picture of Plutarch

Plutarch (ca. 46-ca. 120) wrote an essay about what has been translated as "superstition." Some portions of the essay appear to describe scrupulosity. Plutarch, besides writing essays and other works, was a priest at the temple of Apollo at Delphi.

And so is the soul of the superstitious man. He turns pale under his crown of flowers, is terrified while he sacrifices, prays with a faltering voice, scatters incense with trembling hands, and all in all proves how mistaken was the saying of Pythagoras that we are at our best when approaching the gods. For that is the time when the superstitious are most miserable and most woebegone....

When Timotheus at Athens was singing a hymn to Artemis and calling her "Ecstatic, prophetic, frantic, demented," Cinesias the song-writer stood up from among the audience and cried, "May you have a daughter like that!" But in fact superstitious people do imagine things like that and worse about Artemis.... No more suitable than these are the ideas they have about Apollo, about Hera, about Aphrodite. They tremble with horror at all of them.

...[N]o malady is so variable, so charged with emotion, so compounded of ideas opposed to and conflicting with one another, as superstition.

From Louise Ropes Loomis, trans., Plutarch: Selected Lives and Essays (Roslyn, N.Y.: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1951), 373, 375-6, 379.

[See also H. Bowden, Before superstition and after: Theophrastus and Plutarch on deisidaimonia, Past and Present, 2008, 199.suppl 3: 56-71.]


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