Atargatis, the “Syrian Goddess,” was a demanding mistress. For one thing, her priests (the galli) could win their way into her affections only by emasculating themselves. According to the De Dea Syria, attributed to Lucian of Samosata, any young man disposed to dedicate himself to her service in Hierapolis had to make this first and most extravagant oblation on one of her high holy days, in a fit of divine ecstasy, with a single economic slash of a sacred sword kept at her temple. After that, he would run naked and bleeding through the city streets until he found a home into which he felt inspired to fling the freshly severed jetsam. Any household thus “honored” was then required by religious decency to supply the new initiate with female attire and adornments.

Now, admittedly, we all do our best to lay up treasure in heaven, and I suppose one ought not to cast around too many peremptory judgments regarding other people’s pieties; but I think most of us can agree that this was a fairly exorbitant sum to place in escrow on an uncertain bargain. More to the point, pity the poor housewife or slave to whose lot it fell to take up the gauntlet (so to speak) from where it had been thrown down. Religious enthusiasts in every age have tended to make nuisances of themselves, granted; but even Jehovah’s Witnesses showing up at the door at dinner time do not impose themselves quite so inconsiderately and startlingly as that.