Asterius of Amasea in his Ekphrasis on *Euphemia (martyr of Chalcedon, S00017) describes a canvas painting depicting the martyrdom of the saint; the image is exhibited in a portico near the saint’s tomb at Chalcedon (north-west Asia Minor, near Constantinople). Written in Greek, probably in Amasea (Pontus, northern Asia Minor), in the late 4th c.
Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom
Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts
Literary - Other
Asterius of Amasea
Asterius of Amasea, Homily 11: Ekphrasis on Euphemia (CPG 3260.1 = BHG 623-623a)
Ἀστερίου ἐπισκόπου Ἀμασείας ἔκφρασις εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν Εὐφημίαν τὴν πανεύφημον
(1.) Πρώην μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες, Δημοσθένην εἶχον ἐν χερσὶ τὸν δεινὸν καὶ Δημοσθένους ἐκεῖνα ἔνθα δὴ τὸν Αἰσχίνην πικροῖς βάλλει τοῖς ἐνθυμήμασιν· ἐνχρονίσας δὲ τῷ λόγῳ καὶ πυκνωθεὶς τὴν διάνοιαν ἀνέσεως ἐδεόμην καὶ περιπάτου, ὥστε μοι λυθῆναι μικρὸν τῆς ψυχῆς τὸ πονούμενον. Προελθών τε τοῦ δωματίου καὶ ὀλίγα τοῖς γνωρίμοις συμβαδίσας ἐπ’ ἀγορᾶς, ἐκεῖθεν εἰς τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ τέμενος ἀφικόμην εὐξόμενος ἐν σχολῇ· ὡς δὲ καὶ τούτου τυχὼν ἕνα δὴ τῶν ὑποστέγων δρόμων ἐβάδιζον, εἶδον ἐκεῖ γραφήν τινα· καί με κατ’ ἄκρας εἷλεν ἡ θέα· Εὐφράνορος ἂν εἶπες εἶναι τὸ φιλοτέχνημα ἤ τινος ἐκείνων τῶν παλαιῶν οἳ τὴν γραφικὴν ἦραν εἰς μέγα, ἐμψύχους ὀλίγου δέοντος ἐργασάμενοι πίνακας. Δεῦρο δ’ εἰ βούλει—καὶ γὰρ σχολὴ νῦν διηγήματος—, φράσω σοι τὴν γραφήν· οὐδὲ γὰρ φαυλότερα πάντως τῶν ζωγράφων οἱ μουσῶν παῖδες ἔχομεν φάρμακα.
(2.) Γυνή τις ἱερὰ παρθένος ἀκήρατον θεῷ τὴν σωφροσύνην καθιερώσασα—Εὐφημίαν καλοῦσιν αὐτήν—, τυράννου δέ ποτε τοὺς εὐσεβοῦντας ἐλαύνοντος, μάλα προθύμως τὸν ἐπὶ θανάτῳ εἵλετο κίνδυνον· οἱ δὲ δὴ πολῖται καὶ κοινωνοὶ τῆς θρησκείας ὑπὲρ ἧς ἐτελεύτησεν, ὡς ἀνδρείαν ὁμοῦ καὶ ἱερὰν τὴν παρθένον θαυμάσαντες, πλησίον τοῦ ἱεροῦ τὴν θήκην δειμάμενοι καταθέμενοί τε τὴν λάρνακα, τιμὰς τελοῦσιν αὐτῇ καὶ τὴν ἐτήσιον ἑορτὴν κοινὴν καὶ πάνδημον ποιοῦνται πανήγυριν. Οἱ μὲν οὖν τῶν τοῦ θεοῦ μυστηρίων ἱεροφάνται καὶ λόγῳ τιμῶσι τὴν μνήμην ἀεὶ καὶ προαιρέσει καὶ ὅπως ἐξετέλεσε τὸν τῆς καρτερίας ἀγῶνα ἐπιμελῶς τοὺς συνιόντας λαοὺς ἐκδιδάσκουσιν. Ὁ δὲ δὴ ζωγράφος εὐσεβῶν καὶ αὐτὸς διὰ τῆς τέχνης τὰ κατὰ δύναμιν πᾶσαν τὴν ἱστορίαν ἐν σινδόνι χαράξας αὐτοῦ που περὶ τὴν θήκην ἱερὸν ἀνέθηκε θέαμα· ἔχει δὲ ὧδε τὸ φιλοτέχνημα.
(3.) Ὑψηλὸς ἐπὶ θρόνου καθίδρυται δικαστὴς πικρὸν καὶ δυσμενὲς βλέπων εἰς τὴν παρθένον· ὀργίζεται γὰρ ὅταν ἐθέλῃ κἀν ταῖς ἀψύχοις ὕλαις ἡ τέχνη. Δορυφόροι δὲ τῆς ἀρχῆς καὶ στρατιῶται πολλοί, οἱ μὲν τῶν ὑπομνημάτων ὑπογραφεῖς δέλτους φέροντες καὶ γραφίδας, ὧν θάτερος ἀναρτήσας ἀπὸ τοῦ κηροῦ τὴν χεῖρα βλέπει πρὸς τὴν κρινομένην σφοδρῶς ὅλον ἐκκλίνας τὸ πρόσωπον, ὥσπερ παρακελευόμενος γεγωνότερον λαλεῖν ἵνα μὴ κάμνων περὶ τὴν ἀκοὴν ἐσφαλμένα γράφῃ καὶ ἐπιλήψιμα. Ἕστηκεν δὲ ἡ παρθένος ἐν φαιῷ χιτῶνι, καὶ ἱματίῳ τὴν φιλοσοφίαν σημαίνουσα, ὡς μὲν ἔδοξε τῷ γραφεῖ, καὶ τὴν ὄψιν ἀστεία, ὡς δ’ ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ, τὴν ψυχὴν κεκαλλωπισμένη ταῖς ἀρεταῖς. Ἄγουσι δὲ αὐτὴν πρὸς τὸν ἄρχοντα δύο στρατιῶται, ὁ μὲν ἕλκων ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσω, ὁ δὲ κατόπιν ἐπείγων. Κεκραμένον τῆς παρθένου τὸ εἶδος αἰδοῖ καὶ στερρότητι· νεύει μὲν γὰρ εἰς γῆν ὥσπερ ἐρυθριῶσα τὰς ὄψεις τῶν ἀρρένων, ἕστηκε δὲ ἀκατάπληκτος οὐδὲν πάσχουσα πρὸς τὸν ἀγῶνα δειλόν. Ὡς ἔγωγε τοὺς ἄλλους τέως ἐπῄνουν ζωγράφους, ἔστ’ ἂν ἐθεασάμην τῆς γυναικὸς ἐκείνης τῆς Κολχίδος τὸ δράμα, ὅπως μέλλουσα τοῖς τέκνοις ἐπιφέρειν τὸ ξίφος ἐλέῳ καὶ θυμῷ μερίζει τὸ πρόσωπον καὶ θάτερος μὲν τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν τὴν ὀργὴν ἐμφανίζει, θάτερος δὲ τὴν μητέρα μηνύει φειδομένην καὶ φρίττουσαν, νῦν δὲ τὸ θαῦμα ἀπ’ ἐκείνης τῆς ἐννοίας πρὸς ταύτην μετατέθεικα τὴν γραφήν· καὶ σφόδρα γε ἄγαμαι τοῦ τεχνίτου, ὅτι μᾶλλον ἔμιξε τῶν χρωμάτων τὸ ἄνθος, αἰδῶ τε ὁμοῦ καὶ ἀνδρείαν κεράσας, πάθη κατὰ φύσιν μαχόμενα.
(4.) Προβαινούσης δὲ εἰς τὸ πρόσω τῆς μιμήσεως, δήμιοί τινες ἐν χιτωνίσκοις γυμνοὶ ἤδη ἤρχοντο τοῦ ἔργου· καὶ ὁ μὲν δραξάμενος τῆς κεφαλῆς καὶ ἀνακλίνας εἰς τὸ κατόπιν παρεῖχε τῷ ἑτέρῳ εὐτρεπὲς εἰς τιμωρίαν τῆς παρθένου τὸ πρόσωπον· ὁ δὲ παραστὰς ἐξέκοπτε τῶν ὀδόντων τὸ μαργαρῶδες· σφῦρα δὲ καὶ τέρετρον φαίνεται τῆς τιμωρίας τὰ ὄργανα. Δακρύω δὲ τὸ ἐντεῦθεν καί μοι τὸ πάθος ἐπικόπτει τὸν λόγον· τὰς γὰρ τοῦ αἵματος σταγόνας οὕτως ἐναργῶς ἐπέχρωσεν ὁ γραφεὺς ὥστε εἴποις ἂν προχεῖσθαι τῶν χειλέων ἀληθῶς καὶ θρηνήσας ἀπέλθοις. Δεσμωτήριον μετὰ ταῦτα· καὶ πάλιν ἡ παρθένος σεμνὴ ἐν τοῖς φαιοῖς ἱματίοις κάθηται μόνη ἐκτείνουσα τῶ χεῖρε πρὸς οὐρανὸν καὶ καλοῦσα θεὸν ἐπίκουρον τῶν δεινῶν· εὐχομένῃ δὲ αὐτῇ φαίνεται ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς τὸ σημεῖον ὃ δὴ νόμος χριστιανοῖς προσκυνεῖν τε καὶ ἐπιγράφεσθαι, σύμβολον οἶμαι τοῦ πάθους ὅπερ αὐτὴν ἐξεδέχετο. Εὐθὺς γοῦν καὶ μετ’ ὀλίγον πῦρ ἀλλαχοῦ σφοδρὸν ὁ ζωγράφος ἀνῆψεν, ἐρυθρῷ χρώματι ἔνθεν καὶ ἔνθεν ἐπιλαμφθέντι σωματοποιήσας τὴν φλόγα. Ἵστησι δὲ μέσην αὐτήν, τὰς μὲν χεῖρας πρὸς οὐρανὸν διαπλώσασαν, ἀχθηδόνα δὲ οὐδεμίαν ἐπιφαίνουσαν τῷ προσώπῳ, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον γεγηθυῖαν ὅτι πρὸς τὴν ἀσώματον καὶ μακαρίαν ἐξεδήμει ζωήν. Μέχρι τούτου καὶ ὁ ζωγράφος ἔστησε τὴν χεῖρα κἀγὼ τὸν λόγον· ὥρα δέ σοι καὶ αὐτὴν εἰ βούλει τελέσαι τὴν γραφήν, ἵνα κατίδῃς ἀκριβῶς εἰ μὴ πολὺ κατόπιν τῆς ἐξηγήσεως ἤλθομεν.
‘A Descriptive Account of Saint Euphemia the Most Renowned, by Asterios, Bishop of Amasea
(1.) The other day, gentlemen, I had in my hands the great Demosthenes, and, in particular, those works of Demosthenes where he bitterly attacks Aeschines with his arguments. After a long time reading and with my mind congested, I needed some recreation and a walk, so as to be released for a little of the strain of my spirit. So I left my room, and, after a short stroll through the marketplace with my companions, I arrived at the temple of God, in order to pray in peace and quiet. Having finished this, as I was walking through one of the roofed passageways, I saw there a painting, and the sight overwhelmed me completely. One might say that it was a work of Euphranor or one of those men of old, who raised the art of painting to greatness, producing as they did paintings that were almost alive. But let me describe for you the drawing, if you like, since we now have plenty of time for storytelling. Indeed, we servants of the Muses [i.e. writers] dispose of pigments which are by no means inferior to those of painters!
(2.) A certain woman, a holy virgin who devoted to God her virtue untainted – they call her Euphemia – most willingly took the risk of dying at a time when a tyrant was persecuting the pious. Admiring the virgin as both brave and holy, the members and partakers of the religion for which she had died built her tomb and buried her coffin near their sanctuary, and they perform rites in her honour, making her yearly festival a public and popular celebration. Thus the ministers of God’s mysteries perpetually honour her memory both by their words and ways, and diligently teach the throngs gathered there how she accomplished the contest of perseverance. The painter then, demonstrating his own piety by his art, drew, to the best of his ability, the whole story on a canvas, and set it up as a sacred spectacle near the tomb. So the work is as following.
(3.) A judge is seated high on a throne, bitterly and harshly beholding the virgin – indeed, art can put wrath even into lifeless matter, when it wishes to! There are several soldiers guarding the dignitary. The scribes of records hold writing-tablets and pens, and one of them, with his hand piercing the wax, looks towards the accused woman, turning animatedly his entire face, as if ordering her to speak more loudly, lest he errs in hearing and writes down wrong and untruthful things. The virgin stands clad in a grey tunic (chiton) and cloak (himation), demonstrating her contemplative lifestyle (philosophia) – so thought the painter. She is restrained in her appearance, yet resplendent with virtues in her soul – so do I think. Two soldiers lead her to the ruler, one dragging her forward, the other urging her from behind. The virgin’s expression combines modesty with steadfastness, for she nods to the ground, blushing, as it were, before the sight of males, but she stays undisturbed, with no sign of cowardice before the ordeal. Once I used to praise the other painters, as, for instance, when I saw the story of that Colchian woman [Medea]: how she divides her face between mercy and anger, as she is about to inflict the sword onto her children, one eye expressing her wrath, the other betraying the mother in her, pitying and shuddering! But now, I have transferred my feelings of admiration from that memory onto this painting, and indeed deeply wonder at the craftsman for his superb blending of the bloom of his colours, uniting as he did modesty and courage, which are by nature mutually contrasting emotions.
(4.) And, as the story continues, executioners, stripped down to their short tunics, start their work. One of them, holding her head and leaning it back, exposed the face of the virgin to the tortures of the other. The other one, standing by, cut off her pearly teeth. A hammer and borer appear to be the tools of this punishment. At this point, tears fill my eyes and emotion holds my speech: indeed, the painter has painted the drops of blood so vividly that you might take them for really pouring from her lips, and depart weeping. After his, comes the prison: again the virgin, dignified in her grey clothes, is sitting alone, raising her hand up to heaven and calling upon God to be her helper in her tribulations. And while praying, above her head the sign appears to her, which it is the custom for Christians to venerate and inscribe – a symbol, I believe, of the suffering which was awaiting her. Next then, at another point further on, the painter has kindled a great fire, blazing up the flame with red colour glowing on its two sides. And he placed her in its midst, stretching her hands up to heaven, yet demonstrating no suffering on her face – quite the contrary, rejoicing, for she was moving towards the bodiless and blessed life. At this point, the painter has stayed his hand, and I stay my account. And now it is time for you, if you like, to pay a visit to the picture itself, in order to judge with your own eyes if we have fallen too short of it in our interpretation.’
Text: Datema 1970. Translation: Efthymios Rizos, using Mango 1986 and Dehandschutter 2003.
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SourceThe Ekphrasis on Saint Euphemia is one of the best known texts ascribed to Asterius, bishop of Amasea.
Asterius was bishop of Amasea in Pontus (northern Asia Minor) between the 380s and 420s, perhaps having been a rhetorician before joining the clergy. He is only known from his homilies (16 preserved intact), which provide us with pretty much all we know about Asterius’ life, since he is not mentioned by other sources from Late Antiquity. His work attracted much attention during Iconoclasm and in the Byzantine period, when his homilies were widely appreciated as models of Christian rhetoric. Our Ekphrasis was among the texts quoted in the Second Council of Nicaea (787), in support of the use of images in Christian worship (sessions IV and VI; Mansi XIII, pp. 16-18, 308-309). Ten of Asterius' homilies are quoted in the Bibliotheca of Photius (cod. 271).
The character and date of the Ekphrasis are difficult to define, but it fits well into its purported 4th century context, being akin to the style of ecclesiastical rhetoric, represented by the Cappadocian Fathers and Chrysostom. Nevertheless, it seems probable that this particular text was not written for the pulpit, and it may be better to interpret it as a rhetorical exercise or letter, possibly written when the author was still a student or practising lawyer. Speyer (1971) has argued that it was a missionary reading addressed to erudite pagans.
In the Byzantine period, the Ekphrasis was included in both collections of hagiographical readings and rhetorical works. It survives in at least fourteen manuscripts of the 10th/11th to the 16th/17th centuries.
On the manuscripts, see: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/id/8139
DiscussionThe Ekphrasis purports to be a description of a painted representation of the hagiographical story, used for the decoration of a cult space. It is, however, less than clear whether this is an accurate claim or rather a rhetorical device: the painting metaphor is common in hagiographical homilies of this period (see E00672, E00718, E00719), used in order to describe narrative discourse and storytelling. In Byzantine Greek the verb ἱστορέω (historeō) had both the meaning of recounting a story in words and of illustrating a story with images. Similarly, descriptive discourse is called ζωγράφος λόγος (zōgraphos logos) in a 9th century text (Leo VI the Wise, Homily 41).
Whether describing a real image or not, the text follows a narrative structure typical of an early martyrdom account: the martyr is brought before her judge, who is seated on his lofty throne, surrounded by scribes writing or reading out the martyr’s acta. There follows a scene of torture, a vision appearing to the martyr while in gaol, and her death on the pyre. The text names the martyr as Euphemia, and, although it is not specified if it refers to Chalcedon and its martyr, this has been taken for granted ever since the appearance of the text in the Acts of Nicaea in 787. After Iconoclasm, it seems that the Ekphrasis became part of the hagiography of Euphemia of Chalcedon, and it was thus included in several menologia.
However, the story recounted by Asterius does not correspond fully with the extant martyrdom accounts of Euphemia, since it is not possible to identify in them the episodes of the cutting of her teeth, and of the vision of the cross. The episode of the fire, on the other hand, is included in them, but not as the cause of her death – she miraculously survives the pyre, and dies in the arena devoured by the beasts, or by the sword. Given the fact that the extant martyrdom texts of Euphemia seem to be highly literary compositions of a later period (no earlier than the 5th century), it is possible that the Ekphrasis echoes an earlier and shorter version of the text, ending with the burning of the saint, which is how most early martyrdom accounts from Asia Minor end.
A particularly noteworthy piece of information is that, according to the author, the story of Euphemia’s martyrdom is related by the clergy of the local shrine to the visitors of the church, and that the painting is based on the accounts related by them, confirming the central role of shrines and their priests in the production of hagiography.
Datema, C., Asterius of Amasea, Homilies I-XIV: Text, Introduction and Notes (Leiden: Brill, 1970), xvii, xxii, 149-155.
Halkin, F., Euphémie de Chalcedoine: Légendes byzantines (Subsidia Hagiographica; Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1965), 1-8.
Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 37-39.
Dehandschutter, B., "Asterius of Amasea," in: J. Leemans, et al. (eds.), 'Let us die that we may live' : Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria, (c. AD 350-AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003), 173-176.
Baldwin, B. "Asterios of Amaseia," in: A.P. Kazhdan, A.-M. Talbot, and A. Cutler (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 213.
Schneider, A.M., “Sankt Euphemia und das Konzil von Chalkedon,” in: A. Grillmeier and H. Bacht (eds.), Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart. 3 vols. (Würzburg: Echter-Verlag, 1951), vol. 1, 291-302.
Schrier, O.J., “A propos d‘ une donnée negligée sur la mort de Ste. Euphémie,” Analecta Bollandiana 102 (1984), 329-353.
Speyer, W., “Die Euphemia-Rede des Asterios von Amaseia : eine Mission-schrift für gebildete Heiden,” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 14 (1971), 39-47.
Speyer, W. "Asterios von Amaseia," in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1980), 626-639.
|Name in Source
|Euphemia, martyr of Chalcedon
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