of Plymouth

The Little

The Pilgrim

Uncle Jabez

PHS 1963



Charles I




Psellus on Demons psellus


A translation of Michael Psellus' oft-cited Dialogue of the Operation of Demons has not been made available on the web, although innumerable other classic texts on the subject have. As I happened to have a xerox copy (courtsey of my old friend Stephen Skinner) of the rare 1843 Collison translation of the Dialogue into English, I though it might be useful to transcribe this interesting text for other readers.

I have transcribed what I could, and the main text is pretty much complete, although I cannot guarantee the Latin or Greek. In addition, there are two passages in Latin that Mr. Collison dared not render into English. My wife, who was a classics major years ago, has made a stab at what these say, but if anyone could improve upon these notes and send us the translation, we would be very grateful. The original pagination is indicated by slashes and page numbers.


Timothy.—By what train of reasoning have they brought themselves to believe and pronounce Satan a son of God, when not merely the Prophetic Writings, but the Oracles of Divine Truth everywhere speak of but one son, and he that reclined on our Lord’s bosom (as recorded in the Holy Gospel) exclaims, concerning the divine λογος, “the Glory as of the Only-Begotten son of the Father,” whence has such a tremendous error assailed them?

Thracian.—Whence, Timothy, but from the Prince of Lies, who deceives the understandings of his witless votaries by such vain-glorious fiction, vaunting that he will be equal to the Highest; for this very reason he has been consigned to the outer darkness; and when he appears to them, he announces himself the first-begotten son of God and creator of all terrene things,* who disposes of everything in the world, and by this means, following up the peculiar foible of each, cheats the fools, who ought to have considered him an empty braggart and the arch-priest of falsehood, and overwhelmed with ridicule his pompous pretensions, and instead of believing everything he says, and suffering themselves to be led about like oxen by the nose. However, it will soon be in their power to convict him as a liar, for if they insist his making good his honeyed promises, he will turn out no better than the ass in lion’s skin, which, when it attempted to roar like a lion, its braying betrayed. At present, however, they resemble the blind, and the deaf, and the insane, since they cannot perceive, from the consanguinity of universal na-/
*This, it must be admitted, is the true character of Satan, so far as regards his lying propensities; he was a liar from the beginning. “When he speaketh a lie he speaketh his own, for he is a liar, and his (the liar’s) father.” But whether there will be an admixture of vanity with mendacity, or his lies be uttered purely with a view to deceive, is not so easily determined; yet certainly his mendacious address to the Messiah. “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it,” seems to partake of a boastful character.
ture, that there is but one Creator, nor hearing that very consanguinity declaring the self-same truth, nor discover, by reasoning, that if there were two opposite creators, there would not be that one arrangement and oneness (ενωσις) which binds all things together. For the Prophet says, “the ox and the ass know the master and their master’s crib,” but these bid their Master farewell, and have elected to the place of God the most abject of all creatures. “Scorched though they be with the fire.” (as the Proverb says) they yet follow and precipitate themselves into that fire which has long been provided for him and his co-apostates.

Timothy.—But what profit do they derive from abjuring the Divine religion received from their fathers*, and rushing on certain destruction?

Thracian.—As to profit, I do not know that they derive any, but I rather think not, for although the daemons promise them gold, and possessions, and notoriety, yet you know they cannot give them to any; they do, however, present to the initiated phantasms and flashing appearances, which these men-detesters of God call visions of God. Such as wish to be spectators of them, gracious Heavens! how many shameful things, how many unutterable and detestable must they witness? For everything we consider sanctioned by law, and a doctrine to be preached, and a duty to be practiced, they madly disregard, nay, they even disregard the laws of nature; to commit their de-/
*Here we see how little dependence can be placed on that faith which is founded on human activity, “which stands in the wisdom of men, and not in the power of God.” Those who can assign no better reason for their Christianity than it was transmitted from their fathers, will become Pagans, Mahommettans, or Infidels, when they cannot exercise their religion safely, or when it is more conducive to their temporal interests to renounce it; or else they are liable to be drawn into any fanciful theory that has but the charm of novelty to recommend it, with talent and eloquence to enforce it. Little dependence can be reposed in any faith which is not the result of an enlightened, rational conviction. Superstition itself is vastly more influential than nominal Christianity.
baucheries to writing would only befit the impure pen of Archilochus (d), nay, I do not think that were he present he would be loath to commemorate orgies so detestable and vile, as were never witnessed in Greece, no, nor in any barbarous land; for where or when did any one ever hear that man, that august and sacred animal, eat exercretions, whether moist or dry—a monstrosity which, I believe, not even the wild beasts in a rabid state are capable of committing, and yet this is but the preliminary proceeding with these execrable wretches.

Timothy.—What for, Thracian?

Thracian.—Oh, this is one of their secrets—they know best who do it: however, on my frequently questioning on this point, all I could learn was, that the daemons become friendly and affable on their partaking of the exercretions. In this particular I was satisfied that they spoke truth, though incapable of speaking it in other matters; since nothing can be so eminently gratifying to hostile spirits as to see man (who is also an object of envy) man, who has been honored with the Divine image, fallen to such a state of degradation: this is putting the finishing stroke on their folly. Nor is this confined to the Antistites of the dogma*/
*It is remarkable that in the whole course of this treatise Psellus, speaking of the most revolting doctrines, never once employs the term αιρεσις, but δογμα, which his Latin translator improperly renders hæresis. To what is this attributable? —are we to suppose that the word αιρεσις was unknown to Psellus as a term of reproach, or that however appropriate the term might be to express the word sect, it was altogethr inappropriate to express the doctrine of a sect. No one instance can be shown in Scripture, nor in the writings of the first two centuries, of an opinion, wether true or false, being denominated heresy. It is applied in Scripture indifferently to either a good or bad sect, without implying either favour or censure, (thus we read the sect of the Saducces, the sect of the Pharisees, the srictest sect of our religion)m but never to asentiment, whether good or bad; in fact, it is nearly synonymous withζχισμα , rendered in the authorized version division, ζχισμα, being the incipient state of that which, in its more confind and aggravated form, is αιρεσις. There is one passage in the New Testament which, to a superficial reader, might seem to clash with the views here stated: "A man that is a heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he who is such is subverted and sinneth, being comdemned of /
(to whom they tack the appellation, Apostles), but extends to the Euchitae and the Gnosti.* But as to their mystical sacrifice,† God preserve me! who could describe it? I blush to repeat the shameful things I witnessed, and I am bound to repeat them, for you, Timothy, have already /
himself.” (Tit. iii. 10, 11) This is a mistranslation in two ways, for not only does it attach to the word άιρετικος, a modern and ecclesiastical sense, which was unknown in primitive times, but it is at variance with the very genius and structure of the language. On this last point, Dr. Campbell, with his usual acuteness and accuracy, observes (Diss. 9, p. 4, s. 11): “—It is plain, from the genius of the language, that the word άιρετικος in this place does not mean a member of the άιρεςιςor sect, who may be unconscious of any fault, and so is not equivalent to our word sectary, much less does it answer to our English word heretic, which always implies, one who entertains opinions in religion not only erroneous but pernicious; whereas we have shewn that the word άιρετικος, in scriptural use, has no necessary connection with opinion at all: its immediate connection is with division or dissension, as it is thereby that sects and parties are formed. ‘Αιρετικος ανθρωτος must therefore mean, one who is the founder of a sect, or at least has the disposition to create άιρετικος or sects in the community, and may properly be rendered a factious man.”
*The Greek reads Γνωςτιος, the Last Comment, suggests Γνωςτικιος, the name of a well known sect, but we conceive that Γνωςτιος to be the correct reading, and it is not the Gnostics who are referred to, but a particular class among the Euchitae, called Gnosti, or Litterati. The conclusion we draw from the above passage is, that the Euchitae were divided into three classes:—the Proestatoi, or Presidents, the Gnosti or Literati, and the Euchitae or Praying-men, who formed perhaps the uneducated and largest portion—the last being most generally know, and the most numerous, the whole body might have been called by the general name, Euchitae.
† This expression the Euchitae derived from the Christians, who designated the Lord’s Supper the mystical, i.e., the symbolical sacrifice. This seems to indicate that Transubstantiation formed no part of the primitive creed.

prevailed on me; I will therefore skim over them lightly, omitting the more shameful proceedings. Lest I should seem to be acting a tragedy, [rather than giving a plain statement of facts*]. Vespri enim luminibus accensis, quo tempore salutarem domini celebramus passionem, in domum praescriptum delucctis, quas sacrilegi sacris suis initiaverunt, puellis ne lucem exercrandi quod designant, flagitii testem habeant, cum puellis, libidinose voluntantur in quamcumque tandem, seu sororem, seu propriam filiam, seu matrem gratam fascere arbitrantur, si leges divinas transgressi fuerint, in quilas cautum est, ne nuptiae cum sanguine cognato contrahantur. (note) Having perfected this rite, they are dismissed; on the expiry of nine months, when the unnatural progeny of the unnatural seed is about being born, they meet again at the same place, and on the third day after parturition, tearing the wretched infants from their mothers, and scarifying their tender flesh with knives, they catch in basins the dripping blood, and casting the infants, still breathing, on the pile, consume {burn} them; afterward, mingling their ashes with the blood in the basins, they make a sort of horrible compound, with which, secretly defiling their food, liquid and solid, like those who mix poison with mead, not only they themselves partake of these viands, but others also who are not privy to their secret proceedings.

Timothy.—What end do they propose to themselves by such revolting pollutions?

Thracian.—They are persuaded that by these means that the divine symbols inscribed in our souls are thrust out and expunged, for so as they continue there, the daemon tribe are afraid and keep aloof, as one might from the royal signet attached to a cabinet; in order, therefore, to enable the daemons to reside in their souls, they, without/
* NOTE: Wherever brackets are applied thus [   ], the words indicated are not the author’s, but merely inserted to make the sense more explicit.
any apprehension, chase away the divine symbols, by their insults to heaven—and a profitable exchange they have made of it. But not satisfied with perpetrating this wickedness themselves, they lay a snare for others; the polluted viands tempting the pious* also, who, without being aware of it, partake of the strange food, they like so many Tantali serving up their children for the entertainment.

Timothy.—Good Heavens, Thracian! That is what my grandfather by the father’s side predicted; for once being distressed, because some subverted as well the privileges of the of the good in their acquisition of a liberal education, † I asked him, will there ever be a restoration? he being then an old man and very sagacious in foreseeing coming events, gently stroking my head and fetching a heavy sigh, replied, “My son, my child, do you imagine that they will ever again restore literature or anything excellent? The time is at hand when men will live worse than wild beasts, for now the Antichrist is at hand, even at the doors, and evil precursors, in the shape of monstrous doctrines and unlawful practices, no better than the orgies of Bacchus, must usher in his advent. And whatever things have been represented by the Greeks in their tragedies, as Saturn and Thyestes and Tantalus, devouring their offspring, Oedipus debauching his mother, and Cinyras his daughters, all these fearful enormities will break in /
* Query—might not that aversion that many of the Romans and Corinthian converts evinced to partaking of food served up at entertainments, or exposed for sale by heathens, may have been occasioned partly by a suspicion that it was secretly defiled by similar practices, to what are here described.
† Here there seems to be a pointed allusion to the Emperor Julian, whose artful policy it was to shut up the schools of the Christians, in which they taught philosophy and the liberal arts. It may indeed be objected that Julian lived in the fourth century, whereas Psellus flourished in the eleventh century. We are not, however, under any necessity for supposing that Psellus’ Dialogue is laid for his own day. The Euchitae, against whom this dialogue is leveled, started up at the close of the fourth century.

upon our state; but see my son, and be on your guard, for know, know for certain, that not only individuals from the illiterate and unpublished class, but also many of the learned,* will be drawn away into the same practices. .” These things, if I am to judge by the result, he spake prophetically; but I, when I recall to mind his words, which are as fresh in my memory now as they were when he uttered them, am surprised at what you tell me.

Thracian,--And well you may be surprised, for, many as there are the absurd nations described by historians in the far North and the parts about Lybia and Syrtes, yet I venture to say that no one has ever heard of such impiety being practiced by them, no, nor the Celts, nor by any other nation near Britain, though destitute of laws and in a savage state.

Timothy.—It is afflicting to think Thracian, that such horrible practices should take up their abode in our quarter of the world. But a perplexity of long standing respecting daemons distresses me; among other things. I should like to know whether they are manifestly seen by the daemoniacal wretches.

Thracian.—Not a doubt of it, my friend, for this they all strive, might and main; their assemblage and sacrifice, and rites, and every horrible practice of theirs, are held for this purpose, to bring about a manifestation.

Timothy.—How then can they, being incorporeal, be seen with the visual organs?

Thracian.—But, my good friend, they are not incorporeal; the daemon tribe have a body, and are conversant with corporeal beings, which one may learn even from the/
* It is somewhat remarkable that heresy (we used the word in its present acceptation) has always originated with the learned. We doubt if there can be adduced a single instance of an illiterate heresiarch, which would seem to show that its rise is not owning so much to the ignorance of the multitude as to a daring spirit of innovation and depraved ambition in men of learning.
holy fathers of our religion, if one only addict himself heartily to magical practices. We hear many too relating how the daemons appeared to them in a bodily form; and the divine Basilius, who beheld invisible things (or at least not clear to ordinary eyes) maintains it that not merely the daemons, but even the pure angels have bodies,* being a sort of thin, aërial, and pure spirits; and in proof of this he adduces the testimony of David, most celebrated of the prophets, saying, “He maketh his angels spirits, and his messengers a flame of fire.”† And it must needs be even so, for when the ministering spirits are dispatched to their respective employments ‡ (as the divine Paul says), they must have some body, in order to their moving, becoming stationary and apparent; for these effects could /
* That Celestial beings, Messengers of God to man, have appeared in visible form, must be accepted by every believer in Revelation; but whether they appeared in their proper nature, or in a form appropriate to the specific occasion of appearance, it is difficult perhaps to determine; yet, as the Apostle says, “there is a spiritual as well as a natural body, (1st Cor. xv., 44,) a body which shall neither be frail, nor gross, nor subject to the wants which oppress the present body, but one which shall be fitted for the highest possible spiritual service and happiness, there is nothing irrational in the supposition that angels have such a body. Abstractedly considered, matter has nothing contaminating in it—nothing which morally unfits if for union with a pure spirit; it is merely owing to its being associated with fallen man, that it seems to possess a degrading property. The fat that the Believer’s happiness will not be consummated till the union of the soul and body at the resurrection, when the soul will accept the body, not as a prison, but as a suitable mansion, goes far to establish he latter point.
† This passage, Dr. Chalmers in one of his works, (we believe it is his Astronomical Discourses,) renders, “He maketh the winds his messengers, the flaming fire his servants.” We cannot but consider the passage correctly rendered in the authorized version, “He maketh his angels spirits, [or winds], his ministers a flame of fire;” certain it is, unless we take the passage in this way, it will be utterly destitute of force and meaning, in the 1st chap Epist. Hebrews, 7th verse, where the Apostle contrasts the superior power and authority of the Sun with that of the angels. 
‡ The passage referred to, plainly is, “are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation.”

not be accomplished otherwise than through the medium of a body.

Timothy.—How comes it then, that in most passages of Scripture they are spoken of as incorporeal.

Thracian.—It is the practice with both Christian and profane authors, even the most ancient, to speak of the grosser description of bodies as corporeal; but those which are very thin, eluding both the sight and touch, not only we Christians but even many profane authors think fit to call incorporeal.
Timothy.—But tell me, the body that angels have by natural constitution, is it the same with that which daemons have?
Thracian.—What folly! There must be a vast difference for the angelic, emitting a sort of extraneous rays, is oppressive and intolerable to the visual organs, but as to the daemonic, whether it was once of this sort, I cannot say, but it would seem; (for Esaisas disparagingly calls Lucifer “him that had fallen”) now, however it is an obscure and darksome thing, saddened in aspect, divested of its kindred lights; but the angelic nature is immaterial, and therefore is capable of penetrating and passing through all solids, being more impalpable that the sun’s rays, which, passing through transparent bodies, the opaque objects of this earth reflect, so as to render its stroke endurable, for there is something material in it; but nothing can interpose opposition to an angel, because they present opposition to nothing, not being homogeneous with any thing; on the other hand, the bodies of daemons, though constituted indistinct by their tenuity, are yet in some measure material and palpable.

 Timothy.—I am becoming quite a sage, Thracian, (as the proverb says, (e) by these novel accessions of knowledge; for to me, indeed, this is a novel fact that some daemons are corporeal and palpable.

Thracian.—There is no novelty in our being ignorant in many things, so long as we are men, Timothy, as the/
sayings, is; ‘tis well, however, if, as ages advance, our good sense increases. Be assured of this, that in making these statements, I am not uttering lying rhapsodies, like the Cretans and the Phoeniceans,* but are persuaded of their truth by the Saviour’s words, which affirm, that the daemons shall be punished with fire, a punishment they would be incapable of if incorporeal. Since a being that is destitute of a body cannot suffer in the body, therefore they must needs undergo punishment by means of bodies, constituted capable of suffering. Much, however, I have suppressed that I heard from some who adventured themselves to intuition;‡ for my part, I have never seen a being of that nature—Heaven grant that I may never behold the fearful looks of daemons! But I conversed with a monk in Mesopotamia, who was really an initiated inspector of daemonic phantasms: these magical practices he afterward abandoned as worthless and deceptive, and having made his recantations, attached himself to the true doctrine, which we profess, and assiduously applying himself, underwent a course of instruction at my hands,; he accordingly told me many and extraordinary things about daemons; and once, on my asking, if daemons were capable of animal passion, “Not a doubt of it.” said he. Quemadmodum et sperma nonulli corum emittunt et vermes quosdam spermate procreant. At incredible est, inquam excrementi quicquam daemonibus inesse, vasave spermatica et vitalia vasa quidem eis, inquit ille, hujesmodi nulla insunt, superflui autem seu excrementi nesiou quid emittunt hoc mihi asserenti creditio. (Note) But, said I, if they derive nourishment, they must derive it as we do? Marcus [for that was his name], replied, /
* The Cretans and the Phoenicians were remarkable for their lying propensities, so much so that their bad faith became proverbial. The Apostle Paul in the Epistle to Titus (ch. i, 12) cites the poet Epimenides description of them with approbation of its truth, “The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.”—Every one has heard of the Punica fides {“reliability of a Carthaginian”, or rather the complete lack of reliability}.
† This is a technical note. See note on the word ridiculous tricks on the 47th page.

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