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That such a tendency was at work some time before the age of Epicurus is shown by the following passage from Plato鈥檚 Republic:鈥.
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It is, perhaps, characteristic of the times that Aelian鈥檚 stories should redound more especially to the credit of Ascl锚pius and Heracles, who were not gods of the first order, but demi-gods or deified mortals. Their worship, like that of the Nature-powers connected with earth rather than with heaven, belongs particularly to the popular religion, and seems to have been repressed or restrained in societies organised on aristocratic principles. And as more immediate products of the forces by which supernaturalist beliefs are created and maintained, such divinities would profit by the free scope now given to popular predilections. In their case also, as with the earth-goddesses D锚m锚t锚r and Isis, a more immediate and affectionate relation might be established between the believer and the object of his worship than had been possible in reference to the chief Olympian gods. Heracles had lived the life of a man, his activity had been almost uniformly beneficent, and so he was universally invoked, as a helper and healer, in the sick-chamber no less231 than on the storm-tost ship.354 Ascl锚pius was still more obviously the natural refuge of those who were afflicted with any bodily disease, and, in a time of profound peace, this was of all calamities the most likely to turn men鈥檚 thoughts towards a supernatural protector. Hence we find that where, apart from Christianity, the religious enthusiasm of the second century reaches its intensest expression, which is in the writings of the celebrated rhetor Aristeides, Ascl锚pius comes in for the largest share of devotional feeling. During an illness which continued through thirteen years, Aristeides sought day and night for help and inspiration from the god. It came at last in the usual form of a prescription communicated through a dream. Both on this and on other occasions, the excitement of an overwrought imagination combined with an exorbitant vanity made the sophist believe himself to be preferred above all other men as an object of the divine favour. At one time he would see himself admitted in his dreams to an exchange of compliments with Ascl锚pius; at other times he would convert the most ordinary incidents into signs of supernatural protection. Thus his foster-sister having died on the day of his own recovery from a dangerous epidemic, it was revealed to him in a dream that her life had been accepted as a ransom for his. We are told that the monks of the Middle Ages could not refrain from expressing their indignant contempt for the insane credulity of Aristeides, in marginal notes on his orations; but the last-mentioned incident, at least, is closely paralleled by the well-known story that a devout lady was once permitted to redeem the life of Pius IX. by the sacrifice of her own.355!
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If there be a class of persons who although not perfectly virtuous are on the road to virtue, it follows that there are moral actions which they are capable of performing. These the Stoics called intermediate or imperfect duties; and, in accordance with their intellectual view of conduct, they defined them as actions for which a probable reason might be given; apparently in contradistinction to those which were deduced from a single principle with the extreme rigour of scientific demonstration. Such intermediate duties would have for their appropriate object the ends which, without being absolutely good, were still relatively worth seeking, or the avoidance of what, without being an absolute evil, was allowed to be relatively objectionable. They stood midway between virtue and vice, just as the progressive characters stood between the wise and the foolish, and preferable objects between what was really good and what was really evil.
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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