Article: "Significance of Worship and Prayer among the Epicureans" by George Depue Hadzsits

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    Quote from Susan Hill I recently finished reading "The Significance of Worship and Prayer among the Epicureans" by George Depue Hadzsits. (Was it you who recommended that to me?? If not, have you read it?) It definitely takes things a little farther in suggesting that the pious can achieve a certain familiarity with the divine... I will go through it again and select some edifying excerpts for the Divinity forum.

    Quote from DON I just finished reading the Hadzsits article. Very intriguing. He does seem to provide more concrete motivations for the ancient Epicureans to take part in the standard rituals and prayers of the time. I think I'll have to read it again to get all the information from it. I get the impression that the gods - Venus, Athena, etc - could literally embody individual qualities of the Epicurean gods and so be an object of prayer and worship. That would lead one to emulate and embody those qualities oneself on a deeper personal level. No benefit flowed from the gods, but that didn't preclude gaining benefit from the practice. Is that part of what you got? Or am I misunderstanding?


    Here are some of my highlights from the paper. Hadzsits provides lots of citations from Lucretius, Philodemus, Cicero, and others, so they can be examined more closely if desired.

    pg. 75: "...the gods of the Epicurean theology inspired the sincere Epicurean with intense enthusiasm, catching for Lucretius a certain glow... To Philodemus. also, the gods were truly inspiring, great and august... The inspirational power of the gods, as revealed to the Epicureans, was for them unlimited; the religious problem was counted among the big problems of life, and one of the great conditions of human happiness and superiority was an Epicurean pious attitude toward and holy regard for divinity..."

    There was a lot of criticism of Epicurean theology because people could not imagine how anyone could or would have pious sentiment for gods that did not intercede in human affairs. How could they make use of the "existing machinery of worship, pg. 77" (religious ceremonies and temple attendance) without hypocrisy?

    Hadzsits suggests this may have been a "convenient means to an end, pg 79", that there was an emotional appreciation of the "allegory, poetry, symbolism" and tradition of the religious institutions, but that such appreciation was "necessarily accompanied with a conscious intellectual reservation", pg 78.

    Now this is where there will be dissent within the ranks:

    pg. 82: "

    But even among the Epicureans a belief in a reciprocal relation between God and man did exist, withal that the gods did not care for man; but the comparative subtlety of the Epicurean theory seems not to have been fully comprehended in antiquity, nor, perhaps, fully realized, in practice, even within the Epicurean school, and the Epicureans remained in religious isolation. The deeper significance of worship and prayer depended upon the Epicurean definition of evOa-E/eta and pietas, and included a re-interpretation of this reciprocal relation between man and God. The Epicureans counted themselves among those philosophers who believed that the gods bestow Tc'v arya0wdTa ra toTa, but might also be 83Xd'8rs icaD ,ca,c&j. . . ai'rt'ov', - a theory tenable even within the circle of Epicurean theology, a theory subject, however, to re-interpretation by the Epicureans who rejected the vulgar idea of divine 'OeXt'aL and ------"

    [Sorry - see the SnipIts for the Greek....]

    So what is he getting at, that there is anything reciprocal between humans and gods?

    He writes (pg. 84), "Through the mediation of worship and prayer, the intellectually gifted and the spiritually equipped drew nearest to the gods, in whose care rested that form of redemption which was possible under the terms of Epicurean psychology and epistemology; worship and prayer were but the media, the final means, in fact, of communication with the gods, whereby the Epicurean - through the saving grace of wisdom having become susceptible to the divine influence - was capable of receiving that blessing from the gods which alone, according to Epicurean thought, was a possibility. Worship and prayer completed the religious mood of the suppliant wise man, who alone could obtain from the gods what Epicureanism characterized as /IEyL'crrr/v cxfeXEtav! Under all these conditions, the reciprocal relation between the Epicurean and his gods, resting on the worshipper's intellectual-spiritual aspiration, was completed by the reward of inspiration of a divine tranquility, - while the consequent subjective exaltation to realize in conscience or in deed that which might have been the formal burden of Epicurean prayer constituted the test of its efficacy...."

    And in the notes: "Epicurean religiosity was a matter of enlightenment and its intensity was in proportion to the clarity of the vision."

    Again, there are a lot citations here in the paper.

    This is a difficult passage, but I think that the idea is that the gods are the repository of the perfection of Epicurean eudaimonia, and that through appropriate worship and prayer one can be influenced/blessed/rewarded with a similar (god-like) disposition. So the word "communication" might be more along the lines of perceiving the blessed state of the gods, and receiving that into one's psyche. Somehow, the spiritual aspiration and practice itself brings about the sought-after receptivity and redemption. It was efficacious towards realizing Epicurean sagehood.

    How it would be "reciprocal" - as in the gods receiving something from us, is not clear to me.

    Boy, I'm having trouble with the software... Here are the SnipIt's larger....

  • I was asked about this article today. I see that Susan posted it almost two years ago, and it doesn't look like I have had time to read it closely yet. But it's probably significant to several of our ongoing conversations so by making this post I am "bumping" it for further comment.