There’s a longish list of supposed quotes from the Fathers that shows up repeatedly in supposedly feminist works. The quotes are almost always in identical wording of an English translation, and they never provide citations from the Fathers. Rather, they cite other feminist authors, who also turn out to have cited other feminist authors as authorities. It shows up in the Congressional Record, in Irish letters to the editor, and in the Antioch Review from 1954… but with never a citation.
This is just the dumbest thing. It’s not scholarly. It’s a pre-Internet photocopy meme, or even a mimeograph meme. You can smell the purple ink.
So here’s a meme picture drawing from the Internet meme version, from “Women Without Religion”:
However, unlike many meme quotes, this one wasn’t just made up from wholecloth. It was made up from a different quote, by a different author, with a different context, which was only in existence in Greek at a monastery on Mount Sinai and some other places, and in a Latin translation, during the entire Middle Ages. (And it was also a sermon which took pains to avoid being misogynist, both in Latin and Greek, if you read the whole thing.The author specifically says in the first paragraph that he’s not talking about good and honest women. Sheesh.)
It was from a sermon by an anonymous author. It is referred to as Pseudo-Chrysostom, because it was one of many sermons misattributed to him. The Greek manuscript was found in the Sinai Polycephalon, from the 5th-7th centuries. It was a sermon about Herodias getting Salome to dance and to ask for St. John the Baptist’s head. (The sermon is also misattributed to St. Ephrem of Syria and to St. John of Damascus, so it’s Pseudo-Ephrem and Pseudo-Damascene too.)
The actual quote says, “It seems to me, that there is no other beast [therion, wild animal] on earth like an evil woman.”
And there’s a long list of Biblical bad women, but the sermon ends by praising good women.
So it’s not Chrysostom, it’s taken out of context, and it makes a specific “an evil woman” into Woman. Checks off most of the bad quote boxes, and it’s also terrible scholarship.
The paper that had the quote with actual Greek text in it was “Motivations for the Beheading of John the Baptist in Byzantine and Old Georgian Writings” by Maia Barnaveli, in the journal Phasis, 2014. (So “not all women.”)
The citation for the homily itself is Sinai Polycephalon of 864th Year, ed. by A. Shanidze, Tbilisi, 1959, 212-215; and also in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, tome 59, columns 483-490. The quote itself is in column 483 of Migne, in Greek, and in column 485 in a Latin translation that was kicking around.
Thank you, Maia Barnaveli!
I will get the Greek wording in here, but I have to get to work.
UPDATE: Even in Migne’s Chrysostom edition, back in Victorian times, the homily was listed under Spurious Works!!!!
And apparently the meme list… at least partly comes from Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum! Seriously, ladies and gentlemen? You are quoting a medieval nutcase’s out of context meme list, and turning it into a modern feminist meme list? I know what his misogynist excuse was, but what’s yours? Why am I having to dismantle his crud “proof,” when you could have done it?
(And heck, I’m sure there’s dismantling already, in the medieval anti-Malleus literature. Arrrgh.)
UPDATE 2: The sermon is actually a two-part structure, and the subject is evil wives and good wives. The first part compares Herodias to Jezebel and St. John the Baptist to St. Elijah. Then it brings in Job’s wife and Delilah, and closes with various references to evil women/wives in Micah, Sirach, and Proverbs. The second part talks about the rich, married Shunamite woman who housed Elisha, and the poor widow who housed Elijah, as examples of good women.
Seeing as both “gune” and “mulier” mean “wife” as well as “woman,” it’s possible that the best translation of the quote is that it is about an “evil wife.” (And actually, there’s several true crime shows just about evil husbands and/or evil wives….)