The Ring of Polycrates in Ancient Religious Narratives
A Fishing Expedition: The Trail of the Ring
← 92 | 93 → In each of the texts that we examined in the previous chapters, the “ring of Polycrates” motif was utilized in order to advance values that were central to the world-views of the respective authors and their cultural environments. Herodotus was illustrating how history subjects human success to inevitable limitations. Matthew was struggling with issues related to the validity of Jewish observance in a redeemed age. The rabbis were motivating their communities to make sacrifices or take risks, if necessary, in their devoted performance of the precepts of the Torah. Augustine was demonstrating that the ongoing phenomenon of miracles furnishes irrefutable proof of God’s involvement in human society and of the providential guidance that is leading humanity towards the imminent realization of the final redemption.
For purposes of this study it was necessary to deal rather loosely with questions of genre. Certainly, the borderlines between history and fiction would have emerged as very porous and blurred had we attempted to define them with reference to these texts. Evidently, Herodotus’ uncritical ear accepted at face value both the historical authenticity and the theological accuracy of the legend about Polycrates’ ring, as we may infer from the precision with which he identifies its localities and historical personalities.1 This probably holds true for the passage in Matthew about Jesus and Peter in Capernaum, as well as for Augustine’s tale that he presents as a true event that occurred in recent memory to named persons in a specific shrine,...
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