The debate between Christians and pagans The form of debate

Despite this internal heterogeneity of paganism, late antique Christian-pagan intellectual debate possessed considerable uniformity. For it was always conducted with reference to the framework of the Platonic philosophical thought of the day This framework formally unified the discussions and arguments between pagans and Christians. The pagans expressed themselves within this framework, while the Christians correlated Christianity - whose primary conceptual framework is that of late-Jewish apocalyptic - critically with this framework which pagan intellectuals took for granted.

True Logos, appearance and allegory At the heart of this Platonic framework was the opposition of the true logos (meaning) of being to the literally understood ^u6oi of the poets, a distinction stretching back to pre-Socratic philosophy.5 This determined a basic stance of critical opposition to all religion insofar as it was tied to a literal reading of the poetic myths.

Within this framework, such myth - and the pagan religion articulated in terms of it - was salvaged through modes of allegorical interpretation, modes that originated in Hellenistic Stoicism.6 These were premised upon the belief that the ancients had possessed a wisdom containing the true logos of being now generally forgotten.7 They expressed this ontology symbolically; later, the poets, not understanding these symbols, incorporated them within their fabulous stories.8 Thus while the myths were literally nonsense, hidden within them was the true ontology of the ancients, and this could be recovered through techniques of allegorical interpretation of the appropriate sections of the poetic myths.9 A fortiori, pagan religious practices that were articulated in terms of mythical discourse need not be understood as enactments of specious nonsense, but couldbe recognised rather as symbolic modes of action in which one conformed to true being.

5 Cf.e.g. Xenophanes, DK 21b 11-16; Heraclitus, DK 22b 1, 2; Parmenides, DK 28b 1.29-30, 2.3-5, 6.1-2, 7.3.

6 Cf.Charles Kannengeisser, Handbook of patristic exegesis, 1: 248-55; G. R. Boys-Stones, Post-Hellenic philosophy.

7 Thus, Cornutus, De natura deorum 35.75.18-76.5: 'the ancients were no ordinary men, but capable of understanding the cosmos and inclined to use symbols and riddles in their philosophical discussions of it'. Cf.Aristotle, Meta. A.8, 1074b 1-14 and, for the general background to this way of thought, Hesiod, Op. et dies 106-201.

9 For examples of such exegesis see Plutarch, Is. etOs.; Porphyry, Ant. nymph. Cf.Sallustius, Deis et mundo, 3-4.

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