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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:
Against the Heathen. (Contra Gentes.): Similar human origin of the Greek gods, by decree of Theseus. The process by which mortals became deified.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

§10. Similar human origin of the Greek gods, by decree of Theseus. The process by which mortals became deified.

But this custom is not a new one, nor did it begin from the Roman Senate: on the contrary, it had existed previously from of old, and was formerly practised for the devising of idols. For the gods renowned from of old among the Greeks, Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hephæstus, Hermes, and, among females, Hera and Demeter and Athena and Artemis, were decreed the title of gods by the order of Theseus, of whom Greek history tells us 121 ; and so the men who pass such decrees die like men and are mourned for, while those in whose favour they are passed are worshipped as gods. What a height of inconsistency and madness! knowing who passed the decree, they pay greater honour to those who are the subjects of it. 2. And would that their idolatrous madness had stopped short at males, and that they had not brought down the title of deity to females. For even women, whom it is not safe to admit to deliberation about public affairs, they worship and serve with the honour due to God, such as those enjoined by Theseus as above stated, and among the Egyptians 122 Isis and the Maid and the Younger one 123 , and among others Aphrodite. For the names of the others I do not consider it modest even to mention, full as they are of all kind of grotesqueness. 3. For many, not only in ancient times but in our own also, having lost their beloved ones, brothers and kinsfolk and wives; and many women who had lost their husbands, all of whom nature proved to be mortal men, made representations of them and devised sacrifices, and consecrated them; while later ages, moved by the figure and the brilliancy of the artist, worshipped them as gods, thus falling into inconsistency with nature 124 . For whereas their parents had mourned for them, not regarding them as gods (for had they known them to be gods they would not have lamented them as if they had perished; for this was why they represented them in an image, namely, because they not only did not think them gods, but did not believe them to exist at all, and in order that the sight of their form in the image might console them for their being no more), yet the foolish people pray to them as gods and invest them with the honour of the true God. 4. For example, in Egypt, even to this day, the death-dirge is celebrated for Osiris and Horus and Typho and the others. And the caldrons 125 at Dodona, and the Corybantes in Crete, prove that Zeus is no god but a man, and a man born of a cannibal father. And, strange to say, even Plato, the sage admired among the Greeks, with all his vaunted understanding about God, goes down with Socrates to p. 10 Peiræus 126 to worship Artemis, a figment of man’s art.


Footnotes

9:121

This is probably a reference to the ερὰ ἀναγραφὴ of Euhemerus, which Christian apologists commonly took as genuine history: see §12, note 1.

9:122

Cf. de la Saussaye, §51. Isis, as goddess of the earth, corresponded to Demeter; as goddess of the dead, to the Κόρη (Persephone).

9:123

The Νεωτέρα is a puzzle. The most likely suggestion is that of Montfaucon, who refers it to Cleopatra, who νέα ῎Ισις ἐχρήματιζε (Plut. Vit. Anton.). He cites also a coin of M. Antony, on which Cleopatra is figured as θέα νεωτέρα. Several such are given by Vaillant, de Numism. Cleopatr. 189. She was not the first of her name to adopt this style, see Head Hist. Num. pp. 716, 717. The text might be rendered ‘Isis, both the Maid and the Younger.’

9:124

Cf. Wisd. xiv. 12 sqq. quoted below.

9:125

Cf. Greg. Naz. Or. v. 32, p. 168 c, and Dict. G. and R. Geog. I. p. 783a.

10:126

Plat. Rep. I. ad init.


Next: The deeds of heathen deities, and particularly of Zeus.

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