The Stoics on the Gods

Category: Theology > Philosophers on the Gods

1 Introduction

+Seneca, Letter 41

anthropomorph; pneuma; Zeus ambiguous

2 Diogenes Laërtius 7.147–148

(The Stoics say) that a god is an immortal, rational (logikon), perfect or intellective (noeron) living being (or ‘animal’, zōion) that is in a state of happiness (en eudaimonia) and does not admit of any evil, and which is providential over the cosmos and the beings in the cosmos. And it is not human-shaped (anthrōpomorphon).

For they say that Zeus (Dia) is that through which (di’ hōn) all things are, and they also call him Zēna* insofar as he is the cause of life (zēn), or because he spreads out life; and Athena in respect to its extension of this ruling faculty (hēgemonikon) across the ether; Hera, in respect to the air; Hephaestus, in respect to the extension into the creative (tekhnikon) fire; and Poseidon, in respect to that into water (to hygron); and Demeter, in respect to that into the Earth. And in the same manner, they have assigned the different appellations (prosēgoriai) by fastening onto a certain property (oikeiotēs).

*Dia and Zēna are two forms of the accusative of Zeus.

Zeno says that the substance (ousia) of God is the whole cosmos and heaven,* and likewise Chrysippus in the first book On the Gods and Posidonius in the first of his On the Gods. And Antipater, in the seventh book of On the Cosmos, says that his substance is aerial (aeroeidēs). Boethius, in On Nature, that the substance of God is the sphere of the fixed stars.

*Heaven, ouranos, is here a synonym of cosmos.

3 Chrysippus’ teachings = Philodemus, On Piety 11.12–15.13 (ed. Gomperz)

And Chrysippus [gap in the text] in the first book of On the Gods say that Zeus is the rationality (lógos) ruling all things, the soul of the universe, and that all things [live] by sharing in it, [gap in the text] and even stones, and for that reason, he is called Zēna, but Dia because he is the cause and lord of all things. And he is the animate (‘ensouled’, empsykhos) cosmos and God, and the ruling faculty and the universal soul (holē psykhē),* and [gap in the text] is named Zeus, the common Nature of all things, Fate (heimarmenē) and Necessity (anankē). And the same (fem.) is Good Order (eunomia), Justice (dikē), Concord (homonoia), Peace (eirēnē),** Aphrodite, and everything like that.

*Or the ‘whole soul’, since all others are part of it.
**These were all regarded (and worshipped) as goddesses.

And the gods are not male or female – just as cities and virtues are not – but they are only called by masculine and feminine names, even if they are the same, like Selēnē and Mēn (both meaning ‘Moon’).

And Ares is designated in relation to war, order and opposition (lit. ‘counter-order’, antitaxis). Hephaestus is fire, Kronos the flux of flow,* Rhea the Earth, and Zeus the ether; and Apollon and Demeter the Earth or the spirit (pneuma) within them.


And (he says) it is childish to call, write and depict the gods as human-shaped (anthrōpoeideis), in the manner (this is done with) cities, rivers, places and affects.

And the air around the Earth is Zeus, dark air is Hades, that around the Earth and sea is Poseidon.

And he associates the other gods, just like these, with inanimate things;* and regards the Sun and Moon and the other stars as gods, as well as Order (or ‘law’, nomos).

He also says that humans can turn into gods.

*That is to say, with things that Epicureans regard as inanimate.


Greek text

Ἀλ[λὰ μὴν καὶ] Χρύσ[ι]ππος [… ἐν μὲ]ν τῷ πρώ[τῳ περὶ θεῶ]ν Δία φη[σὶν εἶναι τὸ]ν ἅπαντ[α διοικοῦ]ντα λόγον κ[αὶ τῆν] τοῦ ὅλου ψυχὴ[ν κα]ὶ τῇ τούτου μ[ετοχ]ῇ πάντα ζῆν, […] καὶ τοὺς λί[θ]ους, [δ]ιὸ καὶ Ζῆνα καλε[ῖσ]θαι, Δία δ’ [ὅ]τι [πάν]των αἴτιος [καὶ κύ]ριος· τόν τε κόσμον ἔμψ[υ]χον εἶναι καὶ θεό[ν κ]αὶ τὸ ἡ[γεμονι]κὸν [κ]αὶ τὴν ὅ[λην ψ]υχ[ή]ν· καὶ […]ιαν ὀν[ομάζεσ]θαι τὸν Δία καὶ τὴν κοινὴν πάντων φύσιν καὶ εἱμαρμ[έ]νην καὶ ἀνά[γ]κην. καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν εἶναι καὶ εὐνομίαν καὶ δίκην [κ]αὶ ὁμόνοιαν κα[ὶ ε]ἰρήνην καὶ Ἀφροδίτην καὶ τὸ παρ[α]πλήσιον πᾶν.

Καὶ μὴ εἶναι θεοὺς ἄῤῥενας μηδὲ θηλείας, ὡς μηδ[ὲ] πόλεις μηδ‘ ἀρ[ε]τάς, [ὀ]νομάζεσθαι δὲ μόνον ἀῤῥενικῶς καὶ θη[λ]υ[κ]ῶς ταὐτὰ ὄντα, καθάπερ σελήνην κα[ὶ μῆ]να.

Καὶ τὸν Ἄρη [κατὰ τ]οῦ πο[λ]έμου τε[τάχθ]αι καὶ τῆς τά[ξεως] καὶ ἀν[τ]ιτάξ[εως. Ἥ]φαιστον δὲ πῦ[ρ εἶν]αι, καὶ Κρόνον [μὲν τὸ]ν τοῦ ῥεύ[μ]ατος ῥ[όο]ν, Ῥέαν δὲ τὴν γῆν, Δία δὲ τὸν αἰθέρα· τοὺς δὲ τὸν Ἀπόλλω[ι] κα[ὶ] τὴν Δήμητρα γ[ῆ]ν ἢ τὸ ἐν αὐτῇ πνεῦμα.

Καὶ παιδαριωδῶς λέγεσθαι καὶ γράφεσθαι κα[ε]ὶ πλάτ[τ]εσθαι [θεοὺ]ς ἀνθρ[ωποειδεῖς] ὃν τρόπον καὶ πόλεις καὶ ποταμοὺς καὶ τόπους καὶ πάθ[η.

Κ]αὶ Δία μὲ[ν εἶ]να[ι τὸν πε]ρὶ τὴν [γῆ]ν ἀέρα, [τ]ὸ[ν] δὲ σκο[τει]νὸν Αἵδ[ην], τὸν δὲ διὰ τῆς γῆ[ς κ]αὶ θαλάτ[τ]ης Ποσ[ειδῶ].

Καὶ το[ὺς] ἄλλου[ς δ]ὲ θεοὺς ἀψύχοις ὡς καὶ τούτους συνοικειοῖ· καὶ τὸν ἥλ[ι]όν [τε] καὶ τὴ[ν] σε- λήνην καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἀστέ[ρ]ας θεοὺς οἴεται καὶ τὸν νόμον.

Κα[ὶ ἀν]θρώπους εἰς θεο[ύ]ς φησι με[τ]αβαλεῖ[ν].

Ἐν δὲ τῷ δευτέ[ρῳ] τά τ[ε] εἰς Ὀρφέα [καὶ Μ]ουσαῖον ἀναφε[ρόμ]ε[ν]α καὶ τ[ὰ] παρ’ [Ὁ]μήρῳ καὶ Ἡσιόδ[ῳ] καὶ Εὐριπίδῃ καὶ ποιηταῖς ἄλλοις, [ὡ]ς κα[ὶ] Κλεάνθης, [π]ειρᾶτα[ι συ]νοικειοῦ[ν] ταῖς δόξαις αὐτῶ[ν]. ἅπαντά τ’ ἐστὶν αἰθήρ, ὁ αὐτὸς ὢν καὶ πατὴρ καὶ υἱός, [ὡς] κἀν τῷ πρώτῳ μὴ μάχεσθαι τὸ τὴν Ῥέαν καὶ μητέρα τοῦ Διὸς εἶναι καὶ θυγατέρα.

Τὰς δ’ αὐτὰς ποιε[ῖ]ται σ[υ]νοικει[ώσε]ις κἀν τῷ περὶ [Χ]αρίτων, [… τ]ὸν Δία νόμον φησὶν εἶναι καὶ τὰς Χάριτας τὰς ἡμετέ[ρ]ας καταρχὰς κα[ὶ] τὰς ἀνταπ[ο]δόσεις τῶν εὐε[ργ]εσιῶ[ν].

Τὰ παραπλήσια δὲ κἀν τοῖς περὶ φύσεως γράφει, μεθ’ ὧν εἴ[πα]μεν καὶ τοῖς Ἡρακλ[εί]του συνοικειῶν […] κἀν τῷ πρώτῳ τὴν Νύκτα θεάν φησιν [εἶναι] πρωτίστην. ἐν δὲ τῷ τρίτῳ τὸ[ν] κ[όσ]μον ἕνα τῶν φρονίμ[ω]ν, συνπολειτευόμενον θεοῖς καὶ ἀνθρώποις, καὶ τὸν πόλεμ[ον] καὶ τὸν Δία τὸν α[ὐ]τὸν εἶναι, καθάπ[ε]ρ καὶ τὸν Ἡράκλειτον λέγειν· ἐν δὲ τῷ πέμπτῳ καὶ λόγους ἐρωτᾷ περὶ τοῦ [τ]ὸν κόσμον ζῷον εἶναι καὶ λογικὸν καὶ φρονοῦν καὶ θεόν.

Κἀ[ν] τοῖς περὶ προνοίας μέντοι [τ]ὰς αὐτὰς ἐκτίθησ[ι]ν συνοικειώσεις τῇ ψυχῇ τοῦ παντὸς καὶ τὰ τῶν θεῶν ὀ[ν]όματα ἐφαρμόττει τῆς δρειμύτητος ἀπολαύων ἀκοπιάτως.

4 Diogenes of Babylon, On Athena = Philodemus, On Piety 11.12–15.13 (ed. Gomperz)

Diogenes of Babylon, in his On Athena, writes that the cosmos is the same as Zeus, or that it contains Zeus as a human being does a soul; and that Apollon is the Sun, and Artemis the Moon; but that it is childish and impossible to say that the gods are human-shaped (anthrōpoeideis).

And (the part) of Zeus stretched out into the sea is Poseidon; that into the air, Hera, as Plato also says: if someone often repeats aēr (‘air’), they will be saying Hēra; that into the ether, Athena; for this is meant by (Athena being born) “from the head” (of Zeus), and (the poetic phrase) “Zeus is male, Zeus is female”.

Certain ones among the Stoics also say that (Athena is) the ruling faculty (of the human being) in the head; for she is wisdom (phronēsis), and for this reason is also called Mētis.*

*In the myth, Metis is Athena’s mother; she is swallowed by Zeus, transferring the pregnancy.

Chrysippus, on the other hand, says that the ruling faculty is in the heart, and that Athena, insofar as she is wisdom, is there, but that (the myth) says she is from the head because speech is emitted from the head. And (she is born when the head of Zeus is split) by Hephaestus, because wisdom arises through skill (tekhnē),* and that Athena is called Athrēna (‘A-three-na’), as it were, and Tritonis as well as Tritogeneia because wisdom consists in three (kinds of) teachings (logoi), the physical, ethical and logical. And he also associates her other appellations and attributes (phorēmata) with wisdom, in a rather specious manner.

*Hephaestus oversees crafts, tekhnaí, a term that can also be applied to all technical knowledge.

Greek text

Δ[ι]ογένης δ‘ ὁ Βαβυλώνιος ἐν τῷ περὶ τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς τ[ὸ]ν κ[ός]μον γράφει τῷ Δ[ιὶ τ]ὸν αὐτὸν ὑπάρ[χει]ν ἢ περιέχε[ιν τὸ]ν Δία κ[αθ]άπε[ρ] ἄνθρωπ[ον ψ]υχή[ν]· καὶ τὸ[ν ἥλι]ον μ[ὲν] Ἀπόλλ[ω, τ]ὴν δ[ὲ σε]- 33.5 λήνη[ν Ἄρ]τ[ε]μι[ν· καὶ] π[αι]δ[αριῶ]δες εἶν[αι] θε[ο]ὺς ἀ[ν]θρωποε[ι]- 33.6 δεῖς λ[έγει]ν καὶ ἀδύνατον. [εἶ]ν[αί] τε τοῦ Διὸς τὸ μὲν εἰς τὴν θάλατταν διατετα[κ]ὸς Ποσειδῶνα, τὸ δ‘ εἰς [τ]ὸν ἀέρα Ἥραν, καθάπερ κ[αὶ τὸν Πλά]τωνα λέγειν, ὥς[τ‘ ἐ]ὰν πολλάκις “ἀήρ” [λ]έγῃ τις ἐρεῖν “Ἥ[ρα”, τὸ] δ‘ εἰς τὸ[ν] α<ἰθ>έρα Ἀθηνᾶν· τοῦτο γὰρ λέ[γε]σθαι τὸ 33.10 “ἐκ τῆς [κεφα]λῆς” καὶ “Ζεὺς ἄρρην Ζεὺς θῆλυς”. τινὰς δὲ τῶν Στωϊκῶν φάσκειν, ὅτι τὸ ἡγεμονικὸν ἐν τῇ κ[ε]φαλῇ· φρόνησιν γὰ[ρ] εἶναι, διὸ καὶ Μῆτιν καλεῖσθαι· Χρύσιππον δ‘ ἐν τῷ στή[θ]ει τὸ ἡγεμονικὸν [ε]ἶναι κἀκεῖ τὴ[ν Ἀθ]ηνᾶν γεγονένα[ι] φρόνησιν οὖσαν, τῷ [δ]ὲ τ[ὴ]ν φωνὴν ἐκ τῆς [κ]εφαλῆς ἐκκρίνεσθαι [λέ]γειν ἐκ τῆς 33.15 [κ]εφα[λ]ῆς, ὑπὸ δὲ Ἡ[φ]αίς[του δι]ότι τ[έ]χνη[ι γί]νεθ‘ ἡ φρόνησις, καὶ Ἀθηνᾶν μὲν ο[ἷ]ον Ἀθ[ρη]νᾶν εἰρῆσθαι, [Τριτω]νίδα δὲ καὶ Τρ[ι- τογέν]ειαν διὰ τὸ τὴν φρόνησιν ἐκ τριῶν συνεστηκέναι λόγων, τῶ[ν] φ[υσικῶ]ν καὶ τῶ[ν ἠ]θικῶ[ν κ]αὶ τῶν λογικῶν. καὶ τὰς ἄλλας δ‘ αὐτ[ῆς προς]ηγορ[ί]ας καὶ τὰ φορήματα μάλα καταχρύσως τῇ φρο- 33.20 νήσει συνοικειοῖ.