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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 11

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 11.—That the Greeks Admitted Players to Offices of State, on the Ground that Men Who Pleased the Gods Should Not Be Contemptuously Treated by Their Fellows.

It was a part of this same reasonableness of the Greeks which induced them to bestow upon the actors of these same plays no inconsiderable civic honors.  In the above-mentioned book of the De Republica, it is mentioned that Aeschines, a very eloquent Athenian, who had been a tragic actor in his youth, became a statesman, and that the Athenians again and again sent another tragedian, Aristodemus, as their plenipotentiary to Philip.  For they judged it unbecoming to condemn and treat as infamous persons those who were the chief actors in the scenic entertainments which they saw to be so pleasing to the gods.  No doubt this was immoral of the Greeks, but there can be as little doubt they acted in conformity with the character of their gods; for how could they have presumed to protect the conduct of the citizens from being cut to pieces by the tongues of poets and players, who were allowed, and even enjoined by the gods, to tear their divine reputation to tatters?  And how could they hold in contempt the men who acted in the theatres those dramas which, as they had ascertained, gave pleasure to the gods whom they worshipped?  Nay, how could they but grant to them the highest civic honors?  On what plea could they honor the priests who offered for them acceptable sacrifices to the gods, if they branded with infamy the actors who in behalf of the people gave to the gods that pleasure or honour which they demanded, and which, according to the account of the priests, they were angry at not receiving.  Labeo, 102 whose learning makes him an authority on such points, is of opinion that p. 29 the distinction between good and evil deities should find expression in a difference of worship; that the evil should be propitiated by bloody sacrifices and doleful rites, but the good with a joyful and pleasant observance, as, e.g. (as he says himself), with plays, festivals, and banquets. 103   All this we shall, with God’s help, hereafter discuss.  At present, and speaking to the subject on hand, whether all kinds of offerings are made indiscriminately to all the gods, as if all were good (and it is an unseemly thing to conceive that there are evil gods; but these gods of the pagans are all evil, because they are not gods, but evil spirits), or whether, as Labeo thinks, a distinction is made between the offerings presented to the different gods the Greeks are equally justified in honoring alike the priests by whom the sacrifices are offered, and the players by whom the dramas are acted, that they may not be open to the charge of doing an injury to all their gods, if the plays are pleasing to all of them, or (which were still worse) to their good gods, if the plays are relished only by them.


Footnotes

28:102

Labeo, a jurist of the time of Augustus, learned in law and antiquities, and the author of several works much prized by his own and some succeeding ages.  The two articles in Smith’s Dictionary on Antistius and Cornelius Labeo should be read.

29:103

Lectisternia, feasts in which the images of the gods were laid on pillows in the streets, and all kinds of food set before them.


Next: Chapter 12

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