Do Pagans Love Their Gods? – PaganSquare – PaganSquare


 

 

Three things stand out in my memory from my trip to the ancient city of Ephesus, City of the Moon Goddess.

The first, quite frankly, was the public toilet. Astoundingly, the row of side-by-side toilet seats—the ancestors were social people—looked exactly—exactly—like modern toilet seats.

But these were hand-carved from marble. Wow.

The second was the civic amphitheater. Here Saul of Tarsus—later known as “saint” Paul—was nearly lynched by an angry mob for blaspheming the city’s patron goddess, the famously many-breasted Artemis (Diana) of Ephesus. Megálê hê Ártemis tôn Efesíôn! they chanted: Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

According to the New Testament book of Acts, the mob was led by a guild of souvenir-manufacturers, cynically worried about loss of revenue. (Why do non-pagans find it so difficult to believe that we, too, love our gods?) Unfortunately, in the end a conscientious city official intervened to save “Paul’s” life.

During my visit to the theater, I had the pleasure of standing in the middle of the stage and chanting, in the modern pronunciation, the chant of the ancients: Megháli i Ártemis tôn Efesíôn!

Indeed, as reputed, the acoustics were wonderful.

My third memory from the day is much more humble, but—in many ways—most telling of all.

There, carved into the marble doorpost of one of the surviving houses, stood the readily-recognizable image of Artemis of Ephesus, watching over the comings and goings of her people. This small figure, only a few inches tall, touched me deeply, articulate of devotion.

I stood before her a long while, listening.

I’ve recently read several books about the early history of Christianity. As someone who has himself watched—and participated in—the emergence of a new religion, I found much to recognize.

I was struck by the historians’ unquestioning assumption that one of the significant ways in which emergent Christianity differed from the traditional religions of the Mediterranean is that the latter were power-driven—the gods are powerful, and therefore can give us what we want if properly propitiated—while the early Christians were motivated, instead, by love for their god. When stated so baldly, of course, the premise’s absurdity is patent.

But standing there before Diana of the Doorpost, it was clear to me that the claim is simply untrue. And even if, against all probability, in those days pagans didn’t love their gods, we certainly do today.

The little Lady was positioned, as one would expect—she is, after all, a goddess, an exulted being— just a little above head-level. I kissed my hand, touched her tenderly, and went on my way.

 

 

 



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