CLEMENT of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens, probably b. Athens ca. 150 c.e., d. Cappadocia ca. 215), Greek convert to Christianity who became the leading theologian of his time, a polemicist particularly noted for his attempts to reconcile Greco-Roman thought with Christian teachings. He studied at the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, where in about 180 he succeeded his teacher Pantaenus as president. Persecution of Christians by Septimius Severus (193-211) in 201-02 forced him to take refuge with Alexander, bishop of Caesaria (later of Jerusalem), in Cappadocia, where he died some years later. Clement was a man of great erudition, conversant with the writings of Greek authors like Aristotle, Plato, and Herodotus; he was also acquainted with works that are now lost or that survive only in fragmentary form.
His own principal works are Protrepticon (Protreptikòs pròs Héllēnas, Exhortation of the pagans), Paedagogus (Paidagōgós, The instructor), and Stromata (Stromateîs, lit. “Tapestries,” i.e., Miscellanies), in which he included a number of reports on Persia and Persian religions (see Gabrielsson, passim), many of them legendary, though sometimes containing elements of truth. For example, from traditions about Zoroaster that were current among Greeks and Magians in his time he identified Zoroaster with Er the Pamphylian, son of Armenius, mentioned in Plato’s Republic (9.13) as a legendary figure who had journeyed to the underworld, then returned to live on earth (Stromata 220.127.116.11; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 395; Bidez and Cumont, I, p. 109, II, pp. 158-59). He drew on Symbola pythagorica by Alexander Polyhistor (d. ca. 35 b.c.e.) for a report that Pythagoras had adopted the doctrines of the Assyrian Zaratos, that is, Zoroaster, (Stromata 18.104.22.168-22.214.171.124; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 44; cf. Bidez and Cumont, II, pp. 36, 150; Bousset, p. 374). Clement also reported that Democritus of Abdera (d. ca. 370 b.c.e.) had gone to Persia to study with the Magians (Stromata 126.96.36.199; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 44) and that the followers of Prodicus (fl. ca. 200 C.E.), a contemporary who preached a kind of dualist gnosticism, boasted of possessing apocryphal books of Zoroaster (Stromata 188.8.131.52; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 44; cf. Bidez and Cumont, II, pp. 36, 150). He mentioned, further, a passage in Magica by Xanthos of Lydia (5th century b.c.e.; Müller, Fragmenta I, p. 43 fr. 28) on the custom of consanguineous marriage among the Magians (Stromata 184.108.40.206; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 200). Elsewhere he remarked that the unidentified authors of a work entitled Persica had reported the existence in the land of the Magians of three high mountains, which rose in succession from a broad plain and emitted strange and awe-inspiring sounds, probably caused by smooth hollows in the terrain (Stromata 220.127.116.11-5; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, pp. 447-48; cf. Gabrielsson, I, p. 212).
On the subject of fire worship among the Magians Clement quoted from Persica by Diogenes (Müller, Fragmenta IV, p. 392 fr. 4) and from Dinon’s work by the same title (Müller, Fragmenta II, p. 91 fr. 9). According to the latter, they performed sacrifices in the open air and recognized only fire and water as manifestations of deities (Protrepticon 4.65.1-2; ed. Stählin and Treu, p. 49). On the other hand, according to Babyloniaca by Berossus (bk. 3), Artaxerxes II Memnon (405-359 b.c.e.) had introduced into Persia the use of idols in human form and caused statues of Anaitis (Anāhīd) to be erected in the principal cities of his empire (Protrepticon 4.65.3; ed. Stählin and Treu, p. 50). These two reports together thus provide important information on the change in the outward forms of the cult.
Owing to his wide reading, Clement was also familiar with certain facts of Achaemenid history. He quoted from Pherecydes of Syros (6th century b.c.e.; Müller, Fragmenta I, p. 98 fr. 113) a variant of a story reported by Herodotus (History 4.131-33), about one of the campaigns of Darius I (521-486) against the Scythians; after crossing the Ister (the lower Danube) Darius received from the Scythian king Idanthuras (Idanthyrsos in Herodotus) a symbolic message consisting of a rat, a frog, a bird, an arrow, and a plow (Stromata 18.104.22.168-4; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 355). On the authority of the Persica of Hellanicus (5th century b.c.e.; Müller, Fragmenta I, p. 68 fr. 163a) he reported that Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great (559-29 b.c.e.) and wife of Darius, was the first queen to draft dispatches (Stromata 22.214.171.124; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 50). Clement also credited the Persians with inventing the wagon, the bedstead, and the three-legged stool. In the Paedagogus (126.96.36.199; ed. Stählin and Treu, p. 155) Clement alleged that the “wicked Persian” (Xerxes I, 486-65 b.c.e.) had set sail for Greece with 5 million men for the sole purpose of enjoying the dark figs produced there, an absurd story probably taken from Dinon.
Also included in the Stromata (188.8.131.52-2; ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 79) is a list of the Achaemenid kings, with the lengths of their reigns, though without any indication of the sources from which it was taken: Cyrus, thirty years; Cambyses (529-22), nineteen years; Darius, forty-six years; Xerxes, twenty-six years; Artaxerxes (465-26), forty-one years; Darius, eight years; Artaxerxes (405-359), forty-two years; Ochus (i.e., Artaxerxes III), eight years; Arses (338-36), three years. The total span of the dynasty would thus have been 233 years. The list is defective, however, as Darius III (336-31) has been omitted and the lengths of the reigns are incorrect, except for those of Cyrus, Artaxerxes I, and perhaps Arses.
O. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur II, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1903, pp. 15-66.
Idem et al., eds., Bibliothek der Kirchenväter II/7-8, Munich, 1934.
G. Bardy, “Clément d’Alexandrie,” in A. Baudrillart, A. De Meyer, and É. Van Cauwenbergh, eds., Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques XII, Paris, 1953, cols. 1423-28.
J. Bidez and F. Cumont, Les Mages hellénisés, 2 vols., Paris, 1938.
W. Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, Göttingen, 1907.
P. T. Camelot, “Klemens,” in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche VI, 2nd ed., ed. J. Höfer and K. Rahner, Freiburg, 1961, cols. 331-32.
Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticon and Paedagogus, ed. O. Stählin and U. Treu as Clemens Alexandrinus I, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 52/1, 3rd ed., Berlin, 1972; ed. and tr. G. W. Butterworth as The Exhortation to the Greeks, The Loeb Classical Library, London, 1953; tr. C. Mondésert, Protreptique, Sources chrétiennes 2, Paris, 1949.
Idem, Stromata, bks. 1-6, ed. O. Stählin and L. Früchtel as Clemens Alexandrinus II, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 15, 3rd ed., Berlin, 1960; bks. 7-8, ed. O. Stählin and L. Früchtel as Clemens Alexandrinus II, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 17, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1970; tr. W. Wilson in The Ante-Nicene Fathers II, New York, 1885, pp. 299-567.
L. Früchtel, “Clemens Alexandrinus,” in T. Klauser, ed., Reallexikon für Antike and Christentum III, Stuttgart, 1957, cols. 182-88.
J. Gabrielsson, Über die Quellen des Clemens Alexandrinus, 2 vols., Uppsala, 1906-09.
J. Quasten, Patrology II, Utrecht and Antwerp, 1953, pp. 5-36; tr. J. Laporte as Initiation aux pères de l’église II, Paris, 1957, pp. 12-23.
(Marie Louise Chaumont)
Originally Published: December 15, 1992
Last Updated: October 21, 2011
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Vol. V, Fasc. 7, pp. 704-706