4 Years of Presidential Memories: Intellectual Intolerance In an Ancient Democracy

Protagoras, from Diogenes Laertius, 9.51

“[Protagoras] was also the first to say that there are two arguments in opposition to each other concerning every matter. He argued with these and was the first to do this. He also began his work in this way: “A person is the measure of all things, that they are what they are and that they are not what they are not.”

And he used to say that the soul was nothing besides the senses, as Plato claims in the Theaetetus and that everything is true. Elsewhere, he began in this way: “Concerning the gods, I am not able to know that they exist or that they don’t exist. For many things impede knowledge—including both a lack of clarity and the brevity of human life.” Protagoras was expelled by the Athenians because of this introduction. They then burned his books in the marketplace once they had sent a herald around to collect them from those who owned them.”

protagoras-2

Καὶ πρῶτος ἔφη (DK 80 B 6a) δύο λόγους εἶναι περὶ παντὸς πράγματος ἀντικειμένους ἀλλήλοις· οἷς καὶ συνηρώτα, πρῶτος τοῦτο πράξας. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἤρξατό που τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον (DK 80 B 1)· “πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἄνθρωπος, τῶν μὲν ὄντων ὡς ἔστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν.” ἔλεγέ τε μηδὲν εἶναι ψυχὴν παρὰ τὰς αἰσθήσεις, καθὰ καὶ Πλάτων φησὶν ἐν Θεαιτήτῳ, καὶ πάντα εἶναι ἀληθῆ. καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ δὲ τοῦτον ἤρξατο τὸν τρόπον (DK 80 B 4)· “περὶ μὲν θεῶν οὐκ ἔχω

εἰδέναι οὔθ’ ὡς εἰσίν, οὔθ’ ὡς οὐκ εἰσίν· πολλὰ γὰρ τὰ κωλύοντα εἰδέναι, ἥ τ’ ἀδηλότης καὶ βραχὺς ὢν ὁ βίος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.” διὰ  ταύτην δὲ τὴν ἀρχὴν τοῦ συγγράμματος ἐξεβλήθη πρὸς ᾿Αθηναίων· καὶ τὰ βιβλία αὐτοῦ κατέκαυσαν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ, ὑπὸ κήρυκι ἀναλεξάμενοι παρ’ ἑκάστου τῶν κεκτημένων.

Too Busy Writing to Fear Ghosts

Lucian, The Lover of Lies, 32 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“He was completely convinced that nothing like this can possibly exist, so much so that, once he closed himself in a funerary monument outside the city gates, he was spending all day and night writing and editing.

Then some of the young men who wanted to annoy or frighten him dressed like corpses in black robes and masks that were imitations of skulls stood around him and were danced, leaping to the air in a quick step. He did not fear their mimicry nor even look at them, but kept writing and said, “Stop playing around.” That’s how certainly he was that souls do not exist once they have left their bodies.”

ὕτως ἄρα ἐπέπειστο μηδὲν οἷόν τε εἶναι συστῆναι τοιοῦτον ὥστε, ἐπειδὴ καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν εἰς μνῆμα ἔξω πυλῶν ἐνταῦθα διετέλει γράφων καὶ συντάττων καὶ νύκτωρ καὶ μεθ᾿ ἡμέραν, καί τινες τῶν νεανίσκων ἐρεσχελεῖν αὐτὸν βουλόμενοι καὶ δειματοῦν στειλάμενοι νεκρικῶς ἐσθῆτι μελαίνῃ καὶ προσωπείοις εἰς τὰ κρανία μεμιμημένοις περιστάντες αὐτὸν περιεχόρευον ὑπὸ πυκνῇ τῇ βάσει ἀναπηδῶντες, ὁ δὲ οὔτε ἔδεισεν τὴν προσποίησιν αὐτῶν οὔτε ὅλως ἀνέβλεψεν πρὸς αὐτούς, ἀλλὰ μεταξὺ γράφων, ‘Παύσασθε,’ ἔφη, ‘παίζοντες·’ οὕτω βεβαίως ἐπίστευε μηδὲν εἶναι τὰς ψυχὰς ἔτι ἔξω γενομένας τῶν σωμάτων.”

Antakya Archaeology Mosaic

From God-Fearing to Atheist

Two Stories about the god-hating Diagoras

Sext. Emp. Against the Scientists 9. 53

“People say that Diagoras the Melian poet of Dithyramb was early on as god-fearing as any other person, since he began his own poem in this way: “everything happens thanks to god and chance.” But when he was harmed by someone who made a false oath and his assailant suffered nothing because of this, he began to say that “there is no god”.

Schol. in Ael. Arist. Rhet= ii 80 Dindorf

“The Diagoras in question was a philosopher. Once, when he was invited to a dinner-party by another philosopher, while his host was boiling lentil and was outside for some reason, the lentils could not be completely boiled because there was no fuel for the fire underneath them. So, Diagoras searched around and, once he found a statue of Herakles nearby, he broke it and tossed it in the fire, intoning “in addition to his twelve labors, divine Herakles now completes this thirteenth.”

Sext. Emp. Against the Scientists 9. 53

Διαγόρας δὲ ὁ Μήλιος διθυραμβοποιὸς ὥς φασι τὸ πρῶτον γενόμενος ὡς εἴ τις καὶ ἄλλος δεισιδαίμων, ὅς γε καὶ τῆς ποιήσεως ἑαυτοῦ κατήρξατο τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον· κατὰ δαίμονα καὶ τύχην πάντα τελεῖται· ἀδικηθεὶς δὲ ὑπό τινος ἐπιορκήσαντος καὶ μηδὲν ἕνεκα τούτου παθόντος μεθηρμόσατο εἰς τὸ λέγειν μὴ εἶναι θεόν.

Schol. in Ael. Arist. Rhet= ii 80 Dindorf

Διαγόρας οὗτος φιλόσοφος ἦν. κληθεὶς δέ ποτε εἰς ἑστιάσιν ὑφ᾿ ἑτέρου φιλοσόφου, ἕψοντος ἐκείνου φακῆν καὶ κατά τινα χρείαν ἔξω 〚ἐκείνου〛 χωρήσαντος, τῆς φακῆς μὴ τελέως ἑψηθῆναι δυναμένης διὰ τὸ μὴ ὑπέκκαυμα ἔχειν τὸ ὑποκείμενον πῦρ, αὐτός τε περιστραφεὶς ὧδε κἀκεῖσε καὶ τὸ τοῦ Ἡρακλέους ἄγαλμα προχείρως εὑρὼν καὶ συντρίψας ἐνίησι τῷ πυρὶ ἐπειπὼν ἐπ᾿ αὐτό· δώδεκα τοῖσιν ἄθλοις τρισκαιδέκατον τόνδ᾿ ἐτέλεσεν Ἡρακλῆς δῖος.

Image result for Ancient Greek Wooden statue hercules

Diagoras’ Journey From god-fearing to god-hating

Two Stories about the god-hating Diagoras

Sext. Emp. Against the Scientists 9. 53

“People say that Diagoras the Melian poet of Dithyramb was early on as god-fearing as any other person, since he began his own poem in this way: “everything happens thanks to god and chance.” But when he was harmed by someone who made a false oath and his assailant suffered nothing because of this, he began to say that “there is no god”.

Schol. in Ael. Arist. Rhet= ii 80 Dindorf

“The Diagoras in question was a philosopher. Once, when he was invited to a dinner-party by another philosopher, while his host was boiling lentil and was outside for some reason, the lentils could not be completely boiled because there was no fuel for the fire underneath them. So, Diagoras searched around and, once he found a statue of Herakles nearby, he broke it and tossed it in the fire, intoning “in addition to his twelve labors, divine Herakles now completes this thirteenth.”

Sext. Emp. Against the Scientists 9. 53

Διαγόρας δὲ ὁ Μήλιος διθυραμβοποιὸς ὥς φασι τὸ πρῶτον γενόμενος ὡς εἴ τις καὶ ἄλλος δεισιδαίμων, ὅς γε καὶ τῆς ποιήσεως ἑαυτοῦ κατήρξατο τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον· κατὰ δαίμονα καὶ τύχην πάντα τελεῖται· ἀδικηθεὶς δὲ ὑπό τινος ἐπιορκήσαντος καὶ μηδὲν ἕνεκα τούτου παθόντος μεθηρμόσατο εἰς τὸ λέγειν μὴ εἶναι θεόν.

Schol. in Ael. Arist. Rhet= ii 80 Dindorf

Διαγόρας οὗτος φιλόσοφος ἦν. κληθεὶς δέ ποτε εἰς ἑστιάσιν ὑφ᾿ ἑτέρου φιλοσόφου, ἕψοντος ἐκείνου φακῆν καὶ κατά τινα χρείαν ἔξω 〚ἐκείνου〛 χωρήσαντος, τῆς φακῆς μὴ τελέως ἑψηθῆναι δυναμένης διὰ τὸ μὴ ὑπέκκαυμα ἔχειν τὸ ὑποκείμενον πῦρ, αὐτός τε περιστραφεὶς ὧδε κἀκεῖσε καὶ τὸ τοῦ Ἡρακλέους ἄγαλμα προχείρως εὑρὼν καὶ συντρίψας ἐνίησι τῷ πυρὶ ἐπειπὼν ἐπ᾿ αὐτό· δώδεκα τοῖσιν ἄθλοις τρισκαιδέκατον τόνδ᾿ ἐτέλεσεν Ἡρακλῆς δῖος.

Image result for Ancient Greek Wooden statue hercules

Intellectual Intolerance In an Ancient Democracy

Protagoras, from Diogenes Laertius, 9.51

“[Protagoras] was also the first to say that there are two arguments in opposition to each other concerning every matter. He argued with these and was the first to do this. He also began his work in this way: “A person is the measure of all things, that they are what they are and that they are not what they are not.”

And he used to say that the soul was nothing besides the senses, as Plato claims in the Theaetetus and that everything is true. Elsewhere, he began in this way: “Concerning the gods, I am not able to know that they exist or that they don’t exist. For many things impede knowledge—including both a lack of clarity and the brevity of human life.” Protagoras was expelled by the Athenians because of this introduction. They then burned his books in the marketplace once they had sent a herald around to collect them from those who owned them.”

protagoras-2

Καὶ πρῶτος ἔφη (DK 80 B 6a) δύο λόγους εἶναι περὶ παντὸς πράγματος ἀντικειμένους ἀλλήλοις· οἷς καὶ συνηρώτα, πρῶτος τοῦτο πράξας. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἤρξατό που τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον (DK 80 B 1)· “πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἄνθρωπος, τῶν μὲν ὄντων ὡς ἔστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν.” ἔλεγέ τε μηδὲν εἶναι ψυχὴν παρὰ τὰς αἰσθήσεις, καθὰ καὶ Πλάτων φησὶν ἐν Θεαιτήτῳ, καὶ πάντα εἶναι ἀληθῆ. καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ δὲ τοῦτον ἤρξατο τὸν τρόπον (DK 80 B 4)· “περὶ μὲν θεῶν οὐκ ἔχω

εἰδέναι οὔθ’ ὡς εἰσίν, οὔθ’ ὡς οὐκ εἰσίν· πολλὰ γὰρ τὰ κωλύοντα εἰδέναι, ἥ τ’ ἀδηλότης καὶ βραχὺς ὢν ὁ βίος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.” διὰ  ταύτην δὲ τὴν ἀρχὴν τοῦ συγγράμματος ἐξεβλήθη πρὸς ᾿Αθηναίων· καὶ τὰ βιβλία αὐτοῦ κατέκαυσαν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ, ὑπὸ κήρυκι ἀναλεξάμενοι παρ’ ἑκάστου τῶν κεκτημένων.

Protagoras of Abdera, Agnostic and Behavioral Economist? (Philostratus, Vita Sophist. 495-6)

“Protagoras of Abdera, the sophist, was also a follower of Democritus at home; and he spent time among the Persian magi as well when Xerxes invaded Greece. His father Maiandros had acquired more wealth than most in Thrace; he entertained Xerxes at his home and used gifts to ensure an audience for his son with the magi. The Persian magi do not teach even Persians unless the king says so.

It seems to me that when Protagoras used to say that he was whether there were gods on not he was borrowing it from the Persian education. For the magi worship the gods in the acts they perform secretly, but they do not confess open belief in the divine because they do not wish to seem to derive power from them. For saying this, Protagoras was exiled from all the lands under Athens’ power, after he was convicted according to some in a trial, but according to others there was a vote without a trial. He moved from shore to shore among the islands, all while watching out for Athenian triremes which were spread in every part of the sea. He drowned while sailing in a small skiff.

He was the first to give a lecture for a fee and as the first to give to the Greeks a practice which should not be criticized, since we pursue those things we paid for more eagerly than we welcome whatever comes free. Plato believed that while Protagoras spoke with dignity, he obscured himself with his dignity and was somewhat more verbose than was fit, and he characterized the type of man he was by using a long myth.”

[The last bit is a reference to Protagoras 349a and Gorgias 530c]

Πρωταγόρας δὲ ὁ ᾿Αβδηρίτης σοφιστὴς καὶ Δημοκρίτου μὲν ἀκροατὴς οἴκοι ἐγένετο, ὡμίλησε δὲ καὶ τοῖς ἐκ Περσῶν μάγοις κατὰ τὴν Ξέρξου ἐπὶ τὴν ῾Ελλάδα ἔλασιν. πατὴρ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῷ Μαίανδρος πλούτῳ κατεσκευασμένος παρὰ πολλοὺς τῶν ἐν τῇ Θρᾴκῃ, δεξάμενος δὲ καὶ τὸν Ξέρξην οἰκίᾳ τε καὶ δώροις τὴν ξυνουσίαν τῶν μάγων τῷ παιδὶ παρ’ αὐτοῦ εὕρετο. οὐ γὰρ παιδεύουσι τοὺς μὴ Πέρσας Πέρσαι μάγοι, ἢν μὴ ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐφῇ. τὸ δὲ ἀπορεῖν φάσκειν, εἴτε εἰσὶ θεοί, εἴτε οὐκ εἰσί, δοκεῖ μοι Πρωταγόρας ἐκ τῆς Περσικῆς παιδεύσεως παρανομῆσαι· μάγοι γὰρ ἐπιθειάζουσι μὲν οἷς ἀφανῶς δρῶσι, τὴν δὲ ἐκ φανεροῦ δόξαν τοῦ θείου καταλύουσιν οὐ βουλόμενοι δοκεῖν παρ’ αὐτοῦ δύνασθαι. διὰ μὲν δὴ τοῦτο πάσης γῆς ὑπὸ ᾿Αθηναίων ἠλάθη, ὡς μέν τινες, κριθείς, ὡς δὲ ἐνίοις δοκεῖ, ψήφου ἐπενεχθείσης μὴ κριθέντι. νήσους δὲ ἐξ ἠπείρων ἀμείβων καὶ τὰς ᾿Αθηναίων τριήρεις φυλαττόμενος πάσαις θαλάτταις ἐνεσπαρμένας κατέδυ πλέων ἐν ἀκατίῳ μικρῷ.

Τὸ δὲ μισθοῦ διαλέγεσθαι πρῶτος εὗρε, πρῶτος δὲ παρέδωκεν ῞Ελλησι πρᾶγμα οὐ μεμπτόν, ἃ γὰρ σὺν δαπάνῃ σπουδάζομεν, μᾶλλον ἀσπαζόμεθα τῶν προῖκα. γνοὺς δὲ τὸν Πρωταγόραν ὁ Πλάτων σεμνῶς μὲν ἑρμηνεύοντα, ἐνυπτιάζοντα δὲ τῇ σεμνότητι καί που καὶ μακρολογώτερον τοῦ συμμέτρου, τὴν ἰδέαν αὐτοῦ μύθῳ μακρῷ ἐχαρακτήρισεν.

Euripidean Fragments and Bellerophon’s Atheism

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Things turn out badly for Bellerophon, as one might imagine.

 

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

 

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

 

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις·
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

 

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

Euripides on a Sick Country: fr. 267 (Auge)

“The sick state is ingenious at discovering crimes.”

δεινὴ πόλις νοσοῦσ’ ἀνευρίσκειν κακά.

I’m sure we can all think of events in our respective polities appropriate to this fragment from Euripides. The more things change…

But, here’s a useful reminder from Aeschylus on consequences (Eumenides, 644-651)

“After the dust has soaked up the blood
Of a dying man, there is no resurrection.
My father can’t cast a spell on this
But all other things he can turn back and forth
Without losing his breath at all.”

ἀνδρὸς δ’ ἐπειδὰν αἷμ’ ἀνασπάσῃ κόνις
ἅπαξ θανόντος, οὔτις ἔστ’ ἀνάστασις.
τούτων ἐπῳδὰς οὐκ ἐποίησεν πατὴρ
οὑμός, τὰ δ’ ἄλλα πάντ’ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω
στρέφων τίθησιν οὐδὲν ἀσθμαίνων μένει.

The father in question in this passage is Zeus, the god of justice. The Greeks needed to believe that Zeus would support justice (ultimately) because they saw that men failed to. Since we’re playing Aristophanes here and having the old tragedians compete, I’ll give Euripides a final and sacrilegious word:

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.