"The Polytheism of the Epicureans" by Paul T. M. Jackson

  • This paper hit my inbox this week, and it's a worthwhile read presenting a case for the "realist" interpretation of the Epicurean gods. It also has some discussion of the prolepses, as is appropriate when considering the gods:

    The Polytheism of the Epicureans


    However the reason that I'm posting this is because of some of the references included. On pages 30-31, he includes the text of a letter purportedly written by Epicurus and found in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri [(wikipedia) and (google books)], with which I'm totally unfamiliar. The source of his reference is an essay by A.J. Festugière, ‘Épicure et ses Dieux,’ in a 1946 collection Mythes et Religions, edited by P.E. Couchoud, publisher Presse Universitaires de France-Paris. Apparently this is translated into English in Epicurus and His Gods by C.W. Chilton.


    In addition to thoughts on the article, is anybody familiar with any of these sources? I'm curious where else they might lead....

  • Thanks for this lead! Epicurus and His Gods (1955) by C.W. Chilton is available on Internet Archive for borrowing. Chilton mentions that Festugière used some details from Norman DeWitt's "new" book Epicurus and his Philosophy in compiling the life of Epicurus in his book.

  • Yes thank you for this Don! I had the pdf in my collection but can't recall if I have read it. Might as well clip and paste the key letter here. It certainly seems to me to be consistent with Epicurus, though I have no way of commenting on whether it was Epicurus himself who wrote this, or another Epicurean:





    This kind of argument seems very sincere to me as a logical extension of his views. Discussion like this is a large part of the reason that I think Epicurus was serious about this view, rather than just creating a screen to protect himself from sanctions against blasphemy.

  • I've added the citation to the Diels translation of the Oxrhynchus (spelling?) Papyrus to that letter in the Chilton book. Never heard of this letter, but will be hunting for Diels. Wish I could read German!

    Where did you get your clip from, Cassius ? I saw your footnote 77 at the end of yours, but mine were different.

  • Hmm-- I clipped that off the version that I had downloaded some time ago. Looks like I downloaded it in 2016 but I confess I can't remember where I got it! pasted-from-clipboard.png
    I went through a period downloading a lot from Jstor, but this looks more like a version from Academia because I don't see any identifying markings on my original.


    As for German, I know Martin has limited time, but he's been very helpful with some translation work in the past.

  • Don I hope I have not misunderstood your reference. I have a PDF of the Polytheism article where the clip above comes from, but I do also have A PDF of the Chilton translation of Festugière, and a hard copy of Chilton's book on Diogenes of Oinoanda, so I may have botched my reference above.

  • Don I hope I have not misunderstood your reference. I have a PDF of the Polytheism article where the clip above comes from, but I do also have A PDF of the Chilton translation of Festugière, and a hard copy of Chilton's book on Diogenes of Oinoanda, so I may have botched my reference above.

    No problem :) I just didn't want to be missing some juicy tidbit.

  • Thank you Don! I always appreciate the thoroughness of sources that reprint a facsimile of the text itself so we can see visually how much fragmentation and how much reconstruction is involved.