The essences of the Gods never came into existence (for that which always is never comes into existence; and that exists for ever which possesses primary force and by nature suffers nothing): neither do they consist of bodies; for even in bodies the powers are incorporeal. Neither are they contained by space; for that is a property of bodies. Neither are they separate from the first cause nor from one another, just as thoughts are not separate from mind nor acts of knowledge from the soul.
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One may call the world a myth , in which bodies and things are visible, but souls and minds hidden. Besides, to wish to teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish, because they cannot understand, and lack of zeal in the good, whereas to conceal the truth by myths prevents the contempt of the foolish, and compels the good to practice philosophy.
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While the body is young and fine, the soul blunders, but as the body grows old it attains its highest power. Again, every good soul uses mind; but no body can produce mind: for how should that which is without mind produce mind? Again, while the soul uses the body as an instrument, it is not in it; just as the engineer is not in his engines (although many engines move without being touched by any one).
The soul sins therefore because, while aiming at good, it makes mistakes about the good, because it is not primary essence. And we see many things done by the Gods to prevent it from making mistakes and to heal it when it has made them. Arts and sciences, curses and prayers, sacrifices and initiations, laws and constitutions, judgments and punishments, all came into existence for the sake of preventing souls from sinning; and when they are gone forth from the body, Gods and spirits of purification cleanse them of their sins.
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It is not only spirits who punish the evil, the soul brings itself to judgment: and also it is not right for those who endure for ever to attain everything in a short time: and also, there is need of human virtue. If punishment followed instantly upon sin, men would act justly from fear and have no virtue.
Souls are punished when they have gone forth from the body, some wandering among us, some going to hot or cold places of the earth, some harassed by spirits. Under all circumstances they suffer with the irrational part of their nature, with which they also sinned. For its sake there subsists that shadowy body which is seen about graves, especially the graves of evil livers.
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Souls that have lived in virtue are in general happy, and when separated from the irrational part of their nature, and made clean from all matter, have communion with the gods and join them in the governing of the whole world. Yet even if none of this happiness fell to their lot, virtue itself, and the joy and glory of virtue, and the life that is subject to no grief and no master are enough to make happy those who have set themselves to live according to virtue and have achieved it.
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It is not unlikely, too, that the rejection of God is a kind of punishment: we may well believe that those who knew the Gods and neglected them in one life may in another life be deprived of the knowledge of them altogether. Also those who have worshipped their own kings as gods have deserved as their punishment to lose all knowledge of God.
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All this care for the world, we must believe, is taken by the Gods without any act of will or labor. As bodies which possess some power produce their effects by merely existing: e.g. the sun gives light and heat by merely existing; so, and far more so, the providence of the Gods acts without effort to itself and for the good of the objects of its forethought. This solves the problems of the Epicureans , who argue that what is divine neither has trouble itself nor gives trouble to others.
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No one has become immortal by sloth; nor has any parent prayed that his children should live forever; but rather that they should lead an honorable and upright life.[Lat., Ignavia nemo immortalis factus: neque quisquam parens liberis, uti aeterni forent, optavit; magis, uti boni honestique vitam exigerent.]
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Now the myths represent the Gods themselves and the goodness of the Gods subject always to the distinction of the speakable and the unspeakable, the revealed and the unrevealed, that which is clear and that which is hidden: since, just as the Gods have made the goods of sense common to all, but those of intellect only to the wise, so the myths state the existence of Gods to all, but who and what they are only to those who can understand.
That power of the Gods which orders for the good things which are not uniform, and which happen contrary to expectation, is commonly called Fortune, and it is for this reason that the Goddess is especially worshipped in public by cities; for every city consists of elements which are not uniform.