Since the time of Epicurus to the present, many people have had certain beliefs in
myths and in the Gods. Epicurus presents his philosophy pertaining to these
convictions. In his reasoning, he derives a definition of mythology and of the Gods
contradicting to much of popular thought.
Many people depend on mythology when they need an explanation for a
phenomenon. Epicurus rationalizes that mythology is unchangeable and dogmatic, for
“when one accepts one theory and rejects another which is equally consistent with the
phenomenon in question, it is clear that one has thereby blundered out of any sort of
proper physics and falled into mythology” (3.87; pg. 20). Epicurus believes that the
cyclical periods of the heavenly bodies cause much of the unexplained meteorological
phenomena. Nevertheless, further knowledge of a natural phenomenon will not alter
the minds of those who believe in mythology because they already have an answer to
their curiosity. They base their beliefs on theories which have no true or logical facts.
These people are those who possess an “inappropriate and lunatic behavior” (3.113;
pg. 27).
Mythology leads to a necessity for Gods. People look to the Gods as a
justification for a phenomenon. For example, if we were to be confused by what
thunder is and what brings about thunder, we would conceive a God to explain the
appearance of thunder. With the rising amount of too many unexplainable
occurrences, people needed to derive more than one God to expand the responsibilities
among each God.
Epicurus does not disagree with the concept of a God; he concludes that they
exist. His conformation lies in what he calls a prolepsis, which is the basic grasp of a
notion of the Gods. This basic knowledge is not one which is taught, but is rather an
innate sense in the minds of all people. Every race and culture has a God and this God
was formed without any conventions, dictations or laws. Epicurus’ logic is that “what
all men agree about must necessarily be true” (16.44; pg. 51). Since the concurrence
of all men believe in Gods, there must really be a God.
Epicurus’ rationale gives God the form of a human being. The same prolepsis
that accounts for the occurrence of Gods also justifies that Gods are blessed and
indestructible. God is to have the form of one which is blessed and eternal and so it
should have the most admirable or beautiful form of existence. Throughout all of
creation, humans have the best extremities, arrangement of features, shape and
altogether appearance. The “human shape is superior to the form of all living things,
and a god is a living thing, then certainly he has the shape which is most beautiful of
all” (16.48; pg. 52); this shape being the shape of humankind. Therefore, God should
take on the appearance of a human being.
The popular belief in Gods are “that they have wishes and undertake actions and
exert causality in a manner inconsistent with those attributes” (2.80; pg. 18). We
possess a fear of the Gods because they are able to affect how we live, how we die and
what happens after we die. This fear is concurrent with our belief of fate, or
heimarmene, and “that whatever happens has flowed from an eternal set of truths and a
continuous chain of causes.” (16.55; pg. 54) The Gods know of everything that we do
and so we must fear them in fear of the consequences that might occur. A God
becomes an “eternal master whom we are to fear by day and by night; for who would
not fear an inquisitive and busy god who foresees everything, and supposes that
everything is his own business?” (16.54; pg. 54) The ideas and logical reasoning of
Epicurus contradicts these beliefs.
Epicurus believes that the Gods are not concerned with human affairs; “for if a
blessed and indestructible animal, overflowing with good things and free of any share
of what is bad, is completely preoccupied with the continuance of his own happiness
and indestructibility and so is not concerned with human affairs.” (108; pg. 97) The
Gods have no responsibilities concerning people or any meteorological phenomena for
they would cause “troubles and concerns and anger and gratitude that are not
consistent with blessedness,