Classical Texts Library >> Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks >> Books 3-5




Come then, let us add this, that your gods are inhuman and man-hating daemons, who not only exult over the insanity of men, but go so far as to enjoy human slaughter. They provide for themselves sources of pleasure, at one time in the armed contests of the stadium, at another in the innumerable rivalries of war, in order to secure every possible opportunity of glutting themselves to the full with human blood. Before now, too, they have fallen like plagues on whole cities and nations, and have demanded drink-offerings of a savage character. For instance, Aristomenes the Messenian slaughtered three hundred men to Zeus of Ithome, in the belief that favourable omens are secured by sacrifices of such magnitude and quality. Among the victims was even Theopompus, the Lacedaemonian king, a noble offering. The Taurian race, who dwell along the Taurian peninsular, whenever they capture strangers in their territory, that is to say, men who have been shipwrecked, sacrifice them on the spot to Tauric Artemis. These are your sacrifices which Euripides represents in tragedy upon the stage. Monimus, in his collection of Wonderful Events, relates that in Pella of Thessaly human sacrifice is offered to Peleus and Cheiron, the victim being an Achaean. Thus too, Anticleides in his Homecomings, declares that the Lyctians, a race of Cretans, slaughter men to Zeus; and Dosidas says that Lesbians offer a similar sacrifice to Dionysus. As for Phocaeans, – for I shall not pass them over either – these people are reported by Pythocles in his third book On Concord to offer a burnt sacrifice of a man to Taurian Artemis. Erechtheus the Athenian and Marius the Roman sacrificed their own daughters, the former to Persephone, as Demaratus relates in the first book of his Subjects of Tragedy; the latter, Marius, to the “Averters of evil,” as Dorotheus relates in the fourth book of his Italian History.

Kindly beings to be sure the daemons are, as these instances plainly show! And how can the daemon-worshippers help being holy in a corresponding way? The former are hailed as saviours; the latter beg for safety from those who plot to destroy safety. Certainly while they suppose that they are offering acceptable sacrifices to the daemons, they quite forget that they are slaughtering human beings. For murder does not become a sacred offering because of the place in which it is committed, not even if you solemnly dedicate a man and then slaughter him in a so-called sacred spot for Artemis or Zeus, rather than for anger or covetousness, other daemons of the same sort, or upon altars rather than in roads. On the contrary, such sacrifice is murder and human butchery. Why then is it, O men, wisest of all living creatures, that we fly from savage wild beasts and turn aside if perchance we meet a bear or a lion, and

As in a mountain glade when the wayfarer spieth a serpent, swiftly turning his steps, his weak limbs trembling beneath him, backward he maketh his way; [Homer, Iliad 3.33]

yet when faced by deadly and accursed daemons, you do not turn aside nor avoid them, although you have already perceived and know quite well that they are plotters and man-haters and destroyers? What possible truth could evil beings utter, or whom could they benefit? At any rate, I can at once prove to you that man is better than these gods of yours, the daemons; that Cyrus and Solon are better than Apollo the prophet. Your Phoebus is a lover of gifts but not of men. He betrayed his friend Croesus [historical Lydian king], and, forgetful of the reward he had received (such was his love of honour), led the king across the river Halys to his funeral pyre. This is how the daemons love; they guide men to the fire! But do thou, O man of kinder heart and truer speech than Apollo, pity him who lies bound upon the pyre. Do thou, Solon, utter an oracle of truth. Do thou, Cyrus, bid the flaming pyre be quenched. Come to thy senses at the eleventh hour, Croesus, when suffering has taught thee better. Ungrateful is the whom thou dost worship. He takes the reward of gold, and then deceives thee once again. Mark! it is not the daemon, but the man who tells thee the issue of life. Unlike Apollo, Solon utters no double-meaning prophecies. This oracle alone shalt thou find true, O barbarian. This shalt thou prove upon the pyre.

I cannot help wondering, therefore, what delusive fancies could have led astray those who were the first to be themselves deceived, and the first also, by the laws they established for the worship of accursed daemons, to proclaim their superstition to mankind. I mean such men as the well-known Phoroneus, or Merops [mythical kings], or others like them, who set up temples and altars to the daemons, and are also said in legend to have been the first to offer sacrifices. There can be no doubt that in succeeding ages men used to invent gods whom they might worship. This Eros, for instance, who is said to be amongst the oldest of gods, – why, not a single person honoured him before Charmus carried off a young lad and erected an altar in Academia, as a thank-offering for the satisfaction of his lust; and this disease of debauchery is what men call Eros, making unbridled lust into a god! Nor did Athenians know who even Pan was, before Philippides told them.

We must not then be surprised that, once daemon-worship had somewhere taken a beginning, tit became a fountain of insensate wickedness. Then, not being checked, but ever increasing and flowing in full stream, it establishes itself as creator of a multitude of daemons. It offers great public sacrifices; it holds solemn festivals; it sets up statues and builds temples. These temples – for I will not keep silence even about them, but will expose them also – are called by a fair-sounding name, but in reality they are tombs. But I appeal to you, even at this late hour forget daemon-worship, feeling ashamed to honour tombs. In the temple of Athena in the Acropolis at Larissa there is the tomb of Acrisius; and in the Acropolis at Athens the tomb of Cecrops, as Antiochus says in his ninth book of Histories. And what of Erichthonius? Does he not lie in the temple of Athena Polias? And does not Immaradus, the son of Eumolpus and Daeira, lie in the enclosure of the Eleusinium which is under the Acropolis? Are not the daughters of Celeus buried in Eleusis? Why recount to you the Hyperborean women? They are called Hyperoche and Laodice, and they lie in the Artemisium at Delos; this is in the temple precincts of Delian Apollo. Leandrius says that Cleochus is buried in the Didymaeum at Miletus. Here, following Zeno of Myndus, we must not omit the sepulcher of Leucophryne, who lies in the temple of Artemis in Magnesia; nor yet the altar of Apollo at Telmessus, which is reported to be a monument to the prophet Telmessus. Ptolemaeus the son of Agesarchus in the first volume of his work About Philopator says that in the temple of Aphrodite at Paphos both Cinyras and his descendants lie buried. But really, if I were to go through all the tombs held sacred in your eyes, the whole of time would not suffice my need. As for you, unless a touch of shame steals over you for these audacities, then you are going about utterly dead, like the dead in whom you have put your trust.

Oh! most wretched of men, what evil is this that ye suffer? Darkness hath shrouded your heads. [Homer, Odyssey 20.351]


If, in addition to this, I bring the statues themselves and place them by your side for inspection, you will find on going through them that custom is truly nonsense, when it leads you to adore senseless things, “the works of men’s hands.” In ancient times, then, the Scythians used to worship the dagger, the Arabians their sacred stone, the Persians their river. Other peoples still more ancient erected conspicuous wooden poles and set up pillars of stones, to which they gave the name xoana, meaning scraped objects, because the rough surface of the material had been scraped off. Certainly the statue of Artemis in Icarus was a piece of unwrought timber, and that of Cithaeronian Hera in Thespiae was a felled tree-trunk. The statue of Samian Hera, as Aëthlius says, was at first a wooden beam, but afterwards, when Procles was ruler, it was made into human form. When these rude images began to be shaped to the likeness of men, they acquired the additional name brete, from brotoi meaning mortals. In Rome, of old time, according to Varro the prose-writer, the object that represented Ares was a spear, since craftsmen had not yet entered upon the fair-seeming but mischievous art of sculpture. But the moment art flourished, error increased.

It is now, therefore, self-evident that out of stones and blocks of wood, and, in one word, out of matter, men fashioned statues resembling the human form, to which you offer a semblance of piety, calumniating the truth. Still, since the point calls for a certain amount of argument, we must not decline to furnish it. Now everyone, I suppose, will admit that the statues of Zeus at Olympia and Athena Polias at Athens were wrought of gold and ivory by Pheidias; and Olympichus in his Samian History relates that the image of Hera in Samos was made by Smilis the son of Eucleides. Do not doubt, then, that of the goddesses at Athens called “venerable” (Semnai) two were made by Scopas out of the stone called lychneus, and the middle one by Calos; I can point out to you the account given by Polemon in the fourth volume of his work Against Timaeus. Neither doubt that the statues of Zeus and Apollo in Lycian Patara were also wrought by the great Pheidias, just as were the lions that are dedicated along with them. But if, as some say, the art is that of Bryaxis, I do not contradict. He also is one of your sculptors; put down which of the two you like. Further, the nine-cubit statues of Poseidon and Amphitrite worshipped in Tenos are the work of the Athenian Tlesius, as Philochorus tells us. Demetrius in his second book of Argolis History, speaking of the image of Hera in Tiryns, records its material, pear-tree wood, as well as its maker, Argus. Many would perhaps be astonished to learn that the image of Pallas called “heaven-sent” (because it fell from heaven), which Diomedes and Odysseus are related to have stolen away from Troy, and to have entrusted to the keeping of Demophon, is made out of the bones of Pelops, just as the Olympian Zeus is also made out of bones, – those of an Indian beast. I give you, too, my authority for this, namely Dionysius, who relates the story in the fifth section of his Cycle. Apellas in his Delphic History says that there are two such images of Pallas, and that both are of human workmanship. I will also mention the statue of Morychian Dionysus at Athens, – in order that no one may suppose me to have omitted these facts through ignorance, – that it is made out of the stone called phellatas, and is the work of Sicon the son of Eupalamus, as Polemon says in a certain letter. There were also two other sculptors, Cretans I believe, whose name were Scyllis and Dipoenus. This pair made the statues of the Twin Brothers (Dioscuri) at Argos, the figure of Heracles at Tiryns and the image of Munychian Artemis at Sicyon.

But why do I linger over these, when I can show you the origin of the arch-daemon himself, the one who, we are told, is pre-eminently worthy of veneration by all men, whom they have dared to say is made without hands, the Egyptians Sarapis? Some relate that he was sent by the people of Sinope as a thank-offering to Ptolemy Philadelpus king of Eygpt, who had earned their gratitude at a time when they were worn out with hunger and had sent for corn from Egypt; and that this image was a statue of Pluto. On receiving the figure, the king set it up upon the promontory which they now call Rhacotis, where stands the honoured temple of Sarapis; and the spot is close to the burial-places. And they say that Ptolemy had his mistress Blistiche, who had died in Canobus, brought here and buried under the before mentioned shrine. Others say that Sarapis was an image from Pontus, and that it was conveyed to Alexandria with the honour of a solemn festival. Isidorus alone states that the statue was brought from the people of Seleucia near to Antioch, when they too had been suffering from dearth of corn and had been sustained by Ptolemy. But Athenodorus the son of Sandon, while intending to establish the antiquity of Sarapis, stumbled in some unaccountable way, for he ahs proved him to be a statue made by man. He says that Sesostris the Egyptian king, having subdued most of the nations of Greece, brought back on his return to Egypt a number of skiful craftsmen. He gave them personal orders, therefore, that a statue of Osiris his own ancestor should be elaborately wrought at great expense; and the statue was made by the artist Bryaxis, – not the famous Athenian, but another of the same name, – who has used a mixture of various materials in its construction. He had filings of gold, silver, bronze, iron, lead, and even tin; and not a single Egyptian stone was lacking, there being pieces of sapphire, hematite, emerald, and topaz also. Having reduced them all to powder and mixed the, he stained the mixture dark blue (on account of which the colour of the statue is nearly black), and, mingling the whole with the pigment left over from the funeral rites of Osiris and Apis, he moulded Sarapis; whose very name implies this connexion with the funeral rites, and the construction out of material for burial, Osirapis being a compound form Osiris and Apis.

Another fresh divinity was created in Egypt – and very nearly among Greeks too, – when the Roman king [Hadrian] solemnly elevated to the rank of god his favourite whose beauty was unequalled. He consecrated Antinous in the same way that Zeus consecrated Ganymedes. For lust is not easily restrained, when it has no fear; and to-day men observe the sacred nights of Antinous, which were really shameful, as the lover who kept them with him well knew. Why, I ask, do you reckon as a god one who is honoured for fornication? Why did you order that he should be mourned for as a son? Why, too, do you tell the story of his beauty? Beauty is a shameful thing when it has been blighted by outrage. Be not a tyrant, O man, over beauty, neither outrage him who is in the flower of his youth. Guard it in purity, that it may remain beautiful. Become a king over beauty, not a tyrant. Let is remain free. When you have kept its image pure, then I will acknowledge your beauty. Then I will worship beauty, when it is the true archetype of things beautiful. But now we have a tomb of the boy who was loved, a temple and city of Antinous: and it seems to me that tombs are objects of reverence in just he same way as temples are; in fact, pyramids, mausoleums and labyrinths are as it were temples of dead men, just as temples are tombs of the gods. As your instructor I will quote the prophetic Sibyl,

Whose words divine come not from Phoebus’ lips, that prophet false, by foolish men called god, but from great God, whom no man’s hands have made, like speechless idols framed from polished stone. [Sibylline Oracles 4.4]

She, however, calls the temples ruins. That of Ephesian Artemis she predicts will be swallowed up by “yawning gulfs and earthquakes,” thus:

Prostrate shall Ephesus groan, when, deep in tears, she seeks along her banks a vanished shrine. [Sibylline Oracles 5.295]

That of Isis and Sarapis in Egypt she says will be overthrown and burnt up:

Thrice wretched Isis, by Nile’s streams thou stayst lone, dumb with frenzy on dark Acheron’s sands. [Sibylline Oracles 5.483]

Then lower down:

And thou, Sarapis, piled with useless stones, in wretches Egypt liest, a ruin great. [Sibylline Oracles 5.486]

If, however, you refuse to listen to the prophetess, hear at least your own philosopher, Heracleitus of Ephesus, when he taunts the statues for their want of feeling: “and they pray to these statues just as if one were to chatter to his house.” Are they not amazing, these men who make supplication to stones, and yet set them up before their gates as if alive and active, worshipping the image of Hermes as a god, and setting up the “god of the Ways” (Agyieus) as door-keeper? For if they treat them with contumely as being without feeling, why do they worship them as gods? But if they believe them to partake of feeling, why do they set them up as door-keepers? The Romans, although they ascribe their greatest successes to Fortuna, and believe her to the greatest deity, carry her statue to the privy and erect it there, thus assigning to her a fit temple.

But indeed the senseless wood and stone and precious gold pay not the smallest regard to the steam, the blood, and the smoke. They are blackened by the cloud of smoke which is meant to honour them, but they heed neither the honour nor the insult. There is not a single living creature that is not more worthy of honour than these statues; and how it comes to pass that senseless things have been deified I am at a loss to know, and I deeply pity for their lack of understanding the men who are thus miserably wandering in error. For even though there are some living creatures which do not possess all the senses, as worms and caterpillars, and all those that appear to be imperfect from the first through the conditions of their birth, such as moles and the field-mouse, which Nicander calls “blind and terrible”; yet these are better than those images and statues which hare entirely dumb. For they have at any rate some one sense, that of hearing, let us say, or of touch, or something corresponding to smell or taste; but these statues do not even partake of one sense. There are also many kinds of living creatures, such as the oyster family, which possess neither sight nor hearing nor yet speech; nevertheless they live and grow and are even affected by the moon. But the statues are motionless things incapable of action or sensation; they are bound and nailed and fastened, melted, filed, sawn, polished, carved. The dumb earth is dishonoured when sculptors pervert its peculiar nature and by their art entice men to worship it; while the god-makers, if there is any sense in me, worship not gods and daemons, but earth and art, which is all the statues are. For a statue is really lifeless matter shaped by a craftsman’s hand; but in our view the image of God is not an object of sense made from matter perceived by the senses, but a mental object. God, that is, the only true God, is perceived not by the sense but by the mind.

On the other hand, whenever a crisis arises, the daemon-worshippers, the adorers of stones, learn by experience not to revere senseless matter; for they succumb to the needs of the moment, and this fear of daemons is their ruin. And if while at heart despising the statues they are unwilling to show themselves utterly contemptuous of them, their folly is exposed by the impotence of the very gods to whom the statues are dedicated. For instance, the tyrant Dionysius the younger stripped the statue of Zeus in Sicily of its golden cloak and ordered it to be clothed with a woolen one, with the witty remark that this was better than the golden one, being both lighter in summer and warmer in winter. Antiochus of Cyzicus, when he was in want of money, ordered the golden statue of Zeus, fifteen cubits high, to be melted down, and a similar statue of cheaper material covered with gold leaf to be set up in its place. Swallows also and most other birds settle on these very statues and defile them, paying no heed to Olympian Zeus or Epidaurian Asclepius, no, nor yet to Athena Polias or Egyptian Sarapis; and even their example does not bring home to you how destitute of feeling the statues are. But there are certain evil-doers or enemies at war who from base love of gain ravaged the temples, plundering the votive offerings and even melting down the statues. Now if Cambyses or Darius or some other put his hands to such deeds in a fit of madness; and if one of them [Cambyses] slew the Egyptian god Apis, while I laugh at the thought of him slaying their god, I am indignant when gain is the motive of the offence. I will therefore willingly forget these evil deeds, holding them to be works of covetousness and not an exposure of the helplessness of the idols. But fire and earthquakes are in no way intent on gain; yet they are not frightened or awed either by the daemons or by their statues, any more than are the waves by the pebbles strewn in heaps along the seashore. I know that fire can expose and cure your fear of daemons; if you wish to cease from folly, the fire shall be your guiding light. This fire it was that burnt up the temple in Argos together with its priestess Chrysis, and also that of Artemis in Ephesus (the second after the time of the Amazons); and it has often devoured the Capitol of Rome, nor did it spare even the temple of Sarapis in the city of Alexandria. The temple of Dionysus Eleuthereus at Athens was brought to ruin in the same way, and that of Apollo at Delphi was first caught by a storm and then utterly destroyed by the “discerning fire.” Here you see a kind of prelude to what the fire promises to do hereafter.

Take next the makers of the statues; do not they shame the sensible among you into a contempt for mere matter? The Athenian Pheidias inscribed on the finger of Olympian Zeus, “Pantarces is beautiful,” though it was not Zeus Pantarces whom he though beautiful, but his own favourite of that name. Praxiteles, as Poseidippus shows clearly in his book on Cnidus, when fashioning the statue of Cnidian Aphrodite, made the goddess resemble the form of his mistress Cratina, that the miserable people might have the sculptor’s mistress to worship. When Phryne the Thespian courtesan was in her flower, the painters used all to imitate her beauty in their pictures of Aphrodite, just as the marble-masons copied Alcibiades in the busts of Hermes at Athens. It remains to bring your own judgment into play, and decide whether you wish to extend your worship to courtesans.

Such were the facts, I think, that moved the kings of old, in their contempt for these legends, to proclaim themselves gods; which they did without hesitation, since there was no danger from men. In this way they teach us that the other gods were also men, made immortal for their renown. Ceyx the son of Aeolus was addressed as Zeus by his wife Alcyone, while she in turn was addressed as Hera by her husband. Ptolemy the fourth was called Dionysus, as was also Mithridates of Pontus. Alexander wished to be thought the son of Ammon, and to be depicted with horns by the sculptors, so eager was he to outrage the beautiful face of man by a horn. Aye, and not kings only, but private persons too used to exalt themselves with divine titles, as Menecrates the doctor, who was styled Zeus. Why need I reckon Alexarchus? As Aristus of Salamis relates, he was a scholar in virtue of his knowledge, but he transformed himself into the Sun-god (Helius). And why mention Nicagoras, a man of Zeleia by race, living in the time of Alexander, who was addressed as Hermes and wore the garb of Hermes, according to his own evidence? For indeed whole nations and cities with all their inhabitants, putting on the mask of flattery, belittle the legends about the gods, mere men, puffed up with vain-glory, transforming men like themselves into the equals of the gods and voting them extravagant honours. At one time they establish by law at Cynosarges the worship of Philip the son of Amyntas, the Macedonian from Pella, him of the “broken collar-bone and lame leg,” with one eye knocked out. At another, they proclaim Demetrius to be a god in his turn; and the spot where he dismounted on entering Athens is now a temple of Demetrius the Alighter (Cataebatus), while his altars are everywhere. Arrangments were being made by the Athenians for his marriage with Athena, but he disdained the goddess, not being able to marry her statue. He went up the Acropolis, however, in company with the courtesan Lamia, and lay with her in Athena’s bridal chamber, exhibiting to the old virgin the postures of the young courtesan. We must not be angry, therefore, even with Hippo, who represented his death as a deification of himself. This Hippo ordered the following couplet to be inscribed on his monument:

Behold the tomb of Hippo, whom in death Fate made an equal of the immortal gods.

Well done, Hippo, you point out for us the error of men! For though they have not believed you when you could speak, let them become disciples now you are a corpse. This is the oracle of Hippo; let us understand its meaning. Those whom you worship were once men, who afterwards died. Legend and the lapse of time have given them their honours. For somehow the present is wont to be despised through our familiarity with it, whereas the past, being cut off from immediate exposure by the obscurity which time brings, is invested with a fictitious honour; and while events of the present are distrusted, those of the past are regarded with reverent wonder. As an example, the dead men of old, being exalted by the long period of error, are believed to be gods by those who come after. You have proof of all this in your mysteries themselves, in the solemn festivals, in fetters, wounds and weeping gods:

Woe, yea, woe be to me! that Sarpedon, dearest of mortals, doomedd is to fall by the spear of Patroclus son of Menoetius. [Homer, Iliad 16.433]

The will of Zeus has been overcome, and your supreme god, defeated, is lamenting for Sarpedon’s sake.

You are right then in having yourselves called the gods “shadows” (eidolon) and “daemons.” For Homer spoke of Athena herself and her fellow-deities as “daemons,” paying them a malicious compliment.

But she was gone to Olympus, home of shield-bearing Zeus, to join the rest of the daemons. [Homer, Iliad 1.221]

How then can the shadows and daemons any longer be gods, when they are in reality unclean and loathsome spirits, admitted by all to be earthy and foul, weighed down to the ground, and “prowling round graves and tombs,” where also they dimly appear as “ghostly apparitions” [Plato, Phaedo 81C]? These are your gods, these shadows and ghosts; and along with them go those “lame and wrinkled cross-eyed deities” [Iliad 9.502], the Prayers, daughters of Zeus, though they are more like daughters of Thersites; so that I think Bion made a witty remark when he asked how men could rightly ask Zeus for goodly children, when he had not even been able to provide them for himself. Alas for such atheism! You sink in the earth, so far as you are able, the incorruptible existence, and that which is stainless and holy you have buried in the tombs. Thus you have robbed the divine of its real and true being. Why, I ask, did you assign to those who are no gods the honours due to God alone? Whey have you forsaken heaven to pay honour to earth? For what else is gold, or silver, or steel, or iron, or bronze, or ivory, or precious stones? Are they not earth, and made from earth? Are not all these things that you see the offspring of one mother, the earth? Why then, vain and foolish men, – once again I will ask the question, – did you blaspheme highest heaven and drag down piety to the ground by fashioning for yourselves gods of earth? Why have you fallen into deeper darkness by going after these created things instead of the uncreated God? The Parian marble is beautiful, but it is not yet a Poseidon. The ivory is beautiful, but it is not yet an Olympian Zeus. Matter will ever be in need of art, but God has no such need. Art develops, matter is invested with shape; and the costliness of the substance makes it worth carrying off for gain, but it is the shape alone which makes it an object of veneration. Your statue is god; it is wood; it is stone; or if in thought you trace it to its origin, it is earth, which has received form at the artist’s hands. But my practice is to walk upon earth, not to worship it. For I hold it sin ever to entrust the hopes of the soul to soulless things.

We must, then, approach the statues closely as we possibly can in order to prove from their very appearance that they are inseparably associated with error. For their forms are unmistakably stamped with the characteristic marks of the daemons. At least, if one were to go round inspecting the paintings and statues, he would immediately recognize your gods from their undignified figures; Dionysus from his dress, Hephaestus from his handicraft, Demeter from her woe, Ino from her veil, Poseidon from his trident, Zeus from his swan. The pyre indicates Heracles, and if one sees a woman represented naked, he understands it is “golden” Aphrodite. So the well-known Pygmalion of Cyprus fell in love with an ivory statue; it was of Aphrodite and was naked. The man of Cyprus is captivated by its shapeliness and embraces the statue. This is related by Philostephanus. There was also an Aphrodite in Cnidus, made of marble and beautiful. Another man fell in love with this and has intercourse with the marble, as Poseidippus relates. The account of the first author is in his book on Cyprus; that of the second in his book on Cnidus. Such strength had art to beguile that it became for amorous men a guide to the pit of destruction. Now craftsmanship is powerful, but it cannot beguile a rational being, nor yet those who have lived according to reason. It is true that, through lifelike portraiture, pigeons have been known to fly towards painted doves, and horses to neigh at well-drawn mares. They say that a maiden once fell in love with an image, and a beautiful youth with a Cnidian statue; but it was their sight that was beguiled by the art. For no man in his senses would have embraced the statue of a goddess, or have been buried with a lifeless paramour, or have fallen in love with a daemon and a stone. But in your case art has another illusion not to be in love with the statues and paintings, yet to honour and worship them. The painting, you say, is lifelike. Let the art be praised, but let it not beguile man by pretending to be truth. The horse stands motionless; the dove flutters not; its wings are at rest. Yet the cow of Daedalus, made of wood, infatuated a wild bull; and the beast, led astray by the art, was constrained to approach a love-sick woman. Such insane passion did the arts, by their vicious artifices, implant in creatures without sense. Even monkeys know better than this. They astonish their rearers and keepers, because no manner of waxen or clay figures or girls’ toys can deceive them. But you, strange to say, will prove yourselves inferior even to monkeys through the heed you pay to statues of stone and wood, gold and ivory, and to paintings. Such are the pernicious playthings made for you be marble-masons, sculptors, painters, carpenters and poets, who introduce this great multitude of gods, Satyrs and Pans in the fields, mountain and tree Nymphs in the woods, as well as Naiads about the lakes, rivers and springs, and Nereids by the sea. Magicians go so far as to boast that daemons are assistants in their impious deeds; they have enrolled them as their own servants, having made them slaves perforce by means of their incantations.

Further, the marriages of gods, their acts of child-begetting and child-bearing which are on men’s lips, their adulteries which are sung by bards, their feastings which are a theme of comedy, and the bursts of laughter which occur over their cups, these exhort me to cry aloud, even if I would fain keep silence, – Alas for such atheism! You have turned heaven into a stage. You look upon the divine nature as a subject for drama. Under the masks of daemons you have made comedy of that which is holy. For the true worship of God you have substituted a travesty, the fear of daemons. Sing us that beautiful strain, Homer,

Telling the love of Ares and Aphrodite fair-girdled, how at he first they met in the halls of Hephaestus in secret; many the gifts he gave, and the bed and couch of Hephaestus sullied with shame. [Homer, Odyssey 8.267]

Cease the song, Homer. There is no beauty in that; it teaches adultery. We have declined to lend our ears to fornication. For we, yes we, are they who, in this living and moving statue, man, bear about the image of God, an image which dwells with us, is our counselor, companion, the sharer of our hearth, which feels with us, feels for us. We have been made a consecrated offering to God for Christ’s sake. “We are the elect race, the royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, who in time past were not a people but now are the people of God.” We are they who, according to John, are not “from below,” but have learnt the whole truth from Him who came from above, who have apprehended the dispensation of God, who have studied “to walk in newness of life.”

But most men are not of this mind. Casting off shame and fear, they have their homes decorated with pictures representing the unnatural lust of the daemons. In the lewdness to which their thoughts are given, they adorn their chambers with painted tablets hung on high like votive offerings, regarding licentiousness as piety; and, when lying upon the bed, while still in the midst of their own embraces, they fix their gaze upon that naked Aphrodite, who lies bound in her adultery. Also, to show they approve the representation of effeminacy, they engrave in the hoops of their rings the amorous bird hovering over Leda, using a seal which reflects the licentiousness of Zeus. These are the patterns for your voluptuousness; these are the stories that give divine sanction for wanton living; these are the lessons taught by gods who are fornicators like yourselves. “For what a man desires, that he also imagines to be true,” says the Athenian orator [Demosthenes, Olynthiacs 3.19]. Look, too, at other of your images, – little figures of Pan, naked girls, drunken satyrs; and obscene emblems, plainly exhibited in pictures, and self-condemned by their indecency. More than that, you behold without a blush the postures of the whole art of licentiousness openly pictured in public. But when they are hung on high [in houses] you treasure them still more, just as if they were actually the images of your gods; for you dedicate these monuments of shamelessness in your homes, and are as eager to procure paintings of the postures of Philaenis as of the labours of Heracles. We declare that not only the use, but also the sight and the very hearing of these things should be forgotten. Your ears have committed fornication; your eyes have prostituted themselves; and, stranger still, before the embrace you have committed adultery by your looks. You who have done violence to man, and erased by dishonour the divine image in which he was created, you are utter unbelievers in order that you may give way to your passions. You believe in the idols because you crave after their incontinence; you disbelieve in God because you cannot bear self-control. You have hated the better, and honoured the worse. You have shown yourselves onlookers with regard to virtue, but active champions of vice.

The only men, therefore, who can with one consent, so to speak, be called “blessed,” are those whom the Sibyl describes,

Who, seeing the temples, will reject them all, and altars, useless shrines of senseless stones; stone idols too, and statues made by hand defiled with blood yet warm, and sacrifice of quadruped and biped, bird and beast. [Sibylline Oracles 4.24]

What is more, we are expressly forbidden to practice a deceitful art. For the prophet says, “Thou shalt not make a likeness of anything that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath.” Is it possible that we can still suppose the Demeter and Persephone and the mystic Iacchus of Praxiteles to be gods? Or are we to regard as gods the masterpieces of Lysippus or the works of Apelles, since it is these which have bestowed upon matter the fashion of the divine glory? But as for you, while you take great pains to discover how a statue may be shaped to the highest possible pitch of beauty, you never give a thought to prevent yourselves turning out like statues owning to want of sense. Any way, with the utmost plainness and brevity the prophetic word refutes the custom of idolatry, when it says, “All the gods of the nations are images of daemons; but God made the heavens,” and the things in heaven. Some, it is true, starting from this pint, go astray, – I know not how, – and worship not God but His handiwork, the sun, moon, and the host of stars besides, absurdly supposing these to be gods, though they are but instruments for measuring time; for “by His word were they firmly established; and all their power by the breath of His mouth.” But while human handiwork fashions houses, ships, cities, paintings, how can I speak of all that God creates? See the whole universe; that is His work. Heaven, the sun, angels and men are “the works of His fingers.” How great is the power of God! His mere will is creation; for God alone created, since He alone is truly God. By a bare wish His work is done, and the world’s existence follows upon a single act of His will. Here the host of philosophers turn aside, when they admit that man is beautifully made for the contemplation of heaven, and yet worship the things which appear in heaven and are apprehended by sight. For although the heavenly bodies are not the works of man, at least they have been created for man. Let none of you worship the sun; rather let him yearn for the maker of the sun. Let no one deify the universe; rather let him seek after the creator of the universe. It seems, then, that but one refuge remains for the man who is to reach the ages of salvation, and that is divine wisdom. From thence, as from a holy inviolate temple, no longer can any daemon carry him off, as he presses onward to salvation.


Let us now, if you like, run though the opinions which the philosophers, on their part, asset confidently about the gods. Perchance we may find philosophy herself, through vanity, forming her conceptions of the godhead out of matter; or else we may be able to show in passing that, when deifying certain divine powers, she sees the truth in a dream. Some philosophers, then, left us the elements as first principles of all things. Water was selected for praise by Thales of Miletus; air by Anaximenes of the same city, who was followed afterwards by Diogenes of Apollonia. Fire and earth were introduced as gods by Parmenides of Elea; but only one of this pair, namely fire, is god according to the supposition of both Hippasus of Metapontum and Heracleitus of Ephesus. As to Empedocles of Acragas, he chooses plurality, and reckons “love” and “strife” in his list of gods, in addition to these four elements.

These men also were really atheists, since with a foolish show of wisdom they worshipped matter. They did not, it is true, honour stocks or stones, but they made a god out of earth, which is the mother of these. They do not fashion a Poseidon, but they adore water itself. For what in the world is Poseidon, except a kind of liquid substance named from posis, drink? Just as, without a doubt, warlike Ares is so called from arsis and anairesis, abolition and destruction; which is the chief reason, I think, why many tribes simply fix their sword in the ground and then offer sacrifice to it as if to Ares. Such is the custom of the Scythians, as Eudoxus says in his second book of Geography, while the Sauromantians, a Scythian tribe, worship a dagger, according to Hicesius in his book on Mysteries. This too is the case with the followers of Heracleitus when they worship fire as the source of all; for this fire is what others named Hephaestus. The Persian Magi and many of the inhabitants of Asia have assigned honour to fire; so have the Macedonians, as Diogenes says in the first volume of his Persian History. Why need I instance Sauromatians, whom Nymphodorus in Barbarian Customs reports as worshipping fire; or the Persians, Medes and Magi? Dinon says that these Magi sacrifice under the open sky, believing that fire and water are the sole elements of divinity. Even their ignorance I do not conceal; for although they are quite convinced that they are escaping the error of idolatry, yet they slip into another delusion. They do not suppose, like Greeks, that stocks and stones are emblems of divinity, nor ibises and ichneumons, after the manner of Egyptians; but they admit fire and water, as philosophers do. It was not, however, till many ages had passed that they began to worship statues in human form, as Berosus shows in his third book of Chaldaean History; for this custom was introduced by Artaxerxes the son of Darius and father of Ochus, who was the first to set up the statue of Aphrodite Anaitis in Babylon, Susa and Ecbatana, and to enjoin this worship upon Persians and Bactrians, upon Damascus and Sardis. Let the philosophers therefore confess that Persians, Sauromatians, and Magi are their teachers, from whom they have learnt the atheistic doctrine of their venerated “first principles.” The great original, the maker of all things, and creator of the “first principles” themselves, God without beginning, they know not, but offer adoration to these “weak and beggarly elements,” as the apostle calls them, made for the service of men.

Other philosophers went beyond the elements and sought diligently for a more sublime and excellent principle. Some of them celebrated the praises of the Infinite, as Anaximander of Miletus, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, and Archelaus of Athens. The two latter agreed in placing Mind above the Infinite; while on the other hand Leucippus of Miletus and Metrodorus of Chios also left, as it seems, a pair of first principles, “fullness” and “void.” Democritus of Abdera took these two and added to them “images.” Nor was this all; Alcmaeon of Croton thought that the stars were endowed with life and therefore gods. I will not refrain from mentioning the audacity of these others. Xenocrates of Chalcedon intimates that the planets are seven gods and that the ordered arrangement of the fixed stars is an eighth. Nor will I omit the Stoics, who say that the divine nature permeates all matter, even in its lowest forms; these men simply cover philosophy with shame. At this point there is, I think, nothing to hinder me from mentioning the Peripatetics also. The father of this sect [Aristotle], because he did not perceive the Father of all things, thinks that he who is called the “Highest” is the soul of the universe; that is to day, he supposes the soul of the world to be God, and so is pierced with his own sword. For he first declares that providence extends only as far as the moon; then by holding the opinion that the universe is God he contradicts himself, asserting that that which has no share in God is God. Aristotle’s disciple, the celebreated Theophrastus of Eresus, suspects in one place that God is heaven, and elsewhere that God is spirit. Epicurus alone I will banish from memory, and that willingly, for he, pre-eminent in impiety, thinks that God has no care for the world. What of Heracleides of Pontus? Is there a single place where he too is not drawn away to the “images” of Democritus?