Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Minucius Felix/The Octavius of Minucius Felix/Chapter 21

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix
by Minucius Felix, translated by Robert Ernest Wallis
Chapter 21
155909Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix — Chapter 21Robert Ernest WallisMinucius Felix

Chapter XXI.—Argument:  Octavius Attests the Fact that Men Were Adopted as Gods, by the Testimony of Euhemerus, Prodicus, Persæus, and Alexander the Great, Who Enumerate the Country, the Birthdays, and the Burial-Places of the Gods.  Moreover He Sets Forth the Mournful Endings, Misfortunes, and Deaths of the Gods.  And, in Addition, He Laughs at the Ridiculous and Disgusting Absurdities Which the Heathens Continually Allege About the Form and Appearance of Their Gods.

“Read the writings of the Stoics,[1] or the writings of wise men, you will acknowledge these facts with me.  On account of the merits of their virtue or of some gift, Euhemerus asserts that they were esteemed gods; and he enumerates their birthdays, their countries, their places of sepulture, and throughout various provinces points out these circumstances of the Dictæan Jupiter, and of the Delphic Apollo, and of the Pharian Isis, and of the Eleusinian Ceres.  Prodicus speaks of men who were taken up among the gods, because they were helpful to the uses of men in their wanderings, by the discovery of new kinds of produce.  Persæus philosophizes also to the same result; and he adds thereto, that the fruits discovered, and the discoverers of those same fruits, were called by the same names; as the passage of the comic writer runs, that Venus freezes without Bacchus and Ceres.  Alexander the Great, the celebrated Macedonian, wrote in a remarkable document[2] addressed to his mother, that under fear of his power there had been betrayed to him by the priest the secret of the gods having been men:  to her he makes Vulcan the original of all, and then the race of Jupiter.  And you behold the swallow and the cymbal of Isis,[3] and the tomb of your Serapis or Osiris empty, with his limbs scattered about.  Then consider the sacred rites themselves, and their very mysteries:  you will find mournful deaths, misfortunes, and funerals, and the griefs and wailings of the miserable gods.  Isis bewails, laments, and seeks after her lost son, with her Cynocephalus and her bald priests; and the wretched Isiacs beat their breasts, and imitate the grief of the most unhappy mother.  By and by, when the little boy is found, Isis rejoices, and the priests exult, Cynocephalus the discoverer boasts, and they do not cease year by year either to lose what they find, or to find what they lose.  Is it not ridiculous either to grieve for what you worship, or to worship that over which you grieve?  Yet these were formerly Egyptian rites, and now are Roman ones.  Ceres with her torches lighted, and surrounded[4] with a serpent, with anxiety and solicitude tracks the footsteps of Proserpine, stolen away in her wandering, and corrupter.  These are the Eleusinian mysteries.  And what are the sacred rites of Jupiter?  His nurse is a she-goat, and as an infant he is taken away from his greedy father, lest he should be devoured; and clanging uproar[5] is dashed out of the cymbals of the Corybantes, lest the father should hear the infant’s wailing.  Cybele of Dindymus—I am ashamed to speak of it—who could not entice her adulterous lover, who unhappily was pleasing to her, to lewdness, because she herself, as being the mother of many gods, was ugly and old, mutilated him, doubtless that she might make a god of the eunuch.  On account of this story, the Galli also worship her by the punishment of their emasculated body.  Now certainly these things are not sacred rites, but tortures.  What are the very forms and appearances (of the gods)? do they not argue the contemptible and disgraceful characters of your gods?[6]  Vulcan is a lame god, and crippled; Apollo, smooth-faced after so many ages; Æsculapius well bearded, notwithstanding that he is the son of the ever youthful Apollo; Neptune with sea-green eyes; Minerva with eyes bluish grey; Juno with ox-eyes; Mercury with winged feet; Pan with hoofed feet; Saturn with feet in fetters; Janus, indeed, wears two faces, as if that he might walk with looks turned back; Diana sometimes is a huntress, with her robe girded up high; and as the Ephesian she has many and fruitful breasts; and when exaggerated as Trivia, she is horrible with three heads and with many hands.  What is your Jupiter himself?  Now he is represented in a statue as beardless, now he is set up as bearded; and when he is called Hammon, he has horns; and when Capitolinus, then he wields the thunderbolts; and when Latiaris, he is sprinkled with gore; and when Feretrius, he is not approached;[7] and not to mention any further the multitude of Jupiters, the monstrous appearances of Jupiter are as numerous as his names.  Erigone was hanged from a noose, that as a virgin she might be glowing[8] among the stars.  The Castors die by turns, that they may live.  Æsculapius, that he may rise into a god, is struck with a thunderbolt.  Hercules, that he may put off humanity, is burnt up by the fires of Œta.[9]


  1. Otherwise, according to some, “of the historians.”
  2. This treatise is mentioned by Athenagoras, Legat. pro Christ., ch. xxviii.  [See vol. ii. p. 143, this series.]  Also by Augustine, de Civ. Dei., lib. viii. ch. iii. and xxvii.  In the fifth chapter Augustine calls the priest by the name of Leo.
  3. This passage is very doubtful both in its text and its meaning.
  4. Otherwise, “carried about.”
  5. Otherwise, “his approach is drowned.”
  6. Otherwise, “do they not show what are the sports and the honours of your gods?”
  7. These words are very variously read.  Davis conjectures that they should be, “When Feretrius, he does not hear,” and explains the allusion as follows:  that Jupiter Feretrius could only be approached with the spolia opima; and Minucius is covertly ridiculing the Romans, because, not having taken spolia opima for so long a time, they could not approach Feretrius.
  8. Otherwise, “pointed out,” or “designated.”
  9. Otherwise corrupted into Ætna.