An argument for the Gods having a human form

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An argument for the Gods having a human form

Postby Caeso Cispius Laevus » Fri Oct 28, 2016 11:02 pm

Sal.

What are your views on the anthropomorphic form of the Gods?

Below is a statement from Cicero on the topic.

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.46-8

Concerning the appearance of the gods we have both the hints offered by nature as well
as the teaching of reason. It is clearly due to nature that all people of all races conceive of
the gods in none other but human form. For in what other shape do they ever appear to
anyone, either awake or asleep? But not to reduce everything to the most basic concepts,
reason itself proves the same thing. For it seems logical that what is naturally the highest
form of existence, whether because of its supreme happiness or because of its immortality,
should-also be the most beautiful. And what arrangement of limbs, what cast of features,
what shape or form can be more beautiful than the human? You Stoics at least, Lucilius,'
(for my friend Cotta: here says now one thing, now another) tend to portray the skill of
the divine creator by describing not only the utility but also the beauty of all the parts of
the human figure. But if the human figure is superior to the form of all living things, and
a god is a living thing, then a god surely has the most beautiful form of all; and since it is
agreed that the gods are supremely happy, and that no one can be happy without virtue,
and that virtue cannot exist without reason, and that reason can be found nowhere but in
the human figure, then it must be conceded that the gods have human form. But this
form is not really corporeal, but merely resembles a human body; it does not have blood,
merely the semblance of blood.
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Re: An argument for the Gods having a human form

Postby Gaius Curtius Philo » Sat Oct 29, 2016 2:06 am

I would disagree with Cicero on this one myself. For me his argument is more one of his opinion regarding beauty and reason. On both his arguments:
I) The beauty of the human body - This is completely opinion. Many people see more beauty in other natural bodies (like valleys, mountains and streams) then in the natural body of Mankind. The beauty of the human body is completely subjective and is also objectively inperfect, with many "design flaws" and weaknesses.

II) The exclusive rationality of Man - Here is another bad argument, because Cicero assumes that only humans are capable of higher thought when in actuallity there could be in the future or in other worlds other beings that are capable of higher thought. There is nothing singular in humanity that makes it logical that ONLY humans are capable of higher thought. In this Cicero fell on the falacy of the cat with four paws. "A cat has four paws. Dogs have four paws. Thus, dogs are cats."

It COULD be that gods have human like forms but I do not think there is any argument that can convincingly say so in favour or against it. For that eeason all I can give is my opinion. For me personally the Gods do not naturally have human form. They assume human form when necessary and for our better comprehension of them. But they are for me forces that are beyond Form. Thought instead of Matter. For me the Gods have the form of Gravity, of Time, of Centripital Force. In other words, their existence is felt but they cannot be seen as a physical thing. Not unless they wish it so. That is my view at least.
"Ignis aurum probat" - Seneca
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Re: An argument for the Gods having a human form

Postby Publius Iulius Albinus » Sun Oct 30, 2016 11:22 am

I believe that the gods, in their "natural state" have no form. They are inherently beings of spirit. The numinous presence behind the natural world and natural forces. That being said, I also believe that if they so will it, they can take human form. In many ways. The most common I've personally experienced has been in dreams and trance states, and in others' being possessed during ecstatic rituals or while in trance states. I'm not going to write off the possibility of them appearing in solid human-shaped form, but I haven't seen it happen yet. I am relatively certain that altered states of consciousness, particularly trace states, were the original vehicle for human experience of the gods as gods rather than as unknowable natural forces. There is some evidence pointing to this in the academic literature on Neolithic religion, specifically Inside the Neolithic Mind by David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce.

I am of the opinion that the gods present themselves in human form to people in order to better communicate with them. Perhaps it started with human lack of understanding in our early interactions with the gods, some fear of unknown or strange phenomena. The gods then took a form we'd be comfortable with, something with which we would react with familiarity, i.e. ourselves. Over time, this whole thing snowballed into us ascribing certain identifiable traits to the gods, resulting in the very anthropomorphic depictions in Greek and Near Eastern religion. My understanding of the Romans is that they did not fully adopt Greek anthropomorphism, or did not until very late in the Hellenistic period; it remained primarily a poetic and literary device, or a vehicle for public identification of the gods through signs and symbols.
These being the words of Publius Iulius Albinus Alexander.
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Re: An argument for the Gods having a human form

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Sun Oct 30, 2016 12:10 pm

Salvete amici!

Well, at least we can be quite sure that the divine Caesar or Augustus and even Romulus (later identified with Quirinus) had a human form.
It is not unlikely that many gods are based on historical persons or merged with them.

Then we have goddesses representing abstract terms (They are always female.) like Iustitia, Victoria, Concordia etc. Of course their nature is abstract and the human form is just an artistic depiction.

At last we have natural phenomena made gods like Tiberinus, Sol Invictus, Tellus Mater. They have obviously no human form as we can easily verify by just looking at them, but they may artistically be depicted as such.

Many gods of the Roman Pantheon however are the product of merging distinct gods together. So there are gods of which all of the above is true. They were once historical persons merged with an abstract principle that they might have followed in their way of life and then merged with a natural phenomenon.
Even Iuppiter might be such an example. Perhaps a prehistoric king (the same that Zeus refers to) but merged with the biggest planet in the sky (Jupiter) and with the abstract concept of political power. So does he have a human form? - Yes - no - no. The human part is meanwhile dead (But if one believes in an afterlife, his soul is still around.); the planet is still there in the sky and will be there for the next billions of years; and the abstract idea is eternal of course.

The gods have different natures, each of them is quite evident and, different from the completely fictions monotheist concept of a god, not a subject of faith. I do not need any faith to know that the divine Augustus existed and shaped the world according to his will. And yes, he had a human form. It is also not a matter of faith.

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Re: An argument for the Gods having a human form

Postby Tiberius Publicius Gracchus » Wed Nov 02, 2016 9:49 pm

Cicero himself criticizes this viewpoint later on in book 1. If I recall, he brings up that other animals besides humans always prefer their own form, that some nations, such as the Egyptians conceive of their Gods as part human part animal, and that the sun, moon, planets and stars are regarded as Gods, but they do not have human form. Later I will look at my notes and post a more complete response. In book 2 and three, Cicero discusses the Stoic system, which he agrees with more. So he presents the Stoic view of diety in book 2 and criticises it in book 3.

I have been reading your responses in this thread. I myself am not sure what a God is. I have prayed to some of them and they answered my prayers, but other than that I can't say for sure what they are. I do think they exist in a higher spiritual plane. So far I have not found any of the arguments is Cicero's book to be very convincing. I especially disagree with the notion that the Gods just sit around all day doing nothing, which is apparently one of the Epicurean arguments discussed in book one.

Caeso Cispius Laevus wrote:Sal.

What are your views on the anthropomorphic form of the Gods?

Below is a statement from Cicero on the topic.

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.46-8

Concerning the appearance of the gods we have both the hints offered by nature as well
as the teaching of reason. It is clearly due to nature that all people of all races conceive of
the gods in none other but human form. For in what other shape do they ever appear to
anyone, either awake or asleep? But not to reduce everything to the most basic concepts,
reason itself proves the same thing. For it seems logical that what is naturally the highest
form of existence, whether because of its supreme happiness or because of its immortality,
should-also be the most beautiful. And what arrangement of limbs, what cast of features,
what shape or form can be more beautiful than the human? You Stoics at least, Lucilius,'
(for my friend Cotta: here says now one thing, now another) tend to portray the skill of
the divine creator by describing not only the utility but also the beauty of all the parts of
the human figure. But if the human figure is superior to the form of all living things, and
a god is a living thing, then a god surely has the most beautiful form of all; and since it is
agreed that the gods are supremely happy, and that no one can be happy without virtue,
and that virtue cannot exist without reason, and that reason can be found nowhere but in
the human figure, then it must be conceded that the gods have human form. But this
form is not really corporeal, but merely resembles a human body; it does not have blood,
merely the semblance of blood.
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