Diagoras of Melos

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Diagoras of Melos was an ancient Greek atheist, poet and sophist of the 5th century BC.

Diagoras of Melos was a 5th-century B.C. Greek philosopher, poet, sophist and atheist.

The Athenians accused him of impiety, and he fled the city. He died in Corinth.[1]

The author Stefan Stenudd writes about Diagoras of Melos:

Cicero also tells of how a friend of Diagoras tried to convince him of the existence of the gods, by pointing out how many votive pictures tell about people being saved from storms at sea by "dint of vows to the gods", to which Diagoras replied that "there are nowhere any pictures of those who have been shipwrecked and drowned at sea." And Cicero goes on to give another example, where Diagoras was on a ship in hard weather, and the crew thought that they had brought it on themselves by taking this ungodly man onboard. He then wondered if the other boats out in the same storm also had a Diagoras onboard.[2]

The Christian writer Athenagoras of Athens (2nd century AD) declared conercerning Diagoras:

With reason did the Athenians adjudge Diagoras guilty of atheism, in that he not only divulged the Orphic doctrine, and published the mysteries of Eleusis and of the Cabiri, and chopped up the wooden statue of Hercules to boil his turnips, but openly declared that there was no God at all.[3]

J.M. Robertson in his work A Short History of Freethought: Ancient and Modern wrote:

It was about that time [415 BCE] that the poet Diagoras of Melos was proscribed for atheism, he having declared that the non-punishment of a certain act of iniquity proved that there were no gods. It has been surmised, with some reason, that the iniquity in question was the slaughter of the Melians by the Athenians in 416 BCE, and the Athenian resentment in that case was personal and political rather than religious. For some time after 415 the Athenian courts made strenuous efforts to punish every discoverable case of impiety; and parodies of the Eleusinian mysteries were alleged against Alcibiades and others. Diagoras, who was further charged with divulging the Eleusinian and other mysteries, and with making firewood of an image of Herakles, telling the god thus to perform his thirteenth labour by cooking turnips, became thenceforth one of the proverbial atheists of the ancient world, and a reward of a silver talent was offered for killing him, and of two talents for his capture alive; despite which he seems to have escaped.[4]

The poet, historian and commentator Jennifer Michael Hecht writes on Diagoras:

The poet Diagoras of Melos was perhaps the most famous atheist of the fifth century. Although he did not write about atheism, anecdotes about his unbelief suggest he was self-confident, almost teasing, and very public. He revealed the secret rituals of the Eleusinian mystery religion to everyone and "thus made them ordinary," that is, he purposefully demystified a cherished secret rite, apparently to provoke his contemporaries into thought. In another famous story, a friend pointed out an expensive display of votive gifts and said, "You think the gods have no care for man? Why, you can see from all these votive pictures here how many people have escaped the fury of storms at sea by praying to the gods who have brought them safe to harbor." To which Diagoras replied, "Yes, indeed, but where are the pictures of all those who suffered shipwreck and perished in the waves?" A good question. Diagoras was indicted for profaning the mysteries, but escaped. A search was out for him throughout the Athenian empire, which indicated that the charges were serious, but he was not found.[5]

Bryn Mawr Classical Review states about Diagoras of Melos:

In fact, the fullest and most suggestive testimonium comes in the 10th-century lexicon, the Suda (δ 524):

Diagoras of Melos: he belongs to the atheists and disbelievers and impious. After the capture of Melos he resided in Athens. He disparaged the mysteries to the extent that he discouraged many from getting initiated. The Athenians therefore passed a decree against him, and inscribed on a bronze pillar a promise that anyone who killed him would receive a talent, and anyone who captured him two. This decree came about because of his impiety, since he revealed the mysteries to all, making them common property and belittling them, and putting off people who wanted to participate in them.

In a separate entry (δ 523) the Suda claims that he wrote the ἀποπυργίζοντες λόγοι ‘as a retreat from and denial of belief in the gods’, after a plagiarist had gone unpunished by the gods.[6]

Poetry of Diagoras of Melos

See also: Atheism and poetry

According to the book Greek Lyric Poetry: A Complete Collection of the Surviving Passages from the Greek Song-writers by George Stanley Farnell, "His position as a poet seems to be one of little prominence, and he probably abandoned his art for philosophical speculation."[7] See also: Atheism and poetry.

There is little information about Diagoras of Melos' life and his beliefs.

Book on Diagoras of Melos

  • Diagoras of Melos: A Contribution to the History of Ancient Atheism by Marek Winiarczyk, Publisher: Walter De Gruyter Inc (July 11, 2016), ISBN-10: 3110443775 ; ISBN-13: 978-3110443776

See also

External links


  1. Diagoras of Melos
  2. Diagoras of Melos by Stefan Stenudd
  3. Quotes About Diagoras Of Melos, Goodreads.com
  4. Quotes About Diagoras Of Melos, Goodreads.com
  5. Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2003). "Whatever Happened to Zeus and Hera?, 600 BCE-1 CE". Doubt: A History. Harper San Francisco. pp. 9–10. ISBN 0-06-009795-7.
  6. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.08.36 on Diagoras of Melos
  7. Greek Lyric Poetry: A Complete Collection of the Surviving Passages from the Greek Song-writers by George Stanley Farnell, page 269