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The Nature of the Gods (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October 30, 1972

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (October 30, 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442656
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


`The translation is both lively and accurate; the introduction is judicious and informative. The notes are especially strong on the identification of the many historical references in the work.' Phronesis --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Latin

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 30, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're like me, you were brought up thinking the ancients understood God(s) in terms of their old polytheistic mythology. In fact quaint village myths didn't make it in the large cities. The idea of a single High God predated Christianity by centuries, and was in fact central to mainstream ancient philosophies / theologies you've probably heard of: Platonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism.
For us, religion and revelation are inseparable. Christianity, Islam, Bahai-ism, Mormonism are "revealed" religions, based on the God's direct revelation through his Son or Prophet -- Jesus, Mohamed, Bahaulla, Joseph Smith. The Greeks and Romans didn't have "revealed" religions. They had to work out their ideas of meaning and divinity without a solid, revealed, starting place. In a world without revealed religion, the ancient philosophers tried to figure out, What is God? Amazing.
If you're interested in how the ancients understood God, Cicero's book, The Nature of the Gods, is a great read. It's basically a synopsis of ancient philosophies / theologies. It will change your understanding of the history of western religious thought.
Listen to Cicero [106 - 43 BC], a non-Christian, describing God: "God dwells in the universe as its ruler and governor, and rules the stars in their courses, and the changing seasons, and all the varying sequences of nature, looking down on earth and sea, and protecting the life and goods of men."
And, "The divine power is to be found in a principle of reason which pervades the whole of nature."
I particularly like the easy to read translation in this Penguin Classics edition.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Lao Tzu on November 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
I admire Cicero and and I like THE NATURE OF THE GODS, but I give it 2 stars because of the poor translation, which renders a lucid book intolerably boring. So, please throw away the PENGUIN edition and check out the same title by OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSCIS translated by P.G.Walsh. After you have compared the two editions, you will realize the weakness of J.M.Ross' translation.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on September 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
I began reading the Stoics to get background on St. Paul's evangelistic sermon in Athens (Acts 17), in which Stoics and Epicureans are among his partners in dialogue, but am finding these folks fascinating in their own right. Cicero and Seneca were in the thick of messy imperial politics, which takes some of the gloss off their otherwise attractive (at least in Seneca's case) maxims and ideals; as with Aristotle, you want to ask, "If education is the key to virtue, how did this wise man teach such a ruthless thug as Nero / Alexander?"

The Nature of the Gods was, in any case, great for my study. A Stoic, an Epicurean, and a skeptic who moonlights as a priest (!) meet in a private home to debate the reality and nature of God and the gods. No punchline here -- each disputant takes the time to develope his arguments in detail, in often lively prose. Often the debate about "faith" and "reason," myth and history, design and accident, seems surprisingly contemporary. The book also helped me make sense of Paul's line of argument in Acts, and by implication the success of Christianity. Thoughtful Romans were looking for a God they could believe in; I can almost imagine that Paul put his brief together after reading Book II, and parts of Book III, of Cicero's work.

The tone is civil, cosmopolitan, literate, with frequent quotations from the poets and references to mythology. (Which no one present takes seriously -- except metaphorically.)

Some of the skeptical parts of Book III also still bite. Why does God allow the wicked to prosper, and the good to perish?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Stucco on June 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Interesting book! Three public figures and Cicero himself, gather in Cotta's villa around 76 B.C. to discuss the nature of the gods. Gaius Velleius is an Epicurean. Quintus Lucilius Balbus, a Stoic. Gaius Aurelius Cotta, an Academic and pontifex. For a summary of the text see, p. xlvi-xlviii. For a brief review of how this book was received in history, see Introduction, p. ix. The question Cicero raises at the beginning of his work is: "If the gods have neither the power nor the desire to help us, if they have no interest whatever and they pay no attention to our activities, if there is nothing which can percolate from them to affect our human lives, what reason have we for addressing any acts of worship or honors or prayers to the immortal gods?" (p. 4)

Academics promoted questioning of established opinions; Skepticism denied the possibility of attaining ultimate knowledge of things but only high probability and suspension of judgment (åðïêç). Cicero was influenced by Carneades, the founder of the Third Academy (though his principle `voluptas cum honestate' was regarded by Cicero to be too close to Epicureanism) and by Antiochus, founder of the Fifth Academy (very open to Stoicism). Cotta, the Academic philosopher, endorses belief in the gods on the basis of traditional religion and patriotic duty. He criticizes the arguments adduced by Stoics and Epicureans as non-conclusive and faulty in logic. Here are a couple of quotes from him: "I should defend the beliefs about the immortal gods which we have inherited from our ancestors, together with our sacrifices, ceremonies and religious observances.
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