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    XVI. To Eusebius of Caesarea

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    Chapter 17
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    (Concerning the Gods of the Heathen.)

    Touching the Gods of the Heathen, most reverend Father, thou art not ignorant
    that even now, as in the time of thy probation on earth, there is great
    dissension. That these feigned Deities and idols, the work of men's hands, are
    no longer worshipped thou knowest; neither do men eat meat offered to idols.
    Even as spoke that last Oracle which murmured forth, the latest and the only
    true voice from Delphi, even so 'the fair-wrought court divine hath fallen; no
    more hath Phoebus his home, no more his laurel-bough, nor the singing well of
    water; nay, the sweet-voiced water is silent.' The fane is ruinous, and the
    images of men's idolatry are dust.

    Nevertheless, most worshipful, men do still dispute about the beginnings of
    those sinful Gods: such as Zeus, Athene, and Dionysus: and marvel how first
    they won their dominion over the souls of the foolish peoples. Now, concerning
    these things there is not one belief, but many; howbeit, there are two main
    kinds of opinion. One sect of philosophers believes--as thyself, with heavenly
    learning, didst not vainly persuade--that the Gods were the inventions of wild
    and bestial folk, who, long before cities were builded or life was honourably
    ordained, fashioned forth evil spirits in their own savage likeness; ay, or in
    the likeness of the very beasts that perish. To this judgment, as it is set
    forth in thy Book of the Preparation for the Gospel, I, humble as I am, do
    give my consent. But on the other side are many and learned men, chiefly of
    the tribes of the Alemanni, who have almost conquered the whole inhabited
    world. These, being unwilling to suppose that the Hellenes were in bondage to
    superstitions handed down from times of utter darkness and a bestial life, do
    chiefly hold with the heathen philosophers, even with the writers whom thou,
    most venerable, didst confound with thy wisdom and chasten with the scourge of
    small cords of thy wit.

    Thus, like the heathen, our doctors and teachers maintain that the Gods of the
    nations were, in the beginning, such pure natural creatures as the blue sky,
    the sun, the air, the bright dawn, and the fire; but, as time went on, men,
    forgetting the meaning of their own speech and no longer understanding the
    tongue of their own fathers, were misled and beguiled into fashioning all
    those lamentable tales: as that Zeus, for love of mortal women, took the shape
    of a bull, a ram, a serpent, an ant, an eagle, and sinned in such wise as it
    is a shame even to speak of.

    Behold, then, most worshipful, how these doctors and learned men argue, even
    like the philosophers of the heathen whom thou didst confound. For they
    declare the Gods to have been natural elements, sun and sky and storm, even as
    did thy opponents; and, like them, as thou saidst, 'they are nowise at one
    with each other in their explanations.' For of old some boasted that Hera was
    the Air; and some that she signified the love of woman and man; and some that
    she was the waters above the Earth; and others that she was the Earth beneath
    the waters; and yet others that she was the Night, for that Night is the
    shadow of Earth: as if, forsooth, the men who first worshipped Hera had
    understanding of these things! And when Hera and Zeus quarrel unseemly (as
    Homer declareth), this meant (said the learned in thy days) no more than the
    strife and confusion of the elements, and was not in the beginning an idle
    slanderous tale.

    To all which, most worshipful, thou didst answer wisely: saying that Hera
    could not be both night, and earth, and water, and air, and the love of sexes,
    and the confusion of the elements ; but that all these opinions were vain
    dreams, and the guesses of the learned. And why--thou saidst--even if the Gods
    were pure natural creatures, are such foul things told of them in the
    Mysteries as it is not fitting for me to declare. 'These wanderings, and
    drinkings, and loves, and corruptions, that would be shameful in men, why,'
    thou saidst, 'were they attributed to the natural elements; and wherefore did
    the Gods constantly show themselves, like the sorcerers called were-wolves, in
    the shape of the perishable beasts?' But, mainly, thou didst argue that, till
    the philosophers of the heathen were agreed among themselves, not all
    contradicting each the other, they had no semblance of a sure foundation for
    their doctrine.

    To all this and more, most worshipful Father, I know not what the heathen
    answered thee. But, in our time, the learned men who stand to it that the
    heathen Gods were in the beginning the pure elements, and that the nations,
    forgetting their first love and the significance of their own speech, became
    confused and were betrayed into foul stories about the pure Gods--these
    learned men, I say, agree no whit among themselves. Nay, they differ one from
    another, not less than did Plutarch and Porphyry and Theagenes, and the rest
    whom thou didst laugh to scorn. Bear with me, Father, while I tell thee how
    the new Plutarchs and Porphyrys do contend among themselves; and yet these
    differences of theirs they call 'Science'!

    Consider the goddess Athene, who sprang armed from the head of Zeus, even
    as--among the fables of the poor heathen folk of seas thou never knewest--
    goddesses are fabled to leap out from the armpits or feet of their fathers.
    Thou must know that what Plato, in the 'Cratylus,' made Socrates say in jest,
    the learned among us practise in sad earnest. For, when they wish to explain
    the nature of any God, they first examine his name, and torment the letters
    thereof, arranging and altering them according to their will, and flying off
    to the speech of the Indians and Medes and Chaldeans, and other Barbarians, if
    Greek will not serve their turn. How saith Socrates? 'I bethink me of a very
    new and ingenious idea that occurs to me; and, if I do not mind, I shall be
    wiser than I should be by to-morrow's dawn. My notion is that we may put in
    and pull out letters at pleasure and alter the accents.' Even so do our
    learned--not at pleasure, maybe, but according to certain fixed laws (so they
    declare); yet none the more do they agree among themselves. And I deny not
    that they discover many things true and good to be known; but, as touching the
    names of the Gods, their learning, as it standeth, is confusion. Look, then,
    at the goddess Athene: taking one example out of hundreds. We have dwelling in
    our coasts Muellerus, the most erudite of the doctors of the Alemanni, and the
    most golden-mouthed. Concerning Athene, he saith that her name is none other
    than, in the ancient tongue of the Brach-manae, _Ahana'_, which, being
    interpreted, means the Dawn. 'And that the morning light,' saith he, 'offers
    the best starting-point; for the later growth of Athene has been proved, I
    believe, beyond the reach of doubt or even cavil.' (1)

    (1) 'The Lesson of Jupiter.'--_Nineteenth_Century_, October, 1885.

    Yet this same doctor candidly lets us know that another of his nation, the
    witty Benfeius, hath devised another sense and origin of Athene, taken from
    the speech of the old Medes. But Muellerus declares to us that whosoever shall
    examine the contention of Benfeius 'will be bound, in common honesty, to
    confess that it is untenable.' This, Father, is one for Benfeius, as the
    saying goes. And as Muellerus holds that these matters 'admit of almost
    mathematical precision,' it would seem that Benfeius is but a _Dummkopf_, as
    the Alemanni say, in their own language, when they would be pleasant among
    themselves.

    Now, wouldst thou credit it? despite the mathematical plainness of the facts,
    other Alemanni agree neither with Muellerus, nor yet with Benfeius, and will
    neither hear that Athene was the Dawn, nor yet that she is 'the feminine of
    the Zend _Thra'eta'na_athwya'na_.' Lo, you! how Prellerus goes about to show
    that her name is drawn not from _Ahana'_ and the old Brachmanae, nor
    _athwya'na_ and the old Medes, but from 'the root _aith_*, whence _aither_*,
    the air, or _ath_*, whence _anthos_*, a flower.' Yea, and Prellerus will have
    it that no man knows the verity of this matter. None the less he is very bold,
    and will none of the Dawn; but holds to it that Athene was, from the first,
    'the clear pure height of the Air, which is exceeding pure in Attica.'

    Now, Father, as if all this were not enough, comes one Roscherus in, with a
    mighty great volume on the Gods, and Furtwaenglerus, among others, for his
    ally. And these doctors will neither with Rueckertus and Hermannus, take
    Athene for 'wisdom in person;' nor with Welckerus and Prellerus, for 'the
    goddess of air;' nor even, with Muellerus and mathematical certainty, for 'the
    Morning-Red:' but they say that Athene is the 'black thunder-cloud, and the
    lightning that leapeth therefrom'! I make no doubt that other Alemanni are of
    other minds: _quot_Alemanni_tot_sententiae_.

    Yea, as thou saidst of the learned heathen, _Oude_gar_allelois_symphona_
    _physiologousis_. Yet these disputes of theirs they call 'Science'! But if any
    man says to the learned: 'Best of men, you are erudite, and laborious and
    witty; but, till you are more of the same mind, your opinions cannot be styled
    knowledge. Nay, they are at present of no avail whereon to found any doctrine
    concerning the Gods'--that man is railed at for his 'mean' and 'weak'
    arguments.

    *Transliterated from Greek.

    Was it thus, Father, that the heathen railed against thee? But I must still
    believe, with thee, that these evil tales of the Gods were invented 'when
    man's life was yet brutish and wandering' (as is the life of many tribes that
    even now tell like tales), and were maintained in honour of the later Greeks
    'because none dared alter the ancient beliefs of his ancestors.' Farewell,
    Father; and all good be with thee, wishes thy well-wisher and thy disciple.
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