One of themselves, even a prophet of their own - This was Epimenides, who was born at Gnossus, in Crete, and was reckoned by many the seventh wise man of Greece, instead of Periander, to whom that honor was by them denied. Many fabulous things are related of this poet, which are not proper to be noticed here. He died about 538 years before the Christian era. When St. Paul calls him a prophet of their own, he only intimates that he was, by the Cretans, reputed a prophet. And, according to Plutarch, (in Solone), the Cretans paid him divine honors after his death. Diogenes Laertius mentions some of his prophecies: beholding the fort of Munichia, which guarded the port of Athens, he cried out: "O ignorant men! if they but knew what slaughters this fort shall occasion, they would pull it down with their teeth!" This prophecy was fulfilled several years after, when the king, Antipater, put a garrison in this very fort, to keep the Athenians in subjection. See Diog. Laert., lib. i. p. 73.
Plato, De Legibus, lib. ii., says that, on the Athenians expressing great fear of the Persians, Epimenides encouraged them by saying "that they should not come before ten years, and that they should return after having suffered great disasters." This prediction was supposed to have been fulfilled in the defeat of the Persians in the battles of Salamis and Marathon.
He predicted to the Lacedemonians and Cretans the captivity to which they should one day be reduced by the Arcadians. This took place under Euricrates, king of Crete, and Archidamus, king of Lacedemon; vide Diog. Laert., lib. i. p. 74, edit. Meibom.
It was in consequence of these prophecies, whether true or false, that his countrymen esteemed him a prophet; that he was termed ανηρ αθειος, a divine man, by Plato; and that Cicero, De Divin., lib. i., says he was futura praesciens, et vaticinans per furorem: "He knew future events, and prophesied under a divine influence." These things are sufficient to justify the epithet of prophet, given him here by St. Paul. It may also be remarked that vates and poeta, prophet and poet, were synonymous terms among the Romans.
The Cretians are always liars - The words quoted here by the apostle are, according to St. Jerome, Socrates, Nicephorus, and others, taken from a work of Epimenides, now no longer extant, entitled Περι χρησμων· Concerning Oracles. The words form a hexameter verse: -
Κρητες αει ψευσται, κακα θηρια, γαστερες αργαι.
The Cretans are always liars; destructive wild beasts; sluggish gluttons.
That the Cretans were reputed to be egregious liars, several of the ancients declare; insomuch that Κρητιζειν, to act like a Cretan, signifies to lie; and χρησθαι Κρητισμῳ, to deceive. The other Greeks reputed them liars, because they said that among them was the sepulchre of Jupiter, who was the highest object of the Greek and Roman worship. By telling this truth, which all others would have to pass for a lie, the Cretans showed that the object of their highest admiration was only a dead man.
Evil beasts - Ferocious and destructive in their manners.
Slow bellies - Addicted to voluptuousness, idleness, and gluttony; sluggish or hoggish men.