The Human Origin of the Greek Gods – Athanasius

Taken from hereAgainst the Heathen by Athanasius

335 A.D.

10. Similar human origin of the Greek gods, by decree of Theseus. The process by which mortals became deified.

1. But this custom is not a new one, nor did it begin from the Roman Senate: on the contrary, it had existed previously from of old, and was formerly practiced for the devising of idols. For the gods renowned from of old among the Greeks, Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hephaestus, Hermes, and, among females, Hera and Demeter and Athena and Artemis, were decreed the title of gods by the order of Theseus, of whom Greek history tells us; and so, the men who pass such decrees die like men and are mourned for, while those in whose favor they are passed are worshipped as gods. What a height of inconsistency and madness! knowing who passed the decree, they pay greater honor to those who are the subjects of it. 2. And would that their idolatrous madness had stopped short at males, and that they had not brought down the title of deity to females. For even women, whom it is not safe to admit to deliberation about public affairs, they worship and serve with the honor due to God, such as those enjoined by Theseus as above stated, and among the Egyptians Isis and the Maid and the Younger one, and among others Aphrodite. For the names of the others, I do not consider it modest even to mention, full as they are of all kind of grotesqueness. 3. For many, not only in ancient times but in our own also, having lost their beloved ones, brothers and kinsfolk and wives; and many women who had lost their husbands, all of whom nature proved to be mortal men, made representations of them and devised sacrifices, and consecrated them; while later ages, moved by the figure and the brilliancy of the artist, worshipped them as gods, thus falling into inconsistency with nature. For whereas their parents had mourned for them, not regarding them as gods (for had they known them to be gods they would not have lamented them as if they had perished; for this was why they represented them in an image, namely, because they not only did not think them gods, but did not believe them to exist at all, and in order that the sight of their form in the image might console them for their being no more), yet the foolish people pray to them as gods and invest them with the honor of the true God. 4. For example, in Egypt, even to this day, the death-dirge is celebrated for Osiris and Horus and Typhon and the others. And the caldrons at Dodona, and the Korybantes in Crete, prove that Zeus is no god but a man, and a man born of a cannibal father. And, strange to say, even Plato, the sage admired among the Greeks, with all his vaunted understanding about God, goes down with Socrates to Pireas to worship Artemis, a figment of man’s art.

11. The deeds of heathen deities, and particularly of Zeus.

But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, the devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life. For neither were they from the beginning, neither shall they be forever. For the vainglory of men, they entered into the world, and therefore shall they come shortly to an end. For a father afflicted with untimely mourning when he has made an image of his child soon taken away, now honored him as a god which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices. Thus, in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law. And graven images were worshipped by the commands of kings. Whom men could not honor in presence because they dwelt afar off, they took the counterfeit of his visage from afar, and made an express image of the king whom they honored, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent as if he were present. Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition: for he, perhaps, willing to please one in authority, forced all his skill to make the resemblance of the best fashion: and so the multitude, allured by the grace of the work, took him now for a god, which a little before was but honored as a man: and this was an occasion to deceive the world, for men serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable Name. 2. The beginning and devising of the invention of idols having been, as Scripture witnesses, of such sort, it is now time to show you the refutation of it by proofs derived not so much from without as from these men’s own opinions about the idols. For to begin at the lowest point, if one were to take the actions of them, they call gods, one would find that they were not only no gods, but had been even of men the most contemptible. For what a thing it is to see the loves and licentious actions of Zeus in the poets! What a thing to hear of him, on the one hand carrying off Ganymede and committing stealthy adulteries, on the other in panic and alarm lest the walls of the Trojans should be destroyed against his intentions! What a thing to see him in grief at the death of his son Sarpedon, and wishing to succor him without being able to do so, and, when plotted against by the other so-called gods, namely, Athena and Hera and Poseidon, succored by Thetis, a woman, and by Aegaeon of the hundred hands, and overcome by pleasures, a slave to women, and for their sakes running adventures in disguises consisting of brute beasts and creeping things and birds; and again, in hiding on account of his father’s designs upon him, or Cronos bound by him, or him again mutilating his father! Why, is it fitting to regard as a god one who has perpetrated such deeds, and who stands accused of things which not even the public laws of the Romans allow those to do who are merely men?

12. Other shameful actions ascribed to heathen deities. All prove that they are but men of former times, and not even good men.

For, to mention a few instances out of many to avoid prolixity, who that saw his lawless and corrupt conduct toward Semele, Leda, Alcmene, Artemis, Leto, Maia, Europe, Danae, and Antiope, or that saw what he ventured to take in hand with regard to his own sister, in having the same woman as wife and sister, would not scorn him and pronounce him worthy of death? For not only did he commit adultery, but he deified and raised to heaven those born of his adulteries, contriving the deification as a veil for his lawlessness: such as Dionysus, Heracles, the Dioscuri, Hermes, Perseus, and Soteira. 2. Who, that sees the so-called gods at irreconcilable strife among themselves at Troy on account of the Greeks and Trojans, will fail to recognize their feebleness, in that because of their mutual jealousies they egged on even mortals to strife? Who, that sees Ares and Aphrodite wounded by Diomedes, or Hera and Aidoneus from below the earth, whom they call a god, wounded by Heracles, Dionysus by Perseus, Athena by Arcas, and Hephaestus hurled down and going lame, will not recognize their real nature, and, while refusing to call them gods, be assured (when he hears that they are corruptible and passible) that they are nothing but men, and feeble men too, and admire those that inflicted the wounds rather than the wounded? 3. Or who that sees the adultery of Ares with Aphrodite, and Hephaestus contriving a snare for the two, and the other so-called gods called by Hephaestus to view the adultery, and coming and seeing their licentiousness, would not laugh and recognize their worthless character? Or who would not laugh at beholding the drunken folly and misconduct of Heracles toward Omphale? For their deeds of pleasure, and their unconscionable loves, and their divine images in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, we need not seriously expose by argument, since the facts are abominable in themselves, and are enough taken alone to furnish proof of the deception; so that one’s principal feeling is pity for those deceived about them. 4. For, hating the adulterer who tampers with a wife of their own, they are not ashamed to deify the teachers of adultery; and refraining from incest themselves they worship those who practice it; and admitting that the corrupting of children is an evil, they serve those who stand accused of it and do not blush to ascribe to those they call gods things which the laws forbid to exist even among men.

26. The moral corruptions of Paganism all admittedly originated with the gods.

Women, for example, used to sit out in old days in the temples of Phoenicia, consecrating to the gods there the hire of their bodies, thinking they propitiated their goddess by fornication, and that they would procure her favor by this. While men, denying their nature, and no longer wishing to be males, put on the guise of women, under the idea that they are thus gratifying and honoring the mother of their so-called gods. But all live along with the basest, and vie with the worst among themselves, and as Paul said, the holy minister of Christ, Romans 1:26: “For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise, also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness.” 2. But acting in this and in like ways, they admit and prove that the life of their so-called gods was of the same kind. For from Zeus, they have learned corruption of youth and adultery, from Aphrodite fornication, from Rhea licentiousness, from Ares murders, and from other gods other like things, which the laws punish and from which every sober man turns away. Does it then remain fit to consider them gods who do such things, instead of reckoning them, for the licentiousness of their ways, more irrational than the brutes? Is it fit to consider their worshippers human beings, instead of pitying them as more irrational than the brutes, and more soul-less than inanimate things? For had they considered the intellectual part of their soul they would not have plunged headlong into these things, nor have denied the true God, the Father of Christ.

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