Ekphrases of Anger

Basil’s Homily 10 is devoted to combatting anger, and theme Gregory took up later even more extensively in his carm. 1.2.25 Adv. iram. As Oberhaus has noted,1 the parallels between Gregory’s poem and Basil’s homily are particularly strong in the respective ekphrases of an angry person (Gr. Naz. Adv. iram 85-110 and Basil Hom. 10.2). I offer here the Greek text and my English translations of both passages.

From Basil’s 10th Homily

Ὀφθαλμοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἐκείνοις οἱ οἰκεῖοί τε καὶ συνήθεις ἠγνόηνται· παράφορον δὲ τὸ ὄμμα, καὶ πῦρ ἤδη βλέπει. Καὶ παραθήγει τὸν ὀδόντα κατὰ τῶν συῶν τοὺς ὁμόσε χωροῦντας. Πρόσωπον πελιδνὸν καὶ ὕφαιμον· ὄγκος τοῦ σώματος ἐξοιδαίνων· φλέβες διαῤῥηγνύμεναι, ὑπὸ τῆς ἔνδοθεν ζάλης κλονουμένου (357) τοῦ πνεύματος. Φωνὴ τραχεῖα, καὶ ὑπερτεινομένη, καὶ λόγος ἄναρθρος καὶ εἰκῆ προεκπίπτων, οὐ κατὰ μέρος, οὐδὲ εὐτάκτως, οὐδὲ εὐσήμως προϊών.2

For their normal and customary visage becomes unrecognizable. The eye goes askance with a fiery blaze and they sharpen their teeth like boars that advance on one another. The face becomes livid and bloodshot; the whole girth of the body swells; veins nearly break from the internal squall, while the breathing rushes wildly. The voice becomes exceedingly high and tense, while speech becomes inarticulate and falls forth to no end, proceeding without proportion, measure, or seemliness. (Basil of Caesarea, Hom. 10.2 PG 31.356–57)

From Gregory Adv. iram

εἴ σοί τις ὦπται τῶν ἁλόντων τῷ πάθει, [85]
οἶδας σαφῶς φημι, καὶ γράψει λόγος.
ἔσοπτρον ἐχρῆν ἑστάναι χολουμένοις,
ὡς ἂν βλέποντες, ἀλλὰ τὴν αὐτῶν ὕβριν
μικρὸν χαλῷεν, τοῦ πάθους ἐξ ὄψεως,
κατηγόρῳ σιγῶντι κάμπτοντες φρένα. [90]
καὶ τόδἔστηκαὐτὸς ὑβριστὴς σὸς,
ἐν κατόψει σαυτὸν, εἰ σχολὴν ἄγοις.
πάθος γὰρ οἷς ἓν, κοινὰ καὶ συμπτώματα.
ὕφαιμον ὄμμα, καὶ θέσεις διάστροφοι,
τρίχες συώδεις, καὶ γένυς διάβροχος, [95]
ὡχρὰ παρειὰ, νεκρότητος ἔμφασις·
ἄλλων ἐρυθρὰ, καὶ μολιβδώδης τινῶν·
ὅπως ἂν, οἶμαι, καί τινα χρώσας τύχοι
βακχιώδης καὶ κάκιστος ζωγράφος·
αὐχὴν διοιδῶν, ἀγκυλούμεναι φλέβες, [100]
πνοὴ λόγον κόπτουσα καὶ πυκνουμένη,
λυσσῶδες ἄσθμα, καὶ φρύαγμἀσχημονοῦν,
μυκτὴρ πλατύς τε καὶ πνέων ὅλην ὕβριν.
κρότοι τε χειρῶν, καὶ ποδῶν ἐξάλματα,
κύψεις, στροφαὶ, γέλωτες, ἱδρῶτες, κόποι· [105]
τίνος κοποῦντος; οὐδενὸς, πλὴν δαίμονος.
νεύσεις ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω, λόγου δίχα,
γνάθοι φυσώμεναί τε καὶ ψοφούμεναι,
ὡς δή τις αὐλοῖς3· παιομένη τε δακτύλοις
χεὶρ ἀπειλή4 καὶ ψόφων προοίμιον. [110)

If you should see one caught in passion’s grip [85]
you know quite clearly what it is I say
and what my poem shall at once describe.
One ought to place a mirror before the angry,
that they may see and after just a bit
of rage, the passion glimpsed, restrain their soul
before their figure’s silent accusation. [90]
Or if you find yourself at ease, your foe
may serve the same end as the polished glass,
for one disease has symptoms shared by all:
The eyes are shot with blood and out of place,
the hair is bristling, jaws are wet with spit; [95]
The cheeks are pale— the very look of death.
some parts red, and some a leaden blue
as though the face had got its hues from painters
who knew no skill but only how to drink.
The neck swells; veins distend and curve away. [100]
The breath then cuts and strangles off the speech;
the breathing’s manic; thence, unseemly snorts.
The nose grows broad, replete with insolence.
The hands and feet begin to leap and spring;
they stoop and strain, turn, mock and sweat. [105]
and who’s to blame? none but this demon foe.
Their jaws move up and down without a word;
their cheeks inflate, emitting senseless sounds
as flutists’ do. The hands, balled into fists,5
become a threat and precursor of more. [110] (Gr. Naz. adv. iram 85–110)6

Bibliography

Crimi, C. 2018. “Nazianzenica XXII. Variazioni sull’ira in Gregorio (carm. I.2.25; or. 18).” In Cipolla, P.B.ed., Metodo e passione. Atti dell’incontro di studi in onore di Giuseppina Basta Donzelli, 131–44. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert.

Geffcken, J. 1909. Kynika und Verwandtes. Heidelberg: C. Winters Universitätsbuchhandlung.

Oberhaus, M. 1991. Gregor von Nazianz. Gegen den Zorn : (carmen 1, 2, 25) : Einleitung und Kommentar. Paderborn: Schöningh.

Wagner, S.M.M. 1950. Basil the Great. Ascetical Works. Fathers of the Church 9. Catholic University of America Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt32b2kz.


  1. Oberhaus 1991 ad loc.

  2. To my knowledge, the best text remains the Maurist edition, reprinted in PG 31 coll. 353-372, which I have cited here. The homily has been rendered into English in Wagner 1950.

  3. P Caillau ἅλως (contra metrum) : codd. ἄλλος : ἀσκός Oberhaus.

    I have adopted the conjecture of Crimi 2018 136.

  4. codd. ἀπειλεῖ : ἀπειλή susp. Oberhaus

  5. The sense of παιομένη δακτύλοις is obscure. I have followed the paraphrase Geffcken 1909 30, who interprets the phrase as a circumlocution for “balled fists.” Oberhaus 1991 ad loc. rejects this in favor of menacing hand gestures. See also discussion in Crimi 2018.

  6. In translating Gregory’s verse, I have chosen to employ English iambic pentameter to render both iambic trimeter and dactylic hexameter, as iambic pentameter is the primary meter of both English epic (Milton) and drama (Shakespeare). I differentiate between the two by permitting more archaic forms in English when rendering hexameter, since the diction of hexametric poetry, particularly in Gregory’s day, was much more removed from contemporary speech than that of iambic trimeter.

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