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“TRULY with the lapse of time many things come to pass!” This verse I have heard in a comedy and the other day I was tempted to proclaim it aloud, when by invitation we attended the lecture of a Cynic whose barking was neither distinct nor noble; but he was crooning myths as nurses do, and even these he did not compose in any profitable fashion. For a moment my impulse was to rise and break up the meeting. But though I had to listen as one does when Heracles and Dionysus are being caricatured in the theatre by comic poets, I bore it to the end, not for the speaker's sake but for the sake of the audience, or rather, if I may presume to say so, it was still more for my own sake, so that I might not seem to be moved by superstition rather than by a pious and rational sentiment and to be scared into flight by his miserable words like a timid dove. So I stayed and repeated to myself the famous line “Bear it my heart: yea thou didst of yore endure things yet more shameful.” Endure for the brief fraction of a day even a babbling Cynic! It is not the first time that thou hast had to hear the gods blasphemed! Our state is not so well governed, our private life is not so virtuous, in a word we are not so favoured by fortune that we can keep our ears pure or at any rate our eyes at least undefiled by the many and various impieties of this iron race. And now as though we had not enough of such vileness this Cynic fills our ears with his blasphemies, and has uttered the name of the highest of the gods in such wise as would he had never spoken nor I heard! But since he has done this, come, let me in your presence try to teach him this lesson; first that it is more becoming for a Cynic to write discourses than myths; secondly, what sort of adaptations of the myths he ought to make, if indeed philosophy really needs mythology at all; and finally 1 shall have a few words to say about reverence for the gods. For it is with this aim that I appear before you, I who have no talent for writing and who have hitherto avoided addressing the general public, as I have avoided all else that is tedious and sophistical. But perhaps it is not unsuitable for me to say and for you to hear a few words about myth in general as a sort of genealogy of that kind of writing.
Now one could no more discover where myth was originally invented and who was the first to compose fiction in a plausible manner for the benefit or entertainment of his hearers, than if one were to try to find out who was the first man that sneezed or the first horse that neighed. But as cavalry arose in Thrace and Thessaly and archers and the lighter sort of weapons in India, Crete and Caria since the customs of the people were I suppose adapted to the nature of the country, just so we may assume about other things as well, that where anything is highly prized by a nation it was first discovered by that nation rather than by any other. On this assumption then it seems likely that myth was originally the invention of men given to pastoral pursuits, and from that day to this the making of myths is still peculiarly cultivated by them, just as they first invented instruments of music, the flute and the lyre, for their pleasure and entertainment. For just as it is the nature of birds to fly and of fish to swim and of stags to run, and hence they need not be taught to do so; and even if one bind or imprison these animals they try none the less to use those special parts of themselves for the purpose for which they know they are naturally adapted; even so I think the human race whose soul is no other than reason and knowledge imprisoned so to speak in the body the philosophers call it a potentiality even so I say the human race inclines to learning, research and study, as of all tasks most congenial to it. And when a kindly god without delay looses a man's fetters and brings that potentiality into activity, then on the instant knowledge is his: whereas in those who are still imprisoned false opinion instead of true is implanted, just as, I think, Ixion is said to have embraced a sort of cloud instead of the goddess. And hence they produce wind-eggs and monstrous births, mere phantoms and shadows so to speak of true science. And thus instead of genuine science they profess false doctrines, and are very zealous in learning and teaching such doctrines, as though forsooth they were something useful and admirable. But if I am bound to say something in defence of those who originally invented myths, I think they wrote them for childish souls: and I liken them to nurses who hang leathern toys to the hands of children when they are irritated by teething, in order to ease their suffering: so those mythologists wrote for the feeble soul whose wings are just beginning to sprout, and who, though still incapable of being taught the truth, is yearning for further knowledge, and they poured in a stream of myths like men who water a thirsty field, so as to soothe their irritation and pangs.
Then when the myth was gaining ground and coining into favour in Greece, poets developed from it the fable with a moral, which differs from the myth in that the latter is addressed to children and the former to men, and is designed not merely to entertain them but conveys moral exhortation besides. For the man who employs fable aims at moral exhortation and instruction, though he conceals his aim and takes care not to speak openly, for fear of alienating his hearers. Hesiod, for instance, seems to have written with this in view. And after him Archilochus often employed myths, adorning and as it were seasoning his poetry with them, probably because he saw that his subject matter needed something of this sort to make it attractive, and he well knew that poetry without myth is merely versification and lacks, one may say, its essential characteristic, and so ceases to be poetry at all. Therefore he culled these sweets from the Muse of Poetry and offered them to his readers, in order that he might not be ranked merely as a writer of satire but might be counted a poet.
But the Homer of myths, or their Thucydides, or Plato, or whatever we must call him, was Aesop of Samos, who was a slave by the accident of birth rather than by temperament, and he proved his sagacity by this very use of fable. For since the law did not allow him freedom of speech, he had no resource but to shadow forth his wise counsels and trick them out with charms and graces and so serve them up to his hearers. Just so, I think, physicians who are freeborn men prescribe what is necessary, but when a man happens to be a slave by birth and a physician by profession, he is forced to take pains to flatter and cure his master at the same time. Now if our Cynic also is subject to this sort of slavery, let him recite myths, let him write them, and let everyone else under the sun leave to him the role of mythologist. But since he asserts that he alone is free, I do not know what need he has of myths. Does he need to temper the harshness and severity of his advice with sweetness and charm, so that he may at once benefit mankind and avoid being harmed by one whom he has benefited? Nay, that is too much like a slave. Moreover, would any man be better taught by not hearing facts as they really are, or called by their real names, like the comic poet who calls a spade a spade? What need to speak of Phaethon instead of so-and-so? What need sacrilegiously to profane the title of King Helios? Who among men that walk here below”- is worthy to be called Pan or Zeus, as though we should ascribe to those gods our human understanding? And yet if indeed this were possible it would have been better to give the men their own names. Would it not have been better to speak of them thus and to bestow on them human names, or rather not bestow, for those that our parents gave us were enough? Well then if it is neither easier to learn by means of fiction, nor appropriate for the Cynic to invent that sort of thing at all, why did we not spare that wasteful expense, and moreover why did we waste our time in inventing and composing trivial myths and then making stories of them and learning them by heart?
But perhaps you will say that though reason asserts that the Cynic, who alone of men can claim to be free, ought not to invent and compose lying fictions instead of the unvarnished truth and then recite these in public assemblies, nevertheless the custom began with Diogenes and Crates, and has been maintained from that time by all Cynics. My answer is that nowhere will you find a single example of such a custom. For the moment I do not insist on the fact that it in no wise becomes a Cynic who must “give a new stamp to the common currency” to pay any attention to custom, but only to pure reason, and he ought to discover within himself what is right for him to do and not learn it from without. And do not be misled by the fact that Antisthenes the disciple of Socrates, and Xenophon too, sometimes expressed themselves by means of myths; for I shall have something to say to you on this point in a moment. But now in the Muses' name answer me this question about the Cynic philosophy. Are we to think it a sort of madness, a method of life not suitable for a human being, but rather a brutal attitude of mind which reeks naught of the beautiful, the honourable, or the good ? For Oenomaus would make many people hold this view of it. If you had taken any trouble to study the subject, you would have learned this from that Cynic's “Direct Inspiration of Oracles” and his work “Against the Oracles,” in short from everything that he wrote. This then is his aim, to do away with all reverence for the gods, to bring dishonour on all human wisdom, to trample on all law that can be identified with honour and justice, and more than this, to trample on those laws which have been as it were engraved on our souls by the gods, and have impelled us all to believe without teaching that the divine exists, and to direct our eyes to it and to yearn towards it: for our souls are disposed towards it as eyes towards the light. Furthermore, suppose that one should discard also that second law which is sanctified both by nature and by God, I mean the law that bids us keep our hands altogether and utterly from the property of others, and permits us neither by word or deed or in the inmost and secret activities of our souls to confound such distinctions, since the law is our guide to the most perfect justice is not this conduct worthy of the pit? And ought not those who applauded such views to have been driven forth, not by blows with wands, like scapegoats, for that penalty is too light for such crimes, but put to death by stoning? For tell me, in Heaven's name, how are such men less criminal than bandits who infest lonely places and haunt the coasts in order to despoil navigators? Because, as people say, they despise death; as though bandits were not inspired by the same frenzied courage! So says at any rate he who with you counts as a poet and mythologist, though, as a Pythian god proclaimed to certain bandits who sought his oracle, he was a hero and divinity I mean where, speaking of pirates of the sea, he says: “lake pirates who wander over the sea, staking their lives.” What better witness can you require for the desperate courage of bandits? Except indeed that one might say that bandits are more courageous than Cynics of this sort, while the Cynics are more reckless than they. For pirates, well aware as they are how worthless is the life they lead, take cover in desert places as much from shame as from the fear of death: whereas the Cynics go up and down in our midst subverting the institutions of society, and that not by introducing a better and purer state of things but a worse and more corrupt state.
Now as for the tragedies ascribed to Diogenes, which are, and are admitted to be, the composition of some Cynic the only point in dispute being whether they are by the master himself, Diogenes, or by his disciple Philiscus, what reader of these would not abhor them, and find in them an excess of infamy not to be surpassed even by courtesans? However, let him go on to read the tragedies of Oenomaus for he too wrote tragedies to match his discourses and he will find that they are more inconceivably infamous, that they transgress the very limits of evil; in fact I have no words to describe them adequately, and in vain should I cite in comparison the horrors of Magnesia, the wickedness of Termerus or the whole of tragedy put together, along with satiric drama, comedy and the mime: with such art has their author displayed in those works every conceivable vileness and folly in their most extreme form.
Now if from such works any man chooses to demonstrate to us the character of the Cynic philosophy, and to blaspheme the gods and bark at all men, as I said when I began, let him go, let him depart to the uttermost parts of the earth whithersoever he pleases. But if he do as the god enjoined on Diogenes, and first “give a new stamp to the common currency,” then devote himself to the advice uttered earlier by the god, the precept “Know Thyself,” which Diogenes and Crates evidently followed in their actual practice, then I say that this is wholly worthy of one who desires to be a leader and a philosopher. For surely we know what the god meant ? He enjoined on Diogenes to despise the opinion of the crowd and to give a new stamp, not to truth, but to the common currency. Now to which of these categories shall we assign self-knowledge? Can we call it common currency? Shall we not rather say that it is the very summary of truth, and by the injunction “Know Thyself” we are told the way in which we must “give a new stamp to the common currency”? For just as one who pays no regard whatever to conventional opinions but goes straight for the truth will not decide his own conduct by those opinions but by actual facts, so I think he who knows himself will know accurately, not the opinion of others about him, but what he is in reality. It follows then, does it not that the Pythian god speaks the truth, and moreover that Diogenes was clearly convinced of this since he obeyed the god and so became, instead of an exile, I will not say greater than the King of Persia, but according to the tradition handed down actually an object of envy to the man who had broken the power of Persia and was rivaling the exploits of Heracles and ambitious to surpass Achilles. Then let us judge of the attitude of Diogenes towards gods and men, not from the discourses of Oenomaus or the tragedies of Philiscus who by ascribing their authorship to Diogenes grossly slandered that sacred personage but let us, I say, judge him by his deeds.
Why in the name of Zeus did he go to Olympia? To see the athletes compete? Nay, could he not have seen those very athletes without trouble both at i.e. Alexander. the Isthmian games and the Panathenaic festival? Then was it because he wished to meet there the most distinguished Greeks? But did they not go to the Isthmus too? So you cannot discover any other motive than that of doing honour to the god. He was not, you say, awestruck by a thunderstorm. Ye gods, I too have witnessed such signs from Zeus over and over again, without being awestruck! Yet for all that I feel awe of the gods, I love, I revere, I venerate them, and in short have precisely the same feelings towards them as one would have towards kind masters or teachers or fathers or guardians or any beings of that sort. That is the very reason why I could hardly sit still the other day and listen to your speech. However, I have spoken thus as I was somehow or other impelled to speak, though perhaps it would have been better to say nothing at all.
To return to Diogenes: he was poor and lacked means, yet he travelled to Olympia, though he bade Alexander come to him, if we are to believe Dio. So convinced was he that it was his duty to visit the temples of the gods, but that it was the duty of the most royal monarch of that day to come to him for an interview. And was not that royal advice which he wrote to Archidamus? Nay, not only in words but in deeds also did Diogenes show his reverence for the gods. For he preferred to live in Athens, but when the divine command had sent him away to Corinth, even after he had been set free by the man who had bought him, he did not think he ought to leave that city. For he believed that the gods took care of him, and that he had been sent to Corinth, not at random or by some accident, but by the gods themselves for some purpose. He saw that Corinth was more luxurious than Athens, and stood in need of a more severe and courageous reformer.
To give you another instance: Are there not extant many charming poems by Crates also which are proofs of his piety and veneration for the gods? I will repeat them to you if you have not had time to learn this from the poems themselves:
“Ye Muses of Pieria, glorious children of Memory and Olympian Zeus, grant me this prayer! Give me food for my belly from day to day, but give it with- out slavery which makes life miserable indeed. . . . . Make me useful rather than agreeable to my friends. Treasure and the fame thereof I desire not to amass; nor do I crave the wealth of the beetle and the substance of the ant. But justice I desire to attain, and to collect riches that are easily carried, easily acquired, precious for virtue. If I attain these things I will worship Hermes and the holy Muses, not with costly and luxurious offerings, but with pious and virtuous actions.”
You see that, far from blaspheming the gods as you do, he adored and prayed to them? For what number of hecatombs are worth as much as Piety, whom the inspired Euripides celebrated appropriately in the verses “Piety, queen of the gods, Piety”? Or are you not aware that all offerings whether great or small that are brought to the gods with piety have equal value, whereas without piety, I will not say hecatombs, but, by the gods, even the Olympian sacrifice of a thousand oxen is merely empty expenditure and nothing else? This I believe Crates recognised, and so with that piety which was his only possession he himself used to honour the gods with praises, and moreover taught others not to honour expensive offerings more than piety in the sacred ceremonies. This then was the attitude of both those Cynics towards the gods but they did not crowd audiences together to hear them, nor did they entertain their friends with similes and myths, like the wise men of to-day. For as Euripides well says, “Simple and unadorned is the language of truth.” Only the liar and the dishonest man, he says, have any use for a mysterious and allusive style. Now what was the manner of their intercourse with men? Deeds with them came before words, and if they honoured poverty they themselves seem first to have scorned inherited wealth; if they cultivated modesty, they themselves first practised plain living in every respect; if they tried to expel from the lives of other men the element of theatrical display and arrogance, they themselves first set the example by living in the open market places and the temple precincts, and they opposed luxury by their own practice before they did so in words; nor did they shout aloud but proved by their actions that a man may rule as the equal of Zeus if he needs nothing or very little and so is not hampered by his body; and they reproved sinners during the lifetime of those who had offended but did not speak ill of the dead; for when men are dead even their enemies, at least the more moderate, make peace with the departed. But the genuine Cynic has no enemy, even though men strike his feeble body or drag his name in the mire, or slander and speak ill of him, because enmity is felt only towards an opponent, but that which is above personal rivalry is usually loved and respected. But if anyone is hostile to a Cynic, as indeed many are even to the gods, he is not that Cynic's enemy, since he cannot injure him; rather he inflicts on himself the most terrible punishment of all, namely ignorance of one who is nobler than himself; and so he is deserted and bereft of the other's protection.
Now if my present task were to write about the Cynic philosophy, I could add many details about the Cynics, not less important than what I have said already. But not to interrupt my main theme, I will now consider in due course the question what kind of myths ought to be invented. But perhaps another inquiry should precede this attempt, I mean to what branch of philosophy the composition of myths is appropriate. For we see that many philosophers and theologians too have employed it, Orpheus for instance, the most ancient of all the inspired philosophers, and many besides of those that came after him. Nay what is more, Xenophon as we know and Antisthenes and Plato often introduced myths, so that it is obvious that even if the use of myth be not appropriate for the Cynic, still it may be so for some other type of philosopher.
I must first then say a few words about the subdivisions or instruments of philosophy. It does not make much difference in which of two ways one reckons logic, whether with practical or natural philosophy, since it is equally necessary to both these branches. But I will consider these as three separate branches and assign to each one three subdivisions. Natural philosophy consists of theology, mathematics, and thirdly the study of this world of generation and decay and things that though imperishable are nevertheless matter, and deals with their essential nature and their substance in each case. Practical philosophy again consists of ethics in so far as it deals with the individual man, economics when it deals with the household as a unit, politics when it deals with the state. Logic, again, is demonstrative in so far as it deals with the truth of principles; polemic when it deals with general opinions; eristic when it deals with opinions that only seem probabilities. These then are the divisions of philosophy, if I mistake not. Though indeed it would not be surprising that a mere soldier should be none too exact in these matters or not have them at his fingers' ends, seeing that I speak less from book-knowledge than from observation and experience. For that matter you can yourselves bear me witness thereto, if you count up how few days have elapsed between the lecture that we lately heard and to-day, and moreover the number of affairs with which they have been filled for me. But as I said if I have omitted anything though I do not think have still if anyone can make my classification more complete he will be no enemy but my friend.”
Now of these branches of philosophy, logic has no concern with the composition of myths; nor has mathematics, the sub-division of natural philosophy; but they may be employed, if at all, by 'that depart- ment of practical philosophy which deals with the individual man, and by that department of theology which has to do with initiation and the Mysteries. For nature loves to hide her secrets, and she does not suffer the hidden truth about the essential nature of the gods to be flung in naked words to the ears of the profane. Now there are certain characteristics of ours that derive benefit from that occult and unknown nature, which nourishes not our souls alone but our bodies also, and brings us into the presence of the gods, and this I think often comes about by means of myths; when through riddles and the dramatic setting of myths that knowledge is insinuated into the ears of the multitude who cannot receive divine truths in their purest form.
It is now evident what branch and what sort of philosophy may properly on occasion employ myths. And to support my argument I call to witness the authority of those philosophers who were the first to use myths. Plato for instance in his theological descriptions of life in Hades often uses myths, and the son of Calliope before him. And when Antisthenes and Xenophon and Plato himself discuss certain ethical theories they use myths as one of the ingredients, and not casually but of set purpose. Now if you too wished to use myths you ought to have imitated these philosophers, and instead of Heracles you should have introduced the name of Perseus or Theseus, let us say, and have written in the style of Antisthenes; and in place of the dramatic setting used by Prodicus, in treating of those two gods you should have introduced into your theatre another setting of the same sort.
But since I have mentioned also the myths that are suited to initiation, let us ourselves independently try to see what sort of myths they must be that suit one or the other of those two branches of philosophy; and no longer need we call in the aid of witnesses from the remote past for all points, but we will follow in the fresh footprints of one whom next to the gods I revere and admire, yes, equally with Aristotle and Plato. He does not treat of all kinds of myths but only those connected with initiation into the Mysteries, such as Orpheus, the founder of the most sacred of all the Mysteries, handed down to us. For it is the incongruous element in myths that guides us to the truth. I mean that the more paradoxical and prodigious the riddle is the more it seems to warn us not to believe simply the bare words but rather to study diligently the hidden truth, and not to relax our efforts until under the guidance of the gods those hidden things become plain, and so initiate or rather perfect our intelligence or whatever we possess that is more sublime than the intelligence, I mean that small particle of the One and the Good which contains the whole indivisibly, the complement of the soul, and in the One and the Good comprehends the whole of soul itself through the prevailing and separate and distinct presence of the One. But I was impelled I know not how to rave with his own sacred frenzy when I spoke like this of the attributes of great Dionysus; and now I set an ox on my tongue: for I may not reveal what is too sacred for speech. However, may the gods grant to me and to many of you who have not as yet been initiated into these Mysteries to enjoy the blessings thereof!
And now to confine myself to what is lawful for us, both for me to say and for you to hear. Every discourse that is uttered consists of language and the thought to be expressed. Now a myth is a sort of discourse and so it will consist of these two. Let us consider them separately. In every discourse the thought is of two kinds, either simple or expressed in figures of speech; and there are many examples of both kinds. The one is simple and admits of no variety, but that which is embellished with figures has in itself many possibilities of variation with all of which you are yourself familiar if you have ever studied rhetoric; and most of these figures of thought are suited to myth. However I need not now discuss all or indeed many of them, but only two, that in which the thought is dignified and that in which it is paradoxical. The same rules apply also to diction. For this is given a certain shape and form by those who do not express themselves carelessly or sweep in the refuse of language from the highways like a winter torrent. And now to consider these two types. When we invent myths about sacred things our language must be wholly dignified and the diction must be as far as possible sober, beautiful, and entirely appropriate to the gods; there must be nothing in it base or slanderous or impious, for fear we should lead the common people into this sort of sacrilegious rashness; or rather for fear we should ourselves anticipate the common people in displaying impiety towards the gods. Therefore there must be no incongruous element in diction thus employed, but all must be dignified, beautiful, splendid, divine, pure, and as far as possible in conformity with the essential nature of the gods. But as regards the thought, the incongruous may be admitted, so that under the guidance of the gods men may be inspired to search out and study the hidden meaning, though they must not ask for any hint of the truth from others, but must acquire their knowledge from what is said in the myth itself. For instance I have heard many people say that Dionysus was a mortal man because he was born of Semele, and that he became a god through his knowledge of theurgy and the Mysteries, and like our lord Heracles for his royal virtue was translated to Olympus by his father Zeus. “Nay, my good sir,” said I, “do you not perceive that the myth is obviously an allegory?” For in what sense do we regard the “birth” of Heracles, yes, and of Dionysus as well, since in their case birth has superior and surpassing and distinctive elements, even though it still falls within the limits of human nature, and up to a certain point resembles our own? Heracles for instance is said to have been a child, even as we are; his divine body grew gradually; we are informed that he was instructed by teachers; they say that he carried on wars and defeated all his opponents, but for all that his body had to endure weariness. And in fact all this did in his case occur, but on a scale greater than human. For instance, while still in swaddling clothes he strangled the serpents and then opposed himself to the very elements of nature, the extremes of heat and cold and things the most difficult and hardest to contend with, I mean lack of food and loneliness; and then there is his journey over the sea itself in a golden cup, though, by the gods, I do not think it was really a cup, but my belief is that he himself walked on the sea as though it were dry land. For what was impossible to Heracles? Which was there of the so-called elements that did not obey his divine and most pure body since they were subdued to the creative and perfecting force of his stainless and pure intelligence? For him did mighty Zeus, with the aid of Athene goddess of Forethought, beget to be the saviour of the world, and appointed as his guardian this goddess whom he had brought forth whole from the whole of himself; and later on he called him to his side through the flame of a thunderbolt, thus bidding his son to come to him by the divine signal of the ethereal rays of light. Now when we meditate on this, may Heracles be gracious to you and to me!
As for the commonly received legend about the birth of Dionysus, which was in fact no birth but a divine manifestation, in what respect was it like the birth of men? While he was still in his mother's womb she, as the story goes, was beguiled by jealous Hera to entreat her lover to visit her as he was wont to visit his spouse. And then her frail body could not endure the thunders of Zeus and began to be consumed by the lightning. But when everything there was being devoured by flames, Zeus bade Hermes snatch Dionysus forth, and he cut open his own thigh and sewed the babe therein. Then in due course when the time was ripe for the child's birth, Zeus in the pangs of travail came to the nymphs, and they by their song over the thigh “Undo the stitching” brought to light for us the dithyramb. Whereupon the god was driven mad by Hera, but the Mother of the Gods healed him of his sickness and he straightway became a god. And he had for followers not, like Heracles, Lichas for instance or lolaus or Telamon or Hylas or Abderos, but Satyrs, Bacchanals, Pans and a whole host of lesser divinities. Do you perceive how much of human there is in this generation through the fire of a thunderbolt, that his delivery is even more human, and that his deeds, even more than these two that we have mentioned, resemble those of human beings? Now why do we not set aside all this nonsense and recognise herein first the fact that Semele was wise in sacred things? For she was the daughter of Phoenician Cadmus, and the god himself bears witness to the wisdom of the Phoenicians when he says “The Phoenicians too have learned many of the roads travelled by the blessed gods.” I think then that she was the first among the Greeks to perceive that there was to be before long a visible manifes- tation of this god, and that she foretold it, and then that, sooner than was fitting, she gave the signal for certain of the mystic rites connected with his worship, because she had not the patience to wait for the appointed time, and thus she was consumed by the fire that fell upon her. But when it was the will of Zeus to bestow on all mankind in common a new order of tilings, and to make them pass from the nomadic to a more civilised mode of life, Dionysus came from India and revealed himself as very god made visible, visiting the cities of men and leading with him a great host of beings in some sort divine; and everywhere he bestowed all men in common as the symbol of his manifestation the plant of “the gentle vine”; and since their lives were made more gentle by it the Greeks as think gave it that name; l and they called Semele the mother of Dionysus because of the prediction that she had made, but also because the god honoured her as having been the first prophetess of his advent while it was yet to be.
Now since this is the historical truth of these events if they are accurately considered and examined, those who sought to discover what sort of god Dionysus is worked into a myth the truth which is as I said, and expressed in an allegory both the essential nature of the god and his conception in his father Zeus among the intelligible gods, and further his birth independently of generation in this our world. … in the whole universe, and in their proper order all those other facts which are well worth studying but too difficult for me at any rate to describe; partly perhaps because I am still ignorant of the precise truth about them, but perhaps also because I am unwilling to exhibit as in a theatre this god who is at once hidden and manifest, and that, too, to ears that have not sought after truth and to minds disposed to anything rather than the study of philosophy.
However let Dionysus himself decide about these things, though I do indeed implore him to inspire my mind and yours with his own sacred frenzy for the true knowledge of the gods, so that we may not by remaining too long uninspired by him have to suffer the fate of Pentheus, perhaps even while we are alive, but most certainly after death has freed us from the body. For he in whom the abundance of life has not been perfected by the essential nature of Dionysus, uniform and wholly indivisible as it is in the divisible world and preexisting whole and unmixed in all things, he I say who has not been perfected by means of the Bacchic and divine frenzy for the god, runs the risk that his life may flow into too many channels, and as it flows be torn to shreds, and hence come to naught. But when I say “flow” or “torn to shreds” no one must consider the bare meaning of the words and suppose that I mean a mere trickle of water or a thread of linen, but he must understand these words in another sense, that used by Plato, Plotinus, Porphyry and the inspired lamblichus. One who does not interpret them thus will laugh at them no doubt, but let me assure him that it will be a Sardonic laugh, since he will be forever deprived of that knowledge of the gods which I hold to be more precious than to rule over the whole world, Roman and barbarian put together, yea, I swear it by my lord Helios. But again some god or other and no choice of my own has made me rave with this Bacchic frenzy.
To go back then to what led me to say all this. Whenever myths on sacred subjects are incongruous in thought, by that very fact they cry aloud, as it were, and summon us not to believe them literally but to study and track down their hidden meaning. And in such myths the incongruous element is even more valuable than the serious and straightforward, the more so that when the latter is used there is risk of our regarding the gods as exceedingly great and noble and good certainly, but still as human beings, whereas when the meaning is expressed incongruous there is some hope that men will neglect the more obvious sense of the words, and that pure intelligence may rise to the comprehension of the distinctive nature of the gods that transcends all existing things.
These then are the reasons why that branch of philosophy which is connected with initiation and the doctrines of the Mysteries ought by all means to be expressed in devout and serious language, while as regards the thought the narrative may be expounded in a style that has stranger qualities. But one who is inventing tales for the purpose of reforming morals and inserts myths therein, does so not for men but for those who are children whether in years or intelligence, and who on all accounts stand in need of such tales. If, however, you took us for children, me, for instance, or Anatolius here, and you may reckon with us Memmorius also and Sallust and add if you please all the others in due order, then you need a voyage to Anticyra. For why should one pretend to be polite? Tell me, I ask, in the name of the gods, and of myth itself, or rather in the name of Helios the King of all the universe, what have you ever accomplished, great or small? When did you ever champion one who was resisting oppression and had right on his side? When did you ever comfort the mourner and teach him by your arguments that death is not an evil either for him who has suffered it or for his friends? What youth will ever give you the credit for his temperance, and say that you have made him show himself sober in- stead of dissolute, and beautiful not merely in body but far more in soul? What strenuous discipline have you ever embraced? What have you ever done to make you worthy of the staff of Diogenes or still more, by Zeus, of his freedom of speech? Do you really think it so great an achievement to carry a staff and let your hair grow, and haunt cities and camps uttering calumnies against the noblest men, and flattering the vilest? Tell me in the name of Zeus and of this audience now present, who are dis- gusted with philosophy because of men of your sort, why was it that you visited the late Emperor Constantius in Italy but could not travel as far as Gaul? And yet if you had come to me you would at any rate have associated with one who was better able to comprehend your language. What do you gain by traveling about in all directions and wearing out the very mules you ride? Yes, and I hear that you wear out the mule drivers as well, and that they dread the sight of you Cynics even more than of soldiers. For I am told that some of you belabour them more cruelly with your staffs than do the soldiers with their swords, so that they are naturally more afraid of you. Long ago I gave you a nickname and now I think I will write it down. It “monks,” a name applied to certain persons by the impious Galilaeans. They are for the most part men who by making small sacrifices gain much or rather everything from all sources, and in addition secure honour, crowds of attendants and flattery. Some- thing like that is your method, except perhaps for uttering divine revelations: but this is not your custom, though it is ours; for we are wiser than those insensate men. And perhaps too there is this difference that you have no excuse for levying tribute on specious pretexts as they do; which they call “alms,” whatever that may mean. But in all other respects your habits and theirs are very much alike. Like them you have abandoned your country, you wander about all over the world, and you gave more trouble than they did at my headquarters, and were more insolent, For they were at any rate invited to come, but you we tried to drive away. And what good have you, or rather, what have the rest of us derived from all this? First arrived Asclepiades, then Serenianus, then Chytron, then a tall boy with yellow hair I don't know his name then you, and with you all twice as many more. And now, my good sirs, what good has come from your journey? What city or individual has had any experience of your alleged freedom of speech? Was it not foolish of you to choose in the first place to make this journey to an Emperor who did not even wish to set eyes on you? And when you had arrived, did you not behave even more foolishly and ignorantly and insanely in flattering and barking at me in the same breath, and offering me your books, and moreover imploring that they should be taken to me? I do not believe that any one of you ever visited a philosopher's school as diligently as you did my secretary: in fact the entrance to the Palace stood for you in place of the Academy and the Lyceum and the Portico.
Have done with all this nonsense! At any rate lay it aside now if not before, when you can get no advantage from your long hair and your staff. Shall I tell you how you have caused philosophy to be lightly esteemed? It is because the most ignorant of the rhetoricians, those whose tongues not King Hermes himself could purify, and who could not be made wise by Athene herself with the aid of Hermes, having picked up their knowledge from their industry in frequenting public places, for they do not know the truth of the current proverb, “Grape ripens near grape” then all rush into Cynicism. They adopt the staff, the cloak, the long hair, the ignorance that goes with these, the impudence, the insolence, and in a word everything of the sort. They say that they are travelling the short and ready road to virtue. I would that you were going by the longer! For you would more easily arrive by that road than by this of yours. Are you not aware that short cuts usually involve one in great difficulties? For just as is the case with the public roads, a traveler who is able to take a short cut will more easily than other men go all the way round, whereas it does not at all follow that he who went round could always go the short cut, so too in philosophy the end and the beginning are one, namely, to know oneself and to become like the gods. That is to say, the first principle is self-knowledge, and the end of conduct is the resemblance to the higher powers.
Therefore he who desires to be a Cynic despises all the usages and opinions of men, and turns his mind first of all to himself and the god. For him gold is not gold or sand sand, if one enquire into their value with a view to exchanging them, and leave it to him to rate them at their proper worth: for he knows that both of them are but earth. And the fact that one is scarcer and the other easier to obtain he thinks is merely the result of the vanity and ignorance of mankind. He will judge of the baseness or nobility of an action, not by the applause or blame of men but by its intrinsic nature. He avoids any excess in food, and renounces the pleasures of love. When he is forced to obey the needs of the body he is not the slave of opinion, nor does he wait for a cook and sauces and a savoury smell, nor does he ever look about for Phryne or Lais or So-and-so's wife or young daughter or serving-maid. But as far as possible he satisfies his body's needs with whatever comes to hand, and by thrusting aside all hindrances derived from the body he contemplates from above, from the peaks of Olympus, other men who are “Wandering in darkness in the meadow of Ate,” and for the sake of a few wholly trifling pleasures are undergoing torments greater than any by the Cocytus or Acheron such as the most ingenious of the poets are always telling us about. Now the true short cut to philosophy is this. A man must completely come out of himself and recognise that he is divine, and not only keep his mind untiringly and steadfastly fixed on divine and stainless and pure thoughts, but he must also utterly despise his body, and think it, in the words of Heracleitus, “more worthless than dirt.” And by the easiest means he must satisfy his body's needs so long as the god commands him to use it as an instrument.
So much for that, as the saying is. Now to go back to the point at which I digressed. Since, as I was saying, myths ought to be addressed either to those who though grown men are children in intelligence, or to those who in actual years are mere children, we must take pains to utter in them no word that is offensive to gods or men or anything impious, as was done recently. And moreover we must in all cases apply careful tests to see whether the myth is plausible, closely related to the matter discussed and whether what is invented is really a myth. Now what you composed lately is not your own myth though you boasted that it was. Nay, your myth was an old one and you did but adapt it to fresh circumstances, as I believe people are in the habit of doing who use tropes and figures of thought. The poet of Paros l for instance is much given to this style. It seems then that you did not even invent your myth, my very clever friend, and that yours was an idle boast. Though in fact the thing is done by any nurse with an inventive turn. And if the mythical tales of Plutarch had ever fallen into your hands you would not have failed to observe what a difference there is between inventing a myth from the beginning and adapting to one's own purpose a myth that already exists. But I must not detain you even for a moment or hinder you on your way along that short cut to wisdom by making you embark on books that are long and hard to read. You have not even heard of the myth by Demosthenes which he of the Paeaiiian deme addressed to the Athenians when the Macedonian demanded that the Athenian orators be given up. You ought to have invented something of that sort. In Heaven's name was it too hard for you to relate some little myth of the kind? You will force me too to become a myth-maker.
A certain rich man had numerous flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and “ranging flocks of goats” and many times ten thousand mares grazed his marsh-meadows.” Many shepherds too he had, both slaves and hired freedmen, neatherds and goatherds and grooms for his horses, and many estates withal. Now much of all this his father had bequeathed to him, but he had himself acquired many times more, being eager to enrich himself whether justly or unjustly; for little did he care for the gods. Several wives he had, and sons and daughters by them, among whom he divided his wealth before he died. But he did not teach them how to manage it, or how to acquire more if it should fail, or how to preserve what they had. For in his ignorance he thought that their mere numbers would suffice, nor had he himself any real knowledge of that sort of art, since he had not acquired his wealth on any rational principle but rather by use and wont, like quack doctors who try to cure their patients by relying on their experience only, so that many diseases escape them altogether. Accordingly since he thought that a number of sons would suffice to preserve his wealth, he took no thought how to make them virtuous. But this very thing proved to be the beginning of their iniquitous behaviour to one another. For every one of them desired to be as wealthy as his father and to possess the whole for himself alone, and so attacked the brother that was his neighbour. Now for a time they continued to behave thus. And their relatives also shared in the folly and ignorance of those sons, since they themselves had had no better education. Then ensued a general slaughter, and heaven brought the tragic curse to fulfillment. For “by the edge of the sword they divided their patrimony” and everything was thrown into confusion. The sons demolished the ancestral temples which their father before them had despised and had stripped of the votive offerings that had been dedicated by many worshippers, but not least by his own ancestors. And besides demolishing the temples they erected sepulchres both on new sites and on the old sites of the temples, as though impelled by fate or by an unconscious presentiment that they would ere long need many such sepulchres, seeing that they so neglected the gods.
Now when all was in confusion, and many marriages that were no marriages were being concluded, and the laws of god and man alike had been profaned, Zeus was moved with compassion and addressing himself to Helios he said : “O my son, divine offspring more ancient than heaven and earth, art thou still minded to resent the insolence of that arrogant and audacious mortal, who by forsaking thee brought so many calamities on himself and his race? Thinkest thou that, though thou dost not show thine anger and resentment against him nor whet thine arrows against his children, thou art any less the author of his destruction in that thou dost abandon his house to desolation? Nay,” said Zeus, “let us summon the Fates and enquire whether any assistance may be given the man.” Forthwith the Fates obeyed the call of Zeus. But Helios who was as though absorbed in thought and inward debate yet gave constant heed and fixed his eyes on Zeus. Then spoke the eldest of the Fates: “O our father, Piety and Justice both restrain us. Therefore it is thine to prevail on them also, since thou hast ordered us to be subservient to them.” And Zeus made answer, “Truly they are my daughters, and it is meet that I question them. What then have ye to say, ye venerable goddesses?” “Nay, father”, they replied, “that is as thou thyself dost ordain. But be careful lest this wicked zeal for impious deeds prevail universally among men.” “I will myself look to both these matters,” Zeus replied. Then the Fates approached and spun all as their father willed.
Next Zeus thus addressed Helios: “Thou seest yonder thine own child.” (Now this was a certain kinsman of those brothers who had been cast aside and was despised though he was that rich man's nephew and the cousin of his heirs.) “This child,” said Zeus, “is thine own offspring. Swear then by my sceptre and thine that thou wilt care especially for him and cure him of this malady. For thou seest how he is as it were infected with smoke and filth and darkness and there is danger that the spark of fire which thou didst implant in him will be quenched, unless thou clothe thyself with might. Take care of him therefore and rear him. For I and the Fates yield thee this task.” When King Helios heard this he was glad and took pleasure in the babe, since he perceived that in him a small spark of himself was still preserved. And from that time he reared the child whom he had withdrawn “from the blood and noise of war and the slaughter of men.” And father Zeus bade Athene also, the Motherless Maiden, share with Helios the task of bringing up the child. And when, thus reared, he had become a youth “With the first down on his chin, when youth has all its charms,” he learned the numerous disasters that had befallen his kinsmen and his cousins, and had all but hurled himself into Tartarus, so confounded was he by the extent of those calamities. Then Helios of his grace, aided by Athene, Goddess of Forethought, threw him into a slumber or trance, and so diverted him from that purpose. Then when he had waked from this he went away into the desert. And there he found a stone and rested for a while thereon, debating within himself how he should escape evils so many and so vast. For all things now appeared grievous to him and for the moment there was no hope anywhere. Then Hermes, who had an affinity for him, appeared to him in the guise of a youth of his own age, and greeting him kindly said, “Follow me, and I will guide thee by an easier and smoother road as soon as thou hast surmounted this winding and rugged place where thou seest all men stumbling and obliged to go back again.” Then the youth set out with great circumspection, carrying a sword and shield and spear, though as yet his head was bare. Thus relying on Hermes he went forward by a road smooth, untrodden and very bright, and overhung with fruits and many lovely flowers such as the gods love, and with trees also, ivy and laurel and myrtle. Now when Hermes had brought him to the foot of a great and lofty mountain, he said, “On the summit of this mountain dwells the father of all the gods. Be careful then for herein lies the greatest risk of all to worship him with the utmost piety and ask of him whatever thou wilt. Thou wilt choose, my child, only what is best.” So saying Hermes once more became invisible, though the youth was fain to learn from him what he ought to ask from the father of the gods. But when he saw that he was no longer at his side he said, “The advice though incomplete is good nevertheless. Therefore let me by the grace of fortune ask for what is best, though do not as yet see clearly the father of the gods. Father Zeus or whatever name thou dost please that men should call thee by, show me the way that leads upwards to thee. For fairer still methinks is the region where thou art, if I may judge of the beauty of thy abode from the splendour of the place whence I have come hither.”
When he had uttered this prayer a sort of slumber or ecstasy came over him. Then Zeus showed him Helios himself. Awestruck by that vision the youth exclaimed, “For this and for all thy other favours I will dedicate myself to thee, O Father of the Gods! “Then he cast his arms about the knees of Helios and would not let go his hold but kept entreating him to save him. But Helios called Athene and bade her first enquire of him what arms he had brought with him. And when she saw his shield and sword and spear, she said, “But where, my child, is thy aegis and thy helmet? Even these that I have,” he replied, “procured with difficulty. For in the house of my kinsfolk there was none to aid one so despised.” “Learn therefore,” said mighty Helios, ” that thou must without fail return thither.” Thereupon he entreated him not to send him to earth again but to detain him there, since he would never be able to mount upwards a second time but would be overwhelmed by the ills of earth. But as he wept and implored Helios replied, “Nay, thou art young and not yet initiated. Return therefore to thine own people that thou mayst be initiated and thereafter dwell on earth in safety. For return thou must, and cleanse away all impiety and invoke me to aid thee, and Athene and the other gods.” When Helios had said this the youth remained silent. Then mighty Helios led him to a high peak whose upper region was filled with light but the lower with the thickest mist imaginable, through which, as through water, the light of the rays of King Helios penetrated but faintly. ” Thou seest,” said Helios, ” thy cousin the heir? ” “I see him,” the youth replied. ” Again, dost thou see yonder herdsmen and shepherds?” The youth answered that he did. “Then what thinkest thou of the heir's disposition? And what of his shepherds and herdsmen?” “He seems to me,” replied the youth, “to be for the most part asleep, sunk in forgetfulness and devoted to pleasure; and of his shepherds a few are honest, but most are vicious and brutal. For they devour or sell his sheep, and doubly injure their master, in that they not only ruin his flocks but besides that they make great gain and return him but little thereof, while they declare with loud complaint that they are defrauded of their wages. And yet it were better that they should demand and obtain their full pay than that they should destroy the flock.” “Now what if I and Athene here,” said Helios, “obeying the command of Zeus, should appoint thee to govern all these, in place of the heir?” Then the youth clung to him again and earnestly entreated that he might remain there. “Do not be obstinate in disobedience” said Helios, “lest perchance I hate thee beyond measure, even as I have loved thee.” Then said the youth, “Do thou, O most mighty Helios, and thou, Athene, and thee too, Father Zeus, do I call to witness, dispose of me as ye will.” Then Hermes suddenly appeared once more, and inspired him with greater courage. For now he thought that he had found a guide for the journey back, and for his sojourn on earth. Then said Athene,” Attend, good youth, that art born of myself and of this god, thy noble sire! The most virtuous of the shepherds do not please this heir, for flatterers and profligates have made him their slave and tool. Thus it is that he is not beloved by the good, and is most deeply wronged by those who are supposed to love him. Be careful then when thou returnest that he make thee not his flatterer rather than his friend. This second warning also do thou heed, my son. Yonder man slumbers, and hence he is often deceived, but do thou be sober and vigilant, lest the flatterer assume the frankness of a friend and so deceive thee; which is as though a smith covered with smoke and cinders should come wearing a white garment and with his face painted white, and thus induce thee to give him one of thy daughters in marriage. My third warning to thee is this: do thou very zealously keep watch over thyself, and reverence us in the first place, and among men only him who resembles us, and no one besides. Thou seest how false shame and excessive timidity have injured this foolish man.” Then mighty Helios took up the tale and said, “When thou hast chosen thy friends treat them as friends and do not regard them as thy servants and attendants, but let thy conduct towards them be generous, candid, and honourable: say not one thing about them while thou thinkest another. Thou seest that it was treachery to his friends that destroyed this heir. Love thy subjects even as we love thee. Prefer our worship to all other blessings. For we are thy benefactors and friends and preservers.” At these words the youth became calm and showed plainly that he was already obedient in all things to the gods. “Come,” said Helios,” now depart with good hope. For everywhere we shall be with thee, even I and Athene and Hermes here, and with us all the gods that are on Olympus or in the air or on earth and the whole race of gods everywhere, so long as thou art pious towards us and loyal to thy friends, and humane towards thy subjects, ruling them and guiding them to what is best. But never yield to thy own passions or become the slave of theirs. Keep the armour that thou hast brought hither, and depart, but first receive from me this torch so that even on earth a great light may shine for thee and that thou mayst not long for the things of earth. And from fair Athene here receive an aegis and helmet. For as thou seest she has many, and she gives them to whom she will. And Hermes too will give thee a golden wand. Go then thus adorned in full armour over sea and land, steadfastly obeying our laws, and let no man or woman or kinsman or foreigner persuade thee to neglect our commands. For while thou dost abide by them thou wilt be loved and honoured by us and respected by our good servants and formidable to the wicked and impious. Know that a mortal frame was given to thee that thou mightest discharge these duties. For we desire, out of respect for thy ancestor to cleanse the house of thy forefathers. Remember therefore that thou hast an immortal soul that is our offspring, and that if thou dost follow us thou shalt be a god and with us shalt behold our father.”
Now whether this be a fable or a true narrative I cannot say. But in your composition, whom do you mean by Pan, and whom by Zeus unless you arid I are they, that is, you are Zeus and I am Pan? What an absurd counterfeit Pan ! But you are still more absurd, by Asclepius, and very far in- deed from being Zeus! Is not all this the utter- ance of a mouth that foams with morbid rather than inspired madness? Do you not know that Salmoneus in his day was punished by the gods for just this, for attempting, though a mortal man, to play the part of Zeus? Then too there is the account in Hesiod's poems of those who styled themselves by the names of the gods, even of Hera and of Zeus, but if you have not heard of it till this moment I can excuse you for that. For you have not been well educated, nor did fate bestow on you such a guide to the poets as I had I mean this philosopher now present: and later on I arrived at the threshold of philosophy to be initiated therein by the teaching of one whom I consider superior to all the men of my own time. He used to teach me to practise virtue before all else, and to regard the gods as my guides to all that is good. Now whether he accomplished anything of real profit he himself must determine, or rather the ruling gods; but at least he purged me of such infatuate folly and insolence as yours, and tried to make me more temperate than I was by nature. And though, as you know, I was armed with great external advantages, nevertheless submitted myself to my preceptor and to his friends and compeers and the philosophers of his school, and I was eager to be instructed by all whose praises I heard uttered by him, and I read all the books that he approved.
Thus then I was initiated by those guides, in the first place by a philosopher who trained me in the preparatory discipline, and next by that most perfect philosopher who revealed to me the entrance to philosophy; and though I achieved but little on account of the engrossing affairs that overwhelmed me from without, still for all that I have had the benefit of right training, and have not travelled by the short road as you say you have, but have gone all the way round. Though indeed I call the gods to witness, I believe that the road I took was really a shorter road to virtue than yours. For I, at any rate, if I may say so without bad taste, am standing at the entrance, whereas you are a long way even from the entrance. But as for virtue, you and your brethren, “omit the ill-sounding phrase and fill in the blank yourself! Or rather, if you please, bear with me when I” put it mildly” “what part or lot have you in it?” You criticise everybody, though you yourself do nothing to deserve praise; your praises are in worse taste than those of the most ignorant rhetoricians. They, because they have nothing to say and cannot invent anything from the matter in hand, are always dragging in Delos and Leto with her children, and then “swans singing their shrill song and the trees that echo them,” and “dewy meadows full of soft, deep grass,” and the ” scent of flowers,” and “the season of spring,” and other figures of the same sort. When did Isocrates ever do this in his panegyrics? Or when did anyone of those ancient writers who were genuine votaries of the Muses, and not like the writers of to-day? However, I omit what I might add, lest I should make them also my enemies, and offend at once the most worthless Cynics and the most worthless rhetoricians. Though indeed I have nothing but friendly feelings for the really virtuous Cynics, if indeed there be any such nowadays, and also for all honest rhetoricians. But though a vast number of illustrations of this sort flow into my mind for anyone who desired to use them could certainly draw from an ample jar I shall refrain because of the present pressure of business. However I have still somewhat to add to my discourse, like the balance of a debt, and before I turn to other matters let me complete this treatise.
I ask you then what reverence for the names of the gods was shown by the Pythagoreans and by Plato? What was Aristotle's attitude in these matters? Is it not worth while to pay attention to this? Or surely no one will deny that he of Samos was reverent? For he did not even allow the names of the gods to be used on a seal, nor oaths to be rashly uttered in the names of the gods. And if I should go on to say that he also travelled to Egypt and visited Persia, and everywhere endeavoured to be admitted to the inner mysteries of the gods and everywhere to be initiated into every kind of rite, I shall be saying what is familiar and obvious to most people, though you may not have heard of it. How- ever, listen to what Plato says: “But for my part, Protarchus, I feel a more than human awe, indeed a fear beyond expression, of the names of the gods. Now therefore I will address Aphrodite by what- ever name pleases her best; though as for pleasure, I know that it has many forms.” This is what he says in the Philebus and he says the same sort of thing again in the Timaeus. For he says that we ought to believe directly and without proof what we are told, I mean what the poets say about the gods. And I have brought forward this passage for fear that Socrates may furnish you with an excuse, as I believe he does to many Platonists because of his natural tendency to irony, to slight the doctrine of Plato. For it is not Socrates who is speaking here, but Timaeus, who had not the least tendency to irony. Though for that matter it is not a sound principle to enquire who says a tiling and to whom, rather than the actual words. But now will you allow me to cite next that all-wise Siren, the living image of Hermes the god of eloquence, the man dear to Apollo and the Muses? Well, he declares that all who raise the question or seek to enquire at all whether gods exist ought not to be answered as though they were men but to be chastised as wild beasts. And if you had read that introductory sentence which was inscribed over the entrance to his school, like Plato's, you would most surely know that those who entered the Lyceum were warned to be reverent to the gods, to be initiated into all the mysteries, to take part in the most sacred ceremonies, and to be instructed in knowledge of every kind.
And do not try to frighten me by bringing forward Diogenes as a sort of bogey. He was never initiated, they tell us, and replied to some one who once advised him to be initiated: “It is absurd of you, my young friend, to think that any tax-gatherer, if only he be initiated, can share in the rewards of the just in the next world, while Agesilaus and Epameinondas are doomed to lie in the mire,” Now this, my young friend, is a very hard saying and, I am persuaded, calls for more profound discussion. May the goddesses themselves grant us understanding thereof! Though indeed I think that has already been bestowed by them. For it is evident that Diogenes was not impious, as you aver, but resembled those philosophers whom I mentioned a moment ago. For having regard to the circumstances in which his lot was cast, and next paying heed to the commands of the Pythian god, and knowing that the candidate for initiation must first be registered as an Athenian citizen, and if he be not an Athenian by birth must first become one by law, it was this he avoided, not initiation, because he considered that he was a citizen of the world; and moreover such was the greatness of his soul that he thought he ought to associate himself with the divine nature of all the gods who in common govern the whole universe, and not only with those whose functions are limited to certain portions of it. And out of reverence for the gods he did not transgress their laws, though he trampled on all other opinions and tried to give a new stamp to the common currency. And he did not return to that servitude from which he had joyfully been released. What servitude do I mean? I mean that he would not enslave himself to the laws of a single city and submit himself to all that must needs befall one who had become an Athenian citizen. For is it likely that a man who in order to honour the gods journeyed to Olympia, and like Socrates embraced philosophy in obedience to the Pythian oracle, for he says himself that at home and in private he received the commands of that oracle and hence came his impulse to philosophy is it likely I say that such a man would not very gladly have entered the temples of the gods but for the fact that he was trying to avoid submitting himself to any set of laws and making himself the slave of any one constitution? But why, you will say, did he not assign this reason, but on the contrary a reason that detracted not a little from the dignity of the Mysteries? Perhaps one might bring this same reproach against Pythagoras as well, but the reasoning would be incorrect. For everything ought not to be told, nay more, even of those things that we are permitted to declare, some, it seems to me, we ought to refrain from uttering to the vulgar crowd. However the explanation in this case is obvious. For since he perceived that the man who exhorted him to be initiated neglected to regulate his own life aright, though he prided himself on having been initiated, Diogenes wished at the same time to reform his morals and to teach him that the gods reserve their rewards without stint for those whose lives have earned them the right to be initiated, even though they have not gone through the ceremony, whereas the wicked gain nothing by penetrating within the sacred precincts. For this is what the hierophant proclaims, when he refuses the rite of initiation to him “whose hands are not pure or who for any reason ought not!”
But where would this discourse end if you are still unconvinced by what I have said?
The Loeb Classical Library, Edited by T. E. Page, Litt.D. and W. H. D. Rouse, Litt.D. The Works of the Emporer Julian, Volume II with an English Translation by Winmer Cave Wright, Ph. D.