On Interpretation

Sat Nov 8, 2008

From this fascinating LRB article by James Davidson:

There is a nice irony here, for Constantine’s critical conversion was dependent, we are told, on old-fashioned battlefield oracles not dissimilar to those in which the Iamids – who were still apparently prophesying after perhaps a thousand years or more, but would not do so for much longer – had proved so expert. First, according to a contemporary panegyric of around 310 AD, a mystic vision was granted to Constantine. The mantic god Apollo, Sun Unconquered, appeared to him with the winged goddess Victory and three crosses XXX, guaranteeing thirty years of rule. Then, much later, we hear of a slightly different image, not the three crosses of thirty, but the X of Xristianity, a rebus to end all rebuses, a final godly punchline, the ultimate visual pun. When the X was tilted slightly to become the cross of crucifixion, one of three on Golgotha, Tisamenus’ beloved butterflying Victory was transmogrified into Constantine’s Christian angel, not hovering uncertainly, but sent down from Lord God direct. In the same way the gigantic Winged Victory on the roundabout at Hyde Park Corner was reconfigured for the Edwardian period as an ‘Angel of Peace’.

I also had not realized how bowdlerized was the translation of Phaedrus I used when I last taught it until I read this.