Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Ethiopians, Nubians, and Egyptians: Christian authors picturing darker-skinned peoples as “demons” (second century CE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 3, 2023, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=15191.
Ancient authors: Anonymous (second-third centuries CE), Acts of Peter 22 (link; link to Greek in Lipsius and Bonnet); Anonymous (third century CE), Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity 10 (link); Athanasius of Alexandria (fourth century CE), Life of Saint Antony 5-6 (link to Greek in PG 26); Tyrranius Rufinus of Aquileia (fourth century CE), Inquiry into the Monks of Egypt / Historia monachorum in Aegypto 29 (link; link to Latin in PL 21); Gerontius, Life of Saint Melania the Younger 54; Anonymous compiler, Sayings of the Desert Fathers / Apophthegmata Patrum, Systematic Collection 5.4, 5.27, 5.54, 14.30, 18.3; Anonymous, Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena 17-18 (link; link to Greek).
Comments (by Phil Harland and Maia Kotrosits): The lives of the so-called desert fathers and mothers of the fourth and fifth centuries (and beyond) were characterized – whether realistically or not – as isolated. Often these people who chose the life of the Christian recluse (or: anchorite) were picturing themselves as going to the edges of the earth to be alone with God, but also, in the vulnerability of their solitude, as a target for evil demons, particularly demons associated with sexual temptations. In fact, it becomes clear in many sources that the desert was thought to be the special home of such demons, as in Rufinus of Aquileia’s additions to the account of Macarius: “there are many demons (daemones) and monsters (monstra) in the desert whose torments and skillfulness the inexperienced masses could not withstand” (Rufinus, Inquiry About the Monks in Egypt 29). The problem is that they were not at the edges of the earth; these ascetics were rather at the boundaries of empire. And the natives or indigenous peoples who lived in or frequented the desert or adjacent regions where such Christian recluses came were a potential target for identification as “demons.” This was the case whether these peoples were darker-skinned or labelled “burnt-faced” (“Ethiopians”), or otherwise (e.g. Saracens in the Sinai, on which go to this link). The disturbing result in some cases is a relatively consistent association between darker-skinned natives in isolated regions and demons or the devil. Ethiopian women in particular were a principal target imagined as over-sexualized dangers.
An early anchorite like Antony first went out into the eastern desert of Egypt (i.e. east of the Nile towards the Sinai peninsula), where there was a long history of fearing the so-called Troglodytes (link) and other darker-skinned peoples. Many of the incidents involving demons as “Ethiopians” in the sayings of the “desert fathers,” on the other hand, pertain to the northwestern desert, particularly in connection with ascetic life around Sketis (or: Scetis) in what is now the Wadi El Natrun valley (where darker-skinned peoples under the rubric of Libyans [link] would be active).
The materials collected here not only relating to “desert fathers,” but also other apocryphal literature, show how stereotypes about uncivilized “Ethiopians” or “Egyptians” or others could be integrated and transformed for use in new contexts. More often than not demons and the devil appear in some peoples’ imaginations like dangerous foreigners who were visually different from the evaluator(s). Racializing rhetoric, focussed on physical appearance, plays a key role.
On these stereotypes, also compare the treatment of Abba Moses (link), the only “Ethiopian” ascetic about whom we hear substantial stories. Although an insider to these circles in his role as an ascetic and “father” to other ascetics, there are several episodes related to his life in these very circles that cast him as an outsider subjected to mistreatment precisely because he was a so-called “burnt-faced” person.
Works consulted: C. Luckritz Marquis, Death of the Desert: Monastic Memory and the Loss of Egypt’s Golden Age (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022); H.G. Evelyn White, The Monasteries of the Wâdi ’N Natrûn, Part 2: The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis (New York: Arno Press, 1973) (link); P. Mayerson, “Anti-Black Sentiment in the ‘Vitae Patrum,’” Harvard Theological Review 71 (1978): 304–11 (link).
Source of translations: Please see bottom of post for rather lengthy list.
Acts of Peter (in the Vercelli manuscript; second-third centuries CE)
[Marcellus’ dream vision of a black-skinned Ethiopian woman representing Simon the Magian as a demon just before the competition between Peter and Simon at Rome]
(22) . . . Marcellus slept for a little while, and awaking said to Peter: “Peter, apostle of Christ, let us boldly carry out our resolution. In my sleep I saw you sitting in an elevated place, and before you a great crowd, and a very ugly woman, according to her appearance an Ethiopian, no Egyptian, but very black, clad in filthy rags, but with an iron chain around her neck and a chain on her hands and feet. She was dancing. When you saw her, you said to me with a loud voice: ‘Marcellus, this is the whole power of Simon and of his god, which dances: Cut her head off.’ And I said to you, ‘Brother Peter, I am a senator of a noble family, and I have never contaminated my hands. I have never even killed a sparrow. After hearing this, you cried even louder, ‘Come, our true sword, Jesus Christ, and cut off not only the head of the demon, but also break every part of the body in the presence of all these people, whom I have tested in your service. And at once a man like you, Peter, came with a sword in his hand and knocked her down. And I looked at both of you, at you and at him who knocked down that demon, and to my astonishment you both looked alike. After I woke up I communicated to you these signs of Christ.” Upon hearing this, Peter was the more encouraged, because Marcellus had seen these things, for the Lord everywhere takes care of his own. Rejoicing and strengthened by these words, he rose to go to the forum. . . [omitted story of the competition between Peter and Simon the Magian].
Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (third century CE)
[Perpetua’s final vision of a battle with an Egyptian representing the devil]
(10) The day before we fought, I saw in a vision that Pomponius the deacon had come here to the door of the prison, and knocked hard on the door. And I went out to him and opened it for him. Pomponius was clothed in a white robe without a belt, having curiously designed shoes. He said to me: “Perpetua, we are waiting for you. Come.” And he took my hand, and we began to go through rugged and winding places. Finally, after running out of breath, we came to the amphitheatre, and he led me into the midst of the arena. And he said to me: “Do not be afraid. I am here with you and work together with you.” And he went away. And I saw many people watching closely. Because I knew that I was condemned to the beasts, I was amazed that beasts were not sent out against me. And a certain ill-favoured Egyptian with his helpers came out to fight against me. Also, handsome young men came to be my helpers and assistants.
I was stripped naked, and I became a man. And my helpers began to rub me with oil as their custom is for a contest. Opposite me, I saw that Egyptian wallowing in the dust. And a very large man came out so that he exceeded the very top of the amphitheatre, wearing a robe without a belt. He wore a robe of purple beneath it between the two stripes over the breast. Likewise he had shoes curiously made from gold and silver. He was carrying a rod like a master of gladiators, and a green branch decorated with golden apples. He called for silence and said: “The Egyptian, if he conquers this woman, will slay her with the sword. If she conquers him, she will receive this branch.” And he went away.
We [Perpetua and the Egyptian] came close to each other, and began to strike one another. He tried to trip me, but I hit him on his face with my heels. I rose up into the air and began to hit him as though I was floating. But when I saw that there was still a delay, I joined my hands, intertwining my fingers. And I hit his head, and he fell upon his face. I stomped on his head. The people began to shout, and my helpers began to sing. And I went up to the master of gladiators and received the branch. And he kissed me and said to me: “Daughter, peace be with you.” And I began to go with glory to the gate called the “Gate of Life.”
Then I woke up and I understood that I would be fighting not against beasts but against the devil. But I knew victory would be mine.
Athanasius of Alexandria, Life of Saint Antony (fourth century CE)
[Devil as a “black boy”]
(5-6) But the devil, who hates and envies everything good, could not bear to see such resolution in a young man, but attempted to use his skills against Antony. First the devil tried to draw him back from the disciplined life by reminding him about his property, caring for his sister, his intimacy with his relatives, the love of money, the love of fame, the many pleasures of feasting, and the other leisures of life. Finally he reminded Antony how hard it is to be virtuous and how hard the work was, suggesting that the body is weak, and time is long. . . . The wretched ﬁend even stooped to masquerade as a woman at night, simply to deceive Antony. Antony quenched the ﬁre of that temptation by thinking about Christ and of the nobility we have through him, and by thinking about the dignity of the soul. . . .
The dragon [i.e. devil] could not conquer Antony by this means either, but saw himself thrust out of Antony’s heart. Finally, gnashing his teeth (as it is written) and like one in a frenzy, the dragon displayed himself in appearance as he is in his mind, coming to Antony in the form of a black boy (melas . . . pais), and as it were ﬂattering him. He no longer attacked him with troubling thoughts (logismoi), for the deceiver had been cast out. Instead, now using a human voice, he said, “I have deceived many people, and I have overthrown very many of them. Yet now, when I attacked you and your works as I have attacked others, I was not strong enough.” Antony asked, “Who are you that is saying these things to me?” Then immediately he answered in piteous tones, “I am the lover of impurity, I take charge of ensnaring and tempting of the young. I am called the spirit of sexual perversion (porneia). How many have I deceived who meant to be careful! How many chaste people have I drawn away with temptations! I am the one through whom the prophet reproaches the fallen, saying, ‘You were deceived by a spirit of sexual perversion.’ For it was through me that they were tripped up. I am the one that so often attacked you and as often was defeated by you.”
Then Antony thanked God, and taking courage against him said to him, “Then you should be despised very much, because your mind is black (melas), and your strength is like a child’s strength. I do not have a single anxiety remaining because of you: ‘the Lord is my helper, and I will despise my enemies.”’
On hearing these things, the black one (ho melas) instantly ﬂed, cowering at his words and fearing even to approach the man. This was Antony’s first victory over the devil. Rather, this was the triumph in Antony of the Saviour, the Saviour “who condemned sin in the ﬂesh that the justice of the law may be fulﬁlled in us who walk not according to the ﬂesh but according to the spirit.” But afterwards Antony did not grow careless and neglect himself as though the devil were beaten. . . [omitted remainder of confrontations with evil spirits in the Egyptian desert].
Tyrranius Rufinus of Aquileia (translator and compiler), Inquiry into the Monks of Egypt (fourth century CE)
[Ethiopians representing demons interfering with assemblies of monks]
(chapter 29 = PL 21, columns 453-455, an addition by Rufinus) The place where the holy one Macarius [of Alexandria] lived is called Sketis (or: Scetis). It is in a large valley that is one day and one night’s journey from the monasteries of Nitria. The route to this place is not discernible or evident by any path or landmarks on the ground, but one travels by the signs and movements of the stars. . . . [We] were told [the following story] by those who had heard it from Macarius’ own lips: One night a demon came and knocked on the door of his cell and said, “Get up, Macarius, and go to the meeting, where the brothers have met to celebrate night-watches [i.e. night-time prayer sessions].” However, being filled with the favour of God, he could not be deceived and he recognised a lie of the devil. Macarius said, “You liar and enemy of the truth, what do you know about the meeting, when we are gathered together with the holy ones?” . . . Then Macarius went to the meeting where the brothers had met to participate in night-watches, and again he prayed to the Lord to show him if this statement had been true. And behold, he saw the whole assembly filled with little Ethiopian (or: burnt-faced) boys, so to speak, running back and forth and doing whatever they wanted to do. The brothers conducted themselves as usual, all being seated while one of them repeated a psalm and the rest either listened or made the responses. The Ethiopian boys ran among them, teasing each of those sitting down. If these boys could put two fingers over the brothers eyes, they made the brothers immediately fall asleep. If the Ethiopian boys could put their fingers into their mouths, they made them yawn. After the psalm when the brothers prostrated themselves in prayer they ran to each of the brothers, and as each brother threw himself forward to pray they assumed the appearance of women, while others made themselves into things to eat or drink, or did other things. And whenever the demons formed themselves into something for the purpose of mockery, the minds of those praying were distracted. When the demons began to do something to the brothers, some of the brothers repelled them as if by force and threw themselves forward so that the demons did not dare to stand in front of them or come alongside them. At the same time, the demons were able to play on the heads or the backs of the weaker brothers who were not focussed on their prayers. . . . Those of the brothers who were able to keep control of their hearts were able to resist the black Ethiopians. . . . When the brothers stretched out their hands to receive the sacred bread (sacramentum), Ethiopians came first to some of their hands and placed coal there, and the body [i.e. the bread representing the body of Christ] which the priest seemed to be bringing in his hands returned to the altar. There were others, however, who rejoiced in greater goodness and when they extended their hands to the altar the demons withdrew and ran away in fear. . . . [omitted remainder of the episode].
Gerontius, Life of Saint Melania the Younger (fifth century CE)
[Devil / “black one” transforms into a black young man]
(54) Just at that time the devil used the polluted teaching of Nestorius [archbishop of Constantinople ca. 428-431 CE] to greatly agitate the souls of simple-minded people. Therefore, many wives of senators and others of educated, brilliant men came to our blessed mother in order to discuss the orthodox faith. She, in whom the Holy Spirit dwelled, never ceased speaking of things divine from morning to night, and led many who had gone astray back to the orthodox faith. She strengthened others who were doubters and in general was of great help to all those who came to her divinely-inspired teaching. For this reason, the devil and the enemy of truth became extremely envious, both of those who came to her for their edification and because of the salvation of her uncle. He transformed himself into a black young man and came to her saying, “For how long are you going to destroy my aspirations by your words? Know, therefore, that if I am able to harden the hearts of Lausus and the emperors . . . [gap with missing text in the manuscript]. Otherwise, I will subject your body to such tortures that even you will fear for your life and will be forced to become silent.” When she had caused him to disappear by invoking our Lord Jesus Christ, she summoned my humble person [i.e. Gerontius] and related to me the threats of the black one [i.e. the devil]. And she had not as yet finished speaking to me when she started to feel pain in her hips. The pain suddenly became so intense that for three hours she remained speechless. After we made an offering on her behalf, she barely regained consciousness. She endured six days of that indescribable suffering and felt much greater pain at the same hour of the day at which she had seen the black one. On the seventh day, when one expected her to be relieved of this earthly life, someone arrived with the announcement that her uncle was in danger of dying, and he was still in the process of learning the faith (catechumen).
Sayings of the Fathers, Systematic Collection (sixth century compilation)
[Ethiopian / burnt-faced demons under the porneia section]
(5.4) Abba Cassian [Coll. 2.13] said that “Abba Moses used to tell us, ‘It is good not to hide the troubling thoughts (logismoi) but to express them to spiritual and discerning elders. It is good to express these not merely to those whose hair has grown grey with time, since there are many who, considering the age of the one listening, confess their own troubling thoughts and, instead of healing, fall into despair on account of the inexperience of the one listening to the confession [i.e. regardless of age]. There was a brother, one of the most earnest in fact, who was severely tormented by the demon of sexual perversion (porneia). He came to an elder and proclaimed his own troubling thoughts to the elder. The one hearing him was inexperienced. He became angry and called the brother a pitiful person, unworthy of the monastic form of life for having such thoughts. Hearing these things, the brother gave up, left his own cell and went back to the world. However, by the providence of God, Abba Apollo encountered him. . . [omitted story of Abba Apollo convincing him not to give up]. Abba Apollo went to the cell of the elder who had renounced the brother. Standing outside, Abba Apollo pleaded with God in tears, saying, ‘Lord, you who bring temptation upon those who can benefit from it, transfer the brother’s battle to this elder so that he may be tempted in his old age in order to learn what he was not taught for a long time, so he can sympathize with those who are under attack.’ On completing his prayer, he saw an Ethiopian (literally: burnt-faced one) standing near the cell, firing darts at the elder. Immediately wounded by these, the elder began staggering back and forth like he was drunk. He could not carry on. He came out of his cell and left for the world by the same route as the young man. Abba Apollo knew what had happened. . .'” [omitted story of Apollo convincing this man also not to give up].
(5.27) A man came to Skete to become a monk, bringing with him his son who was barely even weaned. The demons began attacking him when he became a young man. “I am going back to the world,” the young man said to his father, “because I cannot withstand the battle.” His father persisted in pleading with him, and again the youth said to him, “Abba, I cannot handle any more. Let me go!” “Listen to me just once more, my son,” his father said to him. “Get yourself forty servings of bread and palm fronds for forty days, then go away into the isolated part of the desert and remain there for forty days, and the will of God be done.” Listening to his father, he got up and went into the desert. He stayed there for twenty days, working away, braiding dry palm fronds, and eating dry bread.Then he saw a force coming towards him. It was standing in front of him in the form of a completely stinking Ethiopian woman (Aithiopissa; literally “burnt-faced woman”) so that he was not able to stand her smell, but he chased her away. Then the demon said to him, “I appear to be sweet in the hearts of men. However, because of your obedience and your labour, God has not permitted me to deceive you but has revealed my stench to you.” He got up, gave thanks to God, and returned to his father, saying to him, “I no longer want to go away, Abba, for I have seen the force and its stench.” His father, who had been assured about this, said to the young man, “If you had stayed there forty days and fully completed the commandment, you would have seen a greater vision.”
[An actual Ethiopian young woman from the past appearing as a demon]
(5.54 = Palladios, Lausiac History 23) . . . Amongst these I [Palladios, who had struggled with sexual temptation and decided to go out to Skete in the desert] also happened to meet Pachon, whom I found to be very sincere and ascetic. I confidently presented him with what I had in mind, and that holy one said to me, “Do not let this matter dismay you. You are not suffering it on account of your negligence. The place, the lack of provisions, and the lack of contact with women here witness in your favour. Rather does this endure against you because of the adversary’s active aversion to virtue. For the war against sexual perversion (porneia) has three aspects for those living in the desert. Sometimes the flesh attacks us for its own gratification, sometimes the passions attack through troubling thoughts (logismoi), and sometimes the demon himself lords it over us out of jealousy. Having carefully observed many things, this is what I have discovered. Look, as you can see, I am an old man. I have spent forty years in this cell concerned about my own salvation. Yet even though I have come to this age, I am still tempted.” Pachon stated, “For twelve years after I had turned fifty, he did not interrupt his attack on me by day or by night. I came to the conclusion that I was being tyrannized because God had abandoned me. I chose to die like a beast rather than to behave shamefully because of a bodily desire. Coming out of my small room, I was wandering in the desert when I found the cave of a hyena. I slept in that cave naked during the daytime so that the beasts would devour me when they came out. When evening arrived, as it is written, ‘The sun knows his going down. You made darkness and it became night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do move: lion cubs roaring to get their prey and to seek their meat from God’ [Psalms 103:20]. The beasts came out at that hour, a male and a female. They smelled me from head to foot, licking me. Just when I thought they would make meat of me, they went off and left me. All night I lay there and was not eaten.“Thinking that God had certainly taken pity on me, I promptly went back to my cell. But after a few days’ delay, the demon came at me again, more forcibly than before, so that I was almost at the point of speaking impiously about God. He transformed himself into an Ethiopian (burnt-faced) young woman whom I had once seen in my youth, gleaning at harvest time. It seemed as though she sat on my knees and so aroused me that I thought I had sex with her. In my rage I gave her a smack, and with that she became invisible. Believe me when I tell you that for two years I could not stand the stench of my hand. Discouraged and by this even more despairing of myself, in the end I went out wandering in the vast desert. Finding a little asp [poisonous snake], I took it and applied it to my genitals as though they were the cause of my temptation, so that I would die bitten like that. But when, by the providence of the grace of God, I was not bitten that way, afterward I heard a voice in my mind saying, ‘Go back, Pachon. Fight on! This is why I allowed you to be tyrannized: it was so that you would not become boastful of having been able to get the better of this demon but would always go running for the help of God.’ . . . [omitted several sentences].
[Further cases under “obedience”]
(14.30) A brother struggling with the idea of living alone announced it to Abba Herakleides. To strengthen the brother, Abba Herakleides said to him, “There was an elder who had an obedient disciple for many years. Then one day, struggling with the idea, he prostrated himself before the elder, saying, ‘Make me become a monk.’ The elder said to him, ‘Look for a place. We will build you a cell, and you will become a monk.’ So he went and found a place one mile away, and they made the cell. So the elder said to the brother, ‘Whatever I say to you, do it. Eat when you are hungry, drink, and sleep, but do not come out of your cell until Saturday, and then come to where I am.’ The elder returned to his own cell. The brother passed two days according to the elder’s instruction, and on the third day, falling into spiritual indifference, he said, ‘Why did the elder say this to me, not to offer prayers?’ And he got up and sang several psalms, and after sundown he ate, then got up and went to get some sleep. He saw an Ethiopian (burnt-faced) figure lying on his sleeping mat, gnashing his teeth at him. In great fear he came running to the elder and knocked at the door, saying, ‘Take pity on me, Abba, and open the door quickly.’ But the elder, knowing that he had not obeyed his instruction, did not open up to him until dawn. When he did open at dawn, he found the brother pleading. Taking pity on him, he brought him in. Then he said to the elder, ‘I beg of you, father. I saw a black (melanos) Ethiopian (burnt-faced figure) on my sleeping mat when I went to get some sleep.’ The elder said to him, ‘This happened to you because you did not keep my commandment.’ Then, instructing him according to his ability in the procedure of the solitary life, he dismissed him. Little by little, he became an excellent monk.”
[Ethiopian man in a vision representing a person with many sins]
(18.3) As though he were speaking of somebody else (but it may well have been about himself), the disciple of Abba Arsenios (or: Arsenius) said that while one of the elders was residing in his own cell, a voice came to him that said, “Come, I will show you the works of people.” He got up and went. The voice brought him to a place and showed him an Ethiopian (burnt-faced man) cutting wood and making a large bundle. That elder attempted to carry the bundle but could not. But instead of removing some of the wood in the bundle, he went and cut more wood, adding that wood to the bundle. And he did this for some time. When they had gone a little farther, he also showed him a person standing in a lake, drawing water from it, and pouring the water into a receptacle with holes in it. The water was running out into the lake. He spoke to him again, “Come on, I will show you something else.” Here he saw two persons mounted on horses carrying a piece of wood crossways, one beside the other. They were wanting to enter through the gate but could not because the piece of wood was crossways. One would not humble himself by going after the other person so that they could bring the piece of wood in lengthwise. For that reason, they remained outside the gate. He said to him, “These are the ones who bear the yoke of righteousness with pride and are not humbled to put their house in order and to travel the humble way of Christ. So they remain outside the kingdom of God. The fellow cutting wood has many sins. Instead of repenting, he adds other transgressions on top of his own transgressions. And the one drawing water is a person who does good works, but because he was mixing evil ones with them, he lost his good ones too. So must everyone watch over his works to prevent himself from working pointlessly.”
[Ethiopians as demons in the Syriac version translated by the seventh century monk Anan-Isho, under porneia]
579 (= Budge 1907, 130). A certain father when he went out to become a monk was a virgin, and he did not even know that prostitutes existed among people. When he was living in his cell, the demons began to stir up in him the passion for sexual perversion, and lifting up his eyes he saw the demons going around him in the forms of Ethiopians, and they incited him to yield to the desire. Then he rose up immediately and prayed, and said, “O Lord, help me.” When he had said these things immediately a stone fell from the roof, and he heard, as it were, a sweet voice. He seemed to enjoy a short rest from the sexual thoughts. He rose up and came to one of the elders and told him what happened. The elder answered and said, “I do not know what this means.” And he sent him on to Abba Poimen, and that brother also told him what happened. Then the elder said to him, “The stone which you saw falling is the slanderer, and that voice which you heard is lust. Pay attention to your soul and make requests to God and, look, you will be freed from this war. Abba Poimen taught him how to contend against demons and, after praying, he dismissed him. That brother came to his cell. And he made requests and supplication to God. God granted him to attain to such a gift that, after that brother died, he was pleased that the well-being of that brother’s soul was revealed to him. Now in another manuscript instead of the words, “He rose up and prayed,” it is written as follows: “He saw the demons surrounding him in the forms of Ethiopians and they were inciting him to yield to the passion. . .” [omitted sentence about body parts].
Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena (third century CE or later)
[Probus’ dream of an Ethiopian king representing the devil]
(17) Probus [Xanthippe’s husband, who owns slaves who have heard Paul teaching] rose up from his couch very sad, because in his sleep he had seen a dream and was very troubled by it. But the gate-keeper was very afraid on seeing him about to go out to the market-place with a gloomy look on this face, “In case,” he said, “Probus knows what has happened, and will wickedly destroy me.” Probus, however, having gone out and indicated to those in the market what was fitting for the day and season, speedily returned into the house and said to his servants: “Quickly call me the wise men Barandos and Gnosteas.” When they were called in, Probus said to them, “I have seen a very terrible vision, and what appeared in it is difficult to interpret with our ability. However, reveal these things to me, since you are the most excellent men in the whole world. Explain what it means to me when I tell the dream to you.”
Barandos says to him, “If the vision can be interpreted using our wisdom, we will explain it to you. However, if the dream has to do with the faith that is now spoken about, we cannot explain it to you because it comes from another source of wisdom and understanding. However, let our lord and master tell us the dream, and let us see if there is any explanation for it.” Probus says to Gnosteas, “Why do you not give me any answer?” Gnosteas said, “I have not heard the dream, and what else can I say except that it is caused by Paul? Tell me now, and you will find out it is so.”
Probus said, “I thought I was standing in a certain unknown and foreign country, and that there sat an Ethiopian (literally: burnt-faced) king, who ruled over all the earth and seemed never to have any successor. There stood beside him multitudes of servants, and everyone of them were rushing towards destruction and controlled much. When that Ethiopian seemed to have understood his purpose, there arose a raven and, standing above the king, it cawed with a pitiful voice. And immediately an eagle arose from the eastern regions and seized the king’s kingdom, and the king was made powerless and those standing by him fled to the eagle. Then that king strove against those that fled to the eagle, but the eagle carried it up into heaven. Look, a helper came to those that fled to the eagle and left his staff to them. Then, when they held onto the staff, they were not overcome by the violence of that king. Any who ran to those who had the staff, he washed them in pure water. Those who were washed had power over his kingdom. And by that staff the enemies of the king were chased away. Therefore capable men who took hold of the staff turned many crowds towards themselves. And that king contended with them and had no power at all. However, he did hinder many from believing in the one who sent out the men into the world to bear witness, and for that reason many were grieved. Nevertheless, this one did not constrain anyone like the other [Ethiopian] king, for he himself was ruler of all light. This then was the end.”
(18) Then the wise Barandos said, “Through a favour of God I will tell you these things sent into the world by the Lord. The king whom you saw is the devil (diabolos), and the crowds of his servants are the demons (daimones), and the throngs around him are the ones who worship the gods. He thought he would have no successor because he did not look for the coming of Christ. The raven symbolizes the weakness of his kingdom, for the raven did not obey the righteous Noah, but loved pitiful things. The eagle that arose, took away the king’s kingdom, carried it up into heaven, and became a protector of those that fled to the eagle with a staff is the Lord Jesus Christ, who left to them his staff, that is, his precious cross. The fact that he washed those that ran to him signifies the invulnerable breast-plate of baptism, and therefore they were not overcome. The capable men sent into the world with the cross are the preachers of God like Paul who is now with us, against whom that king has no power. This was made known to you because even with those who do not believe, God has compassion in some way. See therefore whether even you will be able to injure Paul even though you desire to do so, for the mighty power that shields him has been shown you by the Lord. Therefore, understand what has been said to you by me, and serve not that king of darkness. For just as you saw his kingdom vanishing, so will all his servants die with him. Come now, therefore, my lord, let us go to Paul and receive baptism from him in order to prevent Satan from having mastery over us as well. Probus said, “Let us first go to Xanthippe and see whether she is still alive, for – look – there are twenty-nine days since she has eaten anything. For I saw her face in the evening, and it was as of one prepared to depart. . . .” [omitted remainder of story involving Probus being baptized].
Source of translations: B. Pick, The Apocryphal Acts of Paul, Peter, John, Andrew and Thomas (London: Paul, Trench, Tübner., 1909); W. Shewring, The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (London: Sheed and Ward, 1931); J. B. McLaughlin, St. Antony the Hermit (New York: Benziger Bros., 1924), all public domain, adapted by Harland; Rufinus translation from N. Russell, Lives of the Desert Fathers: The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (London: Cistercian Publications, 1980), 152-154, adapted under fair use or fair dealing provisions for educational purposes by Harland in consulation with PL; Gerontius translation from T.C. Papaloizos, “Gerontius’s Sanctae Melanie Junioris Vita (The Life of Saint Melania the Younger): A Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary” (Ph.D., Catholic University of America, 1978) used under fair use or fair dealing provisions for educational purposes and adapted by Harland; Wortley, The Book of the Elders, Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Systematic Collection (Trappist, KY: Liturgical Press, 2012), used under fair use or fair dealing provisions for educational purposes and adapted by Harland in consultation with the Greek edition in J.-C. Guy, Les Apophtegmes des Pères: Collection systématique, 3 volumes (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1993-); episode in Syriac from E. A. Wallis Budge, The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers [Compiled by Anan-Isho] (London: Chatto and Windus, 1907), public domain, adapted by Harland; W.A. Craigie, “Acts of Xanthippe and Polxena,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 9, ed. A. Menzies (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1896), 204-217, public domain, adapted by Harland.