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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 7

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 7.—That the Platonists Maintain that the Poets Wrong the Gods by Representing Them as Distracted by Party Feeling, to Which the Demons and Not the Gods, are Subject.

But if any one says that it is not of all the demons, but only of the wicked, that the poets, not without truth, say that they violently love or hate certain men,—for it was of them Apuleius said that they were driven about by strong currents of emotion,—how p. 170 can we accept this interpretation, when Apuleius, in the very same connection, represents all the demons, and not only the wicked, as intermediate between gods and men by their aerial bodies?  The fiction of the poets, according to him, consists in their making gods of demons, and giving them the names of gods, and assigning them as allies or enemies to individual men, using this poetical license, though they profess that the gods are very different in character from the demons, and far exalted above them by their celestial abode and wealth of beatitude.  This, I say, is the poets’ fiction, to say that these are gods who are not gods, and that, under the names of gods, they fight among themselves about the men whom they love or hate with keen partisan feeling.  Apuleius says that this is not far from the truth, since, though they are wrongfully called by the names of the gods, they are described in their own proper character as demons.  To this category, he says, belongs the Minerva of Homer, “who interposed in the ranks of the Greeks to restrain Achilles.” 345   For that this was Minerva he supposes to be poetical fiction; for he thinks that Minerva is a goddess, and he places her among the gods whom he believes to be all good and blessed in the sublime ethereal region, remote from intercourse with men.  But that there was a demon favorable to the Greeks and adverse to the Trojans, as another, whom the same poet mentions under the name of Venus or Mars (gods exalted above earthly affairs in their heavenly habitations), was the Trojans’ ally and the foe of the Greeks, and that these demons fought for those they loved against those they hated,—in all this he owned that the poets stated something very like the truth.  For they made these statements about beings to whom he ascribes the same violent and tempestuous passions as disturb men, and who are therefore capable of loves and hatreds not justly formed, but formed in a party spirit, as the spectators in races or hunts take fancies and prejudices.  It seems to have been the great fear of this Platonist that the poetical fictions should be believed of the gods, and not of the demons who bore their names.



De Deo. Soc.

Next: Chapter 8

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