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The Alexandrian Tradition

Interactions between Science, Religion, and Literature

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Edited By Luis Arturo Guichard, Juan Luis García Alonso and María Paz de Hoz

This book is the outcome of the conference «Imperial Alexandria: Interactions between Science, Religion and Literature», held at Salamanca University in October 2011. The conference convened a group of experts from different fields to address the interrelationship between Science, Religion and Literature in the Graeco-Roman world during the Imperial Period, and especially in Alexandria, situating it within the context of the long tradition of knowledge that had been consolidating itself in this city, above all during the Hellenistic era. The encounter’s main aim was to create a forum for interdisciplinary reflection on «the Alexandrian model» of knowledge in the Imperial Period and its background, being attended by philologists and historians specialising in different types of texts (literary, scientific and religious), whose study requires an interdisciplinary approach, with priority being given to the notion of contact and the relationship between these subjects in order to gain a better understanding of the spirit, way of thinking and moral values of a particularly important era in the development of ancient culture.
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Isis, Sarapis, Cyrus and John: Between Healing Gods and Thaumaturgical Saints: Laurent Bricault

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LAURENT BRICAULT

Isis, Sarapis, Cyrus and John: Between Healing Gods and Thaumaturgical Saints

Introduction

Isis of Menouthis, Sarapis of Canopus: two toponymic hypostasis of the tutelary gods of Alexandria that comprise the same functional reality. Both are healing divinities that one would visit hoping for a better life. Already in the late 4th century BC – if we trust Diogenes Laertius –, Demetrius of Phaleron, affected by ophthalmia, consulted the oracle of the god. Eight centuries later, once the Alexandrian Serapieion crumbles under the attacks of Theophilus and his troops, the images of Sarapis and, especially, of Isis are still very present in private residences along the coast. This presence reached such a degree that Christian authorities tried to impose the cult of two thaumaturgical saints, Cyrus and John.

A scholarly, and relatively persistent rumour, wanted the cult of Sarapis and the god himself – despite having been born in Egypt – to be a Greek creation that did not have much to do with the ancient Egyptian religious spirit. Forged in the Alexandrian fashion by Macedonian dynasts who drew their inspiration from Memphite traditions – more or less vaguely –, it spread thereafter throughout the Hellenistic world from the so-called Alexandrian “customs”.

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