Friday, April 8, 2016

TFBT: Enlightened Thinkers' Irreligion

In the introduction of  Loeb Classical Library’s version of “Aeschylus” Herbert Weir Smyth makes the following comment:

 “Aeschylus was the first of the many “enlightened” thinkers who were brough to court for their irreligion; Diagoras (of Melos), Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Socrates, Stilpo(n), Aristotle, and Theodorus (the Atheist); Andocides was tried for violation of the Mysteries.  Euripides had to rewrite the beginning of his Wise Melanippe”

The comment struck my curiosity and I researched the names he listed via A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, ed.   Most the charges are trumped up as you will see in the excerpts below.  It is amazing how many of these men accused of impiety received heroic honors upon their death.

“In the accusation of Socrates it was Meletus who laid the indictment before the Archon Basileus… Soon after the death of Socrates, the Athenians repented of their injustice, and Meletus was stoned to death as one of the authors of their folly.”  A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology  William Smith, ed.

Aeschylus was accused of impiety before the court of the Areiopagus, and that he would have been condemned but for the interposition of his brother Ameinias, who had distinguished himself at the battle of Salamis. According to some authors this accusation was preferred against him, for having in some of his plays either divulged or profanely spoken of the mysteries of Ceres. According to others, the charge originated from his having introduced on the stage the dread goddesses, the Eumenides, which he had done in such a way as not only to do violence to popular prejudice, but also to excite the greatest alarm among the spectators. Now, the Eumenides contains nothing which can be considered as a publication of the mysteries of Ceres, and therefore we are inclined to think that his political enemies availed themselves of the unpopularity he had incurred by his Chorus of Furies, to get up against him a charge of impiety, which they supported not only by what was objectionable in the Eumenides, but also in other plays not now extant” William Smith

(The Athenians) uneasy at being disturbed in their hereditary superstitions, soon found reasons for complaint. Anaxagoras, therefore, was accused of impiety. …it was only owing to the influence and eloquence of Pericles that he was not put to death… The philosopher now went to Lampsacus, and it seems to have been during his absence that the second charge of μηδισμὸς was brought against him, in consequence of which he was condemned to death. He is said to have received the intelligence of his sentence with a smile, and to have died at Lampsacus at the age of seventy-two. The inhabitants of this place honoured Anaxagoras not only during his lifetime, but after his death also.”  William Smith

“The impeachment of Protagoras had been founded on his book on the gods, which began with the statement: "Respecting the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist." The impeachment was followed by his banishment.”  William Smith

“Whether he (Stilpo) was in earnest in his antagonism to the popular polytheistic faith, and whether and how the Areiopagus in Athens stepped in, cannot be gathered”  William Smith

“whether justly or not, with considerable suspicion, and he (Euripides) had already been assailed with a charge of impiety in a court of justice, on the ground of the well-known line in the Hippolytus (607), supposed to be expressive of mental reservation. (Arist. Rhet. 3.15.8.) He did not live long to enjoy the honours and pleasures of the Macedonian court, as his death took place in B. C. 406. Most testimonies agree in stating that he was torn in pieces by the king's dogs,”  William Smith

“A man named Pythonicus charged Alcibiades with having divulged and profaned the Elensinian mysteries; and another man, Audrocles, endeavoiured to connect this and sismilair offeinces with the mutilation of the Hermae…At Athens sentence of death was passed upon him, his property confiscated, and a curse pronounced upon him by the ministers of religion…a monument erected to his memory at Melissa, the place of his leath, and a statue of him erected thereon by the emperor Hadrian, who also instituted certain yearly sacrifices in his honour.”  William Smith

“Diagoras (of Melos) … was involved, by the democratical party in a lawsuit about impiety (διαβολῆς τνχὼν ἐπ̓ ἀσεβείᾳ), and he thought it advisable to escape its result by flight. Religion seems to have been only the pretext for that accusation, for the mere fact of his being a Melian made him an object of suspicion…There is no doubt that Diagoras paid no regard to the established religion of the people, and he may occasionally have ridiculed it; but he also ventured on direct attacks upon public institutions of the Athenian worship, such as the Eleusinian mysteries, which he endeavoured to lower in public estimation, and he is said to have prevented many persons from becoming initiated in them.”  William Smith

Callias had but little hope in this case, he brought against him (Andocides) the charge of having profaned the mysteries and violated the laws respecting the temple at Eleusis. (De Myst. § 110, &c.) The orator pleaded his case in the oration still extant, On the Mysteries (περὶ τῶν μυστηρίων), and was acquitted.  William Smith

“The movements which commenced in Grecce against Macedonia after Alexander's death, B. C. 323, endangered also the peace and security of Aristotle…. To bring a political accusation against him was not easy…. He was accordingly accused of impiety (ἀσεβείας) … The charge was grounded on his having addressed a hymn to his friend Hermias as to a god, and paid him divine honours .. Aristotle, however, knew his danger sufficiently well to withdraw from Athens…  we have the account, that his mortal remains were transported to his native city Stageira, and that his memory was honoured there, like that of a hero, by yearly festivals of remembrance.” William Smith


  1. As people say in such cases, nothing new under the Sun. Except that I don't see heroic honors paid to Theo van Gogh or Charbonnier.

  2. Maya,

    I was thinking, in the USA we annually celebrate a day honoring Presidents Lincoln and Washington, a day for Dr. Martin Luther King and two days for the demi-god Jesus Christ

    In Alaska, in addition we celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovick Day, she was a civil rights leader and Seward's Day in honor of the man who purchased Alaska from the Russians