Friday, December 03, 2004



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 10.5:
A statement which I found in Athenodorus is true: "Then know that you are free from all desires when you come to the point that you ask God for nothing except what you could ask for openly." For now how great is the folly of men! They whisper the most shameful prayers to the gods; if someone tries to listen, they fall silent, and they tell to God what they don't want a fellow human to know. Therefore consider whether this advice might not be profitably given: live with men as though God were watching, speak with God as though men were listening.

verum est quod apud Athenodorum inveni: 'tunc scito esse te omnibus cupiditatibus solutum, cum eo perveneris ut nihil deum roges nisi quod rogare possis palam'. nunc enim quanta dementia est hominum! turpissima vota dis insusurrant; si quis admoverit aurem, conticiscent, et quod scire hominem nolunt deo narrant. vide ergo ne hoc praecipi salubriter possit: sic vive cum hominibus tamquam deus videat, sic loquere cum deo tamquam homines audiant.
In his tenth Satire, Juvenal reviews things men commonly pray for, such as political power (lines 54-113), eloquence (114-132), military glory (133-187), long life (188-288), beauty (289-345), and pours scorn on them all. Likewise in Lucian's Navigium, three friends say what they would like if they could have anything in the world. Adimantus wants wealth, Samippus desires kingship, and Timolaus wishes for magic rings which would give him various powers, including the power to be invisible and the power to fly over the earth. A fourth friend, Lycinus, criticizes all these wishes.

There is also an interesting passage in Lucian's Icaromenippus (25, tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler) dealing with prayers:
So talking, we reached the spot where he was to sit and listen to the prayers. There was a row of openings with lids like well-covers, and a chair of gold by each. Zeus took his seat at the first, lifted off the lid and inclined his ear. From every quarter of Earth were coming the most various and contradictory petitions; for I too bent down my head and listened. Here are specimens. 'O Zeus, that I might be king!' 'O Zeus, that my onions and garlic might thrive!' 'Ye Gods, a speedy death for my father!' Or again, 'Would that I might succeed to my wife's property!' 'Grant that my plot against my brother be not detected.' 'Let me win my suit.' 'Give me an Olympic garland.' Of those at sea, one prayed for a north, another for a south wind; the farmer asked for rain, the fuller for sun. Zeus listened, and gave each prayer careful consideration, but without promising to grant them all;

    Our Father this bestowed, and that withheld. [Iliad 16.250]

Righteous prayers he allowed to come up through the hole, received and laid them down at his right, while he sent the unholy ones packing with a downward puff of breath, that Heaven might not be defiled by their entrance. In one case I saw him puzzled; two men praying for opposite things and promising the same sacrifices, he could not tell which of them to favour, and experienced a truly Academic suspense of judgement, showing a reserve and equilibrium worthy of Pyrrho himself.

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