As for religion, you can take this position: that God exists, that He runs the universe well and fairly, that you should obey and yield to His will in everything, and do so voluntarily, as following the wisest leader. Do this, and you’ll never blame God or feel He’s neglected you. The only way to do this is to stop trying to control things you can’t control, and to see good and evil only in those things that are truly up to you.
If you think any of the things you can’t control is good or evil, then you’ll certainly, sooner or later, miss your good or encounter your evil, and then you’ll find fault and hate the cause of the circumstance. Nature makes all animals avoid what seems harmful and what causes it, and seek what seems useful and what causes that. It’s impossible then for a rational person who thinks she’s been hurt to take pleasure in either the hurt itself or its cause.
A child resents the parent who gives nothing of the apparently good. That’s what made Polynices and Eteocles enemies: each had the idea that ruling Thebes – by himself – was good. So it is with those who think God is holding out on them: farmers, sailors, businessmen and those who’ve lost loved ones, all sometimes curse God. It’s not surprising; their interests determine their piety or lack of it.
By contrast, one who looks after her attitudes, seeking and avoiding only what’s actually in her control, has no trouble maintaining a relationship with God. And to worship according to the traditions of your family and community is proper.
In piety towards the gods, I would have you know, the chief element is this, to have right opinions about them—as existing and as administering the universe well and justly—and to have set yourself to obey them and to submit to everything that happens, and to follow it voluntarily, in the belief that it is being fulfilled by the highest intelligence. For if you act in this way, you will never blame the gods, nor find fault with them for neglecting you. But this result cannot be secured in any other way than by withdrawing your idea of the good and the evil from the things which are not under our control, and placing it in those which are under our control, and in those alone. Because, if you think any of those former things to be good or evil, then, when you fail to get what you want and fall into what you do not want, it is altogether inevitable that you will blame and hate those who are responsible for these results. For this is the nature of every living creature, to flee from and to turn aside from the things that appear harmful, and all that produces them, and to pursue after and to admire the things that are helpful, and all that produces them. Therefore, it is impossible for a man who thinks that he is being hurt to take pleasure in that which he thinks is hurting him, just as it is also impossible for him to take pleasure in the hurt itself. Hence it follows that even a father is reviled by a son when he does not give his child some share in the things that seem to be good; and this it was which made Polyneices and Eteocles enemies of one another, the thought that the royal power was a good thing. That is why the farmer reviles the gods, and so also the sailor, and the merchant, and those who have lost their wives and their children. For where a man’s interest lies, there is also his piety. Wherefore, whoever is careful to exercise desire and aversion as he should, is at the same time careful also about piety. But it is always appropriate to make libations, and sacrifices, and to give of the firstfruits after the manner of our fathers, and to do all this with purity, and not in a slovenly or careless fashion, nor, indeed, in a niggardly way, nor yet beyond our means.
For piety towards the gods know that the most important thing is this: to have right opinions about them—that they exist, and that they govern the universe well and justly—and to have set yourself to obey them, and to give way to all that happens, following events with a free will, in the belief that they are fulfilled by the highest mind. For thus you will never blame the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. But this you cannot achieve, unless you apply your conception of good and evil to those things only which are in our power, and not to those which are out of our power. For if you apply your notion of good or evil to the latter, then, as soon as you fail to get what you will to get or fail to avoid what you will to avoid, you will be bound to blame and hate those you hold responsible. For every living creature has a natural tendency to avoid and shun what seems harmful and all that causes it, and to pursue and admire what is helpful and all that causes it. It is not possible then for one who thinks he is harmed to take pleasure in what he thinks is the author of the harm, any more than to take pleasure in the harm itself. That is why a father is reviled by his son, when he does not give his son a share of what the son regards as good things; thus Polynices and Eteocles were set at enmity with one another by thinking that a king’s throne was a good thing. That is why the farmer, and the sailor, and the merchant, and those who lose wife or children revile the gods. For men’s religion is bound up with their interest. Therefore he who makes it his concern rightly to direct his will to get and his will to avoid, is thereby making piety his concern. But it is proper on each occasion to make libation and sacrifice and to offer first-fruits according to the custom of our fathers, with purity and not in slovenly or careless fashion, without meanness and without extravagance.
As to piety toward the gods you must know that this is the chief thing, to have right opinions about them, to think that they exist, and that they administer the All wellll you accuse them of neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be done in any other way than by withdrawing from the things which are not in our power, and by placing the good and the evil only in those things which are in our power. For if you think that any of the things which are not in our power is good or bad, it is absolutely necessary that, when you do not obtain what you wish, and when you fall into those things which you do not wish, you will find fault and hate those who are the cause of them; for every animal is formed by nature to this, to fly from and to turn from the things which appear harmful and the things which are the cause of the harm, but to follow and admire the things which are useful and the causes of the useful.
It is impossible, then, for a person who thinks that he is harmed to be delighted with that which he thinks to be the cause of the harm, as it is also impossible to be pleased with the harm itself. For this reason also a father is reviled by his son, when he gives no part to his son of the things which are considered to be good: and it was this which made Polynices and Eteocles enemies, the opinion that royal power was a good. It is for this reason that the cultivator of the earth reviles the gods, for this reason the sailor does, and the merchant, and for this reason those who lose their wives and their children. For where the useful (your interest) is, there also piety is. Consequently, he who takes care to desire as he ought and to avoid as he ought, at the same time also cares after piety. But to make libations and to sacrifice and to offer first fruits according to the custom of our fathers, purely and not meanly nor carelessly nor scantily nor above our ability, is a thing which belongs to all to do.
If religion towards the Gods, know that the principal element is to have right opinions about them, as existing, and as managing the Whole in fair order and justice; and then to set yourself to obey them, and to yield to them in all that happens and to follow it willingly, as accomplished under the highest counsels. For thus you will never at any time blame the Gods, nor accuse them of being neglectful.
But this can be done in no other way than by placing good and evil in the things that depend upon ourselves, and withdrawing them from those that do not; for if you take any of the latter things for good or evil, then when you fail to obtain what you desire, and fall into what you would avoid, it is inevitable that you must blame and hate those who caused you to do so.
For it is the inherent nature of every creature to fly from and shun all things that appear harmful, and the causes of the same, but to follow after and admire things, and the causes of things, which appear beneficial. It is impossible then that one who thinks himself harmed should take delight in that which seems to harm him, just as it is impossible that he should take delight in the very injury itself.
And thus it is that a father is reviled by his son when he will not give him a share of the things that are thought to be good. And it was this that set Polyneices and Eteocles at war with each other, the opinion, namely, that royalty was a good. And through this the Gods are blamed by the husband man and the sailor, by the merchant and by those who lose their wives or children. For when advantage is, there also is religion. So that he who is careful to desire and to dislike as he ought is careful at the same time of religion.
But it is right too that every man should pour libations, and offer sacrifices, and offer firstfruits according to the customs of his fathers, purely, and not supinely, nor negligently, nor indeed scantily, yet not beyond his means.
Be assured that the essence of piety towards the gods lies in this, to form right opinions concerning them, as existing, and as governing the universe justly and well. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them amidst all events, as being ruled by the most perfect wisdom. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected in any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things which are not within our own power, and by making good or evil to consist only in those which are. For if you suppose any other things to be either good or evil, it is inevitable that, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you should reproach and blame their authors. For ever} creature is naturally formed to flee and abhor things that appear hurtful, and that which causes them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and that which causes them. It is impracticable, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should rejoice in the person who, as he thinks, hurts him; just as it is impossible to rejoice in the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by his son, when he does not impart the things which seem to be good; and this made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies, that empire seemed good to both. On this account the husbandman reviles the gods; the sailor, the merchant, or those who have lost wife or child. For where our interest is, there too is piety directed. So that whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought is thus made careful of piety likewise. But it also becomes incumbent on every one to offer libations and sacrifices and first-fruits, according to the customs of his country, purely, and not heedlessly nor negligently; not avariciously, nor yet extravagantly.
Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them, as existing “I and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them as neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things not in our own control, and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in our own control to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors. For every animal is naturally formed to fly and abhor things that appear hurtful, and the causes of them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and the causes of them. It is impractical, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should be happy about the person who, he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to be happy about the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by a son, when he does not impart to him the things which he takes to be good; and the supposing empire to be a good made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies. On this account the husbandman, the sailor, the merchant, on this account those who lose wives and children, revile the gods. For where interest is, there too is piety placed. So that, whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought, is, by the very same means, careful of piety likewise. But it is also incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, conformably to the customs of his country, with purity, and not in a slovenly manner, nor negligently, nor sparingly, nor beyond his ability.
Τῆς περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς εὐσεβείας ἴσθι ὅτι τὸ κυριώτατον ἐκεῖνό ἐστιν, ὀρθὰς ὑπολήψεις περὶ αὐτῶν ἔχειν ὡς ὄντων καὶ διοικούντων τὰ ὅλα καλῶς καὶ δικαίως καὶ σαυτὸν εἰς τοῦτο κατατεταχέναι, τὸ πείθεσθαι αὐτοῖς καὶ εἴκειν πᾶσι τοῖς γινομένοις καὶ ἀκολουθεῖν ἑκόντα ὡς ὑπὸ τῆς ἀρίστης γνώμης ἐπιτελουμένοις. οὕτω γὰρ οὐ μέμψῃ ποτὲ τοὺς θεοὺς οὔτε ἐγκαλέσεις ὡς ἀμελούμενος.
ἄλλως δὲ οὐχ οἷόν τε τοῦτο γίνεσθαι, ἐὰν μὴ ἄρῃς ἀπὸ τῶν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἐφ’ ἡμῖν μόνοις θῇς τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τὸ κακόν. ὡς, ἄν γέ τι ἐκείνων ὑπολάβῃς ἀγαθὸν ἢ κακόν, πᾶσα ἀνάγκη, ὅταν ἀποτυγχάνῃς ὧν θέλεις καὶ περιπίπτῃς οἷς μὴ θέλεις, μέμψασθαί σε καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς αἰτίους.
πέφυκε γὰρ πρὸς τοῦτο πᾶν ζῷον τὰ μὲν βλαβερὰ φαινόμενα καὶ τὰ αἴτια αὐτῶν φεύγειν καὶ ἐκτρέπεσθαι, τὰ δὲ ὠφέλιμα καὶ τὰ αἴτια αὐτῶν μετιέναι τε καὶ τεθηπέναι. ἀμήχανον οὖν βλάπτεσθαί τινα οἰόμενον χαίρειν τῷ δοκοῦντι βλάπτειν, ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ αὐτῇ τῇ βλάβῃ χαίρειν ἀδύνατον.
ἔνθεν καὶ πατὴρ ὑπὸ υἱοῦ λοιδορεῖται, ὅταν τῶν δοκούντων ἀγαθῶν εἶναι τῷ παιδὶ μὴ μεταδιδῷ: καὶ Πολυνείκην καὶ Ἐτεοκλέα τοῦτ’ ἐποίησε πολεμίους ἀλλήλοις τὸ ἀγαθὸν οἴεσθαι τὴν τυραννίδα. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὁ γεωργὸς λοιδορεῖ τοὺς θεούς, διὰ τοῦτο ὁ ναύτης, διὰ τοῦτο ὁ ἔμπορος, διὰ τοῦτο οἱ τὰς γυναῖκας καὶ τὰ τέκνα ἀπολλύντες. ὅπου γὰρ τὸ συμφέρον, ἐπεῖ καὶ τὸ εὐσεβές. ὥστε, ὅστις ἐπιμελεῖται τοῦ ὀρέγεσθαι ὡς δεῖ καὶ ἐκκλίνειν, ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ καὶ εὐσεβείας ἐπιμελεῖται.
σπένδειν δὲ καὶ θύειν καὶ ἀπάρχεσθαι κατὰ τὰ πάτρια ἑκάστοτε προσήκει καθαρῶς καὶ μὴ ἐπισεσυρμένως μηδὲ ἀμελῶς μηδέ γε γλίσχρως μηδὲ ὑπὲρ δύναμιν.