User Tools

Site Tools


Oenomaus of Gadara

Suda, Omicroniota 123

[Oenomaus] of Gadara, Cynic philosopher, he was not much older than Porphyry. [He wrote] On Cynicism, Republic, On philosophy according to Homer, On Crates and Diogenes, and [on] other subjects.

Julian, Orations 6 & 7

At least the saying of Oenomaus seems to be not without good grounds: “The Cynic philosophy is neither Antisthenism nor Diogenism.”

Then let not the Cynic be like Oenomaus I shameless or impudent, or a scorner of everything human and divine, but reverent towards sacred things, like Diogenes.

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.

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.

Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospels


BUT since the matters which have been mentioned are not known to all, it seems to me well to pass from this point to subjects which are self-evident to all the learned, and to examine the oracular responses of most ancient date which are repeated in the mouth of all Greeks, and are taught in the schools of every city to those who resort to them for instruction.

Take up again therefore the ancient records from the beginning, and observe what kind of answer the Pythian god gives to the Athenians when afflicted with a pestilence on account of the death of Androgeus. The Athenians were all suffering from a pestilence for one man's death, and thought to receive the help of the gods.

What advice then does this saviour and god give them? To cultivate justice and benevolence and all other virtue in future, some one will perhaps suppose; or to repent of the offence, and to perform some holy and religious rites, as the gods would thereby be propitiated. Nay, nothing of the kind.

For what indeed did their admirable gods, or rather their utterly wicked daemons, care for these things? So again they say what is natural and familiar to themselves, things merciless and cruel and inhuman, plague upon plague, and many deaths for one.

In fact Apollo bids them every year send of their own children seven grown youths, and as many maidens, fourteen innocent and unconcerned persons for one. and that not once only but every year, to be sacrificed in Crete in the presence of Minos: so that even to the time of Socrates, more than five hundred years afterwards, this dreadful and most inhuman tribute was still kept in memory among the Athenians. And this it was that caused the delay in the death of Socrates.

This answer of the oracle is at once stated and very justly condemned in a vigorous argument by a recent author, who has composed a separate work on The Detection of Impostors: to whose own words, and not mine, now listen, as he aims his stroke at the author of the response in the manner following:


[OENOMAUS] 'WHAT then? When the Athenians had caused the death of Androgeus, and suffered a pestilence for it, would they not have said that they repented? Or if they did not say so, would it not have been proper for thee to say “Repent,” rather than to say this?

“Of plague and famine there shall be an end, If your own flesh and blood, female and male, By lot assigned to Minos, ye send forth Upon the mighty sea, for recompense Of evil deeds: so shall the god forgive.”

'I pass over the fact that you gods are indignant at the death of Androgeus at Athens, but sleep on while so many die in all places and at all times: though thou knewest that Minos at that time was master of the sea, and of mighty power, and all Hellas was paying court to him: he Avas therefore a lover of justice, and a good lawgiver, and seemed to Homer to be

“Frequent in converse close with mighty Zeus,”

and after death he became a judge in Hades: and thou for this offence wouldst exact these penalties on his behalf!

'But I pass over these matters just as you gods do, and also the fact that after letting the murderers escape ye bade them send the innocent to death, yea, sent them to a man whom ye were about to exhibit as a judge of all mankind, but who in this very case knew not how to give judgement. And yet how many ought you gods in justice to send to the Athenians in place of these youths, whom ye unjustly slew in revenge for Androgeus? '

This same writer, after recalling the story about the Heracleidae, counts up the number of persons whose death Apollo has caused by the ambiguity of his responses, in the following words.


[OENOMAUS] 'BUT since I happen to have mentioned this subject, let me now relate the incidents of the narrative concerning the Heracleidae. For they once set out to invade the Peloponnese by way of the Isthmus, but failed in the attempt. So Aristomachus the son of Aridaeus, because his father had perished in the invasion, comes to thee to learn about the way: for he was eager as his father had been. And thou tellest him,

“Heaven shows the way to victory through the straits.”

'So he starts on the enterprise by way of the Isthmus, and is killed in battle. His son Temenus, unhappy son of hapless sire, was the third who came to thee, and thou gavest the same promise to him as to his father Aristomachus: and he said, “But my father trusted thee, and perished in the invasion.”

'Then thou said'st, I do not mean “straits” on land, but on “the broad-bosomed,” because, I suppose, it was difficult for thee to say simply “by the sea.” And he went by sea, after making them think that he was making his incursion by land, and he encamped midway between Navatus and Typaeum. He killed with his spear Carnus son of Phylander, an Aetolian knight, doing, as I think, quite rightly. And when a plague presently fell upon them, and Aristodemus died, they returned again, and Temenus came and complained of his failure, and was told that he had brought upon himself the penalty for the messenger of the god, and he heard the poem concerning his vow to the Carnean Apollo, which told him in the oracular answer,

“Thou sufferest vengeance for my prophet's death.”

'What then says Temenus? “What must I do? And how can I appease you?”

“To the Carnean god due honour vow.”

'O most accursed, and most shameless prophet! Dost thou then not understand that he who hears the word “straits” will miss its meaning? Yet knowing this thou none the less givest this answer, and then lookest on at his mistake.

'But the word “strait” was ambiguous, and chosen in order that, if he were victorious, thou mightest seem to be the cause of his victory; but, if defeated, not at all to blame for his defeat, being able to take refuge in “the broad-bosomed.” But the man went on “the broad-bosomed,” and did not succeed; and again, an excuse is found in the death of thy messenger Carnus.

'Yet how, most noble god, didst thou, to whom Carnus was so dear, bid him be inspired for others, but not for himself? And though thou shouldest have saved Carnus, who was but one, how didst thou suffer him to die, and for his death didst bring an Homeric plague upon the multitude, and dictate vows for the plague?

'And if he had accomplished nothing by his vow, another excuse would have been found for thy quibble, and ye would never have ceased, they on their side inquiring, and thou quibbling, so that whether they were victorious or defeated thy malpractice would not have been detected. For their passion and eagerness were strong enough to mislead them, so as to make them not distrust thee, even if they were to be slain a thousand times.

'To this it is worth while to add the story of Croesus. He reigned over Lydia, having received the government as it had come down to him from a long line of ancestors. Then hoping to succeed somewhat beyond his forefathers, he was minded to show piety towards the gods, and, after making trial of them all, he preferred the Apollo of Delphi, and proceeded to adorn his temple with bowls and ingots of gold, and a countless multitude of offerings, and made it in a short time the richest of all temples in the world; nor in his magnanimity did he omit all that sufficed for sacrifices.

'So after he had made such loans to the god, the Lydian king naturally felt confidence in his magnificent works of piety, and resolved to make an expedition against the Persians, expecting to increase his empire greatly by the alliance of the god.

'What then did the wonderful oracle-monger do? That very same Delphian, Pythian, friendly god contrives that his suppliant, his dear friend, his client should not only fail to win the foreign empire, but also be driven from his own, the god not doing this at all purposely, I think, but rather in ignorance of what was to happen: for surely it was not with any knowledge of the future (since he was no god nor any superhuman power) that he craftily contrived his response to suit either event, and with the seeming affirmation,

“The Halys crossed, Croesus a mighty empire shall destroy,”

overturned the kingdom of Lydia which had come down from a succession of ancestors to the pious king, great and ancient as it was, and rendered to his favoured worshipper this fruit of his extreme zeal towards him.'

After this hear what indignation the writer not unreasonably utters.


[OENOMAUS] 'IT seems then that thou dost verily know all things that are worth no more than sand, but knowest nothing that is excellent. For example, that “the smell of a strong-shelled tortoise boiling should strike on thy senses,” is a piece of knowledge worth but sand, not being even true in itself, but nevertheless becoming to the braggart and the shameless, who looks supercilious over his empty bits of knowledge and tries to persuade Croesus the Lydian captive not to despise him.

'For he relying upon the trial (of the oracles), intended soon after to ask thee whether he should make an expedition against the Persians, and to make thee his adviser concerning his insane and grasping policy. And thou didst not shrink from telling him, that

“The Halys crossed, Croesus a mighty empire shall destroy.”

'That certainly was well contrived, that it mattered nought to thee, if he should suffer some strange disaster from being incited by an ambiguous oracle to attack a foreign empire, nor if certain bitter and malicious persons, instead of duly praising thee for having driven a madman headlong, went so far as to accuse thee of having uttered a phrase which was not even equally balanced, that the Lydian king might hesitate and take counsel; but they said that the word “καταλῦσαι” could be understood by the Greeks only in one way, not to be driven from his own empire, but to acquire the empire of another.

'For Cyrus, the semi-Mede or semi-Persian, or, as he was called in the riddle, “the mule,” being of a royal race by his mother, but of an ordinary stock on his father's side, shows incidentally the inflated poetry, but especially the blind divination of the soothsayer, if he did not know that the riddle would be misunderstood.

'If, however, he was thus playing with him not from ignorance but from insolence and malice, heavens! how strange are the playthings of the gods. And if it was not this, but that the things must of necessity so happen, this is of all deceitful speeches the most wicked. For if it must so happen, why nevertheless dost thou, unhappy god, sit at Delphi chanting empty and useless prophecies? And of what use art thou to us? And why are we so mad, who run to thee from all quarters of the earth? And what right hast thou to the savour of sacrifices?'

This plain speaking of Oenomaus in the Detection of Impostors is not free from cynical bitterness. For he will not admit that the oracles which are admired among all the Greeks proceed from a daemon, much less from a god, but says that they are frauds and tricks of human impostors, cunningly contrived to deceive the multitude. And since I have once mentioned these matters, there can be no objection to hearing other refutations also; and first, that in which the same author says that he had been himself deceived by the Clarian Apollo: he writes as follows:


[OENOMAUS] 'BUT forsooth I too must take some part in the comedy, and not pride myself on not having fallen into the common derangement; and I must tell of the bargain in wisdom, which I myself imported out of Asia, from thee, O Clarian god:

“In the land of Trachis lieth Thy fair garden, Heracles, Where all flowers for ever blooming, Laden with perpetual dews, Culled all day, yet ne'er diminish.”

'Then I myself also, impotent fool that I was, became elated by the “Heracles,” and the “garden of Heracles in its bloom,” dreaming of a certain Hesiodic “sweat” because of the name Trachis, and on the other hand of an “easy” life because of the blooming garden.

'Then, on my inquiring further whether the gods were inclined to help me, some one of the multitude, swearing by the very gods that were to help, said that he certainly had heard that this very answer had been given from thee to one Callistratus, a merchant of Pontus.

'When I heard this, what, thinkest thou, was my indignation, at being forsooth robbed by him of my “virtue”? But although dissatisfied I nevertheless began to inquire whether the merchant also had been at all flattered by the “Heracles.” So then it appeared that he also was in some trouble, and was bent upon gain, and expecting from his gain some pleasant kind of life.

'So as it appeared that the merchant was no better treated than myself, I would no longer accept the oracle, nor the “Heracles,” but disdained to share the same treatment, when I saw the troubles that were actually present and the pleasures that existed only in hope.

'However, it appeared that none went without his share in the oracle, neither robber nor soldier, neither lover nor mistress, neither flatterer, nor rhetorician, nor sycophant. For of what each man desired, the trouble came first, while the joy was only expected.'

Having made these statements, he immediately adds, how after a second and third inquiry he found that the wonderful prophets knew nothing, but were concealing their own ignorance simply by the obscurity of their ambiguous language. So he speaks as follows:


[OENOMAUS] 'But since my business was now so forward, and I wanted only a man to act as a stranger's guide to wisdom, and he was difficult to find, I requested thee also to point out such an one:

“On Eupelians and Achaeans obligation he will lay, And, if true, for his conjecture shall receive no little pay.”

'What sayest thou? If I was desirous of becoming a sculptor or painter, and was seeking for teachers, was it sufficient for me to hear Ἔν τε τοῖσιν Εὐπέλευσιν, or rather should I not have said that the speaker was mad?

'This, however, thou art perhaps not able to understand, for the characters of mankind are very obscure: but whither I had better travel from Colophon is no longer a matter so unintelligible to the god:

“When a man large stones projecteth from a widely-whirling sling, With the blows he slays grass-eating geese unutterably great.”

'Now who will interpret for me what in the world is meant by these “grass-eating geese unutterably great”? Or the “widely-whirling sling”? Will Amphilochus, or the god of Dodona, or wilt thou at Delphi, if I should come thither? Wilt thou not go and hang thyself with thy “widely-whirling sling,” and take thy unintelligible verses with thee? '

But now, after such censures as these, it is time to observe again from the beginning how the same author confutes the most ancient oracular responses, those at Delphi, which are held forsooth in the very highest admiration in the histories of Greece.

'Vast was the Persian host in arms against the Athenians, nor was there any other hope of safety for them, except the god only. So they, not knowing who he was, invoked him as the helper of their forefathers. This was the Apollo at Delphi. What therefore did this wonderful deity do? Did he fight in defence of his friends? Did he remember the “libations and burnt offerings,” and the customary honours which they paid to him in sacrificing their hecatombs? Not at all. But what said he? That they should flee, and provide a wooden wall for their flight: thus indicating the navy, by means of which alone he said that they could be saved when their city was burned. O mighty help of a god!

'Then he pretends forsooth to foretell a siege not only of the other buildings in the city, but also of the very temples consecrated to the gods. But this was what all might expect from the invasion of the enemy, apart from any oracle.'

Very naturally therefore the writer again makes sport of this delusion of the Greeks, and censures it in the following words:


[OENOMAUS] 'PERHAPS, however, such answers as I have described are those of an intentional mischief-maker; find we ought rather to bring forward for judgement his other answers which were given to the Athenians. So then let the responses to the Athenians be read:

“Wretches, why sit ye here? Fly, fly to the ends of creation, (Quitting your homes, and the crags which your city crowns with her circlet.) Neither the head, nor the body is firm in its place, nor at bottom Firm the feet, nor the hands (nor resteth the middle uninjured. All—-all ruined and lost). Since fire and impetuous Ares, Speeding along in a Syrian chariot, hastes to destroy her. Not alone shalt thou suffer; full many the towers he will level, Many the shrines of the gods he will give to a fiery destruction. Even now they stand with dark sweat horribly dripping, Trembling and quaking for fear.”

'Lo! there you have the oracle that was given to the Athenians. Is there perchance anything prophetic in it? “Yes, surely,” some one will say, “for you had so much confidence in him yourself: and this will be known, if you add what was further said to them when they besought him to help them.” So then, let it be added:

“Pallas has not been able to soften the lord of Olympus, Though she has often prayed him, (and urged him with excellent counsel). Yet once more I address thee in words than adamant firmer When the foe shall have taken (whatever the limit of Cecrops Holds within it, and all which divine Cithaeron shelters), Then far-seeing Zeus grants this to the prayers of Athene; Safe shall the wooden wall continue for thee and thy children; Wait not the tramp of the horse, not the footmen mightily moving Over the land, but turn your back to the foe, and retire ye. Yet shall a day arrive when ye shall meet him in battle. Holy Salamis, thou shalt destroy the offspring of women, When men scatter the seed, or when they gather the harvest.”

'Thy Zeus is worthy of himself, O son of Zeus! Thy Athena also is worthy of Athena, O brother of Athena! And this eagerness and counter-eagerness well become the father and the daughter, or rather the gods in general! And this ruler of Olympus, too weak to destroy this one city without bringing against it that countless host from Susa, was forsooth a mighty god, having dominion over the world, and persuasive withal, as moving so many nations from Asia into Europe, but yet unable in Europe to overthrow one single city.

'And thou too, the prophet so bold and so ready also to run needless risks for nothing, dost thou not cry pity? (so the men Blight say, on whose behalf “Pallas has not been able to soften the lord of Olympus”). Or was it that Zeus was wroth not with the men, but with the stones and timber? And then wast thou to save the men, and he to burn the buildings with foreign fire? Because he had at the moment no thunderbolt?

'Or rather are we somewhat bold, and foolhardy in forbidding you gods to talk such nonsense? But how knewest thou, O prophet, that

“Holy Salamis shall destroy the offspring of women,”

but didst not further know whether it would be,

“When men scatter the seed, or when they gather the harvest”?

'And how knewest thou not even this, that a man might say that “the offspring of women” were either those of his own kindred, or might say that they were “the enemies,” if he scented the evil device?

'But we must wait for what will happen, for happen one or other of these must. For in truth “Salamis the holy” would not have been inappropriate even in case of defeat, as being called by such an epithet in compassion: and the naval battle that was to take place either

“When men scatter the seed, or when they gather the harvest,”

is beplastered with poetical bombast, in order that, by this artifice, the prediction might escape detection, and it might not be clearly seen at the moment, that a naval battle does not take place in winter.

'Now too it is not difficult to see the stage-play, and the wheeling in of the gods, the one beseeching and the other refusing to yield, so useful for the coming event, and the unexpected turn of the war, the one if they should be saved, the other if they should be destroyed. For if they should be saved, behold! the prayers of Pallas have been foreshown, which were able to turn the anger of Zeus: or if not, even this result is not unprovided for by the prophet; for “Pallas is not able to soften Zeus.” And to meet half-evil fortunes the artist mixed the oracle, as though Zeus had on the one hand fulfilled his own purpose, but on the other hand had not disregarded the request of his daughter.

'And as to the “towers,” it might perhaps have been false that many would be destroyed, if they had attacked them with reeds instead of iron and fire, though in this case even with reeds so great an army could at all events have accomplished something. “But it was I,” says he, “who discovered the wooden wall which alone could not be destroyed.” Yes, it was thy advice, but not a prophecy, not unlike that “Haste, oh! haste thee away, nor blush to behave like a coward.”

'He therefore who solved that riddle was as good as thyself in discerning that the city of the Athenians was the Persian's avowed cause for the invasion, and the whole expedition was directed against this city first and chiefly. For even I myself, who am no prophet, should have discerned this, and bidden not only the Lydian king, but also the Athenians to turn their backs and flee. For “Yet shall a day arrive when ye shall meet him in battle,” for there cometh on “the tramp of the horse and the footmen mightily moving.” Also that they must flee in ships, and not on the mainland: for it would have been ridiculous, as they had ships, and dwelt by the sea, not to have collected their goods in all haste, and put on board all the provisions they had, and made their escape, giving over the land to those who chose to take it.'

These then were the answers given to the Athenians: but those given to the Lacedaemonians were utterly weak and ridiculous. For either, says he, the whole city shall be besieged, or it shall mourn the loss of the king. From every circumstance, it was natural for any one to guess this, that either one or the other would happen.

But surely it was no divination of a god to use such ambiguity in ignorance of the future, when he ought to have given help, and appeared opportunely as saviour of the Greeks, and rather to have procured the victory over the enemies and barbarians for the Greeks, as his own friends. And if he had not power to do this, he should at least have provided that they should suffer no harm, and not be conquered. But even this he failed to do, nay, he did not even know how the circumstances of their defeat would turn out. Wherefore on this point also hear how his censure is expressed.


[OENOMAUS] 'BUT, thou wilt say, one must not give the same advice to the Lacedaemonians. That is true. For thou knewest not, O sophist, as in the case of Attica, what course the affairs of Sparta would take. Therefore thou wast afraid lest thou shouldest bid them flee, and then they should flee, and the enemy never invade them.

'Since therefore it was necessary to say something, this is what thou saidst to the Lacedaemonians:

“O habitants of Sparta's spacious streets, Either your glorious city shall be sacked By Perseus' warrior sons, or else a king Sprung from the race of mighty Heracles Must die, and all Laconia mourn his fate.”

'Again there is the combination most unlike prophecy. However, let it pass, that we may not seem to be both wearisome and incompetent by trampling upon thee twice for the same fault; but let us examine the remaining facts.

'In so great a danger all were looking to thee, and thou wast both their informant of the future, and their adviser as to present action. And while they believed thee trustworthy, thou wast sure that they were fools; and that the present opportunity was convenient for drawing on the simpletons, and driving them headlong, not only to the schools of sophistry at Delphi and Dodona, but also to the seats of divination by barley and by wheat-flour, and to the ventriloquists.

'For at that time not only the gods were believed, but also cats and crows, and the delusions of dreams. It was not difficult therefore to see that they would neither have accepted both misfortunes rather than one, nor the greater instead of the less, and it was less that one, even their king, should fall instead of all.

'So then with the fall of the city there would be no escape for him either; but if he were posted somewhere else by himself, perhaps something unexpected might happen. The remaining course then was for those who reasoned thus to send the king to carry on the war, and stay at home themselves out of danger, awaiting the event.

'For him therefore, taking his stand with a few against that immense host, destruction was manifest; but Sparta had a respite from fear, and hopes of the unexpected: while the trick would be equally undetected, whether the city escaped or was captured.

'Why so? Because it had not been said, forsooth, that the city should be saved if the king died, but that either he should perish alone or the whole city together: and this answer could not be called to account in either case, whether he were to perish alone or not alone. Such is the fruit of arrogance and folly.'

Such was the course in this case. But it would not be right to pass by the answer which he gave to the Cnidians, when they offered vows and prayed for the alliance of the god.


[OENOMAUS] 'THE Cnidians also suffered something like this, when Harpagus made an expedition against them. For when they tried to cut through the Isthmus there and make their city an island, at first they stuck close to the work; but when they had to face the labour, they were for giving up and consulting the oracle. And thou saidst to them:

“Fence not the isthmus off, nor dig it through: Jove would have made an island, had he wished”:

and the lazy cowards were persuaded, and turned back from the work, and gave themselves up to Harpagus. But mark the cunning trick: for since it was not certain that they would escape, even if they dug the trench, thou didst stop them from this; but in not bidding them to continue the work, thou dost promise their escape.

'To this however thou didst add, not that it was better for them not to dig it, but that it was not the pleasure of Zeus that it should be an island. So then in discouraging them the chances were evenly balanced; but in giving them encouragement the promise of escape preponderated: in this case then it was safe for the sophist to deter them. And so, without telling them anything of what they had come for, thou sentedst them away with the idea that they had heard something good.'

Now I think these instances sufficiently convict the feebleness both of the givers and receivers of the responses, and that there is no truth or inspiration to be found in their declarations.

But you will see the mischievous disposition either of the evil daemons or of the men who played false with the divinations, if you learn how in the war of Greeks against each other they irritated those who consulted them, whereas they ought to have been arbiters of peace and friendship.

At one time, therefore, this Delphian god again irritates the Lacedaemonians, as if they were his friends and familiars, against the Messenians, and at another time gives an answer against the Lacedaemonians to the Messenians, if the latter should propitiate the daemons again by human sacrifice. Listen now to this story also.


[OENOMAUS] 'WHEN wisdom is associated with divination she will review such answers as these, and will permit no random discourse, inasmuch as she makes all things sure by their moorings to herself, and assigns their degrees of precedence. Nor will she permit the Pythian prophet, in his folly, to prophecy either to these, or to the Lacedaemonians about the Messenians, and the land which the Messenians held after defeating the Lacedaemonians by a stratagem.

“Set not thy hand to deeds of war alone, So Phoebus bids; for as by stratagem The people hold Messenian soil, so now Shall they be caught by arts which they first used.”

'Wisdom bids them rather think of peace and frugality and contentment. But they perhaps, though disciplined by the laws of Lycurgus, had come to inquire from insatiate desire and vainglory, that they might not seem to be inferior in battle to Messenians, though reputed to have been bred up in habits of endurance.

'But surely if they had been thus bred up in habits of endurance, they would have been content with little, and would have had no need of fighting, and arms, and the rest of such folly.

'This was the answer to the Lacedaemonians against the Messenians; but on the other hand the answer to the Messenians against the Lacedaemonians was as follows; for thou didst give oracles to the Messenians also against the Lacedaemonians, and not only to the Lacedaemonians against the Messenians:

“A virgin of the race of Aepytus The lot shall choose, whom to the infernal gods Thou must devote, Ithome thus to save.”

'For I do not accept the false inventions, that the victim chosen from the race of Aepytus was not a pure virgin, and therefore the Messenians could not offer the sacrifice. For it is thy nature to make confusion.'

Such then are the statements of ancient history. And in our own days also one might observe thousands of similar cases, in which from ancient times even to our own the successive rulers at one time rushed into unprofitable wars by the advice of the oracles, at another time were foiled by the obscurity of the responses, or again were misled from the actual deceit of the oracles.

What need to tell how at times in the greatest crises either of battle-array against the enemy, or of danger in bodily sickness, men gained no help or healing from the supposed gods. But their answers from the oracles always and constantly turn out to be such as the ancient histories prove them to have been.

But of those Pythian responses which Were most celebrated among the Greeks there was a certain one addressed to Lycurgus, to whom at his coming the Pythoness addressed that famous answer:

'To my rich shrine thou com'st, Lycurgus, dear To Zeus and all who in Olympus dwell: Whether to hail thee god or mortal man Doubts my prophetic soul, yet hope prevails To welcome thee as god. To seek good laws, Lycurgus, thou art come; such will I give.'

These, with the additional lines, were the words of the oracle. Let us then examine closely what observations were made in answer thereto in the criticism before quoted. The author writes thus:


[OENOMAUS] 'BUT when the precursor and model of Tyrtacus once came to thee, thou saidst he had come from hollow Laccdaemon, “a friend of Zeus and all who in Olympus dwell,” and that thou wert in doubt, “whether to hail him god or mortal man, yet hope prevailed to welcome him as god,” because he came “to seek good laws.”

'But, if he was a god, how was it that the “friend of Zeus and all who in Olympus dwell” did not understand civic law?

'However, since such matters as have been shown to this most godlike of men by the voice of the god cannot perhaps be discovered without a god's help, let us look at the divine utterance, and the things which thou didst teach Lycurgus:

“To seek good laws, Lycurgus, thou art come; such will I give.”

'Give then, I should say: for no such gift as this didst thou ever yet promise to any man.

“So long as to the oracles ye pay Your promises and vows, and justice due To fellow citizens and strangers give, Show to the aged reverence sincere, Duly respect the sons of Tyndarus, Menelaus and the deathless heroes, who In noble Lacedaemon dwell enshrined, So long far-seeing Zeus shall guard your home.”

'Apollo! What divine teaching and exhortation! And for this no long voyage is needed, nor a journey from Peloponnesus to Delphi, or even to the very Hyperboreans, whence, as they say, in accordance with the response of another prophetess, Asteria,

“Founders and priests of fragrant Delos came.”

'I suppose that this Lycurgus never had a nurse, nor ever sat in a company of old men, from whom, as well as from her, he might have heard nobler and wiser lessons than these.

'Perhaps, however, thou wilt add something more, if Lycurgus entreat thee to speak plainly.

“If some should lead aright, and others follow,”

I shall still say that this comes from the same company, and request Lycurgus not to desist, for the chance that he may go back to Sparta with some political lesson received from thee.

“Two ways there are diverging far apart, This leading on to freedom's glorious home, That to the hateful cell of slavery. This manly valour treads and concord true, And to this path be ye the peoples' guides. Through hateful strife and baneful cowardice Men reach the other path; of that beware.”

'Thou bid'st them to be manly: this we have often heard even from the cowardly. But also to be of one mind: this we have heard not only from the wise, but ere now from the very leaders of sedition: so we can excuse thee from giving us this exhortation.

'Nevertheless being a prophet didst thou not know that we have received it many a time and from many persons, who had neither eaten greedily of the laurel, nor drunk the water of Castalia, nor ever been supercilious about wisdom?

'Tell us then about manliness, tell us about freedom, tell us about concord, in what way they are engendered in a state, and bid not us, who are ignorant, to lead the peoples in this path, but lead us thyself. For it is a noble path, but difficult for us and formidable.'

To this he adds further remarks.


[OENOMAUS] 'THOU art ready to speak of marriage also:

“From Argive pastures choose a well-bred foal Of dark-maned sire.”

'And about children:

“Astion, of race most honourable, None gives thee honour; but thy Labda soon Conceives, and bears a mighty rock, (to crush The tyrants, and on Corinth justice do).”

'About a colony:

'“Gainst men of gold lead forth a numerous host, Brass on thy shoulders, iron in thine hand.”

'About vainglory:

“No spot on earth can match Pelasgia's soil, What soil with thine, Pelasgia, can compare? The mares of Thrace, or Sparta's beauteous dames, Or men who drink fair Arethusa's fount.”

'And it seems to me that thou art no better than the so-called marvel-mongers, nay not even than the rest of the quacks and sophists. At them, however, I do not wonder, that they throw men over for pay; but I do wonder at thee, the god, and at mankind, that they pay to be thrown over.

'Then the famous Socrates, in answer to him who asked whether he should marry or not, said neither, but that he would repent of both: and to the man who wished for children he said that he would not do right, if, instead of trying how, if he should have children, he might treat them in the best way, he made no account of this but was only considering how he might get them.

'And when another man had determined to travel, because things were not well with him at home, he said that he was not taking right counsel; for he would go away and leave his country where it was, but would take his folly with him, which would make him disagreeable to the people there just as much as to those at home. And not only when he was questioned, but also of his own accord he often resorted to such conversations.'


'FOR twenty days before the Dog-star rise, And twenty days that follow next thereon, In shady bower let Bacchus be thy leech:'

'A medical and not a prophetical answer given to the Athenians when troubled by the burning heat.

“Grandson of Presbon, son of Clymenus, Thyself, Erginus, would'st the race prolong: 'Tis late; yet give the old plough a new tip.”

'For a young woman to be wedded to an old man, if he desires children, this is the advice not of a prophet, but of one who understands nature. Desire, however, sets the weaklings beside themselves.'


'FOR this reason, if thou canst not persuade them to learn something worthy of the school of a god instead of their contemptible questions, I recommend thee to take a rod to them rather than to say to Archilochus of Paros after he had thrown away his substance in political follies, and in sorrow had come to consult thee:

“To Thasos, Archilochus, go, and dwell in that glorious island.”

'For he would have profited more had he been told in this other way:

“Archilochus, come to thy senses, in poverty make no bewailing.”

'Or to the Cretans who had come to thee:

“Dwellers in Phaestus and Tarra and wave-beaten headland of Dium, Hear ye my bidding, and offer the Pythian lustrations to Phoebus In pious devotion, so dwell ye for ever in Creta's fair island, Worshipping wealth and Zeus in customs not those of your fathers.”

'It would have been better for them to be told:

“Dwellers in folly and madness and self-conceited elation, Hear ye my bidding, and offer at home in pious devotion Lustrations your folly to purge; so dwell ye in wisdom for ever Worshipping wealth in customs not those of your sires but divine.”

'Beware lest thou need lustration more than Crete, for inventing lustrations such as those of Orpheus and Epimenides.'


'BUT why, O wisest of gods, if Charilaus and Archelaus, the kings of Lacedaemon,

“Give to Apollo as his share of gain One half, it were far better for themselves?”

'To what other Apollo dost thou mean? For surely thou dost not claim this for thyself, O most shameless prophet, lest any one should rebuke thee, as sharing so basely with the robbers.'

Enough, however, of this subject. So come, let us append to it the verses in which at another time Apollo admires Archilochus, a man who in his own poems employed against women all kinds of foul and unspeakable abuse, which any modest man would not endure even to listen to: Euripides also he admires though he was expelled from the school and philosophy of Socrates, and is caricatured upon the stage even to the present day: besides these Homer also, whom the noble Plato banishes from his own republic, as in no respect profitable, but as having been the author of language which utterly corrupts the young. For these reasons again the author before mentioned scoffs at the soothsaying god as follows:



'“IMMORTAL and renowned in song thy son, Telesicles, among all men shall be.”

'Now this son was Archilochus.

“A son, Mnesarchus, thou shalt have, whom all Mankind shall honour, who to noble fame Shall rise, encircled with the festal grace Of sacred crowns.”

'The son was Euripides.

'Homer was told:

“Life hath a twofold destiny for thee; This shall in darkness veil twin orbs of light; That with immortal gods, in life, in death, Shall set thee equal.”

'And for this cause it was said of him:

“Happy and hapless, born to either doom.”

'The speaker is not a man, but one who has sometimes insisted that he must not

“As god be careless of the woes of men.”

'Come then, thou god, be not careless even of us. For we desire, if it be not wrong, some of us worthy fame, others sacred crowns, others equality with the gods, and others immortality itself. 'What then was that, for which Archilochus seemed to thee worthy of heaven? Grudge not to other men that upward path, thou of all gods best friend to man! What dost thou bid us do? Or must we, of course, do what Archilochus did, if we would show ourselves worthy of the home of you gods? Abuse bitterly the maidens who are unwilling to marry us, and associate with profligates far baser than the basest of men? But not without poetry, for that is the language of gods, as well as of god-like men like Archilochus. And no wonder perhaps. For through excellence in this art the home is well ordered, and the private life is happy, and cities are kept in concord, and nations are well governed.

'Not unnaturally therefore he was regarded by thee as a servant of the Muses, and his murderer deemed worthy neither of admission to you gods, nor of speech from you, because he had slain a man of skilful speech.

'There was no injustice then in the threat against Archias, nor anything inopportune in the Pythia avenging Archilochus though long since dead, and commanding the blood-guilty one to depart out of the temple; for he had slain a servant of the Muses.

'To me at all events thou didst not appear to be out of order in avenging the poet; for I remembered the other poet also, and the sacred crowns of Euripides; though indeed I was in doubt, and desirous of hearing, not that he had been crowned, but how these crowns were “sacred”; nor that his fame sprang up, but in what way it was “noble” fame.

'For he used to be applauded in the crowds, I know: also he was agreeable to tyrants, this too I know: and he practised an art which won admiration not only for the lover of it himself, but also for the city of Athens, because it alone gave birth to tragic poets.

'If therefore the applause is a competent judge, and the table in the Acropolis, I have nothing more to say, since I see Euripides supping in the Acropolis, and the commons both of the Athenians and the Macedonians applauding. But if apart from these the gods have any vote, and that trustworthy, and not inferior to the vote of the tyrants or to that of the crowds, come tell us, for which of his excellences did you gods give your vote in favour of Euripides, that we may hasten at full speed to heaven in the track marked out by your praises.

'For surely there is no lack even now of Sapaeans or Lycambes ready to be caricatured, nor in the present day would either a Thyestes, or an Oedipus, or the hapless Phineus object to be made a subject of tragedy; nor would they, I think, be envious of any one who desired the friendship of the gods: but even those of old, if they had learned that there would be a certain Euripides, a man who came to be dear to the gods for having dressed them up, they would, I think, have ceased to care for their old misfortunes, and instead of giving their mind to better ways would have turned to making verses. And if they heard loud-sounding names of men of former times, they would use them for their journey to heaven, that on their arrival they might sit in Olympus among the boxers, in the hall of Zeus. For this is what the poet at Delphi says.

'Now let us look at the question which “the happy” Homer asks of the god: for I suppose it was something about heaven, and important enough to call forth an answer from the god; otherwise he would not so readily have pronounced him “happy,” and in addition to this happiness have awarded him an answer.

“Thou seek'st a fatherland, but none is thine. A motherland thou hast, nor near, nor far From Minos' realm: there is thy doom to die, When from the tongues of schoolboys thou hast heard A long-drawn hymn thou canst not understand.”

'Was it then a terrible thing, O thou wisest of men, or rather of gods, if this “happy” man should know neither where on earth he sprang from his mother's womb, nor where he should close his eyes and lie? I should have thought it of equal importance, whether a Homer or one of the beetles came to consult the god on these points, and that the god could no more have given any guidance on such unknown matters to Homer than to a beetle.

'As for example, if a beetle did not spend his life and his old age on that same dunghill on which he was begotten, but fell in with an adverse wind, and a cruel beetle-daemon, who caught him up into the air and carried him away by force to some other land and some other dunghill, and then he came to Delphi and inquired which was the dunghill of his fatherland, and what land would receive him when dead.'

Let this suffice then about the poets.


BUT since this wonderful god by his own responses has deified not only poets but even boxers and athletes, the author before mentioned seems to me to pass an appropriate censure on this also in the following words:


'O thou who knowest to number the sands and to measure the ocean Who hast ears for the silent, and knowest the dumb man's meaning.'

'I would that thou wert ignorant of all such things, but knewest this, that the art of boxing is no better than that of kicking, that thou mightest either have immortalized asses also, or else not Cleomedes boxer of Astypalaea, in such words as these:

“Last of the heroes was he, Cleomedes of Astypalaea; Now no longer a mortal with sacrifice honour him duly.”

'For what then, O ancient interpreter of the religion of the Greeks, as Plato calls thee, didst thou deify this man? Was it because at the Olympic games he struck his antagonist a single blow and laid open his side, and thrust in his hand and seized his lung?

'By Apollo! how godlike a deed! Or was it not that alone, but also because, being punished by a fine of four talents for this act, he did not submit, but in wrath and indignation turned his anger against the boys in the school, by pulling away the column which upheld the roof. Is it for these deeds then, thou manufacturer of gods, that we ought to honour Cleomedes?

'Or wilt thou add this also, as the other proof at once of his manliness and his friendship with the gods, that having stepped into a sacred chest, and pulled the cover over it, he could not be caught by his pursuers when they wished to drag him out? A hero then no longer mortal art thou, O Cleomedes, for inventing such contrivances to attain immortality.

'The gods at least were immediately sensible of thy good deeds, and snatched thee up to heaven, just as Homer's gods snatched Ganymede; but him they chose for his beauty, and thee for thy strength, and for the good use made of it!

'I wish therefore, O prophet, as I said, that thou hadst let alone the sand and the sea, and instead of them hadst learned how much boxing is worth, that thou mightest regard the pugnacious asses as gods, and the wild asses as the very best of the gods: and there would have been some proper oracle over the death of a wild ass, rather than over thy boxer:

“Chief of the deathless gods is a wild ass, not Cleomedes; Now no longer a mortal with sacrifice honour him duly.”

'For indeed you must not wonder, if even a wild ass should lay claim to immortality, as being fully provided with divine qualifications, and should not endure what he heard, but should threaten that with a blow he would knock even Cleomedes himself into the pit, and not permit him to go up to heaven.

'For he would say that he was more worthy of the very gifts of the gods than Cleomedes, as being ready to fight not with him alone, even if he were to use thongs of iron, but also with the Thasian boxer, both at once, him I mean on account of whose statue the gods were aggrieved, and made the land of the Thasians barren.

'About this man also we trust to no human testimony but to that of the same god. And from these facts I clearly perceived that boxing was, as we said, a godlike pursuit, though most persons, even those who think themselves wise, were not aware of it: or they would have given up being gentlemen, and would have practised the art of the Thasian boxer, whom the gods, though they did not grant immortality to him, as they did to Cleomedes, yet loved much.

'Thus his statue of bronze exhibited a power beyond the images of other men, by falling down upon his enemy who was scourging it, which seems to show a kind of divine solicitude.

'But the senseless Thasians, having no experience in things divine, were indignant and accused the statue of a crime, and exacted punishment, and ventured to sink it in the sea.

'They did not escape however, these Thasians, but the gods showed them how great a wrong they had dared to commit, by sending a famine upon them as the minister of divine justice, which with difficulty taught them what the counsels of the gods were; and thou the most philanthropic of gods didst send them help in thine own fashion, saying:

“Bring thy banished ones home, and gather a liberal harvest.”

'But again the stupid people supposed that they must recall the men who were in banishment: but they were mistaken; for as the gods have no love at all for mankind, what care they about men being recalled from banishment, in comparison with their care for statues? For this of course the land gained no help towards being relieved of its barrenness, but that some wise person who understood the mind of the gods conceived that the banished one was the statue which had been drowned in the sea. And so it was. For no sooner was it set up again, than immediately the land began to flourish, and the Thasians thenceforward (enjoying abundant harvests) wore long hair in honour of Ceres.

'Must not then these be clear proofs that a godlike athleticism is honoured by the gods? For again the gods were wroth because of an insult to the statue of a conqueror in the pentathlum, and for this the Locrians were famished, like the Thasians, until they found a remedy in thy oracle, running thus:

“Hold the dishonoured in honour, and then shalt thou plough up thy land.”

'For neither did the Locrians perceive the meaning of the gods before they had thee to help them in the matter. But they had cast the pentathlete Euthycles into prison, on a charge of having received bribes against his country: and not only so, but after he was dead they committed outrages upon his statues, until the gods could not endure their conduct, and sent the most violent famine upon them. And they would have utterly perished by the famine, had there not come help from thee, saying that they ought to honour men trained and fattened, who are no less dear to the gods than the oxen which the millers fatten, and by sacrificing which men sometimes win your assent. Not less perhaps, but even much more, than fat cattle do you delight in fat men, so that sometimes you grow angry with a whole city and a whole nation, because one or two persons do wrong to these failings.

'How I wish then, O prophet, thou hadst been our trainer instead of prophet, or both prophet and trainer together, that as there is a Delphic oracle so there might have been a Delphic gymnasium. For it would not have been inappropriate to the Pythian contest that the gymnasium also should be Pythian.'

To this I will append what he says by way of proving that the gods whom we are discussing are also flatterers of tyrants.


'“HAPPY the man who now to my sacred dwelling approacheth, Cypselus, son of Aetion, king of illustrious Corinth.”

'So then tyrants also are happy, and not only those who conspire against tyrants:

“Cypselus, who shall work full many misfortunes to Corinth,”

and Melanippus, who wrought many blessings for the city of Gela.

'But if Cypselus was “happy,” O thou miserable god, how could Phalaris fail to be liappy too, being of like character with Cypselus? So that your oracle would have run better in this other way:

“Phalaris, happy art thou, and Melanippus likewise, Leaders and guides of mankind in the pathways of heavenly discord.”

'But I have also heard an oracle of thine in prose concerning Phalaris, praising and honouring him, because after he had discovered their conspiracy and tortured them, he admired their endurance and released them. So Loxias and his father Zeus voted Phalaris a respite from death, because he behaved mercifully towards Chariton and Melanippus. But I wish thou hadst just taught us about death and life, that life is a most noble thing. To all this let us add the following:'


'“FAR better will Methymna's dwellers fare, If Dionysus' wooden head they honour.”

'For the cities offer sacrifice and keep festivals not only to wooden heads of Dionysus, but also to heads of stone, and bronze, and gold; not only to wooden heads but also to actual heads of Dionysus, and to very many of the other gods of Hesiod.

'For verily there are

“Three times ten thousand on the fruitful earth,”

not immortals, but rulers of mankind of wood and stone: and if they

“Man's insolence or just behaviour scanned,”

there never would have been raised a crop of nonsense so great, that at length the evil has reached even to you gods, having passed over to Olympus, where, as they say,

“The abode of the gods is for ever secure.”

'Yet surely if it were “secure,” it would not be accessible to nonsense, nor would any one of the Olympians have reached such a pitch of insanity as to turn a log of olive-wood into a god. This log became entangled in the meshes of a net, and was dragged up by the Methymnaeans, who caught it in their nets twice, it may be, and thrice, or oftener in the same place, and thence ran out into the Libyan sea, and did not cast it out upon the land: for if they had done that, it would not have stuck fast in the meshes, no, by Dionysus!

'But as the top of the log was like a head (Apollo! what a strange contrivance!), one might ask, what business had it in the sea? Why, what else, to be sure, except that it sat waiting until some insane men (for I will not say, gods also) should meet with it, and believe it to be fallen not from Zeus, but from Poseidon, and then should carry it off to their town, as if it were some lucky prize, though in reality it was unlucky, and no prize, but a firebrand? Or perhaps it was not enough that of itself it utterly ruined them, but an increase of infatuation, so to say, fetched from Delphi gave it new strength and intensity.'

So far Oenomaus. But now, after what has been stated, pass again to The Philosophy to be derived from Oracles of the author who has made the compilation against us, and read from the responses of the Pythian god concerning Fate, and see whether it will not occur to you also that the account of the celebrated oracles is still more inconsistent with any divine power.


[OENOMAUS] 13 'To think then that thou should'st sit in Delphi unable, even should'st thou wish it, to keep silence! So Apollo, the son of Zeus, now wishes, not because he wishes, but because he is ordained by necessity to wish! But since I have been led on, I know not how, into this argument, I am inclined to pass over all the rest, and inquire into a matter that is appropriate and well worth inquiry. For, so far as it depends on the philosophers, there has been lost out of human life, whether one likes to call it a rudder, or ballast, or foundation—-there has been lost the governing power of our life, which we suppose to be absolute over the highest necessity; but Democritus, unless I am mistaken, and Chrysippus think to prove the noblest of man's faculties, according to the former, a slave, and according to the latter, half-enslaved. Their argument, however, is worth no more than a man can claim for the things of man: but if deity also now makes war upon us, good heavens, what will become of us?'

'But that is not likely nor just, if at least we may conjecture from these responses following:

“Hated of all thy neighbours, belov'd of the blessed Immortals, Sit thou still, with thy lance drawn inward, patiently watching.”

'“What then? says the Argive; if I should so wish, is it in my power, and can I, if it shall please me, sit still, patiently watching?” “It is in thy power,” thou would'st say, “and thou canst; or how should I have enjoined this on thee?”

“Carystus, heir of noble Cheiron's race, Forsake thy native Pelion, and seek Euboea's cape: there thou art doomed to found A sacred home. But haste, and tarry not.”

'Is there then anything really dependent on man, O Apollo, and have I power to will to “forsake Pelion”? Yet surely I used to hear from many wise men, that if it is fated for me to “seek Euboea's cape,” and “found a sacred home,” I shall both come thither and settle, whether thou tell me or not, and whether I should will it or not. If, however, there is any need for me too to will what necessity forces me to will even if I should he unwilling—-but thou, O Apollo, art more worthy to be believed, and so I am inclined to give heed rather to thee:

“Tell thou the Parians, Telesicles, I bid thee found in the Aerian isle A city fair to view.”

'Yes, surely' (some one will perhaps say in vain conceit, or to confute thee), 'I shall tell them, even if thou bid me not: for so it is fated: and the “Aerian isle” is Thasos, and the Parians will come to it, when my son Archilochus shall have explained to them, that this island was formerly called Aeria. I suppose therefore that thou, being terrible in taking vengeance, wilt not bear with him, so ungrateful and audacious as he is, since if thou hadst not chosen to inform him, he would never have given the message, nor would his son Archilochus have led the colony of Parians, nor would the Parians have inhabited Thasos.

'I know not therefore whether thou sayest these things without knowing what thou sayest. But since we seem to be at leisure to hold even a long conversation, and since the subject is of no slight importance, tell me this, for perhaps a few points out of many are sufficient.

'Are we, I and thou, anything? You will say, Yes. But whence do we know this? Whereby did we determine that we do know it? Is it not the fact that nothing else is so satisfactory a proof (of our existence) as our conscious sensation and apprehension of ourselves?

' What again? How did we ever find out that we are animals ? And how that among animals we are, as I should say, men, and among men one an impostor, and another an exposer of impostors; but as thou would'st say, the one a man, the other a god, and the one a prophet, the other a false accuser? And let it be as thou sayest, if I be proved wrong.

'But how do we know that we are conversing at the present moment? What sayest thou? Did we not rightly judge our apprehension of ourselves by that which is most immediate, the fact itself? Evidently so. For we found nothing else either higher than it, or prior to it, or more trustworthy.

'For if this is not to be so, then let not hereafter one named Alcmaeon come to thee at Delphi, after he has slain his mother, and been driven from home, and is longing to return home. For he knows not either whether he himself is anything at all, nor whether he is driven from home, nor whether he is longing for home. But even if Alcmaeon is mad, and imagines things that do not exist, yet the Pythian god at least is not mad. And thou must not speak to him thus:

“How to return to thy home thou seek'st, son of Amphiaraus.”

'For even thou knowest not yet whether any son of Amphiaraus is consulting thee, nor whether thou, the consulted, art anything at all, and able to answer concerning the matters on which he consults thee.

'Neither therefore let Chrysippus, the author of the semi-slavery, whatever that exactly is, attend in the Porch, nor think that those drivellers will attend there to listen to him, the Nobody: neither let him take his stand and struggle about nothing against Arcesilaus present in person, and Epicurus not present.

'For what Arcesilaus is, and what Epicurus, or what the Porch is, or what the young men, or what the Nobody, he neither knows nor can know; for he knows not even, what comes far earlier, whether he himself is anything.

'But neither will you gods nor Democritus endure that any one should talk thus: for there is no more trustworthy criterion than that of which I speak; nor if there seem to be any others, could they be made equal to this, or, if made equal, could not surpass it.

'So then, some one may say, since thou, O Democritus, and thou, O Chrysippus, and thou, O prophet, are indignant if any one should wish to deny your consciousness of yourselves—-for of those many books of yours it is no longer possible to deny the existence—-come, let us also be indignant on the other side.

'How, pray? Is this self-consciousness to be the most trustworthy and primary evidence wherever it pleases you? but where it pleases you not, is there some occult power, Fate, or Destiny, to tyrannize over it?—-a power having for each of you a different meaning, proceeding according to one from god, and according to another from those minute bodies which are carried down, and tossed up, and twirled round, and broken up, and separated, and combined by necessity?

'For lo! the manner of our self-consciousness is the same in which we are also conscious of our voluntary or enforced actions. And we are not unconscious of the great difference between walking and being carried, or between choosing and being compelled.

'But do you ask the reasons for which I bring these matters into the discussion? Because thou, O prophet, hast failed to perceive things over which we have power, and thou that knowest all things seemest not to know these which are fast moored to our own will.

'And it was evident that this would be the source of no little trouble: for he who knows not the source, which was the cause of the consequences, would be likely, I suppose, to know the consequences themselves!

'Evidently then he was an impudent prophet who foretold to Laius 15 that his son would kill him: for the son surely would be master of his own will, and neither any Apollo, nor any higher than he, would be able by any power to attain to a knowledge of things which neither exist at present, nor need ever come into existence.

'For surely the most ridiculous of all things is this, the mixture and combination of the two notions, that there is something in men's own power, and that there is nevertheless a fixed chain of causation. For, as the wiser sort say, it is like the account in Euripides.

'For that Laius should choose to beget a child, was in the power of Laius himself, and this had escaped the notice of Apollo: but after he had begotten a son, there lay upon him an inevitable necessity of dying by his son's hand. In this way therefore the necessity dependent on the future event supplied to the prophet his presentiment of what would take place.

'But I suppose the son also, as well as the father, was master of his own will: and as the latter had the power of begetting or not, so the son had the power of slaying or not. Now this is the character of all your oracular answers: and this was that which the Apollo of Euripides said:

“And all thy house shall wade through streams of blood:”

'namely, that the son shall be blinded by his own hand, on account of the marriage with his mother and of the sovereignty to which he succeeded for his solution of the riddle; and that his sons shall fall by mutual slaughter, because of the banishment of the one from the kingdom, and the ambition of the other, and the marriage of the exile at Argos, and the expedition of seven ridiculous chieftains, and the battle: and since these things were separately dependent on many causes and powers, how could it be possible for thee to understand, or for the chain of causes to bind them together?

'For if on the contrary Oedipus being his own master had not wished to reign, or, having wished and accomplished this, had not chosen to marry Jocasta, or after marrying had not been puffed up with pride, nor been desponding and disagreeable, how could the several events have been brought to pass? How could he have torn out his eyes? Or how could he have cursed his sons with the curse described by Euripides and thee?

'In what way too could the events which followed these have taken place, if there were no causes existing before thou could'st tell anything about the future? And again, if the sons had agreed and reigned together, or if they had made an arrangement to reign by turns and adhered to the terms settled; or if he who was banished had determined to go off not to Argos but to Libya or to the Perrhaebi; or if after having arrived at Argos he had decided to be a salt-fish-monger, and not to take a rich wife but some poor workwoman or huckstress; or if Adrastus had not given him his daughter, or if he had given her, but Polynices had b not desired to return home; or if, though desiring it, he had restrained himself; or if Adrastus had given no heed to his request for alliance in war; or if neither Amphiaraus nor Tydeus nor the several other commanders of divisions would follow Adrastus; or if, though they followed, Polynices on arriving had not fought with his brother, but either had reigned together with him by agreement, or, if he refused, had retired, being persuaded by what Euripides says:

“How foolishly thou com'st thine home to sack;”

'or if, not this one, but the other had listened to those other Euripidean subtleties:

“Are sun and night content to serve man's need, And wilt thou bear no equal in the house?”

'how in any such case could they have joined battle, “and all the house of Laius waded through blood”?

'However, these things, you will say, have come to pass. They have come to pass: but by what way didst thou attain to the knowledge of them? Dost thou not see how frequently the whole action of the play has been broken through by the power which lies in us who perform the action? And so I will take whatever supposed case thou wilt, and cut across that chain of yours, and show that it is impossible.

'Yet thou wilt say that thou knowest the last links of the supposed case. Yes, but the whole case has been regulated by the force of our interruption of the chain.

'Or perhaps thou dost not understand what I mean? Yet in every supposed case, O prophet, there are the living beings often making either few or many fresh beginnings therein. And these beginnings having cut across the events preceding them always themselves bring others on: and these latter may proceed as long as no other beginning supervenes from any source, commanding the events which come after it to conform not to those which went before but to itself.

'Now such afresh beginning may be either an ass, or a dog, or a flea. For surely, by Apollo! thou wilt not rob even the flea of his free will: but the flea will act upon a certain impulse of his own, and being sometimes mixed up with human affairs will make himself the commencement of some new course; and thou art unconsciously consulting this kind of animal.

“Trachis, the home of godlike Heracles, Thou hast destroyed, O Locrian ; and on thee Zeus hath sent curses, and shall yet send more.”

'What sayest thou? Had it not then been destined by you gods to be destroyed? And why are we mortals to blame, and not that necessity of yours? Thou doest not justice, O Apollo, nor art right in laying the punishment upon us who do no wrong.

'And this Zeus of yours, I mean the necessity of your necessity, why does he take vengeance upon us, and not upon himself (if he must punish some one), for having shown the necessity to be of such a character? And why too does he threaten us? Or why, as if we were the masters of this event, do we suffer famine for it? Moreover it will either be rebuilt by us, or not; and whichever it may be, this has been fixed by fate.

'Cease therefore from thy wrath, O Zeus, the lord of famine: for that which has been destined will be, and that is what thy chain has been appointed to do: and we are nothing compared to it. And thou too cease, Apollo, from uttering vain oracles: for just that which will be, will be, even though thou keep silence. And what is to be done to us, O Zeus and Apollo, who are not at all the causes of your enactment of law, enactment, that is, of necessity. Or what have we to do with your threatened curses, which yourselves deserve to bear for what we were compelled by necessity to do? “Oeteans, rush not in blind frenzy on.”

'Why, Apollo, we are not “rushing on,” but are being driven, and not by “blind frenzy,” but by that necessity of yours.

'And how is it, O Apollo, that thou praisest that famous Lycurgus, who was not virtuous either willingly or by choice, but unwillingly? That is if a man can be virtuous unwillingly. But what ye do now is just as if one were to praise and honour those who are beautiful in body, but to blame and punish the ugly.

'For the wicked might justly say to you, You did not permit us, O ye gods, to become virtuous; and not only so, but you even forced us to be wicked. And as to the virtuous, if they walk about with their elbows stuck out, one will not permit it, but will say to them, O Chrysippus and Cleanthes and the rest of your band, since you have been made to be virtuous, I give praise to virtue, but no praise to you in whom virtue resides.

'Nay, even Epicurus, against whom you, Chrysippus, so often railed, I acquit of the charges, so far at least as you can judge. For how is he to blame, who was not of his own accord luxurious or unjust, as you so often reproached him?

“Well ordered lives the gods approving view, And welcome holy offerings of the just.”

'Now it seems to me that you gods would not say this, unless you were persuaded that men seek the objects of their pursuit not involuntarily but with a will: and after what has been already proved, no sophist either divine or human will dare to say that whatever men will is ordained by fate: or else we shall no longer use reasoning with him, but take a stout strap, as for an unruly boy, and curry his ribs right well.'

Thus did Oenomaus inveigh, against the soothsayer. And if you do not like this kind of argument, yet take and read the extracts from the other philosophers concerning fate, which are fit to overthrow not only the oracles that have already been quoted, but also generally all the other contrivances in defence of the dogma.

For since not only unlearned and simple persons, but also many who prided themselves greatly upon education and philosophy, have e'er now been dragged into agreement with the dogma, I think it absolutely necessary to set forth the mutual contradictions of the philosophers themselves, for an accurate examination of the problem. First then I will quote for you from Diogenianus the arguments concerning fate, which he urged against Chrysippus as follows:

cynics/oenomaus_of_gadara.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 23:19 (external edit)