July 26, 2023
Episode 170: Frederico Fidler on Sallustius’ On the Gods and the World
‘The world is a myth … it’s a mode of communicating eternity.’
We speak with Frederico Fidler, first translator of Sallustius’ On the Gods and the World into Portuguese, about this extraordinary late-antique polytheist broadside.
First of all we discuss the state of play as to who our author was: two main contenders emerge from the welter of possible Sullustii, Flavius Sallustius, who served as a prefect under Julian, and one Salu(s)tius Saturninus Secundus, whose name varies in the MSS (our interviewee sides provisionally with the ‘Saturnine’ school on this question, based in part on the coin, minted during Julian’s reign, shown in the thumbnail to this episode). We then turn to the book itself, a propagandistic work attempting to lay out a philosophic basis for polytheist worship along anti-Christian, pro-Platonist lines, suitable for the educated classes. Topics covered include:
- The necessity for ritual action directed toward the gods (especially sacrifice), the emphasis on appropriate ritual action depending on which god is being addressed, and how sacrifices function,
- Sallustius’ fascinating take on the kosmos as a form of narrative (μύθος) or text, every myth as a container for esoteric truths, and, thus, the world as esoteric myth/text,
- The five different types of myth, and some examples drawn from different types,
- Some reflections on the degree to which Sallustius is responding to the threat of Christianity,
- The fact that Sallusius’ book is probably not best described as a ‘pagan catechism’ (pace Athanassiadi 1981), since it isn’t meant as instructions for converts so much as a work of popularisation devoted to metaphysics, right religion, and so on,
- And how that this makes Sallustius’ book an absolute one-off in the history of (surviving) literature from antiquity,
- Sallustius’ categorisation of different types of gods and their metaphysical and physical functions,
- And ghosts!
Frederico Fidler is a master’s student in Comparative Literature at UFRGS, focusing his research on Neoplatonism and polytheism. He is currently working on an annotated translation to Portuguese of Sallustius’ Περί Θεῶν καὶ Κοσμοῦ (On the Gods and the World). His academic pursuits revolve around the intersection of philosophy and linguistics, aiming to make cultural heritage and its effects on contemporary thought more accessible to a broader audience.
Works Cited in this Episode:
‘Albinus’ introduction to Plato’ refers to the Didaskalikos or ‘Handbook of Platonism’, usually now attributed to Alcinoüs (see John Dillon, editor. Alcinous: The Handbook of Platonism. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993. Translated with an introduction by John Dillon).
Ausonius on Sallustius: Ausonius, Decimus Magnus, Commemoratio professorum Burdigalensium, ll. 21-26: Et Iulianum tu magis famae dabis / quam sceptra, quae tenuit brevi. / Sallustio plus conferent libri tui, quam consulatus addidit, / morum tuorum, decoris et facundiae / formam dedisti filiis.
Eunapius on Sallustius: see Wilmer Cave Wright. Philostratus and Eunapius: The Lives of the Sophists. William Heinemann/Putnam, London/New York, NY, 1922, 452; 453; 455; 479.
Thomas Taylor’s translation of On the Gods and the World can be found in many places online; here, for example.
Article on numismatic evidence for the identity of Sallustius: see Densnier 1983 below.
Athanassiadi-Fowden 1981 [see below], we cite p. 159.
Cumont thinks our author is Flavius Sallustius: see Cumont 1892 below.
Robert Étienne. Flavius Sallustius et Secundus Salutius. Revue des études anciennes, 65(1):104–113, 1963.
M. Lenain de Tillermond. Histoire des empereurs &c. Charles Robustel, Paris, 1700 (available online through Gallica).
Leo Allatius. Libellus de Diis et Mundo: Graece et Latine. Typus Orelli, 1821.
Thomas Gale. Opuscula mythologica physica et ethica: graece & latine. Henricum Wetstenium, 1688.
F.W.A. Mullach. Fragmenta philosophorum graecorum: Poeseos philosophicae caeterorumque ante Socratem philosophorum quae supersunt Vol. 3. Editore Ambrosio Firmin Didot, 1860.
Arthur Darby Nock. Concerning the Gods and the Universe. Ares Publishers, Chicago, 1926.
Gabriel Rochefort, editor. Sallustius Des Dieux et du Monde. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1960. Greek text with translation and introduction by G. Rochefort.
Thomas Taylor. Collected Writings on the Gods and the World. Prometheus Trust, 2006.
Polymnia Athanassiadi. Mutations of Hellenism in Late Antiquity. Routledge, London, 2015.
Polymnia Athanassiadi-Fowden. Julian and Hellenism. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981.
Odo Casel. De philosophorum graecorum silentio mystico. A. Toepelmann, Giessen, 1919.
Emma C. Clarke. Communication, Human and Divine: Saloustios Reconsidered. Phronesis, 43(4):326–50, 1998.
Franz Cumont. Salluste le philosophe. Revue de philologie, de littérature et d’histoire anciennes, 16(4), 1892.
J.L. Desnier. Salutius – Salustius. Revue des Études Anciennes, 85(1-2):53–65, 1983.
E. R. Dodds. Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1965.
Detlef Melsbach. Die pagane Theologie des Philosophen Salustios. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 2022.
Giorgio Muccio. Studi per una edizione critica di Sallustio filosofo. In F.L. Monnie, editor, Studi Italiani di filologia classica, vol. 3, pages 1–31. Dei Fratelli Bencini, 1895.
J. Pépin. Mythe et allégorie: les origines grecques et les contestations Judéo-Chrétiennes. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1976. 2nd ed.
Ilinca. Tanaseanu-Döbler. Religious Education in Late Antique Paganism. In I.Tanaseanu-Döbler and M. Döbler, editors, Religious Education in Pre-Modern Europe, pages 97– 146. Brill, Boston, MA, 2012.
Unsurprisingly, Sallustius’ tract has found a following among modern practitioners of Hellenismos and adjacent polytheist forms of religiosity. There is some excellent philological and exegetical work being done by some of these practitioners. See the Sartrix project (the name is a Thomas Taylor tribute), which features a new English translation of On the Gods and the World.
Also of interest:
Edward Butler. The theological interpretation of myth. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, 7(1):27–41, 2005.