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Page 3

What constitutes "Piety" in Athens

 

    Of course there have been some famous prosecutions for "impiety." Socrates was the most conspicuous victim; but Socrates was a notable worshipper of the gods, and certainly all the charges of his being an "atheist" broke down. What he was actually attacked with was "corrupting the youth of Athens," i.e. giving the young men such warped ideas of their private and public duties that they ceased to be moral and useful citizens. But even Socrates was convicted only with difficulty[2]; a generation has passed since his death. Were he on trial at present, a majority of the jury would probably be with him.

    The religion of Athens is something very elastic, and really every man makes his own creed for himself, or—for paganism is almost never dogmatic—accepts the outward cultus with everybody else, and speculates at his leisure on the nature of the deity. The great bulk of the uneducated are naturally content to accept the old stories and superstitions with unthinking credulity. It is enough to know that one must pray to Zeus for rain, and to Hermes for luck in a slippery business bargain. There are a few philosophers who, along with perfectly correct outward observance, teach privately that the old Olympian system is a snare and folly. They pass around the daring word which Xenophanes uttered as early as the sixth century B.C.:

"One God there is, greatest of gods and mortals,
Not like to man is he in mind or in body.
All of him sees, all of him thinks, and all of him harkens."

    This, of course, is obvious pantheism, but it is easy to cover up all kinds of pale monotheism or pantheism under vague reference to the omnipotence of "Zeus." [Elpenor's note: it is a poetic philosophical metaphor, and even if not, it would still be anthropomorphism and not pantheism].

 

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