“Ceramiclast” in the Bios of St Neilos
Book Title – Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: The Life of Neilos in Context (edited by Barbara Crostini and Ines Angeli Murzaku)
Chapter Number & Title – Chapter 11 : “Ceramiclast” in the Bios of St Neilos (by Raymond Capra)
The Bios of St Neilos the Younger is distinctive in that it provides a comprehensive picture of his character, and to a great extent this is realized through his direct speech. Early during his time as a hermit he was joined by Stephen. In one of their conversations there is an interesting neologism, χυτροκλάστης – ceramiclast or potbreaker. The word is part of Neilos’s speech to Stephen whom he upbraids for breaking a pot. Neilos commands him to go to the monastery in Rossano wearing the shards of the pot around his neck in an act of contrition. Neilos says that Stephen must do this so the brothers in the monastery below would not “think we are ceramiclasts (χυτροκλάσται).” Neilos’s expression however refers to much more than just the shards of the broken pot in Stephen’s hands. Certainly the word evokes the term iconoclast (ἰκονοκλάστης) and so also alludes to the eighth- and ninth-century controversies regarding divine images. Looking closely at the linguistic roots of this term, we see that the compound is constructed from a term for a common ceramic that is very old in the Greek language and also integral with some essential aspects of religion. Thus, Neilos’s statement implies a variety of possible meanings that this focused research essay brings to light.