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date: 02 December 2022



  • Robert Parker


The Greek for atheism is ‘not to recognize (νομίζειν) the gods’ or ‘deny that the gods exist’ or, later, ‘to remove (ἀναιρεῖν) the gods’. (The old doctrine that θεοὺς νομίζειν never means to ‘believe in’ but always to ‘pay cult to’ the gods is wrong; but it is true that borderline cases exist.) The Greek word ἄθεος can be applied to atheism (Pl. Ap. 26c), but in the earliest instances it means ‘impious, vicious’ or ‘hated, abandoned by the gods’, and these senses persist along with the other; so too with ἀθεότης. Thus Christians and pagans were to swap charges of ἀθεότης, by which they meant ‘impious views about the divine’ (A. von Harnack, Texte und Untersuchungen 28. 4 (1905), 3–16; A. D. Nock, Sallustius (1926), p. lxxxviii).The gods of popular polytheism were rejected or drastically reinterpreted by all philosophers from the 6th cent. bce onwards, but most preserved a divine principle of some kind (as in different ways *Plato (1), *Aristotle, and *Stoicism were to do).


  • Greek Myth and Religion

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