Meleager of Gadara on the Jews

Meleager of Gadara on the Jews

Meleager of Gadara is not exactly a household name and indeed those few who have heard of him are likely to do so primarily because of his importance as being one of the very first authors to bring poetry and epigrams into collections as opposed to individual works as had previously been the case.

Meleager was of Syrian birth (although given his origins likely Greek given that Gadara in what is now Jordan was a significantly Hellenized community) (1) and grew up in the city of Tyre in the second half of the second century BC. He was rather linguistically accomplished speaking at least Greek, Syrian, Phoenician and Arabic languages with some degree of fluency. He was primarily a poet and was well-known in his own time for his love poems - similar to those of Ovid two centuries later - as well as having a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humour.

One of these comments he makes; in what survives in his work (specifically ‘The Palatine Anthology’), concerns jews.

Meleager states the following about his female lover named Demo who is cheating on him:

‘If thy lover is some Sabbath-keeper, no great wonder! Love burns hot even on cold Sabbaths.’ (2)

Now obviously the reference that Meleager is making here is to jews given that they are the only possibly identity we can give to the ‘Sabbath-keepers’ mentioned (Meleager also would have known jews having been born, raised and spent his life in the same areas frequented by them).

However the meaning here is two fold: in the first instance Meleager’s reference to the Sabbath being ‘cold’ is a euphemism for referring to the practice of doing no work of any kind as being deathly dull.

So Meleager wonders how can the jews cope with this?

He tells us that they do so by making love/having sex a great deal on the Sabbath (i.e. ‘love burns hot’) as this - as far as Meleager knows 0 isn’t considered to be arduous and thus wouldn’t be considered work.

That the jews are out seducing non-jewish girls to come to bed with them on the Sabbath is another implication of what Meleager is saying precisely because it is ‘no great wonder’ to him that his gentile lover Demo has fallen into the sexual embraces of a jew. Since the jews were out on the prowl looking for non-jewish girls to seduce having being forbidden by their religion to do work. Thus had all day Saturday every week to perfect the art of seducing gentile girls as a form of sick jewish sport.

The point Meleager is actually making (aside from his self-deprecating humour) - in relation to being cuckolded by a jew - is that non-jewish women should be careful when going out on the jewish Sabbath for the streets of the classical world were filled with sexually voracious jews looking to seduce (or possibly rape) any gentile girl they could find.

In essence Meleager is subtly accusing the jews of behaving like men in India historically and currently do: treating women as de facto prostitutes who exist for their personal sexual amusement and nothing more.


(1) Implied by the comments about Gadara in Martin Goodman, 1997, ‘The Roman World 44 BC – AD 180’, 1st Edition, Routledge: New York, pp. 248-249
(2) Antho. Pal. 160; for an slightly different alternative translation (which doesn’t alter the meaning) see Max Radin, 1915, ‘The Jews among Greeks and Romans’, 1st Edition, Jewish Publication Society of America: Philadelphia, p. 177