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Men of great and distinguished talent, when they had entirely devoted themselves to learning, holding in contempt all actions both private and public, applied to the pursuit of investigating the truth whatever labour could be bestowed upon it; thinking it much more excellent to investigate and know the method of human and divine things, than to be entirely occupied with the heaping up of riches or the accumulation of honours. For no one can be made better or more just by these things, since they are frail and earthly, and pertain to the adorning of the body only. Those men were indeed most deserving of the knowledge of the truth, which they so greatly desired to know, that they even preferred it to all things. For it is plain that some gave up their property, and altogether abandoned the pursuit of pleasures, that, being disengaged and without impediment, they might follow the simple truth, and it alone. And so greatly did the name and authority of the truth prevail with them, that they proclaimed that the reward of the greatest good was contained in it. But they did not obtain the object of their wish, and at the same time lost their labour and industry; because the truth, that is the secret of the Most High God, who created all things, cannot be attained by our own ability and perceptions. Otherwise there would be no difference between God and man, if human thought could reach to the counsels and arrangements of that eternal majesty. And because it was impossible that the divine method of procedure should become known to man by his own efforts, God did not suffer man any longer to err in search of the light of wisdom, and to wander through inextricable darkness without any result of his labour, but at length opened his eyes, and made the investigation of the truth His own gift, so that He might show the nothingness of human wisdom, and point out to man wandering in error the way of obtaining immortality.
But since few make use of this heavenly benefit and gift, because the truth lies hidden veiled in obscurity; and it is either an object of contempt to the learned because it has not suitable defenders, or is hated by the unlearned on account of its natural severity, which the nature of men inclined to vices cannot endure: for because there is a bitterness mingled with virtues, while vices are seasoned with pleasure, offended by the former and soothed by the latter, they are borne headlong, and deceived by the appearance of good things, they embrace evils for goods, — I have believed that these errors should be encountered, that both the learned may be directed to true wisdom, and the unlearned to true religion. And this profession is to be thought much better, more useful and glorious, than that of oratory, in which being long engaged, we trained young men not to virtue, but altogether to cunning wickedness. Certainly we shall now much more rightly discuss respecting the heavenly precepts, by which we may be able to instruct the minds of men to the worship of the true majesty. Nor does he deserve so well respecting the affairs of men, who imparts the knowledge of speaking well, as he who teaches men to live in piety and innocence; on which account the philosophers were in greater glory among the Greeks than the orators. For they, the philosophers, were considered teachers of right living, which is far more excellent, since to speak well belongs only to a few, but to live well belongs to all. Yet that practice in fictitious suits has been of great advantage to us, so that we are now able to plead the cause of truth with greater copiousness and ability of speaking; for although the truth may be defended without eloquence, as it often has been defended by many, yet it needs to be explained, and in a measure discussed, with distinctness and elegance of speech, in order that it may flow with greater power into the minds of men, being both provided with its own force, and adorned with the brilliancy of speech.
We undertake, therefore, to discuss religion and divine things. For if some of the greatest orators, veterans as it were of their profession, having completed the works of their pleadings, at last gave themselves up to philosophy, and regarded that as a most just rest from their labours, if they tortured their minds in the investigation of those things which could not be found out, so that they appear to have sought for themselves not so much leisure as occupation, and that indeed with much greater trouble than in their former pursuit; how much more justly shall I betake myself as to a most safe harbour, to that pious, true, and divine wisdom, in which all things are ready for utterance, pleasant to the hearing, easy to be understood, honourable to be undertaken! And if some skilful men and arbiters of justice composed and published Institutions of civil law, by which they might lull the strifes and contentions of discordant citizens, how much better and more rightly shall we follow up in writing the divine Institutions, in which we shall not speak about rain-droppings, or the turning of waters, or the preferring of claims, but we shall speak of hope, of life, of salvation, of immortality, and of God, that we may put an end to deadly superstitions and most disgraceful errors.
And we now commence this work under the auspices of your name, O mighty Emperor Constantine, who were the first of the Roman princes to repudiate errors, and to acknowledge and honour the majesty of the one and only true God. For when that most happy day had shone upon the world, in which the Most High God raised you to the prosperous height of power, you entered upon a dominion which was salutary and desirable for all, with an excellent beginning, when, restoring justice which had been overthrown and taken away, you expiated the most shameful deed of others. In return for which action God will grant to you happiness, virtue, and length of days, that even when old you may govern the state with the same justice with which you began in youth, and may hand down to your children the guardianship of the Roman name, as you yourself received it from your father. For to the wicked, who still rage against the righteous in other parts of the world, the Omnipotent will also repay the reward of their wickedness with a severity proportioned to its tardiness; for as He is a most indulgent Father towards the godly, so is He a most upright Judge against the ungodly. And in my desire to defend His religion and divine worship, to whom can I rather appeal, whom can I address, but him by whom justice and wisdom have been restored to the affairs of men?
Therefore, leaving the authors of this earthly philosophy, who bring forward nothing certain, let us approach the right path; for if I considered these to be sufficiently suitable guides to a good life, I would both follow them myself, and exhort others to follow them. But since they disagree among one another with great contention, and are for the most part at variance with themselves, it is evident that their path is by no means straightforward; since they have severally marked out distinct ways for themselves according to their own will, and have left great confusion to those who are seeking for the truth. But since the truth is revealed from heaven to us who have received the mystery of true religion, and since we follow God, the teacher of wisdom and the guide to truth, we call together all, without any distinction either of sex or of age, to heavenly pasture. For there is no more pleasant food for the soul than the knowledge of truth, to the maintaining and explaining of which we have destined seven books, although the subject is one of almost boundless and immeasurable labour; so that if any one should wish to dilate upon and follow up these things to their full extent, he would have such an exuberant supply of subjects, that neither books would find any limit, nor speech any end. But on this account we will put together all things briefly, because those things which we are about to bring forward are so plain and lucid, that it seems to be more wonderful that the truth appears so obscure to men, and to those especially who are commonly esteemed wise, or because men will only need to be trained by us — that is, to be recalled from the error in which they are entangled to a better course of life.
And if, as I hope, we shall attain to this, we will send them to the very fountain of learning, which is most rich and abundant, by copious draughts of which they may appease the thirst conceived within, and quench their ardour. And all things will be easy, ready of accomplishment, and clear to them, if only they are not annoyed at applying patience in reading or hearing to the perception of the discipline of wisdom. For many, pertinaciously adhering to vain superstitions, harden themselves against the manifest truth, not so much deserving well of their religions, which they wrongly maintain, as they deserve ill of themselves; who, when they have a straight path, seek devious windings; who leave the level ground that they may glide over a precipice; who leave the light, that, blind and enfeebled, they may lie in darkness. We must provide for these, that they may not fight against themselves, and that they may be willing at length to be freed from inveterate errors. And this they will assuredly do if they shall at any time see for what purpose they were born; for this is the cause of their perverseness — namely, ignorance of themselves: and if any one, having gained the knowledge of the truth, shall have shaken off this ignorance, he will know to what object his life is to be directed, and how it is to be spent. And I thus briefly define the sum of this knowledge, that neither is any religion to be undertaken without wisdom, nor any wisdom to be approved of without religion.
Having therefore undertaken the office of explaining the truth, I did not think it so necessary to take my commencement from that inquiry which naturally seems the first, whether there is a providence which consults for all things, or all things were either made or are governed by chance; which sentiment was introduced by Democritus, and confirmed by Epicurus. But before them, what did Protagoras effect, who raised doubts respecting the gods; or Diagoras afterwards, who excluded them; and some others, who did not hold the existence of gods, except that there was supposed to be no providence? These, however, were most vigorously opposed by the other philosophers, and especially by the Stoics, who taught that the universe could neither have been made without divine intelligence, nor continue to exist unless it were governed by the highest intelligence. But even Marcus Tullius, although he was a defender of the Academic system, discussed at length and on many occasions respecting the providence which governs affairs, confirming the arguments of the Stoics, and himself adducing many new ones; and this he does both in all the books of his own philosophy, and especially in those which treat of the nature of the gods.
And it was no difficult task, indeed, to refute the falsehoods of a few men who entertained perverse sentiments by the testimony of communities and tribes, who on this one point had no disagreement. For there is no one so uncivilized, and of such an uncultivated disposition, who, when he raises his eyes to heaven, although he knows not by the providence of what God all this visible universe is governed, does not understand from the very magnitude of the objects, from their motion, arrangement, constancy, usefulness, beauty, and temperament, that there is some providence, and that that which exists with wonderful method must have been prepared by some greater intelligence. And for us, assuredly, it is very easy to follow up this part as copiously as it may please us. But because the subject has been much agitated among philosophers, and they who take away providence appear to have been sufficiently answered by men of sagacity and eloquence, and because it is necessary to speak, in different places throughout this work which we have undertaken, respecting the skill of the divine providence, let us for the present omit this inquiry, which is so closely connected with the other questions, that it seems possible for us to discuss no subject, without at the same time discussing the subject of providence.
Let the commencement of our work therefore be that inquiry which closely follows and is connected with the first: Whether the universe is governed by the power of one God or of many. There is no one, who possesses intelligence and uses reflection, who does not understand that it is one Being who both created all things and governs them with the same energy by which He created them. For what need is there of many to sustain the government of the universe? Unless we should happen to think that, if there were more than one, each would possess less might and strength. And they who hold that there are many gods, do indeed effect this; for those gods must of necessity be weak, since individually, without the aid of the others, they would be unable to sustain the government of so vast a mass. But God, who is the Eternal Mind, is undoubtedly of excellence, complete and perfect in every part. And if this is true, He must of necessity be one. For power or excellence, which is complete, retains its own peculiar stability. But that is to be regarded as solid from which nothing can be taken away, that as perfect to which nothing can be added.
Who can doubt that he would be a most powerful king who should have the government of the whole world? And not without reason, since all things which everywhere exist would belong to him, since all resources from all quarters would be centred in him alone. But if more than one divide the government of the world, undoubtedly each will have less power and strength, since every one must confine himself within his prescribed portion. In the same manner also, if there are more gods than one, they will be of less weight, others having in themselves the same power. But the nature of excellence admits of greater perfection in him in whom the whole is, than in him in whom there is only a small part of the whole. But God, if He is perfect, as He ought to be, cannot but be one, because He is perfect, so that all things may be in Him. Therefore the excellences and powers of the gods must necessarily be weaker, because so much will be wanting to each as shall be in the others; and so the more there are, so much the less powerful will they be. Why should I mention that this highest power and divine energy is altogether incapable of division? For whatever is capable of division must of necessity be liable to destruction also. But if destruction is far removed from God, because He is incorruptible and eternal, it follows that the divine power is incapable of division. Therefore God is one, if that which admits of so great power can be nothing else: and yet those who deem that there are many gods, say that they have divided their functions among themselves; but we will discuss all these matters at their proper places. In the meantime, I affirm this, which belongs to the present subject. If they have divided their functions among themselves, the matter comes back to the same point, that any one of them is unable to supply the place of all. He cannot, then, be perfect who is unable to govern all things while the others are unemployed. And so it comes to pass, that for the government of the universe there is more need of the perfect excellence of one than of the imperfect powers of many. But he who imagines that so great a magnitude as this cannot be governed by one Being, is deceived. For he does not comprehend how great are the might and power of the divine majesty, if he thinks that the one God, who had power to create the universe, is also unable to govern that which He has created. But if he conceives in his mind how great is the immensity of that divine work, when before it was nothing, yet that by the power and wisdom of God it was made out of nothing — a work which could only be commenced and accomplished by one — he will now understand that that which has been established by one is much more easily governed by one.
Some one may perhaps say that so immense a work as that of the universe could not even have been fabricated except by many. But however many and however great he may consider them — whatever magnitude, power, excellence, and majesty he may attribute to the many — the whole of that I assign to one, and say that it exists in one: so that there is in Him such an amount of these properties as can neither be conceived nor expressed. And since we fail in this subject, both in perception and in words — for neither does the human breast admit the light of so great understanding, nor is the mortal tongue capable of explaining such great subjects — it is right that we should understand and say this very same thing. I see, again, what can be alleged on the other hand, that those many gods are such as we hold the one God to be. But this cannot possibly be so, because the power of these gods individually will not be able to proceed further, the power of the others meeting and hindering them. For either each must be unable to pass beyond his own limits, or, if he shall have passed beyond them, he must drive another from his boundaries. They who believe that there are many gods, do not see that it may happen that some may be opposed to others in their wishes, from which circumstance disputing and contention would arise among them; as Homer represented the gods at war among themselves, since some desired that Troy should be taken, others opposed it. The universe, therefore, must be ruled by the will of one. For unless the power over the separate parts be referred to one and the same providence, the whole itself will not be able to exist; since each takes care of nothing beyond that which belongs peculiarly to him, just as warfare could not be carried on without one general and commander. But if there were in one army as many generals as there are legions, cohorts, divisions, and squadrons, first of all it would not be possible for the army to be drawn out in battle array, since each would refuse the peril; nor could it easily be governed or controlled, because all would use their own peculiar counsels, by the diversity of which they would inflict more injury than they would confer advantage. So, in this government of the affairs of nature, unless there shall be one to whom the care of the whole is referred, all things will be dissolved and fall to decay.
But to say that the universe is governed by the will of many, is equivalent to a declaration that there are many minds in one body, since there are many and various offices of the members, so that separate minds may be supposed to govern separate senses; and also the many affections, by which we are accustomed to be moved either to anger, or to desire, or to joy, or to fear, or to pity, so that in all these affections as many minds may be supposed to operate; and if any one should say this, he would appear to be destitute even of that very mind, which is one. But if in one body one mind possesses the government of so many things, and is at the same time occupied with the whole, why should any one suppose that the universe cannot be governed by one, but that it can be governed by more than one? And because those maintainers of many gods are aware of this, they say that they so preside over separate offices and parts, that there is still one chief ruler. The others, therefore, on this principle, will not be gods, but attendants and ministers, whom that one most mighty and omnipotent appointed to these offices, and they themselves will be subservient to his authority and command. If, therefore, all are not equal to one another, all are not gods; for that which serves and that which rules cannot be the same. For if God is a title of the highest power, He must be incorruptible, perfect, incapable of suffering, and subject to no other being; therefore they are not gods whom necessity compels to obey the one greatest God. But because they who hold this opinion are not deceived without cause, we will presently lay open the cause of this error. Now, let us prove by testimonies the unity of the divine power.
The prophets, who were very many, proclaim and declare the one God; for, being filled with the inspiration of the one God, they predicted things to come, with agreeing and harmonious voice. But those who are ignorant of the truth do not think that these prophets are to be believed; for they say that those voices are not divine, but human. Forsooth, because they proclaim one God, they were either madmen or deceivers. But truly we see that their predictions have been fulfilled, and are in course of fulfilment daily; and their foresight, agreeing as it does to one opinion, teaches that they were not under the impulse of madness. For who possessed of a frenzied mind would be able, I do not say to predict the future, but even to speak coherently? Were they, therefore, who spoke such things deceitful? What was so utterly foreign to their nature as a system of deceit, when they themselves restrained others from all fraud? For to this end were they sent by God, that they should both be heralds of His majesty, and correctors of the wickedness of man.
Moreover, the inclination to feign and speak falsely belongs to those who covet riches, and eagerly desire gains — a disposition which was far removed from those holy men. For they so discharged the office entrusted to them, that, disregarding all things necessary for the maintenance of life, they were so far from laying up store for the future, that they did not even labour for the day, content with the unstored food which God had supplied; and these not only had no gains, but even endured torments and death. For the precepts of righteousness are distasteful to the wicked, and to those who lead an unholy life. Wherefore they, whose sins were brought to light and forbidden, most cruelly tortured and slew them. They, therefore, who had no desire for gain, had neither the inclination nor the motive for deceit. Why should I say that some of them were princes, or even kings, upon whom the suspicion of covetousness and fraud could not possibly fall, and yet they proclaimed the one God with the same prophetic foresight as the others?
But let us leave the testimony of prophets, lest a proof derived from those who are universally disbelieved should appear insufficient. Let us come to authors, and for the demonstration of the truth let us cite as witnesses those very persons whom they are accustomed to make use of against us — I mean poets and philosophers. From these we cannot fail in proving the unity of God; not that they had ascertained the truth, but that the force of the truth itself is so great, that no one can be so blind as not to see the divine brightness presenting itself to his eyes. The poets, therefore, however much they adorned the gods in their poems, and amplified their exploits with the highest praises, yet very frequently confess that all things are held together and governed by one spirit or mind. Orpheus, who is the most ancient of the poets, and coeval with the gods themselves — since it is reported that he sailed among the Argonauts together with the sons of Tyndarus and Hercules, — speaks of the true and great God as the first-born, because nothing was produced before Him, but all things sprung from Him. He also calls Him Phanes because when as yet there was nothing He first appeared and came forth from the infinite. And since he was unable to conceive in his mind the origin and nature of this Being, he said that He was born from the boundless air:
The first-born, Phaethon, son of the extended air; for he had nothing more to say. He affirms that this Being is the Parent of all the gods, on whose account He framed the heaven, and provided for His children that they might have a habitation and place of abode in common:
He built for immortals an imperishable home. Thus, under the guidance of nature and reason, he understood that there was a power of surpassing greatness which framed heaven and earth. For he could not say that Jupiter was the author of all things, since he was born from Saturn; nor could he say that Saturn himself was their author, since it was reported that he was produced from the heaven; but he did not venture to set up the heaven as the primeval god, because he saw that it was an element of the universe, and must itself have had an author. This consideration led him to that first-born god, to whom he assigns and gives the first place.
Homer was able to give us no information relating to the truth, for he wrote of human rather than divine things. Hesiod was able, for he comprised in the work of one book the generation of the gods; but yet he gave us no information, for he took his commencement not from God the Creator, but from chaos, which is a confused mass of rude and unarranged matter; whereas he ought first to have explained from what source, at what time, and in what manner, chaos itself had begun to exist or to have consistency. Without doubt, as all things were placed in order, arranged, and made by some artificer, so matter itself must of necessity have been formed by some being. Who, then, made it except God, to whose power all things are subject? But he shrinks from admitting this, while he dreads the unknown truth. For, as he wished it to appear, it was by the inspiration of the Muses that he poured forth that song on Helicon; but he had come after previous meditation and preparation.
Maro was the first of our poets to approach the truth, who thus speaks respecting the highest God, whom he calls Mind and Spirit: —
Know first, the heaven, the earth, the main,
The moon's pale orb, the starry train,
Are nourished by a Soul,
A Spirit, whose celestial flame
Glows in each member of the frame,
And stirs the mighty whole.
And lest any one should happen to be ignorant what that Spirit was which had so much power, he has declared it in another place, saying:
For the Deity pervades all lands, the tracts of sea and depth of heaven; the flocks, the herds, and men, and all the race of beasts, each at its birth, derive their slender lives from Him.
Ovid also, in the beginning of his remarkable work, without any disguising of the name, admits that the universe was arranged by God, whom he calls the Framer of the world, the Artificer of all things. But if either Orpheus or these poets of our country had always maintained what they perceived under the guidance of nature, they would have comprehended the truth, and gained the same learning which we follow.
But thus far of the poets. Let us come to the philosophers, whose authority is of greater weight, and their judgment more to be relied on, because they are believed to have paid attention, not to matters of fiction, but to the investigation of the truth. Thales of Miletus, who was one of the number of the seven wise men, and who is said to have been the first of all to inquire respecting natural causes, said that water was the element from which all things were produced, and that God was the mind which formed all things from water. Thus he placed the material of all things in moisture; he fixed the beginning and cause of their production in God. Pythagoras thus defined the being of God,
as a soul passing to and fro, and diffused through all parts of the universe, and through all nature, from which all living creatures which are produced derive their life. Anaxagoras said that God was an infinite mind, which moves by its own power. Antisthenes maintained that the gods of the people were many, but that the God of nature was one only; that is, the Fabricator of the whole universe. Cleanthes and Anaximenes assert that the air is the chief deity; and to this opinion our poet has assented:
Then almighty father Æther descends in fertile showers into the bosom of his joyous spouse; and great himself, mingling with her great body, nourishes all her offspring. Chrysippus speaks of God as a natural power endowed with divine reason, and sometimes as a divine necessity. Zeno also speaks of Him as a divine and natural law. The opinion of all these, however uncertain it is, has reference to one point — to their agreement in the existence of one providence. For whether it be nature, or æther, or reason, or mind, or a fatal necessity, or a divine law, or if you term it anything else, it is the same which is called by us God. Nor does the diversity of titles prove an obstacle, since by their very signification they all refer to one object. Aristotle, although he is at variance with himself, and both utters and holds sentiments opposed to one another, yet upon the whole bears witness that one Mind presides over the universe. Plato, who is judged the wisest of all, plainly and openly maintains the rule of one God; nor does he name Him Æther, or Reason, or Nature, but, as He truly is, God, and that this universe, so perfect and wonderful, was fabricated by Him. And Cicero, following and imitating him in many instances, frequently acknowledges God, and calls Him supreme, in those books which he wrote on the subject of laws; and he adduces proof that the universe is governed by Him, when he argues respecting the nature of the gods in this way:
Nothing is superior to God: the world must therefore be governed by Him. Therefore God is obedient or subject to no nature; consequently He Himself governs all nature. But what God Himself is he defines in his Consolation:
Nor can God Himself, as He is comprehended by us, be comprehended in any other way than as a mind free and unrestrained, far removed from all mortal materiality, perceiving and moving all things.
How often, also, does Annæus Seneca, who was the keenest Stoic of the Romans, follow up with deserved praise the supreme Deity! For when he was discussing the subject of premature death, he said
You do not understand the authority and majesty of your Judge, the Ruler of the world, and the God of heaven and of all gods, on whom those deities which we separately worship and honour are dependent. Also in his Exhortations:
This Being, when He was laying the first foundations of the most beautiful fabric, and was commencing this work, than which nature has known nothing greater or better, that all things might serve their own rulers, although He had spread Himself out through the whole body, yet He produced gods as ministers of His kingdom. And how many other things like to our own writers did he speak on the subject of God! But these things I put off for the present, because they are more suited to other parts of the subject. At present it is enough to demonstrate that men of the highest genius touched upon the truth, and almost grasped it, had not custom, infatuated by false opinions, carried them back; by which custom they both deemed that there were other gods, and believed that those things which God made for the use of man, as though they were endowed with perception, were to be held and worshipped as gods.
Now let us pass to divine testimonies; but I will previously bring forward one which resembles a divine testimony, both on account of its very great antiquity, and because he whom I shall name was taken from men and placed among the gods. According to Cicero, Caius Cotta the pontiff, while disputing against the Stoics concerning superstitions, and the variety of opinions which prevail respecting the gods, in order that he might, after the custom of the Academics, make everything uncertain, says that there were five Mercuries; and having enumerated four in order, says that the fifth was he by whom Argus was slain, and that on this account he fled into Egypt, and gave laws and letters to the Egyptians. The Egyptians call him Thoth; and from him the first month of their year, that is, September, received its name among them. He also built a town, which is even now called in Greek Hermopolis (the town of Mercury), and the inhabitants of Phenæ honour him with religious worship. And although he was a man, yet he was of great antiquity, and most fully imbued with every kind of learning, so that the knowledge of many subjects and arts acquired for him the name of Trismegistus. He wrote books, and those in great numbers, relating to the knowledge of divine things, in which be asserts the majesty of the supreme and only God, and makes mention of Him by the same names which we use — God and Father. And that no one might inquire His name, he said that He was without name, and that on account of His very unity He does not require the peculiarity of a name. These are his own words:
God is one, but He who is one only does not need a name; for He who is self-existent is without a name. God, therefore, has no name, because He is alone; nor is there any need of a proper name, except in cases where a multitude of persons requires a distinguishing mark, so that you may designate each person by his own mark and appellation. But God, because He is always one, has no peculiar name.
It remains for me to bring forward testimonies respecting the sacred responses and predictions, which are much more to be relied upon. For perhaps they against whom we are arguing may think that no credence is to be given to poets, as though they invented fictions, nor to philosophers, inasmuch as they were liable to err, being themselves but men. Marcus Varro, than whom no man of greater learning ever lived, even among the Greeks, much less among the Latins, in those books respecting divine subjects which he addressed to Caius Cæsar the chief pontiff, when he was speaking of the Quindecemviri, says that the Sibylline books were not the production of one Sibyl only, but that they were called by one name Sibylline, because all prophetesses were called by the ancients Sibyls, either from the name of one, the Delphian priestess, or from their proclaiming the counsels of the gods. For in the Æolic dialect they used to call the gods by the word Sioi, not Theoi; and for counsel they used the word bule, not boule;— and so the Sibyl received her name as though Siobule. But he says that the Sibyls were ten in number, and he enumerated them all under the writers, who wrote an account of each: that the first was from the Persians, and of her Nicanor made mention, who wrote the exploits of Alexander of Macedon;— the second of Libya, and of her Euripides makes mention in the prologue of the Lamia;— the third of Delphi, concerning whom Chrysippus speaks in that book which he composed concerning divination — the fourth a Cimmerian in Italy, whom Nævius mentions in his books of the Punic war, and Piso in his annals — the fifth of Erythræa, whom Apollodorus of Erythræa affirms to have been his own countrywoman, and that she foretold to the Greeks when they were setting out for Ilium, both that Troy was doomed to destruction, and that Homer would write falsehoods;— the sixth of Samos, respecting whom Eratosthenes writes that he had found a written notice in the ancient annals of the Samians. The seventh was of Cumæ, by name Amalthæa, who is termed by some Herophile, or Demophile, and they say that she brought nine books to the king Tarquinius Priscus, and asked for them three hundred philippics, and that the king refused so great a price, and derided the madness of the woman; that she, in the sight of the king, burnt three of the books, and demanded the same price for those which were left; that Tarquinias much more considered the woman to be mad; and that when she again, having burnt three other books, persisted in asking the same price, the king was moved, and bought the remaining books for the three hundred pieces of gold: and the number of these books was afterwards increased, after the rebuilding of the Capitol; because they were collected from all cities of Italy and Greece, and especially from those of Erythræa, and were brought to Rome, under the name of whatever Sibyl they were. Further, that the eighth was from the Hellespont, born in the Trojan territory, in the village of Marpessus, about the town of Gergithus; and Heraclides of Pontus writes that she lived in the times of Solon and Cyrus — the ninth of Phrygia, who gave oracles at Ancyra;— the tenth of Tibur, by name Albunea, who is worshipped at Tibur as a goddess, near the banks of the river Anio, in the depths of which her statue is said to have been found, holding in her hand a book. The senate transferred her oracles into the Capitol.
The predictions of all these Sibyls are both brought forward and esteemed as such, except those of the Cumæan Sibyl, whose books are concealed by the Romans; nor do they consider it lawful for them to be inspected by any one but the Quindecemviri. And there are separate books the production of each, but because these are inscribed with the name of the Sibyl they are believed to be the work of one; and they are confused, nor can the productions of each be distinguished and assigned to their own authors, except in the case of the Erythræan Sibyl, for she both inserted her own true name in her verse, and predicted that she would be called Erythræan, though she was born at Babylon. But we also shall speak of the Sibyl without any distinction, wherever we shall have occasion to use their testimonies. All these Sibyls, then, proclaim one God, and especially the Erythræan, who is regarded among the others as more celebrated and noble; since Fenestella, a most diligent writer, speaking of the Quindecemviri, says that, after the rebuilding of the Capitol, Caius Curio the consul proposed to the senate that ambassadors should be sent to Erythræ to search out and bring to Rome the writings of the Sibyl; and that, accordingly, Publius Gabinius, Marcus Otacilius, and Lucius Valerius were sent, who conveyed to Rome about a thousand verses written out by private persons. We have shown before that Varro made the same statement. Now in these verses which the ambassadors brought to Rome, are these testimonies respecting the one God:—
1.One God, who is alone, most mighty, uncreated.
This is the only supreme God, who made the heaven, and decked it with lights.
2.But there is one only God of pre-eminent power, who made the heaven, and sun, and stars, and moon, and fruitful earth, and waves of the water of the sea.
And since He alone is the framer of the universe, and the artificer of all things of which it consists or which are contained in it, it testifies that He alone ought to be worshipped: —
3.Worship Him who is alone the ruler of the world, who alone was and is from age to age.
Also another Sibyl, whoever she is, when she said that she conveyed the voice of God to men, thus spoke:—
4.I am the one only God, and there is no other God.
I would now follow up the testimonies of the others, were it not that these are sufficient, and that I reserve others for more befitting opportunities. But since we are defending the cause of truth before those who err from the truth and serve false religions, what kind of proof ought we to bring forward against them, rather than to refute them by the testimonies of their own gods?
Apollo, indeed, whom they think divine above all others, and especially prophetic, giving responses at Colophon — I suppose because, induced by the pleasantness of Asia, he had removed from Delphi — to some one who asked who He was, or what God was at all, replied in twenty-one verses, of which this is the beginning:—
Self-produced, untaught, without a mother, unshaken,
A name not even to be comprised in word, dwelling in fire,
This is God; and we His messengers are a slight portion of God.
Can any one suspect that this is spoken of Jupiter, who had both a mother and a name? Why should I say that Mercury, that thrice greatest, of whom I have made mention above, not only speaks of God as
without a mother, as Apollo does, but also as
without a father, because He has no origin from any other source but Himself? For He cannot be produced from any one, who Himself produced all things. I have, as I think, sufficiently taught by arguments, and confirmed by witnesses, that which is sufficiently plain by itself, that there is one only King of the universe, one Father, one God.
But perchance some one may ask of us the same question which Hortensius asks in Cicero: If God is one only, what solitude can be happy? As though we, in asserting that He is one, say that He is desolate and solitary. Undoubtedly He has ministers, whom we call messengers. And that is true, which I have before related, that Seneca said in his Exhortations that God produced ministers of His kingdom. But these are neither gods, nor do they wish to be called gods or to be worshipped, inasmuch as they do nothing but execute the command and will of God. Nor, however, are they gods who are worshipped in common, whose number is small and fixed. But if the worshippers of the gods think that they worship those beings whom we call the ministers of the Supreme God, there is no reason why they should envy us who say that there is one God, and deny that there are many. If a multitude of gods delights them, we do not speak of twelve, or three hundred and sixty-five as Orpheus did; but we convict them of innumerable errors on the other side, in thinking that they are so few. Let them know, however, by what name they ought to be called, lest they do injury to the true God, whose name they set forth, while they assign it to more than one. Let them believe their own Apollo, who in that same response took away from the other gods their name, as he took away the dominion from Jupiter. For the third verse shows that the ministers of God ought not to be called gods, but angels. He spoke falsely respecting himself, indeed; for though he was of the number of demons, he reckoned himself among the angels of God, and then in other responses he confessed himself a demon. For when he was asked how he wished to be supplicated, he thus answered:—
O all-wise, all-learned, versed in many pursuits, hear, O demon.
And so, again, when at the entreaty of some one he uttered an imprecation against the Sminthian Apollo, he began with this verse:—
O harmony of the world, bearing light, all-wise demon.
What therefore remains, except that by his own confession he is subject to the scourge of the true God and to everlasting punishment? For in another response he also said:—
The demons who go about the earth and about the sea
Without weariness, are subdued beneath the scourge of God.
We speak on the subject of both in the second book. In the meantime it is enough for us, that while he wishes to honour and place himself in heaven, he has confessed, as the nature of the matter is, in what manner they are to be named who always stand beside God.
Therefore let men withdraw themselves from errors; and laying aside corrupt superstitions, let them acknowledge their Father and Lord, whose excellence cannot be estimated, nor His greatness perceived, nor His beginning comprehended. When the earnest attention of the human mind and its acute sagacity and memory has reached Him, all ways being, as it were, summed up and exhausted, it stops, it is at a loss, it fails; nor is there anything beyond to which it can proceed. But because that which exists must of necessity have had a beginning, it follows that since there was nothing before Him, He was produced from Himself before all things. Therefore He is called by Apollo
self-produced, by the Sibyl
unmade. And Seneca, an acute man, saw and expressed this in his Exhortations.
We, he said,
are dependent upon another. Therefore we look to some one to whom we owe that which is most excellent in us. Another brought us into being, another formed us; but God of His own power made Himself.
It is proved, therefore, by these witnesses, so numerous and of such authority, that the universe is governed by the power and providence of one God, whose energy and majesty Plato in the Timæus asserts to be so great, that no one can either conceive it in his mind, or give utterance to it in words, on account of His surpassing and incalculable power. And then can any one doubt whether anything can be difficult or impossible for God, who by His providence designed, by His energy established, and by His judgment completed those works so great and wonderful, and even now sustains them by His spirit, and governs them by His power, being incomprehensible and unspeakable, and fully known to no other than Himself? Wherefore, as I often reflect on the subject of such great majesty, they who worship the gods sometimes appear so blind, so incapable of reflection, so senseless, so little removed from the mute animals, as to believe that those who are born from the natural intercourse of the sexes could have had anything of majesty and divine influence; since the Erythræan Sibyl says:
It is impossible for a God to be fashioned from the loins of a man and the womb of a woman. And if this is true, as it really is, it is evident that Hercules, Apollo, Bacchus, Mercury, and Jupiter, with the rest, were but men, since they were born from the two sexes. But what is so far removed from the nature of God as that operation which He Himself assigned to mortals for the propagation of their race, and which cannot be affected without corporeal substance?
Therefore, if the gods are immortal and eternal, what need is there of the other sex, when they themselves do not require succession, since they are always about to exist? For assuredly in the case of mankind and the other animals, there is no other reason for difference of sex and procreation and bringing forth, except that all classes of living creatures, inasmuch as they are doomed to death by the condition of their mortality, may be preserved by mutual succession. But God, who is immortal, has no need of difference of sex, nor of succession. Some one will say that this arrangement is necessary, in order that He may have some to minister to Him, or over whom He may bear rule. What need is there of the female sex, since God, who is almighty, is able to produce sons without the agency of the female? For if He has granted to certain minute creatures that they
Should gather offspring for themselves with their mouth from leaves and sweet herbs,
why should any one think it impossible for God Himself to have offspring except by union with the other sex? No one, therefore, is so thoughtless as not to understand that those were mere mortals, whom the ignorant and foolish regard and worship as gods. Why, then, some one will say, were they believed to be gods? Doubtless because they were very great and powerful kings; and since, on account of the merits of their virtues, or offices, or the arts which they discovered, they were beloved by those over whom they had ruled, they were consecrated to lasting memory. And if any one doubts this, let him consider their exploits and deeds, the whole of which both ancient poets and historians have handed down.
Did not Hercules, who is most renowned for his valour, and who is regarded as an Africanus among the gods, by his debaucheries, lusts, and adulteries, pollute the world, which he is related to have traversed and purified? And no wonder, since he was born from an adulterous intercourse with Alcmena.
What divinity could there have been in him, who, enslaved to his own vices, against all laws, treated with infamy, disgrace, and outrage, both males and females? Nor, indeed, are those great and wonderful actions which he performed to be judged such as to be thought worthy of being attributed to divine excellence. For what! Is it so magnificent if he overcame a lion and a boar; if he shot down birds with arrows; if he cleansed a royal stable; if he conquered a virago, and deprived her of her belt; if he slew savage horses together with their master? These are the deeds of a brave and heroic man, but still a man; for those things which he overcame were frail and mortal. For there is no power so great, as the orator says, which cannot be weakened and broken by iron and strength. But to conquer the mind, and to restrain anger, is the part of the bravest man; and these things he never did or could do: for one who does these things I do not compare with excellent men, but I judge him to be most like to a god.
I could wish that he had added something on the subject of lust, luxury, desire, and arrogance, so as to complete the excellence of him whom he judged to be like to a god. For he is not to be thought braver who overcomes a lion, than he who overcomes the violent wild beast shut up within himself, viz. anger; or he who has brought down most rapacious birds, than he who restrains most covetous desires; or he who subdues a warlike Amazon, than he who subdues lust, the vanquisher of modesty and fame; or he who cleanses a stable from dung, than he who cleanses his heart from vices, which are more destructive evils because they are peculiarly his own, than those which might have been avoided and guarded against. From this it comes to pass, that he alone ought to be judged a brave man who is temperate, moderate, and just. But if any one considers what the works of God are, he will at once judge all these things, which most trifling men admire, to be ridiculous. For they measure them not by the divine power of which they are ignorant, but by the weakness of their own strength. For no one will deny this, that Hercules was not only a servant to Eurystheus, a king, which to a certain extent may appear honourable, but also to an unchaste woman, Omphale, who used to order him to sit at her feet, clothed with her garments, and executing an appointed task. Detestable baseness! But such was the price at which pleasure was valued. What! some one will say, do you think that the poets are to be believed? Why should I not think so? For it is not Lucilius who relates these things, or Lucian, who spared not men nor gods, but these especially who sting the praises of the gods.
Whom, then, shall we believe, if we do not credit those who praise them? Let him who thinks that these speak falsely produce other authors on whom we may rely, who may teach us who these gods are, in what manner and from what source they had their origin, what is their strength, what their number, what their power, what there is in them which is admirable and worthy of adoration — what mystery, in short, more to be relied on, and more true. He will produce no such authorities. Let us, then, give credence to those who did not speak for the purpose of censure, but to proclaim their praise. He sailed, then, with the Argonauts, and sacked Troy, being enraged with Laomedon on account of the reward refused to him, by Laomedon, for the preservation of his daughter, from which circumstance it is evident at what time he lived. He also, excited by rage and madness, slew his wife, together with his children. Is this he whom men consider a god? But his heir Philoctetes did not so regard him, who applied a torch to him when about to be burnt, who witnessed the burning and wasting of his limbs and sinews, who buried his bones and ashes on Mount Œta, in return for which office he received his arrows.
What other action worthy of divine honours, except the healing of Hippolytus, did Æsculapius perform, whose birth also was not without disgrace to Apollo? His death was certainly more renowned, because he earned the distinction of being struck with lightning by a god. Tarquitius, in a dissertation concerning illustrious men, says that he was born of uncertain parents, exposed, and found by some hunters; that he was nourished by a dog, and that, being delivered to Chiron, he learned the art of medicine. He says, moreover, that he was a Messenian, but that he spent some time at Epidaurus. Tully also says that he was buried at Cynosuræ. What was the conduct of Apollo, his father? Did he not, on account of his impassioned love, most disgracefully tend the flock of another, and build walls for Laomedon, having been hired together with Neptune for a reward, which could with impunity be withheld from him? And from him first the perfidious king learned to refuse to carry out whatever contract he had made with gods. And he also, while in love with a beautiful boy, offered violence to him, and while engaged in play, slew him.
Mars, when guilty of homicide, and set free from the charge of murder by the Athenians through favour, lest he should appear to be too fierce and savage, committed adultery with Venus. Castor and Pollux, while they are engaged in carrying off the wives of others, ceased to be twin-brothers. For Idas, being excited with jealousy on account of the injury, transfixed one of the brothers with his sword. And the poets relate that they live and die alternately: so that they are now the most wretched not only of the gods, but also of all mortals, inasmuch as they are not permitted to die once only. And yet Homer, differing from the other poets, simply records that they both died. For when he represented Helen as sitting by the side of Priam on the walls of Troy, and recognising all the chieftains of Greece, but as looking in vain for her brothers only, he added to his speech a verse of this kind:—
Thus she; unconscious that in Sparta they,
Their native land, beneath the sod were laid.
What did Mercury, a thief and spendthrift, leave to contribute to his fame, except the memory of his frauds? Doubtless he was deserving of heaven, because he taught the exercises of the palæstra, and was the first who invented the lyre. It is necessary that Father Liber should be of chief authority, and of the first rank in the senate of the gods, because he was the only one of them all, except Jupiter, who triumphed, led an army, and subdued the Indians. But that very great and unconquered Indian commander was most shamefully overpowered by love and lust. For, being conveyed to Crete with his effeminate retinue, he met with an unchaste woman on the shore; and in the confidence inspired by his Indian victory, he wished to give proof of his manliness, lest he should appear too effeminate. And so he took to himself in marriage that woman, the betrayer of her father, and the murderer of her brother, after that she had been deserted and repudiated by another husband; and he made her Libera, and with her ascended into heaven.
What was the conduct of Jupiter, the father of all these, who in the customary prayer is styled Most Excellent and Great? Is he not, from his earliest childhood, proved to be impious, and almost a parricide, since he expelled his father from his kingdom, and banished him, and did not await his death though he was aged and worn out, such was his eagerness for rule? And when he had taken his father's throne by violence and arms, he was attacked with war by the Titans, which was the beginning of evils to the human race; and when these had been overcome and lasting peace procured, he spent the rest of his life in debaucheries and adulteries. I forbear to mention the virgins whom he dishonoured. For that is wont to be judged endurable. I cannot pass by the cases of Amphitryon and Tyndarus, whose houses he filled to overflowing with disgrace and infamy. But he reached the height of impiety and guilt in carrying off the royal boy. For it did not appear enough to cover himself with infamy in offering violence to women, unless he also outraged his own sex. This is true adultery, which is done against nature. Whether he who committed these crimes can be called Greatest is a matter of question, undoubtedly he is not the Best; to which name corrupters, adulterers, and incestuous persons have no claim; unless it happens that we men are mistaken in terming those who do such things wicked and abandoned, and in judging them most deserving of every kind of punishment. But Marcus Tullius was foolish in upbraiding Caius Verres with adulteries, for Jupiter, whom he worshipped, committed the same; and in upbraiding Publius Clodius with incest with his sister, for he who was Best and Greatest had the same person both as sister and wife.
Who, then, is so senseless as to imagine that he reigns in heaven who ought not even to have reigned on earth? It was not without humour that a certain poet wrote of the triumph of Cupid: in which book he not only represented Cupid as the most powerful of the gods, but also as their conqueror. For having enumerated the loves of each, by which they had come into the power and dominion of Cupid, he sets in array a procession, in which Jupiter, with the other gods, is led in chains before the chariot of him, celebrating a triumph. This is elegantly pictured by the poet, but it is not far removed from the truth. For he who is without virtue, who is overpowered by desire and wicked lusts, is not, as the poet feigned, in subjection to Cupid, but to everlasting death. But let us cease to speak concerning morals; let us examine the matter, in order that men may understand in what errors they are miserably engaged. The common people imagine that Jupiter reigns in heaven; both learned and unlearned are alike persuaded of this. For both religion itself, and prayers, and hymns, and shrines, and images demonstrate this. And yet they admit that he was also descended from Saturn and Rhea. How can he appear a god, or be believed, as the poet says, to be the author of men and all things, when innumerable thousands of men existed before his birth — those, for instance, who lived during the reign of Saturn, and enjoyed the light sooner than Jupiter? I see that one god was king in the earliest times, and another in the times that followed. It is therefore possible that there may be another hereafter. For if the former kingdom was changed, why should we not expect that the latter may possibly be changed, unless by chance it was possible for Saturn to produce one more powerful than himself, but impossible for Jupiter so to do? And yet the divine government is always unchangeable; or if it is changeable, which is an impossibility, it is undoubtedly changeable at all times.
Is it possible, then, for Jupiter to lose his kingdom as his father lost it? It is so undoubtedly. For when that deity had spared neither virgins nor married women, he abstained from Thetis only in consequence of an oracle which foretold that whatever son should be born from her would be greater than his father. And first of all there was in him a want of foreknowledge not befitting a god; for had not Themis related to him future events, he would not have known them of his own accord. But if he is not divine, he is not indeed a god; for the name of divinity is derived from god, as humanity is from man. Then there was a consciousness of weakness; but he who has feared, must plainly have feared one greater than himself. But he who does this assuredly knows that he is not the greatest, since something greater can exist. He also swears most solemnly by the Stygian marsh:
Which is set forth the sole object of religious dread to the gods above. What is this object of religious dread? Or by whom is it set forth? Is there, then, some mighty power which may punish the gods who commit perjury? What is this great dread of the infernal marsh, if they are immortal? Why should they fear that which none are about to see, except those who are bound by the necessity of death? Why, then, do men raise their eyes to the heaven? Why do they swear by the gods above, when the gods above themselves have recourse to the infernal gods, and find among them an object of veneration and worship? But what is the meaning of that saying, that there are fates whom all the gods and Jupiter himself obey? If the power of the Parcæ is so great, that they are of more avail than all the heavenly gods, and their ruler and lord himself, why should not they be rather said to reign, since necessity compels all the gods to obey their laws and ordinances? Now, who can entertain a doubt that he who is subservient to anything cannot be greatest? For if he were so, he would not receive fates, but would appoint them. Now I return to another subject which I had omitted. In the case of one goddess only he exercised self-restraint, though he was deeply enamoured of her; but this was not from any virtue, but through fear of a successor. But this fear plainly denotes one who is both mortal and feeble, and of no weight: for at the very hour of his birth he might have been put to death, as his elder brother had been put to death; and if it had been possible for him to have lived, he would never have given up the supreme power to a younger brother. But Jupiter himself having been preserved by stealth, and stealthily nourished, was called Zeus, or Zen, not, as they imagine, from the fervor of heavenly fire, or because he is the giver of life, or because he breathes life into living creatures, which power belongs to God alone; for how can he impart the breath of life who has himself received it from another source? But he was so called because he was the first who lived of the male children of Saturn. Men, therefore, might have had another god as their ruler, if Saturn had not been deceived by his wife. But it will be said the poets feigned these things. Whoever entertains this opinion is in error. For they spoke respecting men; but in order that they might embellish those whose memory they used to celebrate with praises, they said that they were gods. Those things, therefore, which they spoke concerning them as gods were feigned, and not those which they spoke concerning them as men; and this will be manifest from an instance which we will bring forward. When about to offer violence to Danae, he poured into her lap a great quantity of golden coins. This was the price which he paid for her dishonour. But the poets who spoke about him as a god, that they might not weaken the authority of his supposed majesty, feigned that he himself descended in a shower of gold, making use of the same figure with which they speak of showers of iron when they describe a multitude of darts and arrows. He is said to have carried away Ganymede by an eagle; it is a picture of the poets. But he either carried him off by a legion, which has an eagle for its standard; or the ship on board of which he was placed had its tutelary deity in the shape of an eagle, just as it had the effigy of a bull when he seized Europa and conveyed her across the sea. In the same manner, it is related that he changed Io, the daughter of Inachus, into a heifer. And in order that she might escape the anger of Juno, just as she was, now covered with bristly hair, and in the shape of a heifer, she is said to have swam over the sea, and to have come into Egypt; and there, having recovered her former appearance, she became the goddess who is now called Isis. By what argument, then, can it be proved that Europa did not sit on the bull, and that Io was not changed into a heifer? Because there is a fixed day in the annals on which the voyage of Isis is celebrated; from which fact we learn that she did not swim across the sea, but sailed over. Therefore they who appear to themselves to be wise because they understand that there cannot be a living and earthly body in heaven, reject the whole story of Ganymede as false, and perceive that the occurrence took place on earth, inasmuch as the matter and the lust itself is earthly. The poets did not therefore invent these transactions, for if they were to do so they would be most worthless; but they added a certain color to the transactions. For it was not for the purpose of detraction that they said these things, but from a desire to embellish them. Hence men are deceived; especially because, while they think that all these things are feigned by the poets, they worship that of which they are ignorant. For they do not know what is the limit of poetic licence, how far it is allowable to proceed in fiction, since it is the business of the poet with some gracefulness to change and transfer actual occurrences into other representations by oblique transformations. But to feign the whole of that which you relate, that is to be foolish and deceitful rather than to be a poet.
But grant that they feigned those things which are believed to be fabulous, did they also feign those things which are related about the female deities and the marriages of the gods? Why, then, are they so represented, and so worshipped? Unless by chance not the poets only, but painters also, and statuaries, speak falsehoods. For if this is the Jupiter who is called by you a god, if it is not he who was born from Saturn and Ops, no other image but his alone ought to have been placed in all the temples. What meaning have the effigies of women? What the doubtful sex? In which, if this Jupiter is represented, the very stones will confess that he is a man. They say that the poets have spoken falsely, and yet they believe them: yes, truly they prove by the fact itself that the poets did not speak falsely; for they so frame the images of the gods, that, from the very diversity of sex, it appears that these things which the poets say are true. For what other conclusion does the image of Ganymede and the effigy of the eagle admit of, when they are placed before the feet of Jupiter in the temples, and are worshipped equally with himself, except that the memory of impious guilt and debauchery remains for ever? Nothing, therefore, is wholly invented by the poets: something perhaps is transferred and obscured by oblique fashioning, under which the truth was enwrapped and concealed; as that which was related about the dividing of the kingdoms by lot. For they say that the heaven fell to the share of Jupiter, the sea to Neptune, and the infernal regions to Pluto. Why was not the earth rather taken as the third portion, except that the transaction took place on the earth? Therefore it is true that they so divided and portioned out the government of the world, that the empire of the east fell to Jupiter, a part of the west was allotted to Pluto, who had the surname of Agesilaus; because the region of the east, from which light is given to mortals, seems to be higher, but the region of the west lower. Thus they so veiled the truth under a fiction, that the truth itself detracted nothing from the public persuasion. It is manifest concerning the share of Neptune; for we say that his kingdom resembled that unlimited authority possessed by Mark Antony, to whom the senate had decreed the power of the maritime coast, that he might punish the pirates, and tranquillize the whole sea. Thus all the maritime coasts, together with the islands, fell to the lot of Neptune. How can this be proved? Undoubtedly ancient stories attest it. Euhemerus, an ancient author, who was of the city of Messene, collected the actions of Jupiter and of the others, who are esteemed gods, and composed a history from the titles and sacred inscriptions which were in the most ancient temples, and especially in the sanctuary of the Triphylian Jupiter, where an inscription indicated that a golden column had been placed by Jupiter himself, on which column he wrote an account of his exploits, that posterity might have a memorial of his actions. This history was translated and followed by Ennius, whose words are these:
Where Jupiter gives to Neptune the government of the sea, that he might reign in all the islands and places bordering on the sea.
The accounts of the poets, therefore, are true, but veiled with an outward covering and show. It is possible that Mount Olympus may have supplied the poets with the hint for saying that Jupiter obtained the kingdom of heaven, because Olympus is the common name both of the mountain and of heaven. But the same history informs us that Jupiter dwelt on Mount Olympus, when it says:
At that time Jupiter spent the greatest part of his life on Mount Olympus; and they used to resort to him there for the administration of justice, if any matters were disputed. Moreover, if any one had found out any new invention which might be useful for human life, he used to come there and display it to Jupiter. The poets transfer many things after this manner, not for the sake of speaking falsely against the objects of their worship, but that they may by variously colored figures add beauty and grace to their poems. But they who do not understand the manner, or the cause, or the nature of that which is represented by figure, attack the poets as false and sacrilegious. Even the philosophers were deceived by this error; for because these things which are related about Jupiter appeared unsuited to the character of a god, they introduced two Jupiters, one natural, the other fabulous. They saw, on the one hand, that which was true, that he, forsooth, concerning whom the poets speak, was man; but in the case of that natural Jupiter, led by the common practise of superstition, they committed an error, inasmuch as they transferred the name of a man to God, who, as we have already said, because He is one only, has no need of a name. But it is undeniable that he is Jupiter who was born from Ops and Saturn. It is therefore an empty persuasion on the part of those who give the name of Jupiter to the Supreme God. For some are in the habit of defending their errors by this excuse; for, when convinced of the unity of God, since they cannot deny this, they affirm that they worship Him, but that it is their pleasure that He should be called Jupiter. But what can be more absurd than this? For Jupiter is not accustomed to be worshipped without the accompanying worship of his wife and daughter. From which his real nature is evident; nor is it lawful for that name to be transferred there, where there is neither any Minerva nor Juno. Why should I say that the peculiar meaning of this name does not express a divine, but human power? For Cicero explains the names Jupiter and Juno as being derived from giving help; and Jupiter is so called as if he were a helping father — a name which is ill adapted to God: for to help is the part of a man conferring some aid upon one who is a stranger, and in a case where the benefit is small. No one implores God to help him, but to preserve him, to give him life and safety, which is a much greater and more important matter than to help.
And since we are speaking of a father, no father is said to help his sons when he begets or brings them up. For that expression is too insignificant to denote the magnitude of the benefit derived from a father. How much more unsuitable is it to God, who is our true Father, by whom we exist, and whose we are altogether, by whom we are formed, endued with life, and enlightened, who bestows upon us life, gives us safety, and supplies us with various kinds of food! He has no apprehension of the divine benefits who thinks that he is only aided by God. Therefore he is not only ignorant, but impious, who disparages the excellency of the supreme power under the name of Jupiter. Wherefore, if both from his actions and character we have proved that Jupiter was a man, and reigned on earth, it only remains that we should also investigate his death. Ennius, in his sacred history, having described all the actions which he performed in his life, at the close thus speaks: Then Jupiter, when he had five times made a circuit of the earth, and bestowed governments upon all his friends and relatives, and left laws to men, provided them with a settled mode of life and grain, and given them many other benefits, and having been honoured with immortal glory and remembrance, left lasting memorials to his friends, and when his age was almost spent, he changed his life in Crete, and departed to the gods. And the Curetes, his sons, took charge of him, and honoured him; and his tomb is in Crete, in the town of Cnossus, and Vesta is said to have founded this city; and on his tomb is an inscription in ancient Greek characters,
Zan Kronou, which is in Latin,
Jupiter the son of Saturn. This undoubtedly is not handed down by poets, but by writers of ancient events; and these things are so true, that they are confirmed by some verses of the Sibyls, to this effect:—
Inanimate demons, images of the dead,
Whose tombs the ill-fated Crete possesses as a boast.
Cicero, in his treatise concerning the Nature of the Gods, having said that three Jupiters were enumerated by theologians, adds that the third was of Crete, the son of Saturn, and that his tomb is shown in that island. How, therefore, can a god be alive in one place, and dead in another; in one place have a temple, and in another a tomb? Let the Romans then know that their Capitol, that is the chief head of their objects of public veneration, is nothing but an empty monument.
Let us now come to his father who reigned before him, and who perhaps had more power in himself, because he is said to be born from the meeting of such great elements. Let us see what there was in him worthy of a god, especially that he is related to have had the golden age, because in his reign there was justice in the earth. I find something in him which was not in his son. For what is so befitting the character of a god, as a just government and an age of piety? But when, on the same principle, I reflect that he is a son, I cannot consider him as the Supreme God; for I see that there is something more ancient than himself — namely, the heaven and the earth. But I am in search of a God beyond whom nothing has any existence, who is the source and origin of all things. He must of necessity exist who framed the heaven itself, and laid the foundations of the earth. But if Saturn was born from these, as it is supposed, how can he be the chief God, since he owes his origin to another? Or who presided over the universe before the birth of Saturn? But this, as I recently said, is a fiction of the poets. For it was impossible that the senseless elements, which are separated by so long an interval, should meet together and give birth to a son, or that he who was born should not at all resemble his parents, but should have a form which his parents did not possess.
Let us therefore inquire what degree of truth lies hid under this figure. Minucius Felix, in his treatise which has the title of Octavius, alleged these proofs:
That Saturn, when he had been banished by his son, and had come into Italy, was called the son of Cœlus (heaven), because we are accustomed to say that those whose virtue we admire, or those who have unexpectedly arrived, have fallen from heaven; and that he was called the son of earth, because we name those who are born from unknown parents sons of earth. These things, indeed, have some resemblance to the truth, but are not true, because it is evident that even during his reign he was so esteemed. He might have argued thus: That Saturn, being a very powerful king, in order that the memory of his parents might be preserved, gave their names to the heaven and earth, whereas these were before called by other names, for which reason we know that names were applied both to mountains and rivers. For when the poets speak of the offspring of Atlas, or of the river Inachus, they do not absolutely say that men could possibly be born from inanimate objects; but they undoubtedly indicate those who were born from those men, who either during their lives or after their death gave their names to mountains or rivers. For that was a common practise among the ancients, and especially among the Greeks. Thus we have heard that seas received the names of those who had fallen into them, as the Ægean, the Icarian, and the Hellespont. In Latium, also, Aventinus gave his name to the mountain on which he was buried; and Tiberinus, or Tiber, gave his name to the river in which he was drowned. No wonder, then, if the names of those who had given birth to most powerful kings were attributed to the heaven and earth. Therefore it appears that Saturn was not born from heaven, which is impossible, but from that man who bore the name of Uranus. And Trismegistus attests the truth of this; for when he said that very few had existed in whom there was perfect learning, he mentioned by name among these his relatives, Uranus, Saturn, and Mercury. And because he was ignorant of these things, he gave another account of the matter; how he might have argued, I have shown. Now I will say in what manner, at what time, and by whom this was done; for it was not Saturn who did this, but Jupiter. Ennius thus relates in his sacred history:
Then Pan leads him to the mountain, which is called the pillar of heaven. Having ascended there, he surveyed the lands far and wide, and there on that mountain he builds an altar to Cœlus; and Jupiter was the first who offered sacrifice on that altar. In that place he looked up to heaven, by which name we now call it, and that which was above the world which was called the firmament, and he gave to the heaven its name from the name of his grandfather; and Jupiter in prayer first gave the name of heaven to that which was called firmament, and he burnt entire the victim which he there offered in sacrifice. Nor is it here only that Jupiter is found to have offered sacrifice. Cæsar also, in Aratus, relates that Aglaosthenes says that when he was setting out from the island of Naxos against the Titans, and was offering sacrifice on the shore, an eagle flew to Jupiter as an omen, and that the victor received it as a good token, and placed it under his own protection. But the sacred history testifies that even beforehand an eagle had sat upon his head, and portended to him the kingdom. To whom, then, could Jupiter have offered sacrifice, except to his grandfather Cœlus, who, according to the saying of Euhemerus, died in Oceania, and was buried in the town of Aulatia?
Since we have brought to light the mysteries of the poets, and have found out the parents of Saturn, let us return to his virtues and actions. He was, they say, just in his rule. First, from this very circumstance he is not now a god, inasmuch as he has ceased to be. In the next place, he was not even just, but impious not only towards his sons, whom he devoured, but also towards his father, whom he is said to have mutilated. And this may perhaps have happened in truth. But men, having regard to the element which is called the heaven, reject the whole fable as most foolishly invented; though the Stoics, (according to their custom) endeavour to transfer it to a physical system, whose opinion Cicero has laid down in his treatise concerning the Nature of the Gods. They held, he says, that the highest and ethereal nature of heaven, that is, of fire, which by itself produced all things, was without that part of the body which contained the productive organs. Now this theory might have been suitable to Vesta, if she were called a male. For it is on this account that they esteem Vesta to be a virgin, inasmuch as fire is an incorruptible element; and nothing can be born from it, since it consumes all things, whatever it has seized upon. Ovid in the Fasti says:
Nor do you esteem Vesta to be anything else than a living flame; and you see no bodies produced from flame. Therefore she is truly a virgin, for she sends forth no seed, nor receives it, and loves the attendants of virginity.
This also might have been ascribed to Vulcan, who indeed is supposed to be fire, and yet the poets did not mutilate him. It might also have been ascribed to the sun, in whom is the nature and cause of the productive powers. For without the fiery heat of the sun nothing could be born, or have increase; so that no other element has greater need of productive organs than heat, by the nourishment of which all things are conceived, produced, and supported. Lastly, even if the case were as they would have it, why should we suppose that Cœlus was mutilated, rather than that he was born without productive organs? For if he produces by himself, it is plain that he had no need of productive organs, since he gave birth to Saturn himself; but if he had them, and suffered mutilation from his son, the origin of all things and all nature would have perished. Why should I say that they deprive Saturn himself not only of divine, but also of human intelligence, when they affirm that Saturn is he who comprises the course and change of the spaces and seasons, and that he has that very name in Greek? For he is called Cronos, which is the same as Chronos, that is, a space of time. But he is called Saturn, because he is satiated with years. These are the words of Cicero, setting forth the opinion of the Stoics:
The worthlessness of these things any one may readily understand. For if Saturn is the son of Cœlus, how could Time have been born from Cœlus, or Cœlus have been mutilated by Time, or afterwards could Time have been despoiled of his sovereignty by his son Jupiter? Or how was Jupiter born from Time? Or with what years could eternity be satiated, since it has no limit?
If therefore these speculations of the philosophers are trifling, what remains, except that we believe it to be a matter of fact that, being a man, he suffered mutilation from a man? Unless by chance any one esteems him as a god who feared a co-heir; whereas, if he had possessed any divine knowledge, he ought not to have mutilated his father, but himself, to prevent the birth of Jupiter, who deprived him of the possession of his kingdom. And he also, when he had married his sister Rhea, whom in Latin we call Ops, is said to have been warned by an oracle not to bring up his male children, because it would come to pass that he should be driven into banishment by a son. And being in fear of this, it is plain that he did not devour his sons, as the fables report, but put them to death; although it is written in sacred history that Saturn and Ops, and other men, were at that time accustomed to eat human flesh, but that Jupiter, who gave to men laws and civilization, was the first who by an edict prohibited the use of that food. Now if this is true, what justice can there possibly have been in him? But let us suppose it to be a fictitious story that Saturn devoured his sons, only true after a certain fashion; must we then suppose, with the vulgar, that he has eaten his sons, who has carried them out to burial? But when Ops had brought forth Jupiter, she stole away the infant, and secretly sent him into Crete to be nourished. Again, I cannot but blame his want of foresight. For why did he receive an oracle from another, and not from himself ? Being placed in heaven, why did he not see the things which were taking place on earth? Why did the Corybantes with their cymbals escape his notice? Lastly, why did there exist any greater force which might overcome his power? Doubtless, being aged, he was easily overcome by one who was young, and despoiled of his sovereignty. He was therefore banished and went into exile; and after long wanderings came into Italy in a ship, as Ovid relates in his Fasti:—
The cause of the ship remains to be explained. The scythe-bearing god came to the Tuscan river in a ship, having first traversed the world.
Janus received him wandering and destitute; and the ancient coins are a proof of this, on which there is a representation of Janus with a double face, and on the other side a ship; as the same poet adds:—
But pious posterity represented a ship on the coin, bearing testimony to the arrival of the stranger god.
Not only therefore all the poets, but the writers also of ancient histories and events, agree that he was a man, inasmuch as they handed down to memory his actions in Italy: of Greek writers, Diodorus and Thallus; of Latin writers, Nepos, Cassius, and Varro. For since men lived in Italy after a rustic fashion, —
He brought the race to union first,
Erewhile on mountain tops dispersed,
And gave them statutes to obey,
And willed the land wherein he lay
Should Latium's title bear.
Does any one imagine him to be a god, who was driven into banishment, who fled, who lay hid? No one is so senseless. For he who flees, or lies hid, must fear both violence and death. Orpheus, who lived in more recent times than his, openly relates that Saturn reigned on earth and among men:—
First Cronus ruled o'er men on earth,
And then from Cronus sprung the mighty king,
The widely sounding Zeus.
And also our own Maro says:
This life the golden Saturn led on earth;
and in another place: —
That was the storied age of gold,
So peacefully, serenely rolled
The years beneath his reign.
The poet did not say in the former passage that he led this life in heaven, nor in the latter passage that he reigned over the gods above. From which it appears that he was a king on earth; and this he declares more plainly in another place: —
Restorer of the age of gold,
In lands where Saturn ruled of old.
Ennius, indeed, in his translation of Euhemerus says that Saturn was not the first who reigned, but his father Uranus. In the beginning, he says, Cœlus first had the supreme power on the earth. He instituted and prepared that kingdom in conjunction with his brothers. There is no great dispute, if there is doubt, on the part of the greatest authorities respecting the son and the father. But it is possible that each may have happened: that Uranus first began to be pre-eminent in power among the rest, and to have the chief place, but not the kingdom; and that afterwards Saturn acquired greater resources, and took the title of king.
Now, since the sacred history differs in some degree from those things which we have related, let us open those things which are contained in the true writings, that we may not, in accusing superstitions, appear to follow and approve of the follies of the poets. These are the words of Ennius:
Afterwards Saturn married Ops. Titan, who was older than Saturn, demands the kingdom for himself. Upon this their mother Vesta, and their sisters Ceres and Ops, advise Saturn not to give up the kingdom to his brother. Then Titan, who was inferior in person to Saturn, on that account, and because he saw that his mother and sisters were using their endeavours that Saturn might reign, yielded the kingdom to him. He therefore made an agreement with Saturn, that if any male children should be born to him, he would not bring them up. He did so for this purpose, that the kingdom might return to his own sons. Then, when a son was first born to Saturn, they slew him. Afterwards twins were born, Jupiter and Juno. Upon this they present Juno to the sight of Saturn, and secretly hide Jupiter, and give him to Vesta to be brought up, concealing him from Saturn. Ops also brings forth Neptune without the knowledge of Saturn, and secretly hides him. In the same manner Ops brings forth twins by a third birth, Pluto and Glauca. Pluto in Latin is Dispater; others call him Orcus. Upon this they show to Saturn the daughter Glauca, and conceal and hide the son Pluto. Then Glauca dies while yet young. This is the lineage of Jupiter and his brothers, as these things are written, and the relationship is handed down to us after this manner from the sacred narrative. Also shortly afterwards he introduces these things:
Then Titan, when he learned that sons were born to Saturn, and secretly brought up, secretly takes with him his sons, who are called Titans, and seizes his brother Saturn and Ops, and encloses them within a wall, and places over them a guard.
The truth of this history is taught by the Erythræan Sibyl, who speaks almost the same things, with a few discrepancies, which do not affect the subject-matter itself. Therefore Jupiter is freed from the charge of the greatest wickedness, according to which he is reported to have bound his father with fetters; for this was the deed of his uncle Titan, because he, contrary to his promise and oath, had brought up male children. The rest of the history is thus put together. It is said that Jupiter, when grown up, having heard that his father and mother had been surrounded with a guard and imprisoned, came with a great multitude of Cretans, and conquered Titan and his sons in an engagement, and rescued his parents from imprisonment, restored the kingdom to his father, and thus returned into Crete. Then, after these things, they say that an oracle was given to Saturn, bidding him to take heed lest his son should expel him from the kingdom; that he, for the sake of weakening the oracle and avoiding the danger, laid an ambush for Jupiter to kill him; that Jupiter, having learned the plot, claimed the kingdom for himself afresh, and banished Saturn; and that he, when he had been tossed over all lands, followed by armed men whom Jupiter had sent to seize or put him to death, scarcely found a place of concealment in Italy.
Now, since it is evident from these things that they were men, it is not difficult to see in what manner they began to be called gods. For if there were no kings before Saturn or Uranus, on account of the small number of men who lived a rustic life without any ruler, there is no doubt but in those times men began to exalt the king himself, and his whole family, with the highest praises and with new honours, so that they even called them gods; whether on account of their wonderful excellence, men as yet rude and simple really entertained this opinion, or, as is commonly the case, in flattery of present power, or on account of the benefits by which they were set in order and reduced to a civilized state. Afterwards the kings themselves, since they were beloved by those whose life they had civilized, after their death left regret of themselves. Therefore men formed images of them, that they might derive some consolation from the contemplation of their likenesses; and proceeding further through love of their worth, they began to reverence the memory of the deceased, that they might appear to be grateful for their services, and might attract their successors to a desire of ruling well. And this Cicero teaches in his treatise on the Nature of the Gods, saying
But the life of men and common intercourse led to the exalting to heaven by fame and goodwill men who were distinguished by their benefits. On this account Hercules, on this Castor and Pollux, Æsculapius and Liber were ranked with the gods. And in another passage:
And in most states it may be understood, that for the sake of exciting valour, or that the men most distinguished for bravery might more readily encounter danger on account of the state, their memory was consecrated with the honour paid to the immortal gods. It was doubtless on this account that the Romans consecrated their Cæsars, and the Moors their kings. Thus by degrees religious honours began to be paid to them; while those who had known them, first instructed their own children and grandchildren, and afterwards all their posterity, in the practice of this rite. And yet these great kings, on account of the celebrity of their name, were honoured in all provinces.
But separate people privately honoured the founders of their nation or city with the highest veneration, whether they were men distinguished for bravery, or women admirable for chastity; as the Egyptians honoured Isis, the Moors Juba, the Macedonians Cabirus, the Carthaginians Uranus, the Latins Faunus, the Sabines Sancus, the Romans Quirinus. In the same manner truly Athens worshipped Minerva, Samos Juno, Paphos Venus, Lemnos Vulcan, Naxos Liber, and Delos Apollo. And thus various sacred rites have been undertaken among different peoples and countries, inasmuch as men desire to show gratitude to their princes, and cannot find out other honours which they may confer upon the dead. Moreover, the piety of their successors contributed in a great degree to the error; for, in order that they might appear to be born from a divine origin, they paid divine honours to their parents, and ordered that they should be paid by others. Can any one doubt in what way the honours paid to the gods were instituted, when he reads in Virgil the words of Æneas giving commands to his friends: —
Now with full cups libation pour
To mighty Jove, whom all adore,
Invoke Anchises' blessed soul.
And he attributes to him not only immortality, but also power over the winds: —
Invoke the winds to speed our flight,
And pray that he we hold so dear
May take our offerings year by year,
Soon as our promised town we raise,
In temples sacred to his praise.
In truth, Liber and Pan, and Mercury and Apollo, acted in the same way respecting Jupiter, and afterwards their successors did the same respecting them. The poets also added their influence, and by means of poems composed to give pleasure, raised them to the heaven; as is the case with those who flatter kings, even though wicked, with false panegyrics. And this evil originated with the Greeks, whose levity being furnished with the ability and copiousness of speech, excited in an incredible degree mists of falsehoods. And thus from admiration of them they first undertook their sacred rites, and handed them down to all nations. On account of this vanity the Sibyl thus rebukes them:—
Why do you trust, O Greece, to princely men?
Why do you offer empty gifts to the dead?
You offer to idols; this error who suggested,
That you should leave the presence of the mighty God,
And make these offerings?
Marcus Tullius, who was not only an accomplished orator, but also a philosopher, since he alone was an imitator of Plato, in that treatise in which he consoled himself concerning the death of his daughter, did not hesitate to say that those gods who were publicly worshipped were men. And this testimony of his ought to be esteemed the more weighty, because he held the priesthood of the augurs, and testifies that he worships and venerates the same gods. And thus within the compass of a few verses he has presented us with two facts. For while he declared his intention of consecrating the image of his daughter in the same manner in which they were consecrated by the ancients, he both taught that they were dead, and showed the origin of a vain superstition.
Since, in truth, he says,
we see many men and women among the number of the gods, and venerate their shrines, held in the greatest honour in cities and in the country, let us assent to the wisdom of those to whose talents and inventions we owe it that life is altogether adorned with laws and institutions, and established on a firm basis. And if any living being was worthy of being consecrated, assuredly it was this. If the offspring of Cadmus, or Amphitryon, or Tyndarus, was worthy of being extolled by fame to the heaven, the same honour ought undoubtedly to be appropriated to her. And this indeed I will do; and with the approbation of the gods, I will place you the best and most learned of all women in their assembly, and will consecrate you to the estimation of all men. Some one may perhaps say that Cicero raved through excessive grief. But, in truth, the whole of that speech, which was perfect both in learning and in its examples, and in the very style of expression, gave no indications of a distempered mind, but of constancy and judgment; and this very sentence exhibits no sign of grief. For I do not think that he could have written with such variety, and copiousness, and ornament, had not his grief been mitigated by reason itself, and the consolation of his friends and length of time. Why should I mention what he says in his books concerning the Republic, and also concerning glory? For in his treatise on the Laws, in which work, following the example of Plato, he wished to set forth those laws which he thought that a just and wise state would employ, he thus decreed concerning religion:
Let them reverence the gods, both those who have always been regarded as gods of heaven, and those whose services to men have placed them in heaven: Hercules, Liber, Æsculapius, Castor, Pollux, and Quirinus. Also in his Tusculan Disputations, when he said that heaven was almost entirely filled with the human race, he said:
If, indeed, I should attempt to investigate ancient accounts, and to extract from them those things which the writers of Greece have handed down, even those who are held in the highest rank as gods will be found to have gone from us into heaven. Inquire whose sepulchres are pointed out in Greece: remember, since you are initiated, what things are handed down in the mysteries; and then at length you will understand how widely this persuasion is spread. He appealed, as it is plain, to the conscience of Atticus, that it might be understood from the very mysteries that all those who are worshipped were men; and when he acknowledged this without hesitation in the case of Hercules, Liber, Æsculapius, Castor and Pollux, he was afraid openly to make the same admission respecting Apollo and Jupiter their fathers, and likewise respecting Neptune, Vulcan, Mars, and Mercury, whom he termed the greater gods; and therefore he says that this opinion is widely spread, that we may understand the same concerning Jupiter and the other more ancient gods: for if the ancients consecrated their memory in the same manner in which he says that he will consecrate the image and the name of his daughter, those who mourn may be pardoned, but those who believe it cannot be pardoned. For who is so infatuated as to believe that heaven is opened to the dead at the consent and pleasure of a senseless multitude? Or that any one is able to give to another that which he himself does not possess? Among the Romans, Julius was made a god, because it pleased a guilty man, Antony; Quirinus was made a god, because it seemed good to the shepherds, though one of them was the murderer of his twin brother, the other the destroyer of his country. But if Antony had not been consul, in return for his services towards the state Caius Cæsar would have been without the honour even of a dead man, and that, too, by the advice of his father-in-law Piso, and of his relative Lucius Cæsar, who opposed the celebration of the funeral, and by the advice of Dolabella the consul, who overthrew the column in the forum, that is, his monuments, and purified the forum. For Ennius declares that Romulus was regretted by his people, since he represents the people as thus speaking, through grief for their lost king:
O Romulus, Romulus, say what a guardian of your country the gods produced you? You brought us forth within the regions of light. O father, O sire, O race, descended from the gods. On account of this regret they more readily believed Julius Proculus uttering falsehoods, who was suborned by the fathers to announce to the populace that he had seen the king in a form more majestic than that of a man; and that he had given command to the people that a temple should be built to his honour, that he was a god, and was called by the name of Quirinus. By which deed he at once persuaded the people that Romulus had gone to the gods, and freed the senate from the suspicion of having slain the king.
I might be content with those things which I have related, but there still remain many things which are necessary for the work which I have undertaken. For although, by destroying the principal part of superstitions, I have taken away the whole, yet it pleases me to follow up the remaining parts, and more fully to refute so inveterate a persuasion, that men may at length be ashamed and repent of their errors. This is a great undertaking, and worthy of a man.
I proceed to release the minds of men from the ties of superstitions, as Lucretius says; and he indeed was unable to effect this, because he brought forward nothing true. This is our duty, who both assert the existence of the true God and refute false deities. They, therefore, who entertain the opinion that the poets have invented fables about the gods, and yet believe in the existence of female deities, and worship them, are unconsciously brought back to that which they had denied — that they have sexual intercourse, and bring forth. For it is impossible that the two sexes can have been instituted except for the sake of generation. But a difference of sex being admitted, they do not perceive that conception follows as a consequence. And this cannot be the case with a God. But let the matter be as they imagine; for they say that there are sons of Jupiter and of the other gods. Therefore new gods are born, and that indeed daily, for gods are not surpassed in fruitfulness by men. It follows that all things are full of gods without number, since forsooth none of them dies. For since the multitude of men is incredible, and their number not to be estimated — though, as they are born, they must of necessity die — what must we suppose to be the case with the gods who have been born through so many ages, and have remained immortal? How is it, then, that so few are worshipped? Unless we think by any means that there are two sexes of the gods, not for the sake of generation, but for mere gratification, and that the gods practise those things which men are ashamed to do, and to submit to. But when any are said to be born from any, it follows that they always continue to be born, if they are born at any time; or if they ceased at any time to be born, it is befitting that we should know why or at what time they so ceased. Seneca, in his books of moral philosophy, not without some pleasantry, asks,
What is the reason why Jupiter, who is represented by the poets as most addicted to lust, ceased to beget children? Was it that he was become a sexagenarian, and was restrained by the Papian law? Or did he obtain the privileges conferred by having three children? Or did the sentiment at length occur to him, 'What you have done to another, you may expect from another;' and does he fear lest any one should act towards him as he himself did to Saturn? But let those who maintain that they are gods, see in what manner they can answer this argument which I shall bring forward. If there are two sexes of the gods, conjugal intercourse follows; and if this takes place, they must have houses, for they are not without virtue and a sense of shame, so as to do this openly and promiscuously, as we see that the brute animals do. If they have houses, it follows that they also have cities; and for this we have the authority of Ovid, who says,
The multitude of gods occupy separate places; in this front the powerful and illustrious inhabitants of heaven have placed their dwellings. If they have cities, they will also have fields. Now who cannot see the consequence — namely, that they plough and cultivate their lands? And this is done for the sake of food. Therefore they are mortal. And this argument is of the same weight when reversed. For if they have no lands, they have no cities; and if they have no cities, they are also without houses. And if they have no houses, they have no conjugal intercourse; and if they are without this, they have no female sex. But we see that there are females among the gods also. Therefore there are not gods. If any one is able, let him do away with this argument. For one thing so follows the other, that it is impossible not to admit these last things. But no one will refute even the former argument. Of the two sexes the one is stronger, the other weaker. For the males are more robust, the females more feeble. But a god is not liable to feebleness; therefore there is no female sex. To this is added that last conclusion of the former argument, that there are no gods, since there are females also among the gods.
On these accounts the Stoics form a different conception of the gods; and because they do not perceive what the truth is, they attempt to join them with the system of natural things. And Cicero, following them, brought forward this opinion respecting the gods and their religions. Do you see then, he says, how an argument has been drawn from physical subjects which have been well and usefully found out, to the existence of false and fictitious gods? And this circumstance gave rise to false opinions and turbulent errors, and almost old-womanly superstitions. For both the forms of the gods, and their ages, and clothing and ornaments, are known to us; and moreover their races, and marriages, and all their relationships, and all things reduced to the similitude of human infirmity. What can be said more plain, more true? The chief of the Roman philosophy, and invested with the most honourable priesthood, refutes the false and fictitious gods, and testifies that their worship consists of almost old-womanly superstitions: he complains that men are entangled in false opinions and turbulent errors. For the whole of his third book respecting the Nature of the Gods altogether overthrows and destroys all religion. What more, therefore, is expected from us? Can we surpass Cicero in eloquence? By no means; but confidence was wanting to him, being ignorant of the truth, as he himself simply acknowledges in the same work. For he says that he can more easily say what is not, than what is; that is, that he is aware that the received system is false, but is ignorant of the truth. It is plain, therefore, that those who are supposed to be gods were but men, and that their memory was consecrated after their death. And on this account also different ages and established representations of form are assigned to each, because their images were fashioned in that dress and of that age at which death arrested each.
Let us consider, if you please, the hardships of the unfortunate gods. Isis lost her son; Ceres her daughter; Latona, expelled and driven about over the earth, with difficulty found a small island where she might bring forth. The mother of the gods both loved a beautiful youth, and also mutilated him when found in company with a harlot; and on this account her sacred rites are now celebrated by the Galli as priests. Juno violently persecuted harlots, because she was not able to conceive by her brother. Varro writes, that the island Samos was before called Parthenia, because Juno there grew up, and there also was married to Jupiter. Accordingly there is a most noble and ancient temple of hers at Samos, and an image fashioned in the dress of a bride; and her annual sacred rites are celebrated after the manner of a marriage. If, therefore, she grew up, if she was at first a virgin and afterwards a woman, he who does not understand that she was a human being confesses himself a brute. Why should I speak of the lewdness of Venus, who ministered to the lusts of all, not only gods, but also men? For from her infamous debauchery with Mars she brought forth Harmonia; from Mercury she brought forth Hermaphroditus, who was born of both sexes; from Jupiter Cupid; from Anchises Æneas; from Butes Eryx; from Adonis she could bring forth no offspring, because he was struck by a boar, and slain, while yet a boy. And she first instituted the art of courtesanship, as is contained in the sacred history; and taught women in Cyprus to seek gain by prostitution, which she commanded for this purpose, that she alone might not appear unchaste and a courter of men beyond other females. Has she, too, any claim to religious worship, on whose part more adulteries are recorded than births? But not even were those virgins who are celebrated able to preserve their chastity inviolate. For from what source can we suppose that Erichthonius was born? Was it from the earth, as the poets would have it appear? But the circumstance itself cries out. For when Vulcan had made arms for the gods, and Jupiter had given him the option of asking for whatever reward he might wish, and had sworn, according to his custom, by the infernal lake, that he would refuse him nothing which he might ask, then the lame artificer demanded Minerva in marriage. Upon this the excellent and mighty Jupiter, being bound by so great an oath, was not able to refuse; he, however, advised Minerva to oppose and defend her chastity. Then in that struggle they say that Vulcan shed his seed upon the earth, from which source Erichthonius was born: and that this name was given to him from ἔριδος and χθσνο'ς, that is, from the contest and the ground. Why, then, did she, a virgin, entrust that boy shut up with a dragon and sealed to three virgins born from Cecrops? An evident case of incest, as I think, which can by no means be glossed over. Another, when she had almost lost her lover, who was torn to pieces by his madened horses, called in the most excellent physician Æsculapius for the treatment of the youth; and when he was healed,
Trivia kind her favourite hides,
And to Egeria's care confides,
To live in woods obscure and lone,
And lose in Virbius' name his own.
What is the meaning of this so diligent and anxious care? Why this secret abode? Why this banishment, either to so great a distance, or to a woman, or into solitude? Why, in the next place, the change of name? Lastly, why such a determined hatred of horses? What do all these things imply, but the consciousness of dishonour, and a love by no means consistent with a virgin? There was evidently a reason why she undertook so great a labour for a youth so faithful, who had refused compliance with the love of his stepmother.
In this place also they are to be refuted, who not only admit that gods have been made from men, but even boast of it as a subject of praise, either on account of their valour, as Hercules, or of their gifts, as Ceres and Liber, or of the arts which they discovered, as Æsculapius or Minerva. But how foolish these things are, and how unworthy of being the causes why men should contaminate themselves with inexpiable guilt, and become enemies to God, in contempt of whom they undertake offerings to the dead, I will show from particular instances. They say that it is virtue which exalts man to heaven, — not, however, that concerning which philosophers discuss, which consists in goods of the soul, but this connected with the body, which is called fortitude; and since this was pre-eminent in Hercules, it is believed to have deserved immortality. Who is so foolishly senseless as to judge strength of body to be a divine or even a human good, when it has been assigned in greater measure to cattle, and it is often impaired by one disease, or is lessened by old age itself, and altogether fails? And so Hercules, when he perceived that his muscles were disfigured by ulcers, neither wished to be healed nor to grow old, that he might not at any time appear to have less strength or comeliness than he once had. They supposed that he ascended into heaven from the funeral pile on which he had burnt himself alive; and those very qualities which they most foolishly admired, they expressed by statues and images, and consecrated, so that they might for ever remain as memorials of the folly of those who had believed that gods owed their origin to the slaughter of beasts. But this, perchance, may be the fault of the Greeks, who always esteemed most trifling things as of the greatest consequence. What is the case of our own countrymen? Are they more wise? For they despise valour in an athlete, because it produces no injury; but in the case of a king, because it occasions widely-spread disasters, they so admire it as to imagine that brave and warlike generals are admitted to the assembly of the gods, and that there is no other way to immortality than to lead armies, to lay waste the territory of others, to destroy cities, to overthrow towns, to put to death or enslave free peoples. Truly the greater number of men they have cast down, plundered, and slain, so much the more noble and distinguished do they think themselves; and ensnared by the show of empty glory, they give to their crimes the name of virtue. I would rather that they should make to themselves gods from the slaughter of wild beasts, than approve of an immortality so stained with blood. If any one has slain a single man, he is regarded as contaminated and wicked, nor do they think it lawful for him to be admitted to this earthly abode of the gods. But he who has slaughtered countless thousands of men, has inundated plains with blood, and infected rivers, is not only admitted into the temple, but even into heaven. In Ennius Africanus thus speaks:
If it is permitted any one to ascend to the regions of the gods above, the greatest gate of heaven is open to me alone. Because, in truth, he extinguished and destroyed a great part of the human race. Oh how great the darkness in which you were involved, O Africanus, or rather O poet, in that you imagined the ascent to heaven to be open to men through slaughters and bloodshed! And Cicero also assented to this delusion. It is so in truth, he said, O Africanus, for the same gate was open to Hercules; as though he himself had been doorkeeper in heaven at the time when this took place. I indeed cannot determine whether I should think it a subject of grief or of ridicule, when I see grave and learned, and, as they appear to themselves, wise men, involved in such miserable waves of errors. If this is the virtue which renders us immortal, I for my part should prefer to die, rather than to be the cause of destruction to as many as possible. If immortality can be obtained in no other way than by bloodshed, what will be the result if all shall agree to live in harmony? And this may undoubtedly be realized, if men would cast aside their pernicious and impious madness, and live in innocence and justice. Shall no one, then, be worthy of heaven? Shall virtue perish, because it will not be permitted men to rage against their fellow-men? But they who reckon the overthrow of cities and people as the greatest glory will not endure public tranquillity: they will plunder and rage; and by the infliction of outrageous injuries will disturb the compact of human society, that they may have an enemy whom they may destroy with greater wickedness than that with which they attacked.
Now let us proceed to the remaining subjects. The conferring of benefits gave the name of gods to Ceres and Liber. I am able to prove from the sacred writings that wine and grain were used by men before the offspring of Cœlus and Saturnus. But let us suppose that they were introduced by these. Can it appear to be a greater thing to have collected grain, and having bruised it, to have taught men to make bread; or to have pressed grapes gathered from the vine, and to have made wine, than to have produced and brought forth from the earth grain itself, or the vine? God, indeed, may have left these things to be drawn out by the ingenuity of man; yet all things must belong to Him, who gave to man both wisdom to discover, and those very things which might be discovered. The arts also are said to have gained immortality for their inventors, as medicine for Æsculapius, the craft of the smith for Vulcan. Therefore let us worship those also who taught the art of the fuller and of the shoemaker. But why is not honour paid to the discoverer of the potter's art? Is it that those rich men despise Samian vessels? There are also other arts, the inventors of which greatly profited the life of man. Why have not temples been assigned to them also? But doubtless it is Minerva who discovered all, and therefore workmen offer prayers to her. Such, then, was the low condition from which Minerva ascended to heaven. Is there truly any reason why any one should leave the worship of Him who created the earth with its living creatures, and the heaven with its stars, for the adoration of her who taught men to set up the woof? What place does he hold who taught the healing of wounds in the body? Can he be more excellent than Him who formed the body itself, and the power of sensibility and of life? Finally, did he contrive and bring to light the herbs themselves, and the other things in which the healing art consists?
But some one will say that this supreme Being, who made all things, and those also who conferred on men particular benefits, are entitled to their respective worship. First of all, it has never happened that the worshipper of these has also been a worshipper of God. Nor can this possibly happen. For if the honour paid to Him is shared by others, He altogether ceases to be worshipped, since His religion requires us to believe that He is the one and only God. The excellent poet exclaims, that all those who refined life by the invention of arts are in the lower regions, and that even the discoverer himself of such a medicine and art was thrust down by lightning to the Stygian waves, that we may understand how great is the power of the Almighty Father, who can extinguish even gods by His lightnings. But ingenious men perchance thus reasoned with themselves: Because God cannot be struck with lightning, it is manifest that the occurrence never took place; nay, rather, because it did take place, it is manifest that the person in question was a man, and not a god. For the falsehood of the poets does not consist in the deed, but in the name. For they feared evil, if, in opposition to the general persuasion, they should acknowledge that which was true. But if this is agreed upon among themselves, that gods were made from men, why then do they not believe the poets, if at any time they describe their banishments and wounds, their deaths, and wars, and adulteries? From which things it may be understood that they could not possibly become gods, since they were not even good men, and during their life they performed those actions which bring forth everlasting death.
I now come to the superstitions peculiar to the Romans, since I have spoken of those which are common. The wolf, the nurse of Romulus, was invested with divine honours. And I could endure this, if it had been the animal itself whose figure she bears. Livy relates that there was an image of Larentina, and indeed not of her body, but of her mind and character. For she was the wife of Faustulus, and on account of her prostitution she was called among the shepherds wolf, that is, harlot, from which also the brothel derives its name. The Romans doubtless followed the example of the Athenians in representing her figure. For when a harlot, by name Leæna, had put to death a tyrant among them, because it was unlawful for the image of a harlot to be placed in the temple, they erected the effigy of the animal whose name she bore. Therefore, as the Athenians erected a monument from the name, so did the Romans from the profession of the person thus honoured. A festival was also dedicated to her name, and the Larentinalia were instituted. Nor is she the only harlot whom the Romans worship, but also Faula, who was, as Verrius writes, the paramour of Hercules. Now how great must that immortality be thought which is attained even by harlots! Flora, having obtained great wealth by this practice, made the people her heir, and left a fixed sum of money, from the annual proceeds of which her birthday might be celebrated by public games, which they called Floralia. And because this appeared disgraceful to the senate, in order that a kind of dignity might be given to a shameful matter, they resolved that an argument should be taken from the name itself. They pretended that she was the goddess who presides over flowers, and that she must be appeased, that the crops, together with the trees or vines, might produce a good and abundant blossom. The poet followed up this idea in his Fasti, and related that there was a nymph, by no means obscure, who was called Chloris, and that, on her marriage with Zephyrus, she received from her husband as a wedding gift the control over all flowers. These things are spoken with propriety, but to believe them is unbecoming and shameful. And when the truth is in question, ought disguises of this kind to deceive us? Those games, therefore, are celebrated with all wantonness, as is suitable to the memory of a harlot. For besides licentiousness of words, in which all lewdness is poured forth, women are also stripped of their garments at the demand of the people, and then perform the office of mimeplayers, and are detained in the sight of the people with indecent gestures, even to the satiating of unchaste eyes.
Tatius consecrated an image of Cloacina, which had been found in the great sewer; and because he did not know whose likeness it was, he gave it a name from the place. Tullus Hostilius fashioned and worshipped Fear and Pallor. What shall I say respecting him, but that he was worthy of having his gods always at hand, as men commonly wish? The conduct of Marcus Marcellus concerning the consecration of Honour and Valour differs from this in goodness of the names, but agrees with it in reality. The senate acted with the same vanity in placing Mind among the gods; for if they had possessed any intelligence, they would never have undertaken sacred rites of this kind. Cicero says that Greece undertook a great and bold design in consecrating the images of Cupids and Loves in the gymnasia: it is plain that he flattered Atticus, and jested with his friend. For that ought not to have been called a great design, or a design at all, but the abandoned and deplorable wickedness of unchaste men, who exposed their children, whom it was their duty to train to an honourable course, to the lust of youth, and wished them to worship gods of profligacy, in those places especially where their naked bodies were exposed to the gaze of their corruptors, and at that age which, through its simplicity and incautiousness, can be enticed and ensnared before it can be on its guard. What wonder, if all kinds of profligacy flowed from this nation, among whom vices themselves have the sanction of religion, and are so far from being avoided, that they are even worshipped? And therefore, as though he surpassed the Greeks in prudence, he subjoined to this sentence as follows:
Vices ought not to be consecrated, but virtues. But if you admit this, O Marcus Tullius, you do not see that it will come to pass that vices will break in together with virtues, because evil things adhere to those which are good, and have greater influence on the minds of men; and if you forbid these to be consecrated, the same Greece will answer you that it worships some gods that it may receive benefits, and others that it may escape injuries.
For this is always the excuse of those who regard their evils as gods, as the Romans esteem Blight and Fever. If, therefore, vices are not to be consecrated, in which I agree with you, neither indeed are virtues. For they have no intelligence or perception of themselves; nor are they to be placed within walls or shrines made of clay, but within the breast; and they are to be enclosed within, lest they should be false if placed without man. Therefore I laugh at that illustrious law of yours which you set forth in these words:
But those things on account of which it is given to man to ascend into heaven — I speak of mind, virtue, piety, faith— let there be temples for their praises. But these things cannot be separated from man. For if they are to be honoured, they must necessarily be in man himself. But if they are without man, what need is there to honour those things which you do not possess? For it is virtue, which is to be honoured, and not the image of virtue; and it is to be honoured not by any sacrifice, or incense, or solemn prayer, but only by the will and purpose. For what else is it to honour virtue, but to comprehend it with the mind, and to hold it fast? And as soon as any one begins to wish for this, he attains it. This is the only honour of virtue; for no other religion and worship is to be held but that of the one God. To what purport is it, then, O wisest man, to occupy with superfluous buildings places which may turn out to the service of men? To what purport is it to establish priests for the worship of vain and senseless objects? To what purport to immolate victims? To what purport to bestow such great expenditure on the forming or worshipping of images? The human breast is a stronger and more uncorrupted temple: let this rather be adorned, let this be filled with the true deities. For they who thus worship the virtues— that is, who pursue the shadows and images of virtues— cannot hold the very things which are true. Therefore there is no virtue in any one when vices bear rule; there is no faith when each individual carries off all things for himself; there is no piety when avarice spares neither relatives nor parents, and passion rushes to poison and the sword: no peace, no concord, when wars rage in public, and in private enmities prevail even to bloodshed; no chastity when unbridled lusts contaminate each sex, and the whole body in every part. Nor, however, do they cease to worship those things which they flee from and hate. For they worship with incense and the tips of their fingers those things which they ought to have shrunk from with their inmost feelings; and this error is altogether derived from their ignorance of the principal and chief good.
When their city was occupied by the Gauls, and the Romans, who were besieged in the Capitol, had made military engines from the hair of the women, they dedicated a temple to the Bald Venus. They do not therefore understand how vain are their religions, even from this very fact, that they jeer at them by these follies. They had perhaps learned from the Lacedæmonians to invent for themselves gods from events. For when they were besieging the Messenians, and they (the Messenians) had gone out secretly, escaping the notice of the besiegers, and had hastened to plunder Lacedæmon, they were routed and put to flight by the Spartan women. But the Lacedæmonians, having learned the stratagem of the enemy, followed. The women in arms went out to a distance to meet them; and when they saw that their husbands were preparing themselves for battle, supposing them to be Messenians, they laid bare their persons. But the men, recognising their wives, and excited to passion by the sight, rushed to promiscuous intercourse, for there was not time for discrimination. In like manner, the youths who had on a former occasion been sent by the same people, having intercourse with the virgins, from whom the Partheniæ were born, in memory of this deed erected a temple and statue to armed Venus. And although this originated in a shameful cause, yet it seems better to have consecrated Venus as armed than bald. At the same time an altar was erected also to Jupiter Pistor (the baker), because he had admonished them in a dream to make all the grain which they had into bread, and throw it into the camp of the enemy; and when this was done, the siege was ended, since the Gauls despaired of being able to reduce the Romans by want.
What a derision of religious rites is this! I were a defender of these, what could I complain of so greatly as that the name of gods had come into such contempt as to be mocked by the most disgraceful names? Who would not laugh at the goddess Fornax, or rather that learned men should be occupied with celebrating the Fornacalia? Who can refrain from laughter on hearing of the goddess Muta? They say that she is the goddess from whom the Lares were born, and they call her Lara, or Larunda. What advantage can she, who is unable to speak, afford to a worshipper? Caca also is worshipped, who informed Hercules of the theft of his oxen, having obtained immortality through the betrayal of her brother; and Cunina, who protects infants in the cradle, and keeps off witchcraft; and Stercutus, who first introduced the method of manuring the land; and Tutinus, before whom brides sit, as an introduction to the marriage rites; and a thousand other fictions, so that they who regarded these as objects of worship may be said to be more foolish than the Egyptians, who worship certain monstrous and ridiculous images. These however, have some delineation of form. What shall I say of those who worship a rude and shapeless stone under the name of Terminus? This is he whom Saturnus is said to have swallowed in the place of Jupiter; nor is the honour paid to him undeservedly. For when Tarquinius wished to build the Capitol, and there were the chapels of many gods on that spot, he consulted them by augury whether they would give way to Jupiter; and when the rest gave way, Terminus alone remained. From which circumstance the poet speaks of the immoveable stone of the Capitol. Now from this very fact how great is Jupiter found to be, to whom a stone did not give way, with this confidence, perhaps, because it had rescued him from the jaws of his father! Therefore, when the Capitol was built, an aperture was left in the roof above Terminus himself, that, since he had not given way, he might enjoy the free heaven; but they did not themselves enjoy this, who imagined that a stone enjoyed it. And therefore they make public supplications to him, as to the god who is the guardian of boundaries; and he is not only a stone, but sometimes also a stock. What shall I say of those who worship such objects, unless — that they above all others are stones and stocks?
We have spoken of the gods themselves who are worshipped; we must now speak a few words respecting their sacrifices and mysteries. Among the people of Cyprus, Teucer sacrificed a human victim to Jupiter, and handed down to posterity that sacrifice which was lately abolished by Hadrian when he was emperor. There was a law among the people of Tauris, a fierce and inhuman nation, by which it was ordered that strangers should be sacrificed to Diana; and this sacrifice was practised through many ages. The Gauls used to appease Hesus and Teutas with human blood. Nor, indeed, were the Latins free from this cruelty, since Jupiter Latialis is even now worshipped with the offering of human blood. What benefit do they who offer such sacrifices implore from the gods? Or what are such deities able to bestow on the men by whose punishments they are propitiated? But this is not so much a matter of surprise with respect to barbarians, whose religion agrees with their character. But are not our countrymen, who have always claimed for themselves the glory of gentleness and civilization, found to be more inhuman by these sacrilegious rites? For these ought rather to be esteemed impious, who, though they are embellished with the pursuits of liberal training, turn aside from such refinement, than those who, being ignorant and inexperienced, glide into evil practices from their ignorance of those which are good. And yet it is plain that this rite of immolating human victims is ancient, since Saturn was honoured in Latium with the same kind of sacrifice; not indeed that a man was slain at the altar, but that he was thrown from the Milvian bridge into the Tiber. And Varro relates that this was done in accordance with an oracle; of which oracle the last verse is to this effect:
And offer heads to Ades, and to the father a man. And because this appears ambiguous, both a torch and a man are accustomed to be thrown to him. But it is said that sacrifices of this kind were put an end to by Hercules when he returned from Spain; the custom still continuing, that instead of real men, images made from rushes were cast forth, as Ovid informs us in his Fasti:
Until the Tirynthian came into these lands, gloomy sacrifices were annually offered in the Leucadian manner: he threw into the water Romans made of straw; do you, after the example of Hercules, cast in the images of human bodies.
The Vestal virgins make these sacred offerings, as the same poet says:
Then also a virgin is accustomed to cast from the wooden bridge the images of ancient men made from rushes.
For I cannot find language to speak of the infants who were immolated to the same Saturn, on account of his hatred of Jupiter. To think that men were so barbarous, so savage, that they gave the name of sacrifice to the slaughter of their own children, that is, to a deed foul, and to be held in detestation by the human race; since, without any regard to parental affection, they destroyed tender and innocent lives, at an age which is especially pleasing to parents, and surpassed in brutality the savageness of all beasts, which — savage as they are — still love their offspring! O incurable madness! What more could those gods do to them, if they were most angry, than they now do when propitious, when they defile their worshippers with parricide, visit them with bereavements, and deprive them of the sensibilities of men? What can be sacred to these men? Or what will they do in profane places, who commit the greatest crimes amidst the altars of the gods? Pescennius Festus relates in the books of his History by a Satire, that the Carthaginians were accustomed to immolate human victims to Saturn; and when they were conquered by Agathocles, the king of the Sicilians, they imagined that the god was angry with them; and therefore, that they might more diligently offer an expiation, they immolated two hundred sons of their nobles:
So great the ills to which religion could prompt, which has ofttimes produced wicked and impious deeds. What advantage, then, did the men propose by that sacrifice, when they put to death so large a part of the state, as not even Agathocles had slain when victorious?
From this kind of sacrifices those public rites are to be judged signs of no less madness; some of which are in honour of the mother of the gods, in which men mutilate themselves; others are in honour of Virtus, whom they also call Bellona, in which the priests make offsprings not with the blood of another victim, but with their own. For, cutting their shoulders, and thrusting forth drawn swords in each hand, they run, they are beside themselves, they are frantic. Quintilian therefore says excellently in his Fanatic:
If a god compels this, he does it in anger. Are even these things sacred? Is it not better to live like cattle, than to worship deities so impious, profane, and sanguinary? But we will discuss at the proper time the source from which these errors and deeds of such great disgrace originated. In the meantime, let us look also to other matters which are without guilt, that we may not seem to select the worse parts through the desire of finding fault. In Egypt there are sacred rites in honour of Isis, since she either lost or found her little son. For at first her priests, having made their bodies smooth, beat their breasts, and lament, as the goddess herself had done when her child was lost. Afterwards the boy is brought forward, as if found, and that mourning is changed into joy. Therefore Lucan says,
And Osiris never sufficiently sought for. For they always lose, and they always find him. Therefore in the sacred rites there is a representation of a circumstance which really occurred; and which assuredly declares, if we have any intelligence, that she was a mortal woman, and almost desolate, had she not found one person. And this did not escape the notice of the poet himself; for he represents Pompey when a youth as thus speaking, on hearing the death of his father:
I will now draw forth the deity Isis from the tomb, and send her through the nations; and I will scatter through the people Osiris covered with wood. This Osiris is the same whom the people call Serapis. For it is customary for the names of the dead who are deified to be changed, that no one, as I believe, may imagine them to be men. For Romulus after his death became Quirinus, and Leda became Nemesis, and Circe Marica; and Ino, when she had leapt into the sea, was called Leucothea; and the mother Matuta; and her son Melicerta was called Palæmon and Portumnus. And the sacred rites of the Eleusinian Ceres are not unlike these. For as in those which have been mentioned the boy Osiris is sought with the wailing of his mother, so in these Proserpine is carried away to contract an incestuous marriage with her uncle; and because Ceres is said to have sought for her in Sicily with torches lighted from the top of Etna, on this account her sacred rites are celebrated with the throwing of torches.
At Lampsacus the victim to be offered to Priapus is an ass, and the cause of the sacrifice of this animal is thus set forth in the Fasti:— When all the deities had assembled at the festival of the Great Mother, and when, satiated with feasting, they were spending the night in sport, they say that Vesta had laid herself on the ground for rest, and had fallen asleep, and that Priapus upon this formed a design against her honour as she slept; but that she was aroused by the unseasonable braying of the ass on which Silenus used to ride, and that the design of the insidious plotter was frustrated. On this account they say that the people of Lampsacus were accustomed to sacrifice an ass to Priapus, as though it were in revenge; but among the Romans the same animal was crowned at the Vestalia (festival of Vesta) with loaves, in honour of the preservation of her chastity. What is baser, what more disgraceful, than if Vesta is indebted to an ass for the preservation of her purity? But the poet invented a fable. But was that more true which is related by those who wrote
Phenomena, when they speak concerning the two stars of Cancer, which the Greeks call asses? That they were asses which carried across father Liber when he was unable to cross a river, and that he rewarded one of them with the power of speaking with human voice; and that a contest arose between him and Priapus; and Priapus, being worsted in the contest, was enraged, and slew the victor. This truly is much more absurd. But poets have the licence of saying what they will. I do not meddle with a mystery so odious; nor do I strip Priapus of his disguise, lest something deserving of ridicule should be brought to light. It is true the poets invented these fictions, but they must have been invented for the purpose of concealing some greater depravity. Let us inquire what this is. But in fact it is evident. For as the bull is sacrificed to Luna, because he also has horns as she has; and as
Persia propitiates with a horse Hyperion surrounded with rays, that a slow victim may not be offered to the swift god; so in this case no more suitable victim could be found than that which resembled him to whom it is offered.
At Lindus, which is a town of Rhodes, there are sacred rites in honour of Hercules, the observance of which differs widely from all other rites; for they are not celebrated with words of good omen (as the Greeks term it), but with revilings and cursing. And they consider it a violation of the sacred rites, if at any time during the celebration of the solemnities a good word shall have escaped from any one even inadvertently. And this is the reason assigned for this practice, if indeed there can be any reason in things utterly senseless. When Hercules had arrived at the place, and was suffering hunger, he saw a ploughman at work, and began to ask him to sell one of his oxen. But the ploughman replied that this was impossible, because his hope of cultivating the land depended altogether upon those two bullocks. Hercules, with his usual violence, because he was not able to receive one of them, killed both. But the unhappy man, when he saw that his oxen were slain, avenged the injury with revilings — a circumstance which afforded gratification to the man of elegance and refinement. For while he prepares a feast for his companions, and while he devours the oxen of another man, he receives with ridicule and loud laughter the bitter reproaches with which the other assails him. But when it had been determined that divine honours should be paid to Hercules in admiration of his excellence, an altar was erected in his honour by the citizens, which he named, from the circumstance, the yoke of oxen; and at this altar two yoked oxen were sacrificed, like those which he had taken from the ploughman. And he appointed the same man to be his priest, and directed him always to use the same revilings in offering sacrifice, because he said that he had never feasted more pleasantly. Now these things are not sacred, but sacrilegious, in which that is said to be enjoined, which, if it is done in other things, is punished with the greatest severity. What, moreover, do the rites of the Cretan Jupiter himself show, except the manner in which he was withdrawn from his father, or brought up? There is a goat belonging to the nymph Amalthea, which gave suck to the infant; and of this goat Germanicus Cæsar thus speaks, in his poem translated from Aratus: —
She is supposed to be the nurse of Jupiter; if in truth the infant Jupiter pressed the faithful teats of the Cretan goat, which attests the gratitude of her lord by a bright constellation.
Musæus relates that Jupiter, when fighting against the Titans, used the hide of this goat as a shield, from which circumstance he is called by the poets shield-bearer. Thus, whatever was done in concealing the boy, that also is done by way of representation in the sacred rites. Moreover, the mystery of his mother also contains the same story which Ovid sets forth in the Fasti:—
Now the lofty Ida resounds with tinklings, that the boy may cry in safety with infant mouth. Some strike their shields with stakes, some beat their empty helmets. This is the employment of the Curetes, this of the Corybantes. The matter was concealed, and imitations of the ancient deed remain; the attendant goddesses shake instruments of brass, and hoarse hides. Instead of helmets they strike cymbals, and drums instead of shields; the flute gives Phrygian strains, as it gave before.
Sallust rejected this opinion altogether, as though invented by the poets, and wished to give an ingenious explanation of the reasons for which the Curetes are said to have nourished Jupiter; and he speaks to this purport: Because they were the first to understand the worship of the deity, that therefore antiquity, which exaggerates all things, made them known as the nourishers of Jupiter. How much this learned man was mistaken, the matter itself at once declares. For if Jupiter holds the first place, both among the gods and in religious rites, if no gods were worshipped by the people before him, because they who are worshipped were not yet born; it appears that the Curetes, on the contrary, were the first who did not understand the worship of the deity, since all error was introduced by them, and the memory of the true God was taken away. They ought therefore to have understood from the mysteries and ceremonies themselves, that they were offering prayers to dead men. I do not then require that any one should believe the fictions of the poets. If any one imagines that these speak falsely, let him consider the writings of the pontiffs themselves, and weigh whatever there is of literature pertaining to sacred rites: he will perhaps find more things than we bring forward, from which he may understand that all things which are esteemed sacred are empty, vain, and fictitious. But if any one, having discovered wisdom, shall lay aside his error, he will assuredly laugh at the follies of men who are almost without understanding: I mean those who either dance with unbecoming gestures, or run naked, anointed, and crowned with chaplets, either wearing a mask or besmeared with mud. What shall I say about shields now putrid with age? When they carry these, they think that they are carrying gods themselves on their shoulders. For Furius Bibaculus is regarded among the chief examples of piety, who, though he was prætor, nevertheless carried the sacred shield, preceded by the lictors, though his office as prœtor gave him an exemption from this duty. He was therefore not Furius, but altogether mad, who thought that he graced his prætorship by this service. Deservedly then, since these things are done by men not unskilful and ignorant, does Lucretius exclaim:—
O foolish minds of men! O blinded breasts! In what darkness of life and in how great dangers is passed this term of life, whatever be its duration!
Who that is possessed of any sense would not laugh at these mockeries, when he sees that men, as though bereft of intelligence, do those things seriously, which if any one should do in sport, he would appear too full of sport and folly?
The author and establisher of these vanities among the Romans was that Sabine king who especially engaged the rude and ignorant minds of men with new superstitions: and that he might do this with some authority, he pretended that he had meetings by night with the goddess Egeria. There was a very dark cavern in the grove of Aricia, from which flowed a stream with a never failing spring. Hither he was accustomed to withdraw himself without any witnesses, that he might be able to pretend that, by the admonition of the goddess his wife, he delivered to the people those sacred rites which were most acceptable to the gods. It is evident that he wished to imitate the craftiness of Minos, who concealed himself in the cave of Jupiter, and, after a long delay there, brought forward laws, as though delivered to him by Jupiter, that he might bind men to obedience not only by the authority of his government, but also by the sanction of religion. Nor was it difficult to persuade shepherds. Therefore he instituted pontiffs, priests, Salii, and augurs; he arranged the gods in families; and by these means he softened the fierce spirits of the new people and called them away from warlike affairs to the pursuit of peace. But though he deceived others, he did not deceive himself. For after many years, in the consulship of Cornelius and Bebius, in a field belonging to the scribe Petilius, under the Janiculum, two stone chests were found by men who were digging, in one of which was the body of Numa, in the other seven books in Latin respecting the law of the pontiffs, and the same number written in Greek respecting systems of philosophy, in which he not only annulled the religious rites which he himself had instituted, but all others also. When this was referred to the senate, it was decreed that these books should be destroyed. Therefore Quintus Petilius, the prætor who had jurisdiction in the city, burnt them in an assembly of the people. This was a senseless proceeding; for of what advantage was it that the books were burnt, when the cause on account of which they were burnt — that they took away the authority due to religion — was itself handed down to memory? Every one then in the senate was most foolish; for the books might have been burnt, and yet the matter itself have been unknown. Thus, while they wish to prove even to posterity with what piety they defended religious institutions, they lessened the authority of the institutions themselves by their testimony.
But as Pompilius was the institutor of foolish superstitions among the Romans, so also, before Pompilius, Faunus was in Latium, who both established impious rites to his grandfather Saturnus, and honoured his father Picus with a place among the gods, and consecrated his sister Fatua Fauna, who was also his wife; who, as Gabius Bassus relates, was called Fatua because she had been in the habit of foretelling their fates to women, as Faunus did to men. And Varro writes that she was a woman of such great modesty, that, as long as she lived, no male except her husband saw her or heard her name. On this account women sacrifice to her in secret, and call her the Good Goddess. And Sextus Claudius, in that book which he wrote in Greek, relates that it was the wife of Faunus who, because, contrary to the practice and honour of kings, she had drunk a jar of wine, and had become intoxicated, was beaten to death by her husband with myrtle rods. But afterwards, when he was sorry for what he had done, and was unable to endure his regret for her, he paid her divine honours. For this reason they say that a covered jar of wine is placed at her sacred rites. Therefore Faunus also left to posterity no slight error, which all that are intelligent see through. For Lucilius in these verses derides the folly of those who imagine that images are gods:
The terrestrial Lamiæ, which Faunus and Numa Pompilius and others instituted; at and these he trembles, he places everything in this. As infant boys believe that every statue of bronze is a living man, so these imagine that all things feigned are true: they believe that statues of bronze contain a heart. It is a painter's gallery; there is nothing true; all things are fictitious. The poet, indeed, compares foolish men to infants. But I say that they are much more senseless than infants. For they (infants) suppose that images are men, whereas these take them for gods: the one through their age, the others through folly, imagine that which is not true: at any rate, the one soon ceased to be deceived; the foolishness of the others is permanent, and always increases. Orpheus was the first who introduced the rites of father Liber into Greece; and he first celebrated them on a mountain of Bœotia, very near to Thebes, where Liber was born; and because this mountain continually resounded with the strains of the lyre, it was called Cithæron. Those sacred rites are even now called Orphic, in which he himself was lacerated and torn in pieces; and he lived about the same time with Faunus. But which of them was prior in age admits of doubt, since Latinus and Priam reigned during the same years, as did also their fathers Faunus and Laomedon, in whose reign Orpheus came with the Argonauts to the coast of the Trojans.
Let us therefore advance further, and inquire who was really the first author of the worship of the gods. Didymus, in the books of his commentary on Pindar, says that Melisseus, king of the Cretans, was the first who sacrificed to the gods, and introduced new rites and parades of sacrifices. He had two daughters, Amalthæa and Melissa, who nourished the youthful Jupiter with goats' milk and honey. Hence that poetic fable derived its origin, that bees flew to the child, and filled his mouth with honey. Moreover, he says that Melissa was appointed by her father the first priestess of the Great Mother; from which circumstance the priests of the same Mother are still called Melissæ. But the sacred history testifies that Jupiter himself, when he had gained possession of power, arrived at such insolence that he built temples in honour of himself in many places. For when he went about to different lands, on his arrival in each region, he united to himself the kings or princes of the people in hospitality and friendship; and when he was departing from each, he ordered that a shrine should be dedicated to himself in the name of his host, as though the remembrance of their friendship and league could thus be preserved. Thus temples were founded in honour of Jupiter Atabyrius and Jupiter Labrandius; for Atabyrius and Labrandius were his entertainers and assistants in war. Temples were also built to Jupiter Laprius, to Jupiter Molion, to Jupiter Casius, and others, after the same manner. This was a very crafty device on his part, that he might both acquire divine honour for himself, and a perpetual name for his entertainers in conjunction with religious observances. Accordingly they were glad, and cheerfully submitted to his command, and observed annual rites and festivals for the sake of handing down their own name. Æneas did something like this in Sicily, when he gave the name of his host Acestes to a city which he had built, that Acestes might afterwards joyfully and willingly love, increase, and adorn it. In this manner Jupiter spread abroad through the world the observance of his worship, and gave an example for the imitation of others. Whether, then, the practice of worshipping the gods proceeded from Melisseus, as Didymus related, or from Jupiter also himself, as Euhemerus says, the time is still agreed upon when the gods began to be worshipped. Melisseus, indeed, was much prior in time, inasmuch as he brought up Jupiter his grandson. It is therefore possible that either before, or while Jupiter was yet a boy, he taught the worship of the gods, namely, the mother of his foster-child, and his grandmother Tellus, who was the wife of Uranus, and his father Saturnus; and he himself, by this example and institution, may have exalted Jupiter to such pride, that he afterwards ventured to assume divine honours to himself.
Now, since we have ascertained the origin of vain superstitions, it remains that we should also collect the times during which they whose memory is honoured lived. Theophilus, in his book written to Autolycus respecting the times, says that Thallus relates in his history, that Belus, who is worshipped by the Babylonians and Assyrians, is found to have lived 322 years before the Trojan War; that Belus, moreover, was contemporary with Saturnus, and that they both grew up at one time;— which is so true, that it may be inferred by reason itself. For Agamemnon, who carried on the Trojan War, was the fourth in descent from Jupiter; and Achilles and Ajax were of the third descent from him; and Ulysses was related in the same degree. Priam, indeed, was distant by a long series of descents. But according to some authorities, Dardanus and Iasius were sons of Coritus, not of Jupiter. For if it had been so, Jupiter could not have formed that unchaste connection with Ganymede, his own descendant. Therefore, if you divide the years which are in agreement, the number will be found in harmony with the parents of those whom I have named above. Now, from the destruction of the Trojan city fourteen hundred and seventy years are made up. From this calculation of times, it is manifest that Saturnus has not been born more than eighteen hundred years, and he also was the father of all the gods. Let them not glory, then, in the antiquity of their sacred rites, since both their origin and system and times have been ascertained. There still remain some things which may be of great weight for the disproving of false religions; but I have determined now to bring this book to an end, that it may not exceed moderate limits. For those things must be followed up more fully, that, having refuted all things which seem to oppose the truth, we may be able to instruct in true religion men who, through ignorance of good things, wander in uncertainty. But the first step towards wisdom is to understand what is false; the second, to ascertain what is true. Therefore he who shall have profited by this first discussion of mine, in which we have exposed false things, will be excited to the knowledge of the truth, than which no pleasure is more gratifying to man; and he will now be worthy of the wisdom of heavenly training, who shall approach with willingness and preparation to the knowledge of the other subjects.
Source. Translated by William Fletcher. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/07011.htm>.
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