A Plea for the Christians

Chapter 21

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Athenagoras (fl. 177)

A Plea for the Christians

Translated by B. P. Pratten

Chapter 21

But should it be said that they only had fleshly forms, and possess blood and seed, and the affections of anger and sexual desire, even then we must regard such assertions as nonsensical and ridiculous; for there is neither anger, nor desire and appetite, nor procreative seed, in gods. Let them, then, have fleshly forms, but let them be superior to wrath and anger, that Athênâ may not be seen

Burning with rage and inly wroth with Jove;

nor Hera appear thus:—

Juno’s breast
Could not contain her rage.

And let them be superior to grief:—

A woful sight mine eyes behold: a man
I love in flight around the walls! My heart
For Hector grieves.

For I call even men rude and stupid who give way to anger and grief. But when the “father of men and gods” mourns for his son,—

Woe, woe! that fate decrees my best belov’d
Sarpedon, by Patroclus’ hand to fall;

and is not able while he mourns to rescue him from his peril:—

The son of Jove, yet Jove preserv’d him not;

who would not blame the folly of those who, with tales like these, are lovers of the gods, or rather, live without any god? Let them have fleshly forms, but let not Aphrodité be wounded by Diomedes in her body:—

The haughty son of Tydeus, Diomed,
Hath wounded me;

or by Arês in her soul:—

Me, awkward me, she scorns; and yields her charms
To that fair lecher, the strong god of arms.

The weapon pierced the flesh.

He who was terrible in battle, the ally of Zeus against the Titans, is shown to be weaker than Diomedes:—

He raged, as Mars, when brandishing his spear.

Hush! Homer, a god never rages. But you describe the god to me as blood-stained, and the bane of mortals:—

Mars, Mars, the bane of mortals, stained with blood;

and you tell of his adultery and his bonds:—

Then, nothing loth, th’ enamour’d fair he led,
And sunk transported on the conscious bed.
Down rushed the toils.

Do they not pour forth impious stuff of this sort in abundance concerning the gods? Ouranos is mutilated; Kronos is bound, and thrust down to Tartarus; the Titans revolt; Styx dies in battle: yea, they even represent them as mortal; they are in love with one another; they are in love with human beings:—

Æneas, amid Ida’s jutting peaks,
Immortal Venus to Anchises bore.

Are they not in love? Do they not suffer? Nay, verily, they are gods, and desire cannot touch them! Even though a god assume flesh in pursuance of a divine purpose, he is therefore the slave of desire.

For never yet did such a flood of love,
For goddess or for mortal, fill my soul;
Not for Ixion’s beauteous wife, who bore
Pirithöus, sage in council as the gods;
Nor the neat-footed maiden Danäe,
A crisius’ daughter, her who Perséus bore,
Th’ observ’d of all; nor noble Phoenix’ child;
……nor for Semele;
Nor for Alcmena fair;…
No, nor for Ceres, golden-tressèd queen;
Nor for Latona bright; nor for thyself.

He is created, he is perishable, with no trace of a god in him. Nay, they are even the hired servants of men:—

Admetus’ halls, in which I have endured
To praise the menial table, though a god.

And they tend cattle:—

And coming to this land, I cattle fed,
For him that was my host, and kept this house.

Admetus, therefore, was superior to the god. O prophet and wise one, and who canst foresee for others the things that shall be, thou didst not divine the slaughter of thy beloved, but didst even kill him with thine own hand, dear as he was:—

And I believed Apollo’s mouth divine
Was full of truth, as well as prophet’s art.

(Æschylus is reproaching Apollo for being a false prophet:)—

The very one who sings while at the feast,
The one who said these things, alas! is he
Who slew my son.

Chapter 20

Chapter 22