A Philosopher’s Hymn to Zeus


Cleanthes of Assos, Hymn to Zeus (= Stobaeus Eclogae 1.25.3-1.27.4; von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta I.537)

Cleanthes (ca. 330-230 BCE) was the second head of the Stoic school of philosophy, after its founder Zeno.  In this hymn he fuses the traditional picture of Zeus (sky-god, lord of the thunderbolt) with the Stoic conception of deity as identical with “providence” (πρόνοια) and “right reason” (ὀρθὸς λόγος).  The Stoic deity had a physical existence, and was diffused throughout the entire universe in the form of πνεῦμα (a mixture of air and fire); the greater the tension of the πνεῦμα one possesses, the greater one’s powers of reason.  For the adherent of Stoicism, the goal of life was to act voluntarily in perfect harmony with the dictates of “right reason”; only thus could one achieve true happiness (εὐδαιμονία).  This requires knowledge of reason’s dictates, and so the Stoics concluded, following Socrates, that all wrongdoing was ultimately the product of ignorance (ἄγνοια).

Dedicated to nineisamagicnumber, who requested that I post something on ancient Greek philosophy.

Most glorious of the immortals, you who bear many names, forever all-powerful,
Zeus, leader of nature, you who govern all things with law,
Hail.  For it is proper for all mortals to address you,
Since we are your offspring, we alone of all creatures that live and move
Upon the earth have been allotted the capacity to imitate god.
Therefore I shall hymn you, and never cease singing of your might.
All this universe that whirls around the earth obeys you
Wherever you might lead it- willingly it submits to your power.
Such a servant do you hold in your invincible hands-
The forked, fiery, ever-living thunderbolt.
For by its blows all works of nature are accomplished;
With it you make straight common reason, which travels
Through all things, mingled with lights both great and small.
No deed on earth happens without you, o divinity,
Nor any in the divine pole of heaven, nor in the sea,
Except for what bad men do in their ignorance.
But you know how to make bent things straight
And how to put disorderly things in order- things unloved are loved by you.
For thus you have fitted all things into one, good things together with bad,
So that there comes to be one reason for all things, which exists forever.
But those of mortals who are wicked flee and ignore this reason,
Ill-fated men, who forever desire the possession of good things
Yet neither see nor heed the common law of god;
If they obeyed that law with intelligence, they would enjoy an excellent life.
In turn they rush, those fools, each to his own evil-
Some in strife-causing zeal for glory,
Others turned to profit without due order,
Others seeking indolence and the sweet works of the flesh.
But they meet with evils instead; they are borne now toward one thing, now toward another,
Desperately eager to receive the opposite of what they actually get.
But, o Zeus, giver of all gifts, surrounded by dark clouds, wielder of bright lightning,
Protect men from this baneful ineptitude of theirs;
Disperse it from their souls, and grant that they may attain knowledge,
The knowledge on which you rely as you govern all things with justice,
So that we, receiving honor, may pay honor to you in turn,
Hymning your deeds without cease, as is fitting
For one who is mortal, since neither for gods nor for men is there a greater privilege
Than this: to sing eternally of the common law with justice.

Κύδιστ’ ἀθανάτων, πολυώνυμε παγκρατὲς αἰεί,
Ζεῦ φύσεως ἀρχηγέ, νόμου μετὰ πάντα κυβερνῶν,
χαῖρε· σὲ γὰρ καὶ πᾶσι θέμις θνητοῖσι προσαυδᾶν.
Ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ γενόμεσθα, θεοῦ μίμημα λαχόντες
μοῦνοι, ὅσα ζώει τε καὶ ἕρπει θνήτ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν·
τῷ σε καθυμνήσω, καὶ σὸν κράτος αἰὲν ἀείσω.
Σοὶ δὴ πᾶς ὅδε κόσμος ἑλισσόμενος περὶ γαῖαν
πείθεται ᾗ κεν ἄγῃς, καὶ ἑκὼν ὑπὸ σεῖο κρατεῖται·
τοῖον ἔχεις ὑποεργὸν ἀνικήτοις ἐνὶ χερσὶν
ἀμφήκη πυρόεντ’ αἰειζώοντα κεραυνόν·
τοῦ γὰρ ὑπὸ πληγῇς φύσεως πάντ’ ἔργα βέβηκεν,  
ᾧ σὺ κατευθύνεις κοινὸν λόγον, ὃς διὰ πάντων
φοιτᾷ μιγνύμενος μεγάλῳ μικροῖς τε φάεσσιν. 
Οὐδέ τι γίγνεται ἔργον ἐπὶ χθονὶ σοῦ δίχα, δαῖμον,
οὔτε κατ’ αἰθέριον θεῖον πόλον, οὔτ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ,
πλὴν ὁπόσα ῥέζουσι κακοὶ σφετέραισιν ἀνοίαις.
Ἀλλὰ σὺ καὶ τὰ περισσὰ ἐπίστασαι ἄρτια θεῖναι,  
καὶ κοσμεῖν τἄκοσμα, καὶ οὐ φίλα σοὶ φίλα ἐστίν.
Ὧδε γὰρ εἰς ἓν πάντα συνήρμοκας ἐσθλὰ κακοῖσιν,
ὥσθ’ ἕνα γίγνεσθαι πάντων λόγον αἰὲν ἐόντα,  
ὃν φεύγοντες ἐῶσιν ὅσοι θνητῶν κακοί εἰσιν,
δύσμοροι, οἵ τ’ ἀγαθῶν μὲν ἀεὶ κτῆσιν ποθέοντες
οὔτ’ ἐσορῶσι θεοῦ κοινὸν νόμον οὔτε κλύουσιν,
ᾧ κεν πειθόμενοι σὺν νῷ βίον ἐσθλὸν ἔχοιεν·
αὐτοὶ δ’ αὖθ’ ὁρμῶσιν ἄνοι κακὸν ἄλλος ἐπ’ ἄλλο,  
οἳ μὲν ὑπὲρ δόξης σπουδὴν δυσέριστον ἔχοντες,
οἳ δ’ ἐπὶ κερδοσύνας τετραμμένοι οὐδενὶ κόσμῳ
ἄλλοι δ’ εἰς ἄνεσιν καὶ σώματος ἡδέα ἔργα.
ἀλλὰ κακοῖς ἐπέκυρσαν, ἐπ’ ἄλλοτε δ’ ἄλλα φέρονται,
σπεύδοντες μάλα πάμπαν ἐναντία τῶνδε γενέσθαι.
Ἀλλὰ Ζεῦ πάνδωρε κελαινεφὲς ἀργικέραυνε,
ἀνθρώπους ῥύου μὲν ἀπειροσύνης ἀπὸ λυγρῆς,  
ἣν σύ, πάτερ, σκέδασον ψυχῆς ἄπο, δὸς δὲ κυρῆσαι
γνώμης, ᾗ πίσυνος σὺ δίκης μέτα πάντα κυβερνᾷς,
ὄφρ’ ἂν τιμηθέντες ἀμειβώμεσθά σε τιμῇ,
ὑμνοῦντες τὰ σὰ ἔργα διηνεκές, ὡς ἐπέοικε
θνητὸν ἐόντ’, ἐπεὶ οὔτε βροτοῖς γέρας ἄλλο τι μεῖζον
οὔτε θεοῖς, ἢ κοινὸν ἀεὶ νόμον ἐν δίκῃ ὑμνεῖν.


Zeus with an eagle.  Tondo of a Laconian black-figure cup, attributed to the Naucratis Painter; ca. 560 BCE.  Now in the Louvre.


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