Political fragments of Archytas and other ancient Pythagoreans/How we ought to conduct ourselves towards the gods

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Ethical fragments of Hierocles, preserved by Stobaeus by Hierocles, translated by Thomas Taylor
How we ought to conduct ourselves towards the gods

From Political fragments of Archytas and other ancient Pythagoreans, by Thomas Taylor, published 1822. In Taylor's day it was assumed that these works were by the 5th-century Pythagorean author Hierocles of Alexandria. They are now assigned to the 2nd-century Stoic philosopher Hierocles.

How we ought to conduct ourselves towards the gods[edit]

SUCH particulars, also, as the following, are to be previously assumed concerning the Gods, viz. that they are immutable, and firm in their decrees; so that they never change the conception of what appeared to them to be fit from the beginning. For there is one immutability and firmness of the virtues, which it is reasonable to suppose subsists transcendently with the Gods, and which imparts a never failing stability to their conceptions. From which it is evident, that there is no probability that the punishments which divinity thinks proper to inflict can be remitted. For it is easy to infer, that if the Gods change their decisions, and omit to punish him whom they had designed to punish, the world can neither be beautifully nor justly governed; nor can any probable reason for [the necessity of] repentance be assigned. Poetry also appears to have asserted such things as the following, rashly, and without any reason:

By incense and libation, gentle vows,
And sacrifice and prayer, men bend the Gods,
When they transgress, and stray from what is right.[1]


For flexible are e'en the Gods themselves.[2]

And in short whatever of a similar nature is to be found in poetry.

Nor must we omit to observe, that though the Gods are not the causes of evil, yet they connect certain persons with things of this kind, and surround those who deserve [to be afflicted] with corporeal and external detriments; not through any malignity, or because they think it requisite that men should struggle with difficulties, but for the sake of punishment. For as pestilence and drought, and besides these excessive rain, earthquakes, and every thing of this kind, are for the most part produced through certain other more physical causes, yet sometimes are effected by the Gods, when the times are such that the iniquity of the multitude, publicly, and in common, requires to be punished; after the same manner, also, the Gods sometimes afflict an individual with corporeal and external detriments, in order to punish him, and convert others to what is right.

But to be persuaded that the Gods are never the cause of any evil,[3] contributes greatly, as it appears to me, to proper conduct towards the Gods. For evils proceed from vice alone, but the Gods are of themselves the causes of good, and of whatever is advantageous; while, in the meantime, we do not admit their beneficence, but surround ourselves with voluntary evils. Hence, on this occasion, it appears to me that it is well said by the poet:

-- that mortals blame the Gods,

as if they were the causes of their evils!

-- though not from Fate,
But for their crimes they suffer pain and woe.[4]

For that God is never in any way the cause of evil may be proved by many arguments; but at present we shall only adduce what Plato[5] says: viz. "that as it is not the province of what is hot to refrigerate, but the contrary; so neither is it the province of that which is beneficent to be noxious, but the contrary." Moreover, God being good, and immediately replete from the beginning with every virtue, cannot be noxious, or the cause to any one of evil; but on the contrary, must impart every good to those who are willing to receive it; bestowing on us, also, such media[6] as are according to nature, and which are effective of what is conformable to nature. But there is only one cause of evil.[7]


  1. Iliad IX. v. 495. 6. 7.
  2. Iliad IX. v. 493. Hierocles is mistaken in saying that poetry rashly asserts that the Gods are flexible. For as I have observed in my Notes to Iamblichus on the Mysteries, divine flexibility indicates in Homer, and other theological poets of antiquity, that those who through depravity become unadapted to receive the illuminations of the Gods, when they afterwards obtain pardon of their guilt through prayers and sacrifices, again become partakers of the goodness of the Gods. So that divine flexibility is a resumption of the participation of divine light and goodness, by those who through inaptitude were before deprived of it.
  3. See on this most interesting subject, that divinity is not the cause of evil, my translation of the Fragments of Proclus on the Subsistence of Evil, at the end of my translation of his six books On the Theology of Plato.
  4. See Odyss. I. v. 32, 33, 34.
  5. See the first book of his Republic.
  6. i.e. Such things as are neither really good, nor really evil, but media between these.
  7. After this last sentence, the words ταυτα χρη, follow in the original; which evidently show that something is wanting: as they are only the beginning of another sentence. This defect, however, is supplied in my copy of Stobaeus, (Eclog. Ethic, lib. II. p. 207), by some one in manuscript, as follows: ταυτα χρη προνοειν, μη δια νου τυφλοτητα και αγνωμοσυνην, τα (lege ταυτα) ημιν απαντασωσι; and he has also added the following Latin translation of these words: "Haec oportet prospicere ne per mentis caecitatem et ignorantiam haec nobis occurrant." But the addition, from whatever source it was obtained, does not appear to me to be at all apposite; and therefore I conceive it to be spurious.