A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

5. Surnamed AREIOPAGEITA, an Athenian, who is called by Suidas a most eminent man, who rose to the height of Greek erudition. He is said to have first studied at Athens, and afterwards at Heliopolis in Egypt. When he observed in Egypt the eclipse of the sun, which occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he is said to have exclaimed, " either God himself is suffering, or he sympathises with some one who is suffering." On his return to Athens he was made one of the council of the Areiopagus, whence he derives his surname. About A. D. 50, when St. Paul preached at Athens, Dionysius became a Christian (The Acts, 17.34), and it is said that he was not only the first bishop of Athens, but that he was installed in that office by St. Paul himself. (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 3.4, 4.23; Suidas.) He is further said to have died the death of a martyr under most cruel tortures. Whether Dionysius Areiopageita ever wrote anything, is highly uncertain; but there exists under his name a number of works of a mystico-Christian nature, which contain ample evidence that they are the productions of some Neo-Platonist, and can scarcely have been written before the fifth or sixth century of our era. Without entering upon any detail about those works, which would be out of place here, we need only remark, that they exercised a very great influence upon the formation and development of Christianity in the middle ages. At the time of the Carlovingian emperors, those works were introduced into western Europe in a Latin translation made by Scotus Erigena, and gave the first impulse to that mystic and scholastic theology which afterwards maintained itself for centuries. (Fabric. Bibl. Gr. vii. p. 7, &c.; Bähr, Gesch. der Röm. Lit. im Karoling. Zeitalter, § 187.)