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image of Mnemosyne

This paper examines the tacit implications of the theory proposed by A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley, according to which Epicurus did not believe that the gods were eternal living beings consisting of body and soul—this would be in conflict with the general atomistic principle of compounds as subject to eventual dissolution—but assumed instead that they are created in the human mind by the very act of imagination. Thus, they are eternal, not as living beings but as imagined living beings, and as concepts. It is argued that this alleged solution to the question how the Epicurean gods could be eternal does not do away with the problem; on the contrary, the implications and consequences of the arguments given in support of the theory, when made explicit, turn out to result in a scenario that is wholly inconceivable. Taken together with the long recognized fact—not contested by L & S—that the primary sources speak against the theory, these results should lead to its definite dismissal. Admittedly, if the Epicureans held the gods to consist of some kind of body and soul, there is a conflict, but a conflict much easier to live with than the difficulties accompanying the proposed solution.


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