CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA was an early Greek Christian writer and presbyter who flourished in Alexandria in the late C2nd AD. He was the author of several religious essays including the Exhortation to the Greeks (or Exhortation against the Pagans), which is essentially a diatribe against the pagan religion and call for Christian conversion. The work, despite its religous bias, contains a wealth of information on ancient pagan cults, in particular the mysteries, as well as Greek myth.
Clement of Alexandria. Translated by Butterworth, G W. Loeb Classical Library Volume 92. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Universrity Press. 1919.
The Loeb volume is still in print and available new at Amazon.com (click on image right for details). In addition to the translation of Exhortation to the Greeks, the book contains the book contains Clement´s The Rich Man´s Salvation and To the Newly Baptised, the source Greek texts, Butterworth´s introduction and footnotes, and an index of proper names.
NOTE: Only books 2 - 5 of the Exhortations, which describe Greek paganism, are presented here in their entirety. Books 1 and 6 - 12, on the other hand, with their predominately Christian content, are either abridged or ommitted.
EXHORTATION TO THE GREEKS, TRANSLATED BY G. W. BUTTERWORTH
BOOK I [abridged]
AMPHION of Thebes and Arion of Methymna were both minstrels. Both are celebrated in legend, and to this day the story is sung by a chorus of Greeks how their musical skill enabled the one to lure a fish and the other to build the walls of Thebes. There was also a Thracian wizard [Orpheus], – so runs another Greek legend, – who used to tame wild beasts simply by his song, yes, and to transplant trees, oaks, by music. I can also tell you of another legend and another minstrel akin to these, namely, Eunomus the Locrian and the Pythian grasshopper. A solemn assembly of Greeks, held in honour of a dead serpent, was gathering at Pytho, and Eunomus sang a funeral ode for the reptile. Whether his song was a hymn in praise of the snake, or a lamentation over it, I cannot say; but there was a competition, and Eunomus was playing the lyre in the heat of the day, at the time when grasshoppers, warmed by the sun, were singing under the leaves along the hills. They were singing, you see, not to the dead serpent of Pytho, but to the all-wise God, a spontaneous natural song, better than the measured strains of Eunomus. A string breaks in the Locrian’s hands; the grasshopper settles upon the neck of the lyre and begins to twitter there as if upon a branch: whereupon the minstrel, by adapting his music to the grasshopper’s lay, supplied the place of the missing string. So it was not Eunomus that drew the grasshopper by his song, as the legend would have it, when it set up the bronze figure at Pytho, showing Eunomus with his lyre, and his ally in the contest. No, the grasshopper flew of its own accord, and sang of its own accord, although the Greeks thought it to have been responsive to music.
How in the world is it that you have given credence to worthless legends, imagining brute beasts to be enchanted by music, while the bright face of truth seems alone to strike you as deceptive, and is regarded with unbelieving eyes? Cithaeron [sacred to Zeus], and Helicon [of the Muses], and the mountains of Odyrsians and Thracians [of Dionysus], temples of initiation into error, are held sacred on account of the attendant mysteries, and are celebrated in hymns. For my own part, mere legend though they are, I cannot bear the thought of all the calamities that are worked up into tragedy; yet in your hands the records of these evils have become dramas, and the actors of the dramas are a sight that gladdens your heart. But as for the dramas and the Lenaean poets, who are altogether like drunken men, let us wreathe them, if you like with ivy, while they are performing the mad revels of the Bacchic rite, and shut them up, satyrs and frenzied rout and all, – yes, and the rest of the company of daemons too, – in Helicon and Cithaeron now grown old; and let us bring down truth, with wisdom in all her brightness, from heaven above, to the holy mountain of God and the holy company of the prophets. Let truth, sending forth her rays of light into the farthest distance, shine everywhere upon those who are wallowing in darkness, and deliver men from their error, stretching out her supreme right hand, even understanding, to point them to salvation. And when they have raised their heads and looked up let them forsake Helicon and Cithaeron to dwell in Sion; “for out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” that is, the heavenly Word, the true champion, who is being crowned upon the stage of the whole word. Aye, and this Eunomus of mine sings not the strain of Terpander or of Capio, nor yet in Phrygian or Lydian or Dorian mode; but the new music, with its eternal strain that bears the name of God. This is the new song, the song of Moses,
Soother of grief and wrath, that bids all ills be forgotten [Odyssey 4.221].
There is a sweet and genuine medicine of persuasion blended with this song.
In my opinion, therefore, our Thracian, Orpheus and the Theban and the Methymnian two, are not worthy of the name of man, since they were deceivers. Under cover of music they have outraged human life, being influenced by daemons, through some artful sorcery, to compass man’s ruin. By commemorating deeds of violence in their religious rites, and by bringing stories of sorrow into worship, they were the first to lead men by the hand to idolatory; yes, and with stocks and stones, that is to say, statues and pictures, to build up the stupid custom. By their chants and enchantments they have held captive in the lowest slavery that truly noble freedom which belongs to those who are citizens under heaven.
But far different is my minstrel, for He has come to bring to a speedy end the bitter slavery of the daemons that lord it over us; and by leading us back to the mild and kindly yoke of piety He calls once again to heaven those who have been cast down to earth. He at least is the only one who ever tamed the most intractable of all wild beasts – man: for he tamed birds, that is, flighty men; reptiles, that is, crafty men; lions, that is, passionate men; swine, that is, pleasure-loving men; wolves, that is, rapacious men. Men without understanding are stocks and stones; indeed a man steeped in ignorance is even more senseless than stones ...
[The rest of chapter 1, a purely Christian exhortation, is ommitted.]
BOOK II [complete]
Do not therefore seek diligently after godless sanctuaries, nor after mouths of caverns full of jugglery [oracle of Trophonius], nor the Thesprotian caldron, nor the Cirrhaean tripod [oracle of Apollo], nor the Dodonian copper [oracle of Zeus]. As for the old stump honoured by the desert sands [oracle of Zeus Ammon], and the oracular shrine there gone to decay with the oak itself, abandon them both to the region of legends now grown old. The Castalian spring [of Delphi], at least, is all silent. So is the spring of Colophon; and the rest of the prophetic springs are likewise dead. Stripped of their absurd pretensions, though none to soon, they are at last thoroughly exposed; the waters have run dry together with the legends attached to them. Relate to me the utterly vain utterances of that other form of divination, – I should rather say hallucination, – the oracles of Apollo, Clarian, Pythian and Didymena, and those of Amphiaraus and Amphilochus; and, if you will, devote to destruction along with them the soothsayers, augurs and interpreters of dreams. At the same time, take and place by the side of Pythian Apollo those who divine by flour, and by barley, and the ventriloquists [those who simulate the voice of spirits] still held in honour among the multitude. Yes, and let the sanctuaries of Egypt and the Tuscan oracles of the dead be delivered over to darkness. Homes of hallucination in very truth they are, these schools of sophistry for unbelieving men, these gambling-dens of sheer delusion. Partners in this business of trickery are goats, trained for divination; and ravens, taught by men to give oracular responses to men.
But what if I were to recount the mysteries for you? I will not burlesque them, as Alcibiades is said to have done, but will thoroughly lay bare, in accordance with the principle of truth, the trickery they conceal; and as for your so-called gods themselves, to whom the mystic rites belong, I will display them on the stage of life, as it were, for the spectators of truth. The raving Dionysus is worshipped by Bacchants with orgies, in which they celebrate their sacred frenzy by a feast of raw flesh. Wreathed with snakes, they perform the distributions of portions of their victims, shouting the name of Eva, that Eva through whom error entered into the world [the Bacchic cry euai identified with Biblical Eve]; and a consecrated snake is the emblem of the Bacchic orgies. At any rate, according to the correct Hebrew speech, the word “hevia” with an aspirant means the female snake. Demeter and Persephone have come to be the subject of the mystic drama, and Eleusis celebrates with torches the rape of the daughter and the sorrowful wandering of the mother.
Now it seems to me that the terms “orgy” and “mystery” must be derived, the former from the wrath (orge) of Demeter against Zeus, and the latter from the pollution (mysos) that took place in connexion with Dionysus. But if they are named after a certain Myus of Attica, who according to Apollodorus was killed in hunting, I make no objection. Your mysteries have received the glory of funeral honours! You may also, in another way, suppose them to be hunting-stories (mytheria), since the letters correspond; for as surely as there are men who hunt wild beasts, so do legends like these hunt the rudest among Thracians, the silliest among Phrygians, and the daemon-fearers among Greeks. A curse then upon the man who started the deception for mankind, whether it be Dardanus, who introduced the mysteries of the Mother of the Gods; or Eëtion, who founded the Samothracian orgies and rites; or that Phrygian Midas, who learnt the artful deceit from Odrysus and then passed it on to his subjects. For I could never be beguiled by the claims of the islander Cinyras, of Cyprus, who had the audacity to transfer the lascivious orgies of Aphrodite from night to day, in his ambition to deify a harlot of his own country. Others say that it was Melampus the son of Amythaon who brought into Greece from Egypt the festivals of Demeter, that is, the story of her grief celebrated in hymns. These men I for my part would call originators of mischief, parents of godless legends and deadly daemon-worship, seeing that they implanted the mysteries in human life to be a seed of evil and corruption.
But now, (and high time too,) I will convict your orgies themselves of being full of deception and jugglery, and if you have been initiated you will smile the more at these legends you are wont to honour. I will tell openly the secret things, and will not shrink from speaking of what you are not ashamed to worship. There is, then, the “foam-born” “Cyprus-born” goddess, the darling of Cinyras. I mean Aphrodite, who received the name Philomedes because she was born from the medea, those lustful members that were cut off from Uranus and after separation did violence to the wave. See how lewd are the members from which so worthy an offspring is born! And in the rites which celebrate this pleasure of the sea, as a symbol of her birth, the gift of a cake of salt and a phallus is made to those who are initiated in the art of fornication; and the initiated bring their tribute of a coin to the goddess, as lovers do to a mistress.
The mysteries of Demeter commemorate the amorous embraces of Zeus with his mother Demeter, and the wrath of Demeter (I do not know what to call her for the future, mother or wife) on account of which she is said to have received the name Brimo (the Terrible One); also the supplications of Zeus, the drink of bile, the tearing out the heart of the victims, and unspeakable obscenities. The same rites are performed in honour of Attis and Cybele and he Corybantes by the Phrygians, who have spread it abroad how that Zeus tore off the testicles of a ram, and then brought and flung them into the midst of Demeter’s lap, thus paying a sham penalty for his violent embrace by pretending that he had mutilated himself. If I go on further to quote the symbols of initiation into this mystery they will, I know, move you to laughter, even though you are in no laughing humour when your rites are being exposed. “I ate from the drum; I drank from the cymbal; I carried the sacred dish; I stole into the bridal chamber.” [Phrygian formula] Are not these symbols an outrage? Are not the mysteries a mockery?
But what if I were to add the rest of the story? Demeter becomes pregnant; the Maiden grows up; and this Zeus who begat her has further intercourse, this time with Persephone herself, his own daughter, after his union with her mother Demeter. Totally forgetful of his former pollution Zeus becomes the ravisher as well as father of the maiden, meeting her under the form of a serpent, his true nature being thus revealed. At any rate, in the Sabazian mysteries the sign given to those who are initiated is “the god over the breast”; this is a serpent drawn over the breast of the votaries, a proof of the licentiousness of Zeus. Persephone also bears a child, which has the form of a bull. To be sure, we are told by a certain mythological poet that
The bull begets a snake, the snake a bull; on hills the herdsman bears his mystic goad, –
the herdman’s goad being, I think, a name for the wand which the Bacchants wreathe.
Would you have me also tell you the story of Persephone gathering flowers, of her basket, and how she was seized by Hades, of the chasm that opened in the earth, and of the swine of Eubouleus that were swallowed up along with the two deities, which is the reason given from the custom of casting swine into the sacred caverns at the festival of the Thesmophoria? This is the tale which the women celebrate at their various feasts in the city, Themophoria, Scirophoria, Arretophoria, where in different ways they work up into tragedy the rape of Persephone.
The mysteries of Dionysus [Zagreus] are of a perfectly savage character. He was yet a child, and the Curetes were dancing around him with warlike movement, when the Titans stealthily drew near. First they beguiled him with childish toys, and then, – these very Titans – tore him to pieces, though he was but an infant. Orpheus of Thrace, the poet of the Initiation, speaks of the
Top, wheel and jointed dolls, with beauteous fruit of gold from the clear-voiced Hesperides.
And it is worth while to quote the worthless symbols of this rite of yours in order to excite condemnation: the knuckle-bone, the ball, the spinning-top, apples, wheel, mirror, fleece! Now Athena made off with the heart of Dionysus, and received the name Pallas from its palpitating (pallein). But the Titans, they who tore him to pieces, placed a caldron upon a tripod, and casting the limbs of Dionysus into it first boiled them down; then, piercing them with spits, they “held them over Hephaestus [i.e. fire].” Later on Zeus appeared; perhaps, since he was a god, because he smelt the steam of the flesh that was cooking, which your gods admit they “receive as their portion.” He plagues the Titans with thunder, and entrusts the limbs of Dionysus to his son Apollo for burial. In obedience to Zeus, Apollo carries the mutilated corpse to Parnassus and lays it to rest.
If you would like a vision of the Corybantic orgies [the Cabeiri] also, this is the story. Two of he Corybantes slew a third one, who was their brother, covered the head of the corpse with a purple cloak, and then wreathed and buried it, bearing it upon a brazen shield to the skirts of Mount Olympus. Here we see what the mysteries are, in one word, murders and burials! The priests of these mysteries, whom such as are interested in them call “Presidents of the Princes’ rites,” add a portent to the dismal tale. They forbid wild celery, root and all, to be placed on the table, for they actually believe that wild celery grows out of the blood that flowed from the murdered brother. It is a similar custom, of course, that is observed by the women who celebrate the Thesmophoria. They are careful not to eat any pomegranate seeds which fall to the ground, being of opinion that the pomegranates spring from the drops of Dionysus’ blood. The Corybantes are called by the name Cabeiri, which proclaims the rite of the Cabeiri. For this very pair of fratricides got possession of the chest in which the virilia of Dionysus were deposited, and brought it to Tyrrhenia [Lemnos], traders in glorious wares! There they sojourned, being exiles, and communicated their precious teaching of piety, the virilia and the chest, to Tyrrhenians for purposes of worship. For this reason not unnaturally some wish to call Dionysus Attis, because he was mutilated.
Yet how can we wonder if Tyrrhenians, who are barbarians, are thus consecrated to base passions when Athenians and the rest of Greece – I blush even to speak of it – possess that shameful tale about Demeter? It tells how Demeter, wandering through Eleusis, which is a part of Attica, in search of her daughter the Maiden, becomes exhausted and sits down at a well in deep distress. This display of grief is forbidden, up to the present day, to those who are initiated, lest the worshippers should seem to imitate the goddess in her sorrow. At that time Eleusis was inhabited by aborigines, whose names were Baubo, Dysaules, Triptolemus, and also Eumolpus and Eubouleus. Triptolemus was a herdsman, Eumolpus a shepherd, and Eubouleus and swineherd. These were progenitors of the Eumolpidae and of the Heracles, who form the priestly [hierophantic] clan at Athens. But to continue; for I will not forfear to tell the rest of the story. Baubo, having received Demeter as a guest, offers her a draught of wine and meal. She declines to take it, being unwilling to drink on account of her mourning. Baubo is deeply hurt, thinking she has been slighted, and thereupon uncovers her secret parts and exhibits them to the goddess. Demeter is pleased at the sight, and now at least receives the draught, – delighted by the spectacle! These are the secret mysteries of the Athenians! These are also the subjects of Orpheus’ poems. It will quote you the very lines of Orpheus, in order that you may have the originator of the mysteries as witness of their shamelessness:
This said, she drew aside her robes, and showed a sight of shame; child Iacchus was there, and laughing, plunged his hand below her breasts. Then smiled the goddess, in her heart she smiled, and drank the draught from out the glancing cup.
And the formula of the Eleusinian mysteries is as follows: “I fasted; I drank the draught; I took from the chest; having done my task, I placed in the basket, and from the basket into the chest.” Beautiful sights indeed, and fit for a goddess! Yes, such rites are meet for night and torch fires, and for the “great-hearted” – I should rather say empty-headed – people of the Erechtheidae, with the rest of the Greeks as well, “whom after death there await such things as they little expect.” Against whom does Heracleitus of Ephesus utter this prophecy? Against “night-roamers, magicians, Bacchants, Lenaean revellers and devotees of the mysteries.” These are the people whom he threatens with the penalties that follow death; for these he prophesies the fire. “For in unholy fashion are they initiated into mysteries customary among men.”
The mysteries, then, are mere custom and vain opinion, and it is a deceit of the serpent that men worship when, with spurious piety, they turn toward these sacred initiations that are really profanities, and solemn rites that are without sanctity. Consider, too, the contents of the mystic chests; for I must strip bare their holy things and utter the unspeakable. Are they not sesame cakes, pyramid and spherical cakes, cakes with many navels, also balls of salt and a serpent, the mystic sign of Dionysus Bassareus? Are they not also pomegranates, fig branches, fennel stalks, ivy leaves, round cakes and poppies? These are their holy things? In addition, there are the unutterable symbols of Ge Themis, marjoram, a lamp, a sword, and a woman’s comb, which is a euphemistic expression used for a woman’s secret parts. What manifest shamelessness! Formerly night, which drew a veil over the pleasures of temperate men, was a time for silence. But now, when night is for those who are being initiated a temptation to licentiousness, talk abounds, and the torch-fires convict unbridled passions. Quench the fire, thou priest. Shrink from the flaming brands, torchbearer. The light convicts your Iacchus. Suffer night to hide the mysteries. Let the orgies be honoured by darkness. The fire is not acting a part; to convict and to punish is its duty [i.e. the fire of God].
These are the mysteries of the atheists. And I am right in branding as atheists men who are ignorant of the true God, but shamelessly worship a child being torn to pieces by Titans, a poor grief-stricken woman, and parts of the body which, from a sense of shame, are truly to sacred to speak of. It is a twofold atheism in which they are entangled; first, the atheism of being ignorant of God (since they do not recognize the true God); and then this second error, of believing in the existence of beings that have no existence, and calling by the name of gods those who are not really gods, – nay more, who do not even exist, but have only got the name. No doubt this is also the reason why the Apostle convicts us, when he says, “And ye were strangers from the covenants of the promise, being without hope and atheists in the world.”
Blessings be upon the Scythian king, whoever he was. When a countryman of his own was imitating among the Scythians the rite of the Mother of the Gods as practiced at Cyzicus, by beating a drum and clanging a cymbal, and by having images of the goddess suspended from his neck after the manner of a priest of Cybele (menagyrtes), this king slew him with an arrow [Herodotus 4.76], on the ground that the man, having been deprived of his own virility in Greece, was now communicating the effeminate disease to his fellow Scythians. All this – for I must not in the least conceal what I think – makes me amazed how the term atheist has been applied to Euhemerus of Acragas, Nicanor of Cyprus, Diagoras and Hippo of Melos, with that Cyrenian named Theodorus and a good many others besides, men who lived sensible lives and discerned more acutely, I imagine, than the rest of mankind the error connected with these gods. Even if they did not perceive the truth itself, they at least suspected the error; and this suspicion is a living spark of wisdom, and no small one, which grows up like a seed into truth. One of them [Xenophanes] thus directs the Egyptians: “If you believe they are gods, do not lament them, nor beat the breast; but if you mourn for them, no longer consider these beings to be gods.” Another, having taken hold of a Heracles made from a log of wood – he happened, likely enough, to be cooking something at home – said: “Come, Heracles, now is your time to undertake this thirteenth labour for me, as you did the twelve for Eurystheus, and prepare Diagoras his dish!” Then he put him into the fire like a log.
It appears then that atheism and daemon-worship are the extreme points of stupidity, from which we must earnestly endeavour to keep ourselves apart. Do you not see Moses, the sacred interpreter of the truth, ordering that no eunuch or mutilated man shall enter the assembly, nor the son of a harlot? By the first two expressions he refers in a figure to the atheistic manner of life, which has been deprived of divine power and fruitfulness; by the third and last, to the man who lays claim to many gods, falsely so called, in place of the only real God; just as the son of a harlot lays claim to many fathers, through ignorance of his true father. But there was of old implanted in man a certain fellowship with heaven, which, through darkened through ignorance, yet at times leaps suddenly out of the darkness and shines forth. Take for instance the well-known lines in which someone has said,
See thou this boundless firmament on high, whose arms enfold the earth in soft embrace? [Euripides, Frag. 935]
O stay of earth, that hast thy seat above, who’er thou art, by guessing scarce discerned; [Euripides, Trojan Women 884]
and all the other similar things which the sons of the poets sing.
But opinions that are mistaken and deviate from the right – deadly opinions, in very truth – turned aside man, the heavenly plant, from a heavenly manner of life, and stretched him upon earth, by inducing him to give heed to things formed out of earth. Some men were deceived from the first about the spectacle of the heavens. Trusting solely to sight, they gazed at the movements of the heavenly bodies, and in wonder deified them, giving them the name of gods from their running motion [derived from Plato, Cratylus 397]. Hence they worshipped the sun, as Indians do, and the moon, as Phrygians do. Others, when gathering the cultivated fruits of plants that spring from the earth, called the corn Demeter, as the Athenians, and the vine Dionysus, as the Thebans. Others, after reflecting upon the punishments of evil-doing, make gods out of their experiences of retribution, worshipping the very calamities. This is the source from which the Erinyes and Eumenides, goddess of expiation and vengeance, as well as the Alastors, have been fashioned by the poets of the stage. Even certain of the philosophers themselves, following the men of poetry, came to represent as deities the types of your emotions, such as Fear, Love, Joy, Hope; just as, of course, Epimenides did of old, when he set up altars in Athens to Insolence and Shamelessness. Some gods arise from the mere circumstances of life deified in men’s eyes and fashioned in bodily form; such are the Athenian deities, Right (Dike), the Spinner (Clotho), the Giver of lots (Lachesis), the Inflexible One (Atropus), Destiny (Heimarmene), Growth (Auxo) and Abundance (Thallo). There is a sixth way of introducing deception and of procuring gods, according to which men reckon them to be twelve in number, of whose genealogy Hesiod sings his own story, and Homer, too, has much to say about them. Finally (for these ways of error are seven in all), there remains that which arises from the divine beneficence shown towards men; for, since men did not understand it was God who benefited them, they invented certain saviours, the Twin Brothers (Dioscuri), Heracles averter of evils, and Asclepius the doctor.
These then are the slippery and harmful paths which lead away from the truth, dragging man down from heaven and overturning him into the pit. But I wish to display to you at close quarters the gods themselves, showing what their characters are, and whether they really exist; in order that at last you may cease from error and run back again to heaven. “For we too were once children of wrath, as also the rest; but God being rich in mercy, through His great love wherewith He loved us, when we were already dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” For the Word is living, and he who has been buried with Christ is exhalted together with God. They who are still unbelieving are called “children of wrath,” since they are being reared for wrath. We, one the contrary, are no longer creatures of wrath, for we have been torn away from error and are hastening toward the truth. Thus we who were once sons of lawlessness have now become sons of God thanks to the love of the Word for man. But you are they whom even your own poet, Empedocles of Acragas, points to in these lines:
So then, by grievous miseries distraught, ye ne’er shall rest your mind from painful woes. [Empedocles, Frag. 145]
Now the most part of the stories about your gods are legends and fictions. But as many as are held to be real events are the records of base men who led dissolute lives:
Be ye in price and madness walk; ye left the true, straight path, and chose the way through thorns and stakes. Why err, ye mortals? Cease, vain men! Forsake the dark night, and cleave unto the light. [Sibylline Oracles, Preface 23]
This is what the prophetic and poetic Sibyl enjoins on us. And truth, too, does the same, when she strips these dreadful and terrifying masks from the crowd of gods, and adduces certain similarities of name to prove the absurdity of your rash opinions.
For example, there are some who record three gods of the name Zeus: one in Arcadia, the son of Aether, the other two being sons of Cronus, the one in Crete, the other again in Arcadia. Some assume five Athenas: the daughter of Hephaestus, who is the Athenian; the daughter of Neilus, who is the Egyptian a third, the daughter of Cronus, who is the discoverer of war; a fourth, the daughter of Zeus, to whom the Messenians give the title Coryphassia after her mother. Above all, there is the child of Pallas and Titanis daughter of Oceanus. This is the one who impiously slaughtered her father and is arrayed in the paternal skin, as though it were a fleece. Further, with regard to Apollo, Aristotle enumerates, first, the son of Hephaestus and Athena [i.e. Erichthonius] (which puts an end to Athena’s virginity); secondly, the son of Cyrbas in Crete; thirdly, the son of Zeus; and fourthly, the Arcadian, the son of Silenus, called among the Arcadians Nomius. In addition to these he reckons the Libyan, the son of Ammon; and Didymus the grammarian adds a sixth, the son of Magnes. And how many Apollos are there at the present time? A countless host, all mortal and perishable men, who have been called by similar names to the deities we have just mentioned. And what if I were to tell you of the many gods named Asclepius, or of every Hermes that is enumerated, or of every Hephaestus that occurs in your mythology? But the lands they dwelt in, the arts they practiced, the records of their lives, yes, and their very tombs, prove conclusively that they were men.
There is for example Ares, who is honoured so far as that is possible, the poets –
Ares, thou plague of men, bloodguilty one, stormer of cities; [Homer, Iliad 5.31]
this fickle and implacable god was, according to Epicharmus, a Spartan. But Sophocles knows him for a Thracian, others for an Arcadian. This is the god of whom Homer says that he was bound in chains for a space of thirteen months:
Such was the lot of Ares, when Otus and strong Ephialtes, sons of Aloeus, seized him, and chained his limbs in strong fetters; and in a dungeon of brass for thirteen months he lay captive. [Homer, Iliad 5.385]
Blessing be upon the Carians, who sacrifice dogs to him! May Scythians never cease offering asses, as Apollodorus says they do, and Callimachus too, in the following verse:
In northern lands ass-sacrifice rise when Phoebus first appears. [Callimachus, Frag. 187]
Elsewhere the same writer says:
Rich sacrifice of asses Phoebus loves. [Callimachus, Frag 188]
Hephaestus, whom Zeus cast out of Olympus, “from the threshold of heaven,” [Homer, Iliad 1.591] fell to earth in Lemnos and worked as a smith. He was lame in both feet, “but his slender legs moved quickly under him.” [Iliad 18.411] You have not only a smith among the gods, but a doctor as well. The doctor was fond of money, and his name was Asclepius. I will quote your own poet, Pindar the Boeotian:
Gold was his ruin; it shone in his hands, splendid reward for a deed of skill; Lo! from the arm of Zeus on high darted the gleaming bolt for ill; snatched from the man his new-found breath, whelmed the god in a mortal’s death. [Pindar, Pythian Odes 3.97]
And Euripides says:
‘Twas due to Zeus; he slew Asclepius, my son, – with lightning flame that pierced his heart. [Euripides, Alcestis 3]
This god, then, killed by the thunderbolt, lies on the frontier of Cynosuris. But Philochorus says that in Tenos Poseidon was honoured as a doctor. He adds that Sicily was placed upon Cronus, and there he lies buried. Both Patrocles of Thurium and the younger Sophocles relate the story of the Twin Brothers (Dioscuri) in some of their tragedies. These Brothers were simply two men, subject to death, if Homer’s authority is sufficient for the statement,
they ere now by life-giving earth were enfolded, there in far Lacedaemon, the well-loved land of their fathers. [Homer, Iliad 3.243]
Let the author of the Cyprian verses also come forward:
Castor is mortal man, and death as his fate is appointed; but immortal is great Polydeuces, offspring of Ares.
This last line is a poetic falsehood. But Homer is more worthy in credence that this poet in what he said about both the Brothers. In addition he has proved Heracles to be a shade. For to him “Heracles, privy to great deeds,” is simply “a man.” [Homer, Odyssey 21.6] Heracles, then, is known to be mortal man even by Homer. Hieronymus the philosopher sketches his bodily characteristics also, – small stature, bristling hair, great strength. Dicaearchus adds that he was slim, sinewy, dark, with hooked nose, bright gleaming eyes and long, straight hair. This Heracles, after a life of fifty-two years, ended his days, and his obsequies were celebrated in the pyre on Mount Oeta.
As for the Muses, Alcman derives their origin from Zeus and Mnemosyne, and the rest of the poets and prose-writers deify and worship them; to such an extent that whole cities dedicate “temples of the Muses” in their honour. But these were Mysian serving-maids purchased by Megaclo, the daughter of Macar. Now Macar, who was [a mythical] king over the Lesbians, was constantly quarelling with his wife, and Megaclo was grieved for her mother’s sake. How could she be otherwise? So she brought these Mysian servant-maids, to the correct number, and pronounced their names Moisai, according to the Aeolic dialect. She had them taught to sing of ancient deeds, and to play the lyre in melodious accompaniment; and they, by their continual playing and the spell of their beautiful singing, were wont to soothe Macar and rid him of his anger. As a thank-offering for these services Megaclo erected, on her mother’s behalf, bronze statues of the maids, and commanded that they should be honoured in all the temples. Such is the origin of the Muses. The account of them is found in Myrilus of Lesbos.
Now listen to the loves of these gods of yours; to the extraordinary tales of their incontinence; to their wounds, imprisonments, fits of laughter, conflicts, and periods of servitude. Listen, too, to their revels, their embraces, their tears, passions and dissolute pleasures. Call Poseidon, and the band of maidens corrupted by him, Amphitrite, Amymone, Alope, Melanippe, Alcyone, Hippothoë, Chione, and the thousands of others. Yet in spite of this great number, the passions of your Poseidon were still unsatisfied. Call Apollo, too. He is Phoebus, a holy prophet and good counselor! But this is not the opinion of Sterope, or Aethusa, or Arsinoë, or Zeuxippe, or Prothoë, or Marpessa, or Hypsipyle. For Daphne was the only one who escaped the prophet and his corruption. Above all, let Zeus come to, he who is, according to you account, “father of gods and men.” So completely was he given over to lust, that every woman not only excited his desire, but became a victim of it. Why, he would take his fill of women no less than the buck of the Thmuitans [sacred Egyptian goat] does of she-goats. I am astonished at these verses of yours, Homer:
Thus spake the son of Cronus, and nodded assent with his eyebrows; Lo! the ambrosial locks of the king flowed waving around him down from his deathless head; and great Olympus was shaken. [Homer, Iliad 1.528]
It is a majestic Zeus that you portray Homer; and you invest him with a nod that is held in honour. Yet, my good sir, if you but let him catch a glimpse of a woman’s girdle, even Zeus is exposed and his locks are put to shame. What a pitch of licentiousness did this great Zeus reach when he spent so many nights in pleasure with Alcmene! Nay, not even the nine nights were a long period for this debauchee, – indeed, a whole lifetime was short for his incontinence, – especially when the purpose was that he might beget for us the god whose work it is to avert evils. Heracles is the son of Zeus, begotten in this long night. And a true son he is; for long and weary as the time was in which he accomplished his twelve labours, yet in a single night he corrupted the fifty daughters of Thestius, becoming at once bridegroom and adulterer to all these maidens. Not without reason, then, do the poets dub him “abandoned” and “doer of evil deeds.” It would be a long story to relate his varied adulteries and his corruption of boys. For your gods did not abstain from boys. One [Heracles] loved Hylas, another [Apollo] Hyacinthus, another [Poseidon] Chrysippus, another [Zeus] Ganymedes. These are the gods your wives are to worship! Such they must pray for their own husbands to be, similar models of virtue, – that they may be like the gods by aspiring after equally high ideals! Let these be they whom your boys are trained to reverence, in order that they may grow to manhood with the gods ever before them as a manifest pattern of fornication!
But perhaps in the case of the gods, it is the males only who rush eagerly after sexual delights while
Each in her own home for shame the lady goddesses rested. [Homer, Odyssey 8,.324]
as Homer says, because as goddesses they modestly shrank from the sight of Aphrodite taken in adultery. Yet these are more passionately given to licentiousness, being fast bound in adultery; as, for instance, Eos with Tithonus, Selene with Endymion, Nereis with Aeacus, Thetis with Peleus, Demeter with Iasion and Persephone with Adonis. Aphrodite, after having been put to shame for her love of Ares, courted Cinyras, married Anchises, entrapped Phaëthon and loved Adonis. She, too, entered into a rivalry with [Hera] the “goddess of the large eyes,” in which, for the sake of an apple, the goddesses stripped and presented themselves naked to the shepherd, to see whether he would pronounce one of them beautiful.
Let us now proceed briefly to review the contests, and let us put an end to these solemn assemblages at tombs, the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian, and, above all, the Olympian games. At Pytho worship is paid to the Pythian serpent, and the assembly held in honour of this snake is entitled Pythian. At the Isthmus the sea cast up a miserable carcass, and the Isthmian games are lamentations for Melicertes. At Nemea another, a child Archemorus, lies buried, and it is the celebrations held at the grave of this child that are called by the name Nemean. And Pisa, – mark it, ye Panhellenic peoples! – your Pisa is the tomb of a Phrygian charioteer, and the libations poured out for Pelops, which constitute the Olympian festivities, are appropriated by the Zeus of Pheidias. So it seems that contests, being held in honour of the dead, were of the nature of the mysteries, just as also the oracles were; and both have become public institutions. But the mysteries at Agra and those in Halimus of Attica have been confined to Athens; on the other hand, the contests are now a world-wide disgrace, as are also the phalloi consecrated to Dionysus, from the infection of evil which they have spread over human life.
This is the origin of these phalloi. Dionysus was anxious to descend into Hades, but did not know the way. Thereupon a certain man, Prosymnus by name, promises to tell him; though not without reward. The reward was not a seemly one, though to Dionysus it was seemly enough. It was a favour of lust, this reward which Dionysus was asked for. The god is willing to grant the request; and so he promises in the event of his return, to fulfil the wish of Prosymnus, confirming the promise with an oath. Having learnt the way he set out, and came back again. He does not find Prosymnus, for he was dead. In fulfillment of the vow to his lover Dionysus hastens to the tomb and indulges his unnatural lust. Cutting of a branch from a fig-tree which was at hand, he shaped it into the likeness of a phallus, and then made a show of fulfilling his promise to the dead man. As a mystic memorial of this passion phalloi are set up to Dionysus in cities. “For if it were not to Dionysus that they held solemn procession and sang the phallic hymn, they would be acting most shamefully,” says Heracleitus; “and Hades is the same as Dionysus, in whose honour they go mad and keep the Lenaean feast,” not so much, I think, for the sake of bodily intoxication as for the shameful display of licentiousness.
It would seem natural, therefore, for gods like these of yours to be slaves, since they have become slaves of their passions. What is more, even before the time of the Helots, as they were called among the Lacedaemonians, Apollo bowed beneath the yoke of slavery to Admetus in Pherae, and Heracles to Omphale in Sardis. Poseidon and Apollo were serfs to Laomedon, Apollo, like a worthless servant, not having been able, I suppose, to obtain the gift of freedom from his former master. It was then that these two gods built the walls of Ilium for their Phrygian lord. Homer is not ashamed to speak of Athena lighting the way for Odysseus, “holding a golden lamp” [Odyssey 19.34] in her hands. We read of Aphrodite, how, like a wanton hussy, she brought the stool for Helen, and placed it in front of her paramour, in order that Helen might entice him to her arms [Iliad 3.424]. Panyasis, too, relates in addition very many other instances of gods, becoming servants to men. He writes in this way: –
Demeter bore the yoke; Hephaestus too; Poseidon; and Apollo, silver-bowed, one year endured to serve with mortal man; likewise strong Ares, by his sire constrained, [Panyasis, Heracleia, Frag. 16]
– and so on.
As a natural consequence, these amorous and passionate gods of yours are brought before us as subject to every sort of human emotion. “For truly mortal flesh is theirs.” Homer gives evidence of this, when in precise terms he introduces Aphrodite uttering a loud and shrill cry over her wound [Iliad 5.343]; and when he tells how the arch-warrior himself, Ares, was pierced in the flank by Diomedes. [Iliad 5.855] Polemon says that Athena too was wounded by Ornytus; yes, and even Hades was struck with an arrow by Heracles, according to Homer [Iliad 5.395]; and Panyasis further relates that Hera, the goddess of marriage, was wounded by the same Heracles, “in sandy Pylos.” [Panyasis, Heracleia, Frag 6] Sosibius says that Heracles himself was struck in the hand by the sons of Hippocoon. If there are wounds there is also blood; for the “ichor” of the poets is a more disgusting thing even than blood, the word ichor meaning putrefaction of the blood. It is necessary, therefore, to supply the gods with attendance and nourishment, of which they are in need; so they have feasts, carousings, bursts of laughter and acts of sexual intercourse, whereas if they were immortal, and in need of nothing, and untouched by age, they would not partake of the pleasures of human love, nor beget children, nor even go to sleep. Zeus himself shared a human table among the Ethiopians [Iliad 1.423], and an inhuman and unlawful table when feasting with Lycaon the Arcadian set before him, as a dainty dish, his own child, Nyctimus by name, whom he had slaughtered. What a fine Zeus he is, the diviner, the protector of guests, the hearer of suppliants, the gracious, the author of all oracles, the avenger of crime! Rather he ought to be called the unjust, the unrestrained, the lawless, the unholy, the inhuman, the violent, the seducer, the adulterer, the wanton lover. Still, there was life about him in those days, when he was all this, when he was a man; but by this time even your legends appear to me to have grown old. Zeus is no longer a snake, nor a swan, nor an eagle, nor an amorous man. He is not a god who flies, or corrupts boys, or kisses, or ravishes; and yet there are still many beautiful women left, fairer even than Leda and nearer their prime than Semele, and lads more blooming and more refined than the Phrygian herdsman [Ganymedes]. Where is now that famous eagle? Where is the swan? Where is Zeus himself? He has grown old, wings and all. For you may be sure he is not repentant because of his love affairs, nor is he training himself to live a sober life. See, the legend is laid bare. Leda is dead; the swan is dead; the eagle is dead. Search for your Zeus. Scour not heaven, but earth. Callimachus the Cretan, in whose land he lies buried, will tell you in his hymns:
for a tomb, O Prince, did the Cretans fashion for thee. [Callimachus, Hymn to Zeus 8]
Yes, Zeus is dead (take it not to heart), like Leda, like the swan, like the eagle, like the amorous man, like the snake.
But it is clear that even the daemon-worshippers themselves are coming to understand, though against their will, the error about the gods; for
Not from the ancient oak nor rock do they take their beginning [Homer, Odyssey 19.163]
No; they are of the race of men, though very shortly they will be found to be nothing but oaks and rocks. There is a Zeus Agamemnon honoured at Sparta, according to Staphylus; and Phanocles, in his book entitled Loves, or Fair Youths, says that Agamemnon the king of the Greeks set up a temple to Aphrodite Argynnus, in honour of Argynnus whom he loved. Arcadians worship an Artemis called “the goddess who is hanged” (Apachomene), as Callimachus says in his Causes; and at Methymna another, an Artemis Conylitis (Striking) is honoured. There is also another, a “gouty” (Podarge) Artemis, with a shrine in Laconia, as Sosibius says. Polemon knows a statue of “yawning” (Cechenotus) Apollo; and another, too, of Apollo “the epicure” (Opsophagus), honoured in Elis. These Eleans sacrifice to Zeus “averter of flies” (Apomius), and the Romans to Heracles of the same title, as well as to “Fever” (Pyretus) and “Fear” (Phobus) which they even enroll among the companions of Heracles. I pass by the Argives; Aphrodite the “grave-robber” (Tymborhychus) is worshipped by them, as well as by the Laconians. Furthermore, Spartans venerate Artemis Chelytis or the “coughing”Artemis, since the verb corresponding to Chelytis is their word for “to cough”.
Do you think that the examples which I am adducing are brought to you from some improper source? Why, it seems as if you do not recognize your own authors, whom I call as witnesses against your unbelief. Alas for you! They have filled your whole life with godless foolery, until life has become truly intolerable. Tell me, is there not a “bald” (Phalacrus) Zeus honoured in Argos, and another, an “avenger” (Timorus), in Cyprus? Do not Argives sacrifice to Aphrodite divaricatrix (Peribasus), Athenians to her as “courtesan” (Hetaira), and Syracusans to her “of the beautiful buttocks” (Callipygus), whom the poet Nicander has somewhere called “of the beautiful rump” (Callipluton)? I will be silent about Dionysus Choiropsalas. The Sicyonians worship Dionysus as the god who presides over the woman’s secrete parts; thus they reverence the originator of licentiousness, as overseer of what is shameful. Such, then, is the character of the Greek gods; such, too, are the worshippers, who make a mockery of the divine, or rather, who mock and insult themselves. How much better are Egyptians, when in cities and villages they hold in great honour irrational animals, than Greeks who worship gods such as these? For though the Egyptian gods are beasts, still they are not adulterous, they are not lewd, and not one of them seeks for pleasure contrary to its own nature. But as for the characteristics of the Greek gods, what need is there to say more? They have been sufficiently exposed.
Egyptians, however, whom I mentioned just now are divided in the matter of their religious cults. The people of Syene worship the fish phagrus; the inhabitants of Elaphantine another fish, the maeotes; the people of Oxyrhynchus also worship a fish, that which bears the name of their land. Further, the people of Heracleopolis worship the ichneumon; of Sais and Thebes, the sheep; of Lycopolis, the wolf; of Cynopolis, the dog; of Memphis, the gull Apis; of Mendes, the goat. But as for you, who are in every way better than Egyptians, – I shrink from calling you worse – you who never let a day pass without laughing at the Egyptians, what is your attitude with regard to the irrational animals? The Thessalians among you give hnoour to storks by reason of old custom; Thebans to weasels on account of the birth of Heracles. What else of Thessalians? They are reported to worship ants, because they have been taught that Zeus, in the likeness of an ant, had intercourse with Eurymedusa the daughter of Cletor and begat Myrmidon. Polemon relates that the dwellers in the Troad worship the local mice (which they call sminthoi), because these used to gnaw through their enemies’ bowstrings; and they named Apollo ‘Smintheus” after these mice. Heracleides, in his work on The Founding of Temples in Acarnania, says that on the promontory of Actium, where stands the temple of Apollo of Actium, a preliminary sacrifice of an ox is made to the flies. Nor shall I forget the Samians, who, as Euphorion says, worship the sheep; no, nor yet the Syrian inhabitants of Phoenicia, some of whom worship doves, and others fish [Syrian goddesses Derceto and Semiramis], as extravagantly as the Eleans worship Zeus.
Very well! since they whom you serve are not gods, I am resolved to make a fresh examination to see whether it is true that they are daemons, and should be enrolled, as you say, in this second rank of divinities. For if they really are daemons, they are greedy and foul ones. We can discover perfectly clear examples of daemons of local origin who glean hnour in cities, as Menedemus among the Cynthians, Callistagoras among the Tenians, Anius among the Delians and Astrabacus among the Laconians. Honour is paid also at Phalerum to a certain hero “at the stern” [Androgeus], and the Pythian prophetess prescribed that the Plataeans should sacrifice to Androcrates, Democrates, Cylaeus and Leucon when the struggles with the Medes were at their height. And the man who is able to make even a slight investigation can get a view of very many other daemons;
For thice ten thousand dwell on mother earth, immortal daemons, guards of mortal men. [Hesiod, Works and Days 252]
Who are these guardians, thou Boeotian bard? Do not refuse to tell us. Or is it clear that they are these whom I have just mentioned, and others more honoured than they, namely the great daemons, Apollo, Artemis, Leto, Demeter, the Maiden, Pluto, Heracles, and Zeus himself? But it is not to prevent us from running away that they guard us, poet of Ascra! Perhaps it is to prevent us from sinning, seeing that they, to be sure, have had no experience of sins. Here indeed we may fitly utter the proverbial line,
The father warns his child but not himself.
Yet if, after all, they really are guardians, they are not moved by feelings of good will towards us; but, being intent upon your destruction, they beset human life after the manner of flatterers, allured by the sacrificial smoke, In one place the daemons themselves admit this gluttony of theirs, when they say,
Wine and odorous steam; for that we receive as our portion. [Homer, Iliad 4.49]
If Egyptian gods, such as cats and weasels, were to be endowed with speech, what other cry are they likely to give forth than this from Homer’s poems, proclaiming a love for savoury odours and cookery? Be that as it may, such is the character of the daemons and gods you worship, and of the demigods too, if you have any called by this name, on the analogy of mules, or demi-asses; for you have no poverty – not even of words to form into the compounds needed for your impiety.