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

Arnobius (Cont.)

32. But all these things, they say, are the fictions of poets, and games arranged for pleasure. It is not credible, indeed, that men by no means thoughtless, who sought to trace out the character of the remotest antiquity, either did not160 insert in their poems the fables which survived in men’s minds161 and common conversation;162 or that they would have assumed to themselves so great licence as to foolishly feign what was almost sheer madness, and might give them reason to be afraid of the gods, and bring them into danger with men. But let us grant that the poets are, as yon say, the inventors and authors of tales so disgraceful; you are not, however, even thus free from the guilt of dishonouring the gods, who either are remiss in punishing such offences, or have not, by passing laws, and by severity of punishments, opposed such indiscretion, and determined163 that no man should henceforth say that which tended to the dishonour,164 or was unworthy of the glory of the gods.165 For whoever allows the wrongdoer to sin, strengthens his audacity; and it is more insulting to brand and mark any one with false accusations, than to bring forward and upbraid their real offences. For to be called what you are, and what you feel yourself to be, is less offensive, because your resentment is checked by the evidence supplied against you on privately reviewing your life;166 but that wounds very keenly which brands the innocent, and defames a man’s honourable name and reputation.


33. Your gods, it is recorded, dine on celestial couches, and in golden chambers, drink, and are at last soothed by the music of the lyre, and singing. You fit them with ears not easily wearied;167 and do not think it unseemly to assign to the gods the pleasures by which earthly bodies are supported, and which are sought after by ears enervated by the frivolity of an unmanly spirit. Some of them are brought forward in the character of lovers, destroyers of purity, to commit shameful and degrading deeds not only with women, but with men also. You take no care as to what is said about matters of so much importance, nor do you check, by any fear of chastisement at least, the recklessness of your wanton literature; others, through madness and frenzy, bereave themselves, and by the slaughter of their own relatives cover themselves with blood, just as though it were that of an enemy. You wonder at these loftily expressed impieties; and that which it was fitting should be subjected to all punishments, you extol with praise that spurs them on, so as to rouse their recklessness to greater vehemence. They mourn over the wounds of their bereavement, and with unseemly wailings accuse the cruel fates; you are astonished at the force of their eloquence, carefully study and commit to memory that which should have been wholly put away from human society,168 and are solicitous that it should not perish through any forgetfulness. They are spoken of as being wounded, maltreated, making war upon each other with hot and furious contests; you enjoy the description; and, to enable you to defend so great daring in the writers, pretend that these things are allegories, and contain the principles of natural science.


34. But why do I complain that you have disregarded the insults169 offered to the other deities? That very Jupiter, whose name you should not have spoken without fear and trembling over your whole body, is described as confessing his faults when overcome by lust170 of his wife, and, hardened in shamelessness, making known, as if he were mad and ignorant,171 the mistresses he preferred to his spouse, the concubines he preferred to his wife; you say that those who have uttered so marvellous things are chiefs and kings among poets endowed with godlike genius, that they are persons most holy; and so utterly have you lost sight of your duty in the matters of religion which you bring forward, that words are of more importance, in your opinion, than the profaned majesty of the immortals. So then, if only you felt any fear of the gods, or believed with confident and unhesitating assurance that they existed at all, should you not, by bills, by popular votes, by fear of the senate’s decrees, have hindered, prevented, and forbidden any one to speak at random of the gods otherwise than in a pious manner?172 Nor have they obtained this honour even at your hands, that you should repel insults offered to them by the same laws by which you ward them off from yourselves. They are accused of treason among you who have whispered any evil about your kings. To degrade a magistrate, or use insulting language to a senator, you have made by decree a crime, followed by the severest punishment. To write a satirical poem, by which a slur is cast upon the reputation and character of another, you determined, by the decrees of the decemvirs, should not go unpunished; and that no one might assail your ears with too wanton abuse, you established formulae173 for severe affronts. With you only the gods are unhonoured, contemptible, vile; against whom you allow any one liberty to say what he will, to accuse them of the deeds of baseness which his lust has invented and devised. And yet you do not blush to raise against us the charge of want of regard for deities so infamous, although it is much better to disbelieve the existence of the gods than to think they are such, and of such repute.


35. But is it only poets whom you have thought proper174 to allow to invent unseemly tales about the gods, and to turn them shamefully into sport? What do your pantomimists, the actors, that crowd of mimics and adulterers?175 Do they176 not abuse your gods to make to themselves gain, and do not the others177 find enticing pleasures in178 the wrongs and insults offered to the gods? At the public games, too, the colleges of all the priests and magistrates take their places, the chief Pontiffs, and the chief priests of the curiae; the Quindecemviri take their places, crowned with wreaths of laurel, and the flamines diales with their mitres; the augurs take their places, who disclose the divine mind and will; and the chaste maidens also, who cherish and guard the ever-burning fire; the whole people and the senate take their places; the fathers who have done service as consuls, princes next to the gods, and most worthy of reverence; and, shameful to say, Venus, the mother of the race of Mars, and parent of the imperial people, is represented by gestures as in love,179 and is delineated with shameless mimicry as raving like a Bacchanal, with all the passions of a vile harlot.180 The Great Mother, too, adorned with her sacred fillets, is represented by dancing; and that Pessinuntic Dindymene181 is, to the dishonour of her age, represented as with shameful desire using passionate gestures in the embrace of a herdsman; and also in the Trachiniae of Sophocles,182 that son of Jupiter, Hercules, entangled in the toils of a death-fraught garment, is exhibited uttering piteous cries, overcome by his violent suffering, and at last wasting away and being consumed, as his intestines soften and are dissolved.183 But in these tales even the Supreme Ruler of the heavens Himself is brought forward, without any reverence for His name and majesty, as acting the part of an adulterer, and changing His countenance for purposes of seduction, in order that He might by guile rob of their chastity matrons, who were the wives of others, and putting on the appearance of their husbands, by assuming the form of another.


36. But this crime is not enough: the persons of the most sacred gods are mixed up with farces also, and scurrilous plays. And that the idle onlookers may be excited to laughter and jollity, the deities are hit at in jocular quips, the spectators shout and rise up, the whole pit resounds with the clapping of hands and applause. And to the debauched scoffers184 at the gods gifts and presents are ordained, ease, freedom from public burdens, exemption and relief, together with triumphal garlands, — a crime for which no amends can be made by any apologies. And after this do you dare to wonder whence these ills come with which the human race is deluged and overwhelmed without any interval, while you daily both repeat and learn by heart all these things, with which are mixed up libels upon the gods and slanderous sayings; and when185 you wish your inactive minds to be occupied with useless dreamings, demand that days be given to you, and exhibition made without any interval? But if you felt any real indignation on behalf of your religious beliefs, you should rather long ago have burned these writings, destroyed those books of yours, and overthrown these theatres, in which evil reports of your deities are daily made public in shameful tales. For why, indeed, have our writings deserved to be given to the flames? our meetings to be cruelly broken up,186 in which prayer is made to the Supreme God, peace and pardon are asked for all in authority, for soldiers, kings, friends, enemies, for those still in life, and those freed from the bondage of the flesh;187 in which all that is said is such as to make men humane,188 gentle, modest, virtuous, chaste, generous in dealing with their substance, and inseparably united to all embraced in our brotherhood?189


37. But this is the state of the case, that as you are exceedingly strong in war and in military power, you think you excel in knowledge of the truth also, and are pious before the gods,190 whose might you have been the first to besmirch with foul imaginings. Here, if your fierceness allows. and madness suffers, we ask you to answer us this: Whether you think that anger finds a place in the divine nature, or that the divine blessedness is far removed from such passions? For if they are subject to passions so furious,191 and are excited by feelings of rage as your imaginings suggest. — for you say that they have often shaken the earth with their roaring,192 and bringing woful misery on men, corrupted with pestilential contagion the character of the times,193 both because their games had been celebrated with too little care, and because their priests were not received with favour, and because some small spaces were desecrated, and because their rites were not duly performed, — it must consequently be understood that they feel no little wrath on account of the opinions which have been mentioned. But if, as follows of necessity, it is admitted that all these miseries with which men have long been overwhelmed flow from such fictions, if the anger of the deities is excited by these causes, you are the occasion of so terrible misfortunes, because you never cease to jar upon the feelings of the gods, and excite them to a fierce desire for vengeance. But if, on the other hand, the gods are not subject to such passions, and do not know at all what it is to be enraged, then indeed there is no ground for saying that they who know not what anger is are angry with us, * and they are free from its presence,194 and the disorder195 it causes. For it cannot be, in the nature of things, that what is one should become two; and that unity, which is naturally uncompounded, should divide and go apart into separate things.196





160 Oberthür and Orelli omit non.

161 Lit., “notions.”

162 Lit., “placed in their ears.”

163 Lit., “and it has not been established by you,” — a very abrupt transition in the structure of the sentence.

164 Lit., “which was very near to disgrace.”

165 So the margin of Ursinus, followed by later edd., prefixing d before the MS -eorum.

166 Lit., “has less bite, being weakened by the testimony of silent reviewing,” recognitionis.

167 Lit., “most enduring.”

168 Coetu. The MS and most edd. read coalitu, — a word not occurring elsewhere; which Gesner would explain, “put away that it may not be established among men,” the sense being the same in either case.

169 Lit., “complain of the neglected insults of the other gods.”

170 Lit., “as a lover by.” Cf. Homer, Il., 14, 312.

171 i.e., of himself.

172 Lit., “except that which was full of religion.”

173 i.e., according to which such offences should be punished.

174 Lit., “have willed.”

175 Lit., “full-grown race,” exoleti, a word frequently used, as here sensu obscoeno.

176 i.e., the actors, etc.

177 i.e., the crowd of adulterers, as Orelli suggests.

178 Lit., “draw enticements of pleasures from.”

179 Or, “Venus, the mother … and loving parent,” etc.

180 Lit., “of meretricious vileness.”

181 i.e., Cybele, to whom Mount Dindymus in Mysia was sacred, whose rites, however, were celebrated at Pessinus also, a very ancient city of Galatia.

182 MS Sofocles, corrected in LB. Sophocles. Cf. Trach. 1022 sqq.

183 Lit., “towards (in) the last of the wasting consumed by the softening of his bowels flowing apart.”

184 Lit., “debauched and scoffers.”

185 So Orelli, reading et quando; MS and other edd. et si — “and if ever.”

186 Arnobius is generally thought to refer here to the persecution under Diocletian mentioned by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., viii. 2.

187 The service in which these prayers were offered was presided over by the bishop, to whom the dead body was brought; hymns were then sung of thanksgiving to God, the giver of victory, by whose help and grace the departed brother had been victorious. The priest next gave thanks to God, and some chapters of the Scriptures were read; afterwards the catechumens were dismissed; the names of those at rest were then read in a clear voice, to remind the survivors of the success with which others had combated the temptations of the world. The priest again prayed for the departed, at the close beseeching God to grant him pardon, and admission among the undying. Thereafter the body was kissed, anointed, and buried. — Dionysius, Eccl. Hier., last chapter quoted by Heraldus. Cf. Const. Apost., viii. 41. With the Church’s advance in power there was an accession of pomp to these rites. [Elucidation IV.]

188 Cf. the younger Pliny, Epist., x. 97: “They affirmed that they bound themselves by oath not for any wicked purpose, but to pledge themselves not to commit theft, robbery, or adultery, nor break faith, or prove false to a trust.”

189 Lit., “whom our society joins together,” quos solidet germanitas. [Lardner justly argues that this passage proves our author’s familiarity with rites to which catechumens were not admitted. Credibil., vol. iii. p. 458.]

190 i.e., in their sight or estimation.

191 Lit., “conceive these torches.”

192 Lit., “have roared with tremblings of the earth.”

193 The MS reads conru-isse auras temporum, all except the first four edd. inserting p as above. Meursius would also change temp. into ventorum — “the breezes of the winds.”

194 So the MS, reading comptu — tie, according to Hild., followed by LB. and Orelli.

195 Lit., “mixture.”

196 The words following the asterisk (*) are marked in LB. as spurious or corrupt, or at least as here out of place. Orelli transposes them to ch. 13, as was noticed there, although he regards them as an interpolation. The clause is certainly a very strange one, and has a kind of affected abstractness, which makes it seem out of place; but it must be remembered that similarly confused and perplexing sentences are by no means rare in Arnobius. If the clause is to be retained, as good sense can be made from it here as anywhere else. The general meaning would be: The gods, if angry, are angry with the pagans; but if they are not subject to passion, it would be idle to speak of them as angry with the Christians, seeing that they cannot possibly at once be incapable of feeling anger, and yet at the same time be angry with them. [See cap. 13, note 70, p. 480, supra.]