Sunday, January 2, 2011

"The totality of the Gods" (Lies, Damned Lies, & Pagan Monotheism, Part Deux)

In 1957, French scholar Gilbert Francois published a massive (nearly 400 pages) study of all occurrences of the singular nouns ὁ θεὸς (ho theos, "the God"), and ὁ δαίμων (ho daimon, "the daemon") in Greek literature from Homer to Plato. The title of the work is Le Polythéisme et l'emploi au singulier des mots ΘΕΟΣ, ΛΑΙΜΩΝ dans la littérature grecque d'Homère à Platon.

Francois' findings were summarized in a review of his book by Joseph Fontenrose, published in vol. 55, no.1 of the journal Classical Philology (Jan., 1960), from which the following is excerpted:
"Gilbert Francois [has] devoted a fairly big book to a thorough and painstaking study of every passage of Greek literature from Homer to Plato in which the singulars (ho) theos and (ho) daimon are used without obvious reference to an individual deity; and along with these singulars he studies every occurence of the substantives to theion and to daimonion.

"Francois shows that in most passages where the unspecific theos and daimon occur the singular is equivalent to (hoi) theoi and (hoi) daimones, when these plurals mean all Gods or all supernatural powers together. It is used exactly as "man" is used in English as a collective singular to mean "makind" or "(all) men." Theos, therefore, often means "godkind" as simply another term for all the Gods in one, divinity in general. Taking one by one every Greek author who lived and wrote before 350 BC, he shows by quotation of parallel passages as often as possible from a single work of the author concerned, that again and again (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi are used to express identical thoughts, and that no distinction can be made between them. Often singular and plural alternate within a single passage or argument, both obviously indicating one and the same divine power, the totality of the Gods."
[Classical Philology, Vol. 55, No. 1, p. 55]
Also see this previous blog entry where there is an especially relevant passage from Plato's Timaeus that offers a clear example of not only the plural and the singular of theos being used interchangeably, but even of the phrase "Gods and Goddesses" being explicitly used as well:
Pagan Cosmology: not quite random thoughts on Platonism, polytheism, monism, and so forth

And in this post are discussed (somewhat bluntly) the current crop of "Pagan Monotheism" peddlers (descendants of a long and prestigious line of Christian apologists going back to Eusebius & Co.), headed up by Stephen Mitchell:
Lies, Damned Lies, and Pagan Monotheism

Last, but not least, in this post there is a moderately detailed presentation of primary source material from a number of late-antique Pagans often wrongly identified as "Pagan Monotheists":
Hic sunt dracones

Full citation for the review of Francois' book quoted above:
Joseph Fontenrose
Reviewed work(s): Le Polythéisme et l'emploi au singulier des mots θεός daimwn dans la littérature grecque d'Homère à Platon by Gilbert François
Classical Philology
Vol. 55, No. 1 (Jan., 1960), pp. 55-58
(review consists of 4 pages)
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL:


Anonymous said...

Thank you sincerely for this, on an issue I’ve long belabored. I believe that one of the primary ways we must combat the ‘pagan monotheism’ canard, in addition to the sort of thing you do here, is to sensitive more people to the difference between a monism with respect to principles and either substance monism or monotheism.

When Platonists say that the ultimate principle of things is unity, they are saying something precisely opposite what most modern pagans, and lazy or biased scholars, take them to be saying, which is that all things are, at bottom, reducible to some one thing.

They are in fact saying that of all the different attributes things possess, the one attribute which is ultimate is the very one which DOES NOT REDUCE THE NUMBER OF ENTITIES, or the number of kinds of entities, since a thing’s unity, that is, its individuality, is the one trait it cannot share with anything else, unlike any of its formal traits.

Hence Platonism is the polytheistic philosophical position par excellence, because it is the ultimate anti-reductionism; and this is why the Christians had to get rid of the pagan Platonists before they could refashion Platonism into a system of monotheist apologetics by, in effect, jettisoning the whole philosophical core of Platonic henology and retaining the rhetoric alone, so that the principle of ‘unity’ (to hen) could be interpreted, nonsensically, as a numerically singular supreme deity.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I agree wholeheartedly agree with you on the issue of monism, and also on the centrality of Platonism, "the polytheistic philosophical position par excellence"!!

The Achilles' heel of modern Paganism is its lack of connection with ancient literary and philosophical sources of understanding.