Outline

I. The Greco-Roman world saw as wide a range of religious attitudes and responses as any other.

A. At one extreme are the people who seem to have virtually no religious instinct, operating completely in a secular perspective, such as the characters in Petronius's novel, Satyricon.

B. At the other extreme are the hyper-religious whose fearful patterns of observance earned them the designation of the "superstitious," a type included in the character sketches of Theophrastus in the fourth century b.c.e.

C. The satirist Lucian of Samosata shows how the sophisticated could either provide a philosophical critique of superstition (see Demonax) or manipulate the religious longings of the populace (see Alexander the False Prophet).

D. Between the extremes of skepticism and credulity, the Greco-Roman world reveals a variety of religious experiences.

II. Dio Chrysostom and Epictetus embody examples of a philosophical piety that was based on a divine call and moral transformation.

A. Dio Chrysostom (40-120 c.e.) was a rhetorician whose practice of public speaking took on a new urgency and goal because of a conversion experience (Oration 13).

1. Chrysostom was paid to deliver public discourses on behalf of cities.

2. He suffered a philosopher's fate in being exiled in 82 c.e.

3. In exile, he had time to reflect on his life and on the lives of heroes of antiquity, including Odysseus, who wandered the world, and King Croesus, who consulted an oracle.

4. Likewise, Chrysostom decided to consult an oracle, who told him to continue to wander the world, speaking in public, but not for pay.

5. Thus, Chrysostom gradually became known as a philosopher.

6. His story is a kind of conversion story.

B. Epictetus is the classic model of Stoic-Cynic philosophy as a form of religious response.

1. The circumstances of his life appear to imprison him. He is a slave, exiled, and physically disabled, yet his manner of life and his words transcend those conditions.

2. His discourse on the call of the Cynic (III, 22) and his praise of providence reveal his deeply religious understanding of life.

3. He believed that would-be philosophers must first be chosen by God (Zeus) to speak in public and reform their moral lives if they aspired to be messengers from God, sent to change the lives of others.

III. The rhetorician Aelius Aristides provides a personal glimpse of the religious spirit that was present in the desire for healing.

A. Much of Aristides's adult life was dominated by chronic illness and his search for a cure through the ministrations of the healing god, Asclepius.

B. His Sacred Tales shows in vivid fashion how the perception of ultimate power (in this case, the shrine of the healing god) organizes this ancient scholar's space and time.

C. At healing shrines, therapy was both physical and spiritual, including the interpretation of dreams.

D. Odysseus is often cited in these stories as an example of religious devotion and the endurance of hardship. IV. The Golden Ass by Apuleius is an invaluable source for several aspects of ancient religious experience.

A. Also known as Metamorphoses, the novel is a picaresque tale that shows the hero (Lucius) undergoing several kinds of changes as a consequence of his encounters with spiritual power.

B. The motivations and mischief associated with the practice of magic provide the impetus for the story—Lucius is changed from a human into a beast.

1. In this degraded condition, he undergoes a series of experiences and hears a series of tales.

2. One encounter is with the ecstatic eunuch priests of the goddess Cybele.

C. Lucius's encounter with the goddess Isis and the series of initiations he undergoes show the understanding of religious conversion as a restoration to full humanity.

1. The encounter with Isis is a religious experience of vision or epiphany.

2. Isis demands that Lucius become initiated into her cult. Initiation has both spiritual and social benefits.

3. The story of Psyche and Eros embedded in The Golden Ass may provide insight into the mythic understanding of initiation into the mystery.

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