Swift Reprisal for Evil Done is Best for All Involved? Plutarch, “On Divine Procrastination in Vengeance”

Plutarch’s De Sera Numinis Vindicta (Moralia 548c-e)

“Patrokleas responded, “The slowness and procrastination of the deity’s punishment of the wicked seems to me to be especially terrible. Now, too, I am compelled and renewed by these words even as long ago I was moved when I heard Euripides saying “[Apollo] delays, this is the nature of the gods.”

Certainly, it is not right for god to delay in anything, least of all in punishing the wicked, men who are far from slow themselves, who are never procrastinators of doing evil, but who are driven by piercing passions into their crimes.

And, further, as Thucydides says, “when a response comes closest to suffering” it immediately creates blocks the path for those most moved by an easy way with wickedness. For nothing renders the wronged party weaker in his hopes and spirit and increases the criminal’s daring and audacity than a debt paid late. But the immediate punishment meted out to bold acts is both a restraint on futures crimes and a special comfort to those who have suffered from them.”

Καὶ ὁ Πατροκλέας ‘ἡ περὶ τὰς τιμωρίας’ εἶπε ‘τῶν πονηρῶν βραδυτὴς τοῦ δαιμονίου καὶ μέλλησις ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ μάλιστα δεινὸν εἶναι· καὶ νῦν ὑπὸ τῶν λόγων τούτων ὥσπερ πρόσφατος γέγονα τῇ δόξῃ καὶ καινός, ἔκπαλαι δ’ ἠγανάκτουν ἀκούων Εὐριπίδου λέγοντος (Or. 420)

‘μέλλει, τὸ θεῖον δ’ ἐστὶ τοιοῦτον φύσει.’

καίτοι πρὸς οὐθὲν ἥκιστα δὲ πρέπει πρὸς τοὺς πονηροὺς ῥᾴθυμον εἶναι τὸν θεόν, οὐ ῥᾳθύμους ὄντας αὐτοὺς οὐδ’ ‘ἀμβολιεργούς’ τοῦ κακῶς ποιεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὀξυτάταις ὁρμαῖς ὑπὸ τῶν παθῶν φερομένους πρὸς τὰς ἀδικίας. καὶ μήν ‘τὸ ἀμύνασθαι τῷ παθεῖν,’ ὡς Θουκυδίδης (III 38, 1) φησίν,  ‘ὅτι ἐγγυτάτω κείμενον’ εὐθὺς ἀντιφράττει τὴν ὁδὸν τοῖς ἐπὶ πλεῖστον εὐροούσῃ τῇ κακίᾳ χρωμένοις. οὐθὲν γὰρ οὕτω χρέος ὡς τὸ τῆς δίκης ὑπερήμερον γινόμενον ἀσθενῆ μὲν ταῖς ἐλπίσι ποιεῖ καὶ ταπεινὸν τὸν ἀδικούμενον, αὔξει δὲ θρασύτητι καὶ τόλμῃ τὸν μοχθηρόν· αἱ δ’ ὑπὸ χεῖρα τοῖς τολμωμένοις ἀπαντῶσαι τιμωρίαι καὶ τῶν μελλόντων εἰσὶν ἐπισχέσεις ἀδικημάτων καὶ μάλιστα τὸ παρηγοροῦν τοὺς πεπονθότας ἔνεστιν αὐταῖς.

Pythagoras Saw Homer and Hesiod Punished in Hell! (plus an etymology for his name)

Diogenes Laertius, 8.21 (Lives of the Sophists)

 

“Hieronymos says that when Pythagoras went down into Hades he saw the ghost of Hesiod bound to a bronze pillar, squeaking, and that Homer’s ghost was hanging from a tree surrounded by snakes. They were being punished for the things they said about the gods. And in addition he saw men who were not willing to have sex with their own wives. This is the reason, that Pythagoras was honored by the inhabitants of Croton. Aristippos of Cyrene in his work Peri Physiologoi says that Pythagoras was given his name because he spoke the truth publically [agoreuô] no less than the Pythian oracle.”

φησὶ δ’ ῾Ιερώνυμος (Hiller xxii) κατελθόντα αὐτὸν εἰς ᾅδου τὴν μὲν ῾Ησιόδου ψυχὴν ἰδεῖν πρὸς κίονι χαλκῷ δεδεμένην καὶ τρίζουσαν, τὴν δ’ ῾Ομήρου κρεμαμένην ἀπὸ δένδρου καὶ ὄφεις περὶ αὐτὴν ἀνθ’ ὧν εἶπον περὶ θεῶν, κολαζομένους δὲ καὶ τοὺς μὴ θέλοντας συνεῖναι ταῖς ἑαυτῶν γυναιξί· καὶ δὴ καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τιμηθῆναι  ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Κρότωνι. φησὶ δ’ ᾿Αρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος ἐν τῷ Περὶ φυσιολόγων Πυθαγόραν αὐτὸν ὀνομασθῆναι ὅτι τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἠγόρευεν οὐχ ἧττον τοῦ Πυθίου.

 

The sacrilege of Homer and Hesiod is an ancient motif finding its earliest extant articulation in the pre-Socratic poet Xenophanes:

Xenophanes, fragments 9-11

 

“From the beginning, according to Homer, since everyone has learned [from him…]

*          *          *

“Homer and Hesiod have attributed everything to the gods
that is shameful and reprehensible among men:
theft, adultery and deceiving each other

*          *          *

How they have sung the most the lawless deeds of the gods!
That they steal, commit adultery and deceive one another…

 

Fr. 9

ἐξ ἀρχῆς καθ’ ῞Ομηρον, ἐπεὶ μεμαθήκασι πάντες …

 

Fr. 10

πάντα θεοῖσ’ ἀνέθηκαν ῞Ομηρός θ’ ῾Ησίοδός τε,
ὅσσα παρ’ ἀνθρώποισιν ὀνείδεα καὶ ψόγος ἐστίν,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.

 

Fr. 11

ὡς πλεῖστ’ ἐφθέγξαντο θεῶν ἀθεμίστια ἔργα,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.

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.

Ovid, Heroides 5.5-9: Oenone to Paris

“What god has put his power against my prayers?
What crime stops me from remaining yours?
We must bear lightly whatever suffering we’ve earned.
We must mourn the punishment that comes undeserved.”

Quis deus opposuit nostris sua numina votis?
ne tua permaneam, quod mihi crimen obest?
leniter, e merito quicquid patiare, ferendum est;
quae venit indignae poena dolenda venit.

%d bloggers like this: