Translated from the original Greek by Ɔ. Martiana. This translation is in the public domain.
1. (αʹ) Those who want to learn about the gods must have been raised well from their childhood, and not be educated in ignorant doctrines; they must be good and rational in their nature, so that they may attend the teachings (lógoi) properly; and they must also know the common notions. Now, common notions are those which all humans, when they are asked in the right way, will agree with.
2. (βʹ) For example, it is a common notion that every god is good, that they are impassive and that they are unchangeable; for everything that undergoes change, changes either for the better or for the worse; and if for the worse, it turns bad, but if for the better, then the beginning was bad.
1. (γʹ) So, this is what the reader shall be like. And let the teachings be as follows:
The essences of the gods had no origin, for things that exist forever are never originated; and those things that have the primary power and by nature cannot suffer anything exist forever.
2. (δʹ) They also do not consist of bodies; for even the powers of bodies are incorporeal.
(εʹ) They are also not contained in a place, because that belongs to bodies, and the gods are not separated from the First Cause or from each other, just as intellections are not separate from intellect, nor knowledge from the soul, nor again perceptions from the (irrational soul of an) animal.
1. (ϛʹ) It is worth investigating, then, why the ancients neglected these rules (lógoi) and made use of myths. This is already the first benefit of the myths: to investigate rather than be lazy in our thinking.
Now, we can say that myths are divine on the basis of who uses them, seeing that it is the inspired among the poets and the best of the philosophers who employ myths, as well as those who introduced the mystery rites and the gods themselves in their oracles.
2. (ζʹ) Philosophy must also investigate why the myths are divine. So, since all beings delight in likeness and are repelled by unlikeness, it befitted stories (lógoi) about the gods to be like them, so that the stories might be worthy of their essence, and make the gods propitious towards the narrators – which can be effected only by the myths.
3. Now, the myths imitate the gods themselves in terms of what is expressible and inexpressible, unclear and clear, manifest and hidden, and they imitate the goodness of the gods. So, as the gods have made the good things stemming from perceptible things common knowledge for all, but those stemming from intelligible things only to the wise, in the same way, the myths tell everyone that there are gods, but who they are and what they are like, they tell only to those who are able to understand.
They also imitate the activities of the gods; for one might even call the cosmos a myth, since bodies and objects are manifest in it, while souls and intellects are hidden.
4. Besides, wishing to teach everyone the truth about the gods provokes contempt in the unintelligent, since they are unable to learn, and neglect in the studious. But disguising the truth in myths prevents the contempt of the former, and compels the latter to philosophize.
But why have they spoken about adultery, theft, fathers in chains and other absurdities in the myths? Or is this rather worthy of admiration?, that through the apparent absurdity, the soul is immediately led to conclude that these stories are concealments, and to believe that the truth is inexpressible!
1. (ηʹ) Of the myths, some are theological, others are physical, some psychological or material, and others again are a mixture of these.
The theological myths do not concern a body of any kind but look to the very essences of the gods; e.g., Kronos devouring his children. The myth riddlingly describes the essence of the god, because the intellective god, who is all intellect, reverts into himself.
2. Myths have a physical scope when they speak about the activities of the gods relating to the cosmos; as, e.g., some have thought Kronos (Krónos) to be time (khrónos). They say that the children were devoured by the father because they call the parts of time the ‘children’ of the whole.
The psychological type concerns the activities of the soul itself. Thus, the intellections of our souls also go out to other objects, and yet they remain inside those who generate them.
3. The material kind is the lowest. The Egyptians in particular have used it, out of ignorance, thinking that the gods are the bodies themselves and calling the earth Isis, moisture Osiris, heat Typhon, water Kronos, crops Adonis and wine Dionysus. Now, reasonable persons may say that these things, as well as plants, stones and animals, are dedicated to the gods, but only mad people would say that they are gods – except in the way that we commonly call the sphere of the sun and the light from the sphere ‘sun’.
4. The mixed kind of myths can be found in many different instances. For example, they say that Discord threw a golden apple into the banquet of the gods, and that, because the goddesses fought over it, they were sent by Zeus to Paris to be judged; Aphrodite appeared most beautiful to him, and he gave her the apple.
5. For in this case, the banquet indicates the powers of the gods beyond the cosmos, and that is why they are together. The golden apple indicates the cosmos, which is appropriately said to have been thrown by Discord, seeing that it is made up of opposites. Because the different gods bestow different gifts on the cosmos, they seem to fight over it. And the soul that lives according to sense perception – for that is what Paris is – declares that the apple is Aphrodite’s, because it cannot see the other powers in the cosmos except for beauty.
6. Of myths, the metaphysical ones are appropriate for philosophers, the physical and psychological ones for poets, and the mixed ones for mystery rites (teletaí), because every mystery rite aims to connect us to the cosmos and to the gods.
[The Myth of Attis and the Mother-of-Gods]
7. If it is necessary to tell another myth, they say that the Mother-of-Gods saw Attis lying by the river Gallus and fell in love with him. She took a starry conical hat and put it on him, and thereafter kept him beside her. But he fell in love with a Nymph, and so abandoned the Mother-of-Gods and slept with her. And because of this, the Mother-of-Gods makes Attis go mad, cut off his own genitals and leave them with the Nymph, and return to dwell with herself again.
8. Now, the Mother-of-Gods is a zoogonic (‘life-originating’) goddess, and for that reason, she is called Mother. Attis, meanwhile, is the demiurge (‘creator god’) of the things that are originated and perish, and for that reason, he is said to have been found next to the river Gallus; for the Gallus riddlingly represents the Milky Way, from which comes the passive body. And since the primary gods perfect the secondary gods, the Mother-of-Gods is in love with Attis and gives him his celestial powers – for that is what the felt cap is. 9. And Attis is in love with the Nymph: the Nymphs are the overseers of origination, for all that is originated flows. But because it is necessary that origination be stopped and not originate anything even worse than the lowest beings, the demiurge who creates these things, after he has sent originative powers into (the realm of) origination, is reconnected to the gods.
Now, these things never took place at any point in the past, but they always are; for while the intellect contemplates all things at once, language (lógos) must relate some things first, others after.
10. And so, since the myth has an apt correspondence to the cosmos, it is in imitation of the cosmos – for how else could we be better adorned (kosmētheíēmen)? – that we celebrate a festival about these events. And firstly, as we ourselves live in misery after having fallen from heaven and being joined to the Nymph, we abstain from grain and other thick and sordid foods, which are all contrary to soul. Then, the cutting down of a tree, and fasting, as if we too cut off the further procession of origination. After these things, nutriment of milk, as if we were reborn. Finally, Hilaria and garlands, and, so to speak, a return upwards to the gods. 11. The time of these acts gives confirmation to all this; for the acts are performed around the spring equinox, when growing things cease to grow, and day becomes longer than the night, which is fitting for ascending souls. At any rate, it is told in the myth (mythologeîtai) that the abduction of Kore, which is the descent of souls, took place around the contrary equinox.
Now that we have said this much about myths, may the gods and the souls of those who wrote the myths be propitious to us.