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From Readings In Ancient History, Illustrative Extracts From The Sources, Volume I. Greece and the East, by William Stearns Davis, with an Introduction by Willis Mason West; Allyn and Bacon; Boston; 1912; pp. 335-337.


3rd Century B. C.

The Hymn of Cleanthes

Translated by Professor H. S. Palmer

Cleanthes, the philosopher, lived from about 300 to 220 B.C. He was the pupil of Zeno, the founder of the famous Stoic school of thinkers. In this hymn addressed to the supreme God, we see how far the advanced Greek philosophers had proceeded from credulous belief in the old mythology. The hymn is purely monotheistic; the conception of the Deity here expressed is extremely noble (despite obvious pantheistic leanings); while if reduced to 336 stanzas and with a few slight changes the words might be used in the worship of various modern religious bodies.

Most glorious of immortals, O thou of many names, all powerful ever, hail! On thee it is fit all men should call. For we come forth from thee, and have received the gift of imitative speech alone of all that live and move on earth. So will I make my song of thee, and chant thy power forever. Thee all this ordered universe, circling around the earth, follows as thou dost guide, and evermore is ruled by thee. For such an engine hast thou in thine unswerving hand — the two-edged, blazing, ever living bolt — that at its blow all nature trembles. Herewith thou guidest universal Reason — the moving principle of all the world, joined with the great and lesser lights — which being born so great, is highest lord of all.

Nothing occurs on earth, apart from thee, O Lord, nor at the airy sacred pole, nor on the sea, save what the wicked work through lack of wisdom. But thou canst make the crooked straight, bring order out of disorder, and what is in thy sight worthy. For thou hast so conjoined to one all good and ill that out of all goes forth a single everlasting Reason. This all the wicked seek to shun, unhappy men, who, ever longing to obtain a good, see not nor hear God’s universal law, which, wisely heeded, would assure them noble life. They haste away, however, heedless of good, one here, one there; some showing zeal in strife for honor, some turning recklessly towards gain, others to looseness and the body’s pleasures.

But thou, O Zeus, giver of all, thou of the cloud, guide of the thunder, deliver men from baleful ignorance! Scatter it, fathers, from our souls; grant us to win that wisdom on which thou thyself relying suitably guidest all; that thus being honored, we may return to thee our honor, singing thy works unceasingly; because there is no higher office for a 337 man, nor a god — than ever rightly singing of universal law.

For another translation of this, see Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus, translated by T. W. Rolleston on this site. The page will open in a new window. — Elf.Ed.


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