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Title: Atheism in Pagan Antiquity
Author: Drachmann, A. B. (Anders Björn), 1860-1935
Language: English
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                        Atheism In Pagan Antiquity


                             A. B. Drachmann

     Professor of Classical Philology in the University of Copenhagen


                      11 Hanover Square, London, W.1





Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX


The present treatise originally appeared in Danish as a University
publication (_Kjœbenhavns Universitets Festskrift_, November 1919). In
submitting it to the English public, I wish to acknowledge my profound
indebtedness to Mr. G. F. Hill of the British Museum, who not only
suggested the English edition, but also with untiring kindness has
subjected the translation, as originally made by Miss Ingeborg Andersen,
M.A. of Copenhagen, to a painstaking and most valuable revision.

For an account of the previous treatments of the subject, as well as of
the method employed in my investigation, the reader is referred to the
introductory remarks which precede the Notes.

_July 1922_.


The present inquiry is the outcome of a request to write an article on
“Atheism” for a projected dictionary of the religious history of classical
antiquity. On going through the sources I found that the subject might
well deserve a more comprehensive treatment than the scope of a dictionary
would allow. It is such a treatment that I have attempted in the following

A difficulty that occurred at the very beginning of the inquiry was how to
define the notion of atheism. Nowadays the term is taken to designate the
attitude which denies every idea of God. Even antiquity sometimes referred
to atheism in this sense; but an inquiry dealing with the history of
religion could not start from a definition of that kind. It would have to
keep in view, not the philosophical notion of God, but the conceptions of
the gods as they appear in the religion of antiquity. Hence I came to
define atheism in Pagan antiquity as the point of view which _denies the
existence of the ancient gods_. It is in this sense that the word will be
used in the following inquiry.

Even though we disregard philosophical atheism, the definition is somewhat
narrow; for in antiquity mere denial of the existence of the gods of
popular belief was not the only attitude which was designated as atheism.
But it has the advantage of starting from the conception of the ancient
gods that may be said to have finally prevailed. In the sense in which the
word is used here we are nowadays all of us atheists. We do not believe
that the gods whom the Greeks and the Romans worshipped and believed in
exist or have ever existed; we hold them to be productions of the human
imagination to which nothing real corresponds. This view has nowadays
become so ingrained in us and appears so self-evident, that we find it
difficult to imagine that it has not been prevalent through long ages;
nay, it is perhaps a widely diffused assumption that even in antiquity
educated and unbiased persons held the same view of the religion of their
people as we do. In reality both assumptions are erroneous: our “atheism”
in regard to ancient paganism is of recent date, and in antiquity itself
downright denial of the existence of the gods was a comparatively rare
phenomenon. The demonstration of this fact, rather than a consideration of
the various intermediate positions taken up by the thinkers of antiquity
in their desire to avoid a complete rupture with the traditional ideas of
the gods, has been one of the chief purposes of this inquiry.

Though the definition of atheism set down here might seem to be clear and
unequivocal, and though I have tried to adhere strictly to it, cases have
unavoidably occurred that were difficult to classify. The most
embarrassing are those which involve a reinterpretation of the conception
of the gods, _i.e._ which, while acknowledging that there is some reality
corresponding to the conception, yet define this reality as essentially
different from it. Moreover, the acknowledgment of a certain group of gods
(the celestial bodies, for instance) combined with the rejection of
others, may create difficulties in defining the notion of atheism; in
practice, however, this doctrine generally coincides with the former, by
which the gods are explained away. On the whole it would hardly be just,
in a field of inquiry like the present, to expect or require absolutely
clearly defined boundary-lines; transition forms will always occur.

The persons of whom it is related that they denied the existence of the
ancient gods are in themselves few, and they all belong to the highest
level of culture; by far the greater part of them are simply professional
philosophers. Hence the inquiry will almost exclusively have to deal with
philosophers and philosophical schools and their doctrines; of religion as
exhibited in the masses, as a social factor, it will only treat by
exception. But in its purpose it is concerned with the history of
religion, not with philosophy; therefore—in accordance with the definition
of its object—it will deal as little as possible with the purely
philosophical notions of God that have nothing to do with popular
religion. What it aims at illustrating is a certain—if you like, the
negative—aspect of ancient religion. But its result, if it can be
sufficiently established, will not be without importance for the
understanding of the positive religious sense of antiquity. If you want to
obtain some idea of the hold a certain religion had on its adherents, it
is not amiss to know something about the extent to which it dominated even
the strata of society most exposed to influences that went against it.

It might seem more natural, in dealing with atheism in antiquity, to adopt
the definition current among the ancients themselves. That this method
would prove futile the following investigation will, I hope, make
sufficiently evident; antiquity succeeded as little as we moderns in
connecting any clear and unequivocal idea with the words that signify
“denial of God.” On the other hand, it is, of course, impossible to begin
at all except from the traditions of antiquity about denial and deniers.
Hence the course of the inquiry will be, first to make clear what
antiquity understood by denial of the gods and what persons it designated
as deniers, and then to examine in how far these persons were atheists in
our sense of the word.


Atheism and atheist are words formed from Greek roots and with Greek
derivative endings. Nevertheless they are not Greek; their formation is
not consonant with Greek usage. In Greek they said _atheos_ and
_atheotes_; to these the English words ungodly and ungodliness correspond
rather closely. In exactly the same way as ungodly, _atheos_ was used as
an expression of severe censure and moral condemnation; this use is an old
one, and the oldest that can be traced. Not till later do we find it
employed to denote a certain philosophical creed; we even meet with
philosophers bearing _atheos_ as a regular surname. We know very little of
the men in question; but it can hardly be doubted that _atheos_, as
applied to them, implied not only a denial of the gods of popular belief,
but a denial of gods in the widest sense of the word, or Atheism as it is
nowadays understood.

In this case the word is more particularly a philosophical term. But it
was used in a similar sense also in popular language, and corresponds then
closely to the English “denier of God,” denoting a person who denies the
gods of his people and State. From the popular point of view the interest,
of course, centred in those only, not in the exponents of philosophical
theology. Thus we find the word employed both of theoretical denial of the
gods (atheism in our sense) and of practical denial of the gods, as in the
case of the adherents of monotheism, Jews and Christians.

Atheism, in the theoretical as well as the practical sense of the word,
was, according to the ancient conception of law, always a crime; but in
practice it was treated in different ways, which varied both according to
the period in question and according to the more or less dangerous nature
of the threat it offered to established religion. It is only as far as
Athens and Imperial Rome are concerned that we have any definite knowledge
of the law and the judicial procedure on this point; a somewhat detailed
account of the state of things in Athens and Rome cannot be dispensed with

In the criminal law of Athens we meet with the term _asebeia_—literally:
impiety or disrespect towards the gods. As an established formula of
accusation of _asebeia_ existed, legislation must have dealt with the
subject; but how it was defined we do not know. The word itself conveys
the idea that the law particularly had offences against public worship in
view; and this is confirmed by the fact that a number of such
offences—from the felling of sacred trees to the profanation of the
Eleusinian Mysteries—were treated as _asebeia_. When, in the next place,
towards the close of the fifth century B.C., free-thinking began to assume
forms which seemed dangerous to the religion of the State, theoretical
denial of the gods was also included under _asebeia_. From about the
beginning of the Peloponnesian War to the close of the fourth century
B.C., there are on record a number of prosecutions of philosophers who
were tried and condemned for denial of the gods. The indictment seems in
most cases—the trial of Socrates is the only one of which we know
details—to have been on the charge of _asebeia_, and the procedure proper
thereto seems to have been employed, though there was no proof or
assertion of the accused having offended against public worship; as to
Socrates, we know the opposite to have been the case; he worshipped the
gods like any other good citizen. This extension of the conception of
_asebeia_ to include theoretical denial of the gods no doubt had no
foundation in law; this is amongst other things evident from the fact that
it was necessary, in order to convict Anaxagoras, to pass a special public
resolution in virtue of which his free-thinking theories became
indictable. The law presumably dated from a time when theoretical denial
of the gods lay beyond the horizon of legislation. Nevertheless, in the
trial of Socrates it is simply taken for granted that denial of the gods
is a capital crime, and that not only on the side of the prosecution, but
also on the side of the defence: the trial only turns on a question of
fact, the legal basis is taken for granted. So inveterate, then, at this
time was the conception of the unlawful nature of the denial of the gods
among the people of Athens.

In the course of the fourth century B.C. several philosophers were accused
of denial of the gods or blasphemy; but after the close of the century we
hear no more of such trials. To be sure, our knowledge of the succeeding
centuries, when Athens was but a provincial town, is far less copious than
of the days of its greatness; nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that the
practice in regard to theoretical denial of the gods was changed. A
philosopher like Carneades, for instance, might, in view of his sceptical
standpoint, just as well have been convicted of _asebeia_ as Protagoras,
who was convicted because he had declared that he did not know whether the
gods existed or not; and as to such a process against Carneades, tradition
would not have remained silent. Instead, we learn that he was employed as
the trusted representative of the State on most important diplomatic
missions. It is evident that Athens had arrived at the point of view that
the theoretical denial of the gods might be tolerated, whereas the law, of
course, continued to protect public worship.

In Rome they did not possess, as in Athens, a general statute against
religious offences; there were only special provisions, and they were,
moreover, few and insufficient. This defect, however, was remedied by the
vigorous police authority with which the Roman magistrates were invested.
In Rome severe measures were often taken against movements which
threatened the Roman official worship, but it was done at the discretion
of the administration and not according to hard-and-fast rules; hence the
practice was somewhat varying, and a certain arbitrariness inevitable.

No example is known from Rome of action taken against theoretical denial
of the gods corresponding to the trials of the philosophers in Athens. The
main cause of this was, no doubt, that free-thinking in the fifth century
B.C. invaded Hellas, and specially Athens, like a flood which threatened
to overthrow everything; in Rome, on the other hand, Greek philosophy made
its way in slowly and gradually, and this took place at a time when in the
country of its origin it had long ago found a _modus vivendi_ with popular
religion and was acknowledged as harmless to the established worship. The
more practical outlook of the Romans may perhaps also have had something
to say in the matter: they were rather indifferent to theoretical
speculations, whereas they were not to be trifled with when their national
institutions were concerned.

In consequence of this point of view the Roman government first came to
deal with denial of the gods as a breach of law when confronted with the
two monotheistic religions which invaded the Empire from the East. That
which distinguished Jews and Christians from Pagans was not that they
denied the existence of the Pagan gods—the Christians, at any rate, did
not do this as a rule—but that they denied that they were gods, and
therefore refused to worship them. They were practical, not theoretical
deniers. The tolerance which the Roman government showed towards all
foreign creeds and the result of which in imperial times was, practically
speaking, freedom of religion over the whole Empire, could not be extended
to the Jews and the Christians; for it was in the last resort based on
reciprocity, on the fact that worship of the Egyptian or Persian gods did
not exclude worship of the Roman ones. Every convert, on the other hand,
won over to Judaism or Christianity was _eo ipso_ an apostate from the
Roman religion, an _atheos_ according to the ancient conception. Hence, as
soon as such religions began to spread, they constituted a serious danger
to the established religion, and the Roman government intervened. Judaism
and Christianity were not treated quite alike; in this connexion details
are of no interest, but certain principal features must be dwelt on as
significant of the attitude of antiquity towards denial of the gods. To
simplify matters I confine myself to Christianity, where things are less

The Christians were generally designated as _atheoi_, as deniers of the
gods, and the objection against them was precisely their denial of the
Pagan gods, not their religion as such. When the Christian, summoned
before the Roman magistrates, agreed to sacrifice to the Pagan gods (among
them, the Emperor) he was acquitted; he was not punished for previously
having attended Christian services, and it seems that he was not even
required to undertake not to do so in future. Only if he refused to
sacrifice, was he punished. We cannot ask for a clearer proof that it is
apostasy as such, denial of the gods, against which action is taken. It is
in keeping with this that, at any rate under the earlier Empire, no
attempt was made to seek out the Christians at their assemblies, to hinder
their services or the like; it was considered sufficient to take steps
when information was laid.

The punishments meted out were different, in that they were left solely to
the discretion of the magistrates. But they were generally severe: forced
labour in mines and capital punishment were quite common. No
discrimination was made between Roman citizens and others belonging to the
Empire, but all were treated alike; that the Roman citizen could not
undergo capital punishment without appeal to the Emperor does not affect
the principle. This procedure has really no expressly formulated basis in
law; the Roman penal code did not, as mentioned above, take cognizance of
denial of the gods. Nevertheless, the sentences on the Christians were
considered by the Pagans of the earlier time as a matter of course, the
justice of which was not contested, and the procedure of the government
was in principle the same under humane and conscientious rulers like
Trajan and Marcus Aurelius as under tyrants like Nero and Domitian. Here
again it is evident how firmly rooted in the mind of antiquity was the
conviction that denial of the gods was a capital offence.

To resume what has here been set forth concerning the attitude of ancient
society to atheism: it is, in the first place, evident that the frequently
mentioned tolerance of polytheism was not extended to those who denied its
gods; in fact, it was applied only to those who acknowledged them even if
they worshipped others besides. But the assertion of this principle of
intolerance varied greatly in practice according to whether it was a
question of theoretical denial of the gods—atheism in our sense—or
practical refusal to worship the Pagan gods. Against atheism the community
took action only during a comparatively short period, and, as far as we
know, only in a single place. The latter limitation is probably explained
not only by the defectiveness of tradition, but also by the fact that in
Athens free-thinking made its appearance about the year 400 as a general
phenomenon and therefore attracted the attention of the community. Apart
from this case, the philosophical denier of God was left in peace all
through antiquity, in the same way as the individual citizen was not
interfered with, as a rule, when he, for one reason or another, refrained
from taking part in the worship of the deities. On the other hand, as soon
as practical refusal to believe in the gods, apostasy from the established
religion, assumed dangerous proportions, ruthless severity was exercised
against it.

The discrimination, however, made in the treatment of the theoretical and
practical denial of the gods is certainly not due merely to consideration
of the more or less isolated occurrence of the phenomenon; it is rooted at
the same time in the very nature of ancient religion. The essence of
ancient polytheism is the worship of the gods, that is, cultus; of a
doctrine of divinity properly speaking, of theology, there were only
slight rudiments, and there was no idea of any elaborate dogmatic system.
Quite different attitudes were accordingly assumed towards the
philosopher, who held his own opinions of the gods, but took part in the
public worship like anybody else; and towards the monotheist, to whom the
whole of the Pagan worship was an abomination, which one should abstain
from at any cost, and which one should prevail on others to give up for
the sake of their own good in this life or the next.

In the literature of antiquity we meet with sporadic statements to the
effect that certain philosophers bore the epithet _atheos_ as a sort of
surname; and in a few of the later authors of antiquity we even find lists
of men—almost all of them philosophers—who denied the existence of the
gods. Furthermore, we possess information about certain persons—these
also, if Jews and Christians are excluded, are nearly all of them
philosophers—having been accused of, and eventually convicted of, denial
of the gods; some of these are not in our lists. Information of this kind
will, as remarked above, be taken as the point of departure for an
investigation of atheism in antiquity. For practical reasons, however, it
is reasonable to include some philosophers whom antiquity did not
designate as atheists, and who did not come into conflict with official
religion, but of whom it has been maintained in later times that they did
not believe in the existence of the gods of popular belief. Thus we arrive
at the following list, in which those who were denoted as _atheoi_ are
italicised and those who were accused of impiety are marked with an

_      Diogenes of Apollonia._
_      Hippo of Rhegium._
_      Prodicus._
_      Critias._
      *_Diagoras of Melos._
_      Epicurus._
_      Euhemerus._

The persons are put down in chronological order. This order will in some
measure be preserved in the following survey; but regard for the
continuity of the tradition of the doctrine will entail certain
deviations. It will, that is to say, be natural to divide the material
into four groups: the pre-Socratic philosophy; the Sophists; Socrates and
the Socratics; Hellenistic philosophy. Each of these groups has a
philosophical character of its own, and it will be seen that this
character also makes itself felt in the relation to the gods of the
popular belief, even though we here meet with phenomena of more isolated
occurrence. The four groups must be supplemented by a fifth, a survey of
the conditions in Imperial Rome. Atheists of this period are not found in
our lists; but a good deal of old Pagan free-thinking survives in the
first centuries of our era, and also the epithet _atheoi_ was bestowed
generally on the Christians and sometimes on the Jews, and if only for
this reason they cannot be altogether passed by in this survey.


The paganism of antiquity is based on a primitive religion, _i.e._ it is
originally in the main homogeneous with the religions nowadays met with in
the so-called primitive peoples. It underwent, however, a long process of
evolution parallel with and conditioned by the development of Greek and
later Roman civilisation. This evolution carried ancient religion far away
from its primitive starting-point; it produced numerous new formations,
above all a huge system of anthropomorphic gods, each with a definite
character and personality of his own. This development is the result of an
interplay of numerous factors: changing social and economical conditions
evoked the desire for new religious ideas; the influence of other peoples
made itself felt; poetry and the fine arts contributed largely to the
moulding of these ideas; conscious reflection, too, arose early and
modified original simplicity. But what is characteristic of the whole
process is the fact that it went on continuously without breaks or sudden
bounds. Nowhere in ancient religion, as far as we can trace it, did a
powerful religious personality strike in with a radical transformation,
with a direct rejection of old ideas and dogmatic accentuation of new
ones. The result of this quiet growth was an exceedingly heterogeneous
organism, in which remains of ancient, highly primitive customs and ideas
were retained along with other elements of a far more advanced character.

Such a state of things need not in itself trouble the general
consciousness; it is a well-established fact that in religion the most
divergent elements are not incompatible. Nevertheless, among the Greeks,
with their strong proclivity to reflective thought, criticism early arose
against the traditional conceptions of the gods. The typical method of
this criticism is that the higher conceptions of the gods are used against
the lower. From the earliest times the Greek religious sense favoured
absoluteness of definition where the gods are concerned; even in Homer
they are not only eternal and happy, but also all-powerful and
all-knowing. Corresponding expressions of a moral character are hardly to
be found in Homer; but as early as Hesiod and Solon we find, at any rate,
Zeus as the representative of heavenly justice. With such definitions a
large number of customs of public worship and, above all, a number of
stories about the gods, were in violent contradiction; thus we find even
so old and so pious a poet as Pindar occasionally rejecting mythical
stories which he thinks at variance with the sublime nature of the gods.
This form of criticism of popular beliefs is continued through the whole
of antiquity; it is found not only in philosophers and philosophically
educated laymen, but appears spontaneously in everybody of a reflective
mind; its best known representative in earlier times is Euripides. Typical
of its popular form is in the first place its casualness; it is directed
against details which at the moment attract attention, while it leaves
other things alone which in principle are quite as offensive, but either
not very obviously so, or else not relevant to the matter in hand.
Secondly, it is naïve: it takes the gods of the popular belief for granted
essentially as they are; it does not raise the crucial question whether
the popular belief is not quite justified in attributing to these higher
beings all kinds of imperfection, and wrong in attributing perfection to
them, and still less if such beings, whether they are defined as perfect
or imperfect, exist at all. It follows that as a whole this form of
criticism is outside the scope of our inquiry.

Still, there is one single personality in early Greek thought who seems to
have proceeded still further on the lines of this naïve criticism, namely,
Xenophanes of Colophon. He is generally included amongst the philosophers,
and rightly in so far as he initiated a philosophical speculation which
was of the highest importance in the development of Greek scientific
thought. But in the present connexion it would, nevertheless, be
misleading to place Xenophanes among those philosophers who came into
conflict with the popular belief because their conception of Existence was
based on science. The starting-point for his criticism of the popular
belief is in fact not philosophical, but religious; he ranks with
personalities like Pindar and Euripides—he was also a verse-writer
himself, with considerable poetic gift—and is only distinguished from them
by the greater consistency of his thought. Hence, the correct course is to
deal with him in this place as the only eminent thinker in antiquity about
whom it is known that—starting from popular belief and religious
motives—he reached a standpoint which at any rate with some truth may be
designated as atheism.

Xenophanes lived in the latter part of the sixth and the beginning of the
fifth centuries B.C. (according to his own statement he reached an age of
more than ninety years). He was an itinerant singer who travelled about
and recited poetry, presumably not merely his own but also that of others.
In his own poems he severely attacked the manner in which Homer and
Hesiod, the most famous poets of Greece, had represented the gods: they
had attributed to them everything which in man’s eyes is outrageous and
reprehensible—theft, adultery and deception of one another. Their accounts
of the fights of the gods against Titans and Giants he denounced as
“inventions of the ancients.” But he did not stop at that: “Men believe
that the gods are born, are clothed and shaped and speak like themselves”;
“if oxen and horses and lions could draw and paint, they would delineate
their gods in their own image”; “the Negroes believe that their gods are
flat-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have blue eyes and red
hair.” Thus he attacked directly the popular belief that the gods are
anthropomorphic, and his arguments testify that he clearly realised that
men create their gods in their own image. On another main point, too, he
was in direct opposition to the religious ideas of his time: he rejected
Divination, the belief that the gods imparted the secrets of the future to
men—which was deemed a mainstay of the belief in the existence of the
gods. As a positive counterpart to the anthropomorphic gods, Xenophanes
set up a philosophical conception of God: God must be One, Eternal,
Unchangeable and identical with himself in every way (all sight, all
hearing and all mind). This deity, according to the explicit statements of
our earliest sources, he identified with the universe.

If we examine more closely the arguments put forth by Xenophanes in
support of his remarkable conception of the deity, we realise that he
everywhere starts from the definitions of the nature of the gods as given
by popular religion; but, be it understood, solely from the absolute
definitions. He takes the existence of the divine, with its absolute
attributes, for granted; it is in fact the basis of all his speculation.
His criticism of the popular ideas of the gods is therefore closely
connected with his philosophical conception of God; the two are the
positive and negative sides of the same thing. Altogether his connexion
with what I call the naïve criticism of the popular religion is

It is undoubtedly a remarkable fact that we meet at this early date with
such a consistent representative of this criticism. If we take Xenophanes
at his word we must describe him as an atheist, and atheism in the sixth
century B.C. is a very curious phenomenon indeed. Neither was it
acknowledged in antiquity; no one placed Xenophanes amongst _atheoi_; and
Cicero even says somewhere (according to Greek authority) that Xenophanes
was the only one of those who believed in gods who rejected divination. In
more recent times, too, serious doubt has been expressed whether
Xenophanes actually denied the existence of the gods. Reference has
amongst other things been made to the fact that he speaks in several
places about “gods” where he, according to his view, ought to say “God”;
nay, he has even formulated his fundamental idea in the words: “One God,
the greatest amongst gods and men, neither in shape nor mind like unto any
mortal.” To be sure, Xenophanes is not always consistent in his language;
but no weight whatever ought to be attached to this, least of all in the
case of a man who exclusively expressed himself in verse. Another theory
rests on the tradition that Xenophanes regarded his deity and the universe
as identical, consequently was a pantheist. In that case, it is said, he
may very well have considered, for instance, the heavenly bodies as
deities. Sound as this argument is in general, it does not apply to this
case. When a thinker arrives at pantheism, starting from a criticism of
polytheism which is expressly based on the antithesis between the unity
and plurality of the deity—then very valid proofs, indeed, are needed in
order to justify the assumption that he after all believed in a plurality
of gods; and such proofs are wanting in the case of Xenophanes.

Judging from the material in hand one can hardly arrive at any other
conclusion than that the standpoint of Xenophanes comes under our
definition of atheism. But we must not forget that only fragments of his
writings have been preserved, and that the more extensive of them do not
assist us greatly to the understanding of his religious standpoint. It is
possible that we might have arrived at a different conclusion had we but
possessed his chief philosophical work in its entirety, or at least larger
portions of it. And I must candidly confess that if I were asked whether,
in my heart of hearts, I believed that a Greek of the sixth century B.C.
denied point-blank the existence of his gods, my answer would be in the

That Xenophanes was not considered an atheist by the ancients may possibly
be explained by the fact that they objected to fasten this designation on
a man whose reasoning took the deity as a starting-point and whose sole
aim was to define its nature. Perhaps they also had an inkling that he in
reality stood on the ground of popular belief, even if he went beyond it.
Still more curious is the fact that his religious view does not seem to
have influenced the immediately succeeding philosophy at all. His
successors, Parmenides and Zeno, developed his doctrine of unity, but in a
pantheistic direction, and on a logical, not religious line of argument;
about their attitude to popular belief we are told practically nothing.
And Ionic speculation took a quite different direction. Not till a century
later, in Euripides, do we observe a distinct influence of his criticism
of popular belief; but at that time other currents of opinion had
intervened which are not dependent on Xenophanes, but might direct
attention to him.


Ancient Greek naturalism is essentially calculated to collide with the
popular belief. It seeks a natural explanation of the world, first and
foremost of its origin, but in the next place of individual natural
phenomena. As to the genesis of the world, speculations of a mythical kind
had already developed on the basis of the popular belief. They were not,
however, binding on anybody, and, above all, the idea of the gods having
created the world was altogether alien to Greek religion. Thus, without
offence to them it might be maintained that everything originated from a
primary substance or from a mixture of several primary substances, as was
generally maintained by the ancient naturalists. On the other hand, a
conflict arose as soon as the heavenly phenomena, such as lightning and
thunder, were ascribed to natural causes, or when the heavenly bodies were
made out to be natural objects; for to the Greeks it was an established
fact that Zeus sent lightning and thunder, and that the sun and the moon
were gods. A refusal to believe in the latter was especially dangerous
because they were _visible_ gods, and as to the person who did not believe
in their divinity the obvious conclusion would be that he believed still
less in the invisible gods.

That this inference was drawn will appear before long. But the epithet
“atheist” was very rarely attached to the ancient naturalists; only a few
of the later (and those the least important) were given the nickname
_atheos_. Altogether we hear very little of the relation of these
philosophers to the popular belief, and this very silence is surely
significant. No doubt, most of them bestowed but a scant attention on this
aspect of the matter; they were engrossed in speculations which did not
bring them into conflict with the popular belief, and even their
scientific treatment of the “divine” natural phenomena did not make them
doubt the _existence_ of the gods. This is connected with a peculiarity in
their conception of existence. Tradition tells us of several of them, and
it applies presumably also to those of whom it is not recorded, that they
designated their primary substance or substances as gods; sometimes they
also applied this designation to the world or worlds originating in the
primary substance. This view is deeply rooted in the Greek popular belief
and harmonises with its fundamental view of existence. To these ancient
thinkers the primary substance is at once a living and a superhuman power;
and any living power which transcended that of man was divine to the
Greeks. Hylozoism (the theory that matter is alive) consequently, when it
allies itself with popular belief, leads straight to pantheism, whereas it
excludes monotheism, which presupposes a distinction between god and
matter. Now it is a matter of experience that, while monotheism is the
hereditary foe of polytheism, polytheism and pantheism go very well
together. The universe being divine, there is no reason to doubt that
beings of a higher order than man exist, nor any reason to refuse to
bestow on them the predicate “divine”; and with this we find ourselves in
principle on the standpoint of polytheistic popular belief. There is
nothing surprising, then, in the tradition that Thales identified God with
the mind of the universe and believed the universe to be animated, and
filled with “demons.” The first statement is in this form probably
influenced by later ideas and hardly a correct expression of the view of
Thales; the rest bears the very stamp of genuineness, and similar ideas
recur, more or less completely and variously refracted, in the succeeding

To follow these variations in detail is outside the scope of this
investigation; but it may be of interest to see the form they take in one
of the latest and most advanced representatives of Ionian naturalism. In
Democritus’s conception of the universe, personal gods would seem excluded
_a priori_. He works with but three premises: the atoms, their movements,
and empty space. From this everything is derived according to strict
causality. Such phenomena also as thunder and lightning, comets and
eclipses, which were generally ascribed to the gods, are according to his
opinion due to natural causes, whereas people in the olden days were
afraid of them because they believed they were due to the gods.
Nevertheless, he seems, in the first place, to have designated Fire, which
he at the same time recognised as a “soul-substance,” as divine, the
cosmic fire being the soul of the world; and secondly, he thought that
there was something real underlying the popular conception of the gods. He
was led to this from a consideration of dreams, which he thought were
images of real objects which entered into the sleeper through the pores of
the body. Now, since gods might be seen in dreams, they must be real
beings. He did actually say that the gods had more senses than the
ordinary five. When he who of all the Greek philosophers went furthest in
a purely mechanical conception of nature took up such an attitude to the
religion of his people, one cannot expect the others, who were less
advanced, to discard it.

Nevertheless, there is a certain probability that some of the later Ionian
naturalists went further in their criticism of the gods of popular belief.
One of them actually came into conflict with popular religion; it will be
natural to begin with him.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, Anaxagoras of
Clazomenae was accused of impiety and had to leave Athens, where he had
taken up his abode. The object of the accusation was in reality political;
the idea being to hit Pericles through his friend the naturalist. What
Anaxagoras was charged with was that he had assumed that the heavenly
bodies were natural objects; he had taught that the sun was a red-hot
mass, and that the moon was earth and larger than Peloponnese. To base an
accusation of impiety on this, it was necessary first to carry a public
resolution, giving power to prosecute those who gave natural explanations
of heavenly phenomena.

As to Anaxagoras’s attitude to popular belief, we hear next to nothing
apart from this. There is a story of a ram’s head being found with one
horn in the middle of the forehead; it was brought to Pericles, and the
soothsayer Lampon explained the portent to the effect that, of the two
men, Pericles and Thucydides, who contended for the leadership of Athens,
one should prove victorious. Anaxagoras, on the other hand, had the ram’s
head cut open and showed that the brain did not fill up the cranium, but
was egg-shaped and lay gathered together at the point where the horn grew
out. He evidently thought that abortions also, which otherwise were
generally considered as signs from the gods, were due to natural causes.
Beyond this, nothing is said of any attack on the popular belief on the
part of Anaxagoras, and in his philosophy nothing occurred which logically
entailed a denial of the existence of the gods. Add to this that it was
necessary to create a new judicial basis for the accusation against
Anaxagoras, and it can be taken as certain that neither in his writings
nor in any other way did he come forward in public as a denier of the

It is somewhat different when we consider the purely personal point of
view of Anaxagoras. The very fact that no expression of his opinion
concerning the gods has been transmitted affords food for thought.
Presumably there was none; but this very fact is notable when we bear in
mind that the earlier naturalists show no such reticence. Add to this
that, if there is any place and any time in which we might expect a
complete emancipation from popular belief, combined with a decided
disinclination to give expression to it, it is Athens under Pericles. Men
like Pericles and his friends represent a high level, perhaps the zenith,
in Hellenic culture. That they were critical of many of the religious
conceptions of their time we may take for granted; as to Pericles himself,
this is actually stated as a fact, and the accusations of impiety directed
against Aspasia and Pheidias prove that orthodox circles were very well
aware of it. But the accusations prove, moreover, that Pericles and those
who shared his views were so much in advance of their time that they could
not afford to let their free-thinking attitude become a matter of public
knowledge without endangering their political position certainly, and
possibly even more than that. To be sure, considerations of that kind did
not weigh with Anaxagoras; but he was—and that we know on good authority—a
quiet scholar whose ideal of life was to devote himself to problems of
natural science, and he can hardly have wished to be disturbed in this
occupation by affairs in which he took no sort of interest. The question
is then only how far men like Pericles and himself may have ventured in
their criticism. Though all direct tradition is wanting, we have at any
rate circumstantial evidence possessing a certain degree of probability.

To begin with, the attempt to give a natural explanation of prodigies is
not in itself without interest. The mantic art, _i.e._ the ability to
predict the future by signs from the gods or direct divine inspiration,
was throughout antiquity considered one of the surest proofs of the
existence of the gods. Now, it by no means follows that a person who was
not impressed by a deformed ram’s head would deny, _e.g._, the ability of
the Delphic Oracle to predict the future, especially not so when the
person in question was a naturalist. But that there was at this time a
general tendency to reject the art of divination is evident from the fact
that Herodotus as well as Sophocles, both of them contemporaries of
Pericles and Anaxagoras, expressly contend against attempts in that
direction, and, be it remarked, as if the theory they attack was commonly
held. Sophocles is in this connexion so far the more interesting of the
two, as, on one hand, he criticises private divination but defends the
Delphic oracle vigorously, while he, on the other hand, identifies denial
of the oracle with denial of the gods. And he does this in such a way as
to make it evident that he has a definite object in mind. That in this
polemic he may have been aiming precisely at Anaxagoras is indicated by
the fact that Diopeithes, who carried the resolution concerning the
accusation of the philosopher, was a soothsayer by profession.

The strongest evidence as to the free-thinking of the Periclean age is,
however, to be met with in the historical writing of Thucydides. In his
work on the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides completely eliminated the
supernatural element; not only did he throughout ignore omens and
divinations, except in so far as they played a part as a psychological
factor, but he also completely omitted any reference to the gods in his
narrative. Such a procedure was at this time unprecedented, and contrasts
sharply with that of his immediate forerunner Herodotus, who constantly
lays stress on the intervention of the gods. That is hardly conceivable
except in a man who had altogether emancipated himself from the religious
views of his time. Now, Thucydides is not only a fellow-countryman and
younger contemporary of Pericles, but he also sees in Pericles his ideal
not only as a politician but evidently also as a man. Hence, when
everything is considered, it is not improbable that Pericles and his
friends went to all lengths in their criticism of popular belief,
although, of course, it remains impossible to state anything definite as
to particular persons’ individual views. Curiously enough, even in
antiquity this connexion was observed; in a biography of Thucydides it is
said that he was a disciple of Anaxagoras and _accordingly_ was also
considered something of an atheist.

While Anaxagoras, his trial notwithstanding, is not generally designated
an atheist, probably because there was nothing in his writings to which he
might be pinned down, that fate befell two of his contemporaries, Hippo of
Rhegium and Diogenes of Apollonia. Very little, however, is known of them.
Hippo, who is said to have been a Pythagorean, taught that water and fire
were the origin of everything; as to the reason why he earned the nickname
_atheos_, it is said that he taught that Water was the primal cause of
all, as well as that he maintained that nothing existed but what could be
perceived by the senses. There is also quoted a (fictitious) inscription,
which he is said to have caused to be put on his tomb, to the effect that
Death has made him the equal of the immortal gods (in that he now exists
no more than they). Otherwise we know nothing special of Hippo; Aristotle
refers to him as shallow. As to Diogenes, we learn that he was influenced
by Anaximenes and Anaxagoras; in agreement with the former he regarded Air
as the primary substance, and like Anaxagoras he attributed reason to his
primary substance. Of his doctrine we have extensive accounts, and also
some not inconsiderable fragments of his treatise _On Nature_; but they
are almost all of them of purely scientific, mostly of an anatomical and
physiological character. In especial, as to his relation to popular
belief, it is recorded that he identified Zeus with the air. Indirectly,
however, we are able to demonstrate, by the aid of an almost contemporary
witness, that there must have been some foundation for the accusation of
“atheism.” For in _The Clouds_, where Aristophanes wants to represent
Socrates as an atheist, he puts in his mouth scraps of the naturalism of
Diogenes; that he would hardly have done, if Diogenes had not already been
decried as an atheist.

It is of course impossible to base any statement of the relation of the
two philosophers to popular belief on such a foundation. But it is,
nevertheless, worth noticing that while not a single one of the earlier
naturalists acquired the designation atheist, it was applied to two of the
latest and otherwise little-known representatives of the school. Take this
in combination with what has been said above of Anaxagoras, and we get at
any rate a suspicion that Greek naturalism gradually led its adherents
beyond the naïve stage where many individual phenomena were indeed
ascribed to natural causes, even if they had formerly been regarded as
caused by divine intervention, but where the foundations of the popular
belief were left untouched. Once this path has been entered on, a point
will be arrived at where the final conclusion is drawn and the existence
of the supernatural completely denied. It is probable that this happened
towards the close of the naturalistic period. If so early a philosopher as
Anaxagoras took this point of view, his personal contribution as a member
of the Periclean circle may have been more significant in the religious
field than one would conjecture from the character of his work.

Before we proceed to mention the sophists, there is one person on our list
who must be examined though the result will be negative, namely, Diagoras
of Melos. As he appears in our records, he falls outside the
classification adopted here; but as he must have lived, at any rate, about
the middle of the fifth century (he is said to have “flourished” in 464)
he may most fitly be placed on the boundary line between the Ionian
philosophy and Sophistic.

For later antiquity Diagoras is the typical atheist; he heads our lists of
atheists, and round his person a whole series of myths have been formed.
He is said to have been a poet and a pious man like others; but then a
colleague once stole an ode from him, escaped by taking an oath that he
was innocent, and afterwards made a hit with the stolen work. So Diagoras
lost his faith in the gods and wrote a treatise under the title of
_apopyrgizontes logoi_ (literally, destructive considerations) in which he
attacked the belief in the gods.

This looks very plausible, and is interesting in so far as it, if correct,
affords an instance of atheism arising in a layman from actual experience,
not in a philosopher from speculation. If we ask, however, what is known
historically about Diagoras, we are told a different tale. There existed
in Athens, engraved on a bronze tablet and set up on the Acropolis, a
decree of the people offering a reward of one talent to him who should
kill Diagoras of Melos, and of two talents to him who should bring him
alive to Athens. The reason given was that he had scoffed at the
Eleusinian Mysteries and divulged what took place at them. The date of
this decree is given by a historian as 415 B.C.; that this is correct is
seen from a passage in Aristophanes’s contemporary drama, _The Birds_.
Furthermore, one of the disciples of Aristotle, the literary historian
Aristoxenus, states that no trace of impiety was to be found in the works
of the dithyrambic poet Diagoras, and that, in fact, they contained
definite opinions to the contrary. A remark to the effect that Diagoras
was instrumental in drawing up the laws of Mantinea is probably due to the
same source. The context shows that the reference is to the earlier
constitution of Mantinea, which was a mixture of aristocracy and
democracy, and is praised for its excellence. It is inconceivable that, in
a Peloponnesian city during the course of, nay, presumably even before the
middle of the fifth century, a notorious atheist should have been invited
to advise on the revision of its constitution. It is more probable that
Aristoxenus adduced this fact as an additional disproof of Diagoras’s
atheism, in which he evidently did not believe.

The above information explains the origin of the legend. Two fixed points
were in existence: the pious poet of _c._ 460 and the atheist who was
outlawed in 415; a bridge was constructed between them by the story of the
stolen ode. This disposes of the whole supposition of atheism growing out
of a basis of experience. But, furthermore, it must be admitted that it is
doubtful whether the poet and the atheist are one and the same person. The
interval of time between them is itself suspicious, for the poet,
according to the ancient system of calculation, must have been about forty
years old in 464, consequently between eighty and ninety in 415. (There is
general agreement that the treatise, the title of which has been quoted,
must have been a later forgery.) If, in spite of all, I dare not
absolutely deny the identity of the two Diagorases of tradition, the
reason is that Aristophanes, where he mentions the decree concerning
Diagoras, seems to suggest that his attack on the Mysteries was an old
story which was raked up again in 415. But for our purpose, at any rate,
nothing remains of the copious mass of legend but the fact that one
Diagoras of Melos in 415 was outlawed in Athens on the ground of his
attack on the Mysteries. Such an attack may have been the outcome of
atheism; there was no lack of impiety in Athens at the end of the fifth
century. But whether this was the case or not we cannot possibly tell; and
to throw light on free-thinking tendencies in Athens at this time, we have
other and richer sources than the historical notice of Diagoras.


With the movement in Greek thought which is generally known as sophistic,
a new view of popular belief appears. The criticism of the sophists was
directed against the entire tradition on which Greek society was based,
and principally against the moral conceptions which hitherto had been
unquestioned: good and evil, right and wrong. The criticism was
essentially negative; that which hitherto had been imagined as absolute
was demonstrated to be relative, and the relative was identified with the
invalid. Thus they could not help running up against the popular ideas of
the gods, and treating them in the same way. A leading part was here
played by the sophistic distinction between _nomos_ and _physis_, Law and
Nature, _i.e._ that which is based on human convention, and that which is
founded on the nature of things. The sophists could not help seeing that
the whole public worship and the ideas associated with it belonged to the
former—to the domain of “the law.” Not only did the worship and the
conceptions of the gods vary from place to place in the hundreds of small
independent communities into which Hellas was divided—a fact which the
sophists had special opportunity of observing when travelling from town to
town to teach; but it was even officially admitted that the whole
ritual—which, popularly speaking, was almost identical with religion—was
based on convention. If a Greek was asked why a god was to be worshipped
in such and such a way, generally the only answer was: because it is the
law of the State (or the convention; the word _nomos_ expresses both
things). Hence it followed in principle that religion came under the
domain of “the law,” being consequently the work of man; and hence again
the obvious conclusion, according to sophistic reasoning, was that it was
nothing but human imagination, and that there was no _physis_, no reality,
behind it at all. In the case of the naturalists, it was the positive
foundation of their system, their conception of nature as a whole, that
led them to criticise the popular belief. Hence their criticism was in the
main only directed against those particular ideas in the popular belief
which were at variance with the results of their investigations. To be
sure, the sophists were not above making use of the results of natural
science in their criticism of the popular belief; it was their general aim
to impart the highest education of their time, and of a liberal education
natural science formed a rather important part. But their starting-point
was quite different from that of the naturalists. Their whole interest was
concentrated on man as a member of the community, and it was from
consideration of this relation that they were brought into collision with
the established religion. Hence their attack was far more dangerous than
that of the naturalists; no longer was it directed against details, it
laid bare the psychological basis itself of popular belief and clearly
revealed its unstable character. Their criticism was fundamental and
central, not casual and circumstantial.

From a purely practical point of view also, the criticism of the sophists
was far more dangerous than that of the old philosophers. They were not
theorists themselves, but practitioners; their business was to impart the
higher education to the more mature youth. It was therefore part of their
profession to disseminate their views not by means of learned professional
writings, but by the persuasive eloquence of oral discourse. And in their
criticism of the existing state of things they did not start with special
results which only science could prove, and the correctness of which the
layman need not recognise; they operated with facts and principles known
and acknowledged by everybody. It is not to be wondered at that such
efforts evoked a vigorous reaction on the part of established society, the
more so as in any case the result of sophistic criticism—though not
consciously its object—was to liquefy the moral principles on which the
social order was based.

Such, in principle, appeared to be the state of things. In practice, here
as elsewhere, the devil proved not so black as he was painted. First, not
all the sophists—hardly even the majority of them—drew the logical
conclusions from their views in respect of either morals or religion. They
were teachers of rhetoric, and as such they taught, for instance, all the
tricks by which a bad cause might be defended; that was part of the trade.
But it must be supposed that Gorgias, the most distinguished of them,
expressly insisted that rhetoric, just like any other art the aim of which
was to defeat an opponent, should only be used for good ends. Similarly
many of them may have stopped short in their criticism of popular belief
at some arbitrary point, so that it was possible for them to respect at
any rate something of the established religion, and so, of course, first
and foremost the very belief in the existence of the gods. That they did
not as a rule interfere with public worship, we may be sure; that was
based firmly on “the Law.” But, in addition, even sophists who personally
took an attitude radically contradictory to popular belief had the most
important reasons for being careful in advancing such a view. They had to
live by being the teachers of youth; they had no fixed appointment, they
travelled about as lecturers and enlisted disciples by means of their
lectures. For such men it would have been a very serious thing to attack
the established order in its tenderest place, religion, and above all they
had to beware of coming into conflict with the penal laws. This risk they
did not incur while confining themselves to theoretical discussions about
right and wrong, nor by the practical application of them in their
teaching of rhetoric; but they might very easily incur it if attacking
religion. This being the case, it is not to be wondered at that we do not
find many direct statements of undoubtedly atheistical character handed
down from the more eminent sophists, and that trials for impiety are rare
in their case. But, nevertheless, a few such cases are met with, and from
these as our starting-point we will now proceed.

As to Protagoras of Abdera, one of the earliest and most famous of all the
sophists, it is stated that he began a pamphlet treating of the gods with
the words: “Concerning the gods I can say nothing, neither that they exist
nor that they do not exist, nor of what form they are; because there are
many things which prevent one from knowing that, namely, both the
uncertainty of the matter and the shortness of man’s life.” On this
account, it is said, he was charged with impiety at Athens and was
outlawed, and his works were publicly burned. The date of this trial is
not known for certain; but it is reasonably supposed to have coincided
with that of Diagoras, namely, in 415. At any rate it must have taken
place after 423-421, as we know that Protagoras was at that time staying
in Athens. As he must have been born about 485, the charge overtook him
when old and famous; according to one account, his work on the gods seems
to belong to his earlier writings.

To doubt the correctness of this tradition would require stronger reasons
than we possess, although it is rather strange that the condemnation of
Protagoras is mentioned neither in our historical sources nor in
Aristophanes, and that Plato, who mentions Protagoras rather frequently as
dead, never alludes to it. At any rate, the quotation from the work on the
gods is certainly authentic, for Plato himself referred to it. Hence it is
certain that Protagoras directly stated the problem as to the existence of
the gods and regarded it as an open question. But beyond that nothing much
can be deduced from the short quotation; and as to the rest of the book on
the gods we know nothing. The meagre reasons for scepticism adduced
probably do not imply any more than that the difficulties are objective as
well as subjective. If, in the latter respect, the brevity of life is
specially mentioned it may be supposed that Protagoras had in mind a
definite proof of the existence of the gods which was rendered difficult
by the fact that life is so brief; prediction of the future may be guessed
at, but nothing certain can be stated.

Protagoras is the only one of the sophists of whom tradition says that he
was the object of persecution owing to his religious views. The trial of
Socrates, however, really belongs to the same category when looked at from
the accusers’ point of view; Socrates was accused as a sophist. But as his
own attitude towards popular religion differed essentially from that of
the sophists, we cannot consider him in this connexion. Protagoras’s trial
itself is partly determined by special circumstances. In all probability
it took place at a moment when a violent religious reaction had set in at
Athens owing to some grave offences against the public worship and
sanctuaries of the State (violation of the Mysteries and mutilation of the
Hermae). The work on the gods had presumably been in existence and known
long before this without causing scandal to anybody. But, nevertheless,
the trial, like those of Anaxagoras and Socrates, plainly bears witness to
the animosity with which the modern free-thought was regarded in Athens.
This animosity did not easily manifest itself publicly without special
reasons; but it was always there and might always be used in case of

As to Protagoras’s personal attitude to the question of the existence of
the gods, much may be guessed and much has been guessed; but nothing can
be stated for certain. However, judging from the man’s profession and his
general habit of life as it appears in tradition, we may take for granted
that he did not give offence in his outward behaviour by taking a hostile
attitude to public worship or attacking its foundations; had that been so,
he would not for forty years have been the most distinguished teacher of
Hellas, but would simply not have been tolerated. An eminent modern
scholar has therefore advanced the conjecture that Protagoras
distinguished between belief and knowledge, and that his work on the gods
only aimed at showing that the existence of the gods could not be
scientifically demonstrated.  Now such a distinction probably, if
conceived as a conscious principle, is alien to ancient thought, at any
rate at the time of Protagoras; and yet it may contain a grain of truth.
When it is borne in mind that the incriminated passage represents the very
exordium of the work of Protagoras, the impression cannot be avoided that
he himself did not intend his work to disturb the established religion,
but that he quite naïvely took up the existence of the gods as a subject,
as good as any other, for dialectic discussion. All that he was concerned
with was theory and theorising; religion was practice and ritual; and he
had no more intention of interfering with that than the other earlier
sophists of assailing the legal system of the community in their
speculation as to relativity of right and wrong.

All this, however, does not alter the fact that the work of Protagoras
posed the very question of the existence of the gods as a problem which
might possibly be solved in the negative. He seems to have been the first
to do this. That it could be done is significant of the age to which
Protagoras belongs; that it was done was undoubtedly of great importance
for the development of thought in wide circles.

Prodicus of Ceos, also one of the most famous sophists, advanced the idea
that the conceptions of the gods were originally associated with those
things which were of use to humanity: sun and moon, rivers and springs,
the products of the earth and the elements; therefore bread was identified
with Demeter, wine with Dionysus, water with Poseidon, fire with
Hephaestus. As a special instance he mentioned the worship of the Nile by
the Egyptians.

In Democritus, who was a slightly elder contemporary of Prodicus, we have
already met with investigation into the origin of the conceptions of the
gods. There is a close parallel between his handling of the subject and
that of Prodicus, but at the same time a characteristic difference.
Democritus was a naturalist, hence he took as his starting-point the
natural phenomena commonly ascribed to the influence of the gods.
Prodicus, on the other hand, started from the intellectual life of man. We
learn that he had commenced to study synonyms, and that he was interested
in the interpretation of the poets. Now he found that Homer occasionally
simply substituted the name of Hephaestus for fire, and that other poets
went even further on the same lines. Furthermore, while it was common
knowledge to every Greek that certain natural objects, such as the
heavenly bodies and the rivers, were regarded as divine and had names in
common with their gods, this to Prodicus would be a specially attractive
subject for speculation. It is plainly shown by his instances that it is
linguistic observations of this kind which were the starting-point of his
theory concerning the origin of the conceptions of the gods.

In the accounts of Prodicus it is taken for granted that he denied the
existence of the gods, and in later times he is classed as _atheos_.
Nevertheless we have every reason to doubt the correctness of this
opinion. The case of Democritus already shows that a philosopher might
very well derive the conceptions of the gods from an incorrect
interpretation of certain phenomena without throwing doubt on their
existence. As far as Prodicus is concerned it may be assumed that he did
not believe that Bread, Wine or Fire were gods, any more than Democritus
imagined that Zeus sent thunder and lightning; nor, presumably, did he
ever believe that rivers were gods. But he need not therefore have denied
the existence of Demeter, Dionysus and Hephaestus, much less the divinity
of the sun and the moon. And if we consider his theory more closely it
points in quite a different direction from that of atheism. To Prodicus it
was evidently the conception of utility that mattered: if these objects
came to be regarded as gods it was because they “benefited humanity.” This
too is a genuinely sophistic view, characteristically deviating from that
of the naturalist Democritus in its limitation to the human and social
aspect of the question. Such a point of view, if confronted with the
question of the existence of the gods, may very well, according to
sophistic methods of reasoning, lead to the conclusion that primitive man
was right in so far as the useful, _i.e._ that which “benefits humanity,”
really is an essential feature of the gods, and wrong only in so far as he
identified the individual useful objects with the gods. Whether Prodicus
adopted this point of view, we cannot possibly tell; but the general body
of tradition concerning the man, which does not in any way suggest
religious radicalism, indicates as most probable that he did not connect
the question of the origin of the conceptions of the gods with that of the
existence of the gods, which to him was taken for granted, and that it was
only later philosophers who, in their researches into the ideas of earlier
philosophers about the gods, inferred his atheism from his speculations on
the history of religion.

Critias, the well-known reactionary politician, the chief of the Thirty
Tyrants, is placed amongst the atheists on the strength of a passage in a
satyric drama, _Sisyphus_. The drama is lost, but our authority quotes the
objectionable passage _in extenso_; it is a piece of no less than forty
lines. The passage argues that human life in its origins knew no social
order, that might ruled supreme. Then men conceived the idea of making
laws in order that right might rule instead of might. The result of this
was, it is true, that wrong was not done openly; but it was done secretly
instead. Then a wise man bethought himself of making men believe that
there existed gods who saw and heard everything which men did, nay even
knew their innermost thoughts. And, in order that men might stand in
proper awe of the gods, he said that they lived in the sky, out of which
comes that which makes men afraid, such as lightning and thunder, but also
that which benefits them, sunshine and rain, and the stars, those fair
ornaments by whose course men measure time. Thus he succeeded in bringing
lawlessness to an end. It is expressly stated that it was all a cunning
fraud: “by such talk he made his teaching most acceptable, veiling truth
with false words.”

In antiquity it was disputed whether the drama _Sisyphus_ was by Critias
or Euripides; nowadays all agree in attributing it to Critias; nor does
the style of the long fragment resemble that of Euripides. The question
is, however, of no consequence in this connexion: whether the drama is by
Critias or Euripides it is wrong to attribute to an author opinions which
he has put into the mouth of a character in a drama. Moreover, _Sisyphus_
was a satyric play, _i.e._ it belonged to a class of poetry the liberty of
which was nearly as great as in comedy, and the speech was delivered by
Sisyphus himself, who, according to the legend, is a type of the crafty
criminal whose forte is to do evil and elude punishment. There is, in
fact, nothing in that which we otherwise hear of Critias to suggest that
he cherished free-thinking views. He was—or in his later years became—a
fanatical adversary of the Attic democracy, and he was, when he held
power, unscrupulous in his choice of the means with which he opposed it
and the men who stood in the path of his reactionary policy; but in our
earlier sources he is never accused of impiety in the theoretical sense.
And yet there had been an excellent opportunity of bringing forward such
an accusation; for in his youth Critias had been a companion of Socrates,
and his later conduct was used as a proof that Socrates corrupted his
surroundings. But it is always Critias’s political crimes which are
adduced in this connexion, not his irreligion. On the other hand,
posterity looked upon him as the pure type of tyrant, and the label
atheist therefore suggested itself on the slightest provocation.

But, even if the _Sisyphus_ fragment cannot be used to characterise its
author as an atheist, it is, nevertheless, of the greatest interest in
this connexion, and therefore demands closer analysis.

The introductory idea, that mankind has evolved from an animal state into
higher stages, is at variance with the earlier Greek conception, namely,
that history begins with a golden age from which there is a continual
decline. The theory of the fragment is expressed by a series of authors
from the same and the immediately succeeding period. It occurs in
Euripides; a later and otherwise little-known tragedian, Moschion,
developed it in detail in a still extant fragment; Plato accepted it and
made it the basis of his presentation of the origin of the State;
Aristotle takes it for granted. Its source, too, has been demonstrated: it
was presumably Democritus who first advanced it. Nevertheless the author
of the fragment has hardly got it direct from Democritus, who at this time
was little known at Athens, but from an intermediary. This intermediary is
probably Protagoras, of whom it is said that he composed a treatise, _The
Original State, i.e._ the primary state of mankind. Protagoras was a
fellow-townsman of Democritus, and recorded by tradition as one of his
direct disciples.

In another point also the fragment seems to betray the influence of
Democritus. When it is said that the wise inventors of the gods made them
dwell in the skies, because from the skies come those natural phenomena
which frighten men, it is highly suggestive of Democritus’s criticism of
the divine explanation of thunder and lightning and the like. In this case
also Protagoras may have been the intermediary. In his work on the gods he
had every opportunity of discussing the question in detail. But here we
have the theory of Democritus combined with that of Prodicus in that it is
maintained that from the skies come also those things that benefit men,
and that they are on this account also a suitable dwelling-place for the
gods. It is obvious that the author of the fragment (or his source) was
versed in the most modern wisdom.

All this erudition, however, is made to serve a certain tendency: the
well-known tendency to represent religion as a political invention having
as its object the policing of society. It is a theory which in
antiquity—to its honour be it said—is but of rare occurrence. There is a
vague indication of it in Euripides, a more definite one in Aristotle, and
an elaborate application of it in Polybius; and that is in reality all.
(That many people in more enlightened ages upheld religion as a means of
keeping the masses in check, is a different matter.) However, it is an
interesting fact that the Critias fragment is not only the first evidence
of the existence of the theory known to us, but also presumably the
earliest and probably the best known to later antiquity. Otherwise we
should not find reference for the theory made to a fragment of a farce,
but to a quotation from a philosopher.

This might lead us to conclude that the theory was Critias’s own
invention, though, of course, it would not follow that he himself adhered
to it. But it is more probable that it was a ready-made modern theory
which Critias put into the mouth of Sisyphus. Not only does the whole
character of the fragment and its scene of action favour this supposition,
but there is also another factor which corroborates it.

In the _Gorgias_ Plato makes one of the characters, Callicles—a man of
whom we otherwise know nothing—profess a doctrine which up to a certain
point is almost identical with that of the fragment. According to
Callicles, the natural state (and the right state; on this point he is at
variance with the fragment) is that right belongs to the strong. This
state has been corrupted by legislation; the laws are inventions of the
weak, who are also the majority, and their aim is to hinder the
encroachment of the strong. If this theory is carried to its conclusion,
it is obvious that religion must be added to the laws; if the former is
not also regarded as an invention for the policing of society, the whole
theory is upset. Now in the _Gorgias_ the question as to the attitude of
the gods towards the problem of what is right and what is wrong is
carefully avoided in the discussion. Not till the close of the dialogue,
where Plato substitutes myth for scientific research, does he draw the
conclusion in respect of religion. He does this in a positive form, as a
consequence of _his_ point of view: after death the gods reward the just
and punish the unjust; but he expressly assumes that Callicles will regard
it all as an old wives’ tale.

In Callicles an attempt has been made to see a pseudonym for Critias. That
is certainly wrong. Critias was a kinsman of Plato, is introduced by name
in several dialogues, nay, one dialogue even bears his name, and he is
everywhere treated with respect and sympathy. Nowadays, therefore, it is
generally acknowledged that Callicles is a real person, merely unknown to
us as such. However that may be, Plato would never have let a leading
character in one of his longer dialogues advance (and Socrates refute) a
view which had no better authority than a passage in a satyric drama. On
the other hand, there is, as shown above, difficulty in supposing that the
doctrine of the fragment was stated in the writings of an eminent sophist;
so we come to the conclusion that it was developed and diffused in
sophistic circles by oral teaching, and that it became known to Critias
and Plato in this way. Its originator we do not know. We might think of
the sophist Thrasymachus, who in the first book of Plato’s _Republic_
maintains a point of view corresponding to that of Callicles in _Gorgias_.
But what we otherwise learn of Thrasymachus is not suggestive of interest
in religion, and the only statement of his as to that kind of thing which
has come down to us tends to the denial of a providence, not denial of the
gods. Quite recently Diagoras of Melos has been guessed at; this is empty
talk, resulting at best in substituting _x_ (or _NN_) for _y_.

If I have dwelt in such detail on the _Sisyphus_ fragment, it is because
it is our first direct and unmistakable evidence of ancient atheism. Here
for the first time we meet with the direct statement which we have
searched for in vain among all the preceding authors: that the gods of
popular belief are fabrication pure and simple and without any
corresponding reality, however remote. The nature of our tradition
precludes our ascertaining whether such a statement might have been made
earlier; but the probability is _a priori_ that it was not. The whole
development of ancient reasoning on religious questions, as far as we are
able to survey it, leads in reality to the conclusion that atheism as an
expressed (though perhaps not publicly expressed) confession of faith did
not appear till the age of the sophists.

With the Critias fragment we have also brought to an end the inquiry into
the direct statements of atheistic tendency which have come down to us
from the age of the sophists. The result is, as we see, rather meagre. But
it may be supplemented with indirect testimonies which prove that there
was more of the thing than the direct tradition would lead us to
conjecture, and that the denial of the existence of the gods must have
penetrated very wide circles.

The fullest expression of Attic free-thought at the end of the fifth
century is to be found in the tragedies of Euripides. They are leavened
with reflections on all possible moral and religious problems, and
criticism of the traditional conceptions of the gods plays a leading part
in them. We shall, however, have some difficulty in using Euripides as a
source of what people really thought at this period, partly because he is
a very pronounced personality and by no means a mere mouthpiece for the
ideas of his contemporaries—during his lifetime he was an object of the
most violent animosity owing, among other things, to his free-thinking
views—partly because he, as a dramatist, was obliged to put his ideas into
the mouths of his characters, so that in many cases it is difficult to
decide how much is due to dramatic considerations and how much to the
personal opinion of the poet. Even to this day the religious standpoint of
Euripides is matter of dispute. In the most recent detailed treatment of
the question he is characterised as an atheist, whereas others regard him
merely as a dialectician who debates problems without having any real
standpoint of his own.

I do not believe that Euripides personally denied the existence of the
gods; there is too much that tells against that theory, and, in fact,
nothing that tells directly in favour of it, though he did not quite
escape the charge of atheism even in his own day. To prove the correctness
of this view would, however, lead too far afield in this connexion. On the
other hand, a short characterisation of Euripides’s manner of reasoning
about religious problems is unavoidable as a background for the treatment
of those—very rare—passages where he has put actually atheistic
reflections into the mouths of his characters.

As a Greek dramatist Euripides had to derive his subjects from the heroic
legends, which at the same time were legends of the gods in so far as they
were interwoven with tales of the gods’ direct intervention in affairs. It
is precisely against this intervention that the criticism of Euripides is
primarily directed. Again and again he makes his characters protest
against the manner in which they are treated by the gods or in which the
gods generally behave. It is characteristic of Euripides that his
starting-point in this connexion is always the moral one. So far he is a
typical representative of that tendency which, in earlier times, was
represented by Xenophanes and a little later by Pindar; in no other Greek
poet has the method of using the higher conceptions of the gods against
the lower found more complete expression than in Euripides. And in so far,
too, he is still entirely on the ground of popular belief. But at the same
time it is characteristic of him that he is familiar with and highly
influenced by Greek science. He knows the most eminent representatives of
Ionian naturalism (with the exception of Democritus), and he is fond of
displaying his knowledge. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that he uses it
in a contentious spirit against popular belief; on the contrary, he is
inclined in agreement with the old philosophers to identify the gods of
popular belief with the elements. Towards sophistic he takes a similar,
but less sympathetic attitude. Sophistic was not in vogue till he was a
man of mature age; he made acquaintance with it, and he made use of
it—there are reflections in his dramas which carry distinct evidence of
sophistic influence; but in his treatment of religious problems he is not
a disciple of the sophists, and on this subject, as on others, he
occasionally attacked them.

It is against this background that we must set the reflections with an
atheistic tone that we find in Euripides. They are, as already mentioned,
rare; indeed, strictly speaking there is only one case in which a
character openly denies the existence of the gods. The passage is a
fragment of the drama _Bellerophon_; it is, despite its isolation, so
typical of the manner of Euripides that it deserves to be quoted in full.

“And then to say that there are gods in the heavens! Nay, there are none
there; if you are not foolish enough to be seduced by the old talk. Think
for yourselves about the matter, and do not be influenced by my words. I
contend that the tyrants kill the people wholesale, take their money and
destroy cities in spite of their oaths; and although they do all this they
are happier than people who, in peace and quietness, lead god-fearing
lives. And I know small states which honour the gods, but must obey
greater states, which are less pious, because their spearmen are fewer in
number. And I believe that you, if a slothful man just prayed to the gods
and did not earn his bread by the work of his hands—” Here the sense is
interrupted; but there remains one more line: “That which builds the
castle of the gods is in part the unfortunate happenings ...” The
continuation is missing.

The argumentation here is characteristic of Euripides. From the injustice
of life he infers the non-existence of the gods. The conclusion evidently
only holds good on the assumption that the gods must be just; and this is
precisely one of the postulates of popular belief. The reasoning is not
sophistic; on the contrary, in their attacks the sophists took up a
position outside the foundation of popular belief and attacked the
foundation itself. This reasoning, on the other hand, is closely allied to
the earlier religious thinking of the Greeks; it only proceeds further
than the latter, where it results in rank denial.

The drama of _Bellerophon_ is lost, and reconstruction is out of the
question; if only for that reason it is unwarrantable to draw any
conclusions from the detached fragment as to the poet’s personal attitude
towards the existence of the gods. But, nevertheless, the fragment is of
interest in this connexion. It would never have occurred to Sophocles or
Aeschylus to put such a speech in the mouth of one of his characters. When
Euripides does that it is a proof that the question of the existence of
the gods has begun to present itself to the popular consciousness at this
time. Viewed in this light other statements of his which are not in
themselves atheistic become significant. When it is said: “If the gods act
in a shameful way, they are not gods”—that indeed is not atheism in our
sense, but it is very near to it. Interesting is also the introduction to
the drama _Melanippe_: “Zeus, whoever Zeus may be; for of that I only know
what is told.” Aeschylus begins a strophe in one of his most famous choral
odes with almost the same words: “Zeus, whoe’er he be; for if he desire so
to be called, I will address him by this name.” In him it is an expression
of genuine antique piety, which excludes all human impertinence towards
the gods to such a degree that it even forgoes knowing their real names.
In Euripides the same idea becomes an expression of doubt; but in this
case also the doubt is raised on the foundation of popular belief.

It is not surprising that so prominent and sustained a criticism of
popular belief as that of Euripides, produced, moreover, on the stage,
called forth a reaction from the defenders of the established faith, and
that charges of impiety were not wanting. It is more to be wondered at
that these charges on the whole are so few and slight, and that Euripides
did not become the object of any actual prosecution. We know of a private
trial in which the accuser incidentally charged Euripides with impiety on
the strength of a quotation from one of his tragedies, Euripides’s answer
being a protest against dragging his poetry into the affair; the verdict
on that belonged to another court. Aristophanes, who is always severe on
Euripides, has only one passage directly charging him with being a
propagator of atheism; but the accusation is hardly meant to be taken
seriously. In _The Frogs_, where he had every opportunity of emphasising
this view, there is hardly an indication of it. In _The Clouds_, where the
main attack is directed against modern free-thought, Euripides, to be
sure, is sneered at as being the fashionable poet of the corrupted youth,
but he is not drawn into the charge of impiety. Even when Plato wrote his
_Republic_, Euripides was generally considered the “wisest of all
tragedians.” This would have been impossible if he had been considered an
atheist. In spite of all, the general feeling must undoubtedly have been
that Euripides ultimately took his stand on the ground of popular belief.
It was a similar instinctive judgment in regard to religion which
prevented antiquity from placing Xenophanes amongst the atheists. Later
times no doubt judged differently; the quotation from _Melanippe_ is in
fact cited as a proof that Euripides was an atheist in his heart of

In Aristophanes we meet with the first observations concerning the change
in the religious conditions of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. In one
of his plays, _The Clouds_, he actually set himself the task of taking up
arms against modern unbelief, and he characterises it directly as atheism.
If only for that reason the play deserves somewhat fuller consideration.

It is well known that Aristophanes chose Socrates as a representative of
the modern movement. In him he embodies all the faults with which he
wished to pick a quarrel in the fashionable philosophy of the day. On the
other hand, the essence of Socratic teaching is entirely absent from
Aristophanes’s representation; of that he had hardly any understanding,
and even if he had he would at any rate not have been able to make use of
it in his drama. We need not then in this connexion consider Socrates
himself at all; on the other hand, the play gives a good idea of the
popular idea of sophistic. Here we find all the features of the school,
grotesquely mixed up and distorted by the farce, it is true, but
nevertheless easily recognisable: rhetoric as an end in itself, of course,
with emphasis on its immoral aspect; empty and hair-splitting dialectics;
linguistic researches; Ionic naturalism; and first and last, as the focus
of all, denial of the gods. That Aristophanes was well informed on certain
points, at any rate, is clear from the fact that the majority of the
scientific explanations which he puts into the mouth of Socrates actually
represent the latest results of science at that time—which in all
probability did not prevent his Athenians from considering them as
exceedingly absurd and ridiculous.

What matters here, however, is only the accusation of atheism which he
made against Socrates. It is a little difficult to handle, in so far as
Aristophanes, for dramatic reasons, has equipped Socrates with a whole set
of deities. There are the clouds themselves, which are of Aristophanes’s
own invention; there is also the air, which he has got from Diogenes of
Apollonia, and finally a “vortex” which is supposed to be derived from the
same source, and which at any rate has cast Zeus down from his throne. All
this we must ignore, as it is only conditioned partly by technical
reasons—Aristophanes had to have a chorus and chose the clouds for the
purpose—and partially by the desire to ridicule Ionic naturalism. But
enough is left over. In the beginning of the play Socrates expressly
declares that no gods exist. Similar statements are repeated in several
places. Zeus is sometimes substituted for the gods, but it comes to the
same thing. And at the end of the play, where the honest Athenian, who has
ventured on the ticklish ground of sophistic, admits his delusion, it is
expressly said:

“Oh, what a fool I am! Nay, I must have been mad indeed when I thought of
throwing the gods away for Socrates’s sake!”

Even in the verses with which the chorus conclude the play it is insisted
that the worst crime of the sophists is their insult to the gods.

The inference to be drawn from all this is simply that the popular
Athenian opinion—for we may rest assured that this and the view of
Aristophanes are identical—was that the sophists were atheists. That says
but little. For popular opinion always works with broad categories, and
the probability is that in this case, as demonstrated above, it was in the
wrong, for, as a rule, the sophists were hardly conscious deniers of the
gods. But, at the same time, at the back of the onslaught of Aristophanes
there lies the idea that the teaching of the sophists led to denial of the
gods; that atheism was the natural outcome of their doctrine and way of
reasoning. And that there was some truth therein is proved by other
evidence which can hardly be rejected.

In the indictment of Socrates it is said that he “offended by not
believing in the gods in which the State believed.” In the two apologies
for Socrates which have come down to us under Xenophon’s name, the author
treats this accusation entirely under the aspect of atheism, and tries to
refute it by positive proofs of the piety of Socrates. But not one word is
said about there being, in and for itself, anything remarkable or
improbable in the charge. In Plato’s _Apology_, Plato makes Socrates ask
the accuser point-blank whether he is of the opinion that he, Socrates,
does not believe in the gods at all and accordingly is a downright denier
of the gods, or whether he merely means to say that he believes in other
gods than those of the State. He makes the accuser answer that the
assertion is that Socrates does not believe in any gods at all. In Plato
Socrates refutes the accusation indirectly, using a line of argument
entirely differing from that of Xenophon. But in Plato, too, the
accusation is treated as being in no way extraordinary. In my opinion,
Plato’s _Apology_ cannot be used as historical evidence for details unless
special reasons can be given proving their historical value beyond the
fact that they occur in the _Apology_. But in this connexion the question
is not what was said or not said at Socrates’s trial. The decisive point
is that we possess two quite independent and unambiguous depositions by
two fully competent witnesses of the beginning of the fourth century which
both treat of the charge of atheism as something which is neither strange
nor surprising at their time. It is therefore permissible to conclude that
in Athens at this time there really existed circles or at any rate not a
few individuals who had given up the belief in the popular gods.

A dialogue between Socrates and a young man by name Aristodemus, given in
Xenophon’s _Memorabilia_, makes the same impression. Of Aristodemus it is
said that he does not sacrifice to the gods, does not consult the Oracle
and ridicules those who do so. When he is called to account for this
behaviour he maintains that he does not despise “the divine,” but is of
the opinion that it is too exalted to need his worship. Moreover, he
contends that the gods do not trouble themselves about mankind. This is,
of course, not atheism in our sense; but Aristodemus’s attitude is,
nevertheless, extremely eccentric in a community like that of Athens in
the fifth century. And yet it is not mentioned as anything isolated and
extraordinary, but as if it were something which, to be sure, was out of
the common, but not unheard of.

It is further to be observed that at the end of the fifth century we often
hear of active sacrilegious outrages. An example is the historic trial of
Alcibiades for profanation of the Mysteries. But this was not an isolated
occurrence; there were more of the same kind at the time. Of the
dithyrambic poet Cinesias it is said that he profaned holy things in an
obscene manner. But the greatest stress of all must be laid on the
well-known mutilation of the Hermae at Athens in 415, just before the
expedition to Sicily. All the tales about the outrages of the Mysteries
_may_ have been fictitious, but it is a fact that the Hermae were
mutilated. The motive was probably political: the members of a secret
society intended to pledge themselves to each other by all committing a
capital crime. But that they chose just this form of crime shows quite
clearly that respect for the State religion had greatly declined in these

What has so far been adduced as proof that the belief in the gods had
begun to waver in Athens at the end of the fifth century is, in my
opinion, conclusive in itself to anybody who is familiar with the more
ancient Greek modes of thought and expression on this point, and can not
only hear what is said, but also understand how it is said and what is
passed over in silence. Of course it can always be objected that the
proofs are partly the assertions of a comic poet who certainly was not
particular about accusations of impiety, partly deductions _ex silentio_,
partly actions the motives for which are uncertain. Fortunately, however,
we have—from a slightly later period, it is true—a positive utterance
which confirms our conclusion and which comes from a man who was not in
the habit of talking idly and who had the best opportunities of knowing
the circumstances.

In the tenth book of his _Laws_, written shortly before his death, _i.e._
about the middle of the fourth century, Plato gives a detailed account of
the question of irreligion seen from the point of view of penal
legislation. He distinguishes here between three forms, namely, denial of
the existence of the gods, denial of the divine providence (whereas the
existence of the gods is admitted), and finally the assumption that the
gods exist and exercise providence, but that they allow themselves to be
influenced by sacrifices and prayers. Of these three categories the last
is evidently directed against ancient popular belief itself; it does not
therefore interest us in this connexion. The second view, the denial of a
providence, we have already met with in Xenophon in the character of
Aristodemus, and in the sophist Thrasymachus; Euripides, too, sometimes
alludes to it, though it was far from being his own opinion. Whether it
amounted to denial of the gods or not was, in ancient times, the cause of
much dispute; it is, of course, not atheism in our sense, but it is
certainly evidence that belief in the gods is shaken. The first view, on
the other hand, is sheer atheism. Plato consequently reckons with this as
a serious danger to the community; he mentions it as a widespread view
among the youth of his time, and in his legislation he sentences to death
those who fail to be converted. It would seem certain, therefore, that
there was, in reality, something in it after all.

Plato does not confine himself to defining atheism and laying down the
penalty for it; he at the same time, in accordance with a principle which
he generally follows in the _Laws_, discusses it and tries to disprove it.
In this way he happens to give us information—which is of special interest
to us—of the proofs which were adduced by its followers.

The argument is a twofold one. First comes the naturalistic proof; the
heavenly bodies, according to the general (and Plato’s own) view the most
certain deities, are inanimate natural objects. It is interesting to note
that in speaking of this doctrine in detail reference is clearly made to
Anaxagoras; this confirms our afore-mentioned conjectures as to the
character of his work. Plato was quite in a position to deal with
Anaxagoras on the strength not only of what he said, but of what he passed
over in silence. The second argument is the well-known sophistic one, that
the gods are _nomôi_, not _physei_, they depend upon convention, which has
nothing to do with reality. In this connexion the argument adds that what
applies to the gods, applies also to right and wrong; _i.e._ we find here
in the _Laws_ the view with which we are familiar from Callicles in the
_Gorgias_, but with the missing link supplied. And Plato’s development of
this theme shows clearly just what a general historical consideration
might lead us to expect, namely, that it was naturalism and sophistic that
jointly undermined the belief in the old gods.


With Socrates and his successors the whole question of the relation of
Greek thought to popular belief enters upon a new phase. The Socratic
philosophy is in many ways a continuation of sophistic. This is involved
already in the fact that the same questions form the central interest in
the two schools of thought, so that the problems stated by the sophists
became the decisive factor in the content of Socratic and Platonic
thought. The Socratic schools at the same time took over the actual
programme of the sophists, namely, the education of adolescence in the
highest culture. But, on the other hand, the Socratic philosophy was in
the opposite camp to sophistic; on many points it represents a reaction
against it, a recollection of the valuable elements contained in earlier
Greek thought on life, especially human life, values which sophistic
regarded with indifference or even hostility, and which were threatened
with destruction if it should carry the day. This reactionary tendency in
Socratic philosophy appears nowhere more plainly than in the field of

Under these circumstances it is a peculiar irony of fate that the very
originator of the new trend in Greek thought was charged with and
sentenced for impiety. We have already mentioned the singular prelude to
the indictment afforded by the comedy of Aristophanes. We have also
remarked upon the futility of looking therein for any actual enlightenment
on the Socratic point of view. And Plato makes Socrates state this with
all necessary sharpness in the _Apology_. Hence what we may infer from the
attack of Aristophanes is merely this, that the general public lumped
Socrates together with the sophists and more especially regarded him as a
godless fellow. Unless this had been so, Aristophanes could not have
introduced him as the chief character in his travesty. And without doubt
it was this popular point of view which his accusers relied on when they
actually included atheism as a count in their bill of indictment. It will,
nevertheless, be necessary to dwell for a moment on this bill of
indictment and the defence.

The charge of impiety was a twofold one, partly for not believing in the
gods the State believed in, partly for introducing new “demonic things.”
This latter act was directly punishable according to Attic law. What his
accusers alluded to was the _daimonion_ of Socrates. That they should have
had any idea of what that was must be regarded as utterly out of the
question, and whatever it may have been—and of this we shall have a word
to say later—it had at any rate nothing whatever to do with atheism. As to
the charge of not believing in the gods of the State, Plato makes the
accuser prefer it in the form that Socrates did not believe in any gods at
all, after which it becomes an easy matter for Socrates to show that it is
directly incompatible with the charge of introducing new deities. As
ground for his accusation the accuser states—in Plato, as before—that
Socrates taught the same doctrine about the sun and moon as Anaxagoras.
The whole of the passage in the _Apology_ in which the question of the
denial of gods is dealt with—a short dialogue between Socrates and the
accuser, quite in the Socratic manner—historically speaking, carries
little conviction, and we therefore dare not take it for granted that the
charge either of atheism or of false doctrine about the sun and moon was
put forward in that form. But that something about this latter point was
mentioned during the trial must be regarded as probable, when we consider
that Xenophon, too, defends Socrates at some length against the charge of
concerning himself with speculations on Nature. That he did not do so must
be taken for certain, not only from the express evidence of Xenophon and
Plato, but from the whole nature of the case. The accusation on this point
was assuredly pure fabrication. There remains only what was no doubt also
the main point, namely, the assertion of the pernicious influence of
Socrates on the young, and the inference of irreligion to be drawn from
it—an argument which it would be absurd to waste any words upon.

The attack, then, affords no information about Socrates’s personal point
of view as regards belief in the gods, and the defence only very little.
Both Xenophon and Plato give an account of Socrates’s _daimonion_, but
this point has so little relation to the charge of atheism that it is not
worth examination. For the rest Plato’s defence is indirect. He makes
Socrates refute his opponent, but does not let him say a word about his
own point of view. Xenophon is more positive, in so far as in the first
place he asserts that Socrates worshipped the gods like any other good
citizen, and more especially that he advised his friends to use the
Oracle; in the second place, that, though he lived in full publicity, no
one ever saw him do or heard him say anything of an impious nature. All
these assertions are assuredly correct, and they render it highly
improbable that Socrates should have secretly abandoned the popular faith,
but they tell us little that is positive about his views. Fortunately we
possess other means of getting to closer grips with the question; the way
must be through a consideration of Socrates’s whole conduct and his mode
of thought.

Here we at once come to the interesting negative fact that there is
nothing in tradition to indicate that Socrates ever occupied himself with
theological questions. To be sure, Xenophon has twice put into his mouth a
whole theodicy expressing an elaborate teleological view of nature. But
that we dare not base anything upon this is now, I think, universally
acknowledged. Plato, in the dialogue _Euthyphron_, makes him subject the
popular notion of piety to a devastating criticism; but this, again, will
not nowadays be regarded as historical by anybody. Everything we are told
about Socrates which bears the stamp of historical truth indicates that he
restricted himself to ethics and left theology alone. But this very fact
is not without significance. It indicates that Socrates’s aim was not to
alter the religious views of his contemporaries. Since he did not do so we
may reasonably believe it was because they did not inconvenience him in
what was most important to him, _i.e._ ethics.

We may, however, perhaps go even a step farther. We may venture, I think,
to maintain that so far from contemporary religion being a hindrance to
Socrates in his occupation as a teacher of ethics, it was, on the
contrary, an indispensable support to him, nay, an integral component of
his fundamental ethical view. The object of Socrates in his relations with
his fellow-men was, on his own showing—for on this important point I think
we can confidently rely upon Plato’s _Apology_—to make clear to them that
they knew nothing. And when he was asked to say in what he himself
differed from other people, he could mention only one thing, namely, that
he was aware of his own ignorance. But his ignorance is not an ignorance
of this thing or that, it is a radical ignorance, something involved in
the essence of man as man. That is, in other words, it is determined by
religion. In order to be at all intelligible and ethically applicable, it
presupposes the conception of beings of whom the essence is knowledge. For
Socrates and his contemporaries the popular belief supplied such beings in
the gods. The institution of the Oracle itself is an expression of the
recognition of the superiority of the gods to man in knowledge. But the
dogma had long been stated even in its absolute form when Homer said: “The
gods know everything.” To Socrates, who always took his starting-point
quite popularly from notions that were universally accepted, this basis
was simply indispensable. And so far from inconveniencing Socrates, the
multiplicity and anthropomorphism of the gods seemed an advantage to
him—the more they were like man in all but the essential qualification,
the better.

The Socratic ignorance has an ethical bearing. Its complement is his
assertion that virtue is knowledge. Here again the gods are the necessary
presupposition and determination. That the gods were good, or, as it was
preferred to express it, “just” (the Greek word comprises more than the
English word), was no less a popular dogma than the notion that they
possessed knowledge. Now all Socrates’s efforts were directed towards
goodness as an end in view, towards the ethical development of mankind.
Here again popular belief was his best ally. To the people to whom he
talked, virtue (the Greek word is at once both wider and narrower in sense
than the English term) was no mere abstract notion; it was a living
reality to them, embodied in beings that were like themselves, human
beings, but perfect human beings.

If we correlate this with the negative circumstance that Socrates was no
theologian but a teacher of ethics, we can easily understand a point of
view which accepted popular belief as it was and employed it for working
purposes in the service of moral teaching. Such a point of view, moreover,
gained extraordinary strength by the fact that it preserved continuity
with earlier Greek religious thought. This latter, too, had been ethical
in its bearing; it, too, had employed the gods in the service of its
ethical aim. But its central idea was felicity, not virtue; its
starting-point was the popular dogma of the felicity of the gods, not
their justice. In this way it had come to lay stress on a virtue which
might be termed modesty, but in a religious sense, _i.e._ man must
recognise his difference from the gods as a limited being, subject to the
vicissitudes of an existence above which the gods are raised. Socrates
says just the same, only that he puts knowledge or virtue, which to him
was the same thing, in the place of felicity. From a religious point of
view the result is exactly the same, namely, the doctrine of the gods as
the terminus and ideal, and the insistence on the gulf separating man from
them. We are tempted to say that, had Socrates turned with hostile intent
against a religion which thus played into his hands, the more fool he. But
this is putting the problem the wrong way up—Socrates never stood
critically outside popular belief and traditional religious thought
speculating as to whether he should use it or reject it. No, his thought
grew out of it as from the bosom of the earth. Hence its mighty religious
power, its inevitable victory over a school of thought which had severed
all connexion with tradition.

That such a point of view should be so badly misunderstood as it was in
Athens seems incomprehensible. The explanation is no doubt that the whole
story of Socrates’s denial of the gods was only included by his accusers
for the sake of completeness, and did not play any great part in the final
issue. This seems confirmed by the fact that they found it convenient to
support their charge of atheism by one of introducing foreign gods, this
being punishable by Attic law. They thus obtained some slight hold for
their accusation. But both charges must be presumed to have been so
signally refuted during the trial that it is hardly possible that any
great number of the judges were influenced by them. It was quite different
and far weightier matters which brought about the conviction of Socrates,
questions on which there was really a deep and vital difference of opinion
between him and his contemporaries. That Socrates’s attitude towards
popular belief was at any rate fully understood elsewhere is testified by
the answer of the Delphic Oracle, that declared Socrates to be the wisest
of all men. However remarkable such a pronouncement from such a place may
appear, it seems impossible to reject the accounts of it as unhistorical;
on the other hand, it does not seem impossible to explain how the Oracle
came to declare itself as reported. Earlier Greek thought, which insisted
upon the gulf separating gods and men, was from olden times intimately
connected with the Delphic Oracle. It hardly sprang from there; more
probably it arose spontaneously in various parts of Hellas. But it would
naturally feel attracted toward the Oracle, which was one of the religious
centres of Hellas, and it was recognised as legitimate by the Oracle.
Above all, the honour shown by the Oracle to Pindar, one of the chief
representatives of the earlier thought, testifies to this. Hence there is
nothing incredible in the assumption that Socrates attracted notice at
Delphi as a defender of the old-fashioned religious views approved by the
Oracle, precisely in virtue of his opposition to the ideas then in vogue.

If we accept this explanation we are, however, excluded from taking
literally Plato’s account of the answer of the Delphic Oracle and
Socrates’s attitude towards it. Plato presents the case as if the Oracle
were the starting-point of Socrates’s philosophy and of the peculiar mode
of life which was indissolubly bound up with it. This presentation cannot
be correct if we are to regard the Oracle as historical and understand it
as we have understood it. The Oracle presupposes the Socrates we know: a
man with a religious message and a mode of life which was bound to attract
notice to him as an exception from the general rule. It cannot, therefore,
have been the cause of Socrates’s finding himself. On the other hand, it
is difficult to imagine a man choosing a mode of life like that of
Socrates without a definite inducement, without some fact or other that
would lead him to conceive himself as an exception from the rule. If we
look for such a fact in the life of Socrates, we shall look in vain as
regards externals. Apart from his activities as a religious and ethical
personality, his life was that of any other Attic citizen. But in his
spiritual life there was certainly one point, but only one, on which he
deviated from the normal, namely, his _daimonion_. If we examine the
accounts of this more closely the only thing we can make of them is—or so
at least it seems to me—that we are here in the presence of a
form—peculiar, no doubt, and highly developed—of the phenomena which are
nowadays classed under the concept of clairvoyance. Now Plato makes
Socrates himself say that the power of avoiding what would harm him, in
great things and little, by virtue of a direct perception (a “voice”),
which is what constituted his _daimonion_, was given him from childhood.
That it was regarded as something singular both by himself and others is
evident, and likewise that he himself regarded it as something
supernatural; the designation _daimonion_ itself seems to be his own. I
think that we must seek for the origin of Socrates’s peculiar mode of life
in this direction, strange as it may be that a purely mystic element
should have given the impulse to the most rationalistic philosophy the
world has ever produced. It is impossible to enter more deeply into this
problem here; but, if my conjecture is correct, we have an additional
explanation of the fact that Socrates was disposed to anything rather than
an attack on the established religion.

A view of popular religion such as I have here sketched bore in itself the
germ of a further development which must lead in other directions. A
personality like Socrates might perhaps manage throughout a lifetime to
keep that balance on a razor’s edge which is involved in utilising to the
utmost in the service of ethics the popular dogmas of the perfection of
the gods, while disregarding all irrelevant tales, all myths and all
notions of too human a tenor about them. This demanded concentration on
the one thing needful, in conjunction with deep piety of the most genuine
antique kind, with the most profound religious modesty, a combination
which it was assuredly given to but one man to attain. Socrates’s
successors had it not. Starting precisely from a Socratic foundation they
entered upon theological speculations which carried them away from the
Socratic point of view.

For the Cynics, who set up virtue as the only good, the popular notions of
the gods would seem to have been just as convenient as for Socrates. And
we know that Antisthenes, the founder of the school, made ample use of
them in his ethical teaching. He represented Heracles as the Cynical ideal
and occupied himself largely with allegorical interpretation of the myths.
On the other hand, there is a tradition that he maintained that “according
to nature” there was only one god, but “according to the law” several—a
purely sophistic view. He inveighed against the worship of images, too,
and maintained that god “did not resemble any thing,” and we know that his
school rejected all worship of the gods because the gods “were in need of
nothing.” This conception, too, is presumably traceable to Antisthenes. In
all this the theological interest is evident. As soon as this interest
sets in, the harmonious relation to the popular faith is upset, the
discord between its higher and lower ideas becomes manifest, and criticism
begins to assert itself. In the case of Antisthenes, if we may believe
tradition, it seems to have led to monotheism, in itself a most remarkable
phenomenon in the history of Greek religion, but the material is too
slight for us to make anything of it. The later Cynics afford interesting
features in illustration of atheism in antiquity, but this is best left to
a later chapter.

About the relations of the Megarians to the popular faith we know next to
nothing. One of them, Stilpo, was charged with impiety on account of a bad
joke about Athene, and convicted, although he tried to save himself by
another bad joke. As his point of view was that of a downright sceptic, he
was no doubt an atheist according to the notions of antiquity; in our day
he would be called an agnostic, but the information that we have about his
religious standpoint is too slight to repay dwelling on him.

As to the relation of the Cyrenaic school to the popular faith, the
general proposition has been handed down to us that the wise man could not
be “deisidaimon,” _i.e._ superstitious or god-fearing; the Greek word can
have both senses. This does not speak for piety at any rate, but then the
relationship of the Cyrenaics to the gods of popular belief was different
from that of the other followers of Socrates. As they set up pleasure—the
momentary, isolated feeling of pleasure—as the supreme good, they had no
use for the popular conceptions of the gods in their ethics, nay, these
conceptions were even a hindrance to them in so far as the fear of the
gods might prove a restriction where it ought not to. In these
circumstances we cannot wonder at finding a member of the school in the
list of _atheoi_. This is Theodorus of Cyrene, who lived about the year
300. He really seems to have been a downright denier of the gods; he wrote
a work _On the Gods_ containing a searching criticism of theology, which
is said to have exposed him to unpleasantness during a stay at Athens, but
the then ruler of the city, Demetrius of Phalerum, protected him. There is
nothing strange in a manifestation of downright atheism at this time and
from this quarter. More remarkable is that interest in theology which we
must assume Theodorus to have had, since he wrote at length upon the
subject. Unfortunately it is not evident from the account whether his
criticism was directed mostly against popular religion or against the
theology of the philosophers. As it was asserted in antiquity that
Epicurus used his book largely, the latter is more probable.

Whereas in the case of the “imperfect Socratics” as well as of all the
earlier philosophers we must content ourselves with more or less casual
notes, and at the best with fragments, and for Socrates with second-hand
information, when we come to Plato we find ourselves for the first time in
the presence of full and authentic information. Plato belongs to those few
among the ancient authors of whom everything that their contemporaries
possessed has been preserved to our own day. There would, however, be no
cause to speak about Plato in an investigation of atheism in antiquity,
had not so eminent a scholar as Zeller roundly asserted that Plato did not
believe in the Greek gods—with the exception of the heavenly bodies, in
the case of which the facts are obvious. On the other hand, it is
impossible here to enter upon a close discussion of so large a question; I
must content myself with giving my views in their main lines, with a brief
statement of my reasons for holding them.

In the mythical portions of his dialogues Plato uses the gods as a given
poetic motive and treats them with poetic licence. Otherwise they play a
very inferior part in the greater portion of his works. In the
_Euthyphron_ he gives a sharp criticism of the popular conception of
piety, and in reality at the same time very seriously questions the
importance and value of the existing form of worship. In his chief ethical
work, the _Gorgias_, he subjects the fundamental problems of individual
ethics to a close discussion without saying one word of their relation to
religion; if we except the mythic part at the end the gods scarcely appear
in the dialogue. Finally, in his _Republic_ he no doubt gives a detailed
criticism of popular mythology as an element of education, and in the
course of this also some positive definitions of the idea of God, but
throughout the construction of his ideal community he entirely disregards
religion and worship, even if he occasionally takes it for granted that a
cult of some sort exists, and in one place quite casually refers to the
Oracle at Delphi as authority for its organisation in details. To this may
further be added the negative point that he never in any of his works made
Socrates define his position in regard to the sophistic treatment of the
popular religion.

In Plato’s later works the case is different. In the construction of the
universe described in the _Timaeus_ the gods have a definite and
significant place, and in the _Laws_, Plato’s last work, they play a
leading part. Here he not only gives elaborate rules for the organisation
of the worship which permeate the whole life of the community, but even in
the argument of the dialogue the gods are everywhere in evidence in a way
which strongly suggests bigotry. Finally, Plato gives the above-mentioned
definitions of impiety and fixes the severest punishment for it—for
downright denial of the gods, when all attempts at conversion have failed,
the penalty of death.

On this evidence we are tempted to take the view that Plato in his earlier
years took up a critical attitude in regard to the gods of popular belief,
perhaps even denied them altogether, that he gradually grew more
conservative, and ended by being a confirmed bigot. And we might look for
a corroboration of this in a peculiar observation in the _Laws_. Plato
opens his admonition to the young against atheism by reminding them that
they are young, and that false opinion concerning the gods is a common
disease among the young, but that utter denial of their existence is not
wont to endure to old age. In this we might see an expression of personal
religious experience.

Nevertheless I do not think such a construction of Plato’s religious
development feasible. A decisive objection is his exposition of the
Socratic point of view in so early a work as the _Apology_. I at any rate
regard it as psychologically impossible that a downright atheist, be he
ever so great a poet, should be able to draw such a picture of a deeply
religious personality, and draw it with so much sympathy and such
convincing force. Add to this other facts of secondary moment. Even the
close criticism to which Plato subjects the popular notions of the gods in
his _Republic_ does not indicate denial of the gods as such; moreover, it
is built on a positive foundation, on the idea of the goodness of the gods
and their truth (which for Plato manifests itself in immutability).
Finally, Plato at all times vigorously advocated the belief in providence.
In the _Laws_ he stamps unbelief in divine providence as impiety; in the
_Republic_ he insists in a prominent passage that the gods love the just
man and order everything for him in the best way. And he puts the same
thought into Socrates’s mouth in the _Apology_, though it is hardly
Socratic in the strict sense of the word, _i.e._ as a main point in
Socrates’s conception of existence. All this should warn us not to
exaggerate the significance of the difference which may be pointed out
between the religious standpoints of the younger and the older Plato. But
the difference itself cannot, I think, be denied; there can hardly be any
doubt that Plato was much more critical of popular belief in his youth and
prime than towards the close of his life.

Even in Plato’s later works there is, in spite of their conservative
attitude, a very peculiar reservation in regard to the anthropomorphic
gods of popular belief. It shows itself in the _Laws_ in the fact that
where he sets out to _prove_ the existence of the gods he contents himself
with proving the divinity of the heavenly bodies and quite disregards the
other gods. It appears still more plainly in the _Timaeus_, where he gives
a philosophical explanation of how the divine heavenly bodies came into
existence, but says expressly of the other gods that such an explanation
is impossible, and that we must abide by what the old theologians said on
this subject; they being partly the children of gods would know best where
their parents came from. It is observations of this kind that induced
Zeller to believe that Plato altogether denied the gods of popular belief;
he also contends that the gods have no place in Plato’s system. This
latter contention is perfectly correct; Plato never identified the gods
with the ideas (although he comes very near to it in the _Republic_, where
he attributes to them immutability, the quality which determines the
essence of the ideas), and in the _Timaeus_ he distinguishes sharply
between them. No doubt his doctrine of ideas led up to a kind of divinity,
the idea of the good, as the crown of the system, but the direct inference
from this conception would be pure monotheism and so exclude polytheism.
This inference Plato did not draw, though his treatment of the gods in the
_Laws_ and _Timaeus_ certainly shows that he was quite clear that the gods
of the popular faith were an irrational element in his conception of the
universe. The two passages do not entitle us to go further and conclude
that he utterly rejected them, and in the _Timaeus_, where Plato makes
both classes of gods, both the heavenly bodies and the others, take part
in the creation of man, this is plainly precluded. The playful turn with
which he evades inquiry into the origin of the gods thus receives its
proper limitation; it is entirely confined to their origin.

Such, according to my view, is the state of the case. It is of fundamental
importance to emphasise the fact that we cannot conclude, because the gods
of popular belief do not fit into the system of a philosopher, that he
denies their existence. In what follows we shall have occasion to point
out a case in which, as all are now agreed, a philosophical school has
adopted and stubbornly held to the belief in the existence of gods though
this assumption was directly opposed to a fundamental proposition in its
system of doctrine. The case of Plato is particularly interesting because
he himself was aware and has pointed out that here was a point on which
the consistent scientific application of his conception of the universe
must fail. It is the outcome—one of many—of what is perhaps his finest
quality as a philosopher, namely, his intellectual honesty.

An indirect testimony to the correctness of the view here stated will be
found in the way in which Plato’s faithful disciple Xenocrates developed
his theology, for it shows that Xenocrates presupposed the existence of
the gods of popular belief as given by Plato. Xenocrates made it his
general task to systematise Plato’s philosophy (which had never been set
forth publicly by himself as a whole), and to secure it against attack. In
the course of this work he was bound to discover that the conception of
the gods of popular belief was a particularly weak point in Plato’s
system, and he attempted to mend matters by a peculiar theory which became
of the greatest importance for later times. Xenocrates set up as gods, in
the first place, the heavenly bodies. Next he gave his highest principles
(pure abstracts such as oneness and twoness) and the elements of his
universe (air, water and earth) the names of some of the highest
divinities in popular belief (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter). These gods,
however, did not enter into direct communication with men, but only
through some intermediate agent. The intermediate agents were the
“demons,” a class of beings who were higher than man yet not perfect like
the gods. They were, it seems, immortal; they were invisible and far more
powerful than human beings; but they were subject to human passions and
were of highly differing grades of moral perfection. These are the beings
that are the objects of the greater part of the existing cult, especially
such usages as rest on the assumption that the gods can do harm and are
directed towards averting it, or which are in other ways objectionable;
and with them are connected the myths which Plato subjected to so severe a
criticism. Xenocrates found a basis for this system in Plato, who in the
_Symposium_ sets up the demons as a class of beings between gods and men,
and makes them carriers of the prayers and wishes of men to the gods. But
what was a passing thought with Plato serving only a poetical purpose was
taken seriously and systematised by Xenocrates.

It can hardly be said that Xenocrates has gained much recognition among
modern writers on the history of philosophy for his theory of demons. And
yet I cannot see that there was any other possible solution of the problem
which ancient popular belief set ancient philosophy, if, be it understood,
we hold fast by two hypotheses: the first, that the popular belief and
worship of the ancients was based throughout on a foundation of reality;
and second, that moral perfection is an essential factor in the conception
of God. The only inconsistency which we may perhaps bring home to
Xenocrates is that he retained certain of the popular names of the gods as
designations for gods in his sense; but this inconsistency was, as we
shall see, subsequently removed. In favour of this estimate of
Xenocrates’s doctrine of demons may further be adduced that it actually
was the last word of ancient philosophy on the matter. The doctrine was
adopted by the Stoics, the Neo-Pythagoreans, and the Neo-Platonists. Only
the Epicureans went another way, but their doctrine died out before the
close of antiquity. And so the doctrine of demons became the ground on
which Jewish-Christian monotheism managed to come to terms with ancient
paganism, to conquer it in theory, as it were.

This implies, however, that the doctrine of demons, though it arose out of
an honest attempt to save popular belief philosophically, in reality
brings out its incompatibility with philosophy. The religion and worship
of the ancients could dispense with neither the higher nor the lower
conceptions of its gods. If the former were done away with, recognition,
however full, of the existence of the gods was no good; in the long run
the inference could not be avoided that they were immoral powers and so
ought not to be worshipped. This was the inference drawn by Christianity
in theory and enforced in practice, ultimately by main force.

Aristotle is among the philosophers who were prosecuted for impiety. When
the anti-Macedonian party came into power in Athens after the death of
Alexander, there broke out a persecution against his adherents, and this
was also directed against Aristotle. The basis of the charge against him
was that he had shown divine honour after his death to the tyrant Hermias,
whose guest he had been during a prolonged stay in Asia Minor. This seems
to have been a fabrication, and at any rate has nothing to do with
atheism. In the writings of Aristotle, as they were then generally known,
it would assuredly have been impossible to find any ground for a charge of

Nevertheless, Aristotle is one of the philosophers about whose faith in
the gods of popular religion well-founded doubts may be raised. Like
Plato, he acknowledged the divinity of the heavenly bodies on the ground
that they must have a soul since they had independent motion. Further, he
has a kind of supreme god who, himself unmoved, is the cause of all
movement, and whose constituent quality is reason. As regards the gods of
popular belief, in his _Ethics_ and his _Politics_ he assumes public
worship to be a necessary constituent of the life of the individual and
the community. He gave no grounds for this assumption—on the contrary, he
expressly declared that it was a question which ought not to be discussed
at all: he who stirs up doubts whether honour should be paid to the gods
is in need not of teaching but of punishment. (That he himself took part
in worship is evident from his will.) Further, in his ethical works he
used the conceptions of the gods almost in the same way as we have assumed
that Socrates did, _i.e._ as the ethical ideal and determining the limits
of the human. He never entered upon any elaborate criticism of the lower
elements of popular religion such as Plato gave. So far everything is in
admirable order. But if we look more closely at things there is
nevertheless nearly always a little “but” in Aristotle’s utterances about
the gods. Where he operates with popular notions he prefers to speak
hypothetically or to refer to what is generally assumed; or he is content
to use only definitions which will also agree with his own philosophical
conception of God. But he goes further; in a few places in his writings
there are utterances which it seems can only be interpreted as a radical
denial of the popular religion. The most important of them deserves to be
quoted _in extenso_:

    “A tradition has been handed down from the ancients and from the
    most primitive times, and left to later ages in the form of myth,
    that these substances (_i.e._ sky and heavenly bodies) are gods
    and that the divine embraces all nature. The rest consists in
    legendary additions intended to impress the multitude and serve
    the purposes of legislation and the common weal; for these gods
    are said to have human shape or resemble certain other beings
    (animals), and they say other things which follow from this and
    are of a similar kind to those already mentioned. But if we
    disregard all this and restrict ourselves to the first point, that
    they thought that the first substances were gods, we must
    acknowledge that it is a divinely inspired saying. And as, in all
    probability, every art and science has been discovered many times,
    as far as it is possible, and has perished again, so these
    notions, too, may have been preserved till now as relics of those
    times. To this extent only can we have any idea of the opinion
    which was held by our fathers and has come down from the beginning
    of things.”

The last sentences, expressing Aristotle’s idea of a life-cycle and
periods of civilisation which repeat themselves, have only been included
in the quotation for the sake of completeness. If we disregard them, the
passage plainly enough states the view that the only element of truth in
the traditional notions about the gods was the divinity of the sky and the
heavenly bodies; the rest is myth. Aristotle has nowhere else expressed
himself with such distinctness and in such length, but then the passage in
question has a place of its own. It comes in his _Metaphysics_ directly
after the exposition of his philosophical conception of God—a position
marked by profound earnestness and as it were irradiated by a quiet inner
fervour. We feel that we are here approaching the _sanctum sanctorum_ of
the thinker. In this connexion, and only here, he wished for once to state
his opinion about the religion of his time without reserve. What he says
here is a precise formulation of the result arrived at by the best Greek
thinkers as regards the religion of the Greek people. It was not, they
thought, pure fabrication. It contained an element of truth of the
greatest value. But most of it consisted of human inventions without any
reality behind them.

A point of view like that of Aristotle would, I suppose, hardly have been
called atheism among the ancients, if only because the heavenly bodies
were acknowledged as divine. But according to our definition it is
atheism. The “sky”-gods of Aristotle have nothing in common with the gods
of popular belief, not even their names, for Aristotle never names them.
And the rest, the whole crowd of Greek anthropomorphic gods, exist only in
the human imagination.

Aristotle’s successors offer little of interest to our inquiry.
Theophrastus was charged with impiety, but the charge broke down
completely. His theological standpoint was certainly the same as
Aristotle’s. Of Strato, the most independent of the Peripatetics, we know
that in his view of nature he laid greater stress on the material causes
than Aristotle did, and so arrived at a different conception of the
supreme deity. Aristotle had severed the deity from Nature and placed it
outside the latter as an incorporeal being whose chief determining factor
was reason. In Strato’s view the deity was identical with Nature and, like
the latter, was without consciousness; consciousness was only found in
organic nature. Consequently we cannot suppose him to have believed in the
divinity of the heavenly bodies in Aristotle’s sense, though no direct
statement on this subject has come down to us. About his attitude towards
popular belief we hear nothing. A denial of the popular gods is not
necessarily implied in Strato’s theory, but seems reasonable in itself and
is further rendered probable by the fact that all writers seem to take it
for granted that Strato knew no god other than the whole of Nature.

We designated Socratic philosophy, in its relation to popular belief, as a
reaction against the radical free-thought of the sophistic movement. It
may seem peculiar that with Aristotle it develops into a view which we can
only describe as atheism. There is, however, an important difference
between the standpoints of the sophists and of Aristotle. Radical as the
latter is at bottom, it is not, however, openly opposed to popular
belief—on the contrary, to any one who did not examine it more closely it
must have had the appearance of accepting popular belief. The very
assumption that the heavenly bodies were divine would contribute to that
effect; this, as we have seen, was a point on which the popular view laid
great stress. If we add to this that Aristotle never made the existence of
the popular gods matter of debate; that he expressly acknowledged the
established worship; and that he consistently made use of certain
fundamental notions of popular belief in his philosophy—we can hardly
avoid the conclusion that, notwithstanding his personal emancipation from
the existing religion, he is a true representative of the Socratic
reaction against sophistic. But we see, too, that there is a reservation
in this reaction. In continuity with earlier Greek thought on religion, it
proceeded from the absolute definitions of the divine offered by popular
belief, but when criticising anthropomorphism on this basis it did not
after all avoid falling out with popular belief. How far each philosopher
went in his antagonism was a matter of discretion, as also was the means
chosen to reconcile the philosophical with the popular view. The theology
of the Socratic schools thus suffered from a certain half-heartedness; in
the main it has the character of a compromise. It would not give up the
popular notions of the gods, and yet they were continually getting in the
way. This dualism governs the whole of the succeeding Greek philosophy.


During the three or four centuries which passed between the downfall of
free Hellas and the beginning of the Roman Empire, great social and
political changes took place in the ancient world, involving also vital
changes in religion. The chief phenomenon in this field, the invasion of
foreign, especially oriental, religions into Hellas, does not come within
the scope of this investigation. On the one hand, it is an expression of
dissatisfaction with the old gods; on the other, the intrusion of new gods
would contribute to the ousting of the old ones. There is no question of
atheism here; it is only a change within polytheism. But apart from this
change there is evidence that the old faith had lost its hold on men’s
minds to no inconsiderable extent. Here, too, there is hardly any question
of atheism properly speaking, but as a background to the—not very
numerous—evidences of such atheism in our period, we cannot well ignore
the decline of the popular faith. Our investigation is rendered difficult
on this point, and generally within this period, by the lack of direct
evidence. Of the rich Hellenistic literature almost everything has been
lost, and we are restricted to reports and fragments.

In order to gain a concrete starting-point we will begin with a quotation
from the historian Polybius—so to speak the only Greek prose author of the
earlier Hellenistic period of whose works considerable and connected
portions are preserved. Polybius wrote in the latter half of the second
century a history of the world in which Rome took the dominant place. Here
he gave, among other things, a detailed description of the Roman
constitution and thus came to touch upon the state of religion in Rome as
compared with that in Greece. He says on this subject:

“The greatest advantage of the Roman constitution seems to me to lie in
its conception of the gods, and I believe that what among other peoples is
despised is what holds together the Roman power—I mean superstition. For
this feature has by them been developed so far in the direction of the
‘horrible,’ and has so permeated both private and public life, that it is
quite unique. Many will perhaps find this strange, but I think they have
acted so with an eye to the mass of the people. For if it were possible to
compose a state of reasonable people such a procedure would no doubt be
unnecessary, but as every people regarded as a mass is easily impressed
and full of criminal instincts, unreasonable violence, and fierce passion,
there is nothing to be done but to keep the masses under by vague fears
and such-like hocus-pocus. Therefore it is my opinion that it was not
without good reason or by mere chance that the ancients imparted to the
masses the notions of the gods and the underworld, but rather is it
thoughtless and irrational when nowadays we seek to destroy them.”

As a proof of this last statement follows a comparison between the state
of public morals in Greece and in Rome. In Greece you cannot trust a man
with a few hundred pounds without ten notaries and as many seals and
double the number of witnesses; in Rome great public treasure is
administered with honesty merely under the safeguard of an oath.

As we see, this passage contains direct evidence that in the second
century in Hellas—in contradistinction to Rome—there was an attempt to
break down the belief in the gods. By his “we” Polybius evidently referred
especially to the leading political circles. He knew these circles from
personal experience, and his testimony has all the more weight because he
does not come forward in the rôle of the orthodox man complaining in the
usual way of the impiety of his contemporaries; on the contrary, he speaks
as the educated and enlightened man to whom it is a matter of course that
all this talk about the gods and the underworld is a myth which nobody
among the better classes takes seriously. This is a tone we have not heard
before, and it is a strong indirect testimony to the fact that Polybius is
not wrong when he speaks of disbelief among the upper classes of Greece.

In this connexion the work of Polybius has a certain interest on another
point. Where earlier—and later—authors would speak of the intervention of
the gods in the march of history, he operates as a rule with an idea which
he calls Tyche. The word is untranslatable when used in this way. It is
something between chance, fortune and fate. It is more comprehensive and
more personal than chance; it has not the immutable, the “lawbound”
character of fate; rather it denotes the incalculability, the
capriciousness associated, especially in earlier usage, with the word
fortune, but without the tendency of this word to be used in a good sense.

This Tyche-religion—if we may use this expression—was not new in Hellas.
Quite early we find Tyche worshipped as a goddess among the other deities,
and it is an old notion that the gods send good fortune, a notion which
set its mark on a series of established phrases in private and public
life. But what is of interest here is that shifting of religious ideas in
the course of which Tyche drives the gods into the background. We find
indications of it as early as Thucydides. In his view of history he lays
the main stress, certainly, on human initiative, and not least on rational
calculation, as the cause of events. But where he is obliged to reckon
with an element independent of human efforts, he calls it Tyche and not
“the immortal gods.” A somewhat similar view we find in another great
political author of the stage of transition to our period, namely,
Demosthenes. Demosthenes of course employs the official apparatus of gods:
he invokes them on solemn occasions; he quotes their authority in support
of his assertions (once he even reported a revelation which he had in a
dream); he calls his opponents enemies of the gods, etc. But in his
political considerations the gods play a negligible part. The factors with
which he reckons as a rule are merely political forces. Where he is
compelled to bring forward elements which man cannot control, he shows a
preference for Tyche. He certainly occasionally identifies her with the
favour of the gods, but in such a way as to give the impression that it is
only a _façon de parler_. Direct pronouncements of a free-thinking kind
one would not expect from an orator and statesman, and yet Demosthenes was
once bold enough to say that Pythia, the mouthpiece of the Delphic Oracle,
was a partisan of Macedonia, an utterance which his opponent Aeschines,
who liked to parade his orthodoxy, did not omit to cast in his teeth. On
the whole, Aeschines liked to represent Demosthenes as a godless fellow,
and it is not perhaps without significance that the latter never directly
replied to such attacks, or indirectly did anything to impair their force.

During the violent revolutions that took place in Hellas under Alexander
the Great and his successors, and the instability of social and political
conditions consequent thereon, the Tyche-religion received a fresh
impetus. With one stroke Hellas was flung into world politics. Everything
grew to colossal proportions in comparison with earlier conditions. The
small Hellenic city-states that had hitherto been each for itself a world
shrank into nothing. It is as if the old gods could not keep pace with
this violent process of expansion. Men felt a craving for a wider and more
comprehensive religious concept to answer to the changed conditions, and
such an idea was found in the idea of Tyche. Thoughtful men, such as
Demetrius of Phalerum, wrote whole books about it; states built temples to
Tyche; in private religion also it played a great part. No one reflected
much on the relation of Tyche to the old gods. It must be remembered that
Tyche is a real layman’s notion, and that Hellenistic philosophy regarded
it as its task precisely to render man independent of the whims of fate.
Sometimes, however, we find a positive statement of the view that Tyche
ruled over the gods also. It is characteristic of the state of affairs;
men did not want to relinquish the old gods, but could not any longer
allow them the leading place.

If we return for a moment to Polybius, we shall find that his conception
of Tyche strikingly illustrates the distance between him and Thucydides.
In the introduction to his work, on its first page, he points out that the
universally acknowledged task of historical writing is partly to educate
people for political activities, partly to teach them to bear the
vicissitudes of fortune with fortitude by reminding them of the lot of
others. And subsequently, when he passes on to his main theme, the
foundation of the Roman world-empire, after having explained the plan of
his work, he says: “So far then our plan. But the _co-operation of
fortune_ is still needed if my life is to be long enough for me to
accomplish my purpose.” An earlier—or a later—author would here either
have left the higher powers out of the game altogether or would have used
an expression showing more submission to the gods of the popular faith.

In a later author, Pliny the Elder, we again find a characteristic
utterance throwing light upon the significance of the Tyche-religion.
After a very free-thinking survey of the popular notions regarding the
gods, Pliny says: “As an intermediate position between these two views
(that there is a divine providence and that there is none) men have
themselves invented another divine power, in order that speculation about
the deity might become still more uncertain. Throughout the world, in
every place, at every hour of the day, Fortune alone is invoked and named
by every mouth; she alone is accused, she bears the guilt of everything;
of her only do we think, to her is all praise, to her all blame. And she
is worshipped with railing words—she is deemed inconstant, by many even
blind; she is fickle, unstable, uncertain, changeable; giving her favours
to the unworthy. To her is imputed every loss, every gain; in all the
accounts of life she alone fills up both the debit and the credit side,
and we are so subject to chance that Chance itself becomes our god, and
again proves the incertitude of the deity.” Even if a great deal of this
may be put down to rhetoric, by which Pliny was easily carried away, the
solid fact itself remains that he felt justified in speaking as if Dame
Fortune had dethroned all the old gods.

That this view of life must have persisted very tenaciously even down to a
time when a strong reaction in the direction of positive religious feeling
had set in, is proved by the romances of the time. The novels of the
ancients were in general poor productions. Most of them are made after the
recipe of a little misfortune in each chapter and great happiness in the
last. The two lovers meet, fall in love, part, and suffer a series of
troubles individually until they are finally united. The power that
governs their fates and shapes everything according to this pattern is
regularly Tyche, never the gods. The testimony of the novels is of special
significance because they were read by the general mass of the educated
classes, not by the select who had philosophy to guide them.

Another testimony to the weakening of popular faith in the Hellenistic age
is the decay of the institution of the Oracle. This, also, is of early
date; as early as the fifth and fourth century we hear much less of the
interference of the oracles in political matters than in earlier times.
The most important of them all, the Delphic Oracle, was dealt a terrible
blow in the Holy War (356-346 B.C.), when the Phocians seized it and used
the treasures which had been accumulated in it during centuries to hire
mercenaries and carry on war. Such proceedings would assuredly have been
impossible a century earlier; no soldiers could have been hired with money
acquired in such a way, or, if they could have been procured, all Hellas
would have risen in arms against the robbers of the Temple, whereas in the
Holy War most of the states were indifferent, and several even sided with
the Phocians. In the succeeding years, after Philip of Macedonia had put
an end to the Phocian scandal, the Oracle was in reality in his hands—it
was during this period that Demosthenes stigmatised it as the mouthpiece
of Philip. In the succeeding centuries, too, it was dependent on the
various rulers of Hellas and undoubtedly lost all public authority. During
this period we hear very little of the oracles of Hellas until the time
before and after the birth of Christ provides us with definite evidence of
their complete decay.

Thus Strabo, who wrote during the reign of Augustus, says that the
ancients attached more importance to divination generally and oracles more
particularly, whereas people in his day were quite indifferent to these
things. He gives as the reason that the Romans were content to use the
Sibylline books and their own system of divination. His remark is made _a
propos_ of the Oracle in Libya, which was formerly in great repute, but
was almost extinct in his time. He is undoubtedly correct as to the fact,
but the decline of the oracular system cannot be explained by the
indifference of the Romans. Plutarch, in a monograph on the discontinuance
of the oracles, furnishes us with more detailed information. From this it
appears that not only the Oracle of Ammon but also the numerous oracles of
Boeotia had ceased to exist, with one exception, while even for the Oracle
at Delphi, which had formerly employed three priestesses, a single one
amply sufficed. We also note the remark that the questions submitted to
the Oracle were mostly unworthy or of no importance.

The want of consideration sometimes shown to sacred places and things
during the wars of the Hellenistic period may no doubt also be regarded as
the result of a weakening of interest in the old gods. We have detailed
information on this point from the war between Philip of Macedonia and the
Aetolians in 220-217 B.C. The Aetolians began by destroying the temples at
Dium and Dodona, whereupon Philip retaliated by totally wrecking the
federal sanctuary of the Aetolians at Thermon. Of Philip’s admiral
Dicaearchus we are told by Polybius that wherever he landed he erected
altars to “godlessness and lawlessness” and offered up sacrifice on them.
Judging by the way he was hated, his practice must have answered to his

One more phenomenon must be mentioned in this context, though it falls
outside the limits within which we have hitherto moved, and though its
connexion with free-thought and religious enlightenment will no doubt, on
closer examination, prove disputable. This is the decay of the established
worship of the Roman State in the later years of the Republic.

In the preceding pages there has been no occasion to include conditions in
Rome in our investigation, simply because nothing has come down to us
about atheism in the earlier days of Rome, and we may presume that it did
not exist. Of any religious thought at Rome corresponding to that of the
Greeks we hear nothing, nor did the Romans produce any philosophy.
Whatever knowledge of philosophy there was at Rome was simply borrowed
from the Greeks. The Greek influence was not seriously felt until the
second century B.C., even though as early as about the middle of the third
century the Romans, through the performance of plays translated from the
Greek, made acquaintance with Greek dramatic poetry and the religious
thought contained therein. Neither the latter, nor the heresies of the
philosophers, seem to have made any deep impression upon them. Ennius,
their most important poet of the second century, was no doubt strongly
influenced by Greek free-thinking, but this was evidently an isolated
phenomenon. Also, by birth Ennius was not a native of Rome but half a
Greek. The testimony of Polybius (from the close of the second century) to
Roman religious conservatism is emphatic enough. Its causes are doubtless
of a complex nature, but as one of them the peculiar character of the
Roman religion itself stands out prominently. However much it resembled
Greek religion in externals—a resemblance which was strengthened by
numerous loans both of religious rites and of deities—it is decidedly
distinct from it in being restricted still more to cultus and, above all,
in being entirely devoid of mythology. The Roman gods were powers about
the rites of whose worship the most accurate details were known or could
be ascertained if need were, but they had little personality, and about
their personal relations people knew little and cared less. This was,
aesthetically, a great defect. The Roman gods afforded no good theme for
poetry and art, and when they were to be used as such they were invariably
replaced by loans from the Greeks. But, as in the face of Greek
free-thought and Greek criticism of religion, they had the advantage that
the vital point for attack was lacking. All the objectionable tales of the
exploits of the gods and the associated ideas about their nature which had
prompted the Greek attack on the popular faith simply did not exist in
Roman religion. On the other hand, its rites were in many points more
primitive than the Greek ones, but Greek philosophy had been very reserved
in its criticism of ritual. We may thus no doubt take it for granted,
though we have no direct evidence to that effect, that even Romans with a
Greek education long regarded the Greek criticism of religion as something
foreign which was none of their concern.

That a time came when all this was changed; that towards the end of the
Republic great scepticism concerning the established religion of Rome was
found among the upper classes, is beyond doubt, and we shall subsequently
find occasion to consider this more closely. In this connexion another
circumstance demands attention, one which, moreover, has by some been
associated with Greek influence among the upper classes, namely, the decay
of the established worship of the Roman State during the last years of the
Republic. Of the actual facts there can hardly be any doubt, though we
know very little about them. The decisive symptoms are: that Augustus,
after having taken over the government, had to repair some eighty
dilapidated temples in Rome and reinstitute a series of religious rites
and priesthoods which had ceased to function. Among them was one of the
most important, that of the priest of Jupiter, an office which had been
vacant for more than seventy-five years (87-11 B.C.), because it excluded
the holder from a political career. Further, that complaints were made of
private persons encroaching on places that were reserved for religious
worship; and that Varro, when writing his great work on the Roman
religion, in many cases was unable to discover what god was the object of
an existing cult; and generally, according to his own statement he wrote
his work, among other things, in order to save great portions of the old
Roman religion from falling into utter oblivion on account of the
indifference of the Romans themselves. It is obvious that such a state of
affairs would have been impossible in a community where the traditional
religion was a living power, not only formally acknowledged by everybody,
but felt to be a necessary of life, the spiritual daily bread, as it were,
of the nation.

To hold, however, that the main cause of the decay of the established
religion of Rome was the invasion of Greek culture, together with the fact
that the members of the Roman aristocracy, from whom the priests were
recruited and who superintended the cult, had become indifferent to the
traditional religion through this influence, this, I think, is to go
altogether astray. We may take it for granted that the governing classes
in Rome would not have ventured to let the cult decay if there had been
any serious interest in it among the masses of the population; and it is
equally certain that Greek philosophy and religious criticism did not
penetrate to these masses. When they became indifferent to the national
religion, this was due to causes that had nothing to do with free-thought.
The old Roman religion was adapted for a small, narrow and homogeneous
community whose main constituent and real core consisted of the farmers,
large and small, and minor artisans. In the last centuries of the Republic
the social development had occasioned the complete decay of the Roman
peasantry, and the free artisans had fared little better. In the place of
the old Rome had arisen the capital of an empire, inhabited by a
population of a million and of extraordinarily mixed composition. Not only
did this population comprise a number of immigrant foreigners, but, in
consequence of the peculiar Roman rule that every slave on being set free
attained citizenship, a large percentage of the citizens must of necessity
have been of foreign origin. Only certain portions of the Roman religion,
more especially the cult of the great central deities of the State
religion, can have kept pace with these changed conditions; the remainder
had in reality lost all hold on Roman society as it had developed in
process of time, and was only kept alive by force of habit. To this must
be added the peculiar Roman mixture of mobility and conservatism in
religious matters. The Roman superstition and uncertainty in regard to the
gods led on the one hand to a continual setting up of new cults and new
sanctuaries, and on the other hand to a fear of letting any of the old
cults die out. In consequence thereof a great deal of dead and worthless
ritual material must have accumulated in Rome in the course of centuries,
and was of course in the way during the rapid development of the city in
the last century of the Republic. Things must gradually have come to such
a pass that a thorough reform, above all a reduction, of the whole cult
had become a necessity. To introduce such a reform the republican
government was just as unsuited as it was to carry out all the other tasks
imposed by the development of the empire and the capital at that time. On
this point, however, it must not be forgotten that the governing class not
only lacked ability, for political reasons, to carry out serious reforms,
but also the will to do so, on account of religious indifference, and so
let things go altogether to the bad. The consequence was anarchy, in this
as in all other spheres at that time; but at the same time the tendency
towards the only sensible issue, a restriction of the old Roman
State-cult, is plainly evident. The simultaneous strong infusion of
foreign religions was unavoidable in the mixed population of the capital.
That these influences also affected the lower classes of the citizens is
at any rate a proof that they were not indifferent to religion.

In its main outlines this is all the information that I have been able to
glean about the general decline of the belief in the gods during the
Hellenistic period. Judging from such information we should expect to find
strong tendencies to atheism in the philosophy of the period. These
anticipations are, however, doomed to disappointment. The ruling
philosophical schools on the whole preserved a friendly attitude towards
the gods of the popular faith and especially towards their worship,
although they only accepted the existing religion with strict reservation.

Most characteristic but least consistent and original was the attitude of
the Stoic school. The Stoics were pantheists. Their deity was a substance
which they designated as fire, but which, it must be admitted, differed
greatly from fire as an element. It permeated the entire world. It had
produced the world out of itself, and it absorbed it again, and this
process was repeated to eternity. The divine fire was also reason, and as
such the cause of the harmony of the world-order. What of conscious reason
was found in the world was part of the divine reason.

Though in this scheme of things there was in the abstract plenty of room
for the gods of popular belief, nevertheless the Stoics did not in reality
acknowledge them. In principle their standpoint was the same as
Aristotle’s. They supposed the heavenly bodies to be divine, but all the
rest, namely, the anthropomorphic gods, were nothing to them.

In their explanation of the origin of the gods they went beyond Aristotle,
but their doctrine was not always the same on this point. The earlier
Stoics regarded mythology and all theology as human inventions, but not
arbitrary inventions. Mythology, they thought, should be understood
allegorically; it was the naïve expression partly of a correct conception
of Nature, partly of ethical and metaphysical truths. Strictly speaking,
men had always been Stoics, though in an imperfect way. This point of view
was elaborated in detail by the first Stoics, who took their stand partly
on the earlier naturalism which had already broken the ground in this
direction, and partly on sophistic, so that they even brought into vogue
again the theory of Prodicus, that the gods were a hypostasis of the
benefits of civilisation. Such a standpoint could not of course be
maintained without arbitrariness and absurdities which exposed it to
embarrassing criticism. This seems to have been the reason why the later
Stoics, and especially Poseidonius, took another road. They adopted the
doctrine of Xenocrates with regard to demons and developed it in fantastic
forms. The earlier method was not, however, given up, and at the time of
Cicero we find both views represented in the doctrine of the school.

Such is the appearance of the theory. In both its forms it is evidently an
attempt to meet popular belief half-way from a standpoint which is really
beyond it. This tendency is seen even more plainly in the practice of the
Stoics. They recognised public worship and insisted on its advantages; in
their moral reflections they employed the gods as ideals in the Socratic
manner, regardless of the fact that in their theory they did not really
allow for gods who were ideal men; nay, they even went the length of
giving to their philosophical deity, the “universal reason,” the name of
Zeus by preference, though it had nothing but the name in common with the
Olympian ruler of gods and men. This pervading ambiguity brought much
well-deserved reproof on the Stoics even in ancient times; but, however
unattractive it may seem to us, it is of significance as a manifestation
of the great hold popular belief continued to have even on the minds of
the upper classes, for it was to these that the Stoics appealed.

Far more original and consistent is the Epicurean attitude towards the
popular faith. Epicurus unreservedly acknowledged its foundation, _i.e._
the existence of anthropomorphic beings of a higher order than man. His
gods had human shape but they were eternal and blessed. In the latter
definition was included, according to the ethical ideal of Epicurus, the
idea that the gods were free from every care, including taking an interest
in nature or in human affairs. They were entirely outside the world, a
fact to which Epicurus gave expression by placing them in the empty spaces
between the infinite number of spherical worlds which he assumed. There
his gods lived in bliss like ideal Epicureans. Lucretius, the only poet of
this school, extolled them in splendid verse whose motif he borrowed from
Homer’s description of Olympus. In this way Epicurus also managed to
uphold public worship itself. It could not, of course, have any practical
aim, but it was justified as an expression of the respect man owed to
beings whose existence expressed the human ideal.

The reasons why Epicurus assumed this attitude towards popular belief are
simple enough. He maintained that the evidence of sensual perception was
the basis of all knowledge, and he thought that the senses (through
dreams) gave evidence of the existence of the gods. And in the popular
ideas of the bliss of the gods he found his ethical ideal directly
confirmed. As regards their eternity the case was more difficult. The
basis of his system was the theory that everything was made of atoms and
that only the atoms as such, not the bodies composed of the atoms, were
eternal. He conceived the gods, too, as made of atoms, nevertheless he
held that they were eternal. Any rational explanation of this postulate is
not possible on Epicurus’s hypotheses, and the criticism of his theology
was therefore especially directed against this point.

Epicurus was the Greek philosopher who most consistently took the course
of emphasising the popular dogma of the perfection of the gods in order to
preserve the popular notions about them. And he was the philosopher to
whom this would seem the most obvious course, because his ethical
ideal—quietism—agreed with the oldest popular ideal of divine existence.
In this way Epicureanism became the most orthodox of all Greek
philosophical schools. If nevertheless Epicurus did not escape the charge
of atheism the sole reason is that his whole theology was denounced
off-hand as hypocrisy. It was assumed to be set up by him only to shield
himself against a charge of impiety, not to be his actual belief. This
accusation is now universally acknowledged to be unjustified, and the
Epicureans had no difficulty in rebutting it with interest. They took
special delight in pointing out that the theology of the other schools was
much more remote from popular belief than theirs, nay, in spite of
recognition of the existing religion, was in truth fundamentally at
variance with it. But in reality their own was in no better case: gods who
did not trouble in the least about human affairs were beings for whom
popular belief had no use. It made no difference that Epicurus’s
definition of the nature of the gods was the direct outcome of a
fundamental doctrine of popular belief. Popular religion will not tolerate

In this connexion we cannot well pass over a third philosophical school
which played no inconspicuous rôle in the latter half of our period,
namely, Scepticism. The Sceptic philosophy as such dates from Socrates,
from whom the so-called Megarian school took its origin, but it did not
reach its greatest importance until the second century, when the Academic
school became Sceptic. It was especially the famous philosopher Carneades,
a brilliant master of logic and dialectic, who made a success by his
searching negative criticism of the doctrines of the other philosophical
schools (the Dogmatics). For such criticism the theology of the
philosophers was a grateful subject, and Carneades did not spare it. Here
as in all the investigations of the Sceptics the theoretical result was
that no scientific certainty could be attained: it was equally wrong to
assert or to deny the existence of the gods. But in practice the attitude
of the Sceptics was quite different. Just as they behaved like other
people, acting upon their immediate impressions and experience, though
they did not believe that anything could be scientifically proved, _e.g._
not even the reality of the world of the senses, so also did they
acknowledge the existing cult and lived generally like good heathens.
Characteristic though Scepticism be of a period of Greek spiritual life in
which Greek thought lost its belief in itself, it was, however, very far
from supporting atheism. On the contrary, according to the correct Sceptic
doctrine atheism was a dogmatic contention which theoretically was as
objectionable as its antithesis, and in practice was to be utterly

A more radical standpoint than this as regards the gods of the popular
faith is not found during the Hellenistic period except among the less
noted schools, and in the beginning of the period. We have already
mentioned such thinkers as Strato, Theodorus, and Stilpo; chronologically
they belong to the Hellenistic Age, but in virtue of their connexion with
the Socratic philosophy they were dealt with in the last chapter. A
definite polemical attitude towards the popular faith is also a
characteristic of the Cynic school, hence, though our information is very
meagre, we must speak of it a little more fully.

The Cynics continued the tendency of Antisthenes, but the school
comparatively soon lost its importance. After the third century we hear no
more about the Cynics until they crop up again about the year A.D. 100.
But in the fourth and third centuries the school had important
representatives. The most famous is Diogenes; his life, to be sure, is
entangled in such a web of legend that it is difficult to arrive at a true
picture of his personality. Of his attitude towards popular belief we know
one thing, that he did not take part in the worship of the gods. This was
a general principle of the Cynics; their argument was that the gods were
“in need of nothing” (cf. above, pp. 60 and 41). If we find him accused of
atheism, in an anecdote of very doubtful value, it may, if there is
anything in it, be due to his rejection of worship. Of one of his
successors, however, Bion of Borysthenes, we have authentic information
that he denied the existence of the gods, with the edifying legend
attached that he was converted before his death. But we also hear of Bion
that he was a disciple of the atheist Theodorus, and other facts go to
suggest that Bion united Cynic and Hedonistic principles in his mode of
life—a compromise that was not so unlikely as might be supposed. Bion’s
attitude cannot therefore be taken as typical of Cynicism. Another Cynic
of about the same period (the beginning of the third century) was Menippus
of Gadara (in northern Palestine). He wrote tales and dialogues in a
mixture of prose and verse. The contents were satirical, the satire being
directed against the contemporary philosophers and their doctrines, and
against the popular notions of the gods. Menippus availed himself partly
of the old criticism of mythology and partly of the philosophical attacks
on the popular conception of the gods. The only novelty was the facetious
form in which he concealed the sting of serious criticism. It is
impossible to decide whether he positively denied the existence of the
gods, but his satire on the popular notions and its success among his
contemporaries at least testifies to the weakening of the popular faith
among the educated classes. In Hellas itself he seems to have gone out of
fashion very early; but the Romans took him up again; Varro and Seneca
imitated him, and Lucian made his name famous again in the Greek world in
the second century after Christ. It is chiefly due to Lucian that we can
form an idea of Menippus’s literary work, hence we shall return to Cynic
satire in our chapter on the age of the Roman Empire.

During our survey of Greek philosophical thought in the Hellenistic period
we have only met with a few cases of atheism in the strict sense, and they
all occur about and immediately after 300, though there does not seem to
be any internal connexion between them. About the same time there appeared
a writer, outside the circle of philosophers, who is regularly listed
among the _atheoi_, and who has given a name to a peculiar theory about
the origin of the idea of the gods, namely, Euhemerus. He is said to have
travelled extensively in the service of King Cassander of Macedonia. At
any rate he published his theological views in the shape of a book of
travel which was, however, wholly fiction. He relates how he came to an
island, Panchaia, in the Indian Ocean, and in a temple there found a
lengthy inscription in which Uranos, Kronos, Zeus and other gods recorded
their exploits. The substance of the tale was that these gods had once
been men, great kings and rulers, who had bestowed on their peoples all
sorts of improvements in civilisation and had thus got themselves
worshipped as gods. It appears from the accounts that Euhemerus supposed
the heavenly bodies to be real and eternal gods—he thought that Uranos had
first taught men to worship them; further, as his theory is generally
understood, it must be assumed that in his opinion the other gods had
ceased to exist as such after their death. This accords with the fact that
Euhemerus was generally characterised as an atheist.

The theory that the gods were at first men was not originated by
Euhemerus, though it takes its name (Euhemerism) from him. The theory had
some support in the popular faith which recognised gods (Heracles,
Asclepius) who had lived as men on earth; and the opinion which was
fundamental to Greek religion, that the gods had _come into existence_,
and had not existed from eternity, would favour this theory. Moreover,
Euhemerus had had an immediate precursor in the slightly earlier Hecataeus
of Abdera, who had set forth a similar theory, with the difference,
however, that he took the view that all excellent men became real gods.
But Euhemerus’s theory appeared just at the right moment and fell on
fertile soil. Alexander the Great and his successors had adopted the
Oriental policy by which the ruler was worshipped as a god, and were
supported in this by a tendency which had already made itself felt
occasionally among the Greeks in the East. Euhemerus only inverted
matters—if the rulers were gods, it was an obvious inference that the gods
were rulers. No wonder that his theory gained a large following. Its great
influence is seen from numerous similar attempts in the Hellenistic world.
At Rome, in the second century, Ennius translated his works into Latin,
and as late as the time of Augustus an author such as Diodorus, in his
popular history of the world, served up Euhemerism as the best scientific
explanation of the origin of religion. It is characteristic, too, that
both Jews and Christians, in their attacks on Paganism, reckoned with
Euhemerism as a well-established theory. As every one knows, it has
survived to our day; Carlyle, I suppose, being its last prominent

It is characteristic of Euhemerism in its most radical form that it
assumed that the gods of polytheism did not exist; so far it is atheism.
But it is no less characteristic that it made the concession to popular
belief that its gods had once existed. Hereby it takes its place, in spite
of its greater radicalism, on the same plane with most other ancient
theories about the origin of men’s notions about the gods. The gods of
popular belief could not survive in the light of ancient thought, which in
its essence was free-thought, not tied down by dogmas. But the
philosophers of old could not but believe that a psychological fact of
such enormous dimensions as ancient polytheism must have something
answering to it in the objective world. Ancient philosophy never got clear
of this dilemma; hence Plato’s open recognition of the absurdity; hence
Aristotle’s delight at being able to meet the popular faith half-way in
his assumption of the divinity of the heavenly bodies; hence Xenocrates’s
demons, the allegories of the Stoics, the ideal Epicureans of Epicurus,
Euhemerus’s early benefactors of mankind. And we may say that the more the
Greeks got to know of the world about them the more they were confirmed in
their view, for in the varied multiplicity of polytheism they found the
same principle everywhere, the same belief in a multitude of beings of a
higher order than man.

Euhemerus’s theory is no doubt the last serious attempt in the old pagan
world to give an explanation of the popular faith which may be called
genuine atheism. We will not, however, leave the Hellenistic period
without casting a glance at some personalities about whom we have
information enough to form an idea at first hand of their religious
standpoint, and whose attitude towards popular belief at any rate comes
very near to atheism pure and simple.

One of them is Polybius. In the above-cited passage referring to the
decline of the popular faith in the Hellenistic period, Polybius also
gives his own theory of the origin of men’s notions regarding the gods. It
is not new. It is the theory known from the Critias fragment, what may be
called the political theory. In the fragment it appears as atheism pure
and simple, and it seems obvious to understand it in the same way in
Polybius. That he shows a leaning towards Euhemerism in another passage
where he speaks about the origin of religious ideas, is in itself not
against this—the two theories are closely related and might very well be
combined. But we have a series of passages in which Polybius expressed
himself in a way that seems quite irreconcilable with a purely atheistic
standpoint. He expressly acknowledged divination and worship as justified;
in several places he refers to disasters that have befallen individuals or
a whole people as being sent by the gods, or even as a punishment for
impiety; and towards the close of his work he actually, in marked contrast
to the tone of its beginning, offers up a prayer to the gods to grant him
a happy ending to his long life. It would seem as if Polybius at a certain
period of his life came under the influence of Stoicism and in consequence
greatly modified his earlier views. That these were of an atheistic
character seems, however, beyond doubt, and that is the decisive point in
this connexion.

Cicero’s philosophical standpoint was that of an Academic, _i.e._ a
Sceptic. But—in accord, for the rest, with the doctrines of the school
just at this period—he employed his liberty as a Sceptic to favour such
philosophical doctrines as seemed to him more reasonable than others,
regardless of the school from which they were derived. In his philosophy
of religion he was more especially a Stoic. He himself expressly insisted
on this point of view in the closing words of his work on the _Nature of
the Gods_. As he was not, and made no pretence of being, a philosopher,
his philosophical expositions have no importance for us; they are
throughout second-hand, mostly mere translations from Greek sources. That
we have employed them in the foregoing pages to throw light on the
theology of the earlier, more especially the Hellenistic, philosophy, goes
without saying. But his personal religious standpoint is not without

As orator and statesman Cicero took his stand wholly on the side of the
established Roman religion, operating with the “immortal gods,” with
Jupiter Optimus Maximus, etc., at his convenience. In his works on the
_State_ and the _Laws_ he adheres decidedly to the established religion.
But all this is mere politics. Personally Cicero had no religion other
than philosophy. Philosophy was his consolation in adversity, or he
attempted to make it so, for the result was often indifferent; and he
looked to philosophy to guide him in ethical questions. We never find any
indication in his writings that the gods of popular belief meant anything
to him in these respects. And what is more—he assumed this off-hand to be
the standpoint of everybody else, and evidently he was justified. A great
number of letters from him to his circle, and not a few from his friends
and acquaintances to him, have been preserved; and in his philosophical
writings he often introduces contemporary Romans as characters in the
dialogue. But in all this literature there is never the faintest
indication that a Roman of the better class entertained, or could even be
supposed to entertain, an orthodox view with regard to the State religion.
To Cicero and his circle the popular faith did not exist as an element of
their personal religion.

Such a standpoint is of course, practically speaking, atheism, and in this
sense atheism was widely spread among the higher classes of the
Graeco-Roman society about the time of the birth of Christ. But from this
to theoretical atheism there is still a good step. Cicero himself affords
an amusing example of how easily people, who have apparently quite
emancipated themselves from the official religion of their community, may
backslide. When his beloved daughter Tullia died in the year 45 B.C., it
became evident that Cicero, in the first violence of his grief, which was
the more overwhelming because he was excluded from political activity
during Cæsar’s dictatorship, could not console himself with philosophy
alone. He wanted something more tangible to take hold on, and so he hit
upon the idea of having Tullia exalted among the gods. He thought of
building a temple and instituting a cult in her honour. He moved heaven
and earth to arrange the matter, sought to buy ground in a prominent place
in Rome, and was willing to make the greatest pecuniary sacrifices to get
a conspicuous result. Nothing came of it all, however; Cicero’s friends,
who were to help him to put the matter through, were perhaps hardly so
eager as he; time assuaged his own grief, and finally he contented himself
with publishing a consolatory epistle written by himself, or, correctly
speaking, translated from a famous Greek work and adapted to the occasion.
So far he ended where he should, _i.e._ in philosophy; but the little
incident is significant, not least because it shows what practical ends
Euhemerism could be brought to serve and how doubtful was its atheistic
character after all. For not only was the contemplated apotheosis of
Tullia in itself a Euhemeristic idea, but Cicero also expressly defended
it with Euhemeristic arguments, though speaking as if the departed who
were worshipped as gods really had become gods.

The attitude of Cicero and his contemporaries towards popular belief was
still the general attitude in the first days of the Empire. It was of no
avail that Augustus re-established the decayed State cult in all its
splendour and variety, or that the poets during his reign, when they
wished to express themselves in harmony with the spirit of the new régime,
directly or indirectly extolled the revived orthodoxy. Wherever we find
personal religious feeling expressed by men of that time, in the Epistles
of Horace, in Virgil’s posthumous minor poems or in such passages in his
greater works where he expresses his own ideals, it is philosophy that is
predominant and the official religion ignored. Virgil was an Epicurean;
Horace an Eclectic, now an Epicurean, then a Stoic; Augustus had a
domestic philosopher. Ovid employed his genius in writing travesties of
the old mythology while at the same time he composed a poem, serious for
him, on the Roman cult; and when disaster befell him and he was cast out
from the society of the capital, which was the breath of life to him, he
was abandoned not only by men, but also by the gods—he had not even a
philosophy with which to console himself. It is only in inferior writers
such as Valerius Maximus, who wrote a work on great deeds—good and
evil—under Tiberius, that we find a different spirit.

Direct utterances about men’s relationship to the gods, from which
conclusions can be drawn, are seldom met with during this period. The
whole question was so remote from the thoughts of these people that they
never mentioned it except when they assumed an orthodox air for political
or aesthetic reasons. Still, here and there we come across something. One
of the most significant pronouncements is that of Pliny the Elder, from
whom we quoted the passage about the worship of Fortune. Pliny opens his
scientific encyclopedia by explaining the structure of the universe in its
broad features; this he does on the lines of the physics of the Stoics,
hence he designates the universe as God. Next comes a survey of special
theology. It is introduced as follows: “I therefore deem it a sign of
human weakness to ask about the shape and form of God. Whoever God is, if
any other god (than the universe) exists at all, and in whatever part of
the world he is, he is all perception, all sight, all hearing, all soul,
all reason, all self.” The popular notions of the gods are then reviewed,
in the most supercilious tone, and their absurdities pointed out. A polite
bow is made to the worship of the Emperors and its motives, the rest is
little but persiflage. Not even Providence, which was recognised by the
Stoics, is acknowledged by Pliny. The conclusion is like the beginning:
“To imperfect human nature it is a special consolation that God also is
not omnipotent (he can neither put himself to death, even if he would,
though he has given man that power and it is his choicest gift in this
punishment which is life; nor can he give immortality to mortals or call
the dead to life; nor can he bring it to pass that those who have lived
have not lived, or that he who has held honourable offices did not hold
them); and that he has no other power over the past than that of oblivion;
and that (in order that we may also give a jesting proof of our
partnership with God) he cannot bring it about that twice ten is not
twenty, and more of the same sort—by all which the power of Nature is
clearly revealed, and that it is this we call God.”

An opinion like that expressed here must without doubt be designated as
atheism, even though it is nothing but the Stoic pantheism logically
carried out. As we have said before, we rarely meet it so directly
expressed, but there can hardly be any doubt that even in the time of
Pliny it was quite common in Rome. At this point, then, had the educated
classes of the ancient world arrived under the influence of Hellenistic


Though the foundation of the Empire in many ways inaugurated a new era for
the antique world, it is, of course, impossible, in an inquiry which is
not confined to political history in the narrowest sense of the word, to
operate with anything but the loosest chronological divisions. Accordingly
in the last chapter we had to include phenomena from the early days of the
Empire in order not to separate things which naturally belonged together.
From the point of view of religious history the dividing line cannot
possibly be drawn at the Emperor Augustus, in spite of his restoration of
worship and the orthodox reaction in the official Augustan poetry, but
rather at about the beginning of the second century. The enthusiasm of the
Augustan Age for the good old times was never much more than affectation.
It quickly evaporated when the promised millennium was not forthcoming,
and was replaced by a reserve which developed into cynicism—but, be it
understood, in the upper circles of the capital only. In the empire at
large the development took its natural tranquil course, unaffected by the
manner in which the old Roman nobility was effacing itself; and this
development did not tend towards atheism.

The reaction towards positive religious feeling, which becomes clearly
manifest in the second century after Christ, though the preparation for it
is undoubtedly of earlier date, is perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon
in the religious history of antiquity. This is not the place to inquire
into its causes, which still remain largely unexplained; there is even no
reason to enter more closely into its outer manifestations, as the thing
itself is doubted by nobody. It is sufficient to mention as instances
authors like Suetonius, with his naïve belief in miracles, and the
rhetorician Aristides, with his Asclepius-cult and general
sanctimoniousness; or a minor figure such as Aelian, who wrote whole books
of a pronounced, nay even fanatical, devotionalism; or within the sphere
of philosophy movements like Neo-Pythagoreanism and Neo-Platonism, both of
which are as much in the nature of mystic theology as attempts at a
scientific explanation of the universe. It is characteristic, too, that an
essentially anti-religious school like that of the Epicureans actually
dies out at this time. Under these conditions our task in this chapter
must be to bring out the comparatively few and weak traces of other
currents which still made themselves felt.

Of the earlier philosophical schools Stoicism flowered afresh in the
second century; the Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself was a prominent
adherent of the creed. This later Stoicism differs, however, somewhat from
the earlier. It limits the scientific apparatus which the early Stoics had
operated with to a minimum, and is almost exclusively concerned with
practical ethics on a religious basis. Its religion is that of ordinary
Stoicism: Pantheism and belief in Providence. But, on the whole, it takes
up a more sympathetic attitude towards popular religion than early
Stoicism had done. Of the bitter criticism of the absurdities of the
worship of the gods and of mythology which is still to be met with as late
as Seneca, nothing remains. On the contrary, participation in public
worship is still enjoined as being a duty; nay, more: attacks on belief in
the gods—in the plain popular sense of the word—are denounced as
pernicious and reprehensible. Perhaps no clearer proof could be adduced of
the revolution which had taken place in the attitude of the educated
classes towards popular religion than this change of front on the part of

Contrary to this was the attitude of another school which was in vogue at
the same time as the Stoic, namely, the Cynic. Between Cynicism and
popular belief strained relations had existed since early times. It is
true, the Cynics did not altogether deny the existence of the gods; but
they rejected worship on the ground that the gods were not in need of
anything, and they denied categorically the majority of the popular ideas
about the gods. For the latter were, in fact, popular and traditional, and
the whole aim of the Cynics was to antagonise the current estimate of
values. A characteristic instance of their manner is provided by this very
period in the fragments of the work of Oenomaus. The work was entitled
_The Swindlers Unmasked_, and it contained a violent attack on oracles.
Its tone is exceedingly pungent. In the extant fragments Oenomaus
addresses the god in Delphi and overwhelms him with insults. But we are
expressly told—and one utterance of Oenomaus himself verifies it—that the
attack was not really directed against the god, but against the men who
gave oracles in his name. In his opinion the whole thing was a priestly
fraud—a view which otherwise was rather unfamiliar to the ancients, but
played an important part later. Incidentally there is a violent attack on
idolatry. The work is not without acuteness of thought and a certain
coarse wit of the true Cynical kind; but it is entirely uncritical
(oracles are used which are evidently inventions of later times) and of no
great significance. It is even difficult to avoid the impression that the
author’s aim is in some degree to create a sensation. Cynics of that day
were not strangers to that kind of thing. But it is at any rate a proof of
the fact that there were at the time tendencies opposed to the religious

A more significant phenomenon of the same kind is to be found in the
writings of Lucian. Lucian was by education a rhetorician, by profession
an itinerant lecturer and essayist. At a certain stage of his life he
became acquainted with the Cynic philosophy and for some time felt much
attracted to it. From that he evidently acquired a sincere contempt of the
vulgar superstition which flourished in his time, even in circles of which
one might have expected something better. In writings which for the
greater part belong to his later period, he pilloried individuals who
traded (or seemed to trade) in the religious ferment of the time, as well
as satirised superstition as such.  In this way he made an important
contribution to the spiritual history of the age. But simultaneously he
produced, for the entertainment of his public, a series of writings the
aim of which is to make fun of the Olympian gods. In this work also he
leant on the literature of the Cynics, but substituted for their grave and
biting satire light causeries or slight dramatic sketches, in which his
wit—for Lucian was really witty—had full scope. As an instance of his
manner I shall quote a short passage from the dialogue _Timon_. It is Zeus
who speaks; he has given Hermes orders to send the god of wealth to Timon,
who has wasted his fortune by his liberality and is now abandoned by his
false friends. Then he goes on: “As to the flatterers you speak of and
their ingratitude, I shall deal with them another time, and they will meet
with their due punishment as soon as I have had my thunderbolt repaired.
The two largest darts of it were broken and blunted the other day when I
got in a rage and flung it at the sophist Anaxagoras, who was trying to
make his disciples believe that we gods do not exist at all. However, I
missed him, for Pericles held his hand over him, but the bolt struck the
temple of the Dioscuri and set fire to it, and the bolt itself was nearly
destroyed when it struck the rock.” This sort of thing abounds in Lucian,
even if it is not always equally amusing and to the point. Now there is
nothing strange in the fact that a witty man for once should feel inclined
to make game of the old mythology; this might have happened almost at any
time, once the critical spirit had been awakened. But that a man, and
moreover an essayist, who had to live by the approval of his public,
should make it his trade, as it were, and that at a time of vigorous
religious reaction, seems more difficult to account for. Lucian’s
controversial pamphlets against superstition cannot be classed off-hand
with his _Dialogues of the Gods_; the latter are of a quite different and
far more harmless character. The fact is rather that mythology at this
time was fair game. It was cut off from its connexion with religion—a
connexion which in historical times was never very intimate and was now
entirely severed. This had been brought about in part by centuries of
criticism of the most varied kind, in part precisely as a result of the
religious reaction which had now set in. If people turned during this time
to the old gods—who, however, had been considerably contaminated with new
elements—it was because they had nothing else to turn to; but what they
now looked for was something quite different from the old religion. The
powerful tradition which had bound members of each small community—we
should say, of each township—to its familiar gods, with all that belonged
to them, was now in process of dissolution; in the larger cities of the
world-empire with their mixed populations it had entirely disappeared.
Religion was no longer primarily a concern of society; it was a personal
matter. In the face of the enormous selection of gods which ancient
paganism came gradually to proffer, the individual was free to choose, as
individual or as a member of a communion based upon religious, not
political, sympathy. Under these circumstances the existence of the gods
and their power and will to help their worshippers was the only thing of
interest; all the old tales about them were more than ever myths of no
religious value. On closer inspection Lucian indeed proves to have
exercised a certain selection in his satire. Gods like Asclepius and
Serapis, who were popular in his day, he prefers to say nothing about; and
even with a phenomenon like Christianity he deals cautiously; he sticks to
the old Olympian gods. Thus his derision of these constitutes an indirect
proof that they had gone out of vogue, and his forbearance on other points
is a proof of the power of the current religion over contemporary minds.
As to ascribing any deeper religious conviction to Lucian—were it even of
a purely negative kind—that is, in view of the whole character of his
work, out of the question. To be sure, his polemical pamphlets against
superstition show clearly, like those of Oenomaus, that the religious
reaction did not run its course without criticism from certain sides; but
even here it is significant that the criticism comes from a professional
jester and not from a serious religious thinker.

A few words remain to be said about the two monotheistic religions which
in the days of the Roman Empire came to play a great, one of them indeed a
decisive, part. I have already referred to pagan society’s attitude
towards Judaism and Christianity, and pointed out that the adherents of
both were designated and treated as atheists—the Jews only occasionally
and with certain reservations, the Christians nearly always and
unconditionally. The question here is, how far this designation was
justified according to the definition of atheism which is the basis of our

In the preceding pages we have several times referred to the fact that the
real enemy of Polytheism is not the philosophical theology, which
generally tends more or less towards Pantheism, but Monotheism. It is in
keeping with this that the Jews and the Christians in practice are
downright deniers of the pagan gods: they would not worship them; whereas
the Greek philosophers as a rule respected worship, however far they went
in their criticism of men’s ideas of the gods. We shall not dwell here on
this aspect of the matter; we are concerned with the theory only. Detailed
expositions of it occur in numerous writings, from the passages in the Old
Testament where heathenism is attacked, to the defences of Christianity by
the latest Fathers of the Church.

The original Jewish view, according to which the heathen gods are real
beings just as much as the God of the Jews themselves—only Jews must not
worship them—is in the later portions of the Old Testament superseded by
the view that the gods are only images made of wood, stone or metal, and
incapable of doing either good or evil. This point of view is taken over
by later Jewish authors and completely dominates them. In those acquainted
with Greek thought it is combined with Euhemeristic ideas: the images
represent dead men. The theory that the gods are really natural
objects—elements or heavenly bodies—is occasionally taken into account
too. Alongside of these opinions there appears also the view that the
pagan gods are evil spirits (demons). It is already found in a few places
in the Old Testament, and after that sporadically and quite incidentally
in later Jewish writings; in one place it is combined with the Old
Testament’s account of the fallen angels. The demon-theory is not an
instrument of Jewish apologetics proper, not even of Philo, though he has
a complete demonology and can hardly have been ignorant of the
Platonic-Stoic doctrine of demons.

Apart from the few and, as it were, incidental utterances concerning
demons, the Jewish view of the pagan gods impresses one as decidedly
atheistic. The god is identical with the idol, and the idol is a dead
object, the work of men’s hands, or the god is identical with a natural
object, made by God to be sure, but without soul or, at any rate, without
divinity. It is remarkable that no Jewish controversialist seriously
envisaged the problem of the real view of the gods embodied in the popular
belief of the ancients, namely, that they are personal beings of a higher
order than man. It is inconceivable that men like Philo, Josephus and the
author of the Wisdom of Solomon should have been ignorant of it. I know
nothing to account for this curious phenomenon; and till some light has
been thrown upon the matter, I should hesitate to assert that the Jewish
conception of Polytheism was purely atheistic, however much appearance it
may have of being so.

It was otherwise with Christian polemical writing. As early as St. Paul
the demon-theory appears distinctly, though side by side with utterances
of seemingly atheistic character. Other New Testament authors, too,
designate the gods as demons. The subsequent apologists, excepting the
earliest, Aristides, lay the main stress on demonology, but include for
the sake of completeness idolatry and the like, sometimes without caring
about or trying to conciliate the contradictions. In the long run
demonology is victorious; in St. Augustine, the foremost among Christian
apologists, there is hardly any other point of view that counts.

To trace the Christian demonology in detail and give an account of its
various aspects is outside the scope of this essay. Its origin is a
twofold one, partly the Jewish demonology, which just at the commencement
of our era had received a great impetus, partly the theory of the Greek
philosophers, which we have characterised above when speaking of
Xenocrates. The Christian doctrine regarding demons differs from the
latter, especially by the fact that it does not acknowledge good demons;
they were all evil. This was the indispensable basis for the interdict
against the worship of demons; in its further development the Christians,
following Jewish tradition, pointed to an origin in the fallen angels, and
thus effected a connexion with the Old Testament. While they at the same
time retained its angelology they had to distinguish good and evil beings
intermediate between god and man; but they carefully avoided designating
the angels as demons, and kept them distinct from the pagan gods, who were
all demons and evil.

The application of demonology to the pagan worship caused certain
difficulties in detail. To be sure, it was possible to identify a given
pagan god with a certain demon, and this was often done; but it was
impossible to identify the Pagans’ conceptions of their gods with the
Christians’ conceptions of demons. The Pagans, in fact, ascribed to their
gods not only demoniac (diabolical) but also divine qualities, which the
Christians absolutely denied them. Consequently they had to recognise that
pagan worship to a great extent rested on a delusion, on a misconception
of the essential character of the gods which were worshipped. This view
was corroborated by the dogma of the fallen angels, which was altogether
alien to paganism. By identifying them with the evil spirits of the Bible,
demon-names were even obtained which differed from those of the pagan gods
and, of course, were the correct ones; were they not given in Holy Writ?
In general, the Christians, who possessed an authentic revelation of the
matter, were of course much better informed about the nature of the pagan
gods than the Pagans themselves, who were groping in the dark. Euhemerism,
which plays a great part in the apologists, helped in the same direction:
the supposition that the idols were originally men existed among the
Pagans themselves, and it was too much in harmony with the tendency of the
apologists to be left unemployed. It was reconciled with demonology by the
supposition that the demons had assumed the masks of dead heroes; they had
beguiled mankind to worship them in order to possess themselves of the
sacrifices, which they always coveted, and by this deception to be able to
rule and corrupt men. The Christians also could not avoid recognising that
part of the pagan worship was worship of natural objects, in particular of
the heavenly bodies; and this error of worshipping the “creation instead
of the creator” was so obvious that the Christians were not inclined to
resort to demonology for an explanation of this phenomenon, the less so as
they could not identify the sun or the moon with a demon. The conflict of
these different points of view accounts for the peculiar vacillation in
the Christian conception of paganism. On one hand, we meet with crude
conceptions, according to which the pagan gods are just like so many
demons; they are specially prominent when pagan miracles and prophecies
are to be explained. On the other hand, there is a train of thought which
carried to its logical conclusion would lead to conceiving paganism as a
whole as a huge delusion of humanity, but a delusion caused indeed by
supernatural agencies. This conclusion hardly presented itself to the
early Church; later, however, it was drawn and caused a not inconsiderable
shifting in men’s views and explanations of paganism.

Demonology is to such a degree the ruling point of view in Christian
apologetics that it would be absurd to make a collection from these
writings of utterances with an atheistic ring. Such utterances are to be
found in most of them; they appear spontaneously, for instance, wherever
idolatry is attacked. But one cannot attach any importance to them when
they appear in this connexion, not even in apologists in whose works the
demon theory is lacking. No Christian theologian in antiquity advanced,
much less sustained, the view that the pagan gods were mere phantoms of
human imagination without any corresponding reality.

Remarkable as this state of things may appear to us moderns, it is really
quite simple, nay even a matter of course, when regarded historically.
Christianity had from its very beginning a decidedly dualistic character.
The contrast between this world and the world to come was identical with
the contrast between the kingdom of the Devil and the kingdom of God. As
soon as the new religion came into contact with paganism, the latter was
necessarily regarded as belonging to the kingdom of the Devil; thus the
conception of the gods as demons was a foregone conclusion. In the minds
of the later apologists, who became acquainted with Greek philosophy, this
conception received additional confirmation; did it not indeed agree in
the main with Platonic and Stoic theory? Details were added: the
Christians could not deny the pagan miracles without throwing a doubt on
their own, for miracles cannot be done away with at all except by a denial
on principle; neither could they explain paganism—that gigantic,
millennial aberration of humanity—by merely human causes, much less lay
the blame on God alone. But ultimately all this rests on one and the same
thing—the supernatural and dualistic hypothesis. Consequently demonology
is the kernel of the Christian conception of paganism: it is not merely a
natural result of the hypotheses, it is the one and only correct
expression of the way in which the new religion understood the old.


In the preceding inquiry we took as our starting-point not the ancient
conception of atheism but the modern view of the nature of the pagan gods.
It proved that this view was, upon the whole, feebly represented during
antiquity, and that it was another view (demonology) which was transmitted
to later ages from the closing years of antiquity. The inquiry will
therefore find its natural conclusion in a demonstration of the time and
manner in which the conception handed down from antiquity of the nature of
paganism was superseded and displaced by the modern view.

This question is, however, more difficult to answer than one would perhaps
think. After ancient paganism had ceased to exist as a living religion, it
had lost its practical interest, and theoretically the Middle Ages were
occupied with quite other problems than the nature of paganism. At the
revival of the study of ancient literature, during the Renaissance, people
certainly again came into the most intimate contact with ancient religion
itself, but systematic investigations of its nature do not seem to have
been taken up in real earnest until after the middle of the sixteenth
century. It is therefore difficult to ascertain in what light paganism was
regarded during the thousand years which had then passed since its final
extinction. From the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on the other
hand, the material is extraordinarily plentiful, though but slightly
investigated. Previous works in this field seem to be entirely wanting; at
any rate it has not been possible for me to find any collective treatment
of the subject, nor even any contributions worth mentioning towards the
solution of the numerous individual problems which arise when we enter
upon what might be called “the history of the history of religion.”(1) In
this essay I must therefore restrict myself to a few aphoristic remarks
which may perhaps give occasion for this subject, in itself not devoid of
interest, to receive more detailed treatment at some future time.

Milton, in the beginning of _Paradise Lost_, which appeared in 1667, makes
Satan assemble all his angels for continued battle against God. Among the
demons there enumerated, ancient gods also appear; they are, then, plainly
regarded as devils. Now Milton was not only a poet, but also a sound
scholar and an orthodox theologian; we may therefore rest assured that his
conception of the pagan gods was dogmatically correct and in accord with
the prevailing views of his time. In him, therefore, we have found a fixed
point from which we can look forwards and backwards; as late as after the
middle of the seventeenth century the early Christian view of the nature
of paganism evidently persisted in leading circles.

We seldom find definite heathen gods so precisely designated as demons as
in Milton, but no doubt seems possible that the general principle was
accepted by contemporary and earlier authors. The chief work of the
seventeenth century on ancient religion is the _De Theologia Gentili_ of
G. I. Voss; he operates entirely with the traditional view. It may be
traced back through a succession of writings of the seventeenth and
sixteenth centuries. They are all, or almost all, agreed that antique
paganism was the work of the devil, and that idolatry was, at any rate in
part, a worship of demons. From the Middle Ages I can adduce a pregnant
expression of the same view from Thomas Aquinas; in his treatment of
idolatry and also of false prophecy he definitely accepts the demonology
of the early Church. On this point he appeals to Augustine, and with
perfect right; from this it may presumably be assumed that the Schoolmen
in general had the same view, Augustine being, as we know, an authority
for Catholic theologians.

In mediaeval poets also we occasionally find the same view expressed. As
far as I have been able to ascertain, Dante has no ancient gods among his
devils, and the degree to which he had dissociated himself from ancient
paganism may be gauged by the fact that in one of the most impassioned
passages of his poem he addresses the Christian God as “Great Jupiter.”
But he allows figures of ancient mythology such as Charon, Minos and
Geryon to appear in his infernal world, and when he designates the pagan
gods as “false and _untruthful_,” demonology is evidently at the back of
his mind. The mediaeval epic poets who dealt with antique subjects took
over the pagan gods more or less. Sometimes, as in the Romance of Troy,
the Christian veneer is so thick that the pagan groundwork is but slightly
apparent; in other poems, such as the adaptation of the _Aeneid_, it is
more in evidence. In so far as the gods are not eliminated they seem as a
rule to be taken over quite naïvely from the source without further
comment; but occasionally the poet expresses his view of their nature.
Thus the French adapter of Statius’s _Thebaïs_, in whose work the
Christian element is otherwise not prominent, cautiously remarks that
Jupiter and Tisiphone, by whom his heroes swear, are in reality only
devils. Generally speaking, the gods of antiquity are often designated as
devils in mediaeval poetry, but at times the opinion that they are
departed human beings crops up. Thus, as we might expect, the theories of
ancient times still survive and retain their sway.

There is a domain in which we might expect to find distinct traces of the
survival of the ancient gods in the mediaeval popular consciousness,
namely, that of magic. There does not, however, seem to be much in it; the
forms of mediaeval magic often go back to antiquity, but the beings it
operates with are pre-eminently the Christian devils, if we may venture to
employ the term, and the evil spirits of popular belief. There is,
however, extant a collection of magic formulae against various ailments in
which pagan gods appear: Hercules and Juno Regina, Juno and Jupiter, the
nymphs, Luna Jovis filia, Sol invictus. The collection is transmitted in a
manuscript of the ninth century; the formulae mostly convey the impression
of dating from a much earlier period, but the fact that they were copied
in the Middle Ages suggests that they were intended for practical

A problem, the closer investigation of which would no doubt yield an
interesting result, but which does not seem to have been much noticed, is
the European conception of the heathen religions with which the explorers
came into contact on their great voyages of discovery. Primitive
heathenism as a living reality had lain rather beyond the horizon of the
Middle Ages; when it was met with in America, it evidently awakened
considerable interest. There is a description of the religion of Peru and
Mexico, written by the Jesuit Acosta at the close of the sixteenth
century, which gives us a clear insight into the orthodox view of
heathenism during the Renaissance. According to Acosta, heathenism is as a
whole the work of the Devil; he has seduced men to idolatry in order that
he himself may be worshipped instead of the true God. All worship of idols
is in reality worship of Satan. The individual idols, however, are not
identified with individual devils; Acosta distinguishes between the
worship of nature (heavenly bodies, natural objects of the earth, right
down to trees, etc.), the worship of the dead, and the worship of images,
but says nothing about the worship of demons. At one point only is there a
direct intervention of the evil powers, namely, in magic, and particularly
in oracles; and here then we find, as an exception, mention of individual
devils which must be imagined to inhabit the idols. The same conception is
found again as late as the seventeenth century in a story told by G. I.
Voss of the time of the Dutch wars in Brazil. Arcissewski, a Polish
officer serving in the Dutch army, had witnessed the conjuring of a devil
among the Tapuis. The demon made his appearance all right, but proved to
be a native well known to Arcissewski. As he, however, made some true
prognostications, Voss, as it seems at variance with Arcissewski, thinks
that there must have been some supernatural powers concerned in the game.

An exceptional place is occupied by the attempt made during the
Renaissance at an actual revival of ancient paganism and the worship of
its gods. It proceeded from Plethon, the head of the Florentine Academy,
and seems to have spread thence to the Roman Academy. The whole movement
must be viewed more particularly as an outcome of the enthusiasm during
the Renaissance for the culture of antiquity and more especially for its
philosophy rather than its religion; the gods worshipped were given a new
and strongly philosophical interpretation. But it is not improbable that
the traditional theory of the reality of the ancient deities may have had
something to do with it.

Simultaneously with demonology, and while it was still acknowledged in
principle, there flourished more naturalistic conceptions of paganism,
both in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. As remarked above, the
way was already prepared for them during antiquity. In Thomas Aquinas we
find a lucid explanation of the origin of idolatry with a reference to the
ancient theory. Here we meet with the familiar elements: the worship of
the stars and the cult of the dead. According to Thomas, man has a natural
disposition towards this error, but it only comes into play when he is led
astray by demons. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Devil is
mentioned oftener than the demons (compare Acosta’s view of the heathenism
of the American Indians); evidently the conception of the nature of evil
had undergone a change in the direction of monotheism. In this way more
scope was given for the adoption of naturalistic views in regard to the
individual forms in which paganism manifested itself than when dealing
with a multiplicity of demons that answered individually to the pagan
gods, and we meet with systematic attempts to explain the origin of
idolatry by natural means, though still with the Devil in the background.

One of these systems, which played a prominent part, especially in the
seventeenth century, is the so-called Hebraism, _i.e._ the attempt to
derive the whole of paganism from Judaism. This fashion, for which the way
had already been prepared by Jewish and Christian apologists, reaches its
climax, I think, with Abbot Huet, who derived all the gods of antiquity
(and not only Greek and Roman antiquity) from Moses, and all the goddesses
from his sister; according to him the knowledge of these two persons had
spread from the Jews to other peoples, who had woven about them a web of
“fables.” Alongside of Hebraism, which is Euhemeristic in principle,
allegorical methods of interpretation were put forward. The chief
representative of this tendency in earlier times is Natalis Comes (Noël du
Comte), the author of the first handbook of mythology; he directly set
himself the task of allegorising all the myths. The allegories are mostly
moral, but also physical; Euhemeristic interpretations are not rejected
either, and in several places the author gives all three explanations side
by side without choosing between them.  In the footsteps of du Comte
follows Bacon, in his _De Sapientia Veterum_; to the moral and physical
allegories he adds political ones, as when Jove’s struggle with Typhoeus
is made to symbolise a wise ruler’s treatment of a rebellion. While these
attempts at interpretation, both the Euhemeristic and the allegorical, are
in principle a direct continuation of those of antiquity, another method
points plainly in the direction of the fantastic notions of the Middle
Ages. As early as the sixteenth century the idea arose of connecting the
theology of the ancients with alchemy. The idea seemed obvious because the
metals were designated by the names of the planets, which are also the
names of the gods. It found acceptance, and in the seventeenth century we
have a series of writings in which ancient mythology is explained as the
symbolical language of chemical processes.

Within the limits of the supernatural explanation the interest centred
more and more in a single point: the oracles. As far back as in Aquinas,
“false prophecy” is a main section in the chapter on demons, whose power
to foretell the future he expressly acknowledges. In the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, when the interest in the prediction of the future
was so strong, the ancient accounts of true prognostications were the real
prop of demonology. Hence demons generally play a great part in these
explanations, even though in other cases the Devil fills the bill. Thus
Acosta in his account of the American religions; thus Voss and numerous
other writers of the seventeenth century; and it is hardly a mere
accident, one would think, when Milton specially mentions Dodona and
Delphi as the seats of worship of the Greek demons. Among a few of the
humanists we certainly find an attempt to apply the natural explanation
even here; thus Caelius Rhodiginus asserted that a great part (but not
all!) of the oracular system might be explained as priestly imposture, and
his slightly younger contemporary Caelius Calcagninus, in his dialogue on
oracles, seems to go still further and to deny the power of predicting the
future to any other being than the true God. An exceptional position is
occupied by Pomponazzi, who in his little pamphlet _De Incantationibus_
seems to wish to derive all magic, including the oracles, from natural
causes, though ultimately he formally acknowledges demonology as the
authoritative explanation. But these advances did not find acceptance; we
find even Voss combating the view on which they were founded. It is
characteristic of the power of demonology in this domain that in support
of his point of view he can quote no less a writer than Machiavelli.

The author who opened battle in real earnest against demonology was a
Dutch scholar, one van Dale, otherwise little known. In a couple of
treatises written about the close of the seventeenth century he tried to
show that the whole of idolatry (as well as the oracles in particular) was
not dependent on the intervention of supernatural beings, but was solely
due to imposture on the part of the priests. Van Dale was a Protestant, so
he easily got over the unanimous recognition of demonology by the Fathers
of the Church. The accounts of demons in the Old and New Testaments proved
more difficult to deal with; it is interesting to see how he wriggles
about to get round them—and it illustrates most instructively the degree
to which demonology affords the only reasonable and natural explanation of
paganism on the basis of early Christian belief.

Van Dale’s books are learned works written in Latin, full of quotations in
Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and moreover confused and obscure in exposition,
as is often the case with Dutch writings of that time. But a clever
Frenchman, Fontenelle, took upon himself the task of rendering his work on
the oracles into French in a popular and attractive form. His book called
forth an answering pamphlet from a Jesuit advocating the traditional view;
the little controversy seems to have made some stir in France about the
year 1700. At any rate Banier, who, in the beginning of the eighteenth
century, treated ancient mythology from a Euhemeristic point of view, gave
some consideration to it. His own conclusion is—in 1738!—that demonology
cannot be dispensed with for the explanation of the oracles. He gives his
grounds for this in a very sensible criticism of van Dale’s priestly fraud
theory, the absurdity of which he exposes with sound arguments.

Banier is the last author to whom I can point for the demon-theory applied
as an explanation of a phenomenon in ancient religion; I have not found it
in any other mythologist of the eighteenth century, and even in Banier,
with the exception of this single point, everything is explained quite
naturally according to the best Euhemeristic models. But in the positive
understanding of the nature of ancient paganism no very considerable
advance had actually been made withal. A characteristic example of this is
the treatment of ancient religion by such an eminent intellect as
Giambattista Vico. In his _Scienza Nuova_, which appeared in 1725, as the
foundation of his exposition of the religion of antiquity he gives a
characterisation of the mode of thought of primitive mankind, which is so
pertinent and psychologically so correct that it anticipates the results
of more than a hundred years of research. Of any supernatural explanation
no trace is found in him, though otherwise he speaks as a good Catholic.
But when he proceeds to explain the nature of the ancient ideas of the
gods in detail, all that it comes to is a series of allegories, among
which the politico-social play a main part. Vico sees the earliest history
of mankind in the light of the traditions about Rome; the Graeco-Roman
gods, then, and the myths about them, become to him largely an expression
of struggles between the “patricians and plebeians” of remote antiquity.

Most of the mythology of the eighteenth century is like this. The
Euhemeristic school gradually gave up the hypothesis of the Jewish
religion as the origin of paganism; Banier, the chief representative of
the school, still argues at length against Hebraism. In its place,
Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians and, above all, Egyptians, are brought
into play, or, as in the case of the Englishman Bryant, the whole of
mythology is explained as reminiscences of the exploits of an aboriginal
race, the Cuthites, which never existed. The allegorist school gradually
rallied round the idea of the cult of the heavenly bodies as the origin of
the pagan religions; as late as the days of the French Revolution, Dupuis,
in a voluminous work, tried to trace the whole of ancient religion and
mythology back to astronomy. On the whole the movement diverged more and
more from Euhemerism towards the conception of Greek religion as a kind of
cult of nature; when the sudden awakening to a more correct understanding
came towards the close of the century, Euhemerism was evidently already an
antiquated view. Thus, since the Renaissance, by a slow and very devious
process of development, a gradual approach had been made to a more correct
view of the nature of ancient religion. After the Devil had more or less
taken the place of the demons, the rest of demonology, the moral allegory,
Hebraism and Euhemerism were eliminated by successive stages, and
nature-symbolism was reached as the final stage.

We know now that even this is not the correct explanation of the nature
and origin of the conception of the gods prevailing among the ancients.
Recent investigations have shown that the Greek gods, in spite of their
apparent simplicity and clarity, are highly complex organisms, the
products of a long process of development to which the most diverse
factors have contributed. In order to arrive at this result another
century of work, with many attempts in the wrong direction, has been
required. The idea that the Greek gods were nature-gods really dominated
research through almost the whole of the nineteenth century. If it has now
been dethroned or reduced to the measure of truth it contains—for
undoubtedly a natural object enters as a component into the essence of
some Greek deities—this is in the first place due to the intensive study
of the religions of primitive peoples, living or obsolete; and the results
of this study were only applied to Greek religion during the last decade
of the century. But the starting-point of modern history of religion lies
much farther back: its beginnings date from the great revival of
historical research which was inaugurated by Rousseau and continued by
Herder. Henceforward the unhistorical methods of the age of enlightenment
were abolished, and attention directed in real earnest towards the earlier
stages of human civilisation.

This, however, carries us a step beyond the point of time at which this
sketch should, strictly speaking, stop. For by the beginning of the
eighteenth century—but not before—the negative fact which is all important
in this connexion had won recognition: namely, that there existed no
supernatural beings latent behind the Greek ideas of their gods, and
corresponding at any rate in some degree to them; but that these ideas
must be regarded and explained as entirely inventions of the human


At the very beginning of this inquiry it was emphasised that its theme
would in the main be the religious views of the upper class, and within
this sphere again especially the views of those circles which were in
close touch with philosophy. The reason for this is of course in the first
place that only in such circles can we expect to find expressed a point of
view approaching to positive atheism. But we may assuredly go further than
this. We shall hardly be too bold in asserting that the free-thinking of
philosophically educated men in reality had very slight influence on the
great mass of the population. Philosophy did not penetrate so far, and
whatever degree of perception we estimate the masses to have had of the
fact that the upper layer of society regarded the popular faith with
critical eyes—and in the long run it could not be concealed—we cannot fail
to recognise that religious development among the ancients did not tend
towards atheism. Important changes took place in ancient religion during
the Hellenistic Age and the time of the Roman Empire, but their causes
were of a social and national kind, and, if we confine ourselves to
paganism, they only led to certain gods going out of fashion and others
coming in. The utmost we can assert is that a certain weakening of the
religious life may have been widely prevalent during the time of
transition between the two ages—the transition falls at somewhat different
dates in the eastern and western part of the Empire—but that weakening was
soon overcome.

Now the peculiar result of this investigation of the state of religion
among the upper classes seems to me to be this: the curve of intensity of
religious feeling which conjecture leads us to draw through the spiritual
life of the ancients as a whole, that same curve, but more distinct and
sharply accentuated, is found again in the relations of the upper classes
to the popular faith. Towards the close of the fifth century it looks as
if the cultured classes that formed the centre of Greek intellectual life
were outgrowing the ancient religion. The reaction which set in with
Socrates and Plato certainly checked this movement, but it did not stop
it. Cynics, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics, in spite of
their widely differing points of view, were all entirely unable to share
the religious ideas of their countrymen in the form in which they were
cast in the national religion. However many allowances they made, their
attitude towards the popular faith was critical, and on important points
they denied it. It is against the background thus resulting from ancient
philosophy’s treatment of ancient religion that we must view such
phenomena as Polybius, Cicero, and Pliny the Elder, if we wish to
understand their full significance.

On the other hand, it is certain that this was not the view that conquered
in the end among the educated classes in antiquity. The lower we come down
in the Empire the more evident does the positive relation of the upper
class to the gods of the popular faith become. Some few examples have
already been mentioned in the preceding pages. In philosophy the whole
movement finds its typical expression in demonology, which during the
later Empire reigned undisputed in the one or two schools that still
retained any vitality. It is significant that its source was the earlier
Platonism, with its very conservative attitude towards popular belief, and
that it was taken over by the later Stoic school, which inaugurated the
general religious reaction in philosophy. And it is no less significant
that demonology was swallowed whole by the monotheistic religion which
superseded ancient paganism, and for more than a thousand years was the
recognised explanation of the nature thereof.

In accordance with the line of development here sketched, the inquiry has
of necessity been focused on two main points: Sophistic and the
Hellenistic Age. Now it is of peculiar interest to note what small traces
of pure atheism can after all be found here, in spite of all criticism of
the popular faith. We have surmised its presence among a few prominent
personalities in fifth-century Athens; we have found evidence of its
extension in the same place in the period immediately following; and in
the time of transition between the fourth and third centuries we have
thought it likely that it existed among a very few philosophers, of whom
none are in the first rank. Everywhere else we find adjustments, in part
very serious and real concessions, to popular belief. Not to mention the
attitude towards worship, which was only hostile in one sect of slight
importance: the assumption of the divinity of the heavenly bodies which
was common to the Academics, Peripatetics, and Stoics is really in
principle an acknowledgement of the popular faith, whose conception of the
gods was actually borrowed and applied, not to some philosophical
abstraction, but to individual and concrete natural objects. The
anthropomorphic gods of the Epicureans point in the same direction. In
spite of their profound difference from the beings that were worshipped
and believed in by the ordinary Greek, they are in complete harmony with
the opinion on which all polytheism is based: that there are individual
beings of a higher order than man. And though the Stoics in theory
confined their acknowledgment of this doctrine to the heavenly bodies, in
practice—even if we disregard demonology—they consistently brought it to
bear upon the anthropomorphic gods, in direct continuation of the Socratic
reaction against the atheistic tendencies of Sophistic.

If now we ask ourselves what may be the cause of this peculiar dualism in
the relationship of ancient thought to religion, though admitting the
highly complex nature of the problem, we can scarcely avoid recognising a
certain principle. Ancient thought outgrew the ancient popular faith; that
is beyond doubt. Hence its critical attitude. But it never outgrew that
supernaturalist view which was the foundation of the popular faith. Hence
its concessions to the popular faith, even when it was most critical, and
its final surrender thereunto. And that it never outgrew the foundation of
the popular faith is connected with its whole conception of nature and
especially with its conception of the universe. We cannot indeed deny that
the ancients had a certain feeling that nature was regulated by laws, but
they only made imperfect attempts at a mechanical theory of nature in
which this regulation of the world by law was carried through in
principle, and with one brilliant exception they adhered implicitly to the
geocentric conception of the universe. We may, I think, venture to assert
with good reason that on such assumptions the philosophers of antiquity
could not advance further than they did. In other words, on the given
hypotheses the supernaturalist view was the correct one, the one that was
most probable, and therefore that on which people finally agreed. A few
chosen spirits may at any time by intuition, without any strictly
scientific foundation, emancipate themselves entirely from religious
errors; this also happened among the ancients, and on the first occasion
was not unconnected with an enormous advance in the conception of nature.
But it is certain that the views of an entire age are always decisively
conditioned by its knowledge and interpretation of the universe
surrounding it, and cannot in principle be emancipated therefrom.

Seen from this point of view, our brief sketch of the attitude of
posterity towards the religion of the pagan world will also not be without
interest. If, after isolated advances during the mighty awakening of the
Renaissance, it is not until the transition from the seventeenth to the
eighteenth century that we find the modern atheistic conception of the
nature of the gods of the ancients established in principle and
consistently applied, we can scarcely avoid connecting this fact with the
advance of natural science in the seventeenth century, and not least with
the victory of the heliocentric system. After the close of antiquity the
pagan gods had receded to a distance, practically speaking, because they
were not worshipped any more. No one troubled himself about them. But in
theory one had got no further, _i.e._ no advance had been made on the
ancients, and no advance could be made as long as supernaturalism was
adhered to in connexion with the ancient view of the universe. Through
monotheism the notions of the divinity of the sun, moon and planets had
certainly been got rid of, but not so the notion of the world—_i.e._ the
globe enclosed within the firmament—as filled with personal beings of a
higher order than man; and even the duty of turning the spheres to which
the heavenly bodies were believed to be fastened was—quite
consistently—assigned to some of these beings. As long as such notions
were in operation, not only were there no grounds for denying the reality
of the pagan gods, but there was every reason to assume it. So far we may
rightly say that it was Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, Kepler and
Newton that did away with the traditional conception of ancient paganism.

Natural science, however, furnishes only the negative result that the gods
of polytheism are not what they are said to be: real beings of a higher
order than man. To reveal what they are, other knowledge is required. This
was not attained until long after the revival of natural science in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The vacillation in the eighteenth
century between various theories of the explanation of the nature of
ancient polytheism—theories which were all false, though not equally
false—is in this respect significant enough; likewise the gradual progress
which characterises research in the nineteenth century, and which may be
indicated by such names as Heyne, Buttmann, K. O. Müller, Lobeck,
Mannhardt, Rohde, and Usener, to mention only some of the most important
and omitting those still alive. Viewed in this light the development
sketched here within a narrowly restricted field is typical of the course
of European intellectual history from antiquity down to our day.


Of Atheism in Antiquity as defined here no treatment is known to me; but
there exist an older and a newer book that deal with the question within a
wider compass. The first of these is Krische, _Die theologischen Lehren
der griechischen Denker_ (Göttingen, 1840); it is chiefly concerned with
the philosophical conceptions of deity, but it touches also on the
relations of philosophers to popular religion. The second is Decharme, _La
critique des traditions religieuses chez les Grecs_ (Paris, 1904); it is
not fertile in new points of view, but it has suggested several details
which I might else have overlooked. Such books as Caird, _The Evolution of
Theology in the Greek Philosophers_ (Glasgow, 1904), or Moon, _Religious
Thought of the Greeks_ (Cambridge, Mass., 1919), barely touch on the
relation to popular belief; of Louis, _Les doctrines religieuses des
philosophes grecs_, I have not been able to make use. I regret that Poul
Helms, _The Conception of God in Greek Philosophy_ (Danish, in _Studier
for Sprog-og Oldtidsforskning_, No. 115), was not published until my essay
was already in the press. General works on Atheism are indicated in
Aveling’s article, “Atheism,” in the _Catholic Encyclopædia_, vol. ii.,
but none of them seem to be found at Copenhagen. In the _Dictionary of
Religion and Ethics_, ii., there is a detailed article on Atheism in its
relation to different religions; the section treating of Antiquity is
written by Pearson, but is meagre. Works like Zeller, _Philosophie der
Griechen_, and Gomperz, _Griechische Denker_, contain accounts of the
attitude of philosophers (Gomperz also includes others) towards popular
belief; of these books I have of course made use throughout, but they are
not referred to in the following notes except on special occasion.
Scattered remarks and small monographs on details are naturally to be
found in plenty. Where I have met with such and found something useful in
them, or where I express dissent from them, I have noticed it; but I have
not aimed at exhausting the literature on my subject. On the other hand I
have tried to make myself completely acquainted with the first-hand
material, wherever it gave a direct support for assuming Atheism, and to
take my own view of it. In many cases, however, the argumentation has had
to be indirect: it has been necessary to draw inferences from what an
author does not say in a certain connexion when he might be expected to
say it, or what he generally and throughout avoids mentioning, or from his
general manner and peculiarities in his way of speaking of the gods. In
such cases I have often had to be content with my previous knowledge and
my general impression of the facts; but then I have as a rule made use of
the important modern literature on the subject. In working out the sketch
of the ideas after the end of Antiquity, I have been almost without any
guidance in modern literature. I have accordingly had to try, on the basis
of a superficial acquaintance with some of the chief types, to form for
myself, as best I might, some idea of the course of the evolution; but I
have not been able to go systematically through the immense material,
however fruitful such a research appeared to be. In the meantime, between
the publication of my Danish essay and this translation, there has
appeared a work by Mr. Gruppe, _Geschichte der klassischen Mythologie und
Religionsgeschichte_ (Leipzig, 1921). My task in writing my last chapters
would have been much easier if I could have made use of Mr. Gruppe’s
learned and comprehensive treatment of the subject; but it would not have
been superfluous, for Mr. Gruppe deals principally with the history of
classical mythology, not with the history of the belief in the gods of
antiquity. So I have ventured to let my sketch stand as it is, only
reducing some of the notes (which I had on purpose made rather full, to
aid others who might pursue the subject) by referring to Mr. Gruppe
instead of to the sources themselves.

For kindly helping me to find my bearings in out-of-the-way parts of my
subject, I am indebted to my colleagues F. Buhl, I.L. Heiberg, I.C.
Jacobsen and Kr. Nyrop, as well as to Prof. Martin P. Nilsson in Lund.

P. 1. Definition of Atheism: see the article in the _Catholic Encycl._
vol. ii.

P. 5. Atheism: see Murray, _New Engl. Dict._, under Atheism and -ism. The
word seems to have come up in the Renaissance.

P. 6. Criminal Law at Athens: see Lipsius, _Das attische Recht und
Rechtsverfahren_, i. p. 358.—The definition in Aristotle, _de virt. et
vit._ 7, p. 1251_a_, has, I think, no legal foundation.

P. 9. On the legal foundation for the trials of Christians, see Mommsen,
_Der Religionsfreuel nach römischem Recht_ (_Ges. Schr._ iii. p.
389).—Mommsen goes too far, I think, in supposing a legal foundation for
the trials of Christians; above all, I do not believe that the defection
from the Roman religion was ever considered as maiestas in the technical
sense of the word, the more so as it is certain that, after the earliest
period, no difference was made in the treatment of citizens and aliens.

P. 13. Lists of atheists: Cicero, _de nat. deor._ 1. 1, 2 (comp. 1. 23,
26). Sext. Emp. _hypotyp._ 3. 213; _adv. math._ 9. 50. Aelian, _v.h._ 2.
31; _de nat. an._ 6. 40.—The predicate _atheos_ is once applied to
Anaxagoras by a Christian author (Irenaeus: see Diels, _Vorsokr._ 46, A
113; compare also Marcellinus, _vit. Thuc._, see below, note on p. 29). Of
such isolated cases I have taken no account.

P. 16. On the dualism in the Greek conception of the nature of gods see
Nägelsbach, _Hom. Theol._ p. 11.—Pindar: _Ol._ 1. 28, 9. 35; _Pyth._ 3.

P. 17. Xenophanes: Einhorn, _Zeit- und Streitfragen der modernen
Xenophanesforschung_ (_Arch. f. Gesch. d. Philos._ xxxi.).

P. 18. Xenophanes’s age: Diels, _Vorsokr._ 11, B 8.—His criticism of Homer
and Hesiod: _ibid._ 11, 12.—Titans and Giants: _ibid._ 1. 22.—Criticism of
Anthropomorphism: _ibid._ 14-16.—Divination: Cic. _de div._ 1. 3, 5.

P. 19. On Xenophanes’s conception of God, comp. _Vorsokr._ 11, B 23-26; on
the identification of God with the universe: _Vorsokr._ 11, A 30, 31,
33-36.—Cicero: _de div._ 1. 3, 5.

P. 21. For Xenophanes’s theology, comp. Freudenthal, _Arch. f. Gesch. d.
Philos._ i. p. 322, and Zeller’s criticism, _ibid._ p. 524. Agreeing with
Freudenthal: Decharme, p. 46; Campbell, _Religion in Greek Literature_, p.

P. 21. Parmenides does not even appear to have designated his “Being” as
God (Zeller, i. p. 563).

P. 23. In the eighteenth century people discussed diffusely the question
whether Thales was an atheist (of course in the sense in which the word
was taken at that time); comp. Tennemann, _Gesch. d. Philos._ i. pp. 62
and 422. Tennemann remarks quite truly that the question is put wrongly.

P. 24. Thales: Diels, _Vorsokr._ 1, A 22-23.—Attitude of Democritus
towards popular belief: _Vorsokr._ 55, A 74-79; comp. 116, 117; B 166, and
also B 30. Diels, _Ueber den Dämonenglauben des D._ (_Arch. f. Gesch. d.
Philos._ 1894, p. 154).

P. 25. Trial of Anaxagoras: _Vorsokr._ 46, A 1, 17, 18, 19.

P. 26. Ram’s head: _Vorsokr._ 46, A 16.

P. 27. Geffcken (in _Hermes_, 42, p. 127) has tried to make out something
about a criticism of popular belief by Anaxagoras from some passages in
Aristophanes (_Nub._ 398) and Lucian (_Tim._ 10, etc.), but I do not think
he has succeeded.—Pericles a free-thinker: Plut. _Pericl._ 6 and 38; comp.
Decharme, p. 160.—Personality of Anaxagoras: _Vorsokr._ 46, A 30
(Aristotle, _Eud. Ethics_, A 4, p. 1215_b_, 6).

P. 28. Herodotus: 8, 77.—Sophocles: _Oed. rex._ 498, 863.—Diopeithes:
Plut. _Pericl._ 32 (_Vorsokr._ 46, A 17).—Thucydides: Classen in the
preface to his 3rd ed., p. lvii.

P. 29. Thucydides, a disciple of Anaxagoras: Marcellinus, _vit. Thuc._
22.—Generally Thucydides is thought to have been more conservative in his
religious opinions than I consider probable; see Classen, _loc. cit._;
Decharme, p. 83; Gertz in his preface to the Danish translation of
Thucydides, p. xxvii.—Hippo: _Vorsokr._ 26, A 4, 6, 8, 9; B 2, 3.

P. 30. Aristotle: _Vorsokr._ 26, A 7.—Diogenes an atheist: Aelian, _v.h._
2, 31.—The air his god: _Vorsokr._ 51, A 8 (he thought that Homer
identified Zeus with the air, and approved of this as οὐ μυθικῶς, ἀλλ᾽
ἀληθῶς εἰρημενον); B 5, 7, 8.—Allusions to his doctrines by Aristophanes:
_Nub._ 225, 828 (_Vorsokr._ 51, C 1, 2).

P. 31. A chief representative of the naïvely critical view of natural
phenomena is for us Herodotus. The _locus classicus_ is vii. 129; comp.
Gomperz, _Griech. Denker_, i. p. 208; Heiberg, _Festskrift til Ussing_
(Copenhagen, 1900), p. 91; Decharme, p. 69.—Principal passages about
Diagoras: Sext. Emp. _adv. math._ 9, 53; Suidas, art. _Diagoras II._;
schol. Aristoph. _Nub._ 830 (the legend); Suidas, art. _Diagoras I._;
Aristoph. _Av._ 1071 with schol.; schol. Aristoph. _Ran._ 320; [Lysias]
vi. 17; Diod. xiii. 16 (the decree); Philodem. _de piet._ p. 89 Gomp.
(comments of Aristoxenus); Aelian, _v.h._ ii. 22 (legislation at
Mantinea).—Wilamowitz (_Textgesch. d. Lyr._ p. 80) has tried to save the
tradition by supposing that the _acme_ of Diagoras has been put too early.
Comp. also his remarks, _Griech. Verskunst._ p. 426, where he has taken up
the question again with reference to my treatment of it. As he has now
conceded the possibility of referring the legislation to the earlier date,
the difference between us is really very slight, and it is of course
possible, perhaps even probable, that the acme of the poet has been
antedated.—Aristoph. _Av._ 1071: “On this very day it is made public, that
if one of you kills Diagoras from Melos, he shall have a talent, and if
one kills one of the dead tyrants, he shall have a talent.” The parallel
between the two decrees, of which the latter is of course an invention of
Aristophanes, would be without point if the decree against Diagoras was
not as futile as the decree against the tyrants (_i.e._ the sons of
Peisistratus, who had been dead some three-quarters of a century), that
is, if it did not come many years too late.—Wilamowitz (_Griech.
Verskunst, loc. cit._) takes the sense to be: “You will not get hold of
Diagoras any more than you did of the tyrants.” But this, besides being
somewhat pointless, does not agree so well as my explanation with the
introductory words: “On this very day.” On the other hand, I never meant
to imply that Diagoras was dead in 415, but only that his offence was an
old one—just as that of Protagoras probably was (see p. 39).

P. 39. Trial of Protagoras: _Vorsokr._ 74, A 1-4, 23; the passage
referring to the gods: _ibid._ B 4.—Plato: _Theaet._ p. 162_d_ (_Vorsokr._
74, A 23).

P. 41. Distinction between belief and knowledge by Protagoras: Gomperz,
_Griech. Denker_, i. p. 359.

P. 42. Prodicus: _Vorsokr._ 77, B 5. Comp. Norvin, _Allegorien i den
græske Philosophi_ (_Edda_, 1919), p. 82. I cannot, however, quite adopt
Norvin’s view of the theory of Protagoras.

P. 44. Critias: _Vorsokr._ 81, B 25.—W. Nestle, _Jahrbb. f. Philol._ xi.
(1903), pp. 81 and 178, gives an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but
I cannot share his view of it.

P. 46. Euripides: _Suppl._ 201.—Moschion: _Trag. Fragm._ ed. Nauck (2nd
ed.), p. 813.—Plato: _Rep._ ii. 369b.

P. 47. Democritus: Reinhardt in _Hermes_, xlvii (1912), p. 503 In spite of
Wilamowitz’s objections (in his _Platon_, ii. p. 214), I still consider it
probable that Plato alludes to a philosophical theory.—Protagoras on the
original state: _Vorsokr._ 74, B 8_b_.

P. 48. Euripides: _Electra, 737_ (Euripides does not believe in the tale
that the sun reversed its course on account of Thyestes’s fraud against
Atreus, and then adds: “Fables that terrify men are a profit to the
worship of the gods”).—Aristotle: _Metaph._ A 8, 1074_b_; see text, p.
85.—Polybius: vi. 56; see text pp. 90 and 114.—Plato’s _Gorgias_, p. 482
and foll.

P. 49.—Callicles: see _e.g._ Wilamowitz, _Platon_, i. p. 208.

P. 50.—Thrasymachus: Plato, _Rep._ i. pp. 338_c_, 343_a_; comp. also ii.
p. 358_b_. His remark on Providence (_Vorsokr._ 78, B 8) runs thus: “The
gods do not see the things that are done among men; if they did, they
would not overlook the greatest human good, justice. For we find that men
do not follow it.” Comp. text, p. 61.—Diagoras as Critias’s source:
Nestle, _Jahrbb._, 1903, p. 101.

P. 51. Euripides: see W. Nestle, _Euripides_ (Stuttgart, 1901) pp. 51-152.
Here, too, the material is set forth exhaustively; the results seem to me
inadmissible. Browning’s theory (_The Ring and the Book_, x. 1661 foll.)
that Euripides did believe in the existence of the gods, but did not
believe them to be perfect, is a possible, perhaps even a probable,
explanation of many of his utterances; but it will hardly fit all of them.
I have examined the question in an essay, “Browning om Euripides” in my
_Udvalgte Afhandlinger_, p. 55.

P. 52. Gods identified with the Elements: _Bacch._ 274; fragm. 839. 877,
941 (Nestle, p. 153).

P. 53. Polemic against sophists: Nestle, p. 206.—_Bellerophon_: fragm.

P. 54. “If the gods——”: fragm. 292, 7.

P. 55. _Melanippe_: fragm. 480. The words are said to have given offence
at the rehearsal, so that Euripides altered them at the production of the
play (Plut. _Amat._ ch. 13).—Aeschylus: _Agam._ 160.—Aristophanes:
_Thesmoph._ 450.—In the _Frogs_, 892, Euripides prays to the Ether and
other abstractions, not to the gods.—_Clouds_: 1371.

P. 56. Plato: _Republ._ viii. p. 568a.—Quotation from _Melanippe_: Plut.
_Amat._ 13.

P. 57. Aristophanes and Naturalism: see note to p. 30.

P. 58. Denial of the gods in the _Clouds_, 247, 367, 380, 423, 627, 817,
825, 1232.—Moral of the piece: 1452-1510.—In Aristophanes’s own travesties
of the gods, scholars have found evidence for a weakening of popular
belief, but this is certainly wrong; comp. Decharme, p. 109.—Words like
“believe” and “belief” do not cover the Greek word νομίζειν, which
signifies at once “believe” and “be in the habit,” “use habitually,” so
that it covers both belief and worship—an ambiguity that is characteristic
of Greek religion.—Xenophon: _Memorab._ i. 1; _Apol. Socr._ 10 and foll.

P. 59. Plato: _Apol._ p. 24_b_ (the indictment); 26_b_ (the refutation).

P. 60. Aristodemus: Xenoph. _Memor._ i. 4.—Cinesias: Decharme, p. 135.—The
Hermocopidae: Decharme, p. 152. Beloch, _Hist. of Greece_, ii. 1, p. 360,
has another explanation. To my argument it is of no consequence what
special motive is assigned for the crime, as long as it is a political

P. 61. Plato on impiety: _Laws_, x. p. 886b; comp. xii. p. 967_a_.
Curiously enough, the same tripartition of the wrong attitude towards the
gods occurs already in the _Republic_, ii. p. 365_d_, where it is
introduced incidentally as well known and a matter of course.

P. 62. Euripides: _e.g._ _Hecuba_, 488; _Suppl._ 608.—Reference to
Anaxagoras: _Laws_, x. p. 886_d_; to Sophistic, 889_b_.

P. 65. Plato in the _Apology_: p. 19_c_.—Socrates’s _daimonion_ a proof of
_asebeia_: Xenoph. _Memorab._ i. 1, 2; _Apol_. _Socr._ 12; Plato, _Apol._
p. 31_d_.

P. 66. Accusation of teaching the doctrine of Anaxagoras: Plato, _Apol._
p. 26_d_; comp. Xenoph. _Memor._ i. 1, 10.—Plato’s defence of Socrates:
_Apol._ p. 27_a_.

P. 67. Xenophon’s defence of Socrates: _Memor._ i. 1, 2; 6 foll., 10
foll.—Teleological view of nature: Xenoph. _Memor._ i. 4; iv. 3.—On the
religious standpoint of Socrates, comp. my _Udvalgte Afhandlinger_, p. 38.

P. 68. Plato’s _Apology_, p. 21_d_, 23_a_ and _f_, etc.—The gods
all-knowing: _Odyss._ iv. 379 and 468; comp. Nägelsbach, _Hom. Theol._ p.
18; _Nachhom. Theol._ p. 23.

P. 69. The gods just: Nägelsbach, _Hom. Theol._ p. 297; _Nachhom. Theol._
p. 27.

P. 71. The relation between early religious thought and Delphi has been
explained correctly by Sam Wide, _Einleit. in die Altertumswissensch._,
ii. p. 221; comp. also I. L. Heiberg in _Tilskueren_, 1919, ii. p.
44.—Honours shown to Pindar at Delphi: schol. Pind. ed. Drachm. i. p. 2,
14; 5, 6. Pausan, x. 24. 5.

P. 72. Plato on the Delphic Oracle: _Apol._ p. 20_e_. On the following
comp. I. L. Heiberg, _loc. cit._ p. 45.—Socrates on his _daimonion_:
Plato, _Apol._ p. 31_c_.

P. 74. Antisthenes: Ritter, _Hist. philos. Gr.__9_ 285.—On the later
Cynics, especially Diogenes, see Diog. Laert. vi. 105 (the gods are in
need of nothing); Julian, _Or._ vi. p. 199_b_ (Diogenes did not worship
the gods).

P. 75. Cyrenaics: Diog. Laert. ii. 91.—Date of Theodorus: Diog. Laert. ii.
101, 103; his book on the gods: Diog. Laert. ii. 97, Sext. Emp. _adv.
math._ ix. 55; his trial: Diog. Laert. ii. 101.

P. 76. Theodorus’s book used by Epicurus: Diog. Laert. ii. 97.—Zeller:
_Philos. d. Griechen_, ii. 1, p. 925.—Euthyphron: see especially p. 14_b_

P. 77. Criticism of Mythology in the _Republic_: ii. p. 377_b_ foll.;
worship presupposed: _e.g._ iii. p. 415_e_; v. p. 459_e_, 461_a_, 468_d_,
469_a_, 470_a_; vii. p. 540_b_; reference to the Oracle: iv. p.
427_b_.—_Timaeus_: p. 40_d_ foll.—_Laws_, rules of worship: vi. p. 759_a_,
vii. p. 967_a_ and elsewhere, x. p. 909_d_; capital punishment for
atheists: x. p. 909_a_. Comp. above, on p. 61.

P. 78. Atheism a sin of youth: _Laws_, x. p. 888_a_.—Goodness and truth of
the gods: _Republ._ ii. p. 379_a_, 380_d_, 382_a_.—Belief in Providence:
_Laws_, x. p. 885_c_, etc.; _Republ._ x. p. 612_e_; _Apol._ p. 41_d_.

P. 79. _Laws_, x. p. 888_d_, 893_b_ foll., especially 899_c-d_; comp. also
xii. p. 967_a-c._—_Timaeus_: p. 40_d-f_. Comp. _Laws_, xii. p. 948_b_.

P. 80. The gods in the _Republic_, ii. p. 380_d_. This passage, taken
together with Plato’s general treatment of popular belief, might lead to
the hypothesis that it was Plato’s doctrine of ideas rather than the
rationalism of his youth that brought about strained relations between his
thought and popular belief. I incline to think that such is the case; but
there is a long step even from such a state of things to downright
atheism, and the stress Plato always laid on the belief in Providence is a
strong argument in favour of his belief in the gods, for he could never
make his ideas act in the capacity of Providence.—The gods as creators of
mankind: _Timaeus_, p. 41_a_ foll.

P. 81. Xenocrates: the exposition of his doctrine given in the text is
based upon Heinze’s _Xenokrates_ (Leipzig, 1892).

P. 83. Trial of Aristotle: Diog. Laert. v. 5; Athen. xv. p. 696.—The
writings of Aristotle that have come down to us are almost all of them
compositions for the use of his disciples, and were not accessible to the
general public during his lifetime.

P. 84. On the religious views of Aristotle see in general Zeller, ii. 2,
p. 787 (Engl. transl. ii. p. 325); where the references to his writings
are given in full. In the following I indicate only a few passages of
special interest.—Discussion of worship precluded: _Top._ A, xi. p.
105_a_, 5.—Aristotle’s Will: _Diog_. Laert. v. 15.—The gods as determining
the limits of the human: _e.g._ _Nic. Eth._ K, viii. p. 1178b, 33: “(the
wise) will also be in need of outward prosperity, as he is (only) a
man.”—Reservations in speaking of the gods, _e.g._ _Nic. Eth._ K, ix. p.
1179_a_, 13: “he who is active in accordance with reason ... must also be
supposed to be the most beloved of the gods; for if the gods trouble
themselves about human affairs—_and that they do so is generally taken for
granted_—it must be probable that they take pleasure in what is best and
most nearly related to themselves (_and that must be the reason_), and
that they reward those who love and honour this most highly,” etc. The
passage is typical both of the hypothetical way of speaking, and of the
twist in the direction of Aristotle’s own conception of the deity (whose
essence is reason); also of the Socratic manner of dealing with the gods.

P. 85. The passage quoted is from the _Metaphysics_, A viii. p. 1074_a_,
38. Comp. _Metaph._ B, ii. p. 997_b_, 8; iv. p. 1000_a_, 9.

P. 86. Theophrastus: Diog. Laert. v. 37.

P. 87. Strato: Diels, _Ueber das physikal. System des S., Sitzungsber. d.
Berl. Akad._, 1893, p. 101.—His god the same as nature: _Cic. de nat.
deor._ i. 35.

P. 89. On the history of Hellenistic religion, see Wendland, _Die
hellenistisch-römische Kultur in ihren Beziehungen z. Judentum u.
Christentum_ (Tübingen, 1907).

P. 90. The passage quoted is Polyb. vi. 56, 6.

P. 92. On the Tyche-Religion, see Nägelsbach, _Nachhom. Theologie_, p.
153; Lehrs, _Populäre Aufsätze_, p. 153; Rohde, _Griech. Roman_, p. 267
(1st ed.); Wendland, p. 59.—Thucydides: see Classen in the introduction to
his (3rd) edition, pp. lvii-lix, where all the material is collected. A
conclusive passage is vii. 36, 6, where Thuc. makes the bigoted Nicias
before a decisive battle express the hope that “Fortune” will favour the
Athenians.—Demosthenes’s dream: _Aeschin._ iii. 77.—Demosthenes on Tyche:
_Olynth._ ii. 22; _de cor._ 252.

P. 93. Demosthenes and the Pythia: _Aesch._ iii. 130. Comp. _ibid._ 68,
131, 152; Plutarch, _Dem._ 20.—Demetrius of Phalerum: Polyb. xxix.
21.—Temples of Tyche: Roscher, _Mythol. Lex._, art. _Fortuna_.

P. 94. Tyche mistress of the gods: _Trag. adesp. fragm._ 506, Nauck; [Dio
Chrys.] lxiv. p. 331 R.—Polybius: i. 1; iii. 5, 7.—The reservations
against Tyche as a principle for the explaining of historical facts, and
the twisting of the notion in the direction of Providence found in certain
passages in Polybius, do not concern us here; they are probably due to the
Stoic influence he underwent during his stay at Rome. Comp. below, on p.
114, and see Cuntz, _Polybios_ (Leipzig, 1902), p. 43.—Pliny: ii. 22 foll.

P. 95. Tyche in the novels: Rohde, _Griech. Rom._ p. 280.

P. 97. Strabo: xvii. p. 813.—Plutarch: _de def. or._ 5 and 7.

P. 98. The Aetolians at Dium: Polyb. iv. 62; at Dodona, iv. 67; Philip at
Thermon, v. 9; Dicaearchus, xviii. 54.—Decay of Roman worship: Wissowa,
_Religion u. Kultus d. Römer_, p. 70 (2nd ed.). To this work I must refer
for indications of the sources; but the polemic in the text is chiefly
directed against Wissowa.

P. 99. Ennius: comp. below, p. 112.

P. 100. Varro: in Augustine, _de civ. Dei_, vi. 2.

P. 103. Theology of the Stoics: Zeller, iii. 1, p. 309-45.

P. 104. Demonology of the Stoics: Heinze, _Xenokrates_, p. 96.

P. 105. Epicurus’s theology: Zeller, iii. 1, pp. 427-38. Comp. Schwartz,
_Charakterköpfe_, ii. p. 43.

P. 106. Epicurus’s doctrine of the eternity of the gods criticised: Cic.
_de nat. deor._ i. 68 foll.

P. 107. The Sceptics: Zeller, iii. 1, pp. 507 and 521.

P. 109. Diogenes: see note on p. 74.—Bion: Diog. Laert. iv. 52 and 54.

P. 110. Menippos: R. Helm, _Lukian u. Menipp_ (Leipzig and Berlin, 1906).

P. 111. Euhemerus: Jacoby in Pauly-Wissowa’s _Realencyclop._, art.
“Euemeros”; Wendland, _Hellenist. Kultur_, p. 70.—Euhemerism before
Euhemerus: Lobeck, _Aglaophamus_, p. 9; Wendland, p. 67.

P. 112. A Danish scholar, Dr. J. P. Jacobsen (_Afhandlinger og Artikler_,
p. 490), seems to think that Euhemerus’s theory was influenced by the
worship of heroes. But there is nothing to show that Euhemerus supposed
his gods to have continued their existence after their death, though this
would have been in accordance with Greek belief even in the Hellenistic
period; he seems rather to have insisted that they were worshipped as gods
during their lifetime (comp. Jacoby, _loc. cit._).

P. 114. Euhemerism in Polybius: xxxiv. 2; comp. x. 10, 11.—Relapse into
orthodoxy: xxxvii. 9 (the decisive passage); xxxix. 19, 2 (concluding
prayer to the gods); xviii. 54, 7-10; xxiii. 10, 14 (the gods punish
impiety; comp. xxxvii. 9, 16). There is a marked contrast between such
passages and the way Polybius speaks of Philip’s destruction of the
sanctuary at Thermon; he blames it severely, but merely on political, not
on religious grounds (v. 9-12). Orthodox utterances in the older portions
of the work (i. 84, 10; x. 2, 7) may be due to that accommodation to
popular belief which Polybius himself acknowledges as justifiable (xvi.
12, 9), but also to later revision.—Influence of Stoicism: Hirzel,
_Untersuchungen zu Ciceros philos. Schriften_, ii. p. 841.

P. 115. Cicero’s Stoicism in his philosophy of religion: _de nat. deor._
iii. 40, 95.

P. 116. Sanctuary to Tullia: Cic. _ad Att._ xii. 18 foll.; several of the
letters (23, 25, 35, 36) show that Atticus disapproved of the idea, and
that Cicero himself was conscious that it was unworthy of him.

P. 117. Euhemeristic defence: _fragm. consol._ 14, 15.—Augustus’s
reorganisation of the cults: Wissowa, _Religion u. Kultus d. Römer_, p.
73. Recent scholars, especially when treating of Virgil (Heinze, _Vergils
ep. Technik_, 3rd ed. p. 291; Norden, _Aeneis_, vi. 2nd ed. pp. 314, 318,
362), speak of the reform of Augustus as if it involved a real revulsion
of feeling in his contemporaries. This is in my opinion a complete
misunderstanding of the facts. Virgil’s religious views: _Catal. v.,
Georgics_, ii. 458.

P. 118. Pliny: _hist. nat._ ii. 1-27. The passages translated are §§ 14
and 27.

P. 122. Seneca: fragm. 31-39, Haase.—Stoic polemic against atheism:
Epictetus, _diss._ ii. 20, 21; comp. Marcus Aurelius, vi. 44.—Later
Cynicism: Zeller, iii. 1, p. 763.—Oenomaus: only preserved in excerpts by
Euseb. _praep. evang._ 5-6 (a separate edition is wanted).—His polemic
directed against the priests: Euseb. 5, p. 213_c_; comp. Oenomaus himself,
_ibid._ 6, p. 256_d_.

P. 123. Lucian: see Christ, _Gesch. d. griech. Litt._ ii. 2, p. 550 (5th
ed.), and R. Helm, _Lukian u. Menipp_ (see note to p. 110).

P. 124. Timon: ch. x.

P. 126. On Lucian’s caution in attacking the really popular gods, see
Wilamowitz, in _Kultur d. Gegenwart_, i. 8, p. 248.—The Jews atheists:
Harnack, _Der Vorwurf d. Atheismus in den 3 ersten Jahrh_. (_Texte u.
Unters._, N.F., xiii. 4), p. 3.

P. 127. I have met with no comprehensive treatment of Jewish and Christian
polemic against Paganism; Geffcken, _Zwei griech. Apologeten_ (Leipzig,
1907), is chiefly concerned with investigations into the sources. I shall
therefore indicate the principal passages on which my treatment is
based.—Polemic against images in the Old Testament: Isaiah 44.10 etc.; in
later literature: Epistle of Jeremiah; Wisdom of Solomon 13 foll.; Philo,
_de decal._ 65 foll., etc.—Euhemerism: Wisdom of Solomon 14.15; Epistle of
Aristeas, 135; Sibyll. iii. 547, 554, 723.—Elements and celestial bodies:
Wisdom of Solomon 13; Philo, _de decal._ 52 foll.—The tenacity of
tradition is apparent from the fact that even Maimonides in his treatise
of idolatry deals only with star-worship and image-worship. I know the
treatise only from the Latin translation by D. Voss (in G. I. Voss’s
_Opera_, vol. v.).—Demons: Deuteron. 32.17; Psalms 106.37; add (according
to LXX.) Isaiah 65.11; Psalms 96.5. Later writers: Enoch 19.99, 7; Baruch
4.7. Such passages as Jub. 22, 17 or Sibyll. prooem. 22 are possibly
Euhemeristic.—Fallen angels: Enoch, 19.—Philo’s demonology: _de gig._
6-18, etc.

P. 128. St. Paul: 1 Cor. 10.20; comp. 8.4 and Rom. 1.23.

P. 129. Image-worship and demon-worship not conciliated: _e.g._ Tertull.
_Apologet._ 10-15 and 22-23, comp. 27.—Jewish demonology: Bousset,
_Religion d. Judentums_, p. 326 (1st ed.).—Fallen angels: _e.g._ Athenag.
24 foll.; Augustine, _Enchir._ 9, 28 foll.; _de civ. Dei_, viii. 22.

P. 130. Euhemerism in the Apologists: _e.g._ Augustine, _de civ. Dei_, ii.
10; vi. 7; vii. 18 and 33; viii. 26.—Euhemerism and demonology combined:
_e.g._ Augustine, _de civ. Dei_, ii. 10; vii. 35; comp. vii. 28
fin.—Worship of the heavenly bodies: _e.g._ Aristid. 3 foll.; Augustine,
_de civ. Dei_, vii. 29 foll.

P. 131. Paganism a delusion caused by demons: Thomas Aq. _Summa theol._ P.
ii. 2, Q. 94, art. 4; comp. below, note on p. 135.

P. 133. For the following sketch I have found valuable material in
Gedike’s essay, _Ueber die mannigfaltigen Hypothesen z. Erklärung d.
Mythologie_ (_Verm. Schriften_, Berlin, 1801, p. 61).

P. 134. Milton: _Paradise Lost_, i. 506. The theory that the pagan oracles
fell mute at the rise of Christianity is also found in Milton, _Hymn on
the Morning of Christ’s Nativity_, st. xviii. foll.

P. 135. G. I. Voss; _De Theologia Gentili_, lib. i. (published,
1642)—Voss’s view is in the main that idolatry as a whole is the work of
the Devil. What is worshipped is partly the heavenly bodies, partly
demons, partly (and principally) dead men; most of the ancient gods are
identified with persons from the Old Testament. Demon-worship is dealt
with in ch. 6; it is proved among other things by the true predictions of
the oracles. Individual Greek deities are identified with demons in ch. 7,
in a context where oracles are dealt with. On older works of the same
tendency, see below, note on p. 140; on Natalis Comes, _ibid._ A fuller
treatment of Voss’s theories is found in Gruppe’s work, § 25.—Thomas
Aquinas: _Summa theol._ P. ii. 2, Q. 94, art. 4; comp. also Q. 122, art.
2.—Dante: Sommo Giove for God, _Purg._ vi. 118; his devils: Charon, _Inf._
iii. 82 (109 expressly designated as “dimonio”); Minos, _Inf._ v. 4;
Geryon, _Inf._ xviii. (there are more of the same kind).—“Dei falsi e
bugiardi”: _Inf._ i. 72. (Plutus, who appears as a devil in _Inf._ vii.
was probably taken by Dante for an antique god; but the name may also be a
classicising translation of Mammon.)

P. 136. Mediaeval epic poets: Nyrop, _Den oldfranske Heltedigtning_, p.
255 and 260; Dernedde, _Ueber die den altfranzös. Dichtern bekannten
Stoffe aus dem Altertum_ (Diss. Götting. 1887).—Confusion of ancient and
Christian elements: Dernedde, p. 10; the gods are devils: Dernedde, pp.
85, 88.—Euhemerism: Dernedde, p. 4.—I have tried to get a first-hand
impression of the way the gods are treated by the old French epic poets,
but the material is too large, and indexes suited to the purpose are
wanting. The paganism of the original is taken over naïvely, _e.g._, by
Veldeke, _Eneidt_, i. 45, 169.—On magic I have consulted Horst’s
_Dämonomagie_ (Frankf. 1818); and his _Zauber-Bibliothek_ (Mainz,
1821-26); Schindler, _Der Aberglaube des Mittelalters_ (Breslau, 1858);
Maury, _La magie et l’astrologie dans l’antiquité et au moyen âge_ (Paris,
1860). These authors all agree that mediaeval magic is dependent on
antiquity, but that the pagan gods are superseded by devils (or the
Devil). The connexion in substance with antiquity, on which Maury
specially insists, is certain enough, but does not concern us here, where
the question is about the theory. In the _Zauber-Bibl._ i. p. 137 (in the
treatise _Pneumatologia vera et occulta_), the snake Python is put down
among the demons, with the remark that Apollo was called after it.—Magic
formulae with antique gods: Heim, _Incantamenta magica_ (in the _Neue
Jahrbb. f. Philologie_, Suppl. xix. 1893, p. 557; I owe this reference to
the kindness of my colleague, Prof. Groenbeck). Pradel, _Religionsgesch.
Vers. u. __ Vorarb._ iii., has collected prayers and magic formulae from
Italy and Greece; they do not contain names of antique gods.

P. 137. Acosta: Joseph de Acosta, _Historia naturale e morale delle
Indie_, Venice, 1596. I have used this Italian translation; the original
work appeared in 1590.—Demons at work in oracles: bk. v. ch. 9; in magic:
ch. 25.

P. 138. Demon in Brazil: Voss, _Theol. Gent._ i. ch. 8.—Pagan worship in
the Florentine and Roman Academies: Voigt, _Wiederbelebung d. klass.
Altertums_, ii. p. 239 (2nd ed.); Hettner, _Ital. Studien_, p. 174.—On the
conception of the antique gods in the earlier Middle Ages, see Gruppe, §
4.—Thomas Aquinas: _Summa theol._ P. ii. 2, Q. 94, art. 4.—Curious and
typical of the mediaeval way of reasoning is the idea of seeking
prototypes of the Christian history of salvation in pagan mythology. See
v. Eicken, _Gesch. u. System d. mittelalt. Weltanschauung_ (Stuttg. 1887),
p. 648, and (with more detail) F. Piper, _Mythologie u. Symbolik d.
christl. Kunst_ (Weimar, 1847-51), i. p. 143; comp. also Gruppe, § 8 foll.
Good instances are the myths in the _Speculum humanae salvationis_, chs. 3
and 24.

P. 139. On Hebraism in general, see Gruppe, § 19 and § 24 foll.; on Huet,
§ 28. Nevertheless, Huet operates with demonology in connexion with the
oracles (_Dem. evang._ ii. 9, 34, 4).

P. 140. On Natalis Comes, see Gruppe, § 19. In bk. i. ch. 7, Natalis Comes
gives an account of the origin of antiquity’s conceptions of the gods; it
has quite a naturalistic turn. Nevertheless, we find in ch. 16 a remark
which shows that he embraced demonology in its crudest form; compare also
the theory set forth in ch. 10. His interpretations of myths are collected
in bk. x.—On Bacon, see Gruppe, § 22. Typhoeus-myth: introduct. to _De
sapientia veterum._—Alchemistic interpretations: Gedike, _Verm.
Schriften_, p. 78; Gruppe, § 30. Of the works quoted by Gedike, I have
consulted Faber’s _Panchymicum_ (Frankf. 1651) and Toll’s Fortuita
(Amsterd. 1687). Faber has only some remarks on the matter in bk. i. ch.
5; by Toll the alchemistic interpretation is carried through. Gedike
quotes, moreover, a work by Suarez de Salazar, which must date from the
sixteenth century; according to Jöcher (iv. 1913) it only exists in MS.,
and I do not know where Gedike got his reference.—Thomas: _Summa_, P. ii.
2, Q. 172, arts. 5 and 6.

P. 141. Demonology as explanation of the oracles: see van Dale, _De
oraculis_, p. 430 (Amsterd. 1700); he quotes numerous treatises from the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I have glanced at Moebius, _De
oraculorum ethnicorum origine_, etc. (Leipzig, 1656).—Caelius Rhodiginus:
_Lectionum antiq._ (Leyden, 1516), lib. ii. cap. 12; comp. Gruppe, §
15.—Caelius Calcagninus: _Oraculorum liber_ (in his _Opera_, Basle, 1544,
p. 640). The little dialogue is not very easy to understand; it is
evidently a satire on contemporary credulity; but that Caelius completely
rejected divination seems to be assumed also by G. I. Voss, _Theol. Gent._
i. 6.—Machiavelli: _Discorsi_, i. 56.—Van Dale: _De oraculis gentilium_
(1st ed. Amsterd. 1683); _De idololatria_ (Amsterd. 1696). Difficulties
with the biblical accounts of demons: _De idol._, dedication.—Fontenelle:
_Histoire des oracles_ (Paris, 1687). The little book has an amusing
preface, in which Fontenelle with naïve complacency (and with a sharp eye
for van Dale’s deficiencies of style) gives an account of his
popularisation of the learned work. On Fontenelle and the answer by the
Jesuit, Balthus, see for further details Banier, _La mythologie et les
fables expliquées par l’histoire_ (Paris, 1738), bk. iii. ch. 1. Van
Dale’s book itself had called forth an answer by Moebius (included in the
edition of 1690 of his work, _de orac. ethn. orig._).—On the influence
exercised by van Dale and Fontenelle on the succeeding mythologists, see
Gruppe, § 34.—Banier: see Gruppe, § 35.

P. 143. Vico: _Scienza nuova_ (Milan, 1853), p. 168 (bk. ii. in the
section, Della metafisica poetica); political allegories, _e.g._ p. 309
(in the Canone mitologico). Comp. Gruppe, § 44.—Banier: in the work
indicated above, bk. i. ch. 5.

P. 144. On the mythological theories of the eighteenth century, comp.
Gruppe, § 36 foll.; on Bryant, § 40; on Dupuis, § 41.—Polemic against
Euhemerism from the standpoint of nature-symbolism: de la Barre, _Mémoires
pour servir à l’histoire de la religion en Grèce_, in _Mém. de l’Acad. des
Inscr._ xxiv. (1749; the treatise had already been communicated in 1737
and 1738); a posthumous continuation in _Mém._ xxix. (1770) gives an idea
of de la Barre’s own point of view, which was not a little in advance of
his time. Comp. Gruppe, § 37.

P. 145. A good survey of modern investigations in the field of the history
of ancient religion is given by Sam Wide in the _Einleit. in die
Altertumswissensch._ ii.; here also remarks on the mythology of older
times. The later part of Gruppe’s work contains a very full treatment of
the subject.


Absolute definitions of the divine, 16, 19, 68, 69, 82, 88.

Academics, 149.

Academy, later, 108, 114.

Acosta, 137, 139, 141.

Aelian, 121.

Aeneid (mediaeval), 136.

Aeschines, 93.

Aeschylus, 54, 55.

Aetolians, 97, 98.

Alchemistic explanation of Paganism, 140.

Alcibiades, 60.

Alexander the Great, 93, 112.

Allegorical interpretation, 104, 113, 139, 140, 143, 144.

American Paganism, 137, 139, 141.

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, 7, 13, 25-29, 30, 31, 40, 62, 63, 66, 124.

Anaximenes, 30.

Angelology, 129.

Anthropomorphism, 14, 18, 19, 69.

Antisthenes, 13, 74, 109.

Apologists, 128, 130, 132, 139.

Arcissewsky, 138.

Aristides the Apologist, 129.

Aristides Rhetor, 121.

Aristodemus, 60, 62.

Aristophanes, 30, 32, 33, 39, 55, 56-58, 65.
  _Birds_, 32.
  _Clouds_, 30, 55, 56-58
  _Frogs_, 55.

Aristotle, 13, 30, 32, 46, 83-87, 104, 113.
  _Ethics_, 84.
  _Metaphysics_, 85-86.
  _Politics_, 84.

Aristoxenus, 32, 33.

Asclepius, 111, 121, 126.

_Asebeia_, 6, 7, 8.

Aspasia, 27.

Atheism (and Atheist) defined, 1;
  rare in antiquity, 2, 133;
  of recent origin, 2, 143;
  origin of the words, 5;
  lists of atheists, 13;
  punishable by death in Plato’s _Laws_, 77;
  sin of youth, 78.

Athene, 74.

Athens, its treatment of atheism, 6-8, 9, 12, 25, 39, 65 foll., 74, 75,
            83, 86;
  its view of sophistic, 58-59.

_Atheos_ (_atheoi_), 2, 10, 13, 14, 19, 23, 29, 43, 75, 110.

_Atheotes_, 2.

Augustine, St., 129, 135.

Augustus, 117;
  religious reaction of, 100, 113, 117, 120.

Aurelius, Marcus, 11, 121.

Bacon, Francis (_De Sap. Vet._) 140.

Banier, 142, 143.

Bible, 130, 142.

Bion, 13, 109.

Brazil, 138.

Bruno, Giordano, 151.

Bryant, 144.

Buttmann, 152.

Caelius Calcagninus, 141.

Caelius Rhodiginus, 141.

Callicles, 48 foll., 63.

Carlyle, 112.

Carneades, 8, 108.

Cassander of Macedonia, 111.

Charon, 135.

Christianity, 126, 128-32.

Christians, their atheism, 9;
  prosecutions of, 10;
  demonology, 83.

Cicero, 19, 105, 114-17, 147.
  _Nature of the Gods_, 115.
  _On the State_, 115.
  _On the Laws_, 115.
  _De consolatione_, 116.

Cinesias, 60.

Copernicus, 151.

Critias, 13, 44-50.
  _Sisyphus_, 44 f., 114.

Criticism of popular religion, 16, 17, 19, 35 foll., 74, 78, 82, 84, 88,
            90, 99, 104, 109, 110, 122, 124-26.

Cuthites, 144.

Cynics, 74, 109-10, 122, 124, 147.

Cyrenaics, 75.

_Daimonion_ of Socrates, 65, 66, 72-73.

van Dale, 141-42.

Dante, 135.

Deisidaimon, 75.

Demeter, 42, 43, 81.

Demetrius of Phalerum, 75, 93.
  _On Tyche_, 93.

Democritus, 24, 42, 43, 44, 47, 52.

Demonology, 81-83, 105, 113, 127-32, 134-42, 148, 149.

Demosthenes, 92-93, 96.

Devil, 132, 137, 139, 141, 144.

Diagoras of Melos, 13, 31-34, 39, 50.
  _Apopyrgizontes logoi_, 32, 33.

Dicaearchus, 98.

Diodorus Siculus, 112.

Diogenes of Apollonia, 13, 29-30, 57.

Diogenes the Cynic, 109.

Dionysus, 42, 43.

Diopeithes, 28.

Dioscuri, 124.

Dium, 98.

Divination, 18, 20, 26, 27, 28, 40, 97, 114, 131, 135, 137, 140-42.
  Comp. Oracle.

Dodona, 98, 141.

Dogmatics, 108.

Domitian, 11.

Dupuis, 144.

Elements, divine, 23, 24, 30, 52 foll., 57, 81, 103, 127.

Eleusinian Mysteries, 32, 33, 40, 60.

Ennius, 99, 112.

Epicureans, Epicurus, 13, 76, 80, 83, 105-7, 113, 147, 149.

Euhemerus, Euhemerism, 13, 110-12, 113, 114, 117, 127, 130, 136, 137, 139,
            140, 142, 143, 144.

Euripides, 16, 17, 21, 45, 46, 48, 51-56, 62.
  _Bellerophon_, 53.
  _Melanippe_, 55, 56.

Fallen angels, 128, 129, 130.

Florentine Academy, 138.

Foreign gods, 70, 89, 103.

Fontenelle, 142.

Geocentric view, 150.

Geryon, 135.

Giants, 18.

Gorgias, 37.

Hades, 81.

Heavenly bodies, 2, 20, 22, 25, 43, 62, 66, 79, 80, 81, 84, 87, 104, 127,
            128, 130, 137, 139, 144, 149, 151.

Heavenly phenomena, 22.

Hebraism, 139, 143, 144.

Hecataeus of Abdera, 112.

Heliocentric view, 151.

Hellenistic philosophy, 94, 103-10, 119.

Hephaestus, 42, 43.

Heracles, 74, 111.

Hercules, 136.

Herder, 145.

Hermae, 40, 60.

Hermes, 124.

Hermias, 83.

Herodotus, 28, 29.

Hesiod, 16, 18.

Heyne, 152.

Hippo of Rhegium, 13, 29-30.

Holy War, 96.

Homer, 16, 18, 43, 68, 106.

Horace, 117.

Huet, 139.

Hylozoism, 23.

Ideas, Platonic, 80.

Idolatry attacked, 123.
  See also Image Worship.

Ignorance, Socratic, 68.

Image Worship, 127, 128, 131-37.

Jews, their atheism, 9, 126.

Josephus, 128.

Judaism, 126, 127-28, 129.

Juno Regina, 136.

Jupiter (in Dante), 135;
  (in the Thebaïs,) 136.

Jupiter-priest, 100.

Kepler, 151.

Kronos, 111.

Lampon, 26.

Lobeck, 152.

Lucian, 110, 123-26.
  _Timon_, 124.
  _Dialogues of the Gods_, 125.

Lucretius, 106.

Luna Jovis filia, 136.

Macedonia, 93.

Machiavelli, 141.

Magic, 136-37.

Mannhardt, 152.

Mantinea, constitution of, 32.

Marcus Aurelius, 11, 121.

Mediaeval epic poets, 136.

Megarians, 74, 107.

Menippus of Gadara, 110.

Mexico, 137.

Middle Ages, 133, 135-39.

Milton (_Paradise Lost_), 134, 135, 141.

Minos, 135.

Miracles, pagan, 131, 132.

Modesty, religions, 55, 70, 73.

Moschion, 46.

Moses and his sister, 139.

Monotheism, 9, 12, 23, 74, 80, 83, 127 foll., 139, 148, 151.

Müller, K. O., 152.

Natalis Comes, 139 foll.

Naturalism, Ionian, 21, 22-25, 30-31, 52, 57.

Negroes, 18.

Neo-Platonists, 83, 121.

Neo-Pythagoreans, 83, 121.

Nero, 11.

Newton, 151.

Nile, 42.

_Nomos_ (and _Physis_), 35, 36, 38, 63, 74.

Nymphs, 136.

Oenomaus (_The Swindlers Unmasked_), 122-23, 126.

Old Testament, 127, 129.

Oracle of Ammon, 97; oracles of Boeotia, 97;
  Delphic Oracle, 28, 60, 67, 68, 71, 72, 77, 93, 96, 97, 123, 141;
  decay of oracles, 96-97;
  oracles explained by priestly fraud, 123, 141-42.
  Ovid, 117.

Paganism of Antiquity, its character, 15.

Panchaia, 111.

Parmenides, 21.

Pantheism, 20, 23, 103, 119, 122, 127.

Paul, St., 128.

Pericles, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 124.

Peripatetics, 147, 149.

Peru, 137.

Pheidias, 27.

Philip III. of Macedonia, 96.

Philip V. of Macedonia, 97-98.

Philo, 128.

Phocians, 96.

_Physis_ (and _Nomos_), 35, 36, 63, 74.

Pindar, 16, 17, 52, 71.

Plato, 13, 39, 48, 49, 50, 56, 59, 61-63, 65, 66, 72, 76-81, 82, 84, 113,
  _Apology_, 59, 65, 66, 68, 72, 78, 79.
  _Euthyphron_, 67, 76.
  _Gorgias_, 48 foll., 63, 77.
  _Laws_, 61 foll., 77, 78, 79, 80.
  _Republic_, 50, 56, 77, 78.
  _Symposium_, 82.
  _Timaeus_, 77, 79, 80.

Platonism, 148.

Plethon, 138.

Pliny the Elder, 94, 95, 118, 147.

Plutarch (_de def. orac._), 97.

Polybius, 48, 90-91, 94, 99, 113-14, 147;
  Stoicism in P., 114.

Pomponazzi (_De Incantat._), 141.

Poseidon, 42, 81.

Poseidonius, 104.

Prodicus of Ceos, 13, 42-44, 104.

Protagoras of Abdera, 13, 39-42, 47.
  _On the Gods_, 39 foll.
  _Original State_, 47.

Providence, 60, 61, 78, 105, 118, 122.

Pythia, 93.

Reaction, religious, of second century, 120-21, 125;
  of Augustus, see Augustus.

Reinterpretation of the conceptions of the gods, 2.
  See also Allegorical interpretation.

Religion a political invention, 47, 114.

Religious thought, early, of Greece, 16-17, 52, 54, 55, 69-70, 71, 84, 88,
            98, 107.

Renaissance, 133, 138, 139 foll., 141.

Rohde, 152.

Roman Academy, 138.

Roman religion, 90, 99-100, 101-2.

Roman State-worship, decay of, 98-103.

Romance of Troy, 136.

Romances, 95-96.

Rome’s treatment of atheism, 8-11.

Rousseau, 145.

Scepticism, 107-8, 114, 147.

Schoolmen, 135.

Seneca, 110, 122.

Sibylline books, 97.

Sisyphus, 45, 48.

Socrates, 7, 13, 40, 46, 49, 56, 58, 64-73, 84, 107, 147. See also
            _Daimonion_ of S.

Socratic philosophy, 64, 87, 149.

Socratic Schools, 73, 87-88.

Sol invictus, 136.

Solon, 16.

Sophistic, 35-38, 57, 64, 87, 104, 148, 149.

Sophocles, 28, 54.

Stilpo, 13, 74, 108.

Stoics, 83, 103-5, 113, 118, 119, 121-22, 147, 148, 149.

Strabo, 97.

Strato, 87, 108.

Suetonius, 121.

Supernaturalism, 149-51.

Superstition, 75, 90, 102, 123, 126.

Tapuis, 138.

Thales, 24.

Thebaïs (mediaeval), 136.

Theodicy (Socratic), 67.

Theodoras, 13, 75-76, 108, 109.
  _On the Gods_, 75.

Theophrastus, 13, 86.

Thermon, 98.

Thomas Aquinas, 131, 135, 138, 139, 140.

Thracians, 18.

Thrasymachus, 50, 62.

Thucydides (the historian), 28-29, 92, 94.

Thucydides (the statesman), 26.

Tiberius, 118.

Tisiphone, 136.

Titans, 18.

Tolerance in antiquity, 9, 11.

Trajan, 11.

Tullia, 116.

Tyche, 91-96, 118.

Typhoeus, 140.

Uranos, 111.

Usener, 152.

Valerius Maximus, 118.

Varro, 100, 110.

Vico (_Scienza Nuova_), 143.

Violation of sanctuaries, 40, 60, 97, 100.

Virgil, 117.

Voss, G. I., 135, 138, 141.

Wisdom of Solomon, 128.

Worship rejected, 9-13, 60, 74, 77, 84, 109, 123, 125.

Xenocrates, 81-82, 105, 113, 129.

Xenophanes of Colophon, 13, 17-21,
52, 56.

Xenophon, 58, 59, 62, 66, 67.
  _Memorab._ 58, 60.
  _Apology_, 58.

Zeller, 76, 79.

Zeno of Elea, 21.

Zeus, 16, 22, 30, 43, 55, 57, 58, 81, 105, 111, 124.


    1 This was written before the appearance of Mr. Gruppe’s work,
      _Geschichte der klassischen Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte_.
      Compare _infra_, p. 154.

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