Homer and the Language of the Gods

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11. 22

“To these claims, [Homer] has added nearly a capstone: for, in order that we might be uncertain how he came to understand the gods, he implies that he apparently knows the language of the gods, and that it is not the same as ours: they do not use the same words we do for every individual things. He indicates this, for example, for some bird, whom he claims the gods call chalkis while men call it kumindis. The same difference applies to a place in front of the city which men call the Bateia but gods call the Grave of Murinê. In telling us about the river, he says the gods don’t call it Skamandros but instead Xanthus, as he himself has already dubbed it in his verses, as if it were not only possible for him to mix the various dialects of the Greeks, now using Aiolic, now Doric, then Ionic, but he can also use the divine language too!

I’ve said these things as I have not as an accusation, but because Homer was the boldest of all humans in his lies and dared nothing less nor swore less by his lying than in speaking the truth. In this light nothing of what have examined seems incredible or untrustworthy; instead they are small and human lies in comparison to massive, divine ones.”


τούτοις δὲ ἐπέθηκε τὸν κολοφῶνα σχεδόν· ἵνα γὰρ μὴ ἀπορῶμεν ὅπως ξυνίει τῶν θεῶν, οὕτως διαλέγεται ἡμῖν σχεδὸν ὡς ἔμπειρος τῆς τῶν θεῶν γλώττης, καὶ ὅτι οὐχ ἡ αὐτή ἐστι τῇ ἡμετέρᾳ οὐδὲ τὰ αὐτὰ ὀνόματα ἐφ᾿ ἑκάστῳ λέγουσιν ἅπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς. ἐνδείκνυται δὲ ταῦτα ἐπὶ ὀρνέου τινός, ὅ φησι τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς χαλκίδα καλεῖν, τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους κύμινδιν, καὶ ἐπὶ τόπου τινὸς πρὸς τῆς πόλεως, ὃν τοὺς μὲν ἀνθρώπους Βατίειαν ὀνομάζειν, τοὺς δὲ θεοὺς Σῆμα Μυρίνης. περὶ δὲ τοῦ ποταμοῦ φράσας ἡμῖν ὅτι οὐ Σκάμανδρος, ἀλλὰ Ξάνθος λέγοιτο παρὰ τοῖς θεοῖς, αὐτὸς οὕτως ἤδη ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσιν ὀνομάζει, ὡς οὐ μόνον ἐξὸν αὐτῷ τὰς ἄλλας γλώττας μιγνύειν τὰς τῶν Ἑλλήνων, καὶ ποτὲ μὲν αἰολίζειν, ποτὲ δὲ δωρίζειν, ποτὲ δὲ ἰάζειν, ἀλλὰ καὶ διαστὶ διαλέγεσθαι. ταῦτα δέ μοι εἴρηται, ὥσπερ δὴ ἔφην, οὐ κατηγορίας ἕνεκεν, ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι ἀνδρειότατος ἀνθρώπων ἦν πρὸς τὸ ψεῦδος Ὅμηρος καὶ οὐθὲν ἧττον ἐθάρρει καὶ ἐσεμνύνετο ἐπὶ τῷ ψεύδεσθαι ἢ τῷ τἀληθῆ λέγειν. οὕτω γὰρ σκοποῦσιν οὐδὲν ἔτι φαίνεται παράδοξον οὐδὲ ἄπιστον τῶν ὑπ᾿ ἐμοῦ δεικνυμένων, ἀλλὰ σμικρὰ καὶ ἀνθρώπεια ψεύσματα πρὸς θεῖα καὶ μεγάλα


Yes. There are articles about this phenomenon:


Ann Suter. “Language of Gods and Language of Men: The Case of Paris/Alexandros.” Lexis 7-8 (1991) 13-25.

2 thoughts on “Homer and the Language of the Gods

  1. The Epicurean Hermarchus argued that the gods necessarily converse with one another, since conversation is an undeniable source of pleasure. Further, “by Zeus, we must think that the gods speak a a Greek dialect, or something not far from it…for all of the gods are wise….And we know that wise wise men who have existed in the past only used the Greek language…” (from Philodemus, de Dis III col. xiv.6-13 Diels).

    Text is very fragmentary, but still super interesting!

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