Five Stages of Greek Religion
by Gilbert Murray
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We seem to have travelled far from the simplicity of early Greek religion. Yet, apart always from Plotinus, who is singularly aloof, most of the movement has been a reaction under Oriental and barbarous influences towards the most primitive pre-Hellenic cults. The union of man with God came regularly through Ekstasis—the soul must get clear of its body—and Enthousiasmos—the God must enter and dwell inside the worshipper. But the means to this union, while sometimes allegorized and spiritualized to the last degree, are sometimes of the most primitive sort. The vagaries of religious emotion are apt to reach very low as well as very high in the scale of human nature. Certainly the primitive Thracian savages, who drank themselves mad with the hot blood of their God-beast, would have been quite at home in some of these rituals, though in others they would have been put off with some substitute for the actual blood. The primitive priestesses who waited in a bridal chamber for the Divine Bridegroom, even the Cretan Kouretes with their Zeus Koures[150:1] and those strange hierophants of the 'Men's House' whose initiations are written on the rocks of Thera, would have found rites very like their own reblossoming on earth after the fall of Hellenism. 'Prepare thyself as a bride to receive her bridegroom,' says Markos the Gnostic,[150:2] 'that thou mayst be what I am and I what thou art.' 'I in thee, and thou in me!' is the ecstatic cry of one of the Hermes liturgies. Before that the prayer has been 'Enter into me as a babe into the womb of a woman'.[150:3]

In almost all the liturgies that I have read need is felt for a mediator between the seeker after God and his goal. Mithras himself saw a Mesites, a Mediator, between Ormuzd and Ahriman, but the ordinary mediator is more like an interpreter or an adept with inner knowledge which he reveals to the outsider. The circumstances out of which these systems grew have left their mark on the new gods themselves. As usual, the social structure of the worshippers is reflected in their objects of worship. When the Chaldaeans came to Cos, when the Thracians in the Piraeus set up their national worship of Bendis, when the Egyptians in the same port founded their society for the Egyptian ritual of Isis, when the Jews at Assuan in the fifth century B. C. established their own temple, in each case there would come proselytes to whom the truth must be explained and interpreted, sometimes perhaps softened. And in each case there is behind the particular priest or initiator there present some greater authority in the land he comes from. Behind any explanation that can be made in the Piraeus, there is a deeper and higher explanation known only to the great master in Jerusalem, in Egypt, in Babylon, or perhaps in some unexplored and ever-receding region of the east. This series of revelations, one behind the other, is a characteristic of all these mixed Graeco-Oriental religions.

Most of the Hermetic treatises are put in the form of initiations or lessons revealed by a 'father' to a 'son', by Ptah to Hermes, by Hermes to Thoth or Asclepios, and by one of them to us. It was an ancient formula, a natural vehicle for traditional wisdom in Egypt, where the young priest became regularly the 'son' of the old priest. It is a form that we find in Greece itself as early as Euripides, whose Melanippe says of her cosmological doctrines,

'It is not my word but my Mother's word'.[152:1]

It was doubtless the language of the old Medicine-Man to his disciple. In one fine liturgy Thoth wrestles with Hermes in agony of spirit, till Hermes is forced to reveal to him the path to union with God which he himself has trodden before. At the end of the Mithras liturgy the devotee who has passed through the mystic ordeals and seen his god face to face, is told: 'After this you can show the way to others.'

But this leads us to the second great division of our subject. We turn from the phenomena of the sky to those of the soul.

* * * * *

If what I have written elsewhere is right, one of the greatest works of the Hellenic spirit, and especially of fifth-century Athens, was to insist on what seems to us such a commonplace truism, the difference between Man and God. Sophrosyne in religion was the message of the classical age. But the ages before and after had no belief in such a lesson. The old Medicine-Man was perhaps himself the first Theos. At any rate the primeval kings and queens were treated as divine.[152:2] Just for a few great generations, it would seem, humanity rose to a sufficient height of self-criticism and self-restraint to reject these dreams of self-abasement or megalomania. But the effort was too great for the average world; and in a later age nearly all the kings and rulers—all people in fact who can command an adequate number of flatterers—become divine beings again. Let us consider how it came about.

First there was the explicit recognition by the soberest philosophers of the divine element in man's soul.[153:1] Aristotle himself built an altar to Plato. He did nothing superstitious; he did not call Plato a god, but we can see from his beautiful elegy to Eudemus, that he naturally and easily used language of worship which would seem a little strange to us. It is the same emotion—a noble and just emotion on the whole—which led the philosophic schools to treat their founders as 'heroes', and which has peopled most of Europe and Asia with the memories and the worship of saints. But we should remember that only a rare mind will make its divine man of such material as Plato. The common way to dazzle men's eyes is a more brutal and obvious one.

To people who were at all accustomed to the conception of a God-Man it was difficult not to feel that the conception was realized in Alexander. His tremendous power, his brilliant personality, his achievements beggaring the fables of the poets, put people in the right mind for worship. Then came the fact that the kings whom he conquered were, as a matter of fact, mostly regarded by their subjects as divine beings.[154:1] It was easy, it was almost inevitable, for those who worshipped the 'God'[154:2] Darius to feel that it was no man but a greater god who had overthrown Darius. The incense which had been burned before those conquered gods was naturally offered to their conqueror. He did not refuse it. It was not good policy to do so, and self-depreciation is not apt to be one of the weaknesses of the born ruler.[154:3] But besides all this, if you are to judge a God by his fruits, what God could produce better credentials? Men had often seen Zeus defied with impunity; they had seen faithful servants of Apollo come to bad ends. But those who defied Alexander, however great they might be, always rued their defiance, and those who were faithful to him always received their reward. With his successors the worship became more official. Seleucus, Ptolemaeus, Antigonus, Demetrius, all in different degrees and different styles are deified by the acclamations of adoring subjects. Ptolemy Philadelphus seems to have been the first to claim definite divine honours during his own life. On the death of his wife in 271 he proclaimed her deity and his own as well in the worship of the Theoi Adelphoi, the 'Gods Brethren'. Of course there was flattery in all this, ordinary self-interested lying flattery, and its inevitable accompaniment, megalomania. Any reading of the personal history of the Ptolemies, the Seleucidae or the Caesars shows it. But that is not the whole explanation.

One of the characteristics of the period of the Diadochi is the accumulation of capital and military force in the hands of individuals. The Ptolemies and Seleucidae had at any moment at their disposal powers very much greater than any Pericles or Nicias or Lysander.[155:1] The folk of the small cities of the Aegean hinterlands must have felt towards these great strangers almost as poor Indian peasants in time of flood and famine feel towards an English official. There were men now on earth who could do the things that had hitherto been beyond the power of man. Were several cities thrown down by earthquake; here was one who by his nod could build them again. Famines had always occurred and been mostly incurable. Here was one who could without effort allay a famine. Provinces were harried and wasted by habitual wars: the eventual conqueror had destroyed whole provinces in making the wars; now, as he had destroyed, he could also save. 'What do you mean by a god,' the simple man might say, 'if these men are not gods? The only difference is that these gods are visible, and the old gods no man has seen.'

The titles assumed by all the divine kings tell the story clearly. Antiochus Epiphanes—'the god made manifest'; Ptolemaios Euergetes, Ptolemaios Soter. Occasionally we have a Keraunos or a Nikator, a 'Thunderbolt' or a 'God of Mana', but mostly it is Soter, Euergetes and Epiphanes, the Saviour, the Benefactor, the God made manifest, in constant alternation. In the honorific inscriptions and in the writings of the learned, philanthropy (philanthropia) is by far the most prominent characteristic of the God upon earth. Was it that people really felt that to save or benefit mankind was a more godlike thing than to blast and destroy them? Philosophers have generally said that, and the vulgar pretended to believe them. It was at least politic, when ministering to the half-insane pride of one of these princes, to remind him of his mercy rather than of his wrath.

Wendland in his brilliant book, Hellenistisch-roemische Kultur, calls attention to an inscription of the year 196 B. C. in honour of the young Ptolemaios Epiphanes, who was made manifest at the age of twelve years.[156:1] It is a typical document of Graeco-Egyptian king-worship:

'In the reign of the young king by inheritance from his Father, Lord of the Diadems, great in glory, pacificator of Egypt and pious towards the gods, superior over his adversaries, Restorer of the life of man, Lord of the Periods of Thirty Years, like Hephaistos the Great, King like the Sun, the Great King of the Upper and Lower Lands; offspring of the Gods of the Love of the Father, whom Hephaistos has approved, to whom the Sun has given Victory; living image of Zeus; Son of the Sun, Ptolemaios the ever-living, beloved by Phtha; in the ninth year of Aetos son of Aetos, Priest of Alexander and the Gods Saviours and the Gods Brethren and the Gods Benefactors and the Gods of the Love of the Father and the God Manifest for whom thanks be given:'

The Priests who came to his coronation ceremony at Memphis proclaim:

'Seeing that King Ptolemaios ever-living, beloved of Phtha, God Manifest for whom Thanks be given, born of King Ptolemaios and Queen Arsinoe, the Gods of the Love of the Father, has done many benefactions to the Temples and those in them and all those beneath his rule, being from the beginning God born of God and Goddess, like Horus son of Isis and Osiris, who came to the help of his father Osiris (and?) in his benevolent disposition towards the Gods has consecrated to the temples revenues of silver and of corn, and has undergone many expenses in order to lead Egypt into the sunlight and give peace to the Temples, and has with all his powers shown love of mankind.'

When the people of Lycopolis revolted, we hear:

'in a short time he took the city by storm and slew all the Impious who dwelt in it, even as Hermes and Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, conquered those who of old revolted in the same regions . . . in return for which the Gods have granted him Health Victory Power and all other good things, the Kingdom remaining to him and his sons for time everlasting.'[157:1]

The conclusion which the Priests draw from these facts is that the young king's titles and honours are insufficient and should be increased. It is a typical and terribly un-Hellenic document of the Hellenistic God-man in his appearance as King.

Now the early successors of Alexander mostly professed themselves members of the Stoic school, and in the mouth of a Stoic this doctrine of the potential divinity of man was an inspiring one. To them virtue was the really divine thing in man; and the most divine kind of virtue was that of helping humanity. To love and help humanity is, according to Stoic doctrine, the work and the very essence of God. If you take away Pronoia from God, says Chrysippus,[158:1] it is like taking away light and heat from fire. This doctrine is magnificently expressed by Pliny in a phrase that is probably translated from Posidonius: 'God is the helping of man by man; and that is the way to eternal glory.'[158:2]

The conception took root in the minds of many Romans. A great Roman governor often had the chance of thus helping humanity on a vast scale, and liked to think that such a life opened the way to heaven. 'One should conceive', says Cicero (Tusc. i. 32), 'the gods as like men who feel themselves born for the work of helping, defending, and saving humanity. Hercules has passed into the number of the gods. He would never have so passed if he had not built up that road for himself while he was among mankind.'

I have been using some rather late authors, though the ideas seem largely to come from Posidonius.[159:1] But before Posidonius the sort of fact on which we have been dwelling had had its influence on religious speculation. When Alexander made his conquering journey to India and afterwards was created a god, it was impossible not to reflect that almost exactly the same story was related in myth about Dionysus. Dionysus had started from India and travelled in the other direction: that was the only difference. A flood of light seemed to be thrown on all the traditional mythology, which, of course, had always been a puzzle to thoughtful men. It was impossible to believe it as it stood, and yet hard—in an age which had not the conception of any science of mythology—to think it was all a mass of falsehood, and the great Homer and Hesiod no better than liars. But the generation which witnessed the official deification of the various Seleucidae and Ptolemies seemed suddenly to see light. The traditional gods, from Heracles and Dionysus up to Zeus and Cronos and even Ouranos, were simply old-world rulers and benefactors of mankind, who had, by their own insistence or the gratitude of their subjects, been transferred to the ranks of heaven. For that is the exact meaning of making them divine: they are classed among the true immortals, the Sun and Moon and Stars and Corn and Wine, and the everlasting elements.

The philosophic romance of Euhemerus, published early in the third century B. C., had instantaneous success and enormous influence.[160:1] It was one of the first Greek books translated into Latin, and became long afterwards a favourite weapon of the Christian fathers in their polemics against polytheism. 'Euhemerism' was, on the face of it, a very brilliant theory; and it had, as we have noticed, a special appeal for the Romans.

Yet, if such a conception might please the leisure of a statesman, it could hardly satisfy the serious thought of a philosopher or a religious man. If man's soul really holds a fragment of God and is itself a divine being, its godhead cannot depend on the possession of great riches and armies and organized subordinates. If 'the helping of man by man is God', the help in question cannot be material help. The religion which ends in deifying only kings and millionaires may be vulgarly popular but is self-condemned.

As a matter of fact the whole tendency of Greek philosophy after Plato, with some illustrious exceptions, especially among the Romanizing Stoics, was away from the outer world towards the world of the soul. We find in the religious writings of this period that the real Saviour of men is not he who protects them against earthquake and famine, but he who in some sense saves their souls. He reveals to them the Gnosis Theou, the Knowledge of God. The 'knowledge' in question is not a mere intellectual knowledge. It is a complete union, a merging of beings. And, as we have always to keep reminding our cold modern intelligence, he who has 'known' God is himself thereby deified. He is the Image of God, the Son of God, in a sense he is God.[161:1] The stratum of ideas described in the first of the studies will explain the ease with which transition took place. The worshipper of Bacchos became Bacchos simply enough, because in reality the God Bacchos was originally only the projection of the human Bacchoi. And in the Hellenistic age the notion of these secondary mediating gods was made easier by the analogy of the human interpreters. Of course, we have abundant instances of actual preachers and miracle-workers who on their own authority posed, and were accepted, as gods. The adventure of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra[161:2] shows how easily such things could happen. But as a rule, I suspect, the most zealous priest or preacher preferred to have his God in the background. He preaches, he heals the sick and casts out devils, not in his own name but in the name of One who sent him. This actual present priest who initiates you or me is himself already an Image of God; but above him there are greater and wiser priests, above them others, and above all there is the one eternal Divine Mediator, who being in perfection both man and God can alone fully reveal God to man, and lead man's soul up the heavenly path, beyond Change and Fate and the Houses of the Seven Rulers, to its ultimate peace. I have seen somewhere a Gnostic or early Christian emblem which indicates this doctrine. Some Shepherd or Saviour stands, his feet on the earth, his head towering above the planets, lifting his follower in his outstretched arms.

The Gnostics are still commonly thought of as a body of Christian heretics. In reality there were Gnostic sects scattered over the Hellenistic world before Christianity as well as after. They must have been established in Antioch and probably in Tarsus well before the days of Paul or Apollos. Their Saviour, like the Jewish Messiah, was established in men's minds before the Saviour of the Christians. 'If we look close', says Professor Bousset, 'the result emerges with great clearness, that the figure of the Redeemer as such did not wait for Christianity to force its way into the religion of Gnosis, but was already present there under various forms.'[162:1] He occurs notably in two pre-Christian documents, discovered by the keen analysis and profound learning of Dr. Reitzenstein: the Poimandres revelation printed in the Corpus Hermeticum, and the sermon of the Naassenes in Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium, which is combined with Attis-worship.[162:2] The violent anti-Jewish bias of most of the sects—they speak of 'the accursed God of the Jews' and identify him with Saturn and the Devil—points on the whole to pre-Christian conditions: and a completely non-Christian standpoint is still visible in the Mandaean and Manichean systems.

Their Redeemer is descended by a fairly clear genealogy from the 'Tritos Soter' of early Greece, contaminated with similar figures, like Attis and Adonis from Asia Minor, Osiris from Egypt, and the special Jewish conception of the Messiah of the Chosen people. He has various names, which the name of Jesus or 'Christos', 'the Anointed', tends gradually to supersede. Above all he is, in some sense, Man, or 'the Second Man' or 'the Son of Man'. The origin of this phrase needs a word of explanation. Since the ultimate unseen God, spirit though He is, made man in His image, since holy men (and divine kings) are images of God, it follows that He is Himself Man. He is the real, the ultimate, the perfect and eternal Man, of whom all bodily men are feeble copies. He is also the Father; the Saviour is his Son, 'the Image of the Father', 'the Second Man', 'the Son of Man'. The method in which he performs his mystery of Redemption varies. It is haunted by the memory of the old Suffering and Dying God, of whom we spoke in the first of these studies. It is vividly affected by the ideal 'Righteous Man' of Plato, who 'shall be scourged, tortured, bound, his eyes burnt out, and at last, after suffering every evil, shall be impaled or crucified'.[163:1] But in the main he descends, of his free will or by the eternal purpose of the Father, from Heaven through the spheres of all the Archontes or Kosmokratores, the planets, to save mankind, or sometimes to save the fallen Virgin, the Soul, Wisdom, or 'the Pearl'.[164:1] The Archontes let him pass because he is disguised; they do not know him (cf. 1 Cor. ii. 7 ff.). When his work is done he ascends to Heaven to sit by the side of the Father in glory; he conquers the Archontes, leads them captive in his triumph, strips them of their armour (Col. ii. 15; cf. the previous verse), sometimes even crucifies them for ever in their places in the sky.[164:2] The epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians are much influenced by these doctrines. Paul himself constantly uses the language of them, but in the main we find him discouraging the excesses of superstition, reforming, ignoring, rejecting. His Jewish blood was perhaps enough to keep him to strict monotheism. Though he admits Angels and Archontes, Principalities and Powers, he scorns the Elements and he seems deliberately to reverse the doctrine of the first and second Man.[164:3] He says nothing about the Trinity of Divine Beings that was usual in Gnosticism, nothing about the Divine Mother. His mind, for all its vehement mysticism, has something of that clean antiseptic quality that makes such early Christian works as the Octavius of Minucius Felix and the Epistle to Diognetus so infinitely refreshing. He is certainly one of the great figures in Greek literature, but his system lies outside the subject of this essay. We are concerned only with those last manifestations of Hellenistic religion which probably formed the background of his philosophy. It is a strange experience, and it shows what queer stuff we humans are made of, to study these obscure congregations, drawn from the proletariate of the Levant, superstitious, charlatan-ridden, and helplessly ignorant, who still believed in Gods begetting children of mortal mothers, who took the 'Word', the 'Spirit', and the 'Divine Wisdom', to be persons called by those names, and turned the Immortality of the Soul into 'the standing up of the corpses';[165:1] and to reflect that it was these who held the main road of advance towards the greatest religion of the western world.

* * * * *

I have tried to sketch in outline the main forms of belief to which Hellenistic philosophy moved or drifted. Let me dwell for a few pages more upon the characteristic method by which it reached them. It may be summed up in one word, Allegory. All Hellenistic philosophy from the first Stoics onward is permeated by allegory. It is applied to Homer, to the religious traditions, to the ancient rituals, to the whole world. To Sallustius after the end of our period the whole material world is only a great myth, a thing whose value lies not in itself but in the spiritual meaning which it hides and reveals. To Cleanthes at the beginning of it the Universe was a mystic pageant, in which the immortal stars were the dancers and the Sun the priestly torch-bearer.[165:2] Chrysippus reduced the Homeric gods to physical or ethical principles; and Crates, the great critic, applied allegory in detail to his interpretation of the all-wise poet.[166:1] We possess two small but complete treatises which illustrate well the results of this tendency, Cornutus peri theon and the Homeric Allegories of Heraclitus, a brilliant little work of the first century B. C. I will not dwell upon details: they are abundantly accessible and individually often ridiculous. A by-product of the same activity is the mystic treatment of language: a certain Titan in Hesiod is named Koios. Why? Because the Titans are the elements and one of them is naturally the element of Koiotes, the Ionic Greek for 'Quality'. The Egyptian Isis is derived from the root of the Greek eidenai, Knowledge, and the Egyptian Osiris from the Greek hosios and hiros ('holy' and 'sacred', or perhaps more exactly 'lawful' and 'tabu'). Is this totally absurd? I think not. If all human language is, as most of these thinkers believed, a divine institution, a cap filled to the brim with divine meaning, so that by reflecting deeply upon a word a pious philosopher can reach the secret that it holds, then there is no difficulty whatever in supposing that the special secret held by an Egyptian word may be found in Greek, or the secret of a Greek word in Babylonian. Language is One. The Gods who made all these languages equally could use them all, and wind them all intricately in and out, for the building up of their divine enigma.

We must make a certain effort of imagination to understand this method of allegory. It is not the frigid thing that it seems to us. In the first place, we should remember that, as applied to the ancient literature and religious ritual, allegory was at least a vera causa—it was a phenomenon which actually existed. Heraclitus of Ephesus is an obvious instance. He deliberately expressed himself in language which should not be understood of the vulgar, and which bore a hidden meaning to his disciples. Pythagoras did the same. The prophets and religious writers must have done so to an even greater extent.[167:1] And we know enough of the history of ritual to be sure that a great deal of it is definitely allegorical. The Hellenistic Age did not wantonly invent the theory of allegory.

And secondly, we must remember what states of mind tend especially to produce this kind of belief. They are not contemptible states of mind. It needs only a strong idealism with which the facts of experience clash, and allegory follows almost of necessity. The facts cannot be accepted as they are. They must needs be explained as meaning something different.

Take an earnest Stoic or Platonist, a man of fervid mind, who is possessed by the ideals of his philosophy and at the same time feels his heart thrilled by the beauty of the old poetry. What is he to do? On one side he can find Zoilus, or Plato himself, or the Cynic preachers, condemning Homer and the poets without remorse, as teachers of foolishness. He can treat poetry as the English puritans treated the stage. But is that a satisfactory solution? Remember that these generations were trained habitually to give great weight to the voice of their inner consciousness, and the inner consciousness of a sensitive man cries out that any such solution is false: that Homer is not a liar, but noble and great, as our fathers have always taught us. On the other side comes Heraclitus the allegorist. 'If Homer used no allegories he committed all impieties.' On this theory the words can be allowed to possess all their old beauty and magic, but an inner meaning is added quite different from that which they bear on the surface. It may, very likely, be a duller and less poetic meaning; but I am not sure that the verses will not gain by the mere process of brooding study fully as much as they lose by the ultimate badness of the interpretation. Anyhow, that was the road followed. The men of whom I speak were not likely to give up any experience that seemed to make the world more godlike or to feed their spiritual and emotional cravings. They left that to the barefooted cynics. They craved poetry and they craved philosophy; if the two spoke like enemies, their words must needs be explained away by one who loved both.

The same process was applied to the world itself. Something like it is habitually applied by the religious idealists of all ages. A fundamental doctrine of Stoicism and most of the idealist creeds was the perfection and utter blessedness of the world, and the absolute fulfilment of the purpose of God. Now obviously this belief was not based on experience. The poor world, to do it justice amid all its misdoings, has never lent itself to any such barefaced deception as that. No doubt it shrieked against the doctrine then, as loud as it has always shrieked, so that even a Posidonian or a Pythagorean, his ears straining for the music of the spheres, was sometimes forced to listen. And what was his answer? It is repeated in all the literature of these sects. 'Our human experience is so small: the things of the earth may be bad and more than bad, but, ah! if you only went beyond the Moon! That is where the true Kosmos begins.' And, of course, if we did ever go there, we all know they would say it began beyond the Sun. Idealism of a certain type will have its way; if hard life produces an ounce or a pound or a million tons of fact in the scale against it, it merely dreams of infinite millions in its own scale, and the enemy is outweighed and smothered. I do not wish to mock at these Posidonian Stoics and Hermetics and Gnostics and Neo-Pythagoreans. They loved goodness, and their faith is strong and even terrible. One feels rather inclined to bow down before their altars and cry: Magna est Delusio et praevalebit.

Yet on the whole one rises from these books with the impression that all this allegory and mysticism is bad for men. It may make the emotions sensitive, it certainly weakens the understanding. And, of course, in this paper I have left out of account many of the grosser forms of superstition. In any consideration of the balance, they should not be forgotten.

If a reader of Proclus and the Corpus Hermeticum wants relief, he will find it, perhaps, best in the writings of a gentle old Epicurean who lived at Oenoanda in Cappadocia about A. D. 200. His name was Diogenes.[169:1] His works are preserved, in a fragmentary state, not on papyrus or parchment, but on the wall of a large portico where he engraved them for passers-by to read. He lived in a world of superstition and foolish terror, and he wrote up the great doctrines of Epicurus for the saving of mankind.

'Being brought by age to the sunset of my life, and expecting at any moment to take my departure from the world with a glad song for the fullness of my happiness, I have resolved, lest I be taken too soon, to give help to those of good temperament. If one person or two or three or four, or any small number you choose, were in distress, and I were summoned out to help one after another, I would do all in my power to give the best counsel to each. But now, as I have said, the most of men lie sick, as it were of a pestilence, in their false beliefs about the world, and the tale of them increases; for by imitation they take the disease from one another, like sheep. And further it is only just to bring help to those who shall come after us—for they too are ours, though they be yet unborn; and love for man commands us also to help strangers who may pass by. Since therefore the good message of the Book has this wall and to set forth in public the medicine of the healing of mankind.'

The people of his time and neighbourhood seem to have fancied that the old man must have some bad motive. They understood mysteries and redemptions and revelations. They understood magic and curses. But they were puzzled, apparently, by this simple message, which only told them to use their reason, their courage, and their sympathy, and not to be afraid of death or of angry gods. The doctrine was condensed into four sentences of a concentrated eloquence that make a translator despair:[170:1] 'Nothing to fear in God: Nothing to feel in Death: Good can be attained: Evil can be endured.'

Of course, the doctrines of this good old man do not represent the whole truth. To be guided by one's aversions is always a sign of weakness or defeat; and it is as much a failure of nerve to reject blindly for fear of being a fool, as to believe blindly for fear of missing some emotional stimulus.

There is no royal road in these matters. I confess it seems strange to me as I write here, to reflect that at this moment many of my friends and most of my fellow creatures are, as far as one can judge, quite confident that they possess supernatural knowledge. As a rule, each individual belongs to some body which has received in writing the results of a divine revelation. I cannot share in any such feeling. The Uncharted surrounds us on every side and we must needs have some relation towards it, a relation which will depend on the general discipline of a man's mind and the bias of his whole character. As far as knowledge and conscious reason will go, we should follow resolutely their austere guidance. When they cease, as cease they must, we must use as best we can those fainter powers of apprehension and surmise and sensitiveness by which, after all, most high truth has been reached as well as most high art and poetry: careful always really to seek for truth and not for our own emotional satisfaction, careful not to neglect the real needs of men and women through basing our life on dreams; and remembering above all to walk gently in a world where the lights are dim and the very stars wander.


It is not my purpose to make anything like a systematic bibliography, but a few recommendations may be useful to some students who approach this subject, as I have done, from the side of classical Greek.

For Greek Philosophy I have used besides Plato and Aristotle, Diogenes Laertius and Philodemus, Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker; Diels, Doxographi Graeci; von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta; Usener, Epicurea; also the old Fragmenta Philosophorum of Mullach.

For later Paganism and Gnosticism, Reitzenstein, Poimandres; Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen; Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgic (also Abraxas, Nekyia, Muttererde, &c.); P. Wendland, Hellenistisch-Roemische Kultur; Cumont, Textes et Monuments relatifs aux Mysteres de Mithra (also The Mysteries of Mithra, Chicago, 1903), and Les Religions Orientales dans l'Empire Romain; Seeck, Untergang der antiken Welt, vol. iii; Philo, de Vita Contemplativa, Conybeare; Gruppe, Griechische Religion and Mythologie, pp. 1458-1676; Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, 1907, with good bibliography in the introduction; articles by E. Bevan in the Quarterly Review, No. 424 (June 1910), and the Hibbert Journal, xi. 1 (October 1912). Dokumente der Gnosis, by W. Schultz (Jena, 1910), gives a highly subjective translation and reconstruction of most of the Gnostic documents: the Corpus Hermeticum is translated into English by G. R. S. Meade, Thrice Greatest Hermes, 1906. The first volume of Dr. Scott's monumental edition of the Hermetica (Clarendon Press, 1924) has appeared just too late to be used in the present volume.

For Jewish thought before the Christian era Dr. Charles's Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; also the same writer's Book of Enoch, and the Religionsgeschichtliche Erklaerung des Neuen Testaments by Carl Clemen, Giessen, 1909.

Of Christian writers apart from the New Testament those that come most into account are Hippolytis ([cross symbol] A. D. 250), Refutatio Omnium Haeresium, Epiphanius (367-403), Panarion, and Irenaeus ([cross symbol] A. D. 202), Contra Haereses, i, ii. For a simple introduction to the problems presented by the New Testament literature I would venture to recommend Prof. Bacon's New Testament, in the Home University Library, and Dr. Estlin Carpenter's First Three Gospels. In such a vast literature I dare not make any further recommendations, but for a general introduction to the History of Religions with a good and brief bibliography I would refer the reader to Salomon Reinach's Orpheus (Paris, 1909; English translation the same year), a book of wide learning and vigorous thought.


[124:1] Mr. Marett has pointed out that this conception has its roots deep in primitive human nature: The Birth of Humility, Oxford, 1910, p. 17. 'It would, perhaps, be fanciful to say that man tends to run away from the sacred as uncanny, to cower before it as secret, and to prostrate himself before it as tabu. On the other hand, it seems plain that to these three negative qualities of the sacred taken together there corresponds on the part of man a certain negative attitude of mind. Psychologists class the feelings bound up with flight, cowering, and prostration under the common head of "asthenic emotion". In plain English they are all forms of heart-sinking, of feeling unstrung. This general type of innate disposition would seem to be the psychological basis of Humility. Taken in its social setting, the emotion will, of course, show endless shades of complexity; for it will be excited, and again will find practical expression, in all sorts of ways. Under these varying conditions, however, it is reasonable to suppose that what Mr. McDougall would call the "central part" of the experience remains very much the same. In face of the sacred the normal man is visited by a heart-sinking, a wave of asthenic emotion.' Mr. Marett continues: 'If that were all, however, Religion would be a matter of pure fear. But it is not all. There is yet the positive side of the sacred to be taken into account.' It is worth remarking also that Schleiermacher (1767-1834) placed the essence of religion in the feeling of absolute dependence without attempting to define the object towards which it was directed.

[129:1] Usener, Epicurea (1887), pp. 232 ff.; Diels, Doxographi Graeci (1879), p. 306; Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta (1903-5), Chrysippus 1014, 1019.

[133:1] Juv. x. 365 f.; Polyb. ii. 38, 5; x. 5, 8; xviii. 11, 5.

[133:2] Cf. also his Consolatio ad Apollonium. The earliest text is perhaps the interesting fragment of Demetrius of Phalerum (fr. 19, in F. H. G. ii. 368), written about 317 B. C. It is quoted with admiration by Polybius xxix. 21, with reference to the defeat of Perseus of Macedon by the Romans:

'One must often remember the saying of Demetrius of Phalerum . . . in his Treatise on Fortune. . . . "If you were to take not an indefinite time, nor many generations, but just the fifty years before this, you could see in them the violence of Fortune. Fifty years ago do you suppose that either the Macedonians or the King of Macedon, or the Persians or the King of Persia, if some God had foretold them what was to come, would ever have believed that by the present time the Persians, who were then masters of almost all the inhabited world, would have ceased to be even a geographical name, while the Macedonians, who were then not even a name, would be rulers of all? Yet this Fortune, who bears no relation to our method of life, but transforms everything in the way we do not expect and displays her power by surprises, is at the present moment showing all the world that, when she puts the Macedonians into the rich inheritance of the Persian, she has only lent them these good things until she changes her mind about them." Which has now happened in the case of Perseus. The words of Demetrius were a prophecy uttered, as it were, by inspired lips.'

[134:1] Eur., Tro. 886. Literally it means 'The Compulsion in the way Things grow'.

[134:2] Zeno, fr. 87, Arnim.

[135:1] Chrysippus, fr. 913, Arnim.

[135:2] Cleanthes, 527, Arnim. Agou de m', o Zeu, kai sy g' he Pepromene, ktl. Plotinus, Enn. III. i. 10.

[135:3] Epicurus, Third Letter. Usener, p. 65, 12 = Diog. La. x. 134.

[136:1] Aristotle, fr. 12 ff.

[136:2] e. g. Chrysippus, fr. 1076, Arnim.

[138:1] Themis, p. 180, n. 1.

[138:2] Not to Plotinus: Enn. II. ix against the Valentinians. Cf. Porphyry, Aphormai, 28.

[138:3] Bousset, Hauptprobleme der Gnosis, 1907, pp. 13, 21, 26, 81, &c.; pp. 332 ff. She becomes Helen in the beautiful myth of the Simonian Gnostics—a Helen who has forgotten her name and race, and is a slave in a brothel in Tyre. Simon discovers her, gradually brings back her memory and redeems her. Irenaeus, i. 23, 2.

[139:1] De Iside et Osiride, 67. (He distinguishes them from the real God, however, just as Sallustius would.)

[139:2] Mithras was worshipped by the Cilician Pirates conquered by Pompey. Plut., Vit. Pomp. 24.

[139:3] ekgonos tou protou theou. Plato (Diels, 305); Stoics, ib. 547, l. 8.

[140:1] Aristotle (Diels, 450). hosas de einai tas sphairas, tosoutous hyparchein kai tous kinountas theous. Chrysippus (Diels 466); Posidonius, ib. (cf. Plato, Laws. 898 ff.). See Epicurus's Second Letter, especially Usener, pp. 36-47 = Diog. La. x. 86-104. On the food required by the heavenly bodies cf. Chrysippus, fr. 658-61, Arnim.

[140:2] ho de Epikouros ouden touton enkrinei. Diels, 307{a} 15. Cf. 432{a} 10.

[141:1] Heath, Aristarchos of Samos, pp. 301-10.

[142:1] Pythagoras in Diels, p. 555, 20; the best criticism is in Aristotle, De Caelo, chap. 9 (p. 290 b), the fullest account in Macrobius, Comm. in Somn. Scipionis, ii.

[142:2] See Diels, Elementium, 1899, p. 17. These magic letters are still used in the Roman ritual for the consecration of churches.

[143:1] A seven-day week was known to Pseudo-Hippocrates peri sarkon ad fin., but the date of that treatise is very uncertain.

[143:2] Aesch., Ag. 6; Eur., Hip. 530. Also Ag. 365, where astron belos goes together and mete pro kairou meth' hyper.

[143:3] Proclus, In Timaeum, 289 F; Seneca, Nat. Quaest. iii. 29, 1.

[145:1] Chrysippus, 1187-95. Esse divinationem si di sint et providentia.

[145:2] Cicero, De Nat. De. iii. 11, 28; especially De Divinatione, ii. 14, 34; 60, 124; 69, 142. 'Qua ex coniunctione naturae et quasi concentu atque consensu, quam sympatheian Graeci appellant, convenire potest aut fissum iecoris cum lucello meo aut meus quaesticulus cum caelo, terra rerumque natura?' asks the sceptic in the second of these passages.

[145:3] Chrysippus, 939-44. Vaticinatio probat fati necessitatem.

[145:4] Chrysippus, 1214, 1200-6.

[146:1] Eine Mithrasliturgie, 1903. The MS. is 574 Supplement grec de la Bibl. Nationale. The formulae of various religions were used as instruments of magic, as our own witches used the Lord's Prayer backwards.

[146:2] Refutatio Omnium Haeresium, v. 7. They worshipped the Serpent, Nāhāsh (nachash).

[147:1] Bousset, p. 351. The hostility of Zoroastrianism to the old Babylonian planet gods was doubtless at work also. Ib. pp. 37-46.

[147:2] Or, in some Gnostic systems, of the Mother.

[148:1] Harrison, Prolegomena, Appendix on the Orphic tablets.

[148:2] Ap. Metamorphoses, xi.

[149:1] 2 Cor. xii. 2 and 3 (he may be referring in veiled language to himself); Gal. i. 12 ff.; Acts ix. 1-22. On the difference of tone and fidelity between the Epistles and the Acts see the interesting remarks of Prof. P. Gardner, The Religious Experience of St. Paul, pp. 5 ff.

[149:2] Porphyry, Vita Plotini, 23. 'We have explained that he was good and gentle, mild and merciful; we who lived with him could feel it. We have said that he was vigilant and pure of soul, and always striving towards the Divine, which with all his soul he loved. . . . And thus it happened to this extraordinary man, constantly lifting himself up towards the first and transcendent God by thought and the ways explained by Plato in the Symposium, that there actually came a vision of that God who is without shape or form, established above the understanding and all the intelligible world. To whom I, Porphyry, being now in my sixty-eighth year, profess that I once drew near and was made one with him. At any rate he appeared to Plotinus "a goal close at hand." For his whole end and goal was to be made One and draw near to the supreme God. And he attained that goal four times, I think, while I was living with him—not potentially but in actuality, though an actuality which surpasses speech.'

[150:1] C. I. G., vol. xii, fasc. 3; and Bethe in Rhein. Mus., N. F., xlii, 438-75.

[150:2] Irenaeus, i. 13, 3.

[150:3] Bousset, chap. vii; Reitzenstein, Mysterienreligionen, p. 20 ff., with excursus; Poimandres, 226 ff.; Dieterich, Mithrasliturgie, pp. 121 ff.

[152:1] Eur. fr. 484.

[152:2] R. G. E.{3}, pp. 135-40. I do not touch on the political side of this apotheosis of Hellenistic kings; it is well brought out in Ferguson's Hellenistic Athens, e. g. p. 108 f., also p. 11 f. and note. Antigonus Gonatas refused to be worshipped (Tarn, p. 250 f.). For Sallustius's opinion, see below, p. 223, chap. xviii ad fin.

[153:1] Cf. psyche oiketerion daimonos, Democr. 171, Diels, and Alcmaeon is said by Cicero to have attributed divinity to the Stars and the Soul. Melissus and Zeno theias oietai tas psychas. The phrase tines ten psychen dynamin apo ton astron rheousan, Diels 651, must refer to some Gnostic sect.

[154:1] See for instance Frazer, Golden Bough{3}, part I, i. 417-19.

[154:2] Aesch. Pers. 157, 644 (theos), 642 (daimon). Mr. Bevan however suspects that Aeschylus misunderstood his Persian sources: see his article on 'Deification' in Hastings's Dictionary of Religion.

[154:3] Cf. Aristotle on the Megalopsychos, Eth. Nic. 1123 b. 15. ei de de megalon heauton axioi axios on, kai malista ton megiston, peri hen malista an eie. . . . megiston de tout' an theiemen ho tois theois aponemomen. But these kings clearly transgressed the mean. For the satirical comments of various public men in Athens see Ed. Meyer, Kleine Schriften, 301 ff., 330.

[155:1] Lysander too had altars raised to him by some Asiatic cities.

[156:1] Dittenberger, Inscr. Orientis Graeci, 90; Wendland, Hellenistisch-roemische Kultur, 1907, p. 74 f. and notes.

[157:1] Several of the phrases are interesting. The last gift of the heavenly gods to this Theos is the old gift of Mana. In Hesiod it was Kartos te Bie te, the two ministers who are never away from the King Zeus. In Aeschylus it was Kratos and Bia who subdue Prometheus. In Tyrtaeus it was Nike kai Kartos. In other inscriptions of the Ptolemaic age it is Soteria kai Nike or Soteria kai Nike aionios. In the current Christian liturgies it is 'the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory'. R. G. E.{3}, p. 135, n. The new conception, as always, is rooted in the old. 'The Gods Saviours, Brethren', &c., are of course Ptolemy Soter, Ptolemy Philadelphus, &c., and their Queens. The phrases eikon zosa tou Dios, hyios tou Heliou, egapemenos hypo tou Phtha, are characteristic of the religious language of this period. Cf. also Col. i. 14, eikon tou Theou tou aoratou; 2 Cor. iv. 4; Ephes. i. 5, 6.

[158:1] Fr. 1118. Arnim. Cf. Antipater, fr. 33, 34, to eupoietikon is part of the definition of Deity.

[158:2] Plin., Nat. Hist. ii. 7, 18. Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem et haec ad aeternam gloriam via. Cf. also the striking passages from Cicero and others in Wendland, p. 85, n. 2.

[159:1] The Stoic philosopher, teaching at Rhodes, c. 100 B. C. A man of immense knowledge and strong religious emotions, he moved the Stoa in the direction of Oriental mysticism. See Schwartz's sketch in Characterkoepfe{a}, pp. 89-98. Also Norden's Commentary on Aeneid vi.

[160:1] Jacoby in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyclopaedie, vi. 954. It was called Hiera Anagraphe.

[161:1] Cf. Plotin. Enn. I, ii. 6 all' he spoude ouk exo hamartias einai, alla theon einai.

[161:2] Acts xiv. 12. They called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was ho hegoumenos tou logou.—Paul also writes to the Galatians (iv. 14): 'Ye received me as a messenger of God, as Jesus Christ.'

[162:1] Bousset, p. 238.

[162:2] Hippolytus, 134, 90 ff., text in Reitzenstein's Poimandres, pp. 83-98.

[163:1] Republic, 362 A. Anaschindyleuo is said to = anaskolopizo, which is used both for 'impale' and 'crucify'. The two were alternative forms of the most slavish and cruel capital punishment, impalement being mainly Persian, crucifixion Roman.

[164:1] See The Hymn of the Soul, attributed to the Gnostic Bardesanes, edited by A. A. Bevan, Cambridge, 1897.

[164:2] Bousset cites Acta Archelai 8, and Epiphanius, Haeres. 66, 32.

[164:3] Gal. iv. 9; 1 Cor. xv. 21 f., 47; Rom. v. 12-18.

[165:1] he anastasis ton nekron. Cf. Acts xvii. 32.

[165:2] Cleanthes, 538, Arnim; Diels, p. 592, 30. Cf. Philolaus, Diels, p. 336 f.

[166:1] See especially the interpretation of Nestor's Cup, Athenaeus, pp. 489 c. ff.

[167:1] I may refer to the learned and interesting remarks on the Esoteric Style in Prof. Margoliouth's edition of Aristotle's Poetics. It is not, of course, the same as Allegory.

[169:1] Published in the Teubner series by William, 1907.


Aphobon ho theos. Anaistheton ho thanatos. To agathon eukteton. To deinon euekkartereton.

I regret to say that I cannot track this Epicurean 'tetractys' to its source.



In the last essay we have followed Greek popular religion to the very threshold of Christianity, till we found not only a soil ready for the seed of Christian metaphysic, but a large number of the plants already in full and exuberant growth. A complete history of Greek religion ought, without doubt, to include at least the rise of Christianity and the growth of the Orthodox Church, but, of course, the present series of studies does not aim at completeness. We will take the Christian theology for granted as we took the classical Greek philosophy, and will finish with a brief glance at the Pagan reaction of the fourth century, when the old religion, already full of allegory, mysticism, asceticism, and Oriental influences, raised itself for a last indignant stand against the all-prevailing deniers of the gods.

This period, however, admits a rather simpler treatment than the others. It so happens that for the last period of paganism we actually possess an authoritative statement of doctrine, something between a creed and a catechism. It seems to me a document so singularly important and, as far as I can make out, so little known, that I shall venture to print it entire.

A creed or catechism is, of course, not at all the same thing as the real religion of those who subscribe to it. The rules of metre are not the same thing as poetry; the rules of cricket, if the analogy may be excused, are not the same thing as good play. Nay, more. A man states in his creed only the articles which he thinks it right to assert positively against those who think otherwise. His deepest and most practical beliefs are those on which he acts without question, which have never occurred to him as being open to doubt. If you take on the one hand a number of persons who have accepted the same creed but lived in markedly different ages and societies, with markedly different standards of thought and conduct, and on the other an equal number who profess different creeds but live in the same general environment, I think there will probably be more real identity of religion in the latter group. Take three orthodox Christians, enlightened according to the standards of their time, in the fourth, the sixteenth, and the twentieth centuries respectively, I think you will find more profound differences of religion between them than between a Methodist, a Catholic, a Freethinker, and even perhaps a well-educated Buddhist or Brahmin at the present day, provided you take the most generally enlightened representatives of each class. Still, when a student is trying to understand the inner religion of the ancients, he realizes how immensely valuable a creed or even a regular liturgy would be.

Literature enables us sometimes to approach pretty close, in various ways, to the minds of certain of the great men of antiquity, and understand how they thought and felt about a good many subjects. At times one of these subjects is the accepted religion of their society; we can see how they criticized it or rejected it. But it is very hard to know from their reaction against it what that accepted religion really was. Who, for instance, knows Herodotus's religion? He talks in his penetrating and garrulous way, 'sometimes for children and sometimes for philosophers,' as Gibbon puts it, about everything in the world; but at the end of his book you find that he has not opened his heart on this subject. No doubt his profession as a reciter and story-teller prevented him. We can see that Thucydides was sceptical; but can we fully see what his scepticism was directed against, or where, for instance, Nikias would have disagreed with him, and where he and Nikias both agreed against us?

We have, of course, the systems of the great philosophers—especially of Plato and Aristotle. Better than either, perhaps, we can make out the religion of M. Aurelius. Amid all the harshness and plainness of his literary style, Marcus possessed a gift which has been granted to few, the power of writing down what was in his heart just as it was, not obscured by any consciousness of the presence of witnesses or any striving after effect. He does not seem to have tried deliberately to reveal himself, yet he has revealed himself in that short personal note-book almost as much as the great inspired egotists, Rousseau and St. Augustine. True, there are some passages in the book which are unintelligible to us; that is natural in a work which was not meant to be read by the public; broken flames of the white passion that consumed him bursting through the armour of his habitual accuracy and self-restraint.

People fail to understand Marcus, not because of his lack of self-expression, but because it is hard for most men to breathe at that intense height of spiritual life, or, at least, to breathe soberly. They can do it if they are allowed to abandon themselves to floods of emotion, and to lose self-judgement and self-control. I am often rather surprised at good critics speaking of Marcus as 'cold'. There is as much intensity of feeling in Ta eis heauton as in most of the nobler modern books of religion, only there is a sterner power controlling it. The feeling never amounts to complete self-abandonment. 'The Guiding Power' never trembles upon its throne, and the emotion is severely purged of earthly dross. That being so, we children of earth respond to it less readily.

Still, whether or no we can share Marcus's religion, we can at any rate understand most of it. But even then we reach only the personal religion of a very extraordinary man; we are not much nearer to the religion of the average educated person—the background against which Marcus, like Plato, ought to stand out. I believe that our conceptions of it are really very vague and various. Our great-grandfathers who read 'Tully's Offices and Ends' were better informed than we. But there are many large and apparently simple questions about which, even after reading Cicero's philosophical translations, scholars probably feel quite uncertain. Were the morals of Epictetus or the morals of Part V of the Anthology most near to those of real life among respectable persons? Are there not subjects on which Plato himself sometimes makes our flesh creep? What are we to feel about slavery, about the exposing of children? True, slavery was not peculiar to antiquity; it flourished in a civilized and peculiarly humane people of English blood till a generation ago. And the history of infanticide among the finest modern nations is such as to make one reluctant to throw stones, and even doubtful in which direction to throw them. Still, these great facts and others like them have to be understood, and are rather hard to understand, in their bearing on the religious life of the ancients.

Points of minor morals again are apt to surprise a reader of ancient literature. We must remember, of course, that they always do surprise one, in every age of history, as soon as its manners are studied in detail. One need not go beyond Salimbene's Chronicle, one need hardly go beyond Macaulay's History, or any of the famous French memoirs, to realize that. Was it really an ordinary thing in the first century, as Philo seems to say, for gentlemen at dinner-parties to black one another's eyes or bite one another's ears off?[177:1] Or were such practices confined to some Smart Set? Or was Philo, for his own purposes, using some particular scandalous occurrence as if it was typical?

St. Augustine mentions among the virtues of his mother her unusual meekness and tact. Although her husband had a fiery temper, she never had bruises on her face, which made her a rara avis among the matrons of her circle.[177:2] Her circle, presumably, included Christians as well as Pagans and Manicheans. And Philo's circle can scarcely be considered Pagan. Indeed, as for the difference of religion, we should bear in mind that, just at the time we are about to consider, the middle of the fourth century, the conduct of the Christians, either to the rest of the world or to one another, was very far from evangelical. Ammianus says that no savage beasts could equal its cruelty; Ammianus was a pagan; but St. Gregory himself says it was like Hell.[178:1]

I have expressed elsewhere my own general answer to this puzzle.[178:2] Not only in early Greek times, but throughout the whole of antiquity the possibility of all sorts of absurd and atrocious things lay much nearer, the protective forces of society were much weaker, the strain on personal character, the need for real 'wisdom and virtue', was much greater than it is at the present day. That is one of the causes that make antiquity so interesting. Of course, different periods of antiquity varied greatly, both in the conventional standard demanded and in the spiritual force which answered or surpassed the demand. But, in general, the strong governments and orderly societies of modern Europe have made it infinitely easier for men of no particular virtue to live a decent life, infinitely easier also for men of no particular reasoning power or scientific knowledge to have a more or less scientific or sane view of the world.

That, however, does not carry us far towards solving the main problem: it brings us no nearer to knowledge of anything that we may call typically a religious creed or an authorized code of morals, in any age from Hesiod to M. Aurelius.

The book which I have ventured to call a Creed or Catechism is the work of Sallustius About the Gods and the World, a book, I should say, about the length of the Scottish Shorter Catechism. It is printed in the third volume of Mullach's Fragmenta Philosophorum; apart from that, the only edition generally accessible—and that is rare—is a duodecimo published by Allatius in 1539. Orelli's brochure of 1821 seems to be unprocurable.

The author was in all probability that Sallustius who is known to us as a close friend of Julian before his accession, and a backer or inspirer of the emperor's efforts to restore the old religion. He was concerned in an educational edition of Sophocles—the seven selected plays now extant with a commentary. He was given the rank of prefect in 362, that of consul in 363. One must remember, of course, that in that rigorous and ascetic court high rank connoted no pomp or luxury. Julian had dismissed the thousand hairdressers, the innumerable cooks and eunuchs of his Christian predecessor. It probably brought with it only an increased obligation to live on pulse and to do without such pamperings of the body as fine clothes or warmth or washing.

Julian's fourth oration, a prose hymn To King Sun, pros Helion basilea, is dedicated to Sallustius; his eighth is a 'Consolation to Himself upon the Departure of Sallustius'. (He had been with Julian in the wars in Gaul, and was recalled by the jealousy of the emperor Constantius.) It is a touching and even a noble treatise. The nervous self-distrust which was habitual in Julian makes him write always with a certain affectation, but no one could mistake the real feeling of loss and loneliness that runs through the consolation. He has lost his 'comrade in the ranks', and now is 'Odysseus left alone'. So he writes, quoting the Iliad; Sallustius has been carried by God outside the spears and arrows: 'which malignant men were always aiming at you, or rather at me, trying to wound me through you, and believing that the only way to beat me down was by depriving me of the fellowship of my true friend and fellow-soldier, the comrade who never flinched from sharing my dangers.'

One note recurs four times; he has lost the one man to whom he could talk as a brother; the man of 'guileless and clean free-speech',[180:1] who was honest and unafraid and able to contradict the emperor freely because of their mutual trust. If one thinks of it, Julian, for all his gentleness, must have been an alarming emperor to converse with. His standard of conduct was not only uncomfortably high, it was also a little unaccountable. The most correct and blameless court officials must often have suspected that their master looked upon them as simply wallowing in sin. And that feeling does not promote ease or truthfulness. Julian compares his friendship with Sallustius to that of Scipio and Laelius. People said of Scipio that he only carried out what Laelius told him. 'Is that true of me?' Julian asks himself. 'Have I only done what Sallustius told me?' His answer is sincere and beautiful: koina ta philon. It little matters who suggested, and who agreed to the suggestion; his thoughts, and any credit that came from the thoughts, are his friend's as much as his own. We happen to hear from the Christian Theodoret (Hist. iii. 11) that on one occasion when Julian was nearly goaded into persecution of the Christians, it was Sallustius who recalled him to their fixed policy of toleration.

Sallustius then may be taken to represent in the most authoritative way the Pagan reaction of Julian's time, in its final struggle against Christianity.

He was, roughly speaking, a Neo-Platonist. But it is not as a professed philosopher that he writes. It is only that Neo-Platonism had permeated the whole atmosphere of the age.[181:1] The strife of the philosophical sects had almost ceased. Just as Julian's mysticism made all gods and almost all forms of worship into one, so his enthusiasm for Hellenism revered, nay, idolized, almost all the great philosophers of the past. They were all trying to say the same ineffable thing; all lifting mankind towards the knowledge of God. I say 'almost' in both cases; for the Christians are outside the pale in one domain and the Epicureans and a few Cynics in the other. Both had committed the cardinal sin; they had denied the gods. They are sometimes lumped together as Atheoi. L'atheisme, voila l'ennemi.

This may surprise us at first sight, but the explanation is easy. To Julian the one great truth that matters is the presence and glory of the gods. No doubt, they are all ultimately one: they are dynameis, 'forces,' not persons, but for reasons above our comprehension they are manifest only under conditions of form, time, and personality, and have so been revealed and worshipped and partly known by the great minds of the past. In Julian's mind the religious emotion itself becomes the thing to live for. Every object that has been touched by that emotion is thereby glorified and made sacred. Every shrine where men have worshipped in truth of heart is thereby a house of God. The worship may be mixed up with all sorts of folly, all sorts of unedifying practice. Such things must be purged away, or, still better, must be properly understood. For to the pure all things are pure: and the myths that shock the vulgar are noble allegories to the wise and reverent. Purge religion from dross, if you like; but remember that you do so at your peril. One false step, one self-confident rejection of a thing which is merely too high for you to grasp, and you are darkening the Sun, casting God out of the world. And that was just what the Christians deliberately did. In many of the early Christian writings denial is a much greater element than assertion. The beautiful Octavius of Minucius Felix (about A. D. 130-60) is an example. Such denial was, of course, to our judgement, eminently needed, and rendered a great service to the world. But to Julian it seemed impiety. In other Christian writings the misrepresentation of pagan rites and beliefs is decidedly foul-mouthed and malicious. Quite apart from his personal wrongs and his contempt for the character of Constantius, Julian could have no sympathy for men who overturned altars and heaped blasphemy on old deserted shrines, defilers of every sacred object that was not protected by popularity. The most that such people could expect from him was that they should not be proscribed by law.

But meantime what were the multitudes of the god-fearing to believe? The arm of the state was not very strong or effective. Labour as he might to supply good teaching to all provincial towns, Julian could not hope to educate the poor and ignorant to understand Plato and M. Aurelius. For them, he seems to say, all that is necessary is that they should be pious and god-fearing in their own way. But for more or less educated people, not blankly ignorant, and yet not professed students of philosophy, there might be some simple and authoritative treatise issued—a sort of reasoned creed, to lay down in a convincing manner the outlines of the old Hellenic religion, before the Christians and Atheists should have swept all fear of the gods from off the earth.

The treatise is this work of Sallustius.

* * * * *

The Christian fathers from Minucius Felix onward have shown us what was the most vulnerable point of Paganism: the traditional mythology. Sallustius deals with it at once. The Akroates, or pupil, he says in Section 1, needs some preliminary training. He should have been well brought up, should not be incurably stupid, and should not have been familiarized with foolish fables. Evidently the mythology was not to be taught to children. He enunciates certain postulates of religious thought, viz. that God is always good and not subject to passion or to change, and then proceeds straight to the traditional myths. In the first place, he insists that they are what he calls 'divine'. That is, they are inspired or have some touch of divine truth in them. This is proved by the fact that they have been uttered, and sometimes invented, by the most inspired poets and philosophers and by the gods themselves in oracles—a very characteristic argument.

The myths are all expressions of God and of the goodness of God; but they follow the usual method of divine revelation, to wit, mystery and allegory. The myths state clearly the one tremendous fact that the Gods are; that is what Julian cared about and the Christians denied: what they are the myths reveal only to those who have understanding. 'The world itself is a great myth, in which bodies and inanimate things are visible, souls and minds invisible.'

'But, admitting all this, how comes it that the myths are so often absurd and even immoral?' For the usual purpose of mystery and allegory; in order to make people think. The soul that wishes to know God must make its own effort; it cannot expect simply to lie still and be told. The myths by their obvious falsity and absurdity on the surface stimulate the mind capable of religion to probe deeper.

He proceeds to give instances, and chooses at once myths that had been for generations the mock of the sceptic, and in his own day furnished abundant ammunition for the artillery of Christian polemic. He takes first Hesiod's story of Kronos swallowing his children; then the Judgement of Paris; then comes a long and earnest explanation of the myth of Attis and the Mother of the Gods. It is on the face of it a story highly discreditable both to the heart and the head of those august beings, and though the rites themselves do not seem to have been in any way improper, the Christians naturally attacked the Pagans and Julian personally for countenancing the worship. Sallustius's explanation is taken directly from Julian's fifth oration in praise of the Great Mother, and reduces the myth and the ritual to an expression of the adventures of the Soul seeking God.

So much for the whole traditional mythology. It has been explained completely away and made subservient to philosophy and edification, while it can still be used as a great well-spring of religious emotion. For the explanations given by Sallustius and Julian are never rationalistic. They never stimulate a spirit of scepticism, always a spirit of mysticism and reverence. And, lest by chance even this reverent theorizing should have been somehow lacking in insight or true piety, Sallustius ends with the prayer: 'When I say these things concerning the myths, may the gods themselves and the spirits of those who wrote the myths be gracious to me.'

He now leaves mythology and turns to the First Cause. It must be one, and it must be present in all things. Thus, it cannot be Life, for, if it were, all things would be alive. By a Platonic argument in which he will still find some philosophers to follow him, he proves that everything which exists, exists because of some goodness in it; and thus arrives at the conclusion that the First Cause is to agathon, the Good.

The gods are emanations or forces issuing from the Good; the makers of this world are secondary gods; above them are the makers of the makers, above all the One.

Next comes a proof that the world is eternal—a very important point of doctrine; next that the soul is immortal; next a definition of the workings of Divine Providence, Fate, and Fortune—a fairly skilful piece of dialectic dealing with a hopeless difficulty. Next come Virtue and Vice, and, in a dead and perfunctory echo of Plato's Republic, an enumeration of the good and bad forms of human society. The questions which vibrated with life in free Athens had become meaningless to a despot-governed world. Then follows more adventurous matter.

First a chapter headed: 'Whence Evil things come, and that there is no Phusis Kakou—Evil is not a real thing.' 'It is perhaps best', he says, 'to observe at once that, since the gods are good and make everything, there is no positive evil; there is only absence of good; just as there is no positive darkness, only absence of light.'

What we call 'evils' arise only in the activities of men, and even here no one ever does evil for the sake of evil. 'One who indulges in some pleasant vice thinks the vice bad but his pleasure good; a murderer thinks the murder bad, but the money he will get by it, good; one who injures an enemy thinks the injury bad, but the being quits with his enemy, good'; and so on. The evil acts are all done for the sake of some good, but human souls, being very far removed from the original flawless divine nature, make mistakes or sins. One of the great objects of the world, he goes on to explain, of gods, men, and spirits, of religious institutions and human laws alike, is to keep the souls from these errors and to purge them again when they have fallen.

Next comes a speculative difficulty. Sallustius has called the world 'eternal in the fullest sense'—that is, it always has been and always will be. And yet it is 'made' by the gods. How are these statements compatible? If it was made, there must have been a time before it was made. The answer is ingenious. It is not made by handicraft as a table is; it is not begotten as a son by a father. It is the result of a quality of God just as light is the result of a quality of the sun. The sun causes light, but the light is there as soon as the sun is there. The world is simply the other side, as it were, of the goodness of God, and has existed as long as that goodness has existed.

Next come some simpler questions about man's relation to the gods. In what sense do we say that the gods are angry with the wicked or are appeased by repentance? Sallustius is quite firm. The gods cannot ever be glad—for that which is glad is also sorry; cannot be angry—for anger is a passion; and obviously they cannot be appeased by gifts or prayers. Even men, if they are honest, require higher motives than that. God is unchangeable, always good, always doing good. If we are good, we are nearer to the gods, and we feel it; if we are evil, we are separated further from them. It is not they that are angry, it is our sins that hide them from us and prevent the goodness of God from shining into us. If we repent, again, we do not make any change in God; we only, by the conversion of our soul towards the divine, heal our own badness and enjoy again the goodness of the gods. To say that the gods turn away from the wicked, would be like saying that the sun turns away from a blind man.

Why then do we make offerings and sacrifices to the gods, when the gods need nothing and can have nothing added to them? We do so in order to have more communion with the gods. The whole temple service, in fact, is an elaborate allegory, a representation of the divine government of the world.

The custom of sacrificing animals had died out some time before this. The Jews of the Dispersion had given it up long since because the Law forbade any such sacrifice outside the Temple.[188:1] When Jerusalem was destroyed Jewish sacrifice ceased altogether. The Christians seem from the beginning to have generally followed the Jewish practice. But sacrifice was in itself not likely to continue in a society of large towns. It meant turning your temples into very ill-conducted slaughter-houses, and was also associated with a great deal of muddled and indiscriminate charity.[188:2] One might have hoped that men so high-minded and spiritual as Julian and Sallustius would have considered this practice unnecessary or even have reformed it away. But no. It was part of the genuine Hellenic tradition; and no jot or tittle of that tradition should, if they could help it, be allowed to die. Sacrifice is desirable, argues Sallustius, because it is a gift of life. God has given us life, as He has given us all else. We must therefore pay to Him some emblematic tithe of life. Again, prayers in themselves are merely words; but with sacrifice they are words plus life, Living Words. Lastly, we are Life of a sort, and God is Life of an infinitely higher sort. To approach Him we need always a medium or a mediator; the medium between life and life must needs be life. We find that life in the sacrificed animal.[189:1]

The argument shows what ingenuity these religious men had at their command, and what trouble they would take to avoid having to face a fact and reform a bad system.

There follows a long and rather difficult argument to show that the world is, in itself, eternal. The former discussion on this point had only shown that the gods would not destroy it. This shows that its own nature is indestructible. The arguments are very inconclusive, though clever, and one wonders why the author is at so much pains. Indeed, he is so earnest that at the end of the chapter he finds it necessary to apologize to the Kosmos in case his language should have been indiscreet. The reason, I think, is that the Christians were still, as in apostolic times, pinning their faith to the approaching end of the world by fire.[190:1] They announced the end of the world as near, and they rejoiced in the prospect of its destruction. History has shown more than once what terrible results can be produced by such beliefs as these in the minds of excitable and suffering populations, especially those of eastern blood. It was widely believed that Christian fanatics had from time to time actually tried to light fires which should consume the accursed world and thus hasten the coming of the kingdom which should bring such incalculable rewards to their own organization and plunge the rest of mankind in everlasting torment. To any respectable Pagan such action was an insane crime made worse by a diabolical motive. The destruction of the world, therefore, seems to have become a subject of profound irritation, if not actually of terror. At any rate the doctrine lay at the very heart of the perniciosa superstitio, and Sallustius uses his best dialectic against it.

The title of Chapter XVIII has a somewhat pathetic ring: 'Why are Atheiai'—Atheisms or rejections of God—'permitted, and that God is not injured thereby?' Theos ou blaptetai. 'If over certain parts of the world there have occurred (and will occur more hereafter) rejections of the gods, a wise man need not be disturbed at that.' We have always known that the human soul was prone to error. God's providence is there; but we cannot expect all men at all times and places to enjoy it equally. In the human body it is only the eye that sees the light, the rest of the body is ignorant of the light. So are many parts of the earth ignorant of God.

Very likely, also, this rejection of God is a punishment. Persons who in a previous life have known the gods but disregarded them, are perhaps now born, as it were, blind, unable to see God; persons who have committed the blasphemy of worshipping their own kings as gods may perhaps now be cast out from the knowledge of God.

Philosophy had always rejected the Man-God, especially in the form of King-worship; but opposition to Christianity no doubt intensifies the protest.

The last chapter is very short. 'Souls that have lived in virtue, being otherwise blessed and especially separated from their irrational part and purged of all body, are joined with the gods and sway the whole world together with them.' So far triumphant faith: then the after-thought of the brave man who means to live his best life even if faith fail him. 'But even if none of these rewards came to them, still Virtue itself and the Joy and Glory of Virtue, and the Life that is subject to no grief and no master, would be enough to make blessed those who have set themselves to live in Virtue and have succeeded.'

* * * * *

There the book ends. It ends upon that well-worn paradox which, from the second book of the Republic onwards, seems to have brought so much comfort to the nobler spirits of the ancient world. Strange how we moderns cannot rise to it! We seem simply to lack the intensity of moral enthusiasm. When we speak of martyrs being happy on the rack; in the first place we rarely believe it, and in the second we are usually supposing that the rack will soon be over and that harps and golden crowns will presently follow. The ancient moralist believed that the good man was happy then and there, because the joy, being in his soul, was not affected by the torture of his body.[192:1]

Not being able fully to feel this conviction, we naturally incline to think it affected or unreal. But, taking the conditions of the ancient world into account, we must admit that the men who uttered this belief at least understood better than most of us what suffering was. Many of them were slaves, many had been captives of war. They knew what they were talking about. I think, on a careful study of M. Aurelius, Epictetus, and some of these Neo-Platonic philosophers, that we shall be forced to realize that these men could rise to much the same heights of religious heroism as the Catholic saints of the Middle Age, and that they often did so—if I may use such a phrase—on a purer and thinner diet of sensuous emotion, with less wallowing in the dust and less delirium.

Be that as it may, we have now seen in outline the kind of religion which ancient Paganism had become at the time of its final reaction against Christianity. It is a more or less intelligible whole, and succeeds better than most religions in combining two great appeals. It appeals to the philosopher and the thoughtful man as a fairly complete and rational system of thought, which speculative and enlightened minds in any age might believe without disgrace. I do not mean that it is probably true; to me all these overpowering optimisms which, by means of a few untested a priori postulates, affect triumphantly to disprove the most obvious facts of life, seem very soon to become meaningless. I conceive it to be no comfort at all, to a man suffering agonies of frostbite, to be told by science that cold is merely negative and does not exist. So far as the statement is true it is irrelevant; so far as it pretends to be relevant it is false. I only mean that a system like that of Sallustius is, judged by any standard, high, civilized, and enlightened.

At the same time this religion appeals to the ignorant and the humble-minded. It takes from the pious villager no single object of worship that has turned his thoughts heavenwards. It may explain and purge; it never condemns or ridicules. In its own eyes that was its great glory, in the eyes of history perhaps its most fatal weakness. Christianity, apart from its positive doctrines, had inherited from Judaism the noble courage of its disbeliefs.

To compare this Paganism in detail with its great rival would be, even if I possessed the necessary learning, a laborious and unsatisfactory task. But if a student with very imperfect knowledge may venture a personal opinion on this obscure subject, it seems to me that we often look at such problems from a wrong angle. Harnack somewhere, in discussing the comparative success or failure of various early Christian sects, makes the illuminating remark that the main determining cause in each case was not their comparative reasonableness of doctrine or skill in controversy—for they practically never converted one another—but simply the comparative increase or decrease of the birth-rate in the respective populations. On somewhat similar lines it always appears to me that, historically speaking, the character of Christianity in these early centuries is to be sought not so much in the doctrines which it professed, nearly all of which had their roots and their close parallels in older Hellenistic or Hebrew thought, but in the organization on which it rested. For my own part, when I try to understand Christianity as a mass of doctrines, Gnostic, Trinitarian, Monophysite, Arian and the rest, I get no further. When I try to realize it as a sort of semi-secret society for mutual help with a mystical religious basis, resting first on the proletariates of Antioch and the great commercial and manufacturing towns of the Levant, then spreading by instinctive sympathy to similar classes in Rome and the West, and rising in influence, like certain other mystical cults, by the special appeal it made to women, the various historical puzzles begin to fall into place. Among other things this explains the strange subterranean power by which the emperor Diocletian was baffled, and to which the pretender Constantine had to capitulate; it explains its humanity, its intense feeling of brotherhood within its own bounds, its incessant care for the poor, and also its comparative indifference to the virtues which are specially incumbent on a governing class, such as statesmanship, moderation, truthfulness, active courage, learning, culture, and public spirit. Of course, such indifference was only comparative. After the time of Constantine the governing classes come into the fold, bringing with them their normal qualities, and thereafter it is Paganism, not Christianity, that must uphold the flag of a desperate fidelity in the face of a hostile world—a task to which, naturally enough, Paganism was not equal. But I never wished to pit the two systems against one another. The battle is over, and it is poor work to jeer at the wounded and the dead. If we read the literature of the time, especially some records of the martyrs under Diocletian, we shall at first perhaps imagine that, apart from some startling exceptions, the conquered party were all vicious and hateful, the conquerors, all wise and saintly. Then, looking a little deeper, we shall see that this great controversy does not stand altogether by itself. As in other wars, each side had its wise men and its foolish, its good men and its evil. Like other conquerors these conquerors were often treacherous and brutal; like other vanquished these vanquished have been tried at the bar of history without benefit of counsel, have been condemned in their absence and died with their lips sealed. The polemic literature of Christianity is loud and triumphant, the books of the Pagans have been destroyed.

Only an ignorant man will pronounce a violent or bitter judgement here. The minds that are now tender, timid, and reverent in their orthodoxy would probably in the third or fourth century have sided with the old gods; those of more daring and puritan temper with the Christians. The historian will only try to have sympathy and understanding for both. They are all dead now, Diocletian and Ignatius, Cyril and Hypatia, Julian and Basil, Athanasius and Arius: every party has yielded up its persecutors and its martyrs, its hates and slanders and aspirations and heroisms, to the arms of that great Silence whose secrets they all claimed so loudly to have read. Even the dogmas for which they fought might seem to be dead too. For if Julian and Sallustius, Gregory and John Chrysostom, were to rise again and see the world as it now is, they would probably feel their personal differences melt away in comparison with the vast difference between their world and this. They fought to the death about this credo and that, but the same spirit was in all of them. In the words of one who speaks with greater knowledge than mine, 'the most inward man in these four contemporaries is the same. It is the Spirit of the Fourth Century.'[196:1]

* * * * *

'Dieselbe Seelenstimmung, derselbe Spiritualismus'; also the same passionate asceticism. All through antiquity the fight against luxury was a fiercer and stronger fight than comes into our modern experience. There was not more objective luxury in any period of ancient history than there is now; there was never anything like so much. But there does seem to have been more subjective abandonment to physical pleasure and concomitantly a stronger protest against it. From some time before the Christian era it seems as if the subconscious instinct of humanity was slowly rousing itself for a great revolt against the long intolerable tyranny of the senses over the soul, and by the fourth century the revolt threatened to become all-absorbing. The Emperor Julian was probably as proud of his fireless cell and the crowding lice in his beard and cassock as an average Egyptian monk. The ascetic movement grew, as we all know, to be measureless and insane. It seemed to be almost another form of lust, and to have the same affinities with cruelty. But it has probably rendered priceless help to us who come afterwards. The insane ages have often done service for the sane, the harsh and suffering ages for the gentle and well-to-do.

Sophrosyne, however we try to translate it, temperance, gentleness, the spirit that in any trouble thinks and is patient, that saves and not destroys, is the right spirit. And it is to be feared that none of these fourth-century leaders, neither the fierce bishops with their homilies on Charity, nor Julian and Sallustius with their worship of Hellenism, came very near to that classic ideal. To bring back that note of Sophrosyne I will venture, before proceeding to the fourth-century Pagan creed, to give some sentences from an earlier Pagan prayer. It is cited by Stobaeus from a certain Eusebius, a late Ionic Platonist of whom almost nothing is known, not even the date at which he lived.[197:1] But the voice sounds like that of a stronger and more sober age.

'May I be no man's enemy,' it begins, 'and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest to me; and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly. May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil against me, may I escape uninjured and without the need of hurting him. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all men's happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me. . . . When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends. . . . May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent. . . . May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another. May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to my friends and to all who are in want. May I never fail a friend in danger. When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain. . . . May I respect myself. . . . May I always keep tame that which rages within me. . . . May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.'

There is more of it. How unpretending it is and yet how searching! And in the whole there is no petition for any material blessing, and—most striking of all—it is addressed to no personal god. It is pure prayer. Of course, to some it will feel thin and cold. Most men demand of their religion more outward and personal help, more physical ecstasy, a more heady atmosphere of illusion. No one man's attitude towards the Uncharted can be quite the same as his neighbour's. In part instinctively, in part superficially and self-consciously, each generation of mankind reacts against the last. The grown man turns from the lights that were thrust upon his eyes in childhood. The son shrugs his shoulders at the watchwords that thrilled his father, and with varying degrees of sensitiveness or dullness, of fuller or more fragmentary experience, writes out for himself the manuscript of his creed. Yet, even for the wildest or bravest rebel, that manuscript is only a palimpsest. On the surface all is new writing, clean and self-assertive. Underneath, dim but indelible in the very fibres of the parchment, lie the characters of many ancient aspirations and raptures and battles which his conscious mind has rejected or utterly forgotten. And forgotten things, if there be real life in them, will sometimes return out of the dust, vivid to help still in the forward groping of humanity. A religious system like that of Eusebius or Marcus, or even Sallustius, was not built up without much noble life and strenuous thought and a steady passion for the knowledge of God. Things of that make do not, as a rule, die for ever.


[177:1] De Vit. Contempl., p. 477 M.

[177:2] Conf. ix. 9.

[178:1] Gibbon, chap. xxi, notes 161, 162.

[178:2] Rise of the Greek Epic, chap. i.

[180:1] adolos kai kathara parresia.

[181:1] 'Many of his sections come straight from Plotinus: xiv and xv perhaps from Porphyry's Letter to Marcella, an invaluable document for the religious side of Neo-Platonism. A few things (prayer to the souls of the dead in iv, to the Cosmos in xvii, the doctrine of tyche, in ix) are definitely un-Plotinian: probably concessions to popular religion.'—E. R. D.

[188:1] S. Reinach, Orpheus, p. 273 (Engl. trans., p. 185).

[188:2] See Ammianus, xxii. 12, on the bad effect of Julian's sacrifices. Sacrifice was finally forbidden by the emperor Theodosius in 391. It was condemned by Theophrastus, and is said by Porphyry (De Abstinentia, ii. 11) simply labein ten archen ex adikias.

[189:1] Sallustius's view of sacrifice is curiously like the illuminating theory of MM. Hubert and Mauss, in which they define primitive sacrifice as a medium, a bridge or lightning-conductor, between the profane and the sacred. 'Essai sur la Nature et la Fonction du Sacrifice' (Annee Sociologique, ii. 1897-8), since republished in the Melanges d'Histoire des Religions, 1909.

[190:1] Cf. Minucius Felix, Octavius, p. 96, Ouzel (chap. 11, Boenig). 'Quid quod toti orbi et ipsi mundo cum sideribus suis minantur incendium, ruinam moliuntur?' The doctrine in their mouths became a very different thing from the Stoic theory of the periodic re-absorption of the universe in the Divine Element. Ibid., pp. 322 ff. (34 Boenig).

[192:1] Even Epicurus himself held kan streblothe ho sophos, einai auton eudaimona. Diog. La. x. 118. See above, end of chap. iii.

[196:1] Geffcken in the Neue Jahrbuecher, xxi. 162 f.

[197:1] Mullach, Fragmenta Philosophorum, iii. 7, from Stob. Flor. i. 85.


I. What the Disciple should be; and concerning Common Conceptions.

Those who wish to hear about the Gods should have been well guided from childhood, and not habituated to foolish beliefs. They should also be in disposition good and sensible, that they may properly attend to the teaching.

They ought also to know the Common Conceptions. Common Conceptions are those to which all men agree as soon as they are asked; for instance, that all God is good, free from passion, free from change. For whatever suffers change does so for the worse or the better: if for the worse, it is made bad; if for the better, it must have been bad at first.

II. That God is unchanging, unbegotten, eternal, incorporeal, and not in space.

Let the disciple be thus. Let the teachings be of the following sort. The essences of the Gods never came into existence (for that which always is never comes into existence; and that exists for ever which possesses primary force and by nature suffers nothing): neither do they consist of bodies; for even in bodies the powers are incorporeal. Neither are they contained by space; for that is a property of bodies. Neither are they separate from the First Cause nor from one another, just as thoughts are not separate from mind nor acts of knowledge from the soul.

III. Concerning myths; that they are divine, and why.

We may well inquire, then, why the ancients forsook these doctrines and made use of myths. There is this first benefit from myths, that we have to search and do not have our minds idle.

That the myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them. Myths have been used by inspired poets, by the best of philosophers, by those who established the mysteries, and by the Gods themselves in oracles. But why the myths are divine it is the duty of Philosophy to inquire. Since all existing things rejoice in that which is like them and reject that which is unlike, the stories about the Gods ought to be like the Gods, so that they may both be worthy of the divine essence and make the Gods well disposed to those who speak of them: which could only be done by means of myths.

Now the myths represent the Gods themselves and the goodness of the Gods—subject always to the distinction of the speakable and the unspeakable, the revealed and the unrevealed, that which is clear and that which is hidden: since, just as the Gods have made the goods of sense common to all, but those of intellect only to the wise, so the myths state the existence of Gods to all, but who and what they are only to those who can understand.

They also represent the activities of the Gods. For one may call the World a Myth, in which bodies and things are visible, but souls and minds hidden. Besides, to wish to teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish, because they cannot understand, and lack of zeal in the good; whereas to conceal the truth by myths prevents the contempt of the foolish, and compels the good to practise philosophy.

But why have they put in the myths stories of adultery, robbery, father-binding, and all the other absurdity? Is not that perhaps a thing worthy of admiration, done so that by means of the visible absurdity the Soul may immediately feel that the words are veils and believe the truth to be a mystery?

IV. That the species of Myth are five, with examples of each.

Of myths some are theological, some physical, some psychic, and again some material, and some mixed from these last two. The theological are those myths which use no bodily form but contemplate the very essences of the Gods: e. g. Kronos swallowing his children. Since God is intellectual, and all intellect returns into itself, this myth expresses in allegory the essence of God.

Myths may be regarded physically when they express the activities of the Gods in the world: e. g. people before now have regarded Kronos as Time, and calling the divisions of Time his sons say that the sons are swallowed by the father.

The psychic way is to regard the activities of the Soul itself: the Soul's acts of thought, though they pass on to other objects, nevertheless remain inside their begetters.

The material and last is that which the Egyptians have mostly used, owing to their ignorance, believing material objects actually to be Gods, and so calling them: e. g. they call the Earth Isis, moisture Osiris, heat Typhon, or again, water Kronos, the fruits of the earth Adonis, and wine Dionysus.

To say that these objects are sacred to the Gods, like various herbs and stones and animals, is possible to sensible men, but to say that they are gods is the notion of madmen—except, perhaps, in the sense in which both the orb of the sun and the ray which comes from the orb are colloquially called 'the Sun'.[203:1]

The mixed kind of myth may be seen in many instances: for example they say that in a banquet of the Gods Discord threw down a golden apple; the goddesses contended for it, and were sent by Zeus to Paris to be judged; Paris saw Aphrodite to be beautiful and gave her the apple. Here the banquet signifies the hyper-cosmic powers of the Gods; that is why they are all together. The golden apple is the world, which, being formed out of opposites, is naturally said to be 'thrown by Discord'. The different Gods bestow different gifts upon the world and are thus said to 'contend for the apple'. And the soul which lives according to sense—for that is what Paris is—not seeing the other powers in the world but only beauty, declares that the apple belongs to Aphrodite.

Theological myths suit philosophers, physical and psychic suit poets, mixed suit religious initiations, since every initiation aims at uniting us with the World and the Gods.

To take another myth, they say that the Mother of the Gods seeing Attis lying by the river Gallus fell in love with him, took him, crowned him with her cap of stars, and thereafter kept him with her. He fell in love with a nymph and left the Mother to live with her. For this the Mother of the Gods made Attis go mad and cut off his genital organs and leave them with the Nymph, and then return and dwell with her.

Now the Mother of the Gods is the principle that generates life; that is why she is called Mother. Attis is the creator of all things which are born and die; that is why he is said to have been found by the river Gallus. For Gallus signifies the Galaxy, or Milky Way, the point at which body subject to passion begins.[204:1] Now as the primary gods make perfect the secondary, the Mother loves Attis and gives him celestial powers. That is what the cap means. Attis loves a nymph: the nymphs preside over generation, since all that is generated is fluid. But since the process of generation must be stopped somewhere, and not allowed to generate something worse than the worst, the Creator who makes these things casts away his generative powers into the creation and is joined to the gods again. Now these things never happened, but always are. And Mind sees all things at once, but Reason (or Speech) expresses some first and others after. Thus, as the myth is in accord with the Cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the Cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?

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