Arnobius (Cont.)The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen. (Cont.)Book VII.

1. Since it has been sufficiently shown, as far as there has been opportunity, how vain it is to form images, the course of our argument requires that we should next speak as briefly as possible, and without any periphrasis, about sacrifices, about the slaughter and immolation of victims, about pure wine, about incense, and about all the other things which are provided on such occasions.1 For with respect to this you have been in the habit of exciting against us the most violent ill-will, of calling us atheists, and inflicting upon us the punishment of death, even by savagely tearing us to pieces with wild beasts, on the ground that we pay very little respect2 to the gods; which, indeed, we admit that we do, not from contempt or scorn of the divine,3 but because we think that such powers require nothing of the kind, and are not possessed by desires for such things.4

What, then,5 some one will say, do you think that no sacrifices at all should be offered? To answer you not with our own, but with your Varro’s opinion — none. Why so? Because, he says, the true gods neither wish nor demand these; while those6 which are made of copper, earthenware, gypsum, or marble, care much less for these things, for they have no feeling; and you are not blamed7 if you do not offer them, nor do you win favour if you do. No sounder opinion can be found, none truer, and one which any one may adopt, although he may be stupid and very hard to convince. For who is so obtuse as either to slay victims in sacrifice to those who have no sense, or to think that they should be given to those who are removed far from them in their nature and blessed state?


2. Who are the true gods? you say. To answer you in common and simple language, we do not know;8 for how can we know who those are whom we have never seen? We have been accustomed to hear from you that an infinite number9 are gods, and are reckoned among10 the deities; but if these exist11 anywhere, and are true gods, as Terentius12 believes, it follows as a consequence, that they correspond to their name; that is, that they are such as we all see that they should be, and that they are worthy to be called by this name; nay, more, — to make an end without many words, — that they are such as is the Lord of the universe, and the King omnipotent Himself, whom we have knowledge and understanding enough to speak of as the true God when we are led to mention His name. For one god differs from another in nothing as respects his divinity;13 nor can that which is one in kind be less or more in its parts while its own qualities remain unchanged.14 Now, as this is certain, it follows that they should never have been begotten, but should be immortal, seeking nothing from without, and not drawing any earthly pleasures from the resources of matter.


3. So, then, if these things are so. we desire to learn this, first. from you — what is the cause, what the reason, that you offer them sacrifices; and then, what gain comes to the gods themselves from this, and remains to their advantage. For whatever is done should have a cause, and should not be disjoined from reason, so as to be lost15 among useless works, and tossed about among vain and idle uncertainties.16 Do the gods of heaven17 live on these sacrifices, and must materials be supplied to maintain the union of their parts? And what man is there so ignorant or what a god is, certainly, as to think that they are maintained by any kind of nourishment, and that it is the food given to them18 which causes them to live and endure throughout their endless immortality? For whatever is upheld by causes and things external to itself, must be mortal and on the way to destruction, when anything on which it lives begins to be wanting. Again, it is impossible to suppose that any one believes this, because we see that of these things which are brought to their altars, nothing is added to and reaches the substance of the deities; for either incense is given, and is lost melting on the coals,19 or the life only of the victim is offered to the gods,20 and its blood is licked up by dogs; or if any flesh is placed upon the altars, it is set on fire in like manner, and is destroyed, and falls into ashes, — unless perchance the god seizes upon the souls of the victims, or snuffs up eagerly the fumes and smoke which rise from the blazing altars, and feeds upon the odours which the burning flesh gives forth, still wet with blood, and damp with its former juices.21 But if a god, as is said, has no body, and cannot be touched at all, how is it possible that that which has no body should be nourished by things pertaining to the body, — that what is mortal should support what is immortal, and assist and give vitality to that which it cannot touch? This reason for sacrifices is not valid, therefore, as it seems; nor can it be said by any one that sacrifices are kept up for this reason, that the deities are nourished by them, and supported by feeding on them.


4. If perchance it is not this,22 are victims not slain in sacrifice to the gods, and cast upon their flaming altars to give them23 some pleasure and delight? And can any man persuade himself that the gods become mild as they are exhilarated by pleasures, that they long for sensual enjoyment, and, like some base creatures, are affected by agreeable sensations, and charmed and tickled for the moment by24 a pleasantness which soon passes away? For that which is overcome by pleasure must be harassed by its opposite, sorrow; nor can that be free from the anxiety of grief, which trembles with joy, and is elated capriciously with gladness.25 But the gods should be free from both passions, if we would have them to be everlasting, and freed from the weakness of mortals. Moreover, every pleasure is, as it were, a kind of flattery of the body, and is addressed to the five well-known senses; but if the gods above feel it,26 they must partake also of those bodies through which there is a way to the senses, and a door by which to receive pleasures. Lastly, what pleasure is it to take delight in the slaughter of harmless creatures, to have the ears ringing often with their piteous bellowings, to see rivers of blood, the life fleeing away with the blood, and the secret parts having been laid open, not only the intestines to protrude with the excrements, but also the heart still bounding with the life left in it, and the trembling, palpitating veins in the viscera? We half-savage men, nay rather, — to say with more candour what it is truer and more candid to say, — we savages, whom unhappy necessity and bad habit have trained to take these as food, are sometimes moved with pity for them; we ourselves accuse and condemn ourselves when the thing is seen and looked into thoroughly, because, neglecting the law which is binding on men, we have broken through the bonds which naturally united us at the beginning.27 Will28 any one believe that the gods, who are kind, beneficent, gentle, are delighted and filled with joy by the slaughter of cattle, if ever they fall and expire pitiably before their altars?29 And there is no cause, then, for pleasure in sacrifices, as we see, nor is there a reason why they should be offered, since there is no pleasure afforded by them; and if perchance there is some,30 it has been shown that it cannot in any way belong to the gods.


5. We have next to examine the argument which we bear continually coming from the lips of the common people, and find embedded in popular conviction, that sacrifices are offered to the gods of heaven for this purpose, that they may lay aside their anger and passions, and may be restored to a calm and placid tranquillity, the indignation of their fiery spirits being assuaged. And if we remember the definition which we should always bear steadily in mind, that all agitating feelings are unknown to the gods, the consequence is, a belief31 that the gods are never angry; nay, rather, that no passion is further from them than that which, approaching most nearly to the spirit of wild beasts and savage creatures, agitates those who suffer it with tempestuous feelings, and brings them into danger of destruction. For whatever is harassed by any kind of disturbance,32 is, it is clear, capable of suffering, and frail; that which has been subjected to suffering and frailty must be mortal; but anger harasses and destroys33 those who are subject to it: therefore that should be called mortal which has been made subject to the emotions of anger. But yet we know that the gods should be never-dying, and should possess an immortal nature; and if this is clear and certain, anger has been separated far from them and from their state. On no ground, then, is it fitting to wish to appease that in the gods above which you see cannot suit their blessed state.


6. But let us allow, as you wish, that the gods are accustomed to such disturbance, and that sacrifices are offered and sacred solemnities performed to calm it, when, then, is it fitting that these offices should be made use of, or at what time should they be given? — before they are angry and roused, or when they have been moved and displeased even?34 If we must meet them with sacrifices before their anger is roused, lest they become enraged, you are bringing forward wild beasts to us, not gods, to which it is customary to toss food, upon which they may rage madly, and turn their desire to do harm, lest, having been roused, they should rage and burst the barriers of their dens. But if these sacrifices are offered to satisfy35 the gods when already fired and burning with rage, I do not inquire, I do not consider, whether that happy36 and sublime greatness of spirit which belongs to the deities is disturbed by the offences of little men, and wounded if a creature, blind and ever treading among clouds of ignorance, has committed any blunder, — said anything by which their dignity is impaired.


7. But neither do I demand that this should be said, or that I should be told what causes the gods have for their anger against men, that having taken offence they must be soothed. I do ask, however, Did they ever ordain any laws for mortals? and was it ever settled by them what it was fitting for them to do, or what it was not? what they should pursue, what avoid; or even by what means they wished themselves to be worshipped, so that they might pursue with the vengeance of their wrath what was done otherwise than they had commanded, and might be disposed, if treated contemptuously, to avenge themselves on the presumptuous and transgressors? As I think, nothing was ever either settled or ordained by them, since neither have they been seen, nor has it been possible for it to be discerned very clearly whether there are any.37 What justice is there, then, in the gods of heaven being angry for any reason with those to whom they have neither deigned at any time to show that they existed, nor given nor imposed any laws which they wished to be honoured by them and perfectly observed?38


8. But this, as I said, I do not mention, but allow it to pass away in silence. This one thing I ask, above all, What reason is there if I kill a pig, that a god changes his state of mind, and lays aside his angry feelings and frenzy; that if I consume a pullet, a calf under his eyes and on his altars, he forgets the wrong which I did to him, and abandons completely all sense of displeasure? What passes from this act39 to modify his resentment? Or of what service40 is a goose, a goat, or a peacock, that from its blood relief is brought to the angry god? Do the gods, then, make insulting them a matter of payment? and as little boys, to induce them to give up their fits of passion41 and desist from their wailings, get little sparrows, dolls, ponies, puppets,41 with which they may be able to divert themselves, do the immortal gods in such wise receive these gifts from you, that for them they may lay aside their resentment, and be reconciled to those who offended them? And yet I thought that the gods — if only it is right to believe that they are really moved by anger — lay aside their anger and resentment, and forgive the sins of the guilty, without any price or reward. For this belongs specially to deities, to be generous in forgiving, and to seek no return for their gifts.42 But if this cannot be, it would be much wiser that they should continue obstinately offended, than that they should be softened by being corrupted with bribes. For the multitude increases of those who sin, when there is hope given of paying for their sin; and there is little hesitation to do wrong, when the favour of those who pardon offences may be bought.


9. So, if some ox, or any animal you please, which is slain to mitigate and appease the fury of the deities, were to take a man’s voice and speak these43 words: “Is this, then, O Jupiter, or whatever god thou art, humane or right, or should it he considered at all just, that when another has sinned I should be killed, and that you should allow satisfaction to be made to you with my blood, although I never did you wrong, never wittingly or unwittingly did violence to your divinity and majesty, being, as thou knowest, a dumb creature, not departing from44 the simplicity of my nature, nor inclined to be fickle in my45 manners? Did I ever celebrate your games with too little reverence and care? did I drag forward a dancer so that thy deity was offended? did I swear falsely by thee? did I sacrilegiously steal your property and plunder your temples? did I uproot the most sacred groves, or pollute and profane some hallowed places by rounding private houses? What, then, is the reason that the crime of another is atoned for with my blood, and that my life and innocence are made to pay for wickedness with which I have nothing to do? Is it because I am a base creature, and am not possessed of reason and wisdom, as these declare who call themselves men, and by their ferocity make themselves beasts?46 Did not the same nature both beget and form me from the same beginnings? Is it not one breath of life which sways both them and me? Do I not respire and see, and am I not affected by the other senses just as they are? They have livers, lungs, hearts, intestines, bellies; and do not I have as many members? They love their young, and come together to beget children; and do not I both take care to procure offspring, and delight in it when it has been begotten? But they have reason, and utter articulate sounds; and how do they know whether I do what I do for my own reasons, and whether that sound which I give forth is my kind of words, and is understood by us alone? Ask piety whether it is more just that I should be slain, that I should be killed, or that man should be pardoned and be safe from punishment for what he has done? Who formed iron into a sword? was it not man? Who brought disaster upon races; who imposed slavery upon nations? was it not man? Who mixed deadly draughts, and gave them to his parents, brothers, wives, friends? was it not man? Who found out or devised so many forms of wickedness, that they can hardly be related in ten thousand chronicles of years, or even of days? was it not man? Is not this, then, cruel, monstrous, and savage? Does it not seem to you, O Jupiter, unjust and barbarous that I should be killed, that I should be slain, that you may be soothed, and the guilty find impunity?”

It has been established that sacrifices are offered in vain for this purpose then, viz., that the angry deities may be soothed; since reason has taught us that the gods are not angry at any time, and that they do not wish one thing to be destroyed, to be slain for another, or offences against themselves to be annulled by the blood of an innocent creature.47


10. But perhaps some one will say, We give to the gods sacrifices and other gifts, that, being made willing in a measure to grant our prayers, they may give us prosperity and avert from us evil, cause us to live always happily, drive away grief truly, and any evils which threaten us from accidental circumstances. This point demands great care; nor is it usual either to hear or to believe what is so easily said. For the whole company of the learned will straightway swoop upon us, who, asserting and proving that whatever happens, happens according to the decrees of fate, snatch out of our48 hands that opinion, and assert that we are putting our trust in vain beliefs. Whatever, they will say, has been done in the world, is being done, and shall be done, has been settled and fixed in time past, and has causes which cannot be moved, by means of which events have been linked together, and form an unassailable chain of unalterable necessity between the past and the future. If it has been determined and fixed what evil or good should befall each person, it is already certain; but if this is certain and fixed, there is no room for all the help given by the gods, their hatred, and favours. For they are just as unable to do for you that which cannot be done, as to prevent that from being done which must happen, except that they will be able, if they choose, to depreciate somewhat powerfully that belief which you entertain, so that they49 say that even the gods themselves are worshipped by you in vain, and that the supplications with which you address them are superfluous. For as they are unable to turn aside the course of events, and change what has been appointed by fate, what reason, what cause, is there to wish to weary and deafen the ears of those in whose help you cannot trust at your utmost need?


11. Lastly, if the gods drive away sorrow and grief, if they bestow joy and pleasure, how50 are there in the world so many51 and so wretched men, whence come so many unhappy ones, who lead a life of tears in the meanest condition? Why are not those free from calamity who every moment, every instant, load and heap up the altars with sacrifices? Do we not see that some of them, say the learned, are the seats of diseases, the light of their eyes quenched, and their ears stopped, that they cannot move with their feet, that they live mere trunks without the use of their hands, that they are swallowed up, overwhelmed, and destroyed by conflagrations, shipwrecks, and disasters;52 that, having been stripped of immense fortunes, they support themselves by labouring for hire, and beg for alms at last; treat they are exiled, proscribed, always in the midst of sorrow, overcome by the loss of children, and harassed by other misfortunes, the kinds and forms of which no enumeration can comprehend? But assuredly this would not occur if the gods, who had been laid under obligation, were able to ward off, to turn aside, those evils from those who merited this favour. But now, because in these mishaps there is no room for the interference of the gods, but all things are brought about53 by inevitable necessity, the appointed course of events goes on and accomplishes that which has been once determined.


12. Or the gods of heaven should be said to be ungrateful if, while they have power to prevent it, they suffer an unhappy race to be involved in so many hardships and disasters. But perhaps they may say something of importance in answer to this, and not such as should be received by deceitful, fickle, and scornful ears. This point, however, because it would require too tedious and prolix discussion,54 we hurry past unexplained and untouched, content to have stated this alone, that you give to your gods dishonourable reputations if you assert that on no other condition do they bestow blessings and turn away what is injurious, except they have been first bought over with the blood of she-goats and sheep, and with the other things which are put upon their altars. For it is not fitting, in the first place, that the power of the deities and the surpassing eminence of the celestials should be believed to keep their favours on sale, first to receive a price, and then to bestow them; and then, which is much more unseemly, that they aid no one unless they receive their demands, and that they suffer the most wretched to undergo whatever perils may befall them,55 while they could ward these off, and come to their aid. If of two who are sacrificing, one is a scoundrel,56 and rich, the other of small fortune, but worthy of praise for his integrity and goodness, — if the former should slay a hundred oxen, and as many ewes with their lambkins, the poor man burn a little incense, and a small piece of some odorous substance, — will it not follow that it should be believed that, if only the deities bestow nothing except when rewards are first offered, they will give their favour57 to the rich man, turn their eyes away from the poor, whose gifts were restricted not by his spirit, but by the scantiness of his means?58For where the giver is venal and mercenary, there it must needs be that favour is granted according to the greatness of the gift by which it is purchased, and that a favourable decision is given to him from whom59 far the greater reward and bribe, though this be shameful, flows to him who gives it.60 What if two nations, on the other hand, arrayed against each other in war, enriched the altars of the gods with equal sacrifices, and were to demand that their power and help should be given to them, the one against the other: must it not, again, be believed that, if they are persuaded to be of service by rewards, they are at a loss between both sides, are struck motionless, and do not perceive what to do, since they understand that their favour has been pledged by the acceptance of the sacrifices? For either they will give assistance to this side and to that, which is impossible, for in that case they will fight themselves against themselves, strive against their own favour and wishes; or they will do nothing to aid either nation61 after the price of their aid has been paid and received, which is very wicked. All this infamy, therefore, should be removed far from the gods; nor should it be said at all that they are won over by rewards and payments to confer blessings, and remove what is disagreeable, if only they are true gods, and worthy to be ranked under this name. For either whatever happens, happens inevitably, and there is no place in the gods for ambition and favour; or if fate is excluded and got rid of, it does not belong to the celestial dignity to sell the boon of its services,62 and the conferring of its bounties.


13. We have shown sufficiently, as I suppose, that victims, and the things which go along with them, are offered in vain to the immortal gods, because they are neither nourished by them, nor feel any pleasure, nor lay aside their anger and resentment, so as either to give good fortune, or to drive away and avert the opposite. We have now to examine that point also which has been usually asserted by some, and applied to forms of ceremony. For they say that these sacred rites were instituted to do honour to the gods of heaven, and that these things which they do, they do to show them honour, and to magnify the powers of the deities by them. What if they were to say, in like manner, that they keep awake and sleep, walk about, stand still, write something, and read, to give honour to the gods, and make them more glorious in majesty? For what substance is there added to them from the blood of cattle, and from the other things which are prepared in sacrificing? what power is given and added to them? For all honour, which is said to be offered by any one, and to be yielded to reverence for a greater being, is of a kind having reference to the other; and consists of two parts, of the concession of the giver, and the increase of honour of the receiver. As, if any one, on seeing a man famed for his very great power63 and authority, were to make way for him, to stand up, to uncover his head, and leap down from his carriage, then, bending forward to salute him with slavish servility and64 trembling agitation, I see what is aimed at in showing such respect: by the bowing down of the one, very great honour is given to the other, and he is made to appear great whom the respect of an inferior exalts and places above his own rank.65


14. But all this conceding and ascribing of honour about which we are speaking are met with among men alone, whom their natural weakness and love of standing above their fellows66 teach to delight in arrogance, and in being preferred above others. But, I ask, where is there room for honour among the gods, or what greater exaltation is found to be given67 to them by piling up68 sacrifices? Do they become more venerable, more powerful, when cattle are sacrificed to them? is there anything added to them from this? or do they begin to be more truly gods, their divinity being increased? And yet I consider it almost an insult, nay, an insult altogether, when it is said that a god is honoured by a man, and exalted by the offering of some gift. For if honour increases and augments the grandeur of him to whom it is given, it follows that a deity becomes greater by means of the man from whom he has received the gift, and the honour conferred on him; and thus the matter is brought to this issue, that the god who is exalted by human honours is the inferior, while, on the other hand, the man who increases the power of a deity is his superior.69


15. What then! some one will say, do you think that no honour should be given to the gods at all? If you propose to us gods such as they should be if they do exist, and such as70 we feel that we all mean when we mention71 that name, how can we but give them even the greatest honour, since we have been taught by the commands which have especial power over us,72 to pay honour to all men even, of whatever rank, of whatever condition they may be? What, pray, you ask, is this very great honour? One much more in accordance with duty than is paid by you, and directed to73 a more powerful race, we reply. Tell, us, you say, in the first place, what is an opinion worthy of the gods, right and honourable, and not blameworthy from its being made unseemly by something infamous? We reply, one such that you believe that they neither have any likeness to man, nor look for anything which is outside of them and comes from without; then — and this has been said pretty frequently — that they do not burn with the fires of anger, that they do not give themselves up passionately to sensual pleasure, that they are not bribed to be of service, that they are not tempted to injure our enemies, that they do not sell their kindness and favour, that they do not rejoice in having honour heaped on them, that they are not indignant and vexed if it is not given; but — and this belongs to the divine — that by their own power they know themselves, and that they do not rate themselves by the obsequiousness of others. And yet, that we may see the nature of what is said, what kind of honour is this, to bind a wether, a ram, a bull before the face of a god, and slay them in his sight? What kind of honour is it to invite a god to a banquet of blood, which you see him take and share in with dogs? What kind of honour is it, having set on fire piles of wood, to hide the heavens with smoke, and darken with gloomy blackness the images of the gods? But if it seems good to you that these actions should be considered in themselves,74 not judged of according to your prejudices, you will find that those altars of which you speak, and even those beautiful ones which you dedicate to the superior gods,75 are places for burning the unhappy race of animals, funeral pyres, and mounds built for a most unseemly office, and formed to be filled with corruption.


16. What say you, O you  —  —  ! is that foul smell, then, which is given forth and emitted by burning hides, by bones, by bristles, by the fleeces of lambs, and the feathers of fowls, — is that a favour and an honour to the deity? and are the deities honoured by this, to whose temples, when yon arrange to go, you come76 cleansed from all pollution, washed, and perfectly77 pure? And what can be more polluted than these, more unhappy,78 more debased, than if their senses are naturally such that they are fond of what is so cruel, and take delight in foul smells which, when inhaled with the breath, even those who sacrifice cannot bear, and certainly not a delicate79 nose? But if you think that the gods of heaven de honoured by the blood of living creatures being offered to them, why do you not80 sacrifice to them both mules, and elephants, and asses? why not dogs also, bears, and foxes, camels, and hyaenas, and lions? And as birds also are counted victims by you, why do you not sacrifice vultures, eagles, storks, falcons, hawks, ravens, sparrow-hawks, owls, and, along with them, salamanders, water-snakes, vipers, tarantulae? For indeed there is both blood in these, and they are in like manner moved by the breath of life. What is there more artistic in the former kind of sacrifices, or less ingenious in the latter, that these do not add to and increase the grandeur of the gods? Because, says my opponent, it is right to honour the gods of heaven with those things by which we are ourselves nourished and sustained, and live; which also they have, in their divine benevolence, deigned to give to us for food. But the same gods have given to you both cumin, cress, turnips, onions, parsley, esculent thistles, radishes, gourds, rue, mint, basil, flea-bane, and chives, and commanded them to be used by you as part of your food; why, then, do you not put these too upon the altars, and scatter wild-marjoram, with which oxen are fed, over them all, and mix amongst them onions with their pungent flavour?


17. Lo, if dogs — for a case must be imagined, in order that things may be seen more clearly — if dogs, I say, and asses, and along with them water-wagtails, if the twittering swallows, and pigs also, having acquired some of the feelings of men, were to think and suppose that you were gods, and to propose to offer sacrifices in your honour, not of other things and substances, but of those with which they are wont to be nourished and supported, according to their natural inclination, — we ask you to say whether you would consider this an honour, or rather a most outrageous affront, when the swallows slew and consecrated flies to you, the water-wagtails ants; when the asses put hay upon your altars, and poured out libations of chaff; when the dogs placed bones, and burned human excrements81 at your shrines; when, lastly, the pigs poured out before you a horrid mess, taken from their frightful hog-pools and filthy maws? Would you not in this case, then, be inflamed with rage that your greatness was treated with contumely, and account it an atrocious wrong that you were greeted with filth? But, you reply, you honour the gods with the carcasses of bulls, and by slaying82 other living creatures. And in what respect does this differ from that, since these sacrifices, also, if they are not yet, will nevertheless soon be, dung, and will become rotten after a very short time has passed? Finally, cease to place fire upon83 your altars, then indeed you will84 see that consecrated flesh of bulls, with which you magnify the honour of the gods, swelling and heaving with worms, tainting and corrupting the atmosphere, and infecting the neighbouring districts with unwholesome smells. Now, if the gods were to enjoin you to turn these things85 to your own account, to make your meals from them86 in the usual way; you would flee to a distance, and, execrating the smell, would beg pardon from the gods, and bind yourselves by oath never again to offer such sacrifices to them. Is not this conduct of yours mockery, then? is it not to confess, to make known that you do not know what a deity is, nor to what power the meaning and title of this name should be given and applied? Do you give new dignity to the gods by new kinds of food? do you honour them with savours and juices, and because those things which nourish you are pleasing and grateful to you? do you believe that the gods also flock up to enjoy their pleasant taste, and, just as barking dogs, lay aside their fierceness for mouthfuls, and pretty often fawn upon those who hold these out?


18. And as we are now speaking of the animals sacrificed, what cause, what reason is there, that while the immortal gods — for, so far as we are concerned, they may all be gods who are believed to be so — are of one mind, or should be of one nature, kind, and character, all are not appeased with all the victims, but certain deities with certain animals, according to the sacrificial laws? For what cause is there, to repeat the same question, that that deity should be honoured with bulls, another with kids or sheep, this one with sucking pigs, the other with unshorn lambs, this one with virgin heifers, that one with horned goats, this with barren cows, but that with teeming87 swine, this with white, that with dusky88 victims, one with female, the other, on the contrary, with male animals? For if victims are slain in sacrifice to the gods, to do them honour and show reverence for them, what does it matter, or what difference is there with the life of what animal this debt is paid, their anger and resentment put away? Or is the blood of one victim less grateful and pleasing to one god, while the other’s fills him with pleasure and joy? or, as is usually done, does that deity abstain from the flesh of goats because of some reverential and religious scruple, another turn with disgust from pork, while to this mutton stinks? and does this one avoid tough ox-beef that he may not overtax his weak stomach, and choose tender89 sucklings that he may digest them more speedily?90


19. But you err, says my opponent, and fall into mistakes; for in sacrificing female victims to the female deities, males to the male deities, there is a hidden and very91 secret reason, and one beyond the reach of the mass. I do not inquire, I do not demand, what the sacrificial laws teach or contain; but if reason has demonstrated,92 and truth declared, that among the gods there is no difference of species, and that they are not distinguished by any sexes, must not all these reasonings be set at nought, and be proved, the opinions of wise men, who cannot restrain their laughter when they hear distinctions of sex attributed to the immortal gods: I ask of each man whether he himself believes in his own mind, and persuades himself that the race of the gods is so distinguished that they are male and female, and have been formed with members arranged suitably for the begetting of young?

But if the laws of the sacrifices enjoin that like sexes should be sacrificed to like, that is, female victims to the female gods, male victims, on the contrary, to the male gods, what relation is there in the colours, so that it is right and fitting that to these white, to those dark, even the blackest victims are slain? Because, says my opponent, to the gods above, and those who have power to give favourable omens,93 the cheerful colour is acceptable and propitious from the pleasant appearance of pure white; while, on the contrary, to the sinister deities, and those who inhabit the infernal seats, a dusky colour is more pleasing, and one tinged with gloomy hues. But if, again, the reasoning holds good, that the infernal regions are an utterly vain and empty name,94 and that underneath the earth there are no Plutonian realms and abodes, this, too, must nullify your ideas about black cattle and gods under the ground. Because, if there are no infernal regions, of necessity there are no dii Manium also. For how is it possible that, while there are no regions, there should be said to be any who inhabit them?


20. But let us agree, as you wish, that there are both infernal regions and Manes, and that some gods or other dwell in these by no means favourable to men, and presiding over misfortunes; and what cause, what reason is there, that black victims, even95 of the darkest hue, should be brought to their altars? Because dark things suit dark, and gloomy things are pleasing to similar beings. What then? Do you not see — that we, too, may joke with you stupidly, and just as you do yourselves96 — that the flesh of the victims is not black,97 nor their bones, teeth, fat, the bowels, with98 the brains, and the soft marrow in the bones? But the fleeces are jetblack, and the bristles of the creatures are jetblack. Do you, then, sacrifice to the gods only wool and little bristles torn from the victims? Do you leave the wretched creatures, despoiled it may be, and shorn, to draw the breath of heaven, and rest in perfect innocence upon their feeding-grounds? But if yon think that those things are pleasing to the infernal gods which are black and of a gloomy colour, why do you not take care that all the other things which it is customary to place upon their sacrifices should be black, and smoked, and horrible in colour? Dye the incense if it is offered, the salted grits, and all the libations without exception. Into the milk, oil, blood, pour soot and ashes, that this may lose its purple hue, that the others may become ghastly. But if you have no scruple in introducing some things which are white and retain their brightness, you yourselves do away with your own religious scruples and reasonings, while you do not maintain any single and universal rule in performing the sacred rites.


21. But this, too, it is fitting that we should here learn from you: If a goat be slain to Jupiter, which is usually sacrificed to father Liber and Mercury,99 or if the barren heifer be sacrificed to Unxia, which you give to Proserpine, by what usage and rule is it determined what crime there is in this, what wickedness or guilt has been contracted, since it makes no difference to the worship offered to the deity what animal it is with whose head the honour is paid which you owe? It is not lawful, says my opponent, that these things should be confounded, and it is no small crime to throw the ceremonies of the rites and the mode of expiation into confusion. Explain the reason, I beg. Because it is right to consecrate victims of a certain kind to certain deities, and that certain forms of supplication should be also adopted. And what, again, is the reason that it is right to consecrate victims of a certain kind to certain deities, and that certain forms of supplication should he also adopted, for this very rightfulness should have its own cause, and spring, be derived from certain reasons? Are you going to speak about antiquity and custom? If so, you relate to me merely the opinions of men, and the inventions of a blind creature: but I, when I request a reason to be brought forward to me, wish to hear either that something has fallen from heaven, or, which the subject rather requires, what relation Jupiter has to a bull’s blood that it should be offered in sacrifice to him, not to Mercury or Liber. Or what are the natural properties of a goat, that they again should be suited to these gods, should not be adapted to the sacrifices of Jupiter? Has a partition of the animals been made amongst the gods? Has some contract been made and agreed to, so that100 it is fitting that this one should hold himself back from the victim which belongs to that, that the other should cease101 to claim as his own the blood which belongs to another? Or, as envious boys, are they unwilling to allow others to have a share in enjoying the cattle presented to them? or, as is reported to be done by races which differ greatly in manners, are the same things which by one party are considered fit for eating, rejected as food by others?


22. If, then, these things are vain, and are not supported by any reason, the very offering102 of sacrifices also is idle. For how can that which follows have a suitable cause, when that very first statement from which the second flows is found to be utterly idle and vain, and established on no solid basis? To mother Earth, they say, is sacrificed a teeming103 and pregnant sow; but to the virgin Minerva is slain a virgin calf, never forced104 by the goad to attempt any labour. But yet we think that neither should a virgin have been sacrificed to a virgin, that the virginity might not be violated in the brute, for which the goddess is especially esteemed; nor should gravid and pregnant victims have been sacrificed to the Earth from respect for its fruitfulness, which105 we all desire and wish to go on always in irrepressible fertility.106 For if because the Tritonian goddess is a virgin it is therefore fitting that virgin victims be sacrificed to her, and if because the Earth is a mother she is in like manner to be entertained with gravid swine, then also Apollo should be honoured by the sacrifice of musicians because he is a musician; Aesculapius, because he is a physician, by the sacrifice of physicians; and because he is an artificer, Vulcan by the sacrifice of artificers; and because Mercury is eloquent, sacrifice should be made to him with the eloquent and most fluent. Bat if it is madness to say this, or, to speak with moderation, nonsense, that shows much greater madness to slaughter pregnant swine to the Earth because she is even more prolific; pure and virgin heifers to Minerva because she is pure, of unviolated virginity.


23. For as to that which we hear said by you, that some of the gods are good, that others, on the contrary, are bad, and rather inclined to indulge in wanton mischief,107 and that the usual rites are paid to the one party that they may show layout, but to the others that they may not do you harm, — with what reason this is said, we confess that we cannot understand. For to say that the gods are most benevolent, and have gentle dispositions, is not only pious and religious, but also true; but that they are evil and sinister, should by no means be listened to, inasmuch as that divine power has been far removed and separated from the disposition which does harm.108 But whatever can occasion calamity, it must first be seen what it is, and then it should be removed very far from the name of deity.

Then, supposing that we should agree with you that the gods promote good fortune and calamity, not even in this case is there any reason why you should allure some of them to grant you prosperity, and, on the other hand, coax others with sacrifices and rewards not to do you harm. First, because the good gods cannot act badly, even if they have been worshipped with no honour. — for whatever is mild and placid by nature, is separated widely from the practice and devising of mischief; while the bad knows not to restrain his ferocity, although he should be enticed to do so with a thousand flocks and a thousand altars. For neither can bitterness change itself into sweetness, dryness into moisture, the heat of fire into cold, or what is contrary to anything take and change into its own nature that which is its opposite. So that, if you should stroke a viper with your hand, or caress a poisonous scorpion, the former will attack you with its fangs, the latter, drawing itself together, will fix its sting in you; and your caressing will be of no avail, since both creatures are excited to do mischief, not by the stings of rage, but by a certain peculiarity of their nature. It is thus of no avail to wish to deserve well of the sinister deities by means of sacrifices, since, whether you do this, or on the contrary do not, they follow their own nature, and by inborn laws and a kind of necessity are led to those things, to do which109 they were made. Moreover, in this way110 both kinds of gods cease to possess their own powers, and to retain their own characters. For if the good are worshipped that they may be favourable, and supplication is made in the same way to the others, on the contrary, that they may not be injurious, it follows that it should be understood that the propitious deities will show no favour if they receive no gifts, and become bad instead of good;111 while, on the contrary, the bad, if they receive offerings, will lay aside their mischievous disposition, and become thereafter good: and thus it is brought to this issue, that neither are these propitious, nor are those sinister: or, which is impossible, both are propitious, and both again sinister.


24. Be it so; let it be conceded that these most unfortunate cattle are not sacrificed in the temples of the gods without some religious obligation, and that what has been dome in accordance with usage and custom possesses some rational ground: but if it seems a great and grand thing to slay bulls to the gods, and to burn in sacrifice the flesh of animals whole and entire, what is the meaning of these relics connected with the arts of the Magi which the pontifical mysteries have restored to a place among the secret laws of the sacred rites, and have mixed up with religious affairs? What, I say, is the meaning of these things, apexaones, hirciae, silicernia, longavi, which are names and kinds of sausages,112 some stuffed with goats’ blood,113 others with minced liver? What is the meaning of taedae, uaeniae, offae, not those used by the common people, but those named and called offae penitae? — of which the first114 is fat cut into very small pieces, as dainties115 are; that which has been placed second is the extension of the gut by which the excrements are given off after being drained of all their nourishing juices; while the offa penita is a beast’s tail cut off with a morsel of flesh. What is the meaning of polimina, omenta, palasea, or, as some call it, plasea? — of which that named omentum is a certain part enclosed by the reservoirs of the belly are kept within bounds; the plasea is an ox’s tail116 besmeared with flour and blood; the polimina, again, are those parts which we with more decency call proles, — by the vulgar, however, they are usually termed testes. What is the meaning of fitilla, frumen, africia, gratilla, catumeum, cumspolium, cubula? — of which the first two are names of species of pottage, but differing in kind and quality; while the series of names which follows denotes consecrated cakes, for they are not shaped in one and the same way. For we do not choose to mention the caro strebula which is taken from the haunches of bulls, the roasted pieces of meat which are spitted, the intestines first heated, and baked on glowing coals, nor, finally, the pickles117 which are made by mixing four kinds of fruit. In like manner, we do not choose to mention the fendicae, which also are the hirae,118 which the language of the mob, when it speaks, usually terms ilia;119 nor, in the same way, the aerumnae,120 which are the first part of the gullet,121 where ruminating animals are accustomed to send down their food and bring it back again; nor the magmenta,122 augmina, and thousand other kinds of sausages or pottages which you have given unintelligible names to, and have caused to be more revered by common people.


25. For if whatever is done by men, and especially in religion, should have its causes, — and nothing should be done without a reason in all that men do and perform, — tell us and say what is the cause. what the reason, that these things also are given to the gods and burned upon their sacred altars? For here we delay, constrained most urgently to wait for this cause, we pause, we stand fast, desiring to learn what a god has to do with pottage, with cakes, with different kinds of stuffing prepared in manifold ways, and with different ingredients? Are the deities affected by splendid dinners or luncheons, so that it is fitting to devise for them feasts without number? Are they troubled by the loathings of their stomachs, and is variety of flavours sought for to get rid of their aversion, so that there is set before them meat at one thee roasted, at another raw, and at another half cooked and half raw? But if the gods like to receive all these parts which you term praesiciae,123 and if these gratify them with any sense of pleasure or delight, what prevents, what hinders you from laying all these upon their altars at once with the whole animals? What cause, what reason is there that the haunch-piece124 by itself, the gullet, the tail, and the tail-piece125 separately, the entrails only, and the membrane126 alone, should be brought to do them honour? Are the gods of heaven moved by various condiments? After stuffing themselves with sumptuous and ample dinners, do they, as is usually done, take these little bits as sweet dainties, not to appease their hunger, but to rouse their wearied palates,127 and excite in themselves a perfectly voracious appetite? O wonderful greatness of the gods, comprehended by no men, understood by no creatures! if indeed their favours are bought with the testicles and gullets of beasts, and if they do not lay aside their auger and resentment, unless they see the entrails128 prepared and offae bought and burned upon their altars.





1 Lit., “in that part of years.”

2 Lit., “attribute least.”

3 Lit., “divine spurning.”

4 [When good old Dutch Boyens came to the pontificate as Hadrian VI., he was accounted a “barbarian” because he so little appreciated the art-treasures in the Vatican, on which Leo X. had lavished so much money and so much devotion. His pious spirit seemed oppressed to see so many heathen images in the Vatican: sunt idola ethnicorum was all he could say of them, — a most creditable anecdote of such a man in such times. See p. 504, n. 244, supra.]

5 [In the Edin. edition this is the opening sentence, but the editor remarks]: “By some accident the introduction to the seventh book has been tacked on as a last chapter to the sixth, where it is just as out of place as here it is in keeping.” [I have restored it to its place accordingly.]

6 Lit., “those, moreover.”

7 Lit., “nor is any blame contracted.”

8 On this Heraldus [most ignorantly] remarks, that is show conclusively how slight was the acquaintance with Christianity possessed by Arnobius, when he could not say who were the true gods. [The Edin. editor clears up the cases as follows:] This, however, is to forget that Arnobius is not declaring his own opinions here, but meeting his adversaries on their own ground. He knows who the true God is — the source and fountain of all being, and framer of the universe (ii. 2), and if there are any lesser powers called gods, what their relation to Him must be (iii. 2, 3); but he does not know any such gods himself, and is continually reminding the heathen that they know these gods just as little. (Cf. the very next sentence.)

9 Lit., “as many as possible.”

10 Lit., “in the series of.”

11 Lit., “are.”

12 i.e., M. Terentius Varro, mentioned in the last chapter.

13 Lit., “in that in which he is a god.”

14 Lit., “uniformity of quality being preserved.”

15 The MS and edd. read ut in operibus feratur cassis — “so as to be borne among,” emended by Hild. and Oehler teratur — “worn away among.”

16 Lit., “in vain errors of inanity.”

17 The MS and edd. have here forte — “perchance.”

18 Lit., “gift of food.”

19 [It must have taken much time to overcome this distaste for the use of incense in Christian minds. Let us wait for the testimony of Lactantius.]

20 Or perhaps, simply, “the sacrifice is a living one,” animalis est hostia. Macrobius, however (Sat., iii. 5), quotes Trebatius as saying that there were two kinds of sacrifices, in one of which the entrails were examined that they might disclose the divine will, while in the other the life only was consecrated to the deity. This is more precisely stated by Servius (Aen., iii. 231), who says that the hostia animalis was only slain, that in other cases the blood was poured on the altars, that in others part of the victim, and in others the whole animal, was burned. It is probable, therefore, that Arnobius uses the words here in their technical meaning, as the next clause shows that none of the flesh was offered, while the blood was allowed to fall to the ground. [I am convinced that classical antiquities must be more largely studied in the Fathers of the first five centuries.]

21 i.e., the juices which formerly flowed through the living body.

22 The heathen opponent is supposed to give up his first reason, that the sacrifices provided food for the gods, and to advance this new suggestion, that they were intended for their gratification merely.

23 Lit., “for the sake of.”

24 Lit., “with the fleeting tickling of.”

25 Lit., “with the levities of gladnesses.”

26 i.e., pleasure.

27 Naturalis initii consortia.

28 So the MS and first ed., according to Oehler, reading cred-e-t, the others -i-  — “does.”

29 Lit., “these.”

30 Arnobius says that the sacrifices give no pleasure to any being, or at least, if that is not strictly true, that they give none to the gods. [See Elucidation VI., infra.]

31 So the MS, LB., Oberthür, Orelli, Hild., and Oehler, reading consec-, for which the rest read consen-taneum est credere — “it is fitting to believe.”

32 Lit., “motion of anything.”

33 Cf. i. 18.

34 Lit., “set in indignations.”

35 Lit., “if this satisfaction of sacrifices is offered to.”

36 So the MS and most edd., reading laeta, for which Ursinus suggested lauta — “splendid,” and Heraldus elata — “exalted.”

37 It is perhaps possible so to translate the MS neque si sunt ulli apertissima potuit cognitione dignosci, retained by Orelli, Hild., and Oehler, in which case si sunt ulli must be taken as the subject of the clause. The other edd., from regard to the construction, read visi — “nor, if they have been seen, has it been possible.”

38 Lit., “kept with inviolable observance.”

39 Lit., “work.”

40 Lit., “remedy.”

41 So Panes seems to be generally understood, i.e., images of Pan used as playthings by boys, and very much the same thing as the puppets — pupuli — already mentioned.

42 Lit., “to have liberal pardons and free concessions.”

43 Lit., “in these.”

44 Lit., “following.”

45 Lit., “to varieties of manifold.”

46 Lit., “leap into.”

47 [This very striking passage should lead us to compare the widely different purpose of Judaic sacrifices. See Elucidation VI., infra.]

48 Lit., “from the hands to us,” nobis, the reading of the MS, both Roman edd., Gelenius, LB., and Oehler; for which the rest give vobis — “out of your hands.”

49 i.e., the learned man referred to above.

50 Lit., “whence.”

51 Lit., “so innumerable.”

52 Lit., “ruins.”

53 So Canterus suggests conf-iunt for the MS confic-  — “bring about.”

54 Lit., “it is a thing of long and much speech.”

55 Lit., “the fortunes of perils.”

56 The MS reading is hoc est unus, corrected honestus — “honourable” (which makes the comparison pointless, because there is no reason why a rich man, if good, should not be succoured as well as a poor), in all edd., except Oehler, who reads seclestus, which departs too far from the MS. Perhaps we should read, as above, inhonestus.

57 So the MS, LB., Hild., and Oehler, as the other edd., adding et auxilium — “and help.”

58 Lit., “whom not his mind, but the necessity of his property, made restricted.”

59 Lit., “inclines thither whence.”

60 i.e., the decision.

61 Lit., “both nations.”

62 Lit., “the favours of good work,” boni operis favor-es et, the reading of Hild. and Oehler (other edd. -em — “the favour of its service”) for MS fabore sed.

63 Lit., “of most powerful name.”

64 Lit., “imitating a slave’s servility” — ancillatum, the emendation of Hemsterhuis, adopted by Orelli, Hild., and Oehler for the unintelligible MS ancillarum.

65 Lit., “things.”

66 Lit., “in higher places.”

67 Lit., “what eminences is it found to be added,” addier. So Hild. and Oehler for the reading of MS, first four edd., and Oberthür addere — “to add,” emended in rest from margin of Ursinus accedere, much as above.

68 So the MS, reading conjectionibus, which is retained in no edd., although its primary meaning is exactly what the sense here requires.

69 The last clause was omitted in first four edd. and Elmh., and was inserted from the MS by Meursius.

70 Lit., “whom.”

71 Lit., “say the proclamation of.”

72 Lit., “more powerful commands,” i.e., by Christ’s injunctions. It seems hardly possible that any one should suppose that there is here any reference to Christ’s command to His disciples not to exercise lordship over each other, yet Orelli thinks that there is perhaps a reference to Mar_10:42, Mar_10:43. If a particular reference were intended, we might with more reason find it in 1Pe_2:17, “Honour all men.”

73 Lit., “established in.”

74 Lit., “weighed by their own force,” vi.

75 i.e., altariaque haec pulchra.

76 Lit., “you show yourselves,” praestatis.

77 Lit., “most.” So Tibullus (Eleg., ii. 1, 13): “Pure things please the gods. Come (i.e., to the sacrifice) with clean garments, and with clean hands take water from the fountain,” — perfect cleanliness being scrupulously insisted on.

78 This Heraldus explains as “of worse omen,” and Oehler as “more unclean.”

79 Ingenuae, i.e., such as any respectable person has.

80 To this the commentators have replied, that mules, asses, and dogs were sacrificed to certain deities. We must either admit that Arnobius has here fallen into error, or suppose that he refers merely to the animals which were usually slain, or find a reason for his neglecting it in the circumstances of each sacrifice.

81 [The wit of Arnobius must be acknowledged in this scorching satire. Compare the divine ordinances, Exo_29:13, Exo_29:14.]

82 Lit., “by slaughters of,” caedibus.

83 Lit., “under,” i.e., under the sacrifices on your altars.

84 So all edd., reading cerne-, except both Roman edd., Hild., and Oehler, who retain the MS cerni-tis — “you see.”

85 In translating it thus, it has been attempted to adhere as closely as possible to the MS reading (according to Crusius) qua si — corrected, as above, quae in LB.; but it is by no means certain that further changes should not be made.

86 Lit., “prepare luncheons and dinners thence,” i.e., from the putrefying carcasses.

87 The MS and first four edd. read ingentibus scrofis — “with huge breeding swine,” changed by rest, as above, incient-, from the margin of Ursinus.

88 Or “gloomy,” tetris, the reading of MS and all edd. since LB., for which earlier edd. give atris — “black.”

89 Lit., “the tenderness of.”

90 [The law of clean and unclean reflects the instincts of man, as here appealed to; but compare and patiently study these texts: Lev_10:10 and Eze_22:26; Lev_11:1-47 and Act_10:15; Rom_14:14 and Luk_11:41.]

91 Lit., “more.”

92 So the MS, Elm., LB., Orelli, Hild., and Oehler, reading vicerit, for which the others read jusserit — “has bidden.”

93 Lit., “prevailing with favourableness of omens,” ominum, for which the MS and first four edd. read h-  — “of men.”

94 That Arnobius had good reason to appeal to this scepticism as a fact, is evident from the lines of Juvenal (ii. 149-152): “Not even children believe that there are any Manes and subterranean realms.”

95 Lit., “and.” Immediately after, the MS is corrected in later writing color-es (for -is) — “and the darkest colours.”

96 Similiter. This is certainly a suspicious reading, but Arnobius indulges occasionally in similar vague expressions.

97 Lit., “is white.”

98 Or, very probably, “the membranes with (i.e., enclosing) the brains,” omenta cum cerebris.

99 Goats were sacrificed to Bacchus, but not, so far as is known, to Mercury. Cf. c. 16, p. 524, n. 80.

100 Lit., “by the paction of some transaction is it,” etc.

101 So all except both Roman edd., which retain the MS reading desi-d-eret (correct -n- by Gelenius) — “wish.”

102 So the MS, Hild., Oehler, reading d-atio, approved of by Stewechius also. The others read r-  — “reasoning on behalf.”

103 Inci-ens, so corrected in the margin of Ursinus for MS ing-  — “huge.” Cf. Luk_18:1-43, p. 524, n. 87.

104 The MS reads excitata conatus (according to Hild.); corrected, as above, by the insertion of ad.

105 Quam, i.e., the earth.

106 Singularly enough, for fecunditate Oberthür reads virginitate — “inextinguishable virginity,” which is by no means universally desired in the earth. Orelli, as usual, copies without remark the mistake of his predecessor.

107 Lit., “more prompt to lust of hurting.”

108 Lit., “nature of hurting.”

109 The MS reads ad ea quae facti sunt, understood seemingly as above by the edd., by supplying ad before quae. Oehler, however, proposes quia — “because they were made for them.” The reading must be regarded as doubtful.

110 i.e., if sacrifices avail to counteract the malevolent dispositions of the gods.

111 Lit., “these.” This clause, omitted by Oberthür, is also omitted without remark by Orelli.

112 So the edd., reading farciminum for the MS facinorum, corrected by Hild. fartorum — “of stuffings.” Throughout this passage hardly one of the names of these sacrificial dainties is generally agreed upon; as many are met with nowhere else, the MS has been adhered to strictly.

113 i.e., probably the hirciae: of the others, silicernia seem to have been put on the table at funerals.

114 i.e., taeda.

115 So Salmasius and Meursius corrected the MS catillaminu-a-m by omitting a.

116 i.e., tail-piece.

117 Salsamina, by which is perhaps meant the grits and salt cast on the victim; but if so, Arnobius is at variance with Servius (Virgil, Ecl., viii. 81), who expressly states that these were of spelt mixed only with salt; while there is no trace elsewhere of a different usage.

118 The first four edd. retain the unintelligible MS dirae.

119 i.e., the entrails. The MS, first four edd., and Elm. read illa.

120 So the MS, LB., Oberthür, Orelli, Hild., and Oehler; but aerumnae is found in no other passage with this meaning.

121 Lit., “first heads in gullets.”

122 By this, and the word which follows, we know from the etymology that “offerings” to the gods must be meant, but we know nothing more.

123 i.e., cut off for sacrifice.

124 Caro strebula.

125 Plasea.

126 The MS reads unintelligibly nomen quae, corrected by Gelenius omentum, as above.

127 Lit., “admonish the ease of the palate;” a correction of Salmasius, by omitting a from the MS palati-a admoneant.

128 Naeniae.