THE NATURE OF THE GODS.
M. Tullius Cicero
I. WHEN Balbus had ended this discourse, then Cotta, with a smile, rejoined, You direct me too late which side to defend; for during the course of your argument I was revolving in my mind what objections to make to what you were saying, not so much for the sake of opposition, as of obliging you to explain what I did not perfectly comprehend; and as every one may use his own judgment, it is scarcely possible for me to think in every instance exactly what you wish.
You have no idea, O Cotta, said Velleius, how impatient I am to hear what you have to say. For since our friend Balbus was highly delighted with your discourse against Epicurus, I ought in my turn to be solicitous to hear what you can say against the Stoics; and I therefore will give you my best attention, for I believe you are, as usual, well prepared for the engagement.
I wish, by Hercules! I were, replies Cotta; for it is more difficult to dispute with Lucilius than it was with you. Why so? says Velleius. Because, replies Cotta, your Epicurus, in my opinion, does not contend strongly for the Gods: he only, for the sake of avoiding any unpopularity or punishment, is afraid to deny their existence; for when he asserts that the Gods are wholly inactive and regardless of everything, and that they have limbs like ours, but make no use of them, he seems to jest with us, and to think it sufficient if he allows that there are beings of any kind happy and eternal. But with regard to Balbus, I suppose you observed how many things were said by him, which, however false they may be, yet have a perfect coherence and connection; therefore, my design, as I said, in opposing him, is not so much to confute his principles as to induce him to explain what I do not clearly understand: for which reason, Balbus, I will give you the choice, either to answer me every particular as I go on, or permit me to proceed without interruption. If you want any explanation, replies Balbus, I would rather you would propose your doubts singly; but if your intention is rather lo confute me than to seek instruction for yourself, it shall be as you please; I will either answer you immediately on every point, or stay till you have finished your discourse.
II. Very well, says Cotta; then let us proceed as our conversation shall direct. But before I enter on the subject, I have a word to say concerning myself; for I am greatly influenced by your authority, and your exhortation at the conclusion of your discourse, when you desired me to remember that I was Cotta and Pontifex; by which I presume you intimated that I should defend the sacred rites and religion and ceremonies which we received from our ancestors. Most undoubtedly I always have, and always shall defend them, nor shall the arguments either of the learned or unlearned ever remove the opinions which I have imbibed from them concerning the worship of the immortal Gods. In matters of religion I submit to the rules of the high-priests, T. Coruncanius, P. Scipio, and P. Scaevola; not to the sentiments of Zeno, Cleanthes, or Chrysippus; and I pay a greater regard to what C. Laelius, one of our augurs and wise men, has written concerning religion, in that noble oration of his, than to the most eminent of the Stoics: and as the whole religion of the Romans at first consisted in sacrifices and divination by birds, to which have since been added predictions, if the interpreters of the Sibylline oracle or the aruspices have foretold any event from portents and prodigies, I have ever thought that there was no point of all these holy things which deserved to be despised. I have been even persuaded that Romulus, by instituting divination, and Numa, by establishing sacrifices, laid the foundation of Rome, which undoubtedly would never have risen to such a height of grandeur if the Gods had not been made propitious by this worship. These, Balbus, are my sentiments both as a priest and as Cotta. But you must bring me to your opinion by the force of your reason: for I have a right to demand from you, as a philosopher, a reason for the religion which you would have me embrace. But I must believe the religion of our ancestors without any proof.
III. What proof, says Balbus, do you require of me? You have proposed, says Cotta, four articles. First of all, you undertook to prove that there “are Gods;” secondly, “of what kind and character they are;” thirdly, that “the universe is governed by them;” lastly, that “they provide for the welfare of mankind in particular.” Thus, if I remember rightly, you divided your discourse. Exactly so, replies Balbus; but let us see what you require.
Let us examine, says Cotta, every proposition. The first one - that there are Gods - is never contested but by the most impious of men; nay, though it can never be rooted out of my mind, yet I believe it on the authority of our ancestors, and not on the proofs which you have brought. Why do you expect a proof from me, says Balbus, if you thoroughly believe it? Because, says Cotta, I come to this discussion as if I had never thought of the Gods, or heard anything concerning them. Take me as a disciple wholly ignorant and unbiassed, and prove to me all the points which I ask.
Begin, then, replies Balbus. I would first know, says Cotta, why you have been so long in proving the existence of the Gods, which you said was a point so very evident to all, that there was no need of any proof? In that, answers Balbus, I have followed your example, whom I have often observed, when pleading in the Forum, to load the judge with all the arguments which the nature of your cause would permit. This also is the practice of philosophers, and I have a right to follow it. Besides, you may as well ask me why I look upon you with two eyes, since I can see you with one.
IV. You shall judge, then, yourself, says Cotta, if this is a very just comparison; for, when I plead, I do not dwell upon any point agreed to be self-evident, because long reasoning only serves to confound the clearest matters; besides, though I might take this method in pleading, yet I should not make use of it in such a discourse as this, which requires the nicest distinction. And with regard to your making use of one eye only when you look on me, there is no reason for it, since together they have the same view; and since nature, to which you attribute wisdom, has been pleased to give us two passages by which we receive light. But the truth is, that it was because you did not think that the existence of the Gods was so evident as you could wish that you therefore brought so many proofs. It was sufficient for me to believe it on the tradition of our ancestors; and since you disregard authorities, and appeal to reason, permit my reason to defend them against yours. The proofs on which you found the existence of the Gods tend only to render a proposition doubtful that, in my opinion, is not so; I have not only retained in my memory the whole of these proofs, but even the order in which you proposed them. The first was, that when we lift up our eyes towards the heavens, we immediately conceive that there is some divinity that governs those celestial bodies; on which you quoted this passage -
Look up to the refulgent heaven above,
intimating that we should invoke that as Jupiter, rather than our Capitoline Jove, or that it is evident to the whole world that those bodies are Gods which Velleius and many others do not place even in the rank of animated beings.
Another strong proof, in your opinion, was that the belief of the existence of the Gods was universal, and that mankind was daily more and more convinced of it. What! should an affair of such importance be left to the decision of fools, who, by your sect especially, are called madmen?
V. But the Gods have appeared to us, as to Posthumius at the Lake Regillus, and to Vatienus in the Salarian Way: something you mentioned, too, I know not what, of a battle of the Locrians at Sagra. Do you believe that the Tyndaridae, as you called them; that is, men sprung from men, and who were buried in Lacedaemon, as we learn from Homer, who lived in the next age - do you believe, I say, that they appeared to Vatienus on the road mounted on white horses, without any servant to attend them, to tell the victory of the Romans to a country fellow rather than to M. Cato, who was at that time the chief person of the senate? Do you take that print of a horse’s hoof which is now to be seen on a stone at Regillus to be made by Castor’s horse? Should you not believe, what is probable, that the souls of eminent men, such as the Tyndaridae, are divine and immortal, rather than that those bodies which had been reduced to ashes should mount on horses, and fight in an army? If you say that was possible, you ought to show how it is so, and not amuse us with fabulous old women’s stories.
Do you take these for fabulous stories? says Balbus. Is not the temple, built by Posthumius in honor of Castor and Pollux, to be seen in the Forum? Is not the decree of the senate concerning Vatienus still subsisting? As to the affair of Sagra, it is a common proverb among the Greeks; when they would affirm anything strongly, they say “It is as certain as what passed at Sagra.” Ought not such authorities to move you? You oppose me, replies Cotta, with stories, but I ask reasons of you. [...]
VI. We are now to speak of predictions. No one can avoid what is to come, and, indeed, it is commonly useless to know it; for it is a miserable case to be afflicted to no purpose, and not to have even the last, the common comfort, hope, which, according to your principles, none can have; for you say that fate governs all things, and call that fate which has been true from all eternity. What advantage, then, is the knowledge of futurity to us, or how does it assist us to guard against impending evils, since it will come inevitably?
But whence comes that divination? To whom is owing that knowledge from the entrails of beasts? Who first made observations from the voice of the crow? Who invented the Lots? Not that I give no credit to these things, or that I despise Attius Navius’s staff, which you mentioned; but I ought to be informed how these things are understood by philosophers, especially as the diviners are often wrong in their conjectures. But physicians, you say, are likewise often mistaken. What comparison can there be between divination, of the origin of which we are ignorant, and physic, which proceeds on principles intelligible to every one? You believe that the Decii, in devoting themselves to death, appeased the Gods. How great, then, was the iniquity of the Gods that they could not be appeased but at the price of such noble blood! That was the stratagem of generals such as the Greeks call 'strategema', and it was a stratagem worthy such illustrious leaders, who consulted the public good even at the expense of their lives: they conceived rightly, what indeed happened, that if the general rode furiously upon the enemy, the whole army would follow his example. As to the voice of the Fauns, I never heard it. If you assure me that you have, I shall believe you, though I really know not what a Faun is.
VII. I do not, then, O Balbus, from anything that you have said, perceive as yet that it is proved that there are Gods. I believe it, indeed, but not from any arguments of the Stoics. Cleanthes, you have said, attributes the idea that men have of the Gods to four causes. In the first place (as I have already sufficiently mentioned), to a foreknowledge of future events; secondly, to tempests, and other shocks of nature; thirdly, to the utility and plenty of things we enjoy; fourthly, to the invariable order of the stars and the heavens. The arguments drawn from foreknowledge I have already answered. With regard to tempests in the air, the sea, and the earth, I own that many people are affrighted by them, and imagine that the immortal Gods are the authors of them.
But the question is, not whether there are people who believe that there are Gods, but whether there are Gods or not. As to the two other causes of Cleanthes, one of which is derived from the great abundance of desirable things which we enjoy, the other from the invariable order of the seasons and the heavens, I shall treat on them when I answer your discourse concerning the providence of the Gods - a point, Balbus, upon which you have spoken at great length. I shall likewise defer till then examining the argument which you attribute to Chrysippus, that “if there is in nature anything which surpasses the power of man to produce, there must consequently be some being better than man.” I shall also postpone, till we come to that part of my argument, your comparison of the world to a fine house, your observations on the proportion and harmony of the universe, and those smart, short reasons of Zeno which you quote; and I shall examine at the same time your reasons drawn from natural philosophy, concerning that fiery force and that vital heat which you regard as the principle of all things; and I will investigate, in its proper place, all that you advanced the other day on the existence of the Gods, and on the sense and understanding which you attributed to the sun, the moon, and all the stars; and I shall ask you this question over and over again, By what proofs are you convinced yourself there are Gods?
VIII. I thought, says Balbus, that I had brought ample proofs to establish this point. But such is your manner of opposing, that, when you seem on the point of interrogating me, and when I am preparing to answer, you suddenly divert the discourse, and give me no opportunity to reply to you; and thus those most important points concerning divination and fate are neglected which we Stoics have thoroughly examined, but which your school has only slightly touched upon. But they are not thought essential to the question in hand; therefore, if you think proper, do not confuse them together, that we in this discussion may come to a clear explanation of the subject of our present inquiry.
Very well, says Cotta. Since, then, you have divided the whole question into four parts, and I have said all that I had to say on the first, I will take the second into consideration; in which, when you attempted to show what the character of the Gods was, you seemed to me rather to prove that there are none; for you said that it was the greatest difficulty to draw our minds from the prepossessions of the eyes; but that as nothing is more excellent than the Deity, you did not doubt that the world was God, because there is nothing better in nature than the world, and so we may reasonably think it animated, or, rather, perceive it in our minds as clearly as if it were obvious to our eyes.
Now, in what sense do you say there is nothing better than the world? If you mean that there is nothing more beautiful, I agree with you; that there is nothing more adapted to our wants, I likewise agree with you: but if you mean that nothing is wiser than the world, I am by no means of your opinion. Not that I find it difficult to conceive anything in my mind independent of my eyes; on the contrary, the more I separate my mind from my eyes, the less I am able to comprehend your opinion.
IX. Nothing is better than the world, you say. Nor is there, indeed, anything on earth better than the city of Rome; do you think, therefore, that our city has a mind; that it thinks and reasons; or that this most beautiful city, being void of sense, is not preferable to an ant, because an ant has sense, understanding, reason, and memory? You should consider, Balbus, what ought to be allowed you, and not advance things because they please you.
For that old, concise, and, as it seemed to you, acute syllogism of Zeno has been all which you have so much enlarged upon in handling this topic: “That which reasons is superior to that which does not; nothing is superior to world; therefore the world reasons.” If you would prove also that the world can very well read a book, follow the example of Zeno, and say, “That which can read is better than that which cannot; nothing is better than the world; the world therefore can read.” After the same manner you may prove the world to be an orator, a mathematician, a musician -- that it possesses all sciences, and, in short, is a philosopher. You have often said that God made all things, and that no cause can produce an effect unlike itself. From hence it will follow, not only that the world is animated, and is wise, but also plays upon the fiddle and the flute, because it produces men who play on those instruments. Zeno, therefore, the chief of your sect, advances no argument sufficient to induce us to think that the world reasons, or, indeed, that it is animated at all, and consequently none to think it a Deity; though it may be said that there is nothing superior to it, as there is nothing more beautiful, nothing more useful to us, nothing more adorned, and nothing more regular in its motions. But if the world, considered as one great whole, is not God, you should not surely deify, as you have done, that infinite multitude of stars which only form a part of it, and which so delight you with the regularity of their eternal courses; not but that there is something truly wonderful and incredible in their regularity; but this regularity of motion, Balbus, may as well be ascribed to a natural as to a divine cause.
X. What can be more regular than the flux and reflux of the Euripus at Chalcis, the Sicilian sea, and the violence of the ocean in those parts
where the rapid tide
The same appears on the Spanish and British coasts. Must we conclude that some Deity appoints and directs these ebbings and flowings to certain fixed times? Consider, I pray, if everything which is regular in its motion is deemed divine, whether it will not follow that tertian and quartan agues must likewise be so, as their returns have the greatest regularity. These effects are to be explained by reason; but, because you are unable to assign any, you have recourse to a Deity as your last refuge.
The arguments of Chrysippus appeared to you of great weight; a man undoubtedly of great quickness and subtlety (I call those quick who have a sprightly turn of thought, and those subtle whose minds are seasoned by use as their hands are by labor): “If,” says he, “there is anything which is beyond the power of man to produce, the being who produces it is better than man. Man is unable to make what is in the world; the being, therefore, that could do it is superior to man. What being is there but a God superior to man? Therefore there is a God.”
These arguments are founded on the same erroneous principles as Zeno’s, for he does not define what is meant by being better or more excellent, or distinguish between an intelligent cause and a natural cause. Chrysippus adds, “If there are no Gods, there is nothing better than man; but we cannot, without the highest arrogance, have this idea of ourselves.” Let us grant that it is arrogance in man to think himself better than the world; but to comprehend that he has understanding and reason, and that in Orion and Canicula there is neither, is no arrogance, but an indication of good sense. “Since we suppose,” continues he, “when we see a beautiful house, that it was built for the master, and not for mice, we should likewise judge that the world is the mansion of the Gods.” Yes, if I believed that the Gods built the world; but not if, as I believe, and intend to prove, it is the work of nature.
XI. Socrates, in Xenophon, asks, “Whence had man his understanding, if there was none in the world?” And I ask, Whence had we speech, harmony, singing; unless we think it is the sun conversing with the moon when she approaches near it, or that the world forms an harmonious concert, as Pythagoras imagines? This, Balbus, is the effect of nature; not of that nature which proceeds artificially, as Zeno says, and the character of which I shall presently examine into, but a nature which, by its own proper motions and mutations, modifies everything.
For I readily agree to what you said about the harmony and general agreement of nature, which you pronounced to be firmly bound and united together, as it were, by ties of blood; but I do not approve of what you added, that “it could not possibly be so, unless it were so united by one divine spirit.” On the contrary, the whole subsists by the power of nature, independently of the Gods, and there is a kind of sympathy (as the Greeks call it) which joins together all the parts of the universe; and the greater that is in its own power, the less is it necessary to have recourse to a divine intelligence.
XII. But how will you get rid of the objections which Carneades made? “If,” says he, “there is no body immortal, there is none eternal; but there is no body immortal, nor even indivisible, or that cannot be separated and disunited; and as every animal is in its nature passive, so there is not one which is not subject to the impressions of extraneous bodies; none, that is to say, which can avoid the necessity of enduring and suffering: and if every animal is mortal, there is none immortal; so, likewise, if every animal may be cut up and divided, there is none indivisible, none eternal, but all are liable to be affected by, and compelled to submit to, external power. Every animal, therefore, is necessarily mortal, dissoluble, and divisible.”
For as there is no wax, no silver, no brass which cannot be converted into something else, whatever is composed of wax, or silver, or brass may cease to be what it is. By the same reason, if all the elements are mutable, every body is mutable.
Now, according to your doctrine, all the elements are mutable; all bodies, therefore, are mutable. But if there were any body immortal, then all bodies would not be mutable. Every body, then, is mortal; for every body is either water, air, fire, or earth, or composed of the four elements together, or of some of them. Now, there is not one of all these elements that does not perish; for earthly bodies are fragile: water is so soft that the least shock will separate its parts, and fire and air yield to the least impulse, and are subject to dissolution; besides, any of these elements perish when converted into another nature, as when water is formed from earth, the air from water, and the sky from air, and when they change in the same manner back again. Therefore, if there is nothing but what is perishable in the composition of all animals, there is no animal eternal.
XIII. But, not to insist on these arguments, there is no animal to be found that had not a beginning, and will not have an end; for every animal being sensitive, they are consequently all sensible of cold and heat, sweet and bitter; nor can they have pleasing sensations without being subject to the contrary. As, therefore, they receive pleasure, they likewise receive pain; and whatever being is subject to pain must necessarily be subject to death. It must be allowed, therefore, that every animal is mortal.
Besides, a being that is not sensible of pleasure or pain cannot have the essence of an animal; if, then, on the one hand, every animal must be sensible of pleasure and pain, and if, on the other, every being that has these sensations cannot be immortal, we may conclude that as there is no animal insensible, there is none immortal. Besides, there is no animal without inclination and aversion -- an inclination to that which is agreeable to nature, and an aversion to the contrary: there are in the case of every animal some things which they covet, and others they reject. What they reject are repugnant to their nature, and consequently would destroy them. Every animal, therefore, is inevitably subject to be destroyed. There are innumerable arguments to prove that whatever is sensitive is perishable; for cold, heat, pleasure, pain, and all that affects the sense, when they become excessive, cause destruction. Since, then, there is no animal that is not sensitive, there is none immortal.
XIV. The substance of an animal is either simple or compound; simple, if it is composed only of earth, of fire, of air, or of water (and of such a sort of being we can form no idea); compound, if it is formed of different elements, which have each their proper situation, and have a natural tendency to it -- this element tending towards the highest parts, that towards the lowest, and another towards the middle. This conjunction may for some time subsist, but not forever; for every element must return to its first situation. No animal, therefore, is eternal.
But your school, Balbus, allows fire only to be the sole active principle; an opinion which I believe you derive from Heraclitus, whom some men understand in one sense, some in another: but since he seems unwilling to be understood, we will pass him by. You Stoics, then, say that fire is the universal principle of all things; that all living bodies cease to live on the extinction of that heat; and that throughout all nature whatever is sensible of that heat lives and flourishes. Now, I cannot conceive that bodies should perish for want of heat, rather than for want of moisture or air, especially as they even die through excess of heat; so that the life of animals does not depend more on fire than on the other elements.
However, air and water have this quality in common with fire and heat. But let us see to what this tends. If I am not mistaken, you believe that in all nature there is nothing but fire, which is self-animated. Why fire rather than air, of which the life of animals consists, and which is called from thence 'anima', the soul? But how is it that you take it for granted that life is nothing but fire? It seems more probable that it is a compound of fire and air. But if fire is self-animated, unmixed with any other element, it must be sensitive, because it renders our bodies sensitive; and the same objection which I just now made will arise, that whatever is sensitive must necessarily be susceptible of pleasure and pain, and whatever is sensible of pain is likewise subject to the approach of death; therefore you cannot prove fire to be eternal.
You Stoics hold that all fire has need of nourishment, without which it cannot possibly subsist; that the sun, moon, and all the stars are fed either with fresh or salt waters; and the reason that Cleanthes gives why the sun is retrograde, and does not go beyond the tropics in the summer or winter, is that he may not be too far from his sustenance. This I shall fully examine hereafter; but at present we may conclude that whatever may cease to be cannot of its own nature be eternal; that if fire wants sustenance, it will cease to be, and that, therefore, fire is not of its own nature eternal.
XV. After all, what kind of a Deity must that be who is not graced with one single virtue, if we should succeed in forming this idea of such a one? Must we not attribute prudence to a Deity? a virtue which consists in the knowledge of things good, bad, and indifferent. Yet what need has a being for the discernment of good and ill who neither has nor can have any ill? Of what use is reason to him? of what use is understanding? We men, indeed, find them useful to aid us in finding out things which are obscure by those which are clear to us; but nothing can be obscure to a Deity. As to justice, which gives to every one his own, it is not the concern of the Gods; since that virtue, according to your doctrine, received its birth from men and from civil society. Temperance consists in abstinence from corporeal pleasures, and if such abstinence hath a place in heaven, so also must the pleasures abstained from. Lastly, if fortitude is ascribed to the Deity, how does it appear? In afflictions, in labor, in danger? None of these things can affect a God. How, then, can we conceive this to be a Deity that makes no use of reason, and is not endowed with any virtue?
However, when I consider what is advanced by the Stoics, my contempt for the ignorant multitude vanishes. For these are their divinities. The Syrians worshipped a fish. The Egyptians consecrated beasts of almost every kind. The Greeks deified many men; as Alabandus at Alabandae, Tenes at Tenedos; and all Greece pay divine honors to Leucothea (who was before called Ino), to her son Palaemon, to Hercules, to Aesculapius, and to the Tyndaridae; our own people to Romulus, and to many others, who, as citizens newly admitted into the ancient body, they imagine have been received into heaven.
These are the Gods of the illiterate.
XVI. What are the notions of you philosophers? In what respect are they superior to these ideas? I shall pass them over; for they are certainly very admirable. Let the world, then, be a Deity, for that, I conceive, is what you mean by
The refulgent heaven above,
But why are we to add many more Gods? What a multitude of them there is! At least, it seems so to me; for every constellation, according to you, is a Deity: to some you give the name of beasts, as the goat, the scorpion, the bull, the lion; to others the names of inanimate things, as the ship, the altar, the crown.
But supposing these were to be allowed, how can the rest be granted, or even so much as understood? When we call corn Ceres, and wine Bacchus, we make use of the common manner of speaking; but do you think any one so mad as to believe that his food is a Deity? With regard to those who, you say, from having been men became Gods, I should be very willing to learn of you, either how it was possible formerly, or, if it had ever been, why is it not so now? I do not conceive, as things are at present, how Hercules,
Burn’d with fiery torches on Mount Oeta,
as Accius says, should rise, with the flames,
To the eternal mansions of his father.
Besides, Homer also says that Ulysses met him in the shades below, among the other dead.
But yet I should be glad to know which Hercules we should chiefly worship; for they who have searched into those histories, which are but little known, tell us of several. The most ancient is he who fought with Apollo about the Tripos of Delphi, and is son of Jupiter and Lisyto; and of the most ancient Jupiters too, for we find many Jupiters also in the Grecian chronicles. The second is the Egyptian Hercules, and is believed to be the son of Nilus, and to be the author of the Phrygian characters. The third, to whom they offered sacrifices, is one of the Idaei Dactyli. The fourth is the son of Jupiter and Asteria, the sister of Latona, chiefly honored by the Tyrians, who pretend that Carthago is his daughter. The fifth, called Belus, is worshipped in India. The sixth is the son of Alcmena by Jupiter; but by the third Jupiter, for there are many Jupiters, as you shall soon see.
XVII. Since this examination has led me so far, I will convince you that in matters of religion I have learned more from the pontifical rites, the customs of our ancestors, and the vessels of Numa, which Laelius mentions in his little Golden Oration, than from all the learning of the Stoics; for tell me, if I were a disciple of your school, what answer could I make to these questions? If there are Gods, are nymphs also Goddesses? If they are Goddesses, are Pans and Satyrs in the same rank? But they are not; consequently, nymphs are not Goddesses. Yet they have temples publicly dedicated to them. What do you conclude from thence? Others who have temples are not therefore Gods. But let us go on. You call Jupiter and Neptune Gods; their brother Pluto, then, is one; and if so, those rivers also are Deities which they say flow in the infernal regions -- Acheron, Cocytus, Pyriphlegethon; Charon also, and Cerberus, are Gods; but that cannot be allowed; nor can Pluto be placed among the Deities. What, then, will you say of his brothers?
Thus reasons Carneades; not with any design to destroy the existence of the Gods (for what would less become a philosopher?), but to convince us that on that matter the Stoics have said nothing plausible. If, then, Jupiter and Neptune are Gods, adds he, can that divinity be denied to their father Saturn, who is principally worshipped throughout the West? If Saturn is a God, then must his father, Coelus, be one too, and so must the parents of Coelus, which are the Sky and Day, as also their brothers and sisters, which by ancient genealogists are thus named: Love, Deceit, Fear, Labor, Envy, Fate, Old Age, Death, Darkness, Misery, Lamentation, Favor, Fraud, Obstinacy, the Destinies, the Hesperides, and Dreams; all which are the offspring of Erebus and Night. These monstrous Deities, therefore, must be received, or else those from whom they sprung must be disallowed.
XVIII. If you say that Apollo, Vulcan, Mercury, and the rest of that sort are Gods, can you doubt the divinity of Hercules and Aesculapius, Bacchus, Castor and Pollux? These are worshipped as much as those, and even more in some places. Therefore they must be numbered among the Gods, though on the mother’s side they are only of mortal race. Aristaeus, who is said to have been the son of Apollo, and to have found out the art of making oil from the olive; Theseus, the son of Neptune; and the rest whose fathers were Deities, shall they not be placed in the number of the Gods? But what think you of those whose mothers were Goddesses? They surely have a better title to divinity; for, in the civil law, as he is a freeman who is born of a freewoman, so, in the law of nature, he whose mother is a Goddess must be a God. The isle Astypalaea religiously honor Achilles; and if he is a Deity, Orpheus and Rhesus are so, who were born of one of the Muses; unless, perhaps, there may be a privilege belonging to sea marriages which land marriages have not. Orpheus and Rhesus are nowhere worshipped; and if they are therefore not Gods, because they are nowhere worshipped as such, how can the others be Deities? You, Balbus, seemed to agree with me that the honors which they received were not from their being regarded as immortals, but as men richly endued with virtue.
But if you think Latona a Goddess, how can you avoid admitting Hecate to be one also, who was the daughter of Asteria, Latona’s sister? Certainly she is one, if we may judge by the altars erected to her in Greece. And if Hecate is a Goddess, how can you refuse that rank to the Eumenides? for they also have a temple at Athens, and, if I understand right, the Romans have consecrated a grove to them. The Furies, too, whom we look upon as the inspectors into and scourges of impiety, I suppose, must have their divinity too. As you hold that there is some divinity presides over every human affair, there is one who presides over the travail of matrons, whose name, Natio, is derived a nascentibus, from nativities, and to whom we used to sacrifice in our processions in the fields of Ardaea; but if she is a Deity, we must likewise acknowledge all those you mentioned, Honor, Faith, Intellect, Concord; by the same rule also, Hope, Juno, Moneta, and every idle phantom, every child of our imagination, are Deities. But as this consequence is quite inadmissible, do not you either defend the cause from which it flows.
XIX. What say you to this? If these are Deities, which we worship and regard as such, why are not Serapis and Isis placed in the same rank? And if they are admitted, what reason have we to reject the Gods of the barbarians? Thus we should deify oxen, horses, the ibis, hawks, asps, crocodiles, fishes, dogs, wolves, cats, and many other beasts. If we go back to the source of this superstition, we must equally condemn all the Deities from which they proceed. Shall Ino, whom the Greeks call Leucothea, and we Matuta, be reputed a Goddess, because she was the daughter of Cadmus, and shall that title be refused to Circe and Pasiphae, who had the sun for their father, and Perseis, daughter of the Ocean, for their mother? It is true, Circe has divine honors paid her by our colony of Circaeum; therefore you call her a Goddess; but what will you say of Medea, the granddaughter of the Sun and the Ocean, and daughter of Aetes and Idyia? What will you say of her brother Absyrtus, whom Pacuvius calls AegiaIeus, though the other name is more frequent in the writings of the ancients? If you did not deify one as well as the other, what will become of Ino? for all these Deities have the same origin.
Shall Amphiaraus and Tryphonius be called Gods? Our publicans, when some lands in Beotia were exempted from tax, as belonging to the immortal Gods, denied that any were immortal who had been men. But if you deify these, Erechtheus surely is a God, whose temple and priest we have seen at Athens. And can you, then, refuse to acknowledge also Codrus, and many others who shed their blood for the preservation of their country? And if it is not allowable to consider all these men as Gods, then, certainly, probabilities are not in favor of our acknowledging the Divinity of those previously mentioned beings from whom these have proceeded.
It is easy to observe, likewise, that if in many countries people have paid divine honors to the memory of those who have signalized their courage, it was done in order to animate others to practise virtue, and to expose themselves the more willingly to dangers in their country’s cause. From this motive the Athenians have deified Erechtheus and his daughters, and have erected also a temple, called Leocorion, to the daughters of Leus. Alabandus is more honored in the city which he founded than any of the more illustrious Deities; from thence Stratonicus had a pleasant turn -- as he had many -- when he was troubled with an impertinent fellow who insisted that Alabandus was a God, but that Hercules was not; “Very well,” says he, “then let the anger of Alabandus fall upon me, and that of Hercules upon you.”
XX. Do you not consider, Balbus, to what lengths your arguments for the divinity of the heaven and the stars will carry you? You deify the sun and the moon, which the Greeks take to be Apollo and Diana. If the moon is a Deity, the morning-star, the other planets, and all the fixed stars are also Deities; and why shall not the rainbow be placed in that number? for it is so wonderfully beautiful that it is justly said to be the daughter of Thaumas. But if you deify the rainbow, what regard will you pay to the clouds? for the colors which appear in the bow are only formed of the clouds, one of which is said to have brought forth the Centaurs; and if you deify the clouds, you cannot pay less regard to the seasons, which the Roman people have really consecrated. Tempests, showers, storms, and whirlwinds must then be Deities. It is certain, at least, that our captains used to sacrifice a victim to the waves before they embarked on any voyage.
As you deify the earth under the name of Ceres, because, as you said, she bears fruits (a gerendo), and the ocean under that of Neptune, rivers and fountains have the same right. Thus we see that Maso, the conqueror of Corsica, dedicated a temple to a fountain, and the names of the Tiber, Spino, Almo, Nodinus, and other neighboring rivers are in the prayers of the augurs. Therefore, either the number of such Deities will be infinite, or we must admit none of them, and wholly disapprove of such an endless series of superstition.
XXI. None of all these assertions, then, are to be admitted. I must proceed now, Balbus, to answer those who say that, with regard to those deified mortals, so religiously and devoutly reverenced, the public opinion should have the force of reality. To begin, then: they who are called theologists say that there are three Jupiters; the first and second of whom were born in Arcadia; one of whom was the son of Aether, and father of Proserpine and Bacchus; the other the son of Coelus, and father of Minerva, who is called the Goddess and inventress of war; the third one born of Saturn in the isle of Crete, where his sepulchre is shown. The sons of Jupiter ('Dioskouroi') also, among the Greeks, have many names; first, the three who at Athens have the title of Anactes, Tritopatreus, Eubuleus, and Dionysus, sons of the most ancient king Jupiter and Proserpine; the next are Castor and Pollux, sons of the third Jupiter and Leda; and, lastly, three others, by some called Alco, Melampus, and Tmolus, Sons of Atreus, the son of Pelops.
As to the Muses, there were at first four -- Thelxiope, Aoede, Arche, and Melete -- daughters of the second Jupiter; afterward there were nine, daughters of the third Jupiter and Mnemosyne; there were also nine others, having the same appellations, born of Pierus and Antiopa, by the poets usually called Pierides and Pieriae. Though Sol (the sun) is so called, you say, because he is solus (single); yet how many suns do theologists mention? There is one, the son of Jupiter and grandson of Aether; another, the son of Hyperion; a third, who, the Egyptians say, was of the city Heliopolis, sprung from Vulcan, the son of Nilus; a fourth is said to have been born at Rhodes of Acantho, in the times of the heroes, and was the grandfather of Jalysus, Camirus, and Lindus; a fifth, of whom, it is pretended, Aretes and Circe were born at Colchis.
XXII. There are likewise several Vulcans. The first (who had of Minerva that Apollo whom the ancient historians call the tutelary God of Athens) was the son of Coelus; the second, whom the Egyptians call Opas, and whom they looked upon as the protector of Egypt, is the son of Nilus; the third, who is said to have been the master of the forges at Lemnos, was the son of the third Jupiter and of Juno; the fourth, who possessed the islands near Sicily called Vulcaniae, was the son of Menalius. One Mercury had Coelus for his father and Dies for his mother; another, who is said to dwell in a cavern, and is the same as Trophonius, is the son of Valens and Phoronis. A third, of whom, and of Penelope, Pan was the offspring, is the son of the third Jupiter and Maia. A fourth, whom the Egyptians think it a crime to name, is the son of Nilus. A fifth, whom we call, in their language, Thoth, as with them the first month of the year is called, is he whom the people of Pheneum worship, and who is said to have killed Argus, to have fled for it into Egypt, and to have given laws and learning to the Egyptians. The first of the Aesculapii, the God of Arcadia, who is said to have invented the probe and to have been the first person who taught men to use bandages for wounds, is the son of Apollo. The second, who was killed with thunder, and is said to be buried in Cynosura, is the brother of the second Mercury. The third, who is said to have found out the art of purging the stomach, and of drawing teeth, is the son of Arsippus and Arsinoe; and in Arcadia there is shown his tomb, and the wood which is consecrated to him, near the river Lusium.
XXIII. I have already spoken of the most ancient of the Apollos, who is the son of Vulcan, and tutelar God of Athens. There is another, son of Corybas, and native of Crete, for which island he is said to have contended with Jupiter himself. A third, who came from the regions of the Hyperborei to Delphi, is the son of the third Jupiter and of Latona. A fourth was of Arcadia, whom the Arcadians called Nomio, because they regarded him as their legislator. There are likewise many Dianas. The first, who is thought to be the mother of the winged Cupid, is the daughter of Jupiter and Proserpine. The second, who is more known, is daughter of the third Jupiter and of Latona. The third, whom the Greeks often call by her father’s name, is the daughter of Upis and Glauce. There are many also of the Dionysi. The first was the son of Jupiter and Proserpine. The second, who is said to have killed Nysa, was the son of Nilus. The third, who reigned in Asia, and for whom the Sabazia were instituted, was the son of Caprius. The fourth, for whom they celebrate the Orphic festivals, sprung from Jupiter and Luna. The fifth, who is supposed to have instituted the Trieterides, was the son of Nysus and Thyone.
The first Venus, who has a temple at Elis, was the daughter of Coelus and Dies. The second arose out of the froth of the sea, and became, by Mercury, the mother of the second Cupid. The third, the daughter of Jupiter and Diana, was married to Vulcan, but is said to have had Anteros by Mars. The fourth was a Syrian, born of Tyro, who is called Astarte, and is said to have been married to Adonis. I have already mentioned one Minerva, mother of Apollo. Another, who is worshipped at Sais, a city in Egypt, sprung from Nilus. The third, whom I have also mentioned, was daughter of Jupiter. The fourth, sprung from Jupiter and Coryphe, the daughter of the Ocean; the Arcadians call her Coria, and make her the inventress of chariots. A fifth, whom they paint with wings at her heels, was daughter of Pallas, and is said to have killed her father for endeavoring to violate her chastity. The first Cupid is said to be the son of Mercury and the first Diana; the second, of Mercury and the second Venus; the third, who is the same as Anteros, of Mars and the third Venus.
All these opinions arise from old stories that were spread in Greece; the belief in which, Balbus, you well know, ought to be stopped, lest religion should suffer. But you Stoics, so far from refuting them, even give them authority by the mysterious sense which you pretend to find in them. Can you, then, think, after this plain refutation, that there is need to employ more subtle reasonings? But to return from this digression.
XXIV. We see that the mind, faith, hope, virtue, honor, victory, health, concord, and things of such kind, are purely natural, and have nothing of divinity in them; for either they are inherent in us, as the mind, faith, hope, virtue, and concord are; or else they are to be desired, as honor, health, and victory. I know indeed that they are useful to us, and see that statues have been religiously erected for them; but as to their divinity, I shall begin to believe it when you have proved it for certain. Of this kind I may particularly mention Fortune, which is allowed to be ever inseparable from inconstancy and temerity, which are certainly qualities unworthy of a divine being.
But what delight do you take in the explication of fables, and in the etymology of names ? -- that Coelus was castrated by his son, and that Saturn was bound in chains by his son! By your defense of these and such like fictions you would make the authors of them appear not only not to be madmen, but to have been even very wise. But the pains which you take with your etymologies deserve our pity. That Saturn is so called because se saturat annis, he is full of years; Mavors, Mars, because magna vortit, he brings about mighty changes; Minerva, because minuit, she diminishes, or because minatur, she threatens; Venus, because venit ad omnia, she comes to all; Ceres, a gerendo, from bearing. How dangerous is this method! for there are many names would puzzle you. From what would you derive Vejupiter and Vulcan? Though, indeed, if you can derive Neptune a nando, from swimming, in which you seem to me to flounder about yourself more than Neptune, you may easily find the origin of all names, since it is founded only upon the conformity of some one letter. Zeno first, and after him Cleanthes and Chrysippus, are put to the unnecessary trouble of explaining mere fables, and giving reasons for the several appellations of every Deity; which is really owning that those whom we call Gods are not the representations of deities, but natural things, and that to judge otherwise is an error.
XXV. Yet this error has so much prevailed that even pernicious things have not only the title of divinity ascribed to them, but have also sacrifices offered to them; for Fever has a temple on the Palatine hill, and Orbona another near that of the Lares, and we see on the Esquiline hill an altar consecrated to Ill-fortune. Let all such errors be banished from philosophy, if we would advance, in our dispute concerning the immortal Gods, nothing unworthy of immortal beings. I know myself what I ought to believe; which is far different from what you have said. You take Neptune for an intelligence pervading the sea. You have the same opinion of Ceres with regard to the earth. I cannot, I own, find out, or in the least conjecture, what that intelligence of the sea or the earth is. To learn, therefore, the existence of the Gods, and of what description and character they are, I must apply elsewhere, not to the Stoics.
Let us proceed to the two other parts of our dispute: first, “whether there is a divine providence which governs the world;” and lastly, “whether that providence particularly regards mankind;” for these are the remaining propositions of your discourse; and I think that, if you approve of it, we should examine these more accurately. With all my heart, says Velleius, for I readily agree to what you have hitherto said; and expect still greater things from you.
I am unwilling to interrupt you, says Balbus to Cotta, but we shall take another opportunity, and I shall effectually convince you. But [...]
Shall I adore, and bend the suppliant knee,
Does not Niobe here seem to reason, and by that reasoning to bring all her misfortunes upon herself? But what a subtle expression is the following!
On strength of will alone depends success;
a maxim capable of leading us into all that is bad.
Though I’m confined, his malice yet is vain,
This, now, is reason; that reason which you say the divine goodness has denied to the brute creation, kindly to bestow it on men alone. How great, how immense the favor! Observe the same Medea flying from her father and her country:
The guilty wretch from her pursuer flies.
Reflection, as well as wickedness, must have been necessary to the preparation of such a fact; and did he too, who prepared that fatal repast for his brother, do it without reflection?
Revenge as great as Atreus’ injury
XXVII. Did not Thyestes himself, not content with having defiled his brother’s bed (of which Atreus with great justice thus complains,
When faithless comforts, in the lewd embrace,
did he not, I say, by that adultery, aim at the possession of the crown? Atreus thus continues:
A lamb, fair gift of heaven, with golden fleece,
Do you not perceive that Thyestes must have had a share of reason proportionable to the greatness of his crimes -- such crimes as are not only represented to us on the stage, but such as we see committed, nay, often exceeded, in the common course of life? The private houses of individual citizens, the public courts, the senate, the camp, our allies, our provinces, all agree that reason is the author of all the ill, as well as of all the good,which is done; that it makes few act well, and that but seldom, but many act ill, and that frequently; and that, in short, the Gods would have shown greater benevolence in denying us any reason at all than in sending us that which is accompanied with so much mischief; for as wine is seldom wholesome, but often hurtful in diseases, we think it more prudent to deny it to the patient than to run the risk of so uncertain a remedy; so I do not know whether it would not be better for mankind to be deprived of wit, thought, and penetration, or what we call reason, since it is a thing pernicious to many and very useful to few, than to have it bestowed upon them with so much liberality and in such abundance. But if the divine will has really consulted the good of man in this gift of reason, the good of those men only was consulted on whom a well-regulated one is bestowed: how few those are, if any, is very apparent. We cannot admit, therefore, that the Gods consulted the good of a few only; the conclusion must be that they consulted the good of none.
XXVIII. You answer that the ill use which a great part of mankind make of reason no more takes away the goodness of the Gods, who bestow it as a present of the greatest benefit to them, than the ill use which children make of their patrimony diminishes the obligation which they have to their parents for it. We grant you this; but where is the similitude? It was far from Deianira’s design to injure Hercules when she made him a present of the shirt dipped in the blood of the Centaurs. Nor was it a regard to the welfare of Jason of Pherae that influenced the man who with his sword opened his imposthume, which the physicians had in vain attempted to cure. For it has often happened that people have served a man whom they intended to injure, and have injured one whom they designed to serve; so that the effect of the gift is by no means always a proof of the intention of the giver; neither does the benefit which may accrue from it prove that it came from the hands of a benefactor. For, in short, what debauchery, what avarice, what crime among men is there which does not owe its birth to thought and reflection, that is, to reason? For all opinion is reason: right reason, if men’s thoughts are conformable to truth; wrong reason, if they are not. The Gods only give us the mere faculty of reason, if we have any; the use or abuse of it depends entirely upon ourselves; so that the comparison is not just between the present of reason given us by the Gods, and a patrimony left to a son by his father; for, after all, if the injury of mankind had been the end proposed by the Gods, what could they have given them more pernicious than reason? for what seed could there be of injustice, intemperance, and cowardice, if reason were not laid as the foundation of these vices?
XXIX. I mentioned just now Medea and Atreus, persons celebrated in heroic poems, who had used this reason only for the contrivance and practice of the most flagitious crimes; but even the trifling characters which appear in comedies supply us with the like instances of this reasoning faculty; for example, does not he, in the Eunuch, reason with some subtlety?--
What, then, must I resolve upon?
Another, in the Twins, making no scruple of opposing a received maxim, after the manner of the Academics, asserts that when a man is in love and in want, it is pleasant
To have a father covetous, crabbed, and passionate,
This unaccountable opinion he strengthens thus:
You may defraud him of his profits, or forge letters in his name,
On the contrary, he says that an easy, generous father is an inconvenience to a son in love; for, says he,
I can’t tell how to abuse so good, so prudent a parent,
What are these frauds, tricks, and stratagems but the effects of reason? O excellent gift of the Gods! Without this Phormio could not have said,
Find me out the old man: I have something hatching for him in my head.
XXX. But let us pass from the stage to the bar. The praetor takes his seat. To judge whom? The man who set fire to our archives. How secretly was that villainy conducted! Q. Sosius, an illustrious Roman knight, of the Picene field, confessed the fact. Who else is to be tried? He who forged the public registers -- Alenus, an artful fellow, who counterfeited the handwriting of the six officers. Let us call to mind other trials: that on the subject of the gold of Tolosa, or the conspiracy of Jugurtha. Let us trace back the informations laid against Tubulus for bribery in his judicial office; and, since that, the proceedings of the tribune Peduceus concerning the incest of the vestals. Let us reflect upon the trials which daily happen for assassinations, poisonings, embezzlement of public money, frauds in wills, against which we have a new law; then that action against the advisers or assisters of any theft; the many laws concerning frauds in guardianship, breaches of trust in partnerships and commissions in trade, and other violations of faith in buying, selling, borrowing, or lending; the public decree on a private affair by the Laetorian Law; and, lastly, that scourge of all dishonesty, the law against fraud, proposed by our friend Aquillius; that sort of fraud, he says, by which one thing is pretended and another done. Can we, then, think that this plentiful fountain of evil sprung from the immortal Gods? If they have given reason to man, they have likewise given him subtlety, for subtlety is only a deceitful manner of applying reason to do mischief. To them likewise we must owe deceit, and every other crime, which, without the help of reason, would neither have been thought of nor committed. As the old woman wished
That to the fir which on Mount Pelion grew
so we should wish that the Gods had never bestowed this ability on man, the abuse of which is so general that the small number of those who make a good use of it are often oppressed by those who make a bad use of it; so that it seems to be given rather to help vice than to promote virtue among us.
XXXI. This, you insist on it, is the fault of man, and not of the Gods. But should we not laugh at a physician or pilot, though they are weak mortals, if they were to lay the blame of their ill success on the violence of the disease or the fury of the tempest? Had there not been danger, we should say, who would have applied to you? This reasoning has still greater force against the Deity. The fault, you say, is in man, if he commits crimes. But why was not man endued with a reason incapable of producing any crimes? How could the Gods err? When we leave our effects to our children, it is in hopes that they may be well bestowed; in which we may be deceived, but how can the Deity be deceived? As Phoebus when he trusted his chariot to his son Phaethon, or as Neptune when he indulged his son Theseus in granting him three wishes, the consequence of which was the destruction of Hippolitus? These are poetical fictions; but truth, and not fables, ought to proceed from philosophers. Yet if those poetical Deities had foreseen that their indulgence would have proved fatal to their sons, they must have been thought blamable for it.
Aristo of Chios used often to say that the philosophers do hurt to such of their disciples as take their good doctrine in a wrong sense; thus the lectures of Aristippus might produce debauchees, and those of Zeno pedants. If this be true, it were better that philosophers should be silent than that their disciples should be corrupted by a misapprehension of their master’s meaning; so if reason, which was bestowed on mankind by the Gods with a good design, tends only to make men more subtle and fraudulent, it had been better for them never to have received it. There could be no excuse for a physician who prescribes wine to a patient, knowing that he will drink it and immediately expire. Your Providence is no less blamable in giving reason to man, who, it foresaw, would make a bad use of it. Will you say that it did not foresee it? Nothing could please me more than such an acknowledgment. But you dare not. I know what a sublime idea you entertain of her.
XXXII. But to conclude. If folly, by the unanimous consent of philosophers, is allowed to be the greatest of all evils, and if no one ever attained to true wisdom, we, whom they say the immortal Gods take care of, are consequently in a state of the utmost misery. For that nobody is well, or that nobody can be well, is in effect the same thing; and, in my opinion, that no man is truly wise, or that no man can be truly wise, is likewise the same thing. But I will insist no further on so self-evident a point. Telamon in one verse decides the question. If, says he, there is a Divine Providence,
Good men would be happy, bad men miserable.
But it is not so. If the Gods had regarded mankind, they should have made them all virtuous; but if they did not regard the welfare of all mankind, at least they ought to have provided for the happiness of the virtuous. Why, therefore, was the Carthaginian in Spain suffered to destroy those best and bravest men, the two Scipios? Why did Maximus lose his son, the consul? Why did Hannibal kill Marcellus? Why did Cannae deprive us of Paulus? Why was the body of Regulus delivered up to the cruelty of the Carthaginians? Why was not Africanus protected from violence in his own house? To these, and many more ancient instances, let us add some of later date. Why is Rutilius, my uncle, a man of the greatest virtue and learning, now in banishment? Why was my own friend and companion Drusus assassinated in his own house? Why was Scaevola, the high-priest, that pattern of moderation and prudence, massacred before the statue of Vesta? Why, before that, were so many illustrious citizens put to death by Cinna? Why had Marius, the most perfidious of men, the power to cause the death of Catulus, a man of the greatest dignity? But there would be no end of enumerating examples of good men made miserable and wicked men prosperous. Why did that Marius live to an old age, and die so happily at his own house in his seventh consulship? Why was that inhuman wretch Cinna permitted to enjoy so long a reign?
XXXIII. He, indeed, met with deserved punishment at last. But would it not have been better that these inhumanities had been prevented than that the author of them should be punished afterward? Varius, a most impious wretch, was tortured and put to death. If this was his punishment for the murdering Drusus by the sword, and Metellus by poison; would it not have been better to have preserved their lives than to have their deaths avenged on Varius? Dionysius was thirty-eight years a tyrant over the most opulent and flourishing city; and, before him, how many years did Pisistratus tyrannize in the very flower of Greece! Phalaris and Apollodorus met with the fate they deserved, but not till after they had tortured and put to death multitudes. Many robbers have been executed; but the number of those who have suffered for their crimes is short of those whom they have robbed and murdered. Anaxarchus, a scholar of Democritus, was cut to pieces by command of the tyrant of Cyprus; and Zeno of Elea ended his life in tortures. What shall I say of Socrates, whose death, as often as I read of it in Plato, draws fresh tears from my eyes? If, therefore, the Gods really see everything that happens to men, you must acknowledge they make no distinction between the good and the bad.
XXXIV. Diogenes the Cynic used to say of Harpalus, one of the most fortunate villains of his time, that the constant prosperity of such a man was a kind of witness against the Gods. Dionysius, of whom we have before spoken, after he had pillaged the temple of Proserpine at Locris, set sail for Syracuse, and, having a fair wind during his voyage, said, with a smile, “See, my friends, what favorable winds the immortal Gods bestow upon church-robbers.” Encouraged by this prosperous event, he proceeded in his impiety. When he landed at Peloponnesus, he went into the temple of Jupiter Olympius, and disrobed his statue of a golden mantle of great weight, an ornament which the tyrant Gelo had given out of the spoils of the Carthaginians, and at the same time, in a jesting manner, he said “that a golden mantle was too heavy in summer and too cold in winter;” and then, throwing a woollen cloak over the statue, added, “This will serve for all seasons.” At another time, he ordered the golden beard of Aesculapius of Epidaurus to be taken away, saying that “it was absurd for the son to have a beard, when his father had none.” He likewise robbed the temples of the silver tables, which, according to the ancient custom of Greece, bore this inscription, “To the good Gods,” saying “he was willing to make use of their goodness;” and, without the least scruple, took away the little golden emblems of victory, the cups and coronets, which were in the stretched-out hands of the statues, saying “he did not take, but receive them; for it would be folly not to accept good things from the Gods, to whom we are constantly praying for favors, when they stretch out their hands towards us.” And, last of all, all the things which he had thus pillaged from the temples were, by his order, brought to the market-place and sold by the common crier; and, after he had received the money for them, he commanded every purchaser to restore what he had bought, within a limited time, to the temples from whence they came. Thus to his impiety towards the Gods he added injustice to man.
XXXV. Yet neither did Olympian Jove strike him with his thunder, nor did Aesculapius cause him to die by tedious diseases and a lingering death. He died in his bed, had funeral honors paid to him, and left his power, which he had wickedly obtained, as a just and lawful inheritance to his son.
It is not without concern that I maintain a doctrine which seems to authorize evil, and which might probably give a sanction to it, if conscience, without any divine assistance, did not point out, in the clearest manner, the difference between virtue and vice. Without conscience man is contemptible. For as no family or state can be supposed to be formed with any reason or discipline if there are no rewards for good actions nor punishment for crimes, so we cannot believe that a Divine Providence regulates the world if there is no distinction between the honest and the wicked.
But the Gods, you say, neglect trifling things: the little fields or vineyards of particular men are not worthy their attention; and if blasts or hail destroy their product, Jupiter does not regard it, nor do kings extend their care to the lower offices of government. This argument might have some weight if, in bringing Rutilius as an instance, I had only complained of the loss of his farm at Formiae; but I spoke of a personal misfortune, his banishment.
XXXVI. All men agree that external benefits, such as vineyards, corn, olives, plenty of fruit and grain, and, in short, every convenience and property of life, are derived from the Gods; and, indeed, with reason, since by our virtue we claim applause, and in virtue we justly glory, which we could have no right to do if it was the gift of the Gods, and not a personal merit. When we are honored with new dignities, or blessed with increase of riches; when we are favored by fortune beyond our expectation, or luckily delivered from any approaching evil, we return thanks for it to the Gods, and assume no praise to ourselves. But who ever thanked the Gods that he was a good man? We thank them, indeed, for riches, health, and honor. For these we invoke the all-good and all-powerful Jupiter; but not for wisdom, temperance, and justice. No one ever offered a tenth of his estate to Hercules to be made wise. It is reported, indeed, of Pythagoras that he sacrificed an ox to the Muses upon having made some new discovery in geometry; but, for my part, I cannot believe it, because he refused to sacrifice even to Apollo at Delos, lest he should defile the altar with blood. But to return. It is universally agreed that good fortune we must ask of the Gods, but wisdom must arise from ourselves; and though temples have been consecrated to the Mind, to Virtue, and to Faith, yet that does not contradict their being inherent in us. In regard to hope, safety, assistance, and victory, we must rely upon the Gods for them; from whence it follows, as Diogenes said, that the prosperity of the wicked destroys the idea of a Divine Providence.
XXXVII. But good men have sometimes success. They have so; but we cannot, with any show of reason, attribute that success to the Gods. Diagoras, who is called the atheist, being at Samothrace, one of his friends showed him several pictures of people who had endured very dangerous storms; “See,” says he, “you who deny a providence, how many have been saved by their prayers to the Gods.” “Ay,” says Diagoras, “I see those who were saved, but where are those painted who were shipwrecked?” At another time, he himself was in a storm, when the sailors, being greatly alarmed, told him they justly deserved that misfortune for admitting him into their ship; when he, pointing to others under the like distress, asked them “if they believed Diagoras was also aboard those ships?” In short, with regard to good or bad fortune, it matters not what you are, or how you have lived. The Gods, like kings, regard not everything. What similitude is there between them? If kings neglect anything, want of knowledge may be pleaded in their defense; but ignorance cannot be brought as an excuse for the Gods.
XXXVIII. Your manner of justifying them is somewhat extraordinary, when you say that if a wicked man dies without suffering for his crimes, the Gods inflict a punishment on his children, his children’s children, and all his posterity. O wonderful equity of the Gods! What city would endure the maker of a law which should condemn a son or a grandson for a crime committed by the father or the grandfather?
Shall Tantalus’ unhappy offspring know
Whether the poets have corrupted the Stoics, or the Stoics given authority to the poets, I cannot easily determine. Both alike are to be condemned. If those persons whose names have been branded in the satires of Hipponax or Archilochus were driven to despair, it did not proceed from the Gods, but had its origin in their own minds. When we see Aegistus and Paris lost in the heat of an impure passion, why are we to attribute it to a Deity, when the crime, as it were, speaks for itself? I believe that those who recover from illness are more indebted to the care of Hippocrates than to the power of Aesculapius; that Sparta received her laws from Lycurgus rather than from Apollo; that those eyes of the maritime coast, Corinth and Carthage, were plucked out, the one by Critolaus, the other by Hasdrubal, without the assistance of any divine anger, since you yourselves confess that a Deity cannot possibly be angry on any provocation.
XXXIX. But could not the Deity have assisted and preserved those eminent cities? Undoubtedly he could; for, according to your doctrine, his power is infinite, and without the least labor; and as nothing but the will is necessary to the motion of our bodies, so the divine will of the Gods, with the like ease, can create, move, and change all things. This you hold, not from a mere phantom of superstition, but on natural and settled principles of reason; for matter, you say, of which all things are composed and consist, is susceptible of all forms and changes, and there is nothing which cannot be, or cease to be, in an instant; and that Divine Providence has the command and disposal of this universal matter, and consequently can, in any part of the universe, do whatever she pleases: from whence I conclude that this Providence either knows not the extent of her power, or neglects human affairs, or cannot judge what is best for us. Providence, you say, does not extend her care to particular men; there is no wonder in that, since she does not extend it to cities, or even to nations, or people. If, therefore, she neglects whole nations, is it not very probable that she neglects all mankind? But how can you assert that the Gods do not enter into all the little circumstances of life, and yet hold that they distribute dreams among men? Since you believe in dreams, it is your part to solve this difficulty. Besides, you say we ought to call upon the Gods. Those who call upon the Gods are individuals. Divine Providence, therefore, regards individuals, which consequently proves that they are more at leisure than you imagine. Let us suppose the Divine Providence to be greatly busied; that it causes the revolutions of the heavens, supports the earth, and rules the seas; why does it suffer so many Gods to be unemployed? Why is not the superintendence of human affairs given to some of those idle Deities which you say are innumerable?
This is the purport of what I had to say concerning “the Nature of the Gods;” not with a design to destroy their existence, but merely to show what an obscure point it is, and with what difficulties an explanation of it is attended.
XL. Balbus, observing that Cotta had finished his discourse -- You have been very severe, says he, against a Divine Providence, a doctrine established by the Stoics with piety and wisdom; but, as it grows too late, I shall defer my answer to another day. Our argument is of the greatest importance; it concerns our altars, our hearths, our temples, nay, even the walls of our city, which you priests hold sacred; you, who by religion defend Rome better than she is defended by her ramparts. This is a cause which, while I have life, I think I cannot abandon without impiety.
There is nothing, replied Cotta, which I desire more than to be confuted. I have not pretended to decide this point, but to give you my private sentiments upon it; and am very sensible of your great superiority in argument. No doubt of it, says Velleius; we have much to fear from one who believes that our dreams are sent from Jupiter, which, though they are of little weight, are yet of more importance than the discourse of the Stoics concerning the nature of the Gods. The conversation ended here, and we parted. Velleius judged that the arguments of Cotta were truest; but those of Balbus seemed to me to have the greater probability.