De Natura Deorum

De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) is a philosophical dialogue by Roman orator Cicero written in 45 BC. It is laid out in three books, each of which discusses the theology of different Roman and Greek philosophers. The dialogue uses a discussion of Epicurean, Stoic, and skeptical (Platonist) theories to examine fundamental questions of theology.

Dē Nātūra Deōrum
(On the Nature of the Gods)
Cicero, De natura deorum, BAV, Urb. lat. 319
15th-century manuscript, Vatican
CountryRoman Republic
LanguageClassical Latin
SubjectRoman religion, Ancient Greek religion
Genretheology, philosophy
Publication date
45 BC
Preceded byTusculanae Disputationes 
Followed byDe Divinatione 
Original text
Dē Nātūra Deōrum
(On the Nature of the Gods)
at Latin Wikisource


De Natura Deorum belongs to the group of philosophical works which Cicero wrote in the two years preceding his death in 43 BC.[1] He states near the beginning of De Natura Deorum that he wrote them both as a relief from the political inactivity to which he was reduced by the supremacy of Julius Caesar, and as a distraction from the grief caused by the death of his daughter Tullia.[1]

The dialogue is supposed to take place in Rome at the house of Gaius Aurelius Cotta.[2] In the dialogue he appears as pontiff, but not as consul.[2] He was made pontiff soon after 82 BC, and consul in 75 BC, and as Cicero, who is present at the dialogue as a listener, did not return from Athens till 77 BC, its fictional date can be set between the years 77 and 75 BC, when Cicero was about thirty years of age, and Cotta about forty-eight.[2]

The book contains various obscurities and inconsistencies which demonstrate that it was probably never revised by Cicero, nor published until after his death.[3] For the content, Cicero borrowed largely from earlier Greek sources.[3] However, the hasty arrangement by Cicero of authorities who themselves wrote independently of one another means that the work lacks cohesion,[4] and points raised by one speaker are sometimes not countered by subsequent speakers.[5]


The dialogue is on the whole narrated by Cicero himself, though he does not play an active part in the discussion. Gaius Velleius represents the Epicurean school, Quintus Lucilius Balbus argues for the Stoics, and Gaius Cotta speaks for Cicero's own Academic skepticism. The first book of the dialogue contains Cicero's introduction, Velleius' case for the Epicurean theology and Cotta's criticism of Epicureanism. Book II focuses on Balbus' explanation and defense of Stoic theology. Book III lays out Cotta's criticism of Balbus' claims. Cicero's conclusions are ambivalent and muted, "a strategy of civilized openness";[6] he does, however, conclude that Balbus' claims, in his mind, more nearly approximate the truth (3.95).

Book 1

In Book 1 Cicero visits the house of Cotta the Pontifex Maximus, where he finds Cotta with Velleius – a Senator and Epicurean, and Balbus supporter of the Stoics. Cotta himself is an Academic, and he informs Cicero that they were discoursing on the nature of the gods. Velleius had been stating the sentiments of Epicurus upon the subject.[7] Velleius is requested to go on with his arguments after recapitulating what he had already said.[7] The discourse of Velleius consists of three parts: a general attack on Platonist and Stoic cosmology; a historical review of the earlier philosophers; and an exposition of Epicurean theology.[8] Velleius raises the difficulty of supposing the creation of the universe to have taken place at a particular period of time, and questions the possible motive of a God in undertaking the work.[5] The historical section (10-15), is full of inaccuracies and mis-statements, of which it is likely that Cicero himself was ignorant, since he has Cotta later praise this account.[4] The purpose however is for Velleius to show that the Epicurean idea of God as a perfectly happy, eternal being, possessed of reason, and in human form, is the only tenable one, and the other differing opinions is regarded as proof of their worthlessness.[4] In the remainder of the book, Cotta attacks the positions of Velleius with regard to the form of the gods, and their exemption from creation and providence.[9]

Book 2

In Book 2, Balbus gives the Stoics' position on the subject of the gods.[9] He alludes to the magnificence of the world, and the prevalence of belief, and refers to the frequent appearance of the gods themselves in history.[9] After referring to the practice of divination, Balbus proceeds to the "four causes" of Cleanthes as to how the idea of the gods is implanted in the minds of people: (1) a pre-knowledge of future events; (2) the great advantages we enjoy from nature; (3) the terror with which the mind is affected by thunder, tempests, and the like; (4) and the order and regularity in the universe. Balbus further contends that the world, or universe itself, and its parts, are possessed of reason and wisdom.[10] He finally discusses the creation of the world, the providence of the gods, and denies "that a world, so beautifully adorned, could be formed by chance, or by a fortuitous concourse of atoms."[10] The problem of how to account for the presence of misery and disaster in a world providentially governed is only hurriedly touched upon at the end of the book.[11]

Book 3

In book 3 Cotta refutes the doctrines of Balbus.[12] A large portion of this book, probably more than one third, has been lost.[11] Cotta represents the appearances of gods as idle tales.[13] There follows a gap in the text, following which Cotta attacks the four causes of Cleanthes.[13] Cotta refutes the Stoic ideas on reason attributed to the universe and its parts.[14] Ten chapters (16-25) are devoted to a disproportionately lengthy discussion of mythology, with examples multiplied to an inordinate extent.[15] There follows another major gap in the text, at the end of which Cotta is seen attacking the doctrine of providential care for humans.[14][15] Cicero states "The conversation ended here, and we parted. Velleius judged that the arguments of Cotta were the truest, but those of Balbus seemed to me to have the greater probability."[14]


The Christian writers Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Lactantius, and Augustine were acquainted with De Natura Deorum, and their arguments against polytheism were largely borrowed from it.[16]

This work, alongside De Officiis and De Divinatione, was highly influential on the philosophes of the 18th century. David Hume was familiar with the work and used it to style his own Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.[17] Voltaire described De Natura Deorum and the Tusculan Disputations as "the two most beautiful books ever produced by the wisdom of humanity".[18]

In 1811 a fourth book was 'discovered' and published by one 'P. Seraphinus' in Bologna.[19] In this forgery Cicero asserts many points compatible with Christian and Catholic dogma, and even argues in favour of an authority equivalent to the Papacy.[19]


This work, although not written by an orthodox Epicurean or Stoic, is important because it supplements the scant primary texts that remain from Epicureans and Stoics discussing their views on religion and theology. In particular, heated scholarly debate has focused on this text's discussion at 1.43-44 of how the Epicurean gods may be said to "exist"; David Sedley, for example, holds that Epicureans, as represented in this text and elsewhere, think that "gods are our own graphic idealization of the life to which we aspire",[20] whereas David Konstan maintains that "the Epicurean gods are real, in the sense that they exist as atomic compounds and possess the properties that pertain to the concept, or prolēpsis, that people have of them."[21]


  • There is in fact no subject upon which so much difference of opinion exists, not only among the unlearned but also among educated men; and the views entertained are so various and so discrepant, that, while it is no doubt a possible alternative that none of them is true, it is certainly impossible that more than one should be so. (Res enim nulla est, de qua tantopere non solum indocti, sed etiam docti dissentiant; quorum opiniones cum tam variae sint tamque inter se dissidentes, alterum fieri profecto potest, ut earum nulla, alterum certe non potest, ut plus una vera sit) (I, 2)
  • We, on the contrary, make blessedness of life depend upon an untroubled mind, and exemption from all duties. (We think a happy life consists in tranquility of mind). (Nos autem beatam vitam in animi securitate et in omnium vacatione munerum ponimus) (I, 53)
  • For time destroys the fictions of error and opinion, while it confirms the determinations of nature and of truth. (Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae iudicia confirmat) (II, 2)
  • [It does not follow that], because not all the sick recover, medicine is a worthless science (Ne aegri quidem quia non omnes convalescunt, idcirco ars nulla medicina est) (II, 12)
  • Things perfected by nature are better than those finished by art. (Meliora sunt ea quae natura quam illa quae arte perfecta sunt) (II, 87)
  • Just as it is better to use no wine whatever in the treatment of the sick, because it is rarely beneficial and very often injurious, than to rush upon evident calamity in the hope of an uncertain recovery, so, I incline to think, it would have been better for the human race that that swift movement of thought, that keenness and shrewdness which we call reason, since it is destructive to many and profitable to very few, should not have been given at all, than that it should have been given so freely and abundantly. (Ut vinum aegrotis, quia prodest raro, nocet saepissime, melius est non adhibere omnino quam spe dubiae salutis in apertam perniciem incurrere, sic haud scio, an melius fuerit humano generi motum istum celerem cogitationis, acumen, sollertiam, quam rationem vocamus, quoniam pestifera sit multis, admodum paucis salutaris, non dari omnino quam tam munifice et tam large dari.) (III, 69)
  • There never was a great man unless through divine inspiration.[22] (Nemo igitur vir magnus sine aliquo adflatu divino umquam fuit) (II, 167)


Latin text


  • De Natura Deorum; Academica, with an English translation by H. Rackham (1933) Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 0434992682
  • On the Nature of the Gods, English translation at Project Gutenberg
  • On the Nature of the Gods, Public Domain Audio Book Translated by Charles Duke Yonge (1894)


  1. ^ a b Brooks 1896, p. 1
  2. ^ a b c Brooks 1896, p. 4
  3. ^ a b Brooks 1896, p. 5
  4. ^ a b c Brooks 1896, p. 7
  5. ^ a b Brooks 1896, p. 6
  6. ^ Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, 2011:69ff.
  7. ^ a b Dunlop 1827, p. 244
  8. ^ Rackham, H. Cicero: De Natura Deorum; Academica. Loeb Classical Library. p. xvi.
  9. ^ a b c Dunlop 1827, p. 245
  10. ^ a b Dunlop 1827, p. 246
  11. ^ a b Brooks 1896, p. 8
  12. ^ Dunlop 1827, p. 247
  13. ^ a b Dunlop 1827, p. 248
  14. ^ a b c Dunlop 1827, p. 249
  15. ^ a b Brooks 1896, p. 9
  16. ^ Brooks 1896, p. 10
  17. ^ Holden, Thomas (2010). Spectres of Fasle Divinity: Hume's Moral Atheism. Oxford Universoty Press. p. 28.
  18. ^ 'Les deux plus beaux ouvrages qu’ait jamais écrits la sagesse qui n’est qu’humaine' [Voltaire, "Cicéron", Dictionnaire philosophique (1764); Œuvres complètes (Garnier) 18:181]
  19. ^ a b Farrer, James Anson (1907). Literary Forgeries. Longmans, Green & Co. pp. 10–12.
  20. ^ David Sedley, Epicurus’ Theological Innatism. In Fish and Saunders 2011: 29-52
  21. ^ David Konstan, Epicurus on the Gods. In Fish and Saunders 2011: 53-71
  22. ^ Ballou, Maturin Murray (1871). Treasury of thought. Forming an encyclopædia of quotations from ancient and modern authors. Boston: J.R. Osgood and Co. p. 216.


External links


Afflatus is a Latin term that was derived from Cicero in De Natura Deorum, ("The Nature of the Gods") and has been translated as "inspiration".

Cicero's usage was a literalising of "inspiration", which had already become figurative. As "inspiration" had come to mean simply the gathering of a new idea, Cicero reiterated the idea of a rush of unexpected breath, a powerful force that would render the poet helpless and unaware of its origin.

Literally, the Latin afflatus means "to blow upon/toward". It was originally spelt adflatus, made up of ad (to) and flatus (blowing/breathing), the noun form of flāre (to blow). It can be taken to mean "to be blown upon" by a divine wind, like its English equivalent inspiration, which comes from inspire, meaning "to breathe/blow onto".

In English, afflatus is used for the literal form of inspiration. It generally refers to not the usual sudden originality but the staggering and stunning blow of a new idea, which the recipient may be unable to explain. In Romantic literature and criticism, in particular, the usage of afflatus was revived for the mystical form of poetic inspiration tied to genius, such as the story Samuel Taylor Coleridge offered for the composition of "Kubla Khan". The frequent use of the Aeolian harp as a symbol for the poet was a play on the renewed emphasis on afflatus.

Divino afflante Spiritu ('Inspired by the Holy Spirit') is an encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII dealing with Biblical inspiration and Biblical criticism. It lay out his desire to see new translations from the original language instead of the Vulgate.


In Greek mythology, Apate (Ancient Greek: Απάτη Apátē) was the personification of deceit. Her mother was Nyx, the personification of night. Her Roman equivalent was Fraus (i.e. "fraud"). She was a companion of the Pseudologoi (Lies). Her male counterpart was Dolos, daemon of trickery, and her opposite number was Aletheia, the spirit of truth.

Balbus (cognomen)

Balbus, literally "stammerer", was a cognomen of several ancient Roman gentes.

Of the Acilii Balbi, one Manius Acilius Balbus was consul in 150 BC, another in 114 BC. To another family belonged T. Ampius Balbus, a supporter of Pompey, but afterwards pardoned by Julius Caesar. We know also of Q. Antonius Balbus, praetor in Sicily in 82 BC, and Marcus Atius Balbus, who married Julia Minor, a sister of Caesar, and had a daughter Atia, mother of Augustus.The most important of the name were the two Cornelii Balbi, natives of Gades (Cádiz):

Lucius Cornelius Balbus (major)

Lucius Cornelius Balbus (minor)Others with the cognomen include:

Marcus Atius Balbus (105 BC-51 BC)

Decius Laelius Balbus (c. 6 BC)

Quintus Lucilius Balbus (fl. 100 BC), Stoic philosopher, and spokesman in Cicero's dialogue De Natura Deorum

Gaius Norbanus Balbus (died c. 81 BC), Roman consul

Quintus Bruttius Balbus, of the gens Bruttia

Manius Acilius Balbus, of the gens Acilia

Lucius Thorius Balbus (c. 111 BC), author of the agrarian law known as the Thoria Lex


Caelus or Coelus was a primal god of the sky in Roman myth and theology, iconography, and literature (compare caelum, the Latin word for "sky" or "the heavens", hence English "celestial"). The deity's name usually appears in masculine grammatical form when he is conceived of as a male generative force, but the neuter form Caelum is also found as a divine personification.

De fato

Cicero's De fato (Latin, "Concerning Fate") is a partially lost philosophical treatise written in 44 BC. Only two-thirds of the work exists; the beginning and ending are missing. It takes the form of a dialogue, although it reads more like an exposition, whose interlocutors are Cicero and his friend Aulus Hirtius.

In the work, Cicero analyzes the concept of Fate, and suggests that free will is a condition of Fate. Cicero, however, does not consciously deal with the distinction between fatalism and determinism.It appears that De Fato is an appendix to the treatise on theology formed by the three books of De Natura Deorum and the two books of De Divinatione. These three books provide important information regarding Stoic cosmology and theology.

Di Penates

In ancient Roman religion, the Di Penates or Penates (; Latin: dī penātēs [ˈdiː ˈpɛ.naːteːs]) were among the dii familiares, or household deities, invoked most often in domestic rituals. When the family had a meal, they threw a bit into the fire on the hearth for the Penates. They were thus associated with Vesta, the Lares, and the Genius of the paterfamilias in the "little universe" of the domus.Like other domestic deities, the Penates had a public counterpart.

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a philosophical work by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Through dialogue, three philosophers named Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes debate the nature of God's existence. Whether or not these names reference specific philosophers, ancient or otherwise, remains a topic of scholarly dispute. While all three agree that a god exists, they differ sharply in opinion on God's nature or attributes and how, or if, humankind can come to knowledge of a deity.

In the Dialogues, Hume's characters debate a number of arguments for the existence of God, and arguments whose proponents believe through which we may come to know the nature of God. Such topics debated include the argument from design—for which Hume uses a house—and whether there is more suffering or good in the world (argument from evil).

Hume started writing the Dialogues in 1750 but did not complete them until 1776, shortly before his death. They are based partly on Cicero's De Natura Deorum. The Dialogues were published posthumously in 1779, originally with neither the author's nor the publisher's name.

Digby Mythographer

The anonymous Digby Mythographer was the compiler of a twelfth-century Fulgentian handbook of Greek mythology, De Natura deorum ("On the Nature of the Gods") that is conserved among the Digby Mss, collected by Sir Kenelm Digby, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. An intensely renewed interest in the classics, extending to classical mythography in Latin texts, was expressed in twelfth-century France and England, an aspect of the reviving humanism of the twelfth-century renaissance. Myth was read in allegorical mode, where the surface detail was simply the visible cloak (integumentum) of the hidden Platonic truths they bodied forth. Medieval commentaries on Boethius, Martianus Capella, Ovid, and Virgil also reached a peak during this period, under the impetus of the new cathedral schools.

The Digby Mythographer concentrated on genealogy of the gods, drawn from Ovid, and material from Statius. An edition of the text was edited by V. Brown, "An edition of an anonymous twelfth-century Liber de natura deorum", Medieval Studies 34 (1972).

Dolos (mythology)

In Greek mythology, Dolos or Dolus (Ancient Greek: Δόλος "Deception") is the spirit of trickery and guile. He is also a master at cunning deception, craftiness, and treachery. He was the son of Gaia (Earth) and Aether (Hyginus, Fabulae Theogony 3) or Erebus and Nyx (Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.17).Dolos is an apprentice of the Titan Prometheus and a companion of the Pseudologi (Lies). His female counterpart is Apate, who is the goddess of fraud and deception. His Roman equivalent is Mendacius. There are even some stories of Dolos tricking gods into lies.


In Greek mythology Hemera (; Ancient Greek: Ἡμέρα [hɛːméra] "Day") was the personification of day and one of the Greek primordial deities. She is the goddess of the daytime and, according to Hesiod, the daughter of Erebus and Nyx (the goddess of night).

Ipse dixit

Ipse dixit (Latin for "he said it himself") is an assertion without proof; or a dogmatic expression of opinion.The fallacy of defending a proposition by baldly asserting that it is "just how it is" distorts the argument by opting out of it entirely: the claimant declares an issue to be intrinsic, and not changeable.

Lucilia (gens)

The gens Lucilia was a plebeian family at ancient Rome. The most famous of the gens was the poet Gaius Lucilius, who flourished during the latter part of the second century BC. Although many Lucilii appear in Roman history, none of them obtained any of the higher offices of the Roman state.

Marcus Minucius Felix

Marcus Minucius Felix (died c. 250 AD in Rome) was one of the earliest of the Latin apologists for Christianity. He was of Berber origin.Nothing is known of his personal history, and even the date at which he wrote can be only approximately ascertained as between AD 150 and 270. Jerome's De Viris Illustribus #58 speaks of him as "Romae insignis causidicus" [one of Rome's notable solicitors], but in that he is probably only improving on the expression of Lactantius who speaks of him as "non ignobilis inter causidicos loci" [not unknown among solicitors].

He is now exclusively known by his Octavius, a dialogue on Christianity between the pagan Caecilius Natalis and the Christian Octavius Januarius. Written for educated non-Christians, the arguments are borrowed chiefly from Cicero, especially his De natura deorum (“Concerning the Nature of the Gods”), and Christian material, mainly from the Greek Apologists.The Octavius is admittedly earlier than Cyprian's Quod idola dei non sint, which borrows from it; how much earlier can be determined only by settling the relation in which it stands to Tertullian's Apologeticum.Stoic influences can also be seen in his work.

Phaedrus the Epicurean

Phaedrus (; Greek: Φαῖδρος; 138 – 70/69 BC) was an Epicurean philosopher. He was the head (scholarch) of the Epicurean school in Athens after the death of Zeno of Sidon around 75 BC, until his own death in 70 or 69 BC. He was a contemporary of Cicero, who became acquainted with him in his youth at Rome. During his residence in Athens (80 BC) Cicero renewed his acquaintance with him. Phaedrus was at that time an old man, and was already a leading figure of the Epicurean school. He was also on terms of friendship with Velleius, whom Cicero introduces as the defender of the Epicurean tenets in the De Natura Deorum, and especially with Atticus. Cicero especially praises his agreeable manners. He had a son named Lysiadas. Phaedrus was succeeded by Patro.

Cicero wrote to Atticus requesting Phaedrus' essay On gods (Greek: Περὶ θεῶν). Cicero used this work to aid his composition of the first book of the De Natura Deorum. Not only did he develop his account of Epicurean doctrine using it, but also the account of the doctrines of earlier philosophers.

Pro aris et focis

Pro aris et focis is a Latin phrase used as the motto of many families, military regiments, and some educational institutions meaning "For God and country" or literally "For altars and hearths", but is used by ancient authors to express attachment to all that was most dear and venerable. It could be more idiomatically translated "for hearth and home;" as the Latin term "aris", generally refers to either the altars of the spirits of the house (the Lares) and is often used as a synecdoche for the family home. Thus the famous Latin orator and philosopher Cicero uses the phrase to emphasize the importance of his argument in his philosophical work De Natura Deorum (3.40).

Res divina

In ancient Rome, res divinae, singular res divina (Latin for "divine matters," that is, the service of the gods), were the laws that pertained to the religious duties of the state and its officials. Roman law was divided into the res divina and res publica, the divine and public or political spheres, the latter phrase being the origin of the English word "republic." Res divina also means, as a technical term, ritual sacrifice.

In the Roman system of belief, religio was the acknowledgement of superiors through honores (honours). Caelestes honores ("heavenly honours") were offered to the gods, and very occasionally to mortals whose actions had earned great benefits for mankind. Earthly hierarchies reflected the celestial order.Cicero, who was both a senator and augur, investigates the nature of res divinae and res humanae (human affairs) in his treatise De natura deorum ("On the nature of the gods"). He makes no attempt to develop an internally consistent system in which the rituals of res divinae might be modified by “higher truths” of doctrine or revelation. He concludes that even if the nature and existence of the gods cannot be proved beyond doubt, it is wise and pragmatic to honour them by piously offering the time-hallowed rites. Rome's continued success might depend on it. Cicero's reasoning offers a stark contrast to later Judaeo-Christian definitions of religion as spiritual and godly in contrast — or opposition — to those things regarded as material and temporal.Res divina is an example of ancient Roman religious terminology that was taken over and redefined for Christian purposes, in this case by Augustine. In Augustinian usage, res divina is a "divine reality" as represented by a sacrum signum ("sacred sign") such as a sacrament.

The Gold of Tolosa

The Gold of Tolosa (also the aurum Tolosanum) is the appellation used to refer to a semi-legendary treasure hoard seized by the ancient Roman proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio from the Volcae town of Tolosa, modern-day Toulouse.

Near-contemporary Cicero briefly mentioned it in his philosophical dialogue De Natura Deorum, referencing political scandal in the late Roman Republic with the line "Consider other judicial inquiries, the one in reference to the gold of Tolosa, and the one on the Jugurthine conspiracy..." The treasure itself was discussed by several ancient historians, including Strabo and Cassius Dio.

Zeno of Citium

Zeno of Citium (; Greek: Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς, Zēnōn ho Kitieus; c. 334 – c. 262 BC) was a Hellenistic thinker, of Phoenician descent, from Citium (Κίτιον, Kition), Cyprus. Zeno was the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BC. Based on the moral ideas of the Cynics, Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of Virtue in accordance with Nature. It proved very popular, and flourished as one of the major schools of philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

Zeno of Sidon

Zeno of Sidon (Greek: Ζήνων ὁ Σιδώνιος; c. 150 – c. 75 BC) was an Epicurean philosopher from the Phoenician city of Sidon. His writings have not survived, but there are some epitomes of his lectures preserved among the writings of his pupil Philodemus.

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