Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity by Michael Frede, Polymnia Athanassiadi

By Michael Frede, Polymnia Athanassiadi

During this booklet exceptional specialists from a number disciplines (Orientalists, philologists, philosophers, theologians and historians) handle a vital challenge which lies on the center of the non secular and philosophical debate of past due antiquity. Paganism was once now not a unified culture and hence the papers conceal a large social and highbrow spectrum. specific emphasis is given to numerous facets of the subject: first, monotheistic trust in past due vintage philosophical beliefs and its roots in classical antiquity and the close to East; moment, monistic Gnosticism; 3rd, the revelatory culture as expressed in oracular literature; and at last, the monotheistic development in well known faith.

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We cannot say; but if these reports are reliable, they at least give an indication that Thales had started on the road of emancipating such terms as ‘soul’ and ‘god’ from the limitations of their conventional applications, and making them stand for forces intrinsic to the natural world. On the other hand, they suggest an unlimited plurality of such forces, with no hint of anything pointing towards monotheism. If Thales attributed divinity to the water from which everything came, or to the δ νη by which it must have been possessed, Aristotle has heard nothing of it.

Given this, it would ruin the whole enterprise to assume more than one principle which is divine, unless there turns out to be some special reason for this. A pressure is generated by the very nature of the enterprise to have either no God or a God whose postulation has enough explanatory power for there to be no need to postulate further gods as ultimate active principles. Having a number of them would create immediate pressure to try to reduce them to an ulterior 48 M. Frede single divine principle.

In both Heraclitus and Anaximander we have met the notion that the world is ‘steered’ (κυβερν ν) by a divine power. ‘Steer’ must not be understood too literally; it was not a matter of turning the universe to port or starboard, but of guiding cosmic events in chosen directions. Parmenides, in his account of the phenomenal world, the δ ξαι βρ τειαι, refers to a goddess who steers everything, a δα µων π ντα κυβερν (B 12). She is located in the middle of a system of circles of fire and darkness, and she rules over all birth and mixture by bringing male and female together.

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