Judeans: Kleomedes denigrates Epicurus and Judeans (second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans: Kleomedes denigrates Epicurus and Judeans (second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified December 29, 2022, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9685.

Author: Kleomedes, Things in the Heavens, or Caelistia 2.489-503 (link to Greek text).

Comments: Kleomedes (or: Cleomedes) was a Stoic philosopher who is only known through his surviving work on astrology or astronomy, Things in the Heavens (likely second century CE). Among his principal targets are the views and approach of the philosopher Epicurus. In this passage aimed at critiquing Epicurus for his use of sexually-charged language in discussing physics and philosophy, Kleomedes lists other contexts in which such “disgusting” language is ostensibly used, culminating with his claim that those who gather in a Judean (Jewish) prayer-house, like Epicurus, are “debased” and “lower than snakes.”  Although the comparison is brief, this is among the most starkly negative and violent characterizations of Judeans (Jews) in ancient ethnographic materials as Judeans are placed at the very bottom of a hierarchy, beneath the lowest of animals.

Source of the translation: Translation by Harland.


[Epicurus’] mode of expression is also colourfully corrupt, speaking about “stable states of the flesh” and, concerning this, “trustworthy hopes.” He calls a tear a “glistening of the eyes,” and talks about “sacred outcries,” “titillations of the body” and “debaucheries” and other such terrible abominations. It might be said that some of these expressions come from brothels; others are similar to what is said by women in celebrating the rites of Demeter at the Thesmophoria; and, still others come from the middle of the prayer-house (proseuchē) and the beggars of its courtyards – something Judean, debased, and far lower than snakes! But even though he [Epicurus] is like this in his words and teachings, he is still not ashamed to list himself with Pythagoras, Herakleitos, and Socrates, even thinking he is worthy to occupy the first place among them . . . [remainder of critique of Epicurus omitted].

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