On the gods, by Cicero

In my earlier postings, I wrote about what Cicero says in the Tusculian disputations about death, wisdom, grief and virtue as being sufficient for a happy life.

In this post, we look at the discussion on the gods, whether they exist, what their nature is and whether the government of the universe is in their hands, so to speak.

It has been said by others, wiser than yours truly, that there is nothing new under the sun. And the disputations on the gods is a good example. I think the discoveroids have failed to cite their sources in their arguments for complexity and teleological arguments. These two propositions are expounded so clearly and eloquently in this work than by Behe or William Paley.

In this disputation,Cotta, a priest responds to the arguments of Velleius who argued for the being of gods, claiming the government of the universe is in their hands, that we cannot see a beautiful house and assume it wasn’t designed and finally that the gods are eternal and happy. He begins his response thus

In the question concerning the nature of the Gods, his first inquiry is, whether there are Gods or not. It would be dangerous, I believe, to take the negative side before a public auditory; but it is very safe in a discourse of this kind, and in this company. I, who am a priest, and who think that religions and ceremonies ought sacredly to be maintained, am certainly desirous to have the existence of the Gods, which is the principal point in debate, not only fixed in opinion, but proved to a demonstration; for many notions flow into and disturb the mind which sometimes seem to convince us that there are none. (emphasis mine).

Believers are wont to argue that it is the general assent of all men that there is a god. Platinga even went further to argue there is a god shaped hole in our hearts that only god can fill. To this Cotta says

You have said that the general assent of men of all nations and all degrees is an argument strong enough to induce us to acknowledge the being of the Gods. This is not only a weak, but a false, argument; for, first of all, how do you know the opinions of all nations?

Regarding those who deified birds and other animals, Cotta says

I could speak of the advantage of the ichneumon, the crocodile, and the cat; but I am unwilling to be tedious; yet I will conclude by observing that the barbarians paid divine honors to beasts because of benefits they received from them; whereas your gods not only confer no benefit, but are idle, and do no single act of any description whatever.

Cotta continues to ask

Where is the habitation of the deity? What motive is it that stirs him from his place, supposing he ever  moves? Since it is peculiar for animated beings to have an inclination to something that is agreeable to their natures, what is it that the deity affects, and to what purpose does he exert the motion of his mind and reason?

He tells Velleius, that if he attempts to answer any of the above points, he will come off lamely. This he says is because

For there is never a proper end to reasoning which proceeds on a false foundation; for you asserted likewise that the form of the Deity is perceptible by the mind, but not by sense; that it is neither solid, nor invariable in number; that it is to be discerned by similitude and transition, and that a constant supply of images is perpetually flowing on from innumerable atoms, on which our minds are intent; so that we from that conclude that divine nature to be happy and everlasting.(emphasis mine)

At this point, I am hoping believers reading this can answer us

What, in the name of those Deities concerning whom we are now disputing, is the meaning of all this? For if they exist only in thought, and have no solidity nor substance, what difference can there be between thinking of a Hippocentaur and thinking of a Deity?

And Cotta concludes his disputation by saying

Therefore our friend Posidonius has well observed, in his fifth book of the Nature of the Gods, that Epicurus believed there were no Gods, and that what he had said about the immortal Gods was only said from a desire to avoid unpopularity. He could not be so weak as to imagine that the Deity has only the outward features of a simple mortal, without any real solidity; that he has all the members of a man, without the least power to use them—a certain unsubstantial pellucid being, neither favorable nor beneficial to any one, neither regarding nor doing anything. There can be no such being in nature; and as Epicurus said this plainly, he allows the Gods in words, and destroys them in fact; and if the Deity is truly such a being that he shows no favor, no benevolence to mankind, away with him! For why should I entreat him to be propitious? He can be propitious to none, since, as you say, all his favor and benevolence are the effects of imbecility.

And yours truly agrees.

Of sound and unsound minds

I think, Socrates then Cicero exaggerated things a big deal when they said

All silly people were unsound

But I go ahead of myself.

Sound here means minds that are under no perturbation from any motion as if it were a disease and unsound are those that are differently affected.

It’s this statement by Cicero in his disputations that I think is a stretch. He writes

No fool is ever free from perturbations of the soul; but all that are diseased are unsound; and the minds of all fools are diseased; therefore all fools are mad.

He says elsewhere that grief, being a disorder of the mind, cannot afflict the wise. This he writes is because, the man of courage is the only wise man and as such, grief cannot befall him.

On dying before our time

On this Cicero says what will later be echoed by that great Antonine, Aurelius, and later by Shakespeare when they write the world is just a stage and each must play their own part.

Cicero writes

Away, then, with those follies such as that it is miserable to die before our time. What time do you mean? That of nature? But she had only lent you life, as she might lend you money, without fixing any certain time for its repayment. Have you any grounds of complaint, then, that she recalls it at her pleasure?

Of the soul

Here, Cicero makes a very interesting argument. He writes

…..and if the soul be the only thing in the whole world which has the power of self motion, then certainly it never had a beginning, and therefore it is eternal.

What the soul is, however, as I wrote yesterday, remains incoherent and unknown.

Of death

Cicero writes in his disputations

…..it must follow, then, that death cannot be an evil; or that it must rather be something desirable; for if either the heart, or the blood, or the brain, is the soul, then certainly the soul, being corporeal, must perish with the rest of the body; ….

He then asks

What shall I say of Dicearchus, who denies that there is any soul? In all these opinions, there is nothing to affect any one after death, for all feeling is lost with life, and where there is no sensation, nothing can interfere to affect us.

I don’t know about you, but as for me, having no coherent idea of what the soul is and having had no prior idea of life on earth before I was born, the future life doesn’t interfere with how I live today.

Letter of note

SERVIUS SULPICIUS TO CICERO

Dear friends, here below is a letter written to Cicero by one of his friends on the loss of his daughter Tullia where he is told not to grieve for his daughter. I don’t know about you, but I find the letter truly inspiring and inspiring even if in some places it appears harsh. I think it is one such that would bring a smile to your face even in the face of grief and such calamity.

In the letters of Cicero as I had indicated in an earlier post, we see the political intrigues that were at play during his time, the jostling for power, the state of the economy and the relationship between master and slave, between teacher and tutor and especially how Cicero the man related with others whom he considered his appears as well as how he sees himself in all these.

The extant letters of Cicero show him to be a great courtesan, he appeals to the emotions of others for example when in his many letters he tells them he is honored that they love him. He also has a lot of confidence in his relationships with the powers that be and especially Pompey and Ceasar whom he talks of in very high esteem. 

Having said this, I share here the letter that I mention in the first paragraph and please do share your take on the letter.

WHEN I received the news of your daughter Tullia’s death, I was indeed much grieved and distressed as I was bound to be, and looked upon it as a calamity in which I shared. For, if I had been at home, I should not have failed to be at your side, and should have made my sorrow plain to you face to face. That kind of consolation involves much distress and pain, because the relations and friends, whose part it is to offer it, are themselves overcome by an equal sorrow. They cannot attempt it without many tears, so that they seem to require consolation themselves rather than to be able to afford it to others. Still I have decided to set down briefly for your benefit such thoughts as have occurred to my mind, not because I suppose them to be unknown to you, but because your sorrow may perhaps hinder you from being so keenly alive to them.

Why is it that a private grief should agitate you so deeply? Think how fortune has hitherto dealt with us. Reflect that we have had snatched from us what ought to be no less dear to human beings than their children–country, honour, rank, every political distinction. What additional wound to your feelings could be inflicted by this particular loss? Or where is the heart that should not by this time have lost all sensibility and learn to regard everything else as of minor importance? Is it on her account, pray, that you sorrow? How many times have you recurred to the thought–and I have often been struck with the same idea–that in times like these theirs is far from being the worst fate to whom it has been granted to exchange life for a painless death? Now what was there at such an epoch that could greatly tempt her to live? What scope, what hope, what heart’s solace? That she might spend her life with some young and distinguished husband? How impossible for a man of your rank to select from the present generation of young men a son-in-law, to whose honour you might think yourself safe in trusting your child! Was it that she might bear children to cheer her with the sight of their vigorous youth? who might by their own character maintain the position handed down to them by their parent, might be expected to sta~id for the offices in their order, might exercise their freedom in supporting their friends? What single one of these prospects has not been taken away before it was given? But, it will be said, after all it is an evil to lose one’s children. Yes, it is: only it is a worse one to endure and submit to the present state of things.

I wish to mention to you a circumstance which gave me no common consolation, on the chance of its also proving capable of diminishing your sorrow. On my voyage from Asia, as I was sailing from Aegina towards Megara, I began to survey the localities that were on every side of me. Behind me was Aegina, in front Megara, on the right Piraeus, on my left Corinth: towns which at one time were most flourishing, but now lay before my eyes in ruin and decay. I began to reflect to myself thus: “Hah! do we mannikins feel rebellious if one of us perishes or is killed–we whose life ought to be still shorter–when the corpses of so many towns lie in helpless ruin? Will you please, Servius, restrain yourself and recollect that you are born a mortal man?” Believe me, I was no little strengthened by that reflection. Now take the trouble, if you agree with me, to put this thought before your eyes. Not long ago all those most illustrious men perished at one blow: the empire of the Roman people suffered that huge loss: all the provinces were shaken to their foundations. If you have become the poorer by the frail spirit of one poor girl, are you agitated thus violently? If she had not died now, she would yet have had to die a few years hence, for she was mortal born. You, too, withdraw soul and thought from such things and rather remember those which become the part you have played in life: that she lived as long as life had anything to give her; that her life outlasted that of the Republic; that she lived to see you–her own father–praetor, consul, and augur; that she married young men of the highest rank; that she had enjoyed nearly every possible blessing; that, when the Republic fell, she departed from life. What fault have you or she to find with fortune on this score? In fine, do not forget that you are Cicero, and a man accustomed to instruct and advise others; and do not imitate bad physicians, who in the diseases of others profess to understand the art of healing, but are unable to prescribe for themselves. Rather suggest to yourself and bring home to your own mind the very maxims which you are accustomed to impress upon others. There is no sorrow beyond the power of time at length to diminish and soften: it is a reflexion on yea that you should wait for this period, and not rather anticipate that result by the aid of your wisdom. But if here is any consciousness still existing in the world below, such was her love for you and her dutiful affection for all her family, that she certainly does not wish you to act as you are acting. Grant this to her–your lost one! Grant it to your friends and comrades who mourn with you in your sorrow! Grant it to your country, that if the need arises she may have the use of your services and advice.

Finally–since we are reduced by fortune to the necessity of taking precautions on this point also–do not allow anyone to think that you are not mourning so much for your daughter as for the state of public affairs and the victory of others. I am ashamed to say any more to you on this subject, lest I should appear to distrust your wisdom. Therefore I will only make one suggestion before bringing my letter to an end. We have seen you on many occasions bear good fortune with a noble dignity which greatly enhanced your fame: now is the time for you to convince us that you are able to bear bad fortune equally well, and that it does not appear to you to be a heavier burden than you ought to think it. I would not have this to be the only one of all the virtues that you do not possess.

As far as I am concerned, when I learn that your mind is more composed, I will write you an account of what is going on here, and of the condition of th. province. Good-bye.