An Untold Number of Gods and the Path to Eternal Fame

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.5 16–18

“This is the reason it is possible to estimate a greater number of divinities than there are humans: individuals make a number of gods equal to their number by adopting their own Junos and Genii. Indeed, some peoples have animals, even horrible ones, for gods and many others too shameful to report, such as swearing by rotten food or other similar things.

Believing in marriage among the gods but without anyone being born from them for such a great span of time or that some are always old and graying while others are eternally young even children, or that some gods are dark-colored, winged, crippled born from eggs, or dying and living on alternating days, these beliefs are like childhood delusions. But it is beyond every kind of shame to imagine adultery among them, then strife and hatred, and that there are powers of thieves and criminals. “God” is a person helping another person; this is the path to eternal fame.”

quamobrem maior caelitum populus etiam quam hominum intellegi potest, cum singuli quoque ex semetipsis totidem deos faciant Iunones Geniosque adoptando sibi, gentes vero quaedam animalia et aliqua etiam obscena pro dis habeant ac multa dictu magis pudenda, per fetidos cibos et alia similia iurantes. matrimonia quidem inter deos credi tantoque aevo ex eis neminem nasci, et alios esse grandaevos semper canosque, alios iuvenes atque pueros, atricolores, aligeros, claudos, ovo editos et alternis diebus viventes morientesque, puerilium prope deliramentorum est; sed super omnem inpudentiam adulteria inter ipsos fingi, mox iurgia et odia, atque etiam furtorum esse et scelerum numina. deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via.

File:Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Florence, Plut. 82.4.jpg
Pliny the Elder, Natural History in ms. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 82.4, fol. 3r.

A Conspiracy of Heroes and Gods

The following comes from a section where Socrates Scholasticus is discrediting Greek polytheism by reporting on the corruptibility of the oracles

Socrates Scholasticus, 3.23.155-170

“The oracle claims that it is Attis, the one who killed himself because of sex madness, and Adonis, and Dionysus. When Alexander the King of the Macedonians was crossing to Asia, the Amphictiones were trying to please him and the Pythian oracle reported these things:

Zeus, highest of the gods, and Athena Tritogeneia
Honor them, and the lord hidden in a thundrous body,
The one whom Zeus sowed on his noble knees
A helper of Good-law to mortals, Alexander the King!

The divine authority at Pythia prophesied these things. And in this, it used to even flatter powerful people by making gods. For perhaps it it did this for flattery. For why would the oracle say, as it did when apotheosizing the boxer Kleomedes, these things about him:

The last of the Heroes, Kleomêdes the Astupaliean,
Honor him with sacrifices, because he is no longer a mortal.

Because of this oracle, Diogenes the Cynic and Oinomaos the philosopher condemned Pythian Apollo.”

῾Ο μὲν δὴ χρησμὸς ῎Αττιν, τὸν ἐκ μανίας ἐρωτικῆς ἑαυτὸν ἀποκόψαντα, τὸν ῎Αδωνιν καὶ Διόνυσον εἶναι φησί. Τοῦ δὲ Μακεδόνων βασιλέως ᾿Αλεξάνδρου ἐπὶ τὴν ᾿Ασίαν διαβαίνοντος, οἱ ᾿Αμφικτύονες ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ ἐχαρίζοντο, καὶ ἀνεῖλεν ἡ Πυθία τάδε·

Ζᾶνα θεῶν ὕπατον, καὶ ᾿Αθηνᾶν Τριτογένειαν
Τιμᾶτε, βροτέῳ τ’ ἐν σώματι κρυπτὸν ἄνακτα,
῝Ον Ζεὺς ἀρίσταις γοναῖς ἔσπειρεν, ἀρωγὸν
Εὐνομίης θνητοῖσιν ᾿Αλέξανδρον βασιλῆα.

Ταῦτα τὸ ἐν Πυθοῖ δαιμόνιον ἐχρημάτισεν· ὃ καὶ αὐτὸ τοὺς δυνάστας κολακεῦον ἐθεοποίει· καὶ τοῦτο μὲν ἴσως κολακείᾳ ἐποίει. Τί δ’ ἂν εἴποι τις, ὡς Κλεομήδην τὸν πύκτην ἀποθεώσαντες, ἔχρησαν περὶ αὐτοῦ τάδε;

῞Υστατος ἡρώων Κλεομήδης ᾿Αστυπαλιεύς·
῝Ον θυσίαις τιμᾶθ’, ὡς μηκέτι θνητὸν ἐόντα.
Διὰ μὲν οὖν τὸν χρησμὸν τόνδε Διογένης ὁ Κύων καὶ Οἰνόμαος ὁ φιλόσοφος κατέγνωσαν τοῦ Πυθίου ᾿Απόλλωνος.

File:Oracle of Delphi, red-figure kylix, 440-430 BC, Kodros Painter, Berlin F 2538, 141666.jpg
Oracle of Delphi, red-figure kylix, 440-430 BC, Kodros Painter, Berlin F 2538

 

An Untold Number of Gods and the Path to Eternal Fame

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.5 16–18

“This is the reason it is possible to estimate a greater number of divinities than there are humans: individuals make a number of gods equal to their number by adopting their own Junos and Genii. Indeed, some peoples have animals, even horrible ones, for gods and many others too shameful to report, such as swearing by rotten food or other similar things.

Believing in marriage among the gods but without anyone being born from them for such a great span of time or that some are always old and graying while others are eternally young even children, or that some gods are dark-colored, winged, crippled born from eggs, or dying and living on alternating days, these beliefs are like childhood delusions. But it is beyond every kind of shame to imagine adultery among them, then strife and hatred, and that there are powers of thieves and criminals. “God” is a person helping another person; this is the path to eternal fame.”

quamobrem maior caelitum populus etiam quam hominum intellegi potest, cum singuli quoque ex semetipsis totidem deos faciant Iunones Geniosque adoptando sibi, gentes vero quaedam animalia et aliqua etiam obscena pro dis habeant ac multa dictu magis pudenda, per fetidos cibos et alia similia iurantes. matrimonia quidem inter deos credi tantoque aevo ex eis neminem nasci, et alios esse grandaevos semper canosque, alios iuvenes atque pueros, atricolores, aligeros, claudos, ovo editos et alternis diebus viventes morientesque, puerilium prope deliramentorum est; sed super omnem inpudentiam adulteria inter ipsos fingi, mox iurgia et odia, atque etiam furtorum esse et scelerum numina. deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via.

File:Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Florence, Plut. 82.4.jpg
Pliny the Elder, Natural History in ms. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 82.4, fol. 3r.

“Their Only God is Money”

The following is a spurious letter from the wild Historia Augusta. This is filled with religious confusion, some hate, and an odd detail about cups.

Historia Augusta, 29.7

“Hadrianus Augustus greets Servianus the Consul.

Dearest Servianus, that Egypt you were praising to me is completely light of learning, volatile, and swinging toward every little rumor. The people there who follow Serapis are Christians and those who claim to be followers of Christ are actually worshipers of Serapis. There’s no one in charge of the synagogue of the Jews, there’s no Samaritans, no Christian presbyter who is not also an astrologer, a psychic or some baptist. Even the Patriarch, when he has come to Egypt, is made to worship Serapis by some and Christ by others.

These people are the most traitorous, the most vain, most likely to injure while their state is wealthy, showy, fertile and a place where no one is without work. Some people blow glass; paper is made by others; everyone weaves some kind of linen or are part of some kind of craft. The lame have things they do; eunuchs have things they do as do the blind and even those with crippled hands are not without work among them.

Money is their only god—Christians, Jews, every people and race worship him. I wish that this place had a better nature, for it is truly worthy because of its size and richness to be the chief place of all Egypt. I conceded everything to it; I returned its ancient rights and added new ones so that the people thanked me while I was there. But, then, the moment I left, they said many things against my son Verus and I believe that you have learned what they said about Antinoos.

I wish nothing for them except that they live on their own chickens which they raise in a way that is shameful to speak. I am sending you some cups which are decorated with changing colors and were given to me by the priest of a temple but are now dedicated to you and my sister. I want you to use them on feast days. Be careful that our companion Africanus does not use them as he wants.”

VIII. “Hadrianus Augustus Serviano consuli salutem. Aegyptum, quam mihi laudabas, Serviane carissime, totam didici levem, pendulam et ad omnia famae momenta volitantem. illic3 qui Serapem colunt Christiani sunt, et devoti sunt Serapi qui se Christi episcopos dicunt. nemo illic archisynagogus Iudaeorum, nemo Samarites, nemo Christianorum presbyter non mathematicus, non haruspex, non aliptes. ipse ille patriarcha cum Aegyptum venerit, ab aliis Serapidem adorare, ab aliis cogitur Christum. genus hominum seditiosissimum, vanissimum, iniuriosissimum; civitas opulenta, dives, fecunda, in qua nemo vivat otiosus. alii vitrum conflant, aliis charta conficitur, omnes certe linyphiones aut cuiuscumque artis esse videntur; et habent podagrosi quod agant, habent praecisi quod agant, habent caeci quod faciant, ne chiragrici quidem apud eos otiosi vivunt. unus illis deus nummus est. hunc Christiani, hunc Iudaei, hunc omnes venerantur et gentes. et utinam melius esset morata civitas, digna profecto quae pro sui fecunditate, quae pro sui magnitudine totius Aegypti teneat principatum. huic ego cuncta concessi, vetera privilegia reddidi, nova sic addidi ut praesenti gratias agerent. denique ut primum inde discessi, et in filium meum Verum multa dixerunt, et de Antinoo quae dixerint comperisse te credo. nihil illis opto, nisi ut suis pullis alantur, quos quemadmodum fecundant, pudet dicere. calices tibi allassontes versicolores transmisi, quos mihi sacerdos templi obtulit, tibi et sorori meae specialiter dedicatos; quos tu velim festis diebus conviviis adhibeas. caveas tamen ne his Africanus noster indulgenter utatur.”

An image of Serapis, not of Christ
Serapis

Nothing is So Simple. Nothing is So Great.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1023-1039

“Listen, put your mind now on true reason.
For a new matter rises fiercely to meet your ears
and a new image of the universe strives to show itself.

Nothing is so simple that at first sight
it is not rather difficult to believe;
and in the same way nothing is so great or miraculous
that over time we don’t slowly fail to behold it with wonder.

Consider first the clear and pure color of the sky
and everything it holds, the wandering stars
the moon and the gleam of the sun with its bright light;
If suddenly mortals now saw all these things
for the first time with no prior experience of them,
could anything possibly be said to be more wondrous
or would the races of men have dared to believe they existed?
Nothing. I believe that is how striking the sight would be.
But now, since we are so used to seeing them,
no one thinks it worthwhile to gaze at heaven’s bright splendor.”

Nunc animum nobis adhibe veram ad rationem.
nam tibi vehementer nova res molitur ad auris
accedere et nova se species ostendere rerum.
sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
difficilis magis ad credendum constet, itemque
nil adeo magnum neque tam mirabile quicquam,
quod non paulatim minuant mirarier omnes,
principio caeli clarum purumque colorem
quaeque in se cohibet, palantia sidera passim,
lunamque et solis praeclara luce nitorem;
omnia quae nunc si primum mortalibus essent
ex improviso si sint obiecta repente,
quid magis his rebus poterat mirabile dici,
aut minus ante quod auderent fore credere gentes?
nil, ut opinor; ita haec species miranda fuisset.
quam tibi iam nemo fessus satiate videndi,
suspicere in caeli dignatur lucida templa.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman Night sky
Image taken from Pinterest,

Just in Time for the Weekend: Spartan Puppy Sacrifices

I promise, I am not becoming obsessed with this topic...

Pausanias, 15.14 [In Laconia]

“On each of the bridges there is a sculpture: one has Herakles, the other an image of Lykourgos. Lykourgos established laws for the rest of the state and also for the fighting of youths. There are other things done by the Spartan youths too. They sacrifice in the temple to Apollo before battle. The Phoibaion is outside the city and not too far from Therapne. There, each group of young men sacrifice a puppy to Enyalios, because they believe that the bravest of the tame animals is a sacrifice to the liking of the bravest of the gods.

I don’t know any other Greeks who are in the habit of sacrificing puppies except for the Colophonians. They sacrifice a black female pup to the Goddess of the Wayside. This sacrifice and that of the Spartan youths are performed at night. During the sacrifice, the youths have trained boars fight one another. Whichever group’s boar wins, that group ends up winning the battle when they fight with strength in the Plane-tree Grove. These are the things they do in the Phobaion.”

γεφυρῶν δὲ ἐφ᾿ ἑκατέρᾳ τῇ μέν ἐστιν ἄγαλμα Ἡρακλέους, τῇ δὲ εἰκὼν Λυκούργου. νόμους δὲ ἔς τε τὴν ἄλλην πολιτείαν καὶ ἐς τὴν μάχην τῶν ἐφήβων ἔθηκεν ὁ Λυκοῦργος. καὶ τάδε ἄλλα τοῖς ἐφήβοις δρώμενά ἐστι· θύουσι πρὸ τῆς μάχης ἐν τῷ Φοιβαίῳ· τὸ δὲ Φοιβαῖόν ἐστιν ἐκτὸς τῆς πόλεως, Θεράπνης οὐ πολὺ ἀφεστηκός. ἐνταῦθα ἑκατέρα μοῖρα τῶν ἐφήβων σκύλακα κυνὸς τῷ Ἐνυαλίῳ θύουσι, θεῶν τῷ ἀλκιμωτάτῳ κρίνοντες ἱερεῖον κατὰ γνώμην εἶναι τὸ ἀλκιμώτατον ζῷον τῶν ἡμέρων. κυνὸς δὲ σκύλακας οὐδένας ἄλλους οἶδα Ἑλλήνων νομίζοντας θύειν ὅτι μὴ Κολοφωνίους· θύουσι γὰρ καὶ Κολοφώνιοι μέλαιναν τῇ Ἐνοδίῳ σκύλακα. νυκτεριναὶ δὲ ἥ τε Κολοφωνίων θυσία καὶ τῶν ἐν Λακεδαίμονι ἐφήβων καθεστήκασιν. ἐπὶ δὲ τῇ θυσίᾳ κάπρους ἠθάδας οἱ ἔφηβοι συμβάλλουσι μαχουμένους· ὁποτέρων δ᾿ ἂν ὁ κάπρος τύχῃ νικῶν, ἐν τῷ Πλατανιστᾷ κρατῆσαι τούτους ὡς τὰ πλείω συμβαίνει. τοσάδε μὲν δρῶσιν ἐν τῷ Φοιβαίῳ·

Image result for medieval manuscript puppies
Playing puppies. ÖNB, 1885

Why Does Apollo Kill the Mules and Dogs First?

Hint: Either because he likes people. Or, animals have a good sense of smell.

Schol. A ad Il. 1.50c ex.

“First he [attacked] the mules and the fast dogs”

“Because the god is well-disposed toward human beings, he kills mules, dogs, and the other irrational beasts first, so that, by inducing fear through these [deaths], he might nurture proper reverence in the Greeks.

Or, it is because the mules and dogs have a more powerful perception of smell. For, dogs are really good at tracking beasts because of their sense of smell, and mules, when they are left behind, often rediscover their paths thanks to their sense of smell.”

<οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς:>

φιλάνθρωπος ὢν ὁ θεὸς πρῶτον τὰς ἡμιόνους καὶ τοὺς κύνας καὶ τὰ ἄλογα ζῷα ἀναιρεῖ, ἵνα διὰ τούτων εἰς δέος ἀγαγὼν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας ἐπὶ τὸ εὐσεβεῖν παρασκευάσῃ. ἢ ὅτι αἱ ἡμίονοι καὶ οἱ κύνες τὴν αἴσθησιν τῆς ὀσφρήσεως ἐνεργεστέραν ἔχουσιν· οἱ μὲν γὰρ κύνες ἀπὸ τῆς ὀσφρήσεως τῶν ἰχνῶν ἐν αἰσθήσει τῶν θηρίων γίνονται, αἱ δὲ ἡμίονοι πολλάκις ἀπολειφθεῖσαι τινων ἀπὸ τῆς ὀσφρήσεως καὶ τὰς ὁδοὺς ἀνευρίσκουσιν.

I was reading the beginning of the Iliad with some students the other day and I opened up the scholia to see what various nonsense there was to support or deny Zenodotus’ editorial dismissal of lines 1.46-47 (ἔκλαγξαν δ’ ἄρ’ ὀϊστοὶ ἐπ’ ὤμων χωομένοιο, / αὐτοῦ κινηθέντος· ὃ δ’ ἤϊε νυκτὶ ἐοικώς.). I started looking ahead and saw this! As other students might attest, this is what often happens in my advanced Greek classes–we discuss the strangeness of a thing, we check the apparatus, I hoot or holler over some editorial intervention, and then I open the scholia: look, this is absurd. and wonderful. and mad. and I love it.

Additional note: On 1.50, Aristonicus denies the claims by by some rogues that “mules” here is a word for “guards”; the bT scholia make the quasi-scientific claim that these animals are more susceptible to diseases than humans. I like the idea of Apollo trying to teach people a lesson before just murdering them all.

Lessons.