Poison in the Panarion: Beasts, Heretics, and Sexual Deviants

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Epiphanius builds Christian identity in his Panarion by merging two distinct discourses of othering: poison and sexual slander. By combining a rhetoric of poison with a rhetoric of sexual slander, Epiphanius produced a new way of thinking about—and creating—theological difference. By linking his opponents to sexual deviance, identifying heresies as poisons which can invade the church, and likening heretics to beasts, Epiphanius delegitimated his opponents, characterized himself as the church’s chief medical officer, and presented one acceptable Christian identity.

Poison in the Panarion: Beasts, Heretics, and Sexual Deviants

in Vigiliae Christianae




Jeffrey RichardsSex Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages (New York: Barnes and Noble Books1990) 58.


LivyHistory 39.8-19. Minucius Felix Octavius 9.


Justin Martyr1 Apol. 2-6. See also Robert Wilken Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale 1984).


BourdieuLanguage and Symbolic Power105.


Bruce LincolnDiscourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth Ritual and Classification (New York: Oxford University Press1989) 137.


WilliamsPanarionxiii. See also Jon F. Dechow Dogma and Mysticism in Early Christianity: Epiphanius of Cyprus and the Legacy of Origen (Macon ga: Mercer University Press 1988) 31-2. For more detailed bibliographic information see Aline Pourkier L’hérésiologie chez Epiphane de Salamine Christianisme antique 4 (Paris: Beauchesne 1992) and Oliver Kösters Die Trinitätslehre des Epiphanius von Salamis: Ein Kommentar zumAncoratus” Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 86 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2003) 17-76; xiii.


SozomenHist. eccl. 6.32 tells us that Epiphanius received a primarily monastic education while in Alexandria.


DechowDogma35 38. For more on the influence of monasticism on Epiphanius see Dechow Dogma 96-107.


Brooke HolmesThe Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece (Princeton: Princeton University Press2010) 260. Epiphanius also genders the church as feminine a point that will be discussed later.


John ChrysostomAdv. Iud. 3.1.1; 4.1.2; 8.3.10 also sexualizes his opponents depicting Jews as sexual aggressors. See also Susanna Drake Slandering the Jew 1-2.


Russell T. McCutcheonReligion and the Domestication of Dissent: Or How to Live in a Less than Perfect Nation (London: Equinox Publishing2005) 1.


Lyman“Making of a Heretic” 451.


Averil Cameron“How to Read Heresiology,” in The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender Asceticism and Historiographyed. Dale B. Martin and Patricia Cox Miller (Durham: Duke University Press2005) 196has suggested that heresiologies should be read as “performative or functional texts.”


On the body as a microcosm see MartinCorinthian Body16-17. This line of thinking is evident in Plato’s Timaeus in Galen and in the practice of physiognomy. Plato Tim. 69C; 92C writes of the universe as “a single living thing” and a “visible living thing containing visible ones.” Galen Hyg. mapped the outer world onto the body by attempting to control the weather inside the body. Similarly the Hippocratic work On Affections addressed the balance of bile and phlegm in relation to the rest of the body. See also Martin Corinthian Body 17. Physiognomists studied the visible outer body of a person in an attempt to understand that person’s inner character. The author of Physiognomics for example a likely third century bce text explains how one’s data comes from a person’s movements habits hair growth smoothness of skin voice etc. (806a28-33). See also Simon Swain ed. Seeing the Face Seeing the Soul: Polemon’s Physiognomy from Classical Antiquity to Medieval Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007).


MartinCorinthian Body143. John Chrysostom Adv. Iud. 1.1.4 for instance addresses “an illness which has taken root within the body of the church.” They “must first uproot it and then consider those outside; first treat our own and then take care of strangers.”


HolmesThe Symptom and the Subject49.


Joseph Verheyden“Epiphanius of Salamis on Beasts and Heretics: Some Introductory Comments,” Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 60 (2008): 143-73. Verheyden 150-154 has a helpful list of each animal mentioned in connection with a heresy in chapters 21-80. The five chapters that do not contain such a reference are 60 (Angelics) 68 (Miletus the Egyptian) 70 (Audians) 72 (Marcellians) and 77 (Dimoerites/Apollinarians). On this see Verheyden 169-170.


Verheyden“Epiphanius” 144. See also Jürgen Dummer “Ein naturwissenschaftliches Handbuch als Quelle für Epiphanius von Constantia” Klio: Beiträge zur Alten Geschichte 55 (1973): 289-99.


IrenaeusAdv. Haer. 1.13.5. Irenaeus condemned his opponents for slavery to desire as well as slavery to ἐγκράτεια (self-control). For more examples see Adv. Haer. 1.6.2; 1.24.2 5; 1.25.3-4; 1.26.3; 1.28.1 2; 2.32.3; 5.8.4. For more on this practice by Irenaeus and Justin see Jennifer Wright Knust Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press 2006) 143-63.


Catharine EdwardsThe Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome (New York: Cambridge University Press1993). Edith Hall Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition Through Tragedy (New York: Oxford University Press 1989).


HerodotusHist. 2.35; Sophocles OT 337-345. See also Hall Inventing 201-3.


KnustAbandoned to Lust6.


KnustAbandoned to Lust6. Kim “Reading the Panarion” 385 notes as an underlying function of the Panarion “the increase of personal power and authority because through this text Epiphanius solidified his personal reputation as an expert in heresy by systematically cataloguing the characteristics symptoms and remedies for all heresies.”


IrenaeusAdv. Haer. 1.23-28 for instance calls him the “heretic from whom all heresies got their start.” See also King Gnosticism 31; Judith Lieu Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (Oxford Oxford University Press 2004) 96 258; and Bart Ehrman Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2003) 165-6 192.


Blossom Stefaniw“Straight Reading: Shame and the Normal in Epiphanius’s Polemic Against Origen,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 21 no. 3 (Fall 2013) 413.




See Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley“Libertines or Not: Fruit, Bread, Semen and Other Body Fluids in Gnosticism,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 2 no. 1 (Spring 1994): 15-31. Against Buckley see King Gnosticism 201-208 and Brakke Gnostics 66-68.


Peter Anthony Mena“Insatiable Appetites: Epiphanius of Salamis and the Making of the Heretical Villain,” Studia Patristica 67 (2013): 257-263discusses Epiphanius’ portrayal of heretics as “hypersexual” and as having a voracious appetite for food and for sexual impropriety. Mena however overlooks those groups that Epiphanius does not present as hypersexual such as the Hieracites the Manichaeans and the Massalians. I have addressed these groups in note 31 above.


DrakeSlandering the Jew3.


Lyman“Making of a Heretic” 445.


See Bernadette BrootenLove Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1996) 241 324-5. Brooten discusses gender categories that “classify all females as passive subordinate recipients of penetration” and the depiction of females who engaged in homoerotic activity as “having become like men that is as trying to transcend the passive subordinate role accorded to them by nature by attempting to take on a dominant penetrating role” (241). Likewise men who were passive participants in male homoerotic activities were disparaged “for taking on a female sexual behavior” (324).


KingHippocrates’ Woman77.


Andrew Jacobs“Matters (Un-)Becoming: Conversions in Epiphanius of Salamis,” Church History 81 no. 1 (March 2012): 27-47. Daniel Boyarin Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity Divinations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2004) 15 noted that borders “are not given but constructed by power to mask hybridity.” See also Judith Lieu “‘Impregnable Ramparts and Walls of Iron’: Boundary and Identity in ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’” New Testament Studies 48 (2002): 297-313; Daniel Boyarin and Virginia Burrus “Hybridity as Subversion of Orthodoxy? Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity” Social Compass 52 (2005): 431-41.


Jacobs“Matters (Un-)Becoming” 30.


LincolnAuthority: Construction and Corrosion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press1994) 4-5 writes that in contrast to coercion and persuasion “the exercise of authority need not involve argumentation and may rest on the naked assertion that the identity of the speaker warrants acceptance of the speech.” Epiphanius for instance has an interest in making sure his readers know that his expertise in these matters is in demand.

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