The City of God/Book III/Chapter 2
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Book III, Chapter 2
|Whether the Gods, Whom the Greeks and Romans Worshipped in Common, Were Justified in Permitting the Destruction of Ilium.|
First, then, why was Troy or Ilium, the cradle of the Roman people (for I must not overlook nor disguise what I touched upon in the first book), conquered, taken and destroyed by the Greeks, though it esteemed and worshipped the same gods as they? Priam, some answer, paid the penalty of the perjury of his father Laomedon. Then it is true that Laomedon hired Apollo and Neptune as his workmen. For the story goes that he promised them wages, and then broke his bargain. I wonder that famous diviner Apollo toiled at so huge a work, and never suspected Laomedon was going to cheat him of his pay. And Neptune too, his uncle, brother of Jupiter, king of the sea, it really was not seemly that he should be ignorant of what was to happen. For he is introduced by Homer (who lived and wrote before the building of Rome) as predicting something great of the posterity of Æneas, who in fact founded Rome. And as Homer says, Neptune also rescued Æneas in a cloud from the wrath of Achilles, though (according to Virgil)
“All his will was to destroy
His own creation, perjured Troy.”
Gods, then, so great as Apollo and Neptune, in ignorance of the cheat that was to defraud them of their wages, built the walls of Troy for nothing but thanks and thankless people. There may be some doubt whether it is not a worse crime to believe such persons to be gods, than to cheat such gods. Even Homer himself did not give full credence to the story for while he represents Neptune, indeed, as hostile to the Trojans, he introduces Apollo as their champion, though the story implies that both were offended by that fraud. If, therefore, they believe their fables, let them blush to worship such gods; if they discredit the fables, let no more be said of the “Trojan perjury;” or let them explain how the gods hated Trojan, but loved Roman perjury. For how did the conspiracy of Catiline, even in so large and corrupt a city, find so abundant a supply of men whose hands and tongues found them a living by perjury and civic broils? What else but perjury corrupted the judgments pronounced by so many of the senators? What else corrupted the people’s votes and decisions of all causes tried before them? For it seems that the ancient practice of taking oaths has been preserved even in the midst of the greatest corruption, not for the sake of restraining wickedness by religious fear, but to complete the tale of crimes by adding that of perjury.
- Ch. 4.
- Virg, Georg. i. 502, Laomedonteæ luimus perjuria Trojæ.
- Iliad , xx. 293 et seqq.
- Æneid. v. 810, 811.
- Gratis et ingratis.