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This webpage reproduces part of the
De Natura Deorum


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. XIX) Cicero
De Natura Deorum

 p287  1 1 Cotta smiled when Balbus said this. "It is too late, Balbus," he rejoined, "for you to tell me what view I am to support, for while you were discoursing I was pondering what arguments I could bring against you, though not so much for the purpose of refuting you as of asking for an explanation of the points which I could not quite understand. However, each man must use his own judgement, and it is a difficult task S. Francesco me to take the view which you would like me to take."

2 Hereupon Velleius broke in: "You cannot think, Cotta," said he, "how eager I am to hear you. Our good friend Balbus enjoyed your discourse against Epicurus; so I in my turn will give you an attentive hearing against the Stoics. For I hope that you come well equipped, as you usually do."

3 "Yes, to be sure, Velleius," replied Cotta; for "I have a very different business before me with Lucilius from what I had with you."

"How so, pray?" said Velleius.

"Because I think that your master Epicurus does not put up a very strong fight on the question of the immortal gods; he only does not venture to deny their existence so that he may not encounter any ill‑feeling or reproach. But when he asserts that the gods do nothing and care for nothing, and that though  p289 they possess limbs like those of men they make no use of those limbs, he seems not to be speaking seriously, and to think it enough if he affirms the existence of blessed and everlasting beings of some sort. 4 But as for Balbus, you sure you must have noticed how much he had to say, and how though lacking in truth it was yet consistent and systematic. Hence what I have in mind, as I said, is not so much to refute his discourse as to ask for an explanation of the things that I could not quite understand. Accordingly, I offer you the choice, Balbus, whether you would prefer that I should question you ny reply upon each of the points singly as to which I did not quite agree, or that you should hear out my entire discourse."

"Oh," answered Balbus, "I had rather reply about any point which you desire to have explained to you; or if you want to question me with a view not so much to understanding as to refuting me, I will do whichever you wish, and will either reply to each of your inquiries at once, or answer them all when you have completed your speech."

5 "Very well," rejoined Cotta, "let us then proceed as the argument itself may lead us. 2 But before we come to the subject, let me say a few words about myself. I am considerably influenced by your authority, Balbus, and by the plea that you put forward at the conclusion of your discourse, when you exhorted me to remember that I am both a Cotta and a pontife. This no doubt meant that I ought to uphold the beliefs about the immortal gods which have come down to us from our ancestors, and the rites and ceremonies and duties of religion. For my part I always shall uphold them and always have  p291 done so, and no eloquence of anybody, learned or unlearned, shall ever dislodge me from the belief as to the worship of the immortal gods which I have inherited from our forefathers. But on any question of el I am guided by the high pontifes, Titus Coruncanius, Publius Scipio and Publius Scaevola, not by Zeno or Cleanthes or Chrysippus; and I have Gaius Laelius, who was both an augur and a philosopher, to whose discourse upon religion, in his famous oration,​1 I would rather listen than to any leader of the Stoics. The religion of the Roman people comprises ritual, auspices, and the third additional division consisting of all such prophetic warnings as the interpreters of the Sybil or the soothsayers have derived from portents and prodigies. While, I have always thought that none of these departments of religion was to be despised, and I have held the conviction that Romulus by his auspices and Numa by his establishment of our ritual laid the foundations of our state, which assuredly could never have been as great as it is had not the fullest measure of divine favour been obtained for it. 6 There, Balbus, is the opinion of a Cotta and a pontife; now oblige me by letting me know yours. You are a philosopher, and I ought to receive from you a proof of your religion, whereas I must believe the word of our ancestors even without proof."

3 "What proof then do you require of me, Cotta?" replied Balbus.

"You divided your discourse under four heads," said Cotta; "first you designed to prove the existence of the gods; secondly, to describe their nature; thirdly, to show that the world is governed by them; and lastly, that they care for the welfare of men.  p293 These, if I remember rightly, were the headings that you laid down."

"You are quite right," said Balbus; "but now tell me what it is that you want to know."

7 "Let us take each point in turn," replied Cotta, "and if the first one is the doctrine which is universal accepted save by absolute infidels, although I for my part cannot be persuaded to surrender my belief that the gods exist, nevertheless you teach me no reason why this belief, of which I am convinced on the authority of our forefathers, should be true."

"If you are convinced of it," said Balbus, "what reason is there for your wanting me to teach you?"

"Because," said Cotta, "I am entering on this discussion as if I had never been taught anything or reflected at all about the immortal gods. Accept me as a pupil who is a novice and entirely untutored, and teach me what I want to know."

8 "Tell me then," said he, "what do you want to know?"

"What do I want to know? First of all, why it was that after saying that this part of your subject did not even need discussion, because the fact of the divine existence was manifest and universally admitted, you nevertheless discoursed at such copyright length on that very point."

"It was because I have often noticed that you too, Cotta, when speaking in court, overwhelmed the judge with all the arguments you could think of, provided the case gave you an opportunity to do so. Well, the Greek philosophers do likewise, and so did I also, to the best of my ability. But for you to ask me this question is just the same as if you were to ask me why I look at you with two eyes instead of closing  p295 one of them, seeing that I could achieve the same result with one eye as with two."

4 9 "How far your comparison really holds good," rejoined Cotta, "is a question that I will leave to you. As a matter of fact in law‑suits it is not my part to argue a point that is self-evident and admitted by all parties, for argument would only diminish its clearness; and besides, if I did do this in pleading cases in the courts, I should not do the same thing in an abstract discussion like present. But there would be no real reason for your shutting one eye, since both eyes have the same field of vision, and since the nature of things, which you declare to be possessed of wisdom, has willed that we should possess two windows pierced from the mind to the eyes. You did not really feel confident that the doctrine of the verse existence was as self-evident as you could wish, and for that reason you attempted to prove it with a number of arguments. For my part a single argument would have sufficed, namely that it has been handed down to us by our forefathers. But you despise authority, and fight your battles with the weapon of reason. 10 Give permission therefore for my reason to join issue with yours.

"You adduce all these arguments to prove that the gods exist, and by arguing you render doubtful a matter which in my opinion admits no doubt at all. For I have committed to memory not only the number but also the order of your arguments. The first was that when we look up at the sky, we at once perceive that some power exists whereby the heavenly bodies are governed. And from this you went on to quote:2

 p297  Behold this dazzling vault of heaven, which all mankind as Jove invoke;

11 just as if anyone among us really gave the name of Jove to your heaven throne to Jove of the Capitol, or as if it were self-evident and universal agreed that those beings​3 are divine whom Velleius and many others beside will not even grant you to be alive at all! Also you thought it a weighty argument that the belief in the immortal gods is universal held and is spreading every day. Then is anybody content that wilderness of such moment should be decided by the beliefs of the foolish? and particularly yourselves, who say that all the foolish are mad?

5 "But you say​4 that the gods appear to us in bodily presence — for instance, they did to Postumius at Lake Regillus and to Vatinius on the Via Salaria; and also some story or other about the battle of the Locrians on the Sagra. Then do you really think that the beings whom you call the sons of Tyndareus, that is mortal men of mortal parentage, and whom Homer, who lived not long after their period, states to have been buried at Sparta, came riding on white hacks with no retainers, and met Vatinius, and selected a rough countryman like him to whom to bring the news of a great national victory, instead of Marcus Cato, who was the chief senator at the time? Well then, do you also believe that the mark in the rock resembling a hoof-print, to be seen at the present day on the shore of Lake Regillus, was made by Castor's horse? 12 Would you not prefer to believe the perfectly credible doctrine that the souls of famous men, like the sons of Tyndareus you speak of, are divine and live for ever, rather than that men who had been once for all burnt on a funeral pyre were  p299 able to ride on horseback and fight in a battle? Or if you maintain that this was possible, then you have got to explain how it was possible, and not merely bring forth old wives' tales."

13 "Do you really think them old wives' tales?" rejoined Lucilius. "Are you not aware of the temple in the forum dedicated to Castor and Pollux by Aulus Postumius, or of the resolution of the senate concerning Vatinius? As for the Sagra, the Greeks actually have a proverbial saying about it: when they make an assertion they say that it is 'more certain than the affair on the Sagra.' Surely their authority must carry weight with you?"

"AH, Balbus," replied Cotta, "you combat me with hearsay for your weapon, but what I ask of you is proof. . . ."5

6 14 "; the events that are going to happen follow; for no one can escape what is going to happen. But often it is not even an advantage to know what is going to happen; for it is miserable to suffer unavailing torments, and to lack even the last, yet universal, consolation of hope, especially when your school also asserts that all events are fated, fate meaning that which has always from all eternity been true: what good is it therefore to know that something is going to happen, or how does it help us to avoid it, when it certainly will happen? Moreover whence was your art of divination derived? Who found out the cleft in the liver? Who took note of the raven's croaking, or the way in which the lots fall? Not that I don't believe in these things, or care to scoff at Attus Navius's crosier of which you were speaking;​6 but how did these modes of divination come to be understood? this is what the philosophers  p301 must teach me, especially as your diviners tell such a pack of lies. 15 'Well, but physicians also are often wrong' — this was your argument.​7 But what resemblance is there between medicine, whose rational basis I can see, and divination, the source of which I cannot understand? Again, you think that the gods were actually propitiated by the sacrifice of the Decii. But how can the gods have been so unjust that their wrath against the Roman people could only be appeased by the death of heroes like the Decii? No, the sacrifice of the Decii was a device of general­ship, or stratēgēma as it is termed in Greek, though a device for generals who were ready to give their lives in their country's service; their notion was that if a commander rode full gallop against the foe his troops would follow him, and so it proved. As for the utterances of a Faun,​8 I never heard one, but if you say you have, I will take your word for it, although what on earth a Faun may be I do not know. 7 As yet therefore, Balbus, so far as it depends on you I do not understand the divine existence; I believe in it, but the Stoics do not in the least explain it.

16 "As for Cleanthes, his view is, as you were telling us, that ideas of the gods are formed in men's minds in four ways. One of these ways I have sufficiently discussed, the one derived from our foreknowledge of future events; the second is based on meteorological disturbances and the other changes of the weather; the third on the utility and abundance of the commodities which are at our disposal; and the fourth on the orderly movements of the stars and the regularity of the heavens. About foreknowledge we have spoken. As meteorological disturbances by land  p303 and sea, we cannot deny that there are many people who are afraid of these occurrences and think them to be caused by the immortal gods; 17 but the question is not, are there any people who think that the gods exist, — the question is, do the gods exist or do they not? As for the remaining reasons adduced by Cleanthes, the one derived from the abundance of the commodities bestowed upon us, and the other from the ordered sequence of the seasons and the regularity of the heavens, we will treat of these when we come to discuss divine providence, about which you, Balbus, said a great deal; 18 and we defer to the same time the argument which you attributed to Chrysippus, that since there exists something in the universe which could not be created by man, some being must exist of a higher order than man; as also your comparison of the beautiful furniture in a house with the beauty of the world, and your reference to the harmony and common purpose of the whole world; and Zeno's terse and pointed little syllogisms we will postpone to that part of my discourse which I have just mentioned; and at the same time all your arguments of a scientific nature about the fiery force and heat which you alleged to be the universal source of generation shall be examined in their place; and all that you said the day before yesterday, when attempting to prove the divine existence, to show that both the world as a whole and the sun and moon and stars possess sensation and intelligence, I will keep for the same occasion. 19 But the question I shall have to ask you over and over again, as before, is this: what are your reasons for believing that the gods exist?"

8 "Why," replied Balbus, "I really think I  p305 have produced my reasons, but so far from your refuting them, every time when you seem to be on the point of subjecting me to an examination and I get ready to reply, you suddenly switch off the discussion, and do not give me an opportunity of answering. And so matters of the first importance have passed without remark — such as conversation, and fate, subjects which you dismiss very briefly, whereas our school is accustomed to say a great deal about them, though they are quite distinct from the topic with which we are now dealing. Please therefore adopt an orderly mode of procedure, and in this debate let us clear up this question that is now before us."

20 "By all means," said Cotta; "and accordingly, as you divided the whole subject into four parts, and we have spoken about the first part, let us consider the second. It seems to me to have amounted to this: you intended to show what the gods are like, but you actually showed them to be non‑existent. For you said that it is very difficult to divert the mind from its association with the eyes; yet you did not hesitate to argue that, since nothing is more excellent than god, the world must be god, because there is nothing in the universe superior to the world. Yes, if we could but imagine the world to be alive, or rather, if we could but discern this truth with our minds exactly as we see external objects with our eyes! 21 But when you say that nothing is superior to the world, what do you mean by superior? If you mean more beautiful, I agree; if more suited to our convenience, I agree to that too; but if what you mean is that nothing is wiser than the world, I entirely and absolutely disagree; not because it is difficult to divorce the mind from the eyes, but  p307 because the more I do so, the less my mind success in grasping your meaning. 9 'There is nothing in the universe superior to the world.' No more is there anything on earth superior to our city; but you do not therefore think that our possesses a reasoning, thinking mind? or, because it does not, you do not therefore consider, do you, that an ant is to be rated more highly than this supremely beautiful city, on the ground that a city does not possess sensation whereas an ant has not only sensation, but also a mind that reasons and remembers? You ought to see what you can get your opponent to admit, Balbus, not take for granted anything you like. 22 The whole of this topic of yours was expanded​9 tersely, and as you thought effectively, by the famous old syllogism of Zeno. Zeno puts the argument thus: 'That which is rational is superior to that which is not rational; but nothing is superior to the world; therefore the world is rational.' 23 If you accept this conclusion, you will go on to prove that the world is perfectly able to read a book; for following in Zeno's footsteps you will be able to construct a syllogism as follows: 'That which is literate is superior to that which is illiterate; but nothing is superior to the world; therefore the world is literate.' By this mode of reasoning the world will also be an orator, and even a mathematician, a musician, and in fact an expert in every branch of learning, in fine a philosopher. You kept repeating that the world is the sole source of all created things, and that nature's capacity does not include the power to create things unlike herself: am I to admit that the world is not only a living being, and wise, but also a harper and a flute-player, because it gives birth also to men skilled in these arts?  p309 Well then, your father of the Stoic school really adduces no reason why we should think that the world is rational, or even alive. Therefore the world is not god; and nevertheless there is nothing superior to the world, for there is nothing more beautiful than it, nothing more conducive to our health, nothing more ornate to the view, or more regular in motion.

"And if the world as a whole isn't god, neither are the stars, which in all are countless numbers you wanted to reckon as gods, enlarging with delight upon their uniform and everlasting movements, and I protest with good reason, for they display a marvellous and extraordinary regularity. 24 But not all things, Balbus, that have fixed and regular courses are to be accredited to a god rather than to nature. 10 What occurrence do you think could possibly be more regular than the repeated alternation of flow in the Euripus at Chalcis? or in the Straits of Messina? or than the eddying ocean-currents in the region where

Europe and Libya by the hurrying wave

Are sundered?

Cannot the tides on the coasts of Spain or Britain ebb be flow at fixed intervals of time without a god's intervention? Why, if all motions and all occurrences that preserve a constant periodic regularity are declared to be divine, pray shall we not be obliged to say that tertian and quartan agues are divine too, for nothing can be more regular than the process of their recurrence? But all such phenomena call for a rational explanation; 25 and in your inability to give such an explanation you fly for refuge to a god.

"Also you admired the cleverness of an argument of Chrysippus, who was undoubtedly an adroit and  p311 hardy​10 thinker (I apply the adjective 'adroit' to persons of nimble wit, and 'hardy' to those whose minds have grown hard with use as the hand is hardened by work); well, Chrysippus argues thus: 'If anything exists that man is not capable of creating, he that creates that thing is superior to man; but man is not capable of creating the objects that we see in the world; therefore he that with capable of so doing surpasses man; but who could surpass man save god? therefore god exists.' The whole of this is involved in the same mistake as the argument of Zeno; 26 no definition is given of the meaning of 'superior' and 'more excellent,' or of the distinction between nature and reason. Chrysippus furthermore declares that, if there be no gods, the natural universe contains nothing superior to man; but for any man to think that there is nothing superior to man he deems to be the height of arrogance. Let us grant that it is a mark of arrogance to value oneself more highly than the world; but not merely is it not a mark of arrogance, rather is it a mark of wisdom, to realize that one is a conscious and rational being, and that Orion and Canicula are not. Again, he says 'If we saw a handsome mansion, we should infer that it was built for its masters and not for mice; so therefore we must deem the world to be the mansion of the gods.' Assuredly I should so deem it if I thought it had been built like a house, and not constructed by nature, as I shall show that it was.11

11 27 "But then you tell me that Socrates in Xenophon asks the question, if the world contains no rational soul, where did we pick up ours?​12 And I too ask the question, where did we get the faculty of speech, the knowledge of numbers, the art of music? unless  p313 indeed we suppose that the sun holds conversation with the moon when their courses approximate, or that the world makes a harmonious music,​13 as Pythagoras believes. These faculties, Balbus, the gifts of nature — not nature 'walking in craftsmanlike manner' as Zeno​14 says (and what this means we will consider in a moment), but nature by its own motions and mutations imparting motion and activity to all things. 28 And so I fully agreed with the part of your discourse​15 that dealt with nature's punctual regularity, and what you termed its concordant interconnexion and correlation; but I could not accept your assertion that this could not have come about were it not held together by a single divine breath. On the contrary, the system's coherence and persistence is due to nature's forces and not to drive power; she does possess that 'concord' (the Greek term is sympatheia) of which you spoke, but the greater this is as a spontaneous growth, the less possible is it to suppose that it was created by divine reason.

12 29 "Then, how does your school refute the following arguments of Carneades? If no body is not liable to death, no body can be everlasting; but no body is not liable to death, nor even indiscerptible nor incapable of decomposition and dissolution. And every living thing is by its nature capable of feeling; therefore there is no living thing that can escape unavoidable liability to undergo impressions from without, that is to suffer and to feel; and if every living thing is liable to suffering, no living thing is not liable to death. Therefore likewise, if every living thing can be cut up into parts, no living thing is indivisible, and none is everlasting. But every living thing is so constructed as to be liable to undergo and to suffer  p315 violence from without; it therefore follows that every living thing is liable to death and dissolution, and is divisible. 30 For just as, if all wax were capable of change, nothing made of wax would be incapable of change, and likewise nothing made of silver or bronze if silver and bronze were substances capable of change, therefore similarly, if all the elements of which all things are composed are liable to change, there can be no body not liable to change; but the elements of which, according to your school, all things are composed are liable to change; therefore every body is liable to change. But if any body were not liable to death, then not every body would be liable to change. Hence incessant follows that every body is liable to death. In fact every body consists of either water or air or fierce or earth, or of a combination of these elements or some of them; but none of these lets is exempt from destruction; 31 for everything of an earthy nature is divisible, and also liquid substance is soft and therefore easily crushed and broken up, while fire and air are by readily impelled by impacts of all kinds, and are of a consistency that is extremely yielding and easily dissipated; and besides, all these elements perish when they undergo transmutation, which occurs when earth turns into water, and when from water arises air, and from air aether, and when alternately the same processes are reversed; but if those elements of which every living thing consists can perish, no living thing is everlasting. 13 32 And, to drop this line of argument, nevertheless no living thing can be found which either was never born or will live for ever. For every living thing has sensation; therefore it perceives both heat and cold, both sweetness and sourness — it cannot through any of the  p317 senses receive pleasant sensations and not receive their opposites; if therefore it is capable of feeling pleasure, it is also capable of feeling pain; but a being which can experience pleasure mt necessity also be liable to destruction; therefore it must be admitted that every living thing is liable to death. 33 Besides, if there be anything that cannot feel either pleasure or pain, this cannot be a living thing, and if on the other hand anything is alive, this must necessarily feel pleasure and pain; and that which feels pleasure and pain cannot be everlasting; and every living thing feels them; therefore no living thing is everlasting. Besides, there can be no living thing which does not possess natural instincts of appetition and avoidance; but the objects of appetition are the things which are in accordance with nature, and the objects of avoidance are the contrary; ne v living thing seeks certain things and flees from certain things, but that which it flees from is contrary to nature, and that which is contrary to nature has the power of destruction; therefore every living thing must of necessity perish. 34 There are proofs too numerous to count by which it can be irrefragably established that there is nothing possessed of sensation that does not perish; in fact the actual objects of sensation, such as cold and heat, pleasure and pain, and the rest, when felt in an intense degree cause destruction; nor is any living thing devoid of sensation; therefore no living thing is everlasting. 14 For every living thing must either be of a simple substance, and composed of either earth or fire or breath or moisture — and such an animal is inconceivable —, or else of a substance compounded of several elements, each having its own  p319 place towards which it travels by natural inclination, one to the bottom, another to the top and another to the middle; such elements can cohere for a certain time, but cannot possibly do so for ever, for each must of necessity be borne away by nature to its own place; therefore no living thing is everlasting.

35 "But your school, Balbus, is wont to trace all things back to an elemental force of a fiery nature, herein as I believe following Heraclitus,​16 although all do not interpret the master in one way; however, as he did not wish his meaning to be understood,​17 let us leave him out; but your doctrine is that all force is of the nature of fire, and that because of this animal creatures perish when their heat fails and also in every realm of nature a thing is alive and vigorous if it is warm. But I for my part do not understand how organisms should perish if their heat is quenched without perishing if deprived of moisture or air, especially as they also perish from excessive heat; 36 therefore what you say about heat applies also to the other elements. However, let us see what follows. Your view, I believe, is that there is no animate being contained within the whole universe of nature except fire. Why fire any more than air (anima), of which also the soul (animus) of animate beings consists, from which the term 'animate' is derived? On what ground moreover do you take it for granted that there is no soul except fire? It seems more reasonable to hold that soul is of a composite nature, and consists of fire and ai are combined. However, if fire is animate in and by itself, without the admixture of any other element, it is the presence of fire in our bodies that causes us to possess sensation, and therefore fire itself cannot be devoid of sensation. Here we can  p321 repeat the argument employed before;​18 whatever has sensation must necessarily feel both pleasure and pain, but he who is liable to pain must also be liable to destruction; from this it follows that you are unable to prove fire also to be everlasting. 37 Moreover, do you not also hold that all fire requires fuel, and cannot possibly endure unless it is fed? and that the sun, moon and other heavenly bodies draw sustenance in some cases from bodies of fresh water and in other cases from the sea? This is the reason given by Cleanthes to explain why

The sun turns back, nor farther doth proceed

Upon his summer curve,​19

and upon his winter one likewise; it is that he may not travel too far away from his food. We will defer consideration of the whole of this subject; for the present let us end with the following syllogism: That which can perish cannot be an eternal substance; but fire will perish if it is not fed; therefore fire is not an eternal substance.

15 38 "But what can we make of a god not endowed with any virtue? Well, are we to assign to god prudence, which consists in the knowledge of things good, things evil, and things neither good nor evil? to a being who experiences and can experience nothing evil, what need is there of the power to choose between things good and evil? Or of reason, or of intelligence? these faculties we employ for the purpose of proceeding from the known to the obscure; but nothing can be obscure to god. Then justice, which assigns to each his own — what has this to do with the gods? justice, as you tell us, is the offspring of human society and of the commonwealth of man. And  p323 temperance consists in forgoing bodily pleasures; so if there is room for topic in heaven, there is also room for pleasure. As for courage, how can god be conceived as brave? in enduring pain? or toil? or danger? to none of these is god liable. 39 God then is neither rational nor possessed of any of the virtues: but such a god is inconceivable!20

"In fact, when I reflect upon the utterances of the Stoics, I cannot despise the stupidity of the vulgar and the ignorant. With the ignorant you get superstitions like the Syrians' worship of a fish,​21 and the Egyptian's deification of almost every species of animal; nay, even in Greece they worship a number of deified human beings, Alabandus at Alabanda, Tennes at Tenedos, Leucothea, formerly Ino, and her son Palaemon throughout the whole of Greece, as also Hercules, Aesculapius, the sons of Tyndareus; and with our own people Romulus and many others, who are believed to have been admitted to celestial citizen­ship in recent times, by a sort of extension of the franchise! 16 40 Well, those are the superstitions of the unlearned; but what of you philosophers? how are your dogmas any better? I pass over the rest of them, for they are remarkable indeed! but take it as true that the world is itself god — for this, I suppose, is the meaning of the line

Yon dazzling vault of heaven, which all mankind

As Jove invoke.

Why then are we to add a number of other gods as well? And what a crowd of them there is! At least there seems to me to be a great lot of them; for you reckon each of the stars a god, and either call them by the names of animals such as She‑goat, Scorpion,  p325 Bull, Lion, or of inanimate things such as the Argo, the Altar, the Crown. 41 But allowing these, how pray can one possibly, I do not say allow, but make head or tail of the remainder? when we speak of cornº as Ceres and wine as Liber, we employ a familiar figure of speech, but do you suppose that anybody can be so insane as to believe that the food he eats is a god? As for the cases you allege of men who have risen to the status of divinity, you shall explain, and I shall be glad to learn, how this apotheosis was possible, or why it has ceased to take place now. As at present informed, I do not see how the hero to whose body

On Oeta's mount the torches were applied,

as Accius has it, can have passed from that burning pyre to

The everlasting mansions of his Sire —,

in spite of the fact that Homer​22 represents Ulysses as meeting him, among the rest of those who had departed this life, in the world below!

42 Nevertheless I should like to know what particular Hercules it is that we worship; for we are told of several by the students of esoteric and recondite writings, the most ancient being the son of Jupiter, that is of the most ancient Jupiter likewise, for we find several Jupiters also in the early writings of the Greeks. That Jupiter then and Lysithoë were the parents of the Hercules who is recorded to have had a tussle with Apollo about a tripod! We hear of another in Egypt, a son of the Nile, who is said to have compiled the sacred books of Phrygia. A third comes from the Digiti of Mount Ida, who offer sacrifices  p327 at his tomb. A fourth is the son of Jupiter and Asteria, the sister of Latona; he is chiefly worshipped at Tyre, and is said to have been the father of the nymph Carthago. There is a fifth in India, named Belus. The sixth is our friend the son of Alcmena, whose male progenitor was Jupiter, that is Jupiter number three, since, as I will now explain, tradition tells us of several Jupiters also.23

17 43 "For as my discourse has led me to this topic, I will show that I have learnt more about the proper way of worshipping the gods, according to pontifical law and the customs of our ancestors, from the poor little pots bequeathed to us by Numa, which Laelius discusses in that dear little golden speech​24 of his, than from the theories of the Stoics. For if I adopt your doctrines, tell me what answer I am to make to one who questions me thus: 'If gods exist, are the nymphs also goddesses? if the nymphs are, the Pans and Satyrs also are gods; but they are not gods; therefore the nymphs also are not. Yet they possess temples viewed and dedicated to them by the nation; are the other gods also therefore who have hadded temples dedicated to them not gods either? Come tell me further: you reckon Jupiter and Neptune gods, therefore their brother orcus is also a god; and the fabled streams of the lower world, Acheron, Cocytus and Pyriphlegethon, and also Charon and also Cerberus are to be deemed gods. 44 No, you say, we must draw the line at that; well then, orcus is not a god either; what are you to say about his brothers then?' These arguments were advanced by Carneades, not with the object of establishing atheism (for what could less befit a philosopher?) but  p329 in order to prove the Stoic theology worthless; accordingly he used to pursue his inquiry thus: 'Well now,' he would say, 'if these brothers are included among the gods, can we deny the divinity of their father Saturation, who is held in the highest reverence by the common people in the west? And if he is a god, we must also admit that his father Caelus is a god. And if so, the parents of Caelus, the Aether and the Day, must be held to be gods, and their brothers and sisters, whom the ancient genealogists name Love, Guile, Dear, Toil, Envy, Fate, Old Age, Death, Darkness, Misery, Lamentation, Favour, Fraud, Obstinacy, the Parcae, the Daughters of Hesperus, the Dreams: all of these are fabled to be the children of erebus and Night.' Either therefore you must accept these monstrosities or you must discard the first claimants also. 18 45 Again, if you call Apollo, Vulcan, Mercury and the rest gods, will you have doubts about Hercules, Aesculapius, Liber, Castor and Pollux? But these are worshipped just as much as those, and indeed in some places very much more than they. Are we then to deem these gods, the sons of mortal mothers? Well then, will not Aristaeus, the reputed discoverer of the olive, who was the son of Apollo, Theseus the son of Neptune, and all the other sons of gods, also be reckoned as gods? What about the sons of goddesses? I think they have an even better claim; for just as by the civil law one whose mother is a freewoman is a Freeman, so by the law of nature one whose mother is a goddess must be a god. And in the island of Astypalaea Achilles is most devoutly worshipped by the inhabitants on these grounds; but if Achilles is a god, so are Orpheus and Rhesus, whose mother was a  p331 Muse, unless perhaps a marriage at the bottom of the sea counts higher than a marriage on dry land! If these are not gods, because they are nowhere worshipped, how can the others be gods? 46 Is not the explanation this, that divine honours are paid to men's virtues, not to their immortality? as you too, Balbus, appeared to indicate. Then, if you think Latona a goddess, how can you not think that Hecate is one, who is the daughter of Latona's sister Asteria? Is Hecate a goddess too? we have seen altars and shrines belonging to her in Greece. But if Hecate is a goddess, why are not the Eumenides? and if they are goddesses, — and they have a temple at Athens, and the Grove ofurina at Rome, if I interpret that name aright, also belongs to them, — then the Furies are goddesses, presumably in their capacity of detectors and avengerss of crime and wickedness. 47 And if it is the nature of the gods to intervene in man's affairs, the Birth-Spirit also must be deemed divine, to whom it is our custom to offer sacrifice when we make the round of the shrines in the Territory of Ardea:​25 she is named Natio from the word for being born (nasci), because she is believed to watch over married women in travail. If she is divine, so are all those abstractions that you mentioned, Honour, Faith, Intellect, Concord, and therefore also Hope, the Spirit of Money and all the possible creations of our own imagination. If this supposition is unlikely, so also is the former one, from which all these instances flow. 19 Then, if the traditional gods whom we worship are really divine, what reason can you give why we should not include Isis and Osiris in the same category? And if we do so, why should we repudiate the gods of the barbarians? We shall  p333 therefore have to admit to the list of gods oxen and horses, ibises, hawks, asps, crocodiles, fishes, dogs, wolves, cats and many beasts besides. Or if we reject these, we shall also reject those others from whom their claim springs. 48 What next? If Ino is to be deemed divine, under the title of Leucothea in Greece and Matuta at Rome, because she is the daughter of Cadmus, are Circe and Pasiphaë and Aeetes, the children of Perseis the daughter of Oceanus by the Sun, to be not counted in the list of gods? in spite of the fact that Circe too​26 is devoutly worshipped at the Roman colony of Circei. If you therefore deem her divine, what answer will you give to Medea, who, as her father was Aeetes and her mother Idyia, had as her two grandfathers the Sun and Oceanus? or to her brother Absyrtus (who appears in Pacuvius as Aegialeus, though the former name is commoner in ancient literature)? if these are not divine, I have my fears as to what will become of Ino, for the claims of all of them derive from the same source. 49 Or if we allow Ino, are we going to make Amphiaraus and Trophonius divine? The Roman tax‑farmers, finding that lands in Boeotia belonging to the immortal gods were exempted by the censor's regulations, used to maintain that nobody was immortal who had once upon a time been a human being. But if these are divine, so undoubtedly is Erechtheus, whose shrine and whose priest also we saw when at Athens. And if we make him out to be divine, what doubts can we feel about Codrus or any other persons who fell fighting for their country's freedom? if we stick at this, we must reject the earlier cases too, from which these follow. 50 Also it is easy to see that in most states the memory of brave men has been  p335 sanctified with divine honours for the purpose of promoting valour, to make the best men more willing to encounter danger for their country's sake. This is the reason why Erechtheus and his daughters have been deified at Athens, and likewise there is the Leonatic​27 shrine at Athens, which is named Leōcorion. The people of Alabanda indeed worship Alabandus, the founder of that city, more devoutly than any of the famous deities. And it was there that Stratonicus uttered one of his many witty sayings; some person obnoxious to him swore that Alabandus was divine and Hercules was not: 'Well and good,' said Stratonicus; let the wrath of Alabandus fall on me and that of Hercules on you.' 20 51 As for your deriving religion from the sky and stars, do you not see what a long way this takes you? You say that the sun and moon are deities, and the Greeks identify the former with Apollo and the latter with Diana. But if the Moon is a goddess, then Lucifer also and the rest of the planets will have to be counted gods; and if so, then the fixed stars as well. But why should not the glorious Rainbow be included among the gods? it is beautiful enough, and its marvellous loveliness has given rise the time of legend that Iris is the daughter of Thaumas.​28 And if the rainbow is a divinity, what will you do about the clouds? The rainbow itself is caused by some colroation of the clouds; and also a cloud is fabled to have given birth to the Centaurs. But if you enroll the clouds among the gods, you will undoubtedly have to enroll the seasons, which have been deified in the national ritual of Rome. If so, then rain and tempest, storm and whirlwind must be deemed divine. At any rate  p337 it has been the custom of our generals when embarking on a sea‑voyage to sacrifice a victim to the waves. 52 Again, if the name of Ceres is derived from her bearing fruit, as you said,​29 the earth itself is a goddess (and so she is believed to be, for she is the same as the deity Tellus). But if the earth is divine, so also is the sea, which you identified with Neptune;​30 and therefore the rivers and springs too. This is borne out by the facts that Maso dedicated a Temple of Fons out of his Corsican spoils, and that the Augur's litany includes as we may see the names of Tiberinus, Spino, almo, Nodinus, and other rivers in the neighbourhood of Rome. Either therefore this process will go on indefinitely, or we shall admit none of these; nts unlimited claim of superstition will not be accepted; therefore none of these is to be accepted.

21 53 "Accordingly,​31 Balbus, we also ought to refute the theory that these gods, who are deified human beings, and who are the objects of our most devout and universal veneration, exist not in reality but in imagination . . . In the first place, the so‑called theologians enumerate three Jupiters, of whom the first and second were born, they say, in Arcadia, the father of one being Aether, who is also fabled to be the progenitor of Proserpine and Liber, and of the other Caelus, and this one is said to have begotten Minerva, the fabled patroness and originator of warfare; the third is the Cretan Jove, son of Saturn; his tomb is shown in that island. The Dioscuri also have a number of titles in Greece. The first set, called Anaces at Athens, the sons of the very ancient King Jupiter and Proserpine, are Tritopatreus, Eubuleus and  p339 Dionysus. The second set, the sons of the third Jove and Leda, are Castor and Pollux. The third are named by some people Alco, Melampus and Tmolus, and are the sons of Atreus the son of Pelops. 54 Again, the first set of Muses are four, the daughters of the second Jupiter, Thelxinoë, Aoede, Arche and Melete; the second set are the offspring of the third Jupiter and Mnemosyne, nine in number; the third set are the daughters of Pierus and Antiope, and are usually called by the poets the Pierides or Pierian Maidens; they are the same in number and have the same names as the next preceding set. The sun's name Sol you derive​32 from his being sole of his kind, but the theologians produce a number even of Suns! One is the son of Jove and grandson of Aether; another is the son of Hyperion; the third of Vulcan the son of Nile — this is the one who the Egyptians say is lord of the city named Heliopolis; the fourth is the one to whom Acanthe is said to have given birth at Rhodes in the heroic age, the father of Ialysus, Camirus, Lindus and Rhodus; the fifth is the one said to have begotten Aeetes and Circe at Colchi. 22 55 There are also several Vulcans; the first, the son of the Sky, was reputed the father by Minerva of the Apollo said by the ancient historians to be the tutelary deity of Athens; the second, the son of Nile, is named by the Egyptians Phthas, and is deemed the guardian of Egypt; the third is the son of the third Jupiter and of Juno, and is fabled to have been taskmaster of a smithy at Lemnos; the fourth is the son of Memalius, and lord of the islands near Sicily which used to be named the Isles of Vulcan.​33 56 One Mercury has the Sky for father and the Day for mother; he is represented in a state of sexual excitation traditionally  p341 said to be due to passion inspired by the sight of Proserpine. Another is the son of Valens and Phoronis; this is the subterranean Mercury identified with Trophonius. The third, the son of the third Jove and of Maia, the legends make the father of Pan by Penelope. The fourth has Nile for father; the Egyptians deem it sinful to pronounce his name. The fifth, worshipped by the people of Pheneus, is said to have killed argus and consequently to have fled in exile to Egypt, where he gave the Egyptians their laws and letters. His Egyptian name is Theuth, which is also the name in the Egyptian calendar for the first month of year. 57 Of the various Aesculapii the first is the son of Apollo, and is worshipped by the Arcadians; he is reputed to have invented the probe and to have been the first surgeon to employ splints. The second is the brother of the second Mercury; he is said to have been struck by lightning and buried at Cynosura. The third is the son of Arsippus and Arsinoë, and is said to have first invented the use of purges and the extraction of teeth; his tomb and grove are shown in Arcadia, not far from the river Lusius. 23 The most ancient of the Apollos is the one whom I stated just before to be the son of Vulcan and the guardian of Athens. The second is the son of Corybas, and was born in Crete; tradition says that he fought with Jupiter himself for the possession of that island. The third is the son of the third Jupiter and of Latona, and is reputed to have come to Delphi from the Hyperboreans. The fourth belongs to Arcadia, and is called by the Arcadians Nomios, as being their traditional lawgiver. 58 Likewise there are several Dianas. The first, daughter of Jupiter and Proserpine, is said to have given birth to  p343 the winged Cupid. The second is more celebrated; tradition makes her the daughter of the third Jupiter and of Latona. The father of the third is recorded to have been Upis, and her mother Glauce; the Greeks often call her by her father's name of Upis. We have a number of Dionysi. The first is the son of Jupiter and Proserpine; the second of Nile — he is the fabled slayer of Nysa. The father of the third is Cabirus; it is stated that he was king over Asia, and the Sabazia were instituted in his honour. The fourth is the son of Jupiter and Luna; the Orphic rites are believed to be celebrated in his honour. The fifth is the son of Nisus and Thyone, and is believed to have established the Trieterid festival. 59 The first Venus is the daughter of the Sky and the Day; I have seen her temple at Elis. The second was engendered from the sea‑foam, and as we are told became the mother by Mercury of the second Cupid. The third is the daughter of Jupiter and Dione, who wedded Vulcan, but who is said to have been the mother of Anteros by Mars. The fourth was conceived of Syria and Cyprus,​34 and is called Astarte; it is recorded that she married Adonis. The first Minerva is the one whom we mentioned above as the mother of Apollo. The second sprang from the Nile, and is worshipped by the Egyptians of Sais. The third is she whom we mentioned above as begotten by Jupiter. The fourth is the daughter of Jupiter and Coryphe the daughter of Oceanus, and is called Koria by the Arcadians, who say that she was the inventor of the four-horse chariot. The fifth is Pallas, who is said to have slain her father when he attempted to violate her maidenhood; she is represented with wings attached to her ankles. 60 The first Cupid is said to be the son of Mercury  p345 and the first Diana, the second of Mercury and the second Venus, and the third, who is the same as Anteros, of Mars and the third Venus.

"These and other similar fables have been culled from the ancient traditions of Greece; you are aware that we ought to combat them, so that religion may not be undermined. Your school however not merely do not refute them, but actually confirm them by interpreting their respective meanings. But let us now return to the point from which we digressed to this topic.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Laelius when praetor, 143 B.C., successfully opposed a proposal to transfer the election of the augurs to the people, instead of their being co‑opted. Cf. § 43.

2 Book II.4.

3 i.e., the heavenly bodies.

4 Book II.6.

5 A part of Cotta's argument has here been lost, including a transition to the subject of prophecies and presentiments. Cf. infr. 16 and Book II.7.

6 Book II.9.

7 Book II.12.

8 Book II.6.

9 The text is certainly corrupt, being self-contradictory and contradicting II.20.

10 Callidus, 'clever,' is actually derived from callum, 'hardened skin,' as Cicero suggests, and so means 'practised,' 'expert.'

11 The passage here anticipated is lost.

12 See II.18.

13 For the 'music of the spheres,' cf. II.19, and Plato, Rep. X.617B.

14 See II.57.

15 I.54.

16 A fragment of Heraclitus runs 'The same world of all things none of the gods nor any man did make, but it always was and is and will be ever-living fire, being kindled by measures and extinguished by measures.'

17 He was called 'the dark'; clarus ob obscuram linguam Lucretius I.639.

18 See § 32.

19 Mayor detected this verse quotation from an unknown source. Cf. II.25.

20 The conclusion implied is that no god exists.

21 Atargatis or Derceto (Dagon), a fish with a woman's face, worshipped at Ascalon.

22 Od. XI.600 ff. Our text of Homer adds in ll. 602‑604 that what Odysseus met was a wraith (εἴδωλον), but that Heracles himself was feasting with the gods and wedded to Hebe. These lines, however, were obelized by Aristarchus as non‑Homeric and inconsistent with the Iliad, which speaks of Heracles as killed by the wrath of Hera, and of Hebe as a virgin.

23 The argument goes on at § 53, and perhaps §§ 43‑52 should be transposed after §60 (although the first sentence of §43 seems to belong neither here nor there).

24 See § 6 n.

25 There was a special worship of Venus at Ardea, an old Latin city once important but long before Cicero's time insignificant.

26 As well as Matuta.

27 Editors suspect this unknown name: Cicero can hardly have coined it to translate the Greek.

28 From θαῦμα, wonder.

29 Cf. II.67.

30 Cf. II.66.

31 §§ 53‑60 Mayor transposes to the end of § 42, thus supplying a reference for the words 'these gods' in the second line. But the topic of the first sentence is nowhere pursued, and perhaps it should be kept where it stands, with a mark indicating the loss of a passage that it introduced, and the rest of §§ 53‑60 transferred to § 42.

32 See II.68.

33 i.e., volcanic: the Lipari are meant.

34 Perhaps the Latin should be altered to give 'we obtained from Syria and Cyprus.'

Page updated: 9 Feb 22