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

Arnobius (Cont.)

24. Here also the advocates of images are wont to say this also, that the ancients knew well that images have no divine nature, and that there is no sense in them, but that they formed them profitably and wisely, for the sake of the unmanageable and ignorant mob, which is the majority in nations and in states, in order that a kind of appearance, as it were, of deities being presented to them, from fear they might shake off their rude natures, and, supposing that they were acting in the presence of the gods, put187 away their impious deeds, and, changing their manners, learn to act as men;188 and that august forms of gold and silver were sought for them, for no other reason than that some power was believed to reside in their splendour, such as not only to dazzle the eyes, but even to strike terror into the mind itself at the majestic beaming lustre. Now this might perhaps seem to be said with some reason, if, after the temples of the gods were founded, and their images set up, there were no wicked man in the world, no villany at all, if justice, peace, good faith, possessed the hearts of men, and no one on earth were called guilty and guiltless, all being ignorant of wicked deeds. But now when, on the contrary, all things are full of wicked men, the name of innocence has almost perished, and every moment, every second, evil deeds, till now unheard of, spring to light in myriads from the wickedness of wrongdoers, how is it right to say that images have been set up for the purpose of striking terror into the mob, while, besides innumerable forms of crime and wickedness,189 we see that even the temples themselves are attacked by tyrants, by kings, by robbers, and by nocturnal thieves, and that these very gods whom antiquity fashioned and consecrated to cause terror, are carried away190 into the caves of robbers, in spite even of the terrible splendour of the gold?191


25. For what grandeur — if you look at the truth without any prejudice192 — is there in these images193 of which they speak, that the men of old should have had reason to hope and think that, by beholding them, the vices of men could be subdued, and their morals and wicked ways brought under restraint?194 The reaping-hook, for example, which was assigned to Saturn,195 was it to inspire mortals with fear, that they should be willing to live peacefully, and to abandon their malicious inclinations? Janus, with double face, or that spiked key by which he has been distinguished; Jupiter, cloaked and bearded, and holding in his right hand a piece of wood shaped like a thunderbolt; the cestus of Juno,196 or the maiden lurking under a soldier’s helmet; the mother of the gods, with her timbrel; the Muses, with their pipes and psalteries; Mercury, the winged slayer of Argus; Aesculapius, with his staff; Ceres, with huge breasts, or the drinking cup swinging in Liber’s right hand; Mulciber, with his workman s dress; or Fortune, with her horn full of apples, figs, or autumnal fruits; Diana, with half-covered thighs, or Venus naked, exciting to lustful desire; Anubis, with his dog’s face; or Priapus, of less importance197 than his own genitals: were these expected to make men afraid?


26. O dreadful forms of terror and198 frightful bugbears199 on account of which the human race was to be benumbed for ever, to attempt nothing in its utter amazement, and to restrain itself from every wicked and shameful act — little sickles, keys, caps, pieces of wood, winged sandals, staves, little timbrels, pipes, psalteries, breasts protruding and of great size, little drinking cups, pincers, and horns filled with fruit, the naked bodies of women, and huge veretra openly exposed! Would it not have been better to dance and to sing, than calling it gravity and pretending to be serious, to relate what is so insipid and so silly, that images200 were formed by the ancients to check wrongdoing, and to arouse the fears of the wicked and impious? Were the men of that age and time, in understanding, so void of reason and good sense, that they were kept back from wicked actions, just as if they were little boys, by the preternatural201 savageness of masks, by grimaces also, and bugbears?202 And how has this been so entirely changed, that though there are so many temples in your states filled with images of all the gods, the multitude of criminals cannot be resisted even with so many laws and so terrible punishments, and their audacity cannot be overcome203 by any means, and wicked deeds, repeated again and again, multiply the more it is striven by laws and severe judgments to lessen the number of cruel deeds, and to quell them by the check given by means of punishments? But if images caused any fear to men, the passing of laws would cease, nor would so many kinds of tortures be established against the daring of the guilty: now, however, because it has been proved and established that the supposed204 terror which is said to flow out from the images is in reality vain, recourse has been had to the ordinances of laws, by which there might be a dread of punishment which should be most certain fixed in men’s minds also, and a condemnation settled; to which these very images also owe it that they yet stand safe, and secured by some respect being yielded to them. 





187 Lit., “lop away,” deputarent, the reading of the MS, Hild., and Oehler; the rest reading deponerent — “lay aside.” [The same plausible defences are used to this day by professed Christians. See Jesuits at Rome, by Hobart Seymour, p. 38, ed. New York, 1849.]

188 Lit., “pass to human offices.”

189 Lit., “crimes and wickedness.”

190 Lit., “go,” vadere.

191 Lit., “with their golden and to-be-feared splendours themselves.”

192 Lit., “and without any favour,” gratificatione.

193 Lit., “what great thing have these images in them.”

194 So the MS, first four edd., Elm., Hild., and Oehler, reading mores et maleficia, corrected in the others a maleficio — “morals withheld from wickedness.”

195 Cf. Psa_12:1-8, p. 511.

196 The reference is probably to some statue or picture of Juno represented as girt with the girdle of Venus (Il., xiv. 214).

197 Lit., “inferior.”

198 Formidinum.

199 Terrores.

200 Or, perhaps, “related that images so frigid and so awkward.”

201 The MS and both Roman edd. read monstruosissima-s torvitate-s annis; corrected by Gelenius and later edd. monstruosissimâ torvitate animos, and by Salmasius, Orelli, Hild., and Oehler, as above, m. t. sannis.

202 The MS, first four edd., Elm., and Oberthür read manus, which, with animos read in most (cf. preceding note), would run, “that they were even kept back, as to (i.e., in) minds and hands, from wicked actions by the preternatural savageness of masks.” The other edd. read with Salmasius, as above, maniis.

203 Lit., “cut away.”

204 Lit., “opinion of.”