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Refutation: the story of Daphne is improbable

It is pointless to contradict the poets, but they themselves provoke us to contradict them by first inventing such stories about the gods. Is it not absurd that they should have had no respect for the gods, while we have respect for the poets? For my part, I am pained when any of the gods is treated with contempt, but especially Apollo, whom they themselves have made the patron of their own art; for such are the tales they have told about Apollo's Daphne.

Daphne, they say, was the offspring of Earth and Ladon, and excelling others in beauty she made the Pythian her lover. Loving her, he pursued her; pursuing her, he did not catch her, but Earth received her daughter and gave forth a flower bearing the same name as the maiden. He crowned himself with her in her new form, and the plant is displayed as a crown at the Pythian tripod because of his desire for the mortal maiden, and the shoot is made a token of his art. Such are the tales they tell; it is easy to put them to the test as follows.

Daphne was the offspring of Earth and Ladon: what proof does she have of her birth? She was human; theirs is a different nature. How did Ladon have intercourse with Earth? Flooding her with his waters? Then all rivers can be called Earth's husbands, since all flood her. And if a human came forth from a river, then a river can come from humans; for descendants disclose their ancestry. What do they call a marriage of river and earth? A wedding is for sentient beings, of whom the earth is not one. So either Daphne must be classed among streams or Ladon must be reckoned a man.

But let it be so; let us grant to the poets that Daphne was the child of Earth and Ladon. When the girl was born, by whom was she raised? For even if I grant the birth, the rearing is impossible. Where did the girl live? 'By Zeus, with her father.' What human can live in a river? The father would not have noticed whether he was drowning her in his waters or rearing her in his streams. 'But the girl lived beneath the earth with her mother.' Then she was hidden from view; and if she was hidden there was no one to observe her. When a girl's beauty is concealed, love has no beginning.

If you will, let us grant this too to the poets. How did a god love and belie his nature by falling in love? Love is the most burdensome of all things, and it is impious to ascribe the worst evils to the gods. For if the gods are subject to all diseases, how will they differ from mortals? But if they bear love, which is worst of all, why are they free from the rest when they bear the most grievous? But his nature does not know passion, nor was the Pythian seen as a lover.

When the Pythian was chasing the girl, how did he come second to a mortal? Men excel women; do women, then, outclass gods? Does what is lesser among mortals overcome gods?

Why did the mother receive her daughter when she fled? Is marriage a worthless thing? Then how did she herself become a mother? Or a good thing? Then why did she deprive her daughter of what is fine? Either she was not a mother or, if she was, she is to be reckoned a poor one.

Why did Earth act in conflict with her own deeds? She displeased the Pythian by saving her daughter; did she then try to please him by bringing her back? She should not have tried to please if she wanted to displease.

Why was the god crowned with laurel at the tripods? The shoot was a symbol of pleasure, but the power of prophecy is a sign of virtue; how then did the Pythian connect what by nature cannot be joined? What? Was the cause mortal, the passion immortal?

Let there be an end to the poets, lest I seem to be decrying them.


Confirmation: The Story of Daphne is Probable

Whoever contradicts the poets, in my view contradicts the Muses. For if all the utterances of the poets are related at the instigation of the Muses, how can one not contradict the Muses in seeking to abuse what poets say? For my part, I accept the opinions of all the poets, but especially of him who wisely said that Daphne was loved by the Pythian.

Daphne, he says, was the offspring of Earth and Ladon. What, in heaven's name, is incredible in this? Are not water and earth the origin of all things? Are not the elements the seed of life? Then if everything which exists comes of earth and water, Daphne confirms the common stock of all, being the offspring of Earth and Ladon.

And being born whence all things are born, she excelled all others in beauty - as one would expect; for what first issues from the earth comes forth in all the beauty of its nature. For beauty is discerned through many physical changes, but what appears first is fairer than them all. It is not surprising, then, that Daphne excelled in beauty, since she was the first-born from the earth.

Because Daphne excelled in beauty the Pythian loved the girl; this too is what one would expect. For if anything fine lives on earth it has come forth from the gods; and if beauty is the most blessed of the good things on earth, because beauty is a gift of the gods, beauty had a god as lover. For what the gods give they all cherish.

Being in love, the god chose to heal his passion. For such are the virtues: they are acquired by effort, and without toil it is not possible to attain virtue. Hence he loved and toiled, toiled and did not overtake; for it is not possible to attain the end of virtue. Hence when they say that the Pythian was in love they are not denying the nature of the gods, but showing that the nature of virtue is responsible. The one who pursued shows the character of the object pursued.

When the girl fled, her mother received her. For this is the nature of all mortal creatures: whence they come forth, thither they hasten to return. Wherefore Daphne goes to Earth, having come forth from the earth.

When she received the maiden, Earth gave forth a plant, for these are both works of the earth; to the earth men fall, and from it trees grow.

When the plant appeared it became a cause of honor to Apollo. For the gods do not exclude even plants from their providence, but crown themselves with what grows. For the first fruits of the earth are dedicated to the gods. And it became a sign of prophecy; this, too, I think is fitting. For they call the girl Sophrone, and oracular power proceeds from self-control [sophrosune]. Because the girl was unacquainted with pleasure, she is a dedication to the virtues. For no one afflicted with lack of self-control can foresee the future.


Commonplace: Against a Tyrant

Since laws are established and courts are part of our constitution the man who tries to put an end to laws should be punished by the laws. For if acquittal in the present case was going to make him more friendly to the people in the future perhaps one would remit the penalty; but in fact if acquitted now he will be more oppressive in the future - and how can it be right to allow leniency towards this man to be the beginning of tyranny? All others who are chosen for jury-service come to no harm if they dismiss the charges; but dismissing a charge of tyranny will bring harm on the jurors, for jury-service itself no longer survives under a tyrant's rule.

It seems to me that you will form a more accurate view of this man's intent if you take into account the intentions of our ancestors. As if as a favor to us they discovered a form of government free of despotism - and justly so. For at different times different fortunes befall men and change they way they think. So they invented laws, correcting fortune's instability by the impartiality of laws; and so they produced a single standard of judgment for all. And this is what law is for cities, the correction of evils caused by fortune.

All of which this man disregarded when he devised a most diabolical plan, to change the constitution's basic law. This is how he spoke to himself: 'What is this, in heaven's name! Shall I, who clearly stand above the masses, consent to outright equality with all the rest? Shall I permit fortune to lavish wealth on me in vain? If I submit to the same conditions as the masses, and the poor assemble to take decisions, then the resolution of the masses is a law to me. So what will be my deliverance from this? I will seize the acropolis, I will set aside these miserable laws, and I will be a law to the masses, not the majority to me.' That is what he said to himself - but he did not bring it to fulfillment; the favor of the gods prevented that. Do not let something for which we owe the gods thanksgiving preserve this man today.

A murderer is terrible, but a tyrant is worse. The one commits butchery on some single individual, but the other overthrows in their entirety the fortunes of the city. To the degree that inflicting a little pain falls short of butchering all, to that degree a murderer is of less consequence than a tyrant.

All other men, no matter how heinous their crimes, can make a distinction between their intention and their action; the tyrant alone cannot claim that his reckless enterprise was involuntary. For if he had undertaken tyranny against his will perhaps one would remit the penalty; but since he did this deliberately, how can it be right to exempt what had, before the deed, come about in intention?

All other men who are brought for judgment before you are held to account for the present only, and they are often acquitted on account of their past life. This man alone is subject to judgment for his past as well as for his present life. He did not live his past life with moderation; the present is worse than what preceded it. He should be punished for both, for the pain he caused before and for the pain he has subsequently caused.

Who, then, will plead for his freedom? 'By god, his children.' But when they weep and wail picture the laws standing by them; it is far more just to cast your vote for them than for this man's children. For this man's children would have sustained his tyranny, but it is because of the laws that you serve on the jury. You are more bound in justice to cast your vote for the laws, through which you have received your places on the jury.

Moreover, if it is the law that those who free their country be honored, it follows that those who enslave it are to be punished. And it is just that the penalty should be fixed on your part equal to what he himself has done. The fall of the tyrant will do good, since it will make the laws secure. It is easy to bring about this man's punishment; for though he needed bodyguards to establish his tyranny, you have no need of allies to overthrow the tyrant. The jurymen's vote will suffice to bring to nothing the power of tyranny in its entirety.


Page Created on May 3, 2000
Last updated on May 3, 2000
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