Ovid’s View on the Gods and Ethics

Ovid did not believe that the conduct of the gods was bound to ethical principles. The gods were imperfect and exhibited human vices, like envy, and their ethical conduct was unpredictable. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, there were stories that showed the gods with all their imperfections.

In the story of Jupiter and Io, Jupiter was an ethical monster who was unable to control his passions. He raped Io and turned her into a cow so his wife, Juno, would not find out. She did, however, and had Io guarded by a god called Argos with eyes all over him so Jupiter could not get at her again. Jupiter sent Mercury to get her back, so Mercury cut off Argos’s head and threw it into a ravine. Later there was a reconciliation and Jupiter vowed not rape Io again, and Juno permitted Io to resume her original form. This poem showed Jupiter as a lustful, murderous, and deceitful scoundrel, with absolutely no regard for good ethical conduct.

The story of Arachne and Minerva focused on the fault of pride and envy. Arachne was a weaver who was so skilled at her art that she aroused the envy of the god Minerva, whose specialty was weaving. They had a contest, and Arachne was the obvious winner. Minerva was so angry that she turned Arachne into a spider. This story showed how the gods are envious of the skill of man, and are easily angered by man’s arrogance. It also showed how unpredictably the gods wielded sanctions.

Another story that showed the unpredictability and ruthlessness of the gods was the story of Apollo and Marsayas. Marsayas challenged Apollo to a music contest and said the winner could do what he liked with the loser. Marsayas lost, and  Apollo flayed him alive. Marsayas cried out that it was only a music contest, but Apollo persisted until Marsayas was dead. Apollo showed no mercy in his unpredictable  punishment of Marsayas.

The story of Niobe and Latona, another story of pride and envy, was also a story of ruthless vengeance without mercy. It was about a Queen, named Niobe, who was very arrogant. She boasted of how well off she was, and demanded that the people should not worship at the altar of the god Latona, but rather to Niobe, who considered herself a god. This angered Latona, who sent her children, Phoebus and Phoebe (Apollo and Artemis) to punish Niobe by slaughtering all of her 14 children, and driving her husband to suicide. Latona was ruthless in her punishment of Niobe, and showed no mercy.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the gods’ ethical conduct was completely unpredictable. They showed human faults and vices, and they delivered unjust punishments toward mankind. Jupiter was ethically evil, and completely out of control of his passions. Apollo was ruthless and unjust. Nothing the gods did was bound to ethical principles.

The Greeks and the Christians

It is somewhat of a stereotype that the early Christian writers and theologians disregarded the philosophical ideas of the great Greek thinkers. This is, in fact, not true at all. Most Christians writers believed that the Greek ideas were fulfilled by the Christian teachings.

Some early Christian writers made parallels between the teachings of the old Greek philosophers and the doctrine of the Christian faith. Eusebius of Caesarea and St. Gregory of Nyssa showed how the teachings of Plato coincided with Christian teachings. Eusebius wrote of how Plato believed that the soul was immortal, and how his moral philosophy was close to Christian beliefs. St. Gregory of Nyssa made a parallel between Christianity and and Plato’s allegory of the cave. St. Justin martyr even compared the death of Socrates to the death of Christ himself!

Ironically, most of the Christians who disregarded the teachings of the Greek philosophical schools fell into heresy themselves. It is not right to think that the majority of Christian thinkers thought of the Greek philosophies as obsolete and useless with the coming of Christ. The opposite is, in fact, the case.

Optimism in Livy and Ovid

The work of the Roman historian Livy in his  History of Rome and the poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses had a dim view of the current state of affairs in in Rome and the world, but did offer some hope. Both of them showed that mankind was getting worse and worse, but offered advice for improving the future.

Livy, the late first century BC to early first century AD historian, wrote a book called the History of Rome in the downfall of the republic. This book was more of a poem than a historically accurate scholarly work. In it, Livy makes it clear that the reason which Rome prospered in the beginning was that the people had little wealth. He believed that wealth lead to moral degeneracy and corruption, and prosperity is due to lack of wealth. He implied that the reason Rome was in such a bad state (in the time Livy was writing) was because of too much wealth among its citizens. The nature of Livy’s History of Rome was intended to give hope to its readers. The stories, which were not necessarily historically accurate, were meant to inspire confidence in the city of Rome.

The poet Ovid wrote a series of 15 books, containing 250 stories, called the Metamorphoses, which centered around transformation. He began with the creation, and particularly the creation of mankind. The first age of mankind was called the golden age, in which there was no scarcity, no legal system (because nobody did anything wrong), in short, everything in this age was perfect. Next came the silver age, which was not as good as the golden age, but still good. In this age, agriculture and animal husbandry were developed,  implying scarcity. Then came the bronze age, which had war and violence, but no crime. After that, the iron age, which was the origin of greed, strife, crime and evil. This story of creation is similar to Hesiod’s story in Works and Days, but emphasizes the evil and greed of mankind more. There is obviously an implication of man’s moral degeneracy over time, but his next story offers hope.

In Ovid’s next story, Jupiter (or Zeus, for the Greeks) visited the house of a man named Lycaon, who tried to deceive Zeus by serving him human flesh. Jupiter was so angered by this act that he changed Lycaon into a wolf, and destroyed mankind with a deluge. He found, However, that a man and his wife had survived the flood. These last members of the human race were found by Jupiter to be righteous. They had lost all hope, so they visited the temple of the god Themis, and asked her council. They were given hope when she told them cryptically how to restart the human race, which they eventually did. So even though mankind was almost completely destroyed, there was still hope.

Even though Ovid and Livy may have portrayed the current state of mankind as bad, they offered hope. Livy offered hope in his retelling of historical events by inspiring confidence in Rome. Ovid showed that mankind had been in a downward spiral since creation, but offered the hope that even after mankind’s destruction, it would still survive.

The Contributions of European Monasteries

The monasteries of Europe in the middle ages made huge contributions to western civilization which they are not often given the credit they deserve. They contributed greatly to agriculture, technology, education, infrastructure, and the preservation of great works of western literature.

The monks were very active in agriculture and animal husbandry. They cleared forests for land, and established farms. They also taught animal husbandry to local people. Monks also produced many items which were needed by regular people, such as flour, beer, and leather. There were some monasteries which specialized in metallurgy, and were the main suppliers of metal products in some areas. Some monasteries produced goods by harnessing water power by the use of complicated mechanical apparatuses, contributing to the technology of the middle ages.

Some monasteries repaired local infrastructure, doing things like fixing bridges or roads. Some even created new infrastructure. Monks also contributed to education by founding schools. The monks also copied manuscripts, mostly were religious, but many great secular works of Latin and Greek literature were preserved through the monasteries.

Western civilization is greatly indebted to the monasteries of the middle ages for contributing greatly to agriculture, technology, education, and also the preservation of the great works of Latin and Greek literature. Without the monasteries, western civilization would have run a different course.

Fear of Catiline in Cicero’s Orations

Cicero had several goals in his orations on Catiline. He was able to achieve these goals by the use of rhetoric. He manipulated the senate into believing something by playing on their preconceived fears of Catiline and his army.

Cicero claimed that Catiline was a madman, which destroyed his credibility, and made it easy for Cicero to denounce any counter-arguments he might have. Cicero accused Catiline of audacity, which prejudiced the senate against him. He hinted at Catiline’s murder of his wife, and his various personal vices. These accomplished the goal of fostering personal dislike of Catiline among the senators.

Catiline was already feared by the senators, so Cicero did not need convince them of how dangerous he was. All he needed to do was use this fear to control them. It was not difficult for Cicero to convince his audience that Catiline was the enemy of all Rome, and a danger to all of its citizens, because everyone was already afraid of him. Cicero used this fear to his advantage in achieving the goal of affirming the danger of Catiline, and positioning himself as the right person to liberate Rome.

Cicero used the senators’ fear of Catiline and his army to his advantage. If the senators were not already afraid of Catiline, Cicero would have had to start from scratch in convincing them of the danger surrounding him.

Christians And The Roman Government From Trajan To Constantine

The relationship between the early Christians and the Roman government between 112 AD and the reign of Constantine was interesting. The policy of the emperor Trajan on the Christians was spelled out in a reply to letter sent to him by a provincial governor named Pliny the younger.  Pliny asked in his letter what the proper method of dealing with the Christians was. He said that he could not see anything unlawful in their practices, and that he was not actively seeking them out for punishment. Trajan replied that Pliny was doing the correct thing in not seeking them out, but he should punish them if they spoke out that they were Christians. This relationship continued with few, sporadic persecutions but no planned empire-wide ones. Then, in 250, the emperor Decius persecuted nonconformists, and especially the Christians, until 251. After that, from 257 to 258 were the Valerian persecutions, in which Christian bishops were forced to sacrifice to Roman gods, or else be executed. Then came the great persecution under Diocletian, which lasted from 303 to 305. Under the first edict, Christians were not allowed to assemble, and sacred books and churches were destroyed. After a fire at the palace gates, the Christians were suspected and Diocletian cracked down. Christians had to sacrifice to images of the emperor, or be executed. This was the last and most devastating of the persecutions. After Diocletian stepped down, the persecutions became lighter until the emperor Constantine was told in a vision while preparing for battle, “in this sign, you shall conquer”. Believing this to be a message from the Christian God, he outfitted his soldiers’ shields with the letters Chi-Rho, the first two letters of God’s name in Greek. He won the battle, and created the edict of Milan, which extended toleration to the Christians, ending the long string of suffering they had bared for many years.

Logic or Rhetoric in a Catilinian Counterargument

During the first century BC, there was a conspiracy involving a man named Catiline who organized an army of indebted noblemen and soldiers to attempt to overthrow the city of Rome. He was exposed by a consul named Cicero in several famous orations. Cicero’s orations against Catiline were great examples of the use of rhetoric. His arguments did not rely on truth. They simply convinced the audience of something by manipulating their perspective of the situation. Cicero convinced the audience that Catiline was a morally degenerate scoundrel, and that Cicero was a victim of his villainous conspiracies.

Catiline could have made a logical argument denouncing Catiline’s claims as hollow and illogical, which they were, but this probably would not have worked, however. Cicero had the senate under his spell with his legendary skills of rhetoric, and it is doubtful whether Catiline could have shaken Cicero’s hold over them with logic. Catiline would have to bend to Cicero’s level in order to beat him.

Catiline could have lied his way into the senate’s favor by repeating the same self-pity argument that Cicero had used. He could have denounced Cicero as a liar and shaken the senate’s confidence in him. He could have turned the tables and accused Cicero as the real conspirator. There are any number of ways which Catiline could have made Cicero look bad. He did not have to use a logical statement to prove what he was saying. This is rhetoric, which does not rely on truth or logic.

What Catiline should not have done was flaunt his power and military authority in the face of the senate. This would have put the senate in the proper mindset for Cicero to prove his argument that Catiline was trying to destroy the city and murder everybody in their beds.

None of Cicero’s arguments relied on truth or logic. They only relied on the use of rhetoric and deception to convince the senate that Catiline was a bad guy. A counter-argument by Catiline that depended on the use of reason and logical thinking is unlikely to have won. The only way that Catiline had a chance to defeat Cicero was to employ the use of rhetoric more effectively.

Christianity and the Ancient Religions

Christianity was unlike other religions that came before it. It was different from the Greek religion and other polytheistic religions of that time. It was also very different from the Hebrew religion, which was monotheistic. Even though it was different, it fulfilled the wants of philosophers and thinkers who had already drifted away from the traditional Greek religion by the time of Socrates.

Christianity and the Greek religion could really not be more opposite. For one, Christianity was a monotheistic religion, and the Greek religion was polytheistic. The Christians viewed their God as supreme and omnipotent, subject to nothing. None of the Greek gods were omnipotent, and even though Zeus was the king he was not completely sovereign. The Greek and Roman religions practiced something called syncretism, in which they subsumed the gods of the people they had conquered, and absorbed other philosophies and groups of thought into their own religion. The Christian doctrine was very central and non-changing, and since it was a monotheistic religion, new gods could not be added. In addition to being omnipotent, the Christian God was also ethically perfect, incapable of evil or deceit. The Greek gods were not ethically bound to anything, and did whatever they pleased.

Despite similarities, the Christian and Hebrew religions had many differences. The Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people, the only ones who could be saved. Christianity was for all of the world, and anyone could be saved. The Jews were strict in obeying the exact letter of the law, like not walking over 200 yards with a heavy object on the sabbath, or not eating an egg laid on the sabbath. Christianity focused more on the spirit of the law, not letter of it, like simply not doing any unnecessary work on the sabbath, so as to respect God’s command to rest on his day.

Christianity did, however, satisfy a desire among philosophers for a religion centered around morality. Dissatisfaction with the traditional Greek religion began with some of the pre-socratic philosophers, such as Xenophanes. Later, Plato and Aristotle taught that virtue and morality were central to living a good life, which indirectly criticized the Greek religion. Up until the coming of Christ, faultfinding with the Greek religion abounded. There was the playwright Euripides, who made the Greek myths appear ridiculous by portraying them in their entirety. Some Hellenistic philosophies such as Stoicism opposed the Greek and Roman religions by teaching selfless virtue and indifference to pleasure or pain. There were mystery religions which focused less on the city and more on the individual, and drew in people who found the Greek and Roman religions lacking in individuality.

Christianity was very different from religions that came before it, but old schools of thought and philosophies anticipated it. By the time of the Christ’s birth, people were looking for a religion that governed ethical activity. Some people may wonder why He came at such a backward time, but He could not have come at a more perfect moment.

Essay 6: On Intermediate Disturbance

Imagine a prairie which normally suffers a fire every two to three years, but has not had one for 100. One would imagine that this lack of disturbance would lead to a flourish in species diversity in this community. This, however, is not the case.

Let us take some examples. In forests, especially those with a closed canopy (like tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, coniferous forests, etc.), not a lot of light can penetrate to the forest floor. This means that small plants and new trees will never have the opportunity to grow, thereby limiting species diversity. In the event of a fire, or the falling of a tree, however, the canopy will be broken up which creates new ecological niches, and new trees will have an chance to grow. In a redwood forest without any disturbance ever, there will never be anything but redwoods.

To much disturbance poses different problems. In forest with frequent fires, or the constant felling of trees, species will be destroyed because of the destruction of their niches. The population of a monkey whose preferred habitat is the upper canopy of a rainforest will not be destroyed if a tree falls. But if humans come and begin felling too many trees, the monkey could go extinct in that region.

A prairie which does not suffer any disturbance does not open up any new ecological niches, and limits species diversity. Perhaps the population of large grazers like buffalo has exploded because nothing threatens their primary food source, grass. This could have a negative impact on other species. An occasional fire would destroy part of the grass, and decrease the population of buffalo, giving other species an opportunity to recover. This theory that says that occasional disturbance is necessary for the diversity of a community is called the intermediate disturbance hypothesis.

Cause and Effect in ‘The Eumenides’ and ‘Works and Days’

The views expressed by Hesiod on ethics and sanctions in Works and Days are opposed to those of the Furies in Aeschylus’s final play in the Orestia trilogy, The Eumenides.

In Works and Days, there seems to be an element of forgiveness. Hesiod believed that his brother had cheated him out of his inheritance by bribing the courts, and yet most of the book is devoted to giving his brother advice on how to live a successful and happy life. There is no element of forgiveness in the system of justice of the Furies, simply vengeance.

In Works and Days, the ultimate source of ethical justice and sanctions is Zeus and other Olympian gods. The earthly courts of law are viewed as corrupt and untrustworthy because they can receive bribes. The Furies in The Eumenides are the main source of sanctions. They did not view the law courts as a legitimate system of justice until Athena convinced them of their authority by the use of bribes.

The systems of ethical cause and effect in Works and Days and The Eumenides are very different. The Fury’s view of justice in The Eumenides is retribution without mercy, until they are bribed by Athena to accept the judgement of an earthly court set up by her. The Furies view the underground gods as superior to the Olympian gods because they have been around much longer, and have the benefit of tradition. In Works and Days, Hesiod seemed to forgive his brother of cheating on his inheritance by giving him advice that would assist him in becoming successful. Hesiod thought that the law courts could not be trusted to do justice because they received bribes. Hesiod also believed that the Olympian gods (in particular Zeus) were superior. The ideas of justice, ethics and sanctions in Works and Days and in The Eumenides are quite fundamentally opposed.