Sallustius’ book, commonly known by the title On the Gods and the Cosmos (which it was given in the 17th century), was long among the most obscure works of Greco-Roman philosophy to survive from antiquity. Although it was written by a close friend of the emperor Julian, there is no evidence that it achieved fame even in his time. Yet today, its unique synthesis of brevity and comprehensiveness have made it a key resource for modern practitioners of Platonic philosophy and polytheistic religions – although it should not be mistaken for an uncontroversial work that every Platonist, let alone every polytheist, will agree with.
As a rough guide to the text, consult the ancient and Renaissance tables of contents.
This original translation (the first in nearly a century) is based on the Greek edition of Gabriel Rochefort. I place it in the public domain. To support ongoing revisions and the creation of notes (on parts A, B and C), a glossary, and translations of related texts, consider supporting me on Patreon.
[Part A: On the Gods and Their Myths]
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 unaffectable 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 be affected by 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 rational 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 (i.e., ‘ineffable’), unclear and clear, manifest and hidden, and they imitate the goodness of the gods. So, as the gods have made the goods 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 orb of the sun and the light from the orb ‘sun’.
4. The mixed kind of myths can be found in many different instances. For example, they say that ‘Discord’ (Eris) threw a golden apple (inscribed ‘for the most beautiful one’) 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 theological ones are appropriate for philosophers, the physical and psychological ones for poets, and the mixed ones for mystery rites, because every mystery rite aims to connect us to the cosmos as well as 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 (i.e., the Nymph). 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 symbolically represents the Milky Way, from which comes the affectable 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 (i.e., ‘is in flux’). But because it is necessary that origination be stopped and not originate anything even worse than the lowest things, 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 (kosm-)? – 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 originated things cease to originate (i.e., ‘when no more new plants sprout’), and day becomes longer than the night, which is fitting for ascending souls. At any rate, it is told in the myth 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.
[Part B: Systematic Outline of Platonic Doctrines]
1. (θʹ) After this, one must learn about the First Cause and the orders of the gods after it; the nature of the cosmos; the essence of intellect and soul; providence, fate and fortune; virtue and vice; and consider the good and corrupt forms of government; and from where evils enter the cosmos. Each of these would require many and long discussions (lógoi), but lest people learn nothing about them at all, nothing seems to prevent us from discussing them more briefly.
2. As for the First Cause, it must necessarily be one, since unity rules over all multiplicity, and it surpasses all things in power and goodness. Consequently, all things must participate in it, since, on account of its power, nothing else will hinder it, and on account of its goodness, it will not keep itself back.
3. Now, if the First Cause were Soul, all things would be ensouled; if it were Intellect, all things would be intellective; if Essence, all things would participate in essence. Some people do believe that it is Essence, because they see that in all things. And if they were only beings, and not goods, the reasoning (lógos) would be true: but if they have being on account of goodness, and beings participate in the good, then the first thing must be Good, but beyond Being. There is a very great proof of this: for worthy souls are contemptuous of their own being when they choose to take risks for the sake of country, friends or virtue.
And after this inexpressible power there follow the orders of the gods.
1. (ιʹ) Of the gods, some are within the cosmos, others beyond the cosmos. I call those gods who create the cosmos those ‘within the cosmos’, while of those beyond the cosmos, some create the essences of gods, others the intellect, others souls; and on this account they have three orders, and they are all to be found in dedicated treatises (lógoi).
2. (ιαʹ) Of the encosmic gods, some create the cosmos, others ensoul it, some bring things from divergence into harmony, others again guard what has been harmonized. And since these are four activities and each has a beginning, middle and end, those who govern them are necessarily twelve. 3. Τhose who create the cosmos are Zeus, Poseidon and Hephaestus; those who ensoul it are Demeter, Hera and Artemis; those who harmonize it are Apollon, Aphrodite and Hermes; and those who guard it are Hestia, Athena and Ares. 4. And riddling indications of these things can be seen in their images: for Apollo harmonizes the lyre, Athena is armed, and Aphrodite is naked because harmony creates beauty, and beauty in the visible things is not hidden. These, then, are those who primarily hold the cosmos, but other gods must be considered to be within them; e.g., Dionysus is within Zeus, Asclepius in Apollon and the Graces in Aphrodite.
5. (ιβʹ) And the spheres can be concluded to be theirs: the earth belongs to Hestia, water to Poseidon, air to Hera, fire to Hephaestus, and the six above them belong to those gods it is customary to attribute them to; for we must also take sun and moon to refer to Apollon and Artemis. But Saturn (Krónou) must be assigned to Demeter, and the ether to Athena, while heaven is common to all.
Thus, the orders and powers and spheres of the twelve gods have been designated and celebrated.
1. (ιγʹ) The cosmos itself must necessarily be imperishable and unoriginated. Imperishable because, if it perishes, it must produce something greater, something lesser, itself, or disorder (akosmía). But if lesser, the one who makes it from something greater into something lesser is evil; if greater, he is incapable to have made it greater from the beginning; if simply itself, he will work to no purpose; if disorder – but it is not licit to even consider something like this.
2. These things are also enough to show that it is unoriginated: for if it does not perish, it also did not orginate, because everything that is originated perishes. And since the cosmos has its being through the goodness of the god, and the god is eternally good, it is necessary that the cosmos likewise subsists eternally – in the same way that light co-subsists with sun and fire, and shadow with body.
3. Of the bodies in the cosmos, some imitate intellect and move circularly, others imitate soul and move rectilinearly (‘in a straight line’, non-circularly). And of those that move rectilinearly, fire and air move upwards, but earth and water downwards. Of those moving circularly, the fixed sphere moves from the East, but the seven spheres are carried from the West. The reasons for this are many and various, including to prevent that origination be incomplete because of the revolution of the spheres being too rapid.
4. But since motion is diverse, the nature of bodies must necessarily also be diverse, and the celestial body cannot burn, cool, or do anything else which is a peculiar property of the four elements.
5. (ιδʹ) Since the cosmos is a sphere – as the zodiac shows –, and since in any sphere the low point is the center – because it is furthest from any point (of the surface) – and heavy things fall downwards, they sink down to the earth.
All these things are created by the gods, ordered by Intellect and moved by Soul; but we have already spoken about the gods.
1. (ιεʹ) Intellect is a power, secondary in relation to Essence, but primary in relation to Soul; it receives its being from Essence and perfects the Soul, as the sun perfects the eyes.
Of souls, some are rational and immortal, others irrational and mortal; and the former derive from the primary gods, the latter from the secondary gods.
2. First, it must be investigated what the soul is. Now, that by which animate (‘ensouled’) and inanimate (‘soulless’) beings differ is the soul, and they differ in terms of movement, perception, imagination and thinking. Therefore, an irrational soul is perceptive and imaginative life, while a rational soul controls perception and imagination by using reason. And the irrational soul follows the bodily affects, because it thoughtlessly feels desire and anger, whereas the rational soul, through its use of reason, has little regard for the body and fights against the irrational soul. When it is victorius, it produces virtue; when it is bested, it produces evil.
3. (ιϛʹ) The soul must necessarily be immortal, because it knows the gods – and a mortal thing does not know anything immortal. It also despises human affairs as something foreign, and, being immortal, it has a disposition contrary to bodies; for the soul is erratic when bodies are beautiful and young, but it flourishes when they grow old. Further, every worthy soul uses intellect, but no body originates intellect; for how would unthinking things (anóēta) originate intellect (noûs)?
4. Although the soul uses the body as an instrument, it is not in it – in the same way that an engineer is not in the machines he has constructed, and nevertheless, many of these machines move without anyone touching them. Neither should we wonder if it is often deceived by the body, since the arts also cannot operate if their instruments are damaged.
1. (ιζʹ) We can derive the providence of the gods from these things. Or by what cause could there be an order (táxis) to the cosmos, if there were nothing ordering it? And how would it be that everything is originated for the sake of something else? – for example, the irrational soul in order for there to be perception, and the rational in order for the earth to be adorned.
2. We can also derive it from the providence in respect to nature, as, for example, eyes are translucent to fit them for seeing; the nose is above the mouth for the discernment of foul-smelling foods; the teeth in the middle are sharp, in order to cut the food, while the inner ones are flat, in order to grind it; and we observe that in this manner, all things, in all respects, have their purpose (lógos). But it is impossible that there should be providence of this kind in the lowest things, yet not so in the primary. Further, the oracles and healings of bodies that occur in the cosmos come from the good providence of the gods.
3. We must not believe, however, that such care for the cosmos is accomplished by the gods as an act of will or effort. Rather, in the same way that bodies which have a certain power do what they do through their mere being – as, for example, the sun shines and gives heat simply through its being –, so, and much more so, does the providence of the gods originate, without effort to itself, and for the good of those who are being provided for. In this way, the puzzle of the Epicureans can be solved; for they say that the divine neither has any trouble nor troubles itself for others.
4. The providence of the gods, which is incorporeal but concerns both for bodies and souls, is of this sort; but that which arises from bodies and is in bodies is something else. This latter is called fate (heimarménē), because the chain of causes (heirmós) is more apparent in bodies. It is in respect to this that the art of astrology was invented.
It is indeed reasonable and true that human affairs, and especially bodily nature, are ruled not only by the gods, but also by the divine bodies; and reason (lógos) shows that, on this account, health and sickness, good fortune and bad fortune arise from there, according to our merit. 5. But to attribute our acts of injustice and lust to fate is to make ourselves good and the gods evil! Unless someone should wish to say this in the sense that all things in the cosmos and which are in a state according to nature originate in a condition of good, but that by bad upbringing or through having a weaker nature, the good things provided by fate change into something worse, in the same way that, although the sun is good towards all, still it happens to be damaging to those who suffer from ophthalmia or fever. Or why do Massagetae eat their own fathers, Hebrews circumcise themselves, and Persians preserve their noble birth?
6. How can they call Kronos and Ares malefic, and yet make them good, deriving philosophy and kingship, military command and treasures from them? And when they refer to triangles and squares, surely it is absurd for human virtue to remain the same everywhere, while the gods are changed on the basis of location! And the prediction of a father’s high or low rank teaches us that the stars do not produce all things, but merely indicate some of them; because how could something before the moment of birth come about because of the moment of birth?
7. Now, as there is a providence and fate for peoples and cities, and also for every human being, so it is with fortune; and we must discuss this next. The power of the gods which ordains diverse things, and events that turn out for the good against expectation, is regarded as fortune. For this reason, it is also especially appropriate for cities to honor the goddess ‘Fortune’ (Tyche) in common, because every city consists of diverse things. She has power below the moon, because nothing can occur by fortune above the moon.
8. But if the evil do well while the good are poor, we need not wonder, because the former regard wealth as everything, the latter as nothing, and the good fortune of the evil cannot take away their vice, while virtue alone will be enough for the good.
1. (ιηʹ) The teachings about virtue and vice again depend on those about the soul. For when the irrational soul goes into bodies, it immediately produces passion and desire, but the rational soul, which is set over these, makes the soul tripartite, consisting of reason (lógos), passion (thymós) and desire (epithymía). And the virtue of reason is prudence; of passion, courage; of desire, temperance; of the whole soul, justice – because reason must discern what must be done; passion, persuaded by reason, must have contempt for things that appear terrible; desire must pursue, not what appears pleasant, but what is pleasant according to reason.
2. When things are so, life becomes just; for justice in regard to possessions is only a small part of virtue. And for this reason, we can see all virtues in the well-educated, but among the uneducated, one is courageous but also unjust, another temperate but mindless, yet another prudent but intemperate. Indeed, these should not be called virtues when they are devoid of reason and imperfect, and they occur even in some of the irrational beings.
3. Vice should be regarded as consisting in the opposites of these: of reason, mindlessness; of passion, cowardice; of desire, intemperance; of the whole soul, injustice.
The virtues are produced by the proper form of government and by good upbringing and education, while the vices are produced from the opposite of these.
1. (ιθʹ) The forms of government take after the threefold division of the soul, since the rulers seem to be analogous to reason, the soldiers to passion, the people to desires. And when all things are done according to reason and the best of all is in power, there is a kingship; where it is according to reason as well as passion and more than one are in power, it is an aristocracy; where things are administered according to desire, and offices (timaí) are assigned according to what is advantageous, a state of this kind is called a timocracy.
2. The opposite of kingship is tyranny: for the former does all things according to reason, the latter nothing according to reason. The opposite of aristocracy is oligarchy, because not the best (áristoi) but the few (olígoi) who are worst are in power. The opposite of timocracy is democracy, because it is the mass of people (dêmos) that is the master of all, and not only those who have wealth.
1. (κʹ) But if the gods are good and create all things, how are there evils in the cosmos? Firstly, we must say this, that, if the gods are good and create all things, then there is no nature of evil, but it is originated by the absence of good, as a shadow has no being itself, but is originated by the absence of life.
2. If it has being, it must necessarily be either among gods, intellects, souls or bodies. But it is not among gods, if every god is good; and if someone should say that an intellect can be evil, they are calling intellect (noûs) unthinking (anóētos); if a soul, they would make it worse than body, since even a body does not have vice (‘evilness’) on its own account; but if they say it consists of soul and body, it is illogical that things which are not evil when separated should produce evil when they come together.
3. Now, if someone should say that daemons are evil – if they have their power from the gods, they would not be evil; and if from elsewhere, the gods do not create all things. But if they do not create all things, they are either unable although they wish to, or they wish to despite being unable, and neither is appropriate to a god.
4. From these arguments, it can be deduced that there is nothing evil by nature in the cosmos; it only has being in the activities of people, and then not in all of them or always, that evils appear. 5. And if people did wrong for the sake of evil itself, then nature itself would be evil. But assume that the adulterer believes adultery to be evil, but pleasure, good; the murderer believes that murder is evil, but possessions good; the one who harms an enemy thinks that to do harm is evil, but it is good for an enemy to be punished – and if the soul commits all its wrongdoing in this way, evils originate on account of goodness; just as a shadow, which has no being by nature, is originated by the non-being of light. So, the soul does wrong because it aims at good, but is misled about the good, since it is not primary essence.
6. It can be observed that many things are originated by the gods so the soul does not err, or to heal it after having erred. Crafts, sciences and virtues; prayers, sacrifices and initiations; laws and governments; judgments and punishments – these were originated to prevent souls from doing wrong. And the purificatory gods and daemons purify them of their wrongdoings when they have gone out of the body.
[Part C: Miscellaneous Philosophical Problems]
1. (καʹ) Now, these things will suffice concerning the gods, the cosmos and human affairs for those who cannot be trained in philosophy, but whose souls are not beyond help.note
It remains to discuss how these things were never originated by, or separated from, each other, even though we ourselves have said in these chapters (lógoi) that the secondary beings are ‘originated’ by the primary.note
2. Everything that is originated is originated either by craft or by procreation or through some power;note but those that create through craft or procreation must necessarily be prior to what is created, whereas those creating through a power produce the originated things simultaneously with themselves, because they possess their power inseparably from themselves, as the sun has light, fire has heat and snow has cold.note
3. Now, if the gods create the cosmos by craft, they do not create its being, but its properties; for all craft creates form.note So, from where does the cosmos have its being?
If it is by procreation, everything that creates by procreation gives something of itself to what is originated, so, since the gods are incorporeal, the cosmos should be incorporeal. Or, if someone should say that the gods are bodies, then where does the power of incorporeal beings come from?note And if we were to agree with this, and the cosmos perishes, it is necessary that its creator also perishes, if he creates by procreation.
4. If the gods create the cosmos neither by craft nor by procreation, nothing else is left but that they create it by some power. And everything that is originated by a power co-subsists with that which possesses this power, and the things that are originated in this way can never perish, unless someone took away the power from the creator. So, the people who make the cosmos perishd say that there are no gods, or if they say that there are gods, then they make the deity powerless!
Now, the one who creates all things causes all things to co-subsist with himself, and since his power is the greatest, he must create not only humans and animals, but also gods, angels and daemons.note 5. And the further the First God diverges from our nature, the more powers there must necessarily be between us and him, because all things that are very distant from each other must be separated by many intermediaries.note
1. (κβʹ) If someone should regard it as reasonable and true that the gods are not subject to change, but is in doubt how they take joy in the good and turn away from the evil, how they are wrathful with wrongdoers and are made propitious when appeased, then we must say that a god does not ‘take joy’, because what takes joy can also feel sorrow. They also do not grow ‘wrathful’, because being wrathful is an affect. Neither are they appeased with gifts, or they would be overcome by pleasure. In all, it would not be licit for the divine to be in a good or bad condition on account of human affairs. Rather, they are always good, and only beneficial; they never cause harm, because they are always in the same state as far as these things are concerned.
2. When we are good, we are connected with the gods through likeness, but when we become evil, we are separated from them through unlikeness. And when we live according to virtue, we cling to the gods, but when we become evil, we make them hostile to ourselves – not because they are wrathful, but because our wrongdoings do not allow us to be illuminated by the gods, but tie us to punitive daemons.
3. And if we can find atonement from our wrongdoings with prayers and sacrifices, if we ‘appease’ and ‘change’ the gods, it is really through our own actions, and through a reversion towards the gods, that we heal our evilness, and enjoy the goodness of the gods again. Thus, to say that the god turns away from the evil is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
1. (κγʹ) With these points, the question of sacrifices and the other honors that are given to the gods has been solved: the divine itself stands in need of nothing, but the honors are given for the sake of our own benefit.
2. The providence of the gods, by the same token, extends everywhere, and requires only some congruity for its reception. All congruity comes about by imitation and likeness, which is why the temples imitate heaven; altars, the earth; the cult statues, life – and for this reason, they are made to look like living beings; the prayers imitate the intellective; the symbols (kharaktêres), the ineffable powers above; plants and stones, matter; and the animals that are sacrificed, the irrational life within us.
3. The gods gain nothing from all these things – for what could a god gain? –, but we come to be connected with them.
1. (κδʹ) It is worth adding, I believe, some further brief remarks about sacrifices. Firstly, we sacrifice because we have all things from the gods, and it is just for those who make gifts to be given a share from what is given. So, we give a share of our possessions through dedications; of our bodies, through a lock of hair; of life, through sacrifices.
Secondly, prayers without sacrifices are only words (lógoi), but with sacrifices, they are ensouled words: the speech (lógos) empowers the life, while the life ensouls the speech.
Thirdly, the happiness of every given thing is its own perfection, and the perfection of anything is a connection with its own cause. For this reason, we also pray to be connected with the gods. 2. So, since that of the gods is the first life, but the human is also a kind of life, and it wishes to be connected with the former, it requires a mean term, because things that are far apart cannot be connected without a means. These means must be like the two things being connected, and hence it is necessary that the mean term of life be life. And for this reason, people sacrifice animals – now, only those who are wealthy, but anciently, all people. And they did not do so in just one way, but gave the appropriate animal to each god, with many different kinds of worship.
But that is enough about these things.
1. (κεʹ) It has been said that the gods do not let the cosmos perish, but we must also go on to explain that it has an imperishable nature, because everything that perishes either perishes by itself or is destroyed (i.e., ‘made to perish’) by something else – but if the cosmos perishes by itself, fire should have to be able to burn itself, and water to dry itself out; and if by something else, it must be either by a body or an incorporeal being.
2. But it is impossible for it to be by an incorporeal being, because incorporeals, such as nature and soul, preserve bodies, and nothing is destroyed by what naturally preserves it.
If it is by a body, it must be one of those that have being, or something else. And if of those that have being, either those moving rectilinearly must be destroyed by those moving circularly, or those in circular motion by those in rectilinear. 3. But those moving circularly do not have a destructive nature – or why do we not see anything be destroyed from there? Neither can those moving rectilinearly reach the things up there – or why have they never been able to until now? But neither can those in rectilinear motion be destroyed by each other, because the destruction of one is the origination of another, and that is not destruction, but change. And if the cosmos is destroyed by other bodies than those that have being, from where are these originated, or where are they now? It is impossible to answer.
4. Next, everything that is destroyed is destroyed either in form or in matter; form is the shape, matter the body. And we see that, when the forms are destroyed, but the matter persists, other things are originated; and if matter can be destroyed, how has it not run out over so many years? 5. And if other things are originated in place of what is destroyed, they are originated either out of beings or non-beings; but if out of beings, then, as the beings persist forever, so also matter is forever; but if even the beings are destroyed, then they say not only the cosmos is destroyed, but all other things as well. But if matter originates from non-beings – then, firstly, it is impossible that anything derives from non-beings; but even if this could happen and it were possible for matter to derive from non-beings, then as long as there will be non-beings, there will also be matter, as non-beings can hardly be destroyed.
6. If they say that matter can persist without form, then firstly, why does this happen to the cosmos as a whole when it does not happen to any part? Secondly, those who argue this would not make the being of the bodies perish, but only their beauty.
7. Next, everything that perishes is either dissolved into that from which it originated, or disappears into non-being. But if they should be dissolved into that from which they originated, other things would be originated in turn – or how were they originated in the first place? And if beings pass into non-being, what prevents even the god from being affected by this? But if their power prevents it, it is not fitting for someone powerful to preserve only themself; and likewise, it is impossible for beings to be originated from non-beings, or for beings to disappear into non-being.
8. Next, if the cosmos perishes, it must necessarily perish either according to nature, or against nature. Now, nothing contrary to nature is superior to nature, but if it were against nature, there would have to be another nature that changes the nature of the cosmos; but it does not appear that there is.
9. Next, everything that perishes naturally, we can also destroy; but nobody has ever been able to destroy or even change the spherical body of the cosmos; and while it is possible to change the elements, it is impossible to destroy them.
10. Next, everything that can perish changes through time and grows old; but the cosmos, over so many years, persists unchanged.
Having said this much for those who require stronger demonstrations, let us pray that the cosmos itself be propitious to us.
1. (κϛʹ) That instances of godlessness often arise in certain places of the earth, and will exist hereafter, is not worth any disturbance for the sensible, because these things have no effect on the gods, just as we saw that their honors do not benefit them; also because the soul, being of a middling essence, cannot always be upright; and the whole cosmos cannot always enjoy the providence of the gods in the same manner. 2. Rather, some things participate in it eternally, others for a time; some primarily, others secondarily, just as the head possesses all senses, but the whole body only one of them.
(κζʹ) It was on this account too, I believe, that those who instituted festivals also ordained inauspicious days, on which some temples were inactive, others were closed, some again would even remove their adornments, avoiding them on account of the weakness of our nature.
3. It is not unlikely too that godlessness is a kind of punishment; for it is quite reasonable that those who knew the gods but only had contempt for them should, in their next life, be deprived even of that knowledge.
It is also right that those who have honored their own kings as gods should, as their punishment, be cut off from the gods.
1. (κηʹ) But if the punishment for these or for other wrongdoings do not follow immediately, we should not be surprised, as it is not only daemons who punish souls, but the soul also brings itself to judgment. And for beings that persist for all time, it is not necessary that everything happen to them within a short time. Another reason is the need for human virtue: because if there immediately followed punishments for those who have done wrong, people would act justly simply out of fear, but they would not possess virtue.
2. (κθʹ) Souls are punished when they have left the body; some roam about here, others go to hot or cold places of the earth, others again are vexed by daemons. They undergo all these things together with the irrational soul, as it was with it that they did wrong. The shadowy body which can be seen around graves, and especially the graves of those who led evil lives, subsists for the sake of the irrational soul.
1. (λʹ) When souls transmigrate into rational beings, they simply become the bodies’ own soul, but if they transmigrate into irrational beings, they follow the body while remaining outside, like the daemons allotted to us follow us; for a rational soul can never belong to an irrational being.
2. (λαʹ) Now, that there is transmigration can be concluded from congenital diseases – or why should some be born blind, others immobile, some again with a sickness of the soul itself? Also, since it is the nature of souls to live in a body, they cannot remain idle for all of eternity after they have once left it behind.
And if souls were not borne into bodies again, it would be necessary for them to be infinite in number, or for the god always to create new ones. But there is nothing infinite in the cosmos, because there could be nothing infinite within something finite, and neither is it possible for new ones to be originated, as anything in which something new is originated must necessarily be imperfect, but the cosmos, since it is originated from the perfect, must itself be perfect.
1. (λβʹ) The souls that have lived according to virtue are already fortunate (eudaimon-) in all other respects; but when they have been separated from the irrational part and have become purified of everything, they are even joined with the gods and govern the whole cosmos together with them.
2. Yet even if none of these things came true for them, still, virtue itself, the pleasure and reputation arising from virtue, and a life free of grief and oppression would suffice to make those who choose to live according to virtue, and are able to do so, fortunate.