O N T H E
G O D S
What the disciple should be;
and concerning Common Conceptions
Those who wish to hear about the Gods
should have been well guided from childhood, and not habituated to foolish
beliefs. They should also be in disposition good and sensible, that they
may properly attend to the teaching.
They ought also to know the common
conceptions. Common conceptions are those to which all men agree as soon
as they are asked; for instance, that all god [here and elsewhere, = godhood,
divine nature] is good, free from passion, free from change.
For whatever suffers change does so for the worse or the better; if for the worse, it is made bad; if for the better, it must have been bad at first.
That [all] god is unchanging, unbegotten, eternal, incorporeal, and not in space
Let the disciple be thus. Let the
teachings be of the following sort. The essences of the Gods never came
into existence (for that which always is never comes into existence; and
that exists for ever which possesses primary force and by nature suffers
nothing): neither do they consist of bodies; for even in bodies the powers
are incorporeal. Neither are they contained by space; for that is a property
of bodies. Neither are they separate from the first cause nor from one
another, just as thoughts are not separate from mind nor acts of knowledge
from the soul.
that they are divine, and why
We may well inquire, then, why the ancients forsook these doctrines and made use of myths. There is this first benefit from myths, that we have to search and do not have our minds idle.
That the myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them. Myths have been used by inspired poets, by the best of philosophers, by those who established the mysteries, and by the Gods themselves in oracles. But why the myths are divine it is the duty of philosophy to inquire. Since all existing things rejoice in that which is like them and reject that which is unlike, the stories about the Gods ought to be like the Gods, so that they may both be worthy of the divine essence and make the Gods well disposed to those who speak of them: which could only be done by means of myths.
Now the myths represent the Gods themselves and the goodness of the Gods - subject always to the distinction of the speakable and the unspeakable, the revealed and the unrevealed, that which is clear and that which is hidden: since, just as the Gods have made the goods of sense common to all, but those of intellect only to the wise, so the myths state the existence of Gods to all, but who and what they are only to those who can understand.
They also represent the activities of the Gods. For one may call the world a myth, in which bodies and things are visible, but souls and minds hidden. Besides, to wish to teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish, because they cannot understand, and lack of zeal in the good, whereas to conceal the truth by myths prevents the contempt of the foolish, and compels the good to practice philosophy.
But why have they put in the myths
stories of adultery, robbery, father-binding, and all the other absurdity?
Is not that perhaps a thing worthy of admiration, done so that by means
of the visible absurdity the soul may immediately feel that the words are
veils and believe the truth to be a mystery?
That the species of myth are five,
with examples of each
Of myths some are theological, some
physical, some psychic, and again some material, and some mixed from these
The theological are those myths which use no bodily form but contemplate the very essence of the Gods: e.g., Kronos swallowing his children. Since god is intellectual, and all intellect returns into itself, this myth expresses in allegory the essence of god.
Myths may be regarded physically when they express the activities of the Gods in the world: e.g., people before now have regarded Kronos as time, and calling the divisions of time his sons say that the sons are swallowed by the father.
The psychic way is to regard the activities of the soul itself; the soul's acts of thought, though they pass on to other objects, nevertheless remain inside their begetters.
The material and last is that which the Egyptians have mostly used, owing to their ignorance, believing material objects actually to be Gods, and so calling them: e.g., they call the earth Isis, moisture Osiris, heat Typhon, or again, water Kronos, the fruits of the earth Adonis, and wine Dionysus.
To say that these objects are sacred to the Gods, like various herbs and stones and animals, is possible to sensible men, but to say that they are Gods is the notion of madmen - except, perhaps, in the sense in which both the orb of the sun and the ray which comes from the orb are colloquially called 'the sun'.
The mixed kind of myth may be seen
in many instances: for example they say that in a banquet of the Gods Discord
threw down a golden apple; the Goddesses contended for it, and were sent
by Zeus to Paris to be judged. Paris saw Aphrodite to be beautiful and
gave her the apple. Here the banquet signifies the hypercosmic powers of
the Gods; that is why they are all together. The golden apple is the world,
which being formed out of opposites, is naturally said to be 'thrown by
Discord'. The different Gods bestow different gifts upon the world, and
are thus said to 'contend for the apple'. And the soul which lives according
to sense - for that is what Paris is - not seeing the other powers in the
world but only beauty, declares that the apple belongs to Aphrodite.
Theological myths suit philosophers,
physical and psychic suit poets, mixed suit religious initiations, since
every initiation aims at uniting us with the world and the Gods.
To take another myth, they say that the Mother of the Gods seeing Attis lying by the river Gallus fell in love with him, took him, crowned him with her cap of stars, and thereafter kept him with her. He fell in love with a nymph and left the Mother to live with her. For this the Mother of the Gods made Attis go mad and cut off his genital organs and leave them with the nymph, and then return and dwell with her.
Now the Mother of the Gods is the principle that generates life; that is why she is called Mother. Attis is the creator of all things which are born and die; that is why he is said to have been found by the river Gallus. For Gallus signifies the Galaxy, or Milky Way, the point at which body subject to passion begins. Now as the primary gods make perfect the secondary, the Mother loves Attis and gives him celestial powers. That is what the cap means. Attis loves a nymph: the nymphs preside over generation, since all that is generated is fluid. But since the process of generation must be stopped somewhere, and not allowed to generate something worse than the worst, the creator who makes these things casts away his generative powers into the creation and is joined to the Gods again. Now these things never happened, but always are. And mind sees all things at once, but reason (or speech) expresses some first and others after. Thus, as the myth is in accord with the cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?
And at first we ourselves, having fallen from heaven and living with the nymph, are in despondency, and abstain from corn and all rich and unclean food, for both are hostile to the soul. Then comes the cutting of the tree and the fast, as though we also were cutting off the further process of generation. After that the feeding on milk, as though we were being born again; after which come rejoicings and garlands and, as it were, a return up to the Gods.
The season of the ritual is evidence to the truth of these explanations. The rites are performed about the Vernal equinox, when the fruits of the earth are ceasing to be produced, and day is becoming longer than night, which applies well to spirits rising higher. (At least, the other equinox is in mythology the time of the rape of Kore, which is the descent of the souls.)
May these explanations of the myths find favour in the eyes of the Gods themselves and the souls of those who wrote the myths.
On the First Cause
Next in order comes knowledge of the first cause and the subsequent orders of the Gods, then the nature of the world, the essence of intellect and of soul, then providence, fate, and fortune, then to see virtue and formed from them, and from what possible source evil came into the world.
Each of these subjects needs many long discussions; but there is perhaps no harm in stating them briefly, so that a disciple may not be completely ignorant about them.
It is proper to the first cause to be one - for unity precedes multitude - and to surpass all things in power and goodness. Consequently all things must partake of it. For owing to its power nothing else can hinder it, and owing to its goodness it will not hold itself apart.
If the first cause were soul, all
things would possess soul. If it were mind, all things would possess mind.
If it were being, all things would partake of being. And seeing this quality
in all things, some men have thought that it was being. Now if things simply
were, without being good, this argument would be true, but if things that
are are because of their goodness, and partake in the good, the
first thing must needs be both beyond-being and good. It is strong evidence
of this that noble souls despise being for the sake of the good, when they
face death for their country or friends or for the sake of virtue. - After
this inexpressible country or friends or for the sake of virtue. - After
this inexpressible power come the orders of the Gods.
On Gods Cosmic and Hypercosmic
Of the Gods some are of the world,
cosmic, and some above the world, hypercosmic.
By the cosmic I mean those who make
the cosmos. Of the hypercosmic Gods some create essence, some mind, and
some soul. Thus they have three orders; all of which may be found in treatises
on the subject.
Of the cosmic Gods some make the world be, others animate it, others harmonize it, consisting as it does of different elements; the fourth class keep it when harmonized.
These are four actions, each of which has a beginning, middle, and end, consequently there must be twelve Gods governing the world.
Those who make the world are Zeus,
Poseidon, and Hephaistos; those who animate it are Demeter, Hera, and Artemis;
those who harmonize it are Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hermes; those who watch
over it are Hestia, Athena, and Ares.
One can see secret suggestions of this in their images. Apollo tunes a lyre; Athena is armed; Aphrodite is naked (because harmony creates beauty, and beauty in things seen is not covered).
While these twelve in the primary sense possess the world, we should consider that the other Gods are contained in these. Dionysus in Zeus, for instance, Asklepios in Apollo, the Charites in Aphrodite.
We can also discern their various
spheres: to Hestia belongs the earth, to Poseidon water, to Hera air, to
Hephaistos fire. And the six superior spheres to the Gods to whom they
are usually attributed. For Apollo and Artemis are to be taken for the
Sun and Moon, the sphere of Kronos should be attributed to Demeter, the
ether to Athena, while the heaven is common to all.
Thus the orders, powers, and spheres of the twelve Gods have been explained and celebrated in hymns.
On the Nature of the World
and its Eternity
The cosmos itself must of necessity
be indestructible and uncreated. Indestructible because, suppose it destroyed:
the only possibility is to make one better than this or worse or the same
or a chaos. If worse, the power which out of the better makes the worse
must be bad. If better, the maker who did not make the better at first
must be imperfect in power. If the same, there will be no use in making
it; if a chaos... it is impious even to hear such a thing suggested. These
reasons would suffice to show that the world is also uncreated: for if
not destroyed, neither is it created. Everything that is created is subject
to destruction. And further, since the cosmos exists by the goodness of
god, if follows that god must always be good and the world exist. Just
as light coexists with the sun and with fire, and shadow coexists with
Of the bodies in the cosmos, some imitate mind and move in orbits; some imitate soul and move in a straight line, fire and air upward, earth and water downward. Of those that move in orbits the fixed sphere goes from the east, the seven [planets] from the west (This is so for various causes, especially lest the creation should be imperfect owing to the rapid circuit of the spheres.)
The movement being different, the nature of the bodies must also be different; hence the celestial body does not burn or freeze what it touches, or do anything else that pertains to the four elements.
And since the Cosmos is a sphere - the zodiac proves that - and in every sphere 'down' means 'toward the center', for the center is furthest distant from every point, and heavy things fall 'down' and fall to the earth (it follows that the earth is in the center of the cosmos).
All these things are made by the Gods,
ordered by mind, moved by soul.
About the Gods we have spoken already.
Copyright ©1999 Roy George