Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Abercius of Hierapolis

Today is the feast of St. Abercius the Wonderworker of Hierapolis and is a remarkable way to end this particular week. He was a 2nd century bishop in the Phrygian city of Hierapolis where the cult of Apollo was not only popular, but the chief patron of the city. While the city was celebrating a festival in honor of their favorite deity, St. Abercius received a revelation where he was instructed to destroy the idols.

That night he snuck into the temple and proceeded to overturn all of the statues therein. As dawn broke and the revelers discovered the saint's work, he boldly declared that all the gods must have become drunk from the quantity of libations offered them and then got into a fight with each other in their drunken confusion.

Enraged at the insult to their gods, a mob began to form in order to take revenge. They were stopped in their tracks by fear, however, when St. Abercius cast out demons from three young men. Upon hearing the Gospel, the crowd and then the city became Christian. St. Abercius reposed in peace near the end of the second century.

I find it remarkable that at the end of a week where I asked the question Is Christianity Compatible With D&D that I get to tell the story of a Christian saint involved in what can only be called a trope of both Sword & Sorcery tales and D&D. The scenario of sneaking into a temple to either steal stuff or do damage plays a significant part in my own formation as an S&S fan and a D&D player.

My introduction to the genre was Lawrence Watt-Evans second installment of his Lords of Dûs series, The Seven Altars of Dûsarra:

The crux of the story has Garth the Overman sneaking into all the temples of the Dark Gods in order to steal whatever is on their altars.

I realize that there is many an REH fan who despises Swarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian (I tentatively place myself among them); however, it was my first "D&D movie" and I still get a kick out of how Conan and company steal the Eye of the Serpent from the Temple of Set.

Speaking of REH, I came late to the creator of Conan. As many before me, I have come to really enjoy his stories. My favorite is The God in the Bowl which sees Conan sneaking into what the locals call Kallian Publico's Temple

Lest we forget, the idea of sneaking into temples are part and parcel to several modules from the early days of the hobby:

  • A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity
  • C1 Hidden Shrine of Tanoachan
  • D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
  • T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
  • WG 4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

I am sure these are not the last and that I am leaving out others. Needless to say, this just goes to show that even saints have been known to sneak into places to do things we might only expect a D&D PC to do…


  1. I've never heard of the "Lords of Dus" series. I quite enjoyed Watt-Evans' "Ethshar" series, especially "The Misenchanted Sword." I'll have to look "Lords" up.

  2. And of course the original AD&D PHB cover.

    I have to say the most D&D element of that story may be his explanation that the gods must have gotten too drunk and ended up brawling. I could see somebody in our party saying something like that ... just to make the crowd think "Are you an complete idiot or what?" and confuse them enough to give us a jump on our retreat.

  3. I don't know if I'll express this correctly, but I feel like you're comparison is a little wonky. I S&S, the protagonists are usually are the right side of the right god only for pragmatic reasons. I don't have a genuine example from the literature, but I can imagine a scenario where the heroes raid a temple to line their pockets with fat loot while killing the high priest of Set before he kills them. Being a zealous follower of Mitra would have nothing to do with it.

    Not that I think you're spin is invalid. I just think the whole different weight. Conan doesn't want to win a martyr's crown, but I could play my axe wielding fighter as if that's something he genuinely believes a better man might see at the end of his idol-smashing.

    Of course, I could have that wrong. And I strangely feel like I'm trivializing it somehow.

  4. @Anthony
    Ironically, I have never read the "Ethshar" series. I guess I'll have to look that up...

    And of course the original AD&D PHB cover.

    See, I told you I forget some...

    I have to say the most D&D element of that story may be his explanation that the gods must have gotten too drunk and ended up brawling.

    I have to admit, this is what really made me start down the path to thinking about raiding temples as a trope — I can't count the number of times I have heard something as outrageous and bold being said by PCs at my table.

    And I strangely feel like I'm trivializing it somehow.

    No, you are just pointing out that in both S&S and D&D the main motivation is normally getting the treasure. S&S characters are often mercenary and in (earlier) D&D gold = xp; however, in both S&S and D&D there are plenty of other motivations. Our party might all agree to go raid the temple of Set, but my guess is that each character is going to be seeking something different. What I find so fascinating about St. Abercius is that, despite having a different motivation, his actions are almost identical to the trope in S&S and D&D. As RPGers, it is another tool in our tool belt to have fun doing the same old raiding of the temple.