Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK III. - On the Nature of the Gods
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BOOK III. - Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods [45 BC]
De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), trans. Francis Brooks (London: Methuen, 1896).
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After these words from Balbus, Cotta said, looking at him with a smile, You tell me too late, Balbus, what cause I am to defend, for during your discourse I was considering with myself what to say on the other side, not so much for the sake of refuting you, as in order to inquire into the points that I did not perfectly understand, and as every one must follow his own judgment, there is a difficulty in the way of my taking the view which you would wish. Velleius then said, You do not know with what eagerness I shall listen to you, Cotta, for your speech against Epicurus gave pleasure to our friend Balbus, so you will find me in turn an attentive hearer against the Stoics; for I hope that as usual you come well prepared. Indeed, Velleius, I hope so, replied Cotta, for the terms on which I meet Lucilius are not the same as those on which I met you. How so, pray? said Velleius. Because, Cotta answered, your founder Epicurus does not seem to me to make much contention on behalf of the immortal gods; he merely does not dare to deny that they exist, lest he should subject himself in any way to odium or accusation. But when he declares that the gods do nothing and care for nothing, and that they possess the limbs of a man without having any use for those limbs, he appears to be trifling, and to think it enough if he has asserted the existence of some kind of blessed and eternal nature. On the other hand, you noticed, I imagine, how much was said by Balbus, and how connected and coherent it was, even if it missed the truth. I propose, therefore, as I said, not so much to refute his speech, as to ask questions upon what I imperfectly understood, and so I leave it to you, Balbus, to decide whether you would rather reply point by point to my questions upon the things that I did not quite grasp, or hear my speech as a whole. For my part, said Balbus, I would rather answer, if you wish anything explained to you, but if your object in questioning me is not so much to understand as to refute, I will do whichever you like, either answer each of your questions at the time, or reply upon the whole when you have finished. Very good, said Cotta; then let us do as the speech itself shall guide us.
But before I deal with the question I will say a few words about myself. You must know then, Balbus, that I am not a little moved by your authority, and by the closing words of your discourse urging me to remember that I am both Cotta and pontiff, which meant, I suppose, that I should defend the beliefs relating to the immortal gods that we have received from our ancestors, and the sacred rites, and ceremonies, and religious observances. Now I always will and always have defended these, and no one’s utterances, be he learned or unlearned, shall ever move me from those convictions with regard to the worship of the immortal gods that I have inherited from our forefathers. But in questions of religion I follow the chief pontiffs, Tiberius Coruncanius, Publius Scipio, and Publius Scævola, and not Zeno, or Cleanthes, or Chrysippus, and in Caius Lælius, who is at the same time an augur and a philosopher, I have an authority to whose remarks upon religion, in that famous speech of his,1 I prefer to listen rather than to any leader among the Stoics. Since, moreover, the whole religious system of the Roman people has been divided into sacred rites and auspices, with the addition of a third part consisting of the prophetic warnings derived, by the interpreters of the Sibyl or by soothsayers, from portents and prodigies, it has been my opinion that none of these observances ought ever to be treated with contempt, and I have convinced myself that it was by means of auspices and the establishment of sacred rites that Romulus and Numa respectively laid the foundations of our state, which certainly could never have been so great without the most assiduous cultivation of the good will of the immortal gods. You are in possession of my opinions, Balbus, both as an individual and as pontiff; let me now understand yours, for from you who are a philosopher I ought to receive a reasoned account of religion, whereas it is my duty to believe our ancestors even when they offer no such account.
What account, then, said Balbus, do you require from me, Cotta? Your division, replied the latter, was fourfold; first you wished to establish the existence of the gods, next their nature, then that the universe is ruled by them, and lastly that they take heed for human affairs. These, if I remember rightly, were the different heads. Quite right, said Balbus, but I am waiting to hear what it is you want from me.
Let us, said Cotta, examine each point in turn, and if that of the existence of the gods comes first, upon which all but the most impious are agreed, and which cannot possibly be eradicated from my own mind, still you give me no information as to why that very thing, of which I am convinced upon the authority of our ancestors, is so. If you are convinced of it, said Balbus, what reason is there for wishing to receive information from me? Because, replied Cotta, I approach this discussion as though I had never heard and never thought about the immortal gods; take me as an uninstructed learner new to the subject, and give me information upon the points on which I want it. Tell me, then, said Balbus, what it is you want. What I want? said Cotta. In the first place I want to know why you spoke at such length upon the very point which you said in your division did not even need to be discussed, as it was evident and accepted by all. I did so, he said, because I have often noticed that you too, Cotta, when speaking in the forum, if the case only gave you the chance, brought to bear upon the judge as many arguments as you could. The same thing is done by philosophers, and so far as I was able I did it myself. As to your inquiry, it is like asking me why I look at you with both eyes and do not close one, although I could get the same sight with one.
How far that is a similar case, replied Cotta, is for you to determine. For myself, I am not in the habit, when conducting a case, of advancing proofs if a point is self-evident, so as to be generally agreed upon, since by offering proof its obviousness is lessened; nor if I did so in a law case, should I do the same in a discussion of this exactness. And there would be no reason for your closing one eye, as they both have the same gaze, nature, whom you maintain to be wise, having decreed that we should possess two windows pierced between the mind and the eyes. The fact is that you did not feel confident about the point being so obvious as you wished, and therefore determined to enforce the existence of the gods with a number of arguments. Yet to me one would have been enough, that the belief had come down to us from our fathers. But you despise authorities, and make argument your weapon; allow me, then, to place my arguments over against yours. You bring forward all this evidence for the existence of the gods, and what in my opinion is not doubtful at all you thereby render doubtful. For I committed to memory not only the number, but also the order of your arguments. The first was that when we looked up to the sky we at once understood that there existed some divine power by which the world around us is ruled, and under this head there also came the quotation:—
Look upon yonder dazzling sky, which all address as Jove.
As though, forsooth, any one of us would apply the title of Jove to such a deity rather than to the god of the Capitol, and as though the divinity of those bodies, which Velleius and many others do not even allow to you to be possessed of life, were obvious and universally accepted. You regarded it, too, as a weighty argument that a belief in the immortal gods is both general and constantly increasing. Is it, then, thought well that our judgment on matters of such importance should be determined by the beliefs of fools, especially by your school which says that the foolish are mad?
But I shall be told that we see the actual forms of the gods, as Postumius did at Regillus, and Vatinius on the Via Salaria; and there was also some story or other about the fight of the Locrians by the Sagra. Well, do you think that the Tyndaridæ, as you called them, implying that they were men, and the offspring of a man,1 who according to Homer, who lived soon after their time, were buried at Lacedæmon, came on white nags and without grooms to meet Vatinius, and announced the victory of the Roman people to him, a mere rustic, rather than to Marcus Cato, who was then chief of the senate? Do you, then, also believe that the mark upon the rock, resembling the print of a hoof, which is to be seen to this day at Regillus, was made by the horse of Castor? Are you not more willing to believe that the souls of men of sterling worth, such as these Tyndaridæ were, are divine and eternal,2 —a thing which may be admitted—than that any one who had once been consumed upon the pyre could have ridden and fought in line of battle? Or if you say that this could have happened, you ought to inform us how, and not bring forward old wives’ fables. What! you regard them as fables? said Lucilius. Do you not see a temple dedicated in the forum to Castor and Pollux by Aulus Postumius, and a decree of the senate with regard to Vatinius? I need not speak of Sagra, for there is a proverb in common use among the Greeks themselves, who say of what they assert that it is more certain than what happened at Sagra. Ought you not, then, to be impressed when there exist such authorities as these? You meet me, Balbus, with rumours, replied Cotta, whereas I ask you for arguments.1
. . . The future follows upon the past, for no one can escape it. Indeed, it is often not even advantageous to know what is going to happen, for it is miserable to be tortured to no purpose, and to lose even the last, yet universal, solace of hope, all the more so as you also say that everything happens by fate, and that by fate is meant that which has always been true from all eternity. What help, then, or means of defence does it give to know that something will happen, when the fact that it is to happen is certain? Besides, what is the origin of this divination of yours? Who discovered the division of the liver? Who observed the note of the crow, and the indications given by lots? I believe in these, and I do not find it possible to despise the staff of Attus Navius, of which you were speaking, but how these signs came to be understood I ought to learn from philosophers, especially as on a great many matters your diviners prophesy wrongly. But physicians also, you said, are often deceived. I ask in reply what resemblance there is between medicine, of which I perceive the principles, and divination, the origin of which is not understood by me. You also think that the gods were propitiated by the self-sacrifice of the Decii, but was their injustice so great that they could not be made propitious to the Roman people except by the death of such men? We see in that act the device of a general, what the Greeks call a στρατήγημα, but they were generals who aimed at their country’s good, and were prodigal of their own lives; for they thought that if they spurred their horses, and flung themselves upon the enemy, they would be followed by their men, which proved to be the case. As for the voice of a Faun, I have never heard it myself; if you say that you have heard it, I will believe you, though I do not at all know what a Faun is.
So far, then, as you are concerned, Balbus, I do not as yet understand that the gods exist; I believe in their existence myself, but the Stoics make me no wiser. For instance, Cleanthes, as you were saying, thinks that there were four ways in which the idea of divine beings was formed in men’s minds. The first is the one derived from the premonition of future events, which I have sufficiently discussed; the second is derived from the disturbances caused by storms and from the other convulsions of Nature; the third from the serviceableness and abundance of the natural products which we enjoy, and the fourth from the order of the stars and the unchanging phenomena of the sky. The subject of premonition I have considered. As to disturbances in the heavens, and by sea and land, we cannot deny that when they occur there are many who fear them, and who think that they are caused by the immortal gods; but the question is not whether there are some who believe that the gods exist, but whether the gods do exist or not. With regard to the remaining reasons which Cleanthes brings forward, one of which is concerned with the abundance of benefits that we obtain, and the other with the order of the seasons and the uniformity of the heavenly phenomena, we will discuss these when we deal with the question of divine providence, on which you, Balbus, spoke at considerable length; and we will defer till the same point the statement you quoted from Chrysippus to the effect that since there was something in the nature of things that could not be produced by man, there existed something more excellent than man; the comparisons also that you made between a beautiful house and the beauty of the universe, your representations of the symmetry and harmony of the entire universe, and the syllogisms of Zeno, with their conciseness and petty ingenuity, will be deferred to that part of the discourse which I have just mentioned, when, too, all your observations of a scientific kind about the energy of fire, and the heat from which you said everything was generated, will be examined in their own place. I shall also reserve for the same occasion all the reasons that you gave the day before yesterday, when you were attempting to establish the existence of the gods, for the possession of feeling and intelligence by the universe as a whole, and by the sun and moon and stars. But again and again you will hear that same question from me,—by what arguments do you satisfy yourself that the gods exist?
For my own part, replied Balbus, I consider that I have provided arguments, but your way of refuting them is, when you seem on the point of questioning me, and I have prepared myself to answer, to change suddenly the course of your speech, and give me no opportunity of answering. Consequently, most important points connected with divination and fate have gone by undiscussed, questions on which you touch slightly, but which it is the custom of our school to treat at length. As, however, a distinction is made between those questions and our present inquiry, I will ask you, if you have no objection, not to make your treatment too comprehensive, so that we may devote this discussion to clearing up that which is the object of our search.
By all means, said Cotta. Since, then, you divided the whole question into four parts, and we have spoken of the first, let us consider the second, my impression of which is that in attempting to show the nature of the gods you showed their non-existence. For though you owned that it was extremely difficult to disengage the intelligence from the habitual experience of the eyes, you declared unhesitatingly that as there was nothing more exalted than God, and nothing in all nature more excellent than the universe, the universe was God. Perhaps so, if we could only conceive of it as animate, or rather have as clear a mental perception of this as we have an ocular one of other things! But when you say that nothing is more excellent than the universe, what do you mean by excellent? If you mean more beautiful, I agree; if you mean better adapted for our convenience, I agree to that also; but if you mean that there is nothing wiser than the universe, I disagree entirely, not because it is difficult to detach the mind from what one sees, but because, the more I do detach it, the less I am able to understand your position.
There is, you say, nothing in all nature more excellent than the universe. Nor is there anything on earth more excellent than our own city, but do you therefore suppose that it possesses reason, and reflection, and intelligence? On the other hand, do you think that a city of this beauty is to be considered, because it does not possess these qualities, inferior to the ant, since a city is not sentient, whereas the ant is not only sentient, but has also intelligence and, reason, and memory? You ought to ascertain, Balbus, how much is conceded to you, and not assume yourself what you wish. The whole point in question, which has been expanded by later writers, was summarised long ago in the brief and, as you thought, pointed syllogism of Zeno, which he states thus: That which exercises reason is more excellent than that which does not exercise reason; there is nothing more excellent than the universe; therefore the universe exercises reason. If you accept this, you will presently make it appear that the universe is the best reader of a book, for you will be able, following in Zeno’s steps, to draw up an argument in this style: That which is learned is more excellent than that which is not learned; there is nothing more excellent than the universe, therefore the universe is learned. According to that process the universe will also be eloquent, and in fact mathematical and musical, in short it will be instructed in every branch of learning, and finally it will be a philosopher. You said several times that nothing was produced except from the universe, and that nature had not the power to fashion things unlike itself; am I to allow, then, that the universe is not only animate and wise, but also a player of the lute and trumpet, since followers of those arts too are created from it? Such a conclusion shows that there is nothing in what the father of the Stoics brings forward which should make us think that the universe exercises reason, or even that it is animate. The universe, therefore, is not divine, and yet there is nothing more excellent than it, for there is nothing more beautiful, more serviceable to ourselves, more splendid in aspect, and uniform in movement. But if the universe as a whole is not divine, neither are the stars, which you were reckoning in countless hosts among the number of the gods, and with whose regular and never-ending courses you were delighted,—and quite rightly, for they are marked by a wonderful and incredible constancy. But it is not everything that has a fixed and uniform movement, Balbus, that is to be referred to a divine instead of to a natural principle.
Do you think that anything can surpass the uniformity of the Chalcidic Euripus in its continual motion to and fro, or of the Straits of Sicily, or of the sea which rages in that part
Where the devouring wave parts Europe and Libya?
And cannot the ocean tides of Spain or Britain, and their approach or withdrawal at stated times, take place without divine agency? If we say that all motion, and everything that maintains its regularity by observing fixed periods, is divine, I would have you take care lest the same must not also be said of tertian and quartan fevers, for what can be more uniform than their recurrence and activity? But an explanation has to be given of all such phenomena, and when your school is unable to do that, it flies to a divine being as to an altar of refuge.
You thought, too, that there was point in the observation of Chrysippus, who was undoubtedly adroit and skilful (I use the word adroit (versutus) of those whose mind moves quickly (versatur), and skilful (callidus) of those whose intelligence has become skilled (concalluit) by practice, in the same way that the hand does by working). Well, his observation is as follows: If there is something which man could not create, he who does create it is more excellent than man; man cannot create these things that are in the universe; therefore he who was able to create them is superior to man; but no one could be superior to man except god, who is thus shown to exist. All this is involved in the same error as the remarks quoted from Zeno, for the meaning of “more excellent,” and “superior” is not defined, nor is the difference between a natural and rational principle.1 He also says that, if there are no gods, there is nothing in all nature more excellent than man, but he considers it the greatest arrogance for any man to be of opinion that there is nothing more excellent than man. Let us grant by all means that there is arrogance in thinking oneself of more account than the universe, but so far from being a sign of arrogance, it is rather a sign of good sense in a man to feel that he himself possesses consciousness and reason, and that these same qualities are not possessed by Orion and Sirius. Another of the sayings of Chrysippus is: We should infer in the case of a beautiful dwelling-place that it was built for its owners and not for mice; we ought, therefore, in the same way to regard the universe as the dwelling-place of the gods. So certainly I should regard it, if I thought that it had been built, and not, as I shall show, formed by nature.
But you will remind me that Socrates asks in Xenophon where we got mind from, if there were none resident in the universe. And I ask the same with regard to speech, and rhythm, and tune, unless, indeed, we suppose that when the sun has drawn near to the moon they hold converse together, or that the universe sings in harmony, as Pythagoras thinks. The mind and its faculties, Balbus, are products of nature, not the artistically walking1 nature of which Zeno speaks, as to the meaning of which we will inquire later, but the nature which quickens and stirs all things by its own movements and changes. I was pleased, therefore, by your remarks on the correlation and harmony of nature, which you said was at one with itself as though a common tie connected it throughout; but I did not approve of your denying that this could have been the case unless it were held together by one divine spirit. As a matter of fact it is its own power, and not that of the gods, which makes nature coherent and permanent, and there is in it that oneness of feeling, if the expression may be allowed,2 which the Greeks call συμπάθεια; but the greater nature is of itself, the less must it be thought to be the result of divine reason.
And how do you dispose of the objections which Carneades used to advance? If, he says, all bodies are liable to mortality, no body is everlasting; but no body is exempt from mortality, no body, even, is indivisible, or incapable of being broken up or torn into parts. Similarly, therefore, if every animate being3 can be severed and divided, no animate being is indivisible or eternal. Since, again, every animate being has a nature susceptible to sensation, there is none that escapes the necessity of receiving some impressions from without, that is, of enduring and suffering, as one might express it, and if every animate being is susceptible in that way, no animate being is exempt from mortality; but every animate being is so constituted as to receive and endure external influences; therefore every animate being is of necessity perishable, and liable to disruption and division. For just as, if all wax possessed the property of changeableness, there would be nothing made of wax that could not be changed, and the same with things made of silver and brass, if the nature of silver and brass were changeable, so it follows that if the elements of which all existing things are composed are changeable, no body can be unchangeable; but in your opinion the elements of which all things are composed are changeable; therefore all bodies are changeable. But if any body were imperishable, all bodies would not be changeable; it is thus proved that all bodies are perishable. For every body is either water, air, earth, or fire, or something compounded from these or from some part of these, and there is none of these elements that does not pass away. For instance, everything of an earthy nature undergoes disintegration, and the liquid element is so yielding that it can be easily compressed and subjected to impact, while air and fire respond with the greatest readiness to every impulse, and are by nature extremely mobile and dissoluble. All these elements, moreover, pass away when they change into another element, as happens when earth changes to water, and air is created from water, and æther from air, and when the same elements return again in the reverse order. But if the elements of which every animate being is composed pass away, no animate being is everlasting.
And if we omit these considerations it is still impossible for any animate being to be found that did not at some time come into existence, or that will always remain in existence. For every animate being has perceptions; it is conscious, therefore, of heat and cold, and of sweet things and bitter, and it cannot receive agreeable impressions through any sense without also receiving their opposites; if, then, it receives an impression of pleasure, it also receives one of pain; but that which experiences pain must also experience mortality; it must, therefore, be acknowledged that every animate being is perishable. If, again, there is anything that is not sensitive to pleasure or pain, that thing cannot be animate; but if that which is animate is necessarily sensitive to pleasure and pain, and if that which is sensitive to pleasure and pain cannot be eternal, and if every animate being is sensitive, then no animate being is eternal. Moreover, there cannot be any animate being in which there is not instinctive desire and avoidance; the things desired are those which are in accordance with its nature, the things avoided those which are opposed to it; every animate being does seek after certain things, and does shun others; but that which it shuns is contrary to its nature, and what is contrary to nature has the power of destroying; it is inevitable, therefore, that every animate being should perish. The means by which it may be proved and conclusively established that there is nothing possessing sensation that does not perish, are innumerable; for the very things that produce sensation, such as cold, heat, pleasure, pain, and the rest, are, when carried to excess, destructive; there is no animate being without sensation; therefore no animate being is eternal.
Again, the nature of an animate being is either simple, that is, composed either of earth, fire, air, or water, though what such a being is like cannot even be conceived, or it is a compound of several elements,1 each of which has its own sphere, one the lowest, another the highest, and another the one between, to which it is carried by a natural tendency. These elements can cohere for a certain time, but cannot by any means do so always, for it is inevitable that each of them should be caught away to its own sphere. No animate being, therefore, is everlasting.
But your school, Balbus, is accustomed to refer all things to the energy of fire, following, I believe, Heraclitus, who is not himself interpreted by every one in the same way, and as he did not wish what he said to be understood, I propose that we do not take him into account. What you yourselves say is that all energy is fire, and that therefore animate beings perish when their heat fails, and that throughout all nature it is the thing that has heat that lives and is strong. But I do not understand how it is that bodies perish through the extinction of heat, and yet not through the loss of the watery humours or of air, especially as they also perish through a too great amount of heat. Your description, then, of heat applies also to the other elements; but let us see all the same how your position works out. You hold, I believe, that externally, in nature and the universe, there is nothing animate except fire. Why should you not just as much say that there is nothing animate except air (anima), seeing that the soul of animate beings as well1 is composed of it, whence the word animal? And how is it that you assume, as though it were a conceded point, that soul is nothing but fire, when a more admissible explanation seems to be that soul is a certain blending of fire and air? If, again, fire is animate in itself, without the admixture of any other element, since its presence in our bodies makes us sentient, it cannot be otherwise than sentient itself. Our former argument may be repeated; for everything possessing sensation must be sensitive to pleasure and pain, and that which is visited by pain must be also visited by mortality. It follows from this that you are equally unable to prove that fire is eternal. In fact, is it not also a belief of yours that all fire needs sustenance, and cannot by any means endure unless it is fed, and that the sun, and moon, and other heavenly bodies are fed by water, some by fresh water, and some by that of the sea? Cleanthes gives this as the reason
Why the sun returns and advances no farther than the round the summer solstice,
and also no farther than the winter one, that he may not depart too far from his source of nutriment. Into all this question we will inquire by-and-by; for the present let us draw this conclusion, that that which can perish is not in its nature eternal, that fire will perish unless it is fed, and that therefore fire is not in its nature everlasting.
Then again, what kind of God can we conceive of as possessing no virtue? And yet shall we attribute sagacity to God, which consists in a knowledge of good and evil, and of what is neither good nor evil? What need has he, in whom there is not, and cannot be, any evil, to discriminate between good and evil? And what need has he of reason and apprehension, which we employ for the purpose of obtaining by means of the evident a knowledge of the obscure, whereas to God nothing can be obscure? As for justice, the virtue which assigns to each his due, how is it appropriate to the gods? For it was the product, as you maintain, of human fellowship and association. Temperance, in the next place, consists in foregoing the pleasures of the body, and if body has a place in heaven, so also have pleasures.1 And how can God be conceived of as brave? Is he so in respect to pain, or labour, or danger, not one of which things affects him? How, then, can we conceive of a God who neither exercises reason, nor is possessed of any virtue?
I cannot, moreover, when I consider the things that are said by the Stoics, look down upon the folly of the multitude and the uninstructed. Instances of the conduct of the latter are as follows: the Syrians worship a fish; the Egyptians have deified almost every kind of animal; if we turn to Greece, they have there a number of gods who were once men, the Alabandi Alabandus, the people of Tenedos Tennes, and the whole nation Leucothea, whose mortal name was Ino, and her son Palæmon; while our own countrymen have Hercules, Æsculapius, the Tyndaridæ, Romulus, and several others, who they think were received into heaven like new citizens added to the roll.
These, then, are the beliefs of the ignorant. And what do you philosophers do? In what respect better? (I say nothing of the belief I am going to mention, for it is a master-piece: let us by all means grant that the universe itself is divine. This, I suppose, is the meaning of the quotation—
The dazzling sky, which all address as Jove.
Then why do we add more gods? And what a multitude of them there are!1 For you reckon each single constellation as a god, and call these gods by the names either of animals, as the Goat, the Scorpion, the Bull, the Lion, or of inanimate things, as the Argo, the Altar, and the Crown.) But even if we grant this, how can what remains be, I do not say granted, but in any way understood? When we speak of corn as Ceres, and of wine as Liber, we use, it is true, a customary mode of speech, but do you think that any one is so senseless as to believe that what he is eating is the divine substance? And as for those whom you assert to have attained from the human state to the divine, it is for you to give an explanation of how that could have happened, or why it has ceased to happen, and I shall be glad to be informed. In my present mind I do not see how he2 to whose body, as Accius says, “torches were laid on Mount Oeta,” made his way from that conflagration “to his sire’s eternal home,” and in fact Homer represents him as being met in the under world by Ulysses just as the other dead were. At the same time I should certainly like to know which Hercules in particular we are to worship, for the investigators of the more profound and recondite accounts tell us of several. The most ancient is the son of Jupiter, and, moreover, of the most ancient Jupiter (for in the early writings of the Greeks we find also more than one Jupiter); from that Jupiter, then, and Lysithoë comes the Hercules of whom we hear that he struggled with Apollo for the tripod. The second is reported to have been an Egyptian, the son of Nilus, and he, it is said, drew up the Phrygian books. The third is one of the Digiti of Ida,1 and receives funeral honours from the Coans. The fourth is the son of Jupiter and Asteria, the sister of Latona, and is worshipped principally at Tyre, the mother city, according to tradition, of Carthage. The fifth belongs to India, and is called Belus. The sixth is the one we know, born from Alcmena and begotten by Jupiter, that is, by the third Jupiter, for, as I shall proceed to show, we are told of more than one.2
I must therefore, Balbus, also take up my tale against those3 who say that the gods familiar to us, whom we all solemnly and devoutly worship, were not actually transferred from the world of men to the sky, but were believed to have been so. In the first place the theologists, as they are called, enumerate three Jupiters, the first and second of whom were born in Arcadia, the one being the son of Æther, and also according to them the father of Proserpine and Liber, while the other was the son of Cælus, and is said to have been father to Minerva, the goddess whom they represent as the first author and founder of war; the third was the son of Saturn and belonged to Crete, and his tomb is shown in that island. The Dioscuri similarly are known amongst the Greeks by a variety of names; there are, firstly, the three who are called at Athens, Anactes,1 the offspring of the most ancient of the Royal Jupiters and of Proserpine,—Tritopatreus, Eubuleus, and Dionysus; secondly Castor and Pollux, the offspring of the third Jupiter and Leda; in the third place some name Alco, Melampus, and Eviolus, the sons of Atreus, who was the son of Pelops. The first set of Muses, again, are four, Thelxinoe, Aœde, Arche, and Melete, daughters of the second Jupiter and . . .; the second have for parents the third Jupiter and Mnemosyne, and are nine in number; the third are the children of Pierus and Antiopa, and are commonly called by the poets Pieridæ and Pieriæ; their names and number are the same as those of the last-mentioned group. And though you say that Sol was so named because he stood alone (solus), what a number of these same Sols are brought forward by the theologists! The first of them is the son of Jupiter and grandson of Æther, the second the son of Hyperion, the third of Vulcan, son of Nilus (the Egyptians believe that the city called Heliopolis is his), the fourth is the one whom in the heroic age Acantho is said to have brought forth at Rhodes, the father of Ialysus, Camirus, and Lindus, and the fifth is the one who is recorded to have had for issue amongst the Colchi Æetes and Circe.
There are also several Vulcans. The first is the son of Cælus, and from him and Minerva is said to have been born the Apollo under whose protection the old mythologists considered Athens to be; the second, called Phthas by the Egyptians, is the son of Nilus, and is regarded by the mythologists as the patron deity of Egypt; the third is the son of the third Jupiter and Juno, and is said to have had charge of the forge at Lemnos; the fourth is the son of Menelaus, and held the islands near to Sicily which were called Vulcaniæ. The first Mercury has Cælus and Dies for parents, and is represented by tradition as ithyphallic, an effect due to the sight of Proserpine; the second is the son of Valens and Phoronis, and is the deity in the world below who is also identified with Trophonius; the third is the offspring of the third Jupiter and Maia, and from him and Penelope Pan is said to have been born; the fourth, whose name the Egyptians think it wrong to utter, is the son of Nilus; the fifth is the one worshipped by the Pheneatæ, who is said to have slain Argus, and on that account to have fled to Egypt, where he taught the inhabitants laws and letters. The Egyptians call him Theuth, and the first month of the year is known amongst them by the same name. The first Æsculapius is the son of Apollo; he is worshipped by the Arcadians, and is said to have been the first to invent the probe and to bandage wounds; the second is the brother of the second Mercury; he was struck by lightning, and is said to have been buried at Cynosuræ; the third is the son of Arsippus and Arsinoe, and according to report first introduced purging and the extraction of teeth; his tomb and grove are shown in Arcadia not far from the river Lusius.
The oldest Apollo is the one of whom I spoke just now as the son of Vulcan and protector of Athens; the second is the son of Corybas, and was born in Crete, and is said to have contended for that island with Jupiter himself; the third is the son of the third Jupiter and Latona, and there is a tradition that he came from the land of the Hyperboreans to Delphi; the fourth was born in Arcadia, and is called by the Arcadians Νόμιος, because, they say, they received laws1 from him. There is also more than one Diana; first the daughter of Jupiter and Proserpine, who is said to have given birth to the winged Cupid; secondly a more famous one whom we know as the daughter of the third Jupiter and Latona, and thirdly the one of whom Upis and Glauce are recorded as the parents, and whom the Greeks often call by her father’s name of Upis. We have several bearers of the name Dionysus; the first is the son of Jupiter and Proserpine; the second, who is said to have slain Nysa, is the son of Nilus; the third is the son of Cabirus; he is reported to have been king over Asia, and in his honour the Sabazia were instituted; the fourth is the son of Jupiter and Luna, and it is in connection with him that the Orphic rites are believed to be celebrated; the fifth is the offspring of Nisus and Thyone, and the supposed founder of the Trieterides. The first Venus is the daughter of Cælus and Dies, and the shrine that we have seen at Elis belongs to her; the second was created from the foam, and we are told that from her and Mercury the second Cupid was born; the third is the daughter of Jupiter and Dione, and married Vulcan, but her child Anteros is said to have been born to Mars; the fourth, who is called Astarte, was the offspring of Syria and Cyprus, and it is recorded that she married Adonis. The first Minerva is the one of whom we spoke above as the mother of Apollo; the second is the daughter of Nilus and is worshipped by the Egyptians of Sais; the third is the one whom we have already mentioned as having had Jupiter for father; the fourth is the offspring of Jupiter and Coryphe, daughter of Oceanus; the Arcadians call her Κορία, and have a tradition that she introduced the four-horsed chariot; the fifth is the daughter of Pallas, and is said to have slain her father when he offered her violence; she is represented with winged anklets. The first Cupid is said to have been the son of Mercury and the first Diana; the second of Mercury and the second Venus; and the third, who is the same as Anteros, of Mars and the third Venus. These instances, and others of the kind, have been collected from the old traditions of Greece, and though you, Balbus, are aware of the necessity of opposing them, in order that religious worship may not be disorganised, your school not only does not rebut, but positively confirms them by giving an explanation in each case of their meaning. Let us now, however, return to the point which we abandoned for this digression.
And as the discourse has brought me upon this topic, I will show that I have learnt better how to worship the immortal gods, in accordance with pontifical ordinances and the usage of our forefathers, from the small bowls which Numa left us, to which Lælius refers in that glorious speech of his,1 than from the reasonings of the Stoics. For if I take you as my guides, tell me what answer I am to make to any one putting this question to me: if the beings you mention are gods, are the Nymphs also divine? If they are, so also are the little Pans and Satyrs. But the latter are not divine; neither, therefore, are the Nymphs; yet temples of the Nymphs have been publicly vowed and dedicated; therefore the other beings whose temples have been dedicated are just as little divine. Take another instance. You reckon Jupiter and Neptune as gods; therefore Orcus, their brother, is also a god, and Acheron, Cocytus, and Pyriphlegethon, which are said to flow in the under world, must be considered so, together with Charon and Cerberus. But these last conclusions are untenable; therefore Orcus himself is not divine. What do you say, then, with regard to his brothers? This is how Carneades used to argue, not in order to do away with the gods (for what is less suited to a philosopher?), but to prove that the Stoics gave no adequate account of them. For this reason he used to assail their school. Come, he would say, if these brothers are comprised in the number of the gods, can the same be denied of their father Saturn, who in the parts towards the west is the general and chief object of worship? And if he is a god, his father Cælus must also be acknowledged to be one. In that case the parents of Cælus himself, Æther and Dies, must be considered so, and their brothers and sisters, who are named by the old genealogists as follows: Love, Guile, Disease, Fear, Labour, Envy, Fate, Old Age, Death, Darkness, Misery, Lamentation, Partiality, Deceit, Stubbornness, the Fates, the Hesperides, and Dreams, all of whom, they say, were born from Erebus and Night. Either, then, these extravagances must be accepted, or the claims first put forward must be withdrawn.
And will you say that Apollo, Vulcan, Mercury, and the rest are gods, and have doubts as to Hercules, Æsculapius, Liber, Castor, and Pollux? Yet the latter are worshipped as much as the former, and amongst some peoples to an even much greater extent. Are, then, these sons of mortal mothers to be considered gods? And will not Aristæus, the reputed discoverer of the olive, who was the son of Apollo, and Theseus, the son of Neptune, and the others whose fathers were gods, belong to the number of divine beings? And how about those whose mothers were goddesses? They, I imagine, will belong still more, for just as by civil law the son of a free mother is free, so too by natural law the son of a divine mother must be divine. This is why the inhabitants of the island Astypalæa are most devout worshippers of Achilles, and if he is a god, so are both Orpheus and Rhesus, who had a Muse for their mother, unless, perhaps, alliance with a sea deity is placed above one with a land deity. If the fact that Orpheus and Rhesus are nowhere worshipped prevents them from being gods, how is it that the others are so? Consider, then, whether it is not to the virtues of men, as you too seemed to say, Balbus,1 rather than to their immortality, that these honours are rendered. How, again, if you think Latona a goddess, can you refuse to think Hecate one, who is the daughter of Asteria, the sister of Latona? Or is Hecate a goddess as well? We have certainly seen her altars and shrines in Greece. But if she is, why are not the Eumenides? And if they, who have a temple at Athens, and in our own city, according to my interpretation of the name, the grove of Furina,1 are divine, then the Furies are so, I presume as being the watchers and punishers of misdeeds and crime. If, moreover, it is characteristic of the gods to take part in human affairs, Natio, to whom, when we go the round of the shrines in the Æduan territory, we are accustomed to make sacrifice, must also be considered divine; she was so named from the offspring that is born (nascentibus), because, it was supposed, she aids the delivery of matrons. If she is divine, so are all those whom you were mentioning, Honour, Faith, Mind, and Concord, and therefore also Hope, and Memory, and everything that we can conceive by imagination in our own minds. If this is not probable, neither is the position which leads to these results.
And if those beings whom we worship and know by tradition are gods, what reason do you give why you should not number Serapis and Isis in the same class, or why, if we do that, we should repudiate the gods of the barbarians? We shall, then, assign to oxen, horses, ibises, hawks, asps, crocodiles, fish, wolves, cats, and a multitude of other creatures their place among the number of divine beings. If we reject these conclusions, this will involve also the rejection of the premises from which they sprang. Now for another case. Shall Ino be considered a goddess, and receive the name of Leucothea from the Greeks, and Matuta from ourselves, though she is but the daughter of Cadmus, and shall Circe and Pasiphae and Æetes, who were born from Perseis, daughter of Oceanus, and have the Sun for their father, not be included in the number of divinities? Yet Circe no less than Ino is devoutly worshipped by our colonists of Circeii. Will you, then, regard her as a goddess? And how will you meet the case of Medea, whose grandfathers, the Sun and Oceanus, were both gods, and whose father was Æetes and mother Idyia? How will you meet the case of her brother Absyrtus? (In Pacuvius he appears as Ægialeus, but the other name is commoner in the old writers.) If these are not gods, I have my fears as to how Ino may fare, for all these claims to divinity are derived from the same source. Or will Amphiaraus and Trophonius be gods? Well, when the lands in Bœotia that belonged to the immortal gods1 were exempted from taxation by the regulation of the censors, our tax-farmers declared that no one was immortal who had ever been a man. But if Amphiaraus and Trophonius are gods, unquestionably Erechtheus is one, whose shrine and priest we have seen at Athens. And if we deify him, what doubt can we have as to Codrus, or the others who have fallen fighting for the liberty of their country? If the last conclusion is not admissible, the premises also from which these conclusions are drawn ought not to be admitted. Besides, in most communities we can see that in order to foster valour, so that the noblest spirits might the more readily encounter danger on behalf of the state, the memory of brave men was hallowed with divine honours. It is for this very reason that Erechtheus and his daughters1 are included at Athens in the number of divine beings, and there is also at Athens a shrine of the daughters of Leos,2 which is called Λεωκόριον, that is, Leonaticum.3 The Alabandi, indeed, worship Alabandus, by whom the city was founded, more devoutly than they do any of the well-known gods, and there was a remark made by Stratonicus, when in their country, which like many of his was not without humour. Some one to whom he had a dislike was maintaining the divinity of Alabandus, and denying that of Hercules. “May I, then,” he said, “experience the anger of Alabandus and you of Hercules.”
And do you not see, Balbus, how far the conclusions which you derived from the sky and the heavenly bodies extend? You inferred that the sun and moon are divine, the first of which the Greeks identify with Apollo, and the second with Diana. But if the moon is divine, then Lucifer also, and the other wandering stars, will hold rank as gods, and so, therefore, will the fixed stars as well. And why should not a thing with the goodly aspect of the rainbow be assigned its place among the number of divine beings? For there is beauty in the rainbow, and on that account, because it is considered to possess an aspect of marvellous1 fairness, Iris is represented as having been the daughter of Thaumas. If the rainbow is in its nature divine, what will you do with the clouds? For the rainbow is itself composed of clouds which have been coloured in a certain way, and one of the clouds is also said to have given birth to the Centaurs. But if you number the clouds amongst the gods, the same will certainly have to be done with the tempests, which the ritual of the Roman people has consecrated. Consequently rain, and thunder-clouds, and storms, and whirlwinds must be considered divine; indeed, it has been the custom of our generals when setting out by sea to sacrifice a victim to the waves. If, moreover, Ceres (for so you were saying), takes her name from gerere, to bear, the earth itself is a goddess, and is regarded as such, for what else is Tellus than the power which bears? But if the earth is divine, so too is the sea, which you identified with Neptune, and so, therefore, are the rivers and springs. That is why Maso dedicated a shrine of Fons from his Corsican spoils, and why we see the Tiber, the Spino, the Almo, the Nodinus, and other names belonging to neighbouring streams, in the litany of the augurs. Either, then, this principle will extend itself indefinitely, or we will reject every instance of the kind, and will not permit this limitless process of superstition. No instance of the kind, then, is to be admitted.
Do you after this think that these ideas need to be refuted by more elaborate arguments? Why, we see that mind, faith, hope, virtue, honour, victory, safety, concord, and everything else of that kind are in their nature abstractions, and not divinities; for they are either resident in ourselves, as is the case with mind, hope, faith, virtue, and concord, or they are things to be desired by us, as honour, safety, and victory. I see their usefulness, and also their images which have been consecrated, but why they have the force of divinities I shall not understand until I am informed. Fortune in particular is to be included under this head, for no one will dissociate that from caprice and accident, which are certainly unworthy of a divine being. Then again, why does this explanation of fables, and unravelling of names, possess such a charm for you? That Cælus was mutilated by his son, and Saturn in like manner bound by his, these and other statements of the same kind you uphold in a way which gives to the men who invented them the appearance not only of sanity, but of positive wisdom. And in unravelling names the difficulties into which you get are of a pitiable kind. Saturn is so called because he makes himself full (saturat) with years; Mavors because he is the overturner of greatness (magna vertit); Minerva because she lessens (minuo), or threatens (minor); Venus because she comes to all things (venit); and Ceres derives her name from gerere, to bear. What a hazardous principle to go upon! For there are many names over which you will be brought to a stand-still. How will you treat Vejovis and Vulcan? And yet, as you think that the word Neptune was formed from nare (in which you seemed to me to be more at sea than Neptune himself), there will be no name of which you would not be able to trace the derivation so far as one letter is concerned.1 Great and quite unnecessary pains were taken first by Zeno, and afterwards by Cleanthes, and then by Chrysippus to provide an explanation of the legendary stories, and to set forth the reasons for the form of each proper name. Of course in doing so your school acknowledges that the facts are widely different from the popular belief, for you maintain that what are called gods are abstract qualities, and not divine persons.
And this error extended so far that even hurtful things had not only the title of gods assigned to them, but also sacred rites instituted in their honour. We see, for instance, the shrine of Fever upon the Palatine, the shrine of Bereavement by the temple of the Lares, and the altar of Evil Fortune dedicated on the Esquiline. Let all the mistaken notions, then, be banished from philosophy which make us, when treating of the immortal gods, bring forward qualities which are unworthy of an immortal nature,—qualities as to which I am prepared with an opinion of my own, but am not prepared to agree with you. You say that Neptune is the intelligent principle which pervades the sea, and you speak in the same way of Ceres, but this intelligence either of the sea or land I am not only unable to understand, but cannot even bring within the scope of imagination. I must, therefore, apply elsewhere in order to be able to learn both that the gods exist, and of what nature they are; the nature which you assign to them . . .1
Let us consider the questions which come next, in the first place whether the universe is ruled by divine providence, and in the second whether the gods consult the interests of men. For these two parts of your division still await me, and I think, if you are willing, that they ought to receive a more elaborate treatment. For my part, said Velleius, I am perfectly willing, for I am looking forward to something more considerable, and at the same time agree heartily with what has been said. Balbus then remarked: I do not wish to interrupt you, Cotta, but we will take another time; I shall certainly make you confess. But . . .1
In no such wise shall this thing fall out; in it there is great strife contained. For is it to be thought that I would extreat them with such soft words, were it not for a gain?
Does she seem to fail in reasoning and in devising shameful ill for herself? Mark with what shrewd judgment this is said.
For him who wishes that his wish should be accomplished, things come to pass according to his handling.
A line which contains the germ of all wrong-doing.
He with purpose all astray has delivered to me to-day the bars2 with which I shall unloose all my wrath, and give destruction to him, and sorrow to myself, grief and ruin to him, and exile to myself.
This is the reasoning faculty which animals, forsooth, do not possess, and which you say was bestowed by divine favour upon man alone. You see, then, do you, how valuable is this gift of the gods with which we are endowed? And the same Medea, flying from her father and native land,
When that her father drew near, and was now well-nigh making ready for her to be seized, slew meanwhile the boy, and severed his limbs joint by joint, and strewed his body on every side over the fields, doing so with this intent, that while the father was picking up the scattered limbs of his son, she might in the meantime escape, that grief might hinder him from pursuing, and she might win safety for herself by the slaughter of her own kin.
There was no lack of guilt in her, and equally no lack of reason. And when Atreus is preparing the fatal banquet for his brother, does he not in his deliberations set reason to work this way and that?
I must stir up a greater coil, a greater mischief, with which to beat down and crush his cruel heart.
At the same time Thyestes himself must not be passed by.
Who thought it not enough to have enticed a wife to dishonour.
As to which Atreus says rightly and most truly,
A deed which in the greatest estate I think the greatest crime, that a royal mother should be defiled, the stock polluted, the race mixed with alloy.
But how great was his guile in committing that very deed, for he aimed by means of adultery at sovereign power.
To this, says Atreus, add the prodigy which the father of the gods sent me as a sign, the stay of my rule, a lamb amongst the flocks shining with golden fleece, and that Thyestes dared to steal it secretly from the palace, in which thing he made my wife his helper.
Does not Thyestes seem to you to have combined with great depravity a no less amount of reasoning power? Nor, indeed, is it only the stage that is full of these crimes, but ordinary life is much fuller of almost greater ones. In each man’s house, in the law-courts, the senate-house, in the assemblies on the Campus Martius, amongst our allies, and in the provinces, it is a matter of experience how by means of reason wrong is done as well as right, the latter by a small number and seldom, and the former by a very large number and constantly, so that it would have been more advantageous for no reasoning power at all to have been given to us by the immortal gods, than for it to have been given with so much disaster attached to it. Just as it is better to use no wine whatever in the treatment of the sick, because it is rarely beneficial and very often injurious, than to rush upon evident calamity in the hope of an uncertain recovery, so, I incline to think, it would have been better for the human race that that swift movement of thought, that keenness and shrewdness which we call reason, since it is destructive to many and profitable to very few, should not have been given at all, than that it should have been given so freely and abundantly. If, then, it is supposed that the divine intelligence and will consulted the interests of men, because it bestowed reason upon them, it consulted the interests only of those whom it endowed with right reason, and we see that these are extremely few, if indeed there are any such. But it cannot be supposed that the immortal gods consulted the interests of only a few; it follows, therefore, that no one’s interests were consulted by them.
This position you are accustomed to meet thus. It does not, you say, follow that the best provision was not made for us by the gods, because many put their kindness to a wrong use; many men also make an ill use of their patrimony, but the kindness done them by their fathers is none the less a kindness on that account. Does any one deny it? Or what is the point of resemblance in such a comparison? Deianira did not wish to injure Hercules when she gave him the tunic which had been dipped in the blood of the Centaur, nor did the man whose sword laid open the tumour, which the physicians had been unable to cure, wish to benefit Jason of Pheræ. Many, in fact, have done good when they wished to do harm, and done harm when they wished to do good. That which is given, therefore, affords no certain indication of the purpose of the giver, and it does not follow, if the recipient makes a profitable use of that which he has received, that he who gave it did so in a friendly spirit. Then again,1 what lust, or avarice, or crime is either embarqued upon without the exercise of forethought, or accomplished without the mental activity and reflection which constitute reason? For every belief is a manifestation of reason, of right reason, we may add, if it is true, and of wrong if it is false. But from God we have merely reason, if indeed we have that; right reason or its opposite we derive from ourselves. For the divine favour did not bestow reason upon men in the same way that a patrimony is bequeathed, since what else would the gods have given to men, if their wish had been to injure them? From what seeds, moreover, would injustice, intemperance, and timidity spring, if these vices had not reason as their base?
Just now it was Medea and Atreus, heroic characters, whom we were quoting as planning their monstrous crimes by entering upon calculations and balancing results. And are the trifles of comedy always unconnected with reason? Does the character in the Eunuchus argue with any want of acuteness?
What then shall I do? . . . She has denied me entrance; she recalls me. Shall I return? No, not if she should entreat me.
As for the character in the Synephebi, he does not hesitate to bring reason into play, after the manner of the Academics, against common opinion, saying that—
When one is very much in love and very poorly off, it is a pleasure to have a father who is niggardly, churlish, and harsh to his children, who does not love you or concern himself for you.
And to this amazing sentiment he appends some trifling arguments.
You can either cheat him of his revenues, or by means of a letter intercept some debt, or strike terror into him through a slave, and lastly what you obtain from a parsimonious father you can spend with so much more zest!
He also argues that an easy, kindly father is a disadvantage to a son who is in love.
I know not at all in what way to cheat him, nor how to steal from him, nor what guile or plot to set in motion against him; so has my father’s complaisance spoilt all my stratagems and guiles and tricks.
Well? Would these guiles and plots, tell me, these tricks and stratagems, have been possible without reason? Admirable gift of the gods! enabling Phormio to say:—
Send the old man this way; now have I all my plans ready in my breast.
But let us leave the theatre and come into the law-courts. The prætor is going to take his seat. What is it that is to be tried? The question of who burnt the record-office. What crime was ever better hidden? Quintus Sosius, a Roman knight of high position from the Picene territory, confessed to the act. The next question is who falsified the public documents. That, again, was done by Lucius Alenus, who imitated the handwriting of the first six treasury clerks. What cleverness could be greater than his? Consider other judicial inquiries, the one in reference to the gold of Tolosa, and the one on the Jugurthine conspiracy. Go back to earlier instances, to the trial of Tubulus for having received a bribe to deliver judgment, and to instances later than that, to the inquiry with regard to incontinence1 made under the bill brought in by Peducæus. Then there are these everyday cases of murder, poisoning, and embezzlement of public money, and also, by a recent law, a permanent court dealing with the forging of wills. It is reason that gave occasion for the form of inditement, “I say that theft was committed by your aid and counsel”; reason that occasioned so many actions for breach of faith, including those in connection with guardianship and commission, those entered into in the capacity of partner, those in connection with trusts, and the other violations of good faith which are committed in buying and selling, letting and hiring; to reason is due the institution of a public process, under the Plætorian law, in a civil case,1 and the action for fraud, that dragnet of every kind of roguery, published by my friend Caius Aquillius,2 who considers that fraud is established when one thing has been pretended and another done. Do we think, then, that this wide sowing of evils was the work of the immortal gods? I put the question in that way because, if the gods gave reason to men, they gave roguery, which is a wily and deceitful employment of reason to do mischief, and they also gave fraud, crime, and the other forms of wrong-doing, not one of which can be either entered upon or carried out without reason. In the same way, then, that the old woman in the Medea utters the wish—
O that in the grove of Pelion the fir-tree had not fallen, smitten by the axe, to the ground!
so one would wish that the gods had not given this adroitness of intelligence to men. Very few make a good use of it, and even they are often overcome by those who make a bad use of it, while a countless number put it to evil uses, so that this heaven-sent gift of reason and forethought seems to have been bestowed upon men for purposes of deceit and not of honesty.
But you insist again and again that that is the fault of men, not of the gods, which is just as though a physician were to denounce the malignity of the disease, or a pilot the fury of the storm. It is true that these are mere men, though even so they would be acting absurdly, for who, it might be asked, would have employed you, if there were not those difficulties? Against God one can argue with more freedom.1 You say that the fault is in the vices of men,—then you ought to have given them such a kind of reason as would have excluded vices and faultiness. And where was there room for error on the part of the gods? For we men leave patrimonies in the hope of bequeathing them advantageously, in which hope it is possible for us to be deceived; but how could God have been deceived? Could he have been deceived as Sol was, when he took his son Phaëthon up into his chariot, or as Neptune was, when Theseus, having received from Neptune, who was his father, the grant of three wishes, brought destruction upon Hippolytus? These are the stories of poets, whereas we wish to be philosophers, the promulgators of facts, not fables. Yet even these gods of poetry, if they had known that the things desired would prove disastrous to their sons, would be thought to have done wrong in granting the favour. Just as, if it is true, as Aristo of Chios used to say, that philosophers do harm to those hearers who put a wrong interpretation upon what was rightly set forth,—for it is possible, he said, for profligates to result from the school of Aristippus, and misanthropes from that of Zeno,—just as it would be far preferable, if the hearers were destined to go away corrupted through misinterpreting the arguments of the philosophers, that the latter should keep silence, than that they should be the cause of harm to those who had listened to them,—so if men divert to purposes of deceit and roguery the reason which was given by the immortal gods with a good intention, it would have been better if reason, instead of being given to mankind, had been withheld. A physician would be greatly to blame if he knew that the sick man, whom he had ordered to take wine, would take it too little diluted, and that the result would be immediate death, and in the same way this providence of yours must be censured for having given reason to those of whom it knew that they would make a wrong and wicked use of it. Perhaps, however, you say that it did not know. I only wish you would, but you will not dare, for I am not ignorant of the high esteem in which you hold its name.
This particular question, however, may now be brought to an end. For if, by the consent of all philosophers, folly is a greater evil than all the evils of fortune and all bodily evils would be, if they were placed on the other side, and if no one attains to wisdom, then we, for whose interests, according to your school, the most admirable provision was made by the immortal gods, are all of us involved in the worst of evils. For just as it makes no difference whether no one is, or whether no one can be, in good health, so I do not see what difference it makes whether no one is, or whether no one can be, wise. We are dwelling too long on a point that is perfectly obvious, but Telamon disposes in a single verse of the whole question of why the gods must be considered to pay no heed to men.
For if they cared for them, it would be well with the good, and ill with the evil, which now is not so.
They ought to have made all men good, if, that is, they had the interests of the human race at heart. If they did not do that, they ought at any rate to have provided for the welfare of the good. Why, then, did the Carthaginians vanquish in Spain those brave and admirable men, the two Scipios? Why did Fabius Maximus carry to the grave his son who had been consul? Why did Marcellus lose his life against Hannibal? Why was Cannæ fatal to Paulus? Why was the body of Regulus exposed to the cruelty of the Carthaginians? Why did not the walls of his own house protect Africanus? But these and very many other instances belong to a remote past; let us look at more recent ones. Why is my uncle Publius Rutilius, a man of spotless integrity and at the same time of the highest culture, in exile? Why was Drusus, my intimate friend, killed in his own house? Why was the chief pontiff Quintus Scævola, that perfect example of moderation and sagacity, butchered before the image of Vesta? Why, too, at an earlier date, were so many of the chief men of the state cut off by Cinna? Why was that falsest of men Caius Marius able to command the death of one of such high eminence as Quintus Catulus? The day would be too short if I wished to enumerate the good men for whom things have turned out ill, and equally so if I were to record the bad men who have prospered. Why, for instance, had Marius the good fortune to die at an advanced age, and in his own house, and while holding his seventh consulship? Why did Cinna, who was unsurpassed for cruelty, exercise despotic power for so long? I shall be told that he paid the penalty.
It would have been better that he should have been prevented and restrained from putting so many leading men to death, than that he should have eventually paid the penalty himself. The ruthless Quintus Varius expired under torture and suffering of the most intense kind. If this was because he had removed Drusus by the sword, and Metellus by poison, it would have been better that they should have been preserved, than that Varius should have made atonement for the crime. For eight and thirty years Dionysius was tyrant of a wealthy and flourishing state, and before his time for how many years was Pisistratus tyrant in the very foremost city of Greece! It will be said that Phalaris and Apollodorus suffered retribution. They did,—after many had first been tortured and killed by them. And many robbers often pay the penalty, yet we cannot deny that more captives than robbers have been put to a cruel death. It is recorded that Anaxarchus, the follower of Democritus, was butchered by the tyrant of Cyprus, and that Zeno was tortured to death at Elea. I need not speak of Socrates, whose death, when I read Plato, is wont to move me to tears. Do you see, then, that, if the gods observe human affairs, the distinction between good men and bad has been by their ordinance done away with?
It was, indeed, a common saying of Diogenes the Cynic that Harpalus, who had the reputation in that age of being a successful robber, was a standing witness against the gods, because he lived for so long in that state of good fortune. Dionysius, of whom I spoke above, when sailing to Syracuse after plundering the temple of Proserpine at Locri, said with a laugh, as he held on his way before a favourable wind, “Do you perceive, friends, how prosperous a voyage the immortal gods give to the sacrilegious?” When his keen intelligence had thoroughly and clearly realised this, he remained firm in the same conviction. At the time when he conveyed his fleet to the Peloponnese, he entered the temple of Jupiter at Olympia, and took away from the image a golden mantle of considerable weight, with which the tyrant Gelo had adorned the god out of the money obtained from the Carthaginian spoils, making it also the subject of the following jest, that a golden mantle was heavy in summer, and cold in winter, and he placed a woollen cloak upon the image, with the remark that that was suited to every season of the year. It was he, too, who ordered the golden beard of Æsculapius at Epidaurus to be removed, on the ground that it was not fitting that the son should be bearded, when in every temple the father1 was without a beard. He also commanded the silver tables to be taken away from all the shrines, and as, according to the custom of ancient Greece, they bore the inscription, Of the Good Gods, he said that he desired to avail himself of their goodness. Besides this he used to carry off without scruple the bowls and crowns, and small golden statues of Victory, which were held in the outstretched hands of the images, saying that he did not steal, but accepted them, since it was folly, when the powers from whom we prayed for good things, held them out and gave them, to be unwilling to take them. It is also recorded of him that after robbing the temples of these things which I have mentioned, he brought them out into the market-place and sold them by auction, and that, after calling in the money, he issued a proclamation that all who had in their possession anything from a sanctuary, should return it in each case before a fixed date to the temple to which it belonged. In this way he added injustice to men to impiety towards the gods.
Well, Jupiter on Olympus did not strike him with a thunder-bolt, nor was he worn away by painful and lingering disease, and despatched by Æsculapius, but he died in his own bed, and that the drama of tyranny might have a splendid end,1 was carried to the pyre of Typanis, and as though the power which he had himself acquired by crime were just and lawful, he handed it on as an inheritance to his son. My discourse deals with this subject unwillingly, for it has the appearance of authorising wrong-doing, and that impression would be a correct one, were it not that, without any provision on the part of the gods, the weight of the mere consciousness of virtue or vice, the removal of which causes universal ruin, makes itself felt. Now just as no house or state would seem to have been arranged on any kind of plan or system, if there were in it no rewards for good actions, and no punishments for bad, so assuredly there is no such thing as a divine government of the universe, if no distinction is made in that government between the virtuous and wicked.
It will be said (for so your school argues), that the gods neglect things of small importance, and do not make a strict inquiry as to each individual person’s plot of land and modest vineyard, and that if any one has suffered loss through blight or hail, the fact did not need to be noticed by Jupiter, and that in the same way a king does not pay attention to every trifle in a kingdom,—as though I had been expressing regret just now for Publius Rutilius’ estate at Formiæ, and not for his loss of civic rights!
Besides, all men are agreed on this point, that it is the external goods, vineyards, corn-fields, olive-groves, teeming crops and fruits, in short all the advantages and successes of life, that they obtain from the gods, whereas no one ever imputed his virtue to God. No doubt it is right not to do so, for we are deservedly praised for virtue, and rightly glory in it, which would not be the case if we possessed that endowment from God instead of from ourselves. On the other hand, when we have been increased in honours or estate, or if we have obtained any other advantage that depends on fortune, or averted any evil, then we render thanks to the gods, and consider that no addition has been made to our own merits. But did any one ever render thanks to the gods because he was good? No, but because he was rich, or honoured, or preserved from injury. And it is for those reasons that we call Jupiter best and greatest, not because he makes us just, or temperate, or wise, but because he gives us safety, and freedom from hurt, and riches, and abundant resources. No one, either, ever engaged to pay a tithe to Hercules in the event of becoming wise, although Pythagoras is said, when he had made some new discovery in geometry, to have sacrificed an ox to the Muses; that, however, I do not believe, since he refused to sacrifice a victim even to the Delian Apollo, that he might not sprinkle the altar with blood. But, to return to the subject, it is the universal judgment of mankind that good fortune is to be sought from God, and wisdom obtained from oneself. We may dedicate temples as we will to Mind, and Virtue, and Faith, but we nevertheless see that these qualities are resident in ourselves, whereas the attainment of Hope, Safety, Wealth, and Victory has to be asked for from the gods. The prosperity, therefore, and success of the wicked refute, as Diogenes used to say, the whole idea of divine power and supremacy.
It may be urged that sometimes the good come to good ends. Yes, and upon these we seize, and attribute them without any reason to the immortal gods. But when Diagoras, he who is called ἄθεος, having come to Samothrace, was asked by one of his friends whether he who thought that the gods were careless of human affairs, did not perceive from so many painted tablets how many there were whose vows had enabled them to escape the fury of the storm, and to make their way safe into port, “That is so,” he replied, “because there are no pictures anywhere of those who have been shipwrecked and have perished in the sea”. Once also when he was on a voyage, and the passengers, alarmed and terrified by adverse storms, said to him that they deserved to fare as they did for having taken him on board the same ship, he pointed out to them several other ships struggling in the same course, and asked whether they believed that those also had a Diagoras on board. The truth is that it makes no difference, with regard to good or evil fortune, of what character one is, or how one has lived. We are told that the gods do not notice everything, and that kings do not do so either, but what is the resemblance? For a king is greatly to blame if he passes things over knowingly, whereas God is without even the excuse of ignorance.
And a pretty defence you and your school make of him, when you say that the power of the gods is such that, even if any one has escaped the penalty of his crime by death, that penalty is demanded from his children, and grandchildren, and posterity. How strange is the divine equity! Would any state listen to the proposer of a law of that kind, a law which provided that the son or grandson should be condemned, if the father or grandfather had done wrong?
What measure can be found for the destruction of the descendants of Tantalus? Or what satiety of vengeance will ever be vouchsafed to the penalties paid for the death of Myrtilus?
Whether it is the poets who have corrupted the Stoics, or the Stoics who have lent authority to the poets, I should not find it easy to say, for they both of them make wild and preposterous statements. The pain, for instance, which possessed those who had smarted under the iambics of Hipponax, or had been stung by the verses of Archilochus, was not sent upon them by God, but was derived from themselves, and when we behold the incontinence of Ægisthus or Paris, we do not look to God for the cause, for we hear their guilt almost proclaiming itself aloud. I am of opinion, too, that many a sick man’s recovery has been due to Hippocrates rather than to Æsculapius, and I will never allow that the system of the Lacedæmonians was given to Sparta by Apollo and not by Lycurgus. I say that it was Critolaus who caused the ruin of Corinth, and Hasdrubal of Carthage. It was they who exterminated the two noblest of maritime cities, they, and not some angry deity, who, according to you, is altogether incapable of anger.
But at any rate he would have been capable of aiding and preserving those great and glorious cities, for it is one of your own common sayings that there is nothing which God cannot perform, and that without any labour. For just as the limbs of a man are moved without an effort by the mere force of the mind and will, so, you say, everything can be moulded, and moved, and changed by the divine purpose. And you do not say so from a feeling of old-womanish superstition, but in accordance with a consistent scientific theory, which is that the material of things, out of which and in which all things exist, is throughout ductile and plastic, so that there is nothing into which it cannot, however suddenly, be formed and changed; and the moulding and controlling power of all this material is the divine providence, which can accordingly, wherever it turns itself, bring about whatsoever it desires. Either, therefore, God is ignorant of his powers, or is indifferent to human affairs, or is unable to judge what is best. “He has no care,” you say, “for individuals.” It is no wonder; he has none for communities either. None for communities? Then he has just as little for nations and races. But if we find that he despises even these, is there anything wonderful in his having despised the entire human race? And how is it that you who say that the gods do not keep a strict account of everything, at the same time maintain that dreams are divided and apportioned amongst men by the immortal gods? I put this question to you, Balbus, because it is by your school that the belief as to the truth of dreams is held. You are also inconsistent enough to say that it is right to take vows upon oneself. Of course it is individuals who make vows, so that the divine intelligence does give ear even in the case of individuals. Do you perceive from what I have said that this intelligence is not so much occupied as you thought? Even supposing that it is busily employed, that it makes the heavens revolve, and has its eyes upon the earth, and sways the sea, why does it allow so many gods to do nothing and be idle? Why does it not put some of the unoccupied deities, of whom you, Balbus, brought forward an enormous number, in charge of human affairs? This is pretty much what I had to say on the subject of the divine nature, not with a view to disproving its existence, but in order that you might understand how obscure it is, and how difficult to unravel.
With these words Cotta brought his discourse to an end. Lucilius then said, Well, Cotta, you have inveighed with some warmth against that pious and well-considered doctrine which the Stoics have laid down with regard to the divine providence, but since evening is approaching, you must give us a day at some time, in order that we may meet your arguments. For my contest with you is for altar and hearth, for the temples and shrines of the gods, and the walls of the city, those walls which you and your brother pontiffs declare to be sacred, and you encompass our city with religion more carefully than with actual ramparts; that this cause should be deserted by me, so long at least as I am able to draw breath, I regard as shameful. For my part, replied Cotta, I am anxious to be refuted; besides, I preferred discussing the points that I raised to coming to a decision, and I am sure that I can be easily overcome by you. Yes, said Velleius, Balbus must be irresistible, for he thinks that even dreams are sent to us by Jupiter, though dreams themselves are not so trifling as the utterances of the Stoics on the subject of the divine nature. After these words had passed, we separated, the result attained being that Velleius thought Cotta’s arguments the truer, while I thought that those of Balbus came nearer to what appeared to be the truth.
aberdeen university press.
[1 ]Delivered against a proposal to transfer the elections to priesthoods from the priestly colleges to the people.
[1 ]Tyndaridæ having the meaning of “sons of Tyndareus”.
[2 ]This is stated by Balbus in ii., 24, but was an advance upon the belief of the earlier Stoics. Cotta’s subsequent arguments in chapters 12-14 of this book are opposed to it.
[1 ]The first part of the following discussion upon divination is lost.
[1 ]Cf. ii., 6, where there is a quotation from Chrysippus dealing with this point. The words of Zeno in the last chapter are also partly referred to.
[1 ]A parody of the opening sentence of ii., 22.
[2 ]Iste quasi consensus. Cicero’s attempt at a Latin equivalent of συμπάθεια.
[3 ]The implied reference is to the mundane deity of the Stoics.
[1 ]i.e., the four just mentioned. Cf. ii., 6, ad fin.
[1 ]i.e., there is air in them as well as in the universe at large.
[1 ]The argument in full would be: but the idea of pleasures of sense in connection with the divine nature is ludicrous; therefore the virtue of temperance is not possessed by God.
[1 ]Followed in the MSS. by mihi quidem sane multi videntur, “to me indeed they seem very numerous”. Mayor brackets the words, considering them an interpolation similar to the one noticed on ii., 53.
[2 ]i.e., Hercules.
[1 ]Legendary priests of Cybele.
[2 ]Mayor transposes chapters 17-20 with 21-23 on the ground of the connection of subject between chapters 21 and 16, and between chapter 24 and chapters 17 and 18.
[3 ]i.e., the Euhemerists and Stoics just referred to, who are as much open to the charge of a multiplicity of deities as the vulgar who believe in actual deification.
[1 ]Ἄνακτες, “kings”.
[1 ]i.e., νόμους, from which the title is here derived. It is really connected with νομός, pasture.
[1 ]i.e., the one mentioned in iii., 2.
[1 ]Balbus had really assigned both causes. Cf. ii., 24, ad med.
[1 ]An obscure goddess of whom little was known by the Romans themselves. Cicero connects the name with that of the Furiæ, who are identical with the Greek Eumenides.
[1 ]The shrines of Amphiaraus and Trophonius were in Bœotia. The tax-farmers naturally wished as little territory as possible to be exempt from taxation.
[1 ]They volunteered to die in order to ensure victory over the Eleusinians.
[2 ]Immolated by their father to avert a plague.
[3 ]“Belonging to the daughters of Leos.”
[1 ]Admirabilem, representing Greek θαυμαστήν, with which Thaumas, “Wonder,” is connected.
[1 ]In the case of Neptune and nare the letter N, and a similar method may be applied to all other names.
[1 ]The concluding words of the sentence have dropped out.
[1 ]The rest of the section on the providential government of the universe is lost. The following quotation from the Medea of Ennius forms part of the refutation of the providential care for man, and is intended to show that the gift of reason may be more of an injury than a benefit.
[2 ]The reference is to the permission granted to Medea by Creon to remain for one more day in Corinth.
[1 ]Quæ enim libido . . . ? It is difficult to connect the enim with the preceding sentences. In the re-arrangement of the whole chapter which Mayor proposes this sentence is placed after the one which at present ends the chapter. If the order of the text is adhered to, it seems only possible to regard the enim as referring back to the general question of reason and adding a fresh argument against it.
[1 ]i.e., of the Vestal Virgins.
[1 ]i.e., the cheating of young men by money-lenders. The Lex Plætoria made this a public and criminal offence, in which any one could act as prosecutor.
[2 ]In his edict as prætor.
[1 ]Because God cannot plead the excuse of human weakness. In the following sentence the deity is addressed directly.
[1 ]Ut tyrannidis fabula magnificum haberet exitum. These words are a conjecture of Mayor’s, tyrannidis being inferred from the doubtful Typanidis, which he obelizes.