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Chapter IV.—The Heathens Made Gods Like Themselves, Whence Springs All Superstition.

Now, as the Greeks represent the gods as possessing human forms, so also do they as possessing human passions. And as each of them p. 529 depict their forms similar to themselves, as Xenophanes says, “Ethiopians as black and apes, the Thracians ruddy and tawny;” so also they assimilate their souls to those who form them: the Barbarians, for instance, who make them savage and wild; and the Greeks, who make them more civilized, yet subject to passion.

Wherefore it stands to reason, that the ideas entertained of God by wicked men must be bad, and those by good men most excellent. And therefore he who is in soul truly kingly and gnostic, being likewise pious and free from superstition, is persuaded that He who alone is God is honourable, venerable, august, beneficent, the doer of good, the author of all good things, but not the cause of evil. And respecting the Hellenic superstition we have, as I think, shown enough in the book entitled by us The Exhortation, availing ourselves abundantly of the history bearing on the point. There is no need, then, again to make a long story of what has already been clearly stated. But in as far as necessity requires to be pointed out on coming to the topic, suffice it to adduce a few out of many considerations in proof of the impiety of those who make the Divinity resemble the worst men. For either those Gods of theirs are injured by men, and are shown to be inferior to men on being injured by us; or, if not so, how is it that they are incensed at those by whom they are not injured, like a testy old wife roused to wrath?

As they say that Artemis was enraged at the Ætolians on account of Œneus. 3539 For how, being a goddess, did she not consider that he had neglected to sacrifice, not through contempt, but out of inadvertence, or under the idea that he had sacrificed?

And Latona, 3540 arguing her case with Athene, on account of the latter being incensed at her for having brought forth in the temple, says:—

“Man-slaying spoils
Torn from the dead you love to see. And these
To you are not unclean. But you regard
My parturition here a horrid thing,
Though other creatures in the temple do
No harm by bringing forth their young.”

It is natural, then, that having a superstitious dread of those irascible [gods], they imagine that all events are signs and causes of evils. If a mouse bore through an altar built of clay, and for want of something else gnaw through an oil flask; if a cock that is being fattened crow in the evening, they determine this to be a sign of something.

Of such a one Menander gives a comic description in The Superstitious Man:

A. Good luck be mine, ye honoured gods!
Tying my, right shoe’s string,
I broke it.”
B. Most likely, silly fool,
For it was rotten, and you, niggard, you
Would not buy new ones.” 3541

It was a clever remark of Antiphon, who (when one regarded it as an ill omen that the sow had eaten her pigs), on seeing her emaciated through the niggardliness of the person that kept her, said, Congratulate yourself on the omen that, being so hungry, she did not eat your own children.

“And what wonder is it,” says Bion, “if the mouse, finding nothing to eat, gnaws the bag?” For it were wonderful if (as Arcesilaus argued in fun) “the bag had eaten the mouse.”

Diogenes accordingly remarked well to one who wondered at finding a serpent coiled round a pestle: “Don’t wonder; for it would have been more surprising if you had seen the pestle coiled round the serpent, and the serpent straight.”

For the irrational creatures must run, and scamper, and fight, and breed, and die; and these things being natural to them, can never be unnatural to us.

“And many birds beneath the sunbeams walk.”

And the comic poet Philemon treats such points in comedy:—

“When I see one who watches who has sneezed,
Or who has spoke; or looking, who goes on,
I straightway in the market sell him off.
Each one of us walks, talks, and sneezes too,
For his own self, not for the citizens:
According to their nature things turn out.”

Then by the practice of temperance men seek health: and by cramming themselves, and wallowing in potations at feasts, they attract diseases.

There are many, too, that dread inscriptions set up. Very cleverly Diogenes, on finding in the house of a bad man the inscription, “Hercules, for victory famed, dwells here; let nothing bad enter,” remarked, “And how shall the master of the house go in?”

The same people, who worship every stick and greasy stone, as the saying is, dreads tufts of tawny wool, and lumps of salt, and torches, and squills, and sulphur, bewitched by sorcerers, in certain impure rites of expiation. But God, the true God, recognises as holy only the character of the righteous man,—as unholy, wrong and wickedness.

You may see the eggs, 3542 taken from those who have been purified, hatched if subjected to the necessary warmth. But this could not take p. 530 place if they had had transferred to them the sins of the man that had undergone purification. Accordingly the comic poet Diphilus facetiously writes, in comedy, of sorcerers, in the following words:—

“Purifying Prœtus’ daughters, and their father
Prœtus Abantades, and fifth, an old wife to boot,
So many people’s persons with one torch, one squill,
With sulphur and asphalt of the loud-sounding sea,
From the placid-flowing, deep-flowing ocean.
But blest air through the clouds send Anticyra
That I may make this bug into a drone.”

For well Menander remarks: 3543

“Had you, O Phidias, any real ill,
You needs must seek for it a real cure;
Now ’tis not so. And for the unreal ill
I’ve found an unreal cure. Believe that it
Will do thee good. Let women in a ring
Wipe thee, and from three fountains water bring.
Add salt and lentils; sprinkle then thyself.
Each one is pure, who’s conscious of no sin.”

For instance, the tragedy says:—

Menelaus. “What disease, Orestes, is destroying thee?”
Orestes. “Conscience. For horrid deeds I know I’ve done.” 3544

For in reality there is no other purity but abstinence from sins. Excellently then Epicharmus says:—

“If a pure mind thou hast,
In thy whole body thou art pure.”

Now also we say that it is requisite to purify the soul from corrupt and bad doctrines by right reason; and so thereafter to the recollection of the principal heads of doctrine. Since also before the communication of the mysteries they think it right to apply certain purifications to those who are to be initiated; so it is requisite for men to abandon impious opinion, and thus turn to the true tradition.



Iliad, ix. 533, etc.


The text has Ἡ αὐτή, which is plainly unsuitable; hence the suggestion ἡ Αητώ.


These lines are quoted by Theodoret, and have been amended and arranged by Sylburgius and Grotius. The text has Ἀγαθόν τι; Theodoret and Grotius omit τί as above.


Which were used in lustrations, ὧτα. The text has ᾥά.


Translated as arranged and amended by Grotius.


Euripides, Orestes, 395, 396.

Next: Chapter V.—The Holy Soul a More Excellent Temple Than Any Edifice Built by Man.