Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 4 October] 1813

From John Adams

Quincy Sept [ca. 4 Oct.] 1813

σὲ γὰρ πάντεσσι θέμις θνητοῖσι προσαυδᾶn.

“It is not only permitted but enjoined upon all Mortals to address you.” Why should not our Divines translate it

“It is our duty and our priviledge to address the Throne of thy grace and pray for all needed lawfull Blessings temporal and Spiritual,.”

Θεμiς was the Goddess of honesty, Justice, Decency, and right; the Wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations and Counsells. She commanded all Mortals to pray to Jupiter, for all lawful Benefits and Blessings.

Now, is not this, (So far forth) the Essence of Christian devotion? Is not this Christian Piety? Is it not an Acknowledgement1 of the existence of a Supream Being? of his universal Providence? of a righteous Administration of the Government of the Universe? And what can Jews, Christians or Mahometans do more?

Priestley, the heroic Priestley, would not have dared to answer or to ask2 these questions; tho’ he might have answered them, consistently enough with the Spirit of his System.

I regret that Grotius has not translated this Hymn: and cannot account for his omission of it. Duport translates, the above line, only by “Te nempe licet mortalibus ægris cunctis compellare.” Where he finds his ægris, I know not. No such Idea, is in the greek. All Mortalls, Sick or well, have a right and it is their duty to pray, as far as I can understand the Greek.

Bougainville translates it

“Et3 tout ce qui respire animé par tes mains, à celebrer ta gloire, invite les humains. Beni Sois a jamais.” This translation is Christian with a witness. None but a Jew, a Mahometan or a Christian, could ever have translated that Simple line in this manner. yet the Idea, the Sentiment translated into Christianity is very well: well enough.

The Gentleman of Verona Gironomo Pompei, translates it thus, After Salve o Giove, for “χαiρε.” “però che gli nomin tutti, dritto è ben, che a te volgan le parole.” Now tell me, what resemblanc[e] of the Greek you can find in this Italian Version.

In this manner are the most ancient Greek Theologians rendered and transmitted to our youth, by the Christians.

Ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ γένος ἐσμὲν, ἰης μίμημα λαχοντες

Μοῦνον,4 ὅσα ζώει τε καὶ ἔρπει θνήτ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν.

Εκ σοῦ γὰρ γένος ἐσμὲν” I presume is the phrase quoted by Saint Paul, when he Says to the Atheneans, “One of your own Poets have Said We are all his Offspring.” Acts. 17th 28. “For5 in him We live and move and have our being; as certain also of your own Poets have Said, for We are also his Offspring.6 Forasmuch then as We are the Offspring of God, We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto Silver or Gold, or Stone graven by Mans device.” This reasoning is irresistable. For what can be more mad, than to represent the eternal almighty omnipresent Cause and Principle of the Universe, by Statues and Pictures, by Coins or Medals?

Duport renders these two lines by “Omnes tua namque Propago

Nos Sumus, æternæ quasi imago vocis et echo”7

Tantum, quotquot humi Spirantes repimus.

Bougainville translates them thus

Nous Sommes tes enfans, ton Ombre ton image:

Et tout ce qui respire animé par tes mains,

A celebrer ta gloire invite les humains.

Beni Sois a jamais.

Pompei renders them

Che Siam tua Stirpe, e solo noi, fra quanti;

Vivon mortali e muovon Su la terra,

lo imitar de la voce abbiam Sortito.

Moses Says. Genesis. 1. 27. “God8 created man in his own image.” What then is the difference between Cleanthes and Moses? Are not the Being and Attributes of the Supream Being: The Resemblance, the Image the Shadow of God in the Intelligence, and moral qualities of Man, and the Lawfulness and duty of Prayer, as clearly9 asserted by Cleanthes as by Moses? And did not the Chaldeans, the Egyptians the Persians the Indians, the Chinese, believe all this, as well as the Jews and Greeks?

Alexander appears to have behaved to the Jews, as Napoleon did to the Mahometans in the Pyramid of Grand Cairo. Ptolomy the greatest of his Generals, and a greater Man than himself was So impressed with what he learned in Judea, that he employed 70 learned Men to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, nearly 300 years before Christ. He Sent learned Men to collect Books from all Nations and deposited them in the Alexandrian Library. Will any Man make me believe that Cæsar that Pompey, that Cicero, that Seneca, that Tacitus, that Dionisius Hallicarnassensis, that Plutarch, had never Seen nor heard of the Septuagint? Why, might not Cleanthes, have Seen the Septuagint? The Curiosity of Pompey to See, the interiour of the temple Shews that the System of the Jews, was become an object of Speculation. It is impossible to believe, that the Septuagint, was unknown and unheard of by Greeks or Romans at that time, at least by the great Generals Orators Historians Phylosophers10 and Statesmen, who looked through the then known World, for information of every thing, on the other hand how do We know how much Moses Samuel Joshua David Solomon and Esdrass, Daniel Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah learned in Babilon Egypt and Persia? The Destruction of the Library at Alexandria, is all the answer We can obtain to those Questions. I believe that Jews Grecians Romans and Christians all conspired, or connived At that Savage Catastrophy.

I believe Cleanthes to be as good a Christian as Priestley.

But enough of my School Boy criticisms and crude Philosophy, problematical History and heretical Divinity for the present.

John Adams

RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 199:35470–1); edge trimmed, with missing text supplied from FC; partially dated, with full date conjectured from location of FC in Lb at MHi; at foot of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as a letter of Sept. 1813 received 13 Oct. 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers); dated 4 Sept. 1813, but entered in proximity to letters of 4 Oct. 1813 and obviously written after Adams to TJ, [22] Sept. 1813.

In the first two-thirds of this letter, Adams continues the discussion of the opening of the Hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes that he began in his previous letter of [22] Sept. 1813. Here he takes up lines 3–5, σὲ γὰρ … προσαυδᾶn and Ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐπὶ γαῖαν, of which a modern translation reads “For it is right for all mortals to address you: / for we have our origin in you, bearing a likeness to God, / we, alone of all that live and move as mortal creatures on earth” (Johan C. Thom, ed., Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus [2005], 34–5, 40). As his source Adams used Brunck, Gnomici Poetæ Græci, 141–9. Adams was unsatisfied with the Latin, French, and Italian translations of these lines in that work, which can be translated “It is surely permitted for all feeble mortals to address you. For we are all your offspring, as if an image and very great echo of the eternal voice, however many of us animate beings creep upon the ground” (Latin translation by Dr. John C. Miller); “We are your children, your shadow, your image. And all that breathes, brought to life by your hands, invites human beings to celebrate your glory. Be blessed forever” (French translation by Dr. Roland H. Simon); and “It is indeed right, that all men, that they turn their words to you” (Italian translation by Dr. Jonathan T. Hine and Dr. Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia). Θεμiς: “Themis.” ægris: “feeble; sick.” χαiρε: “Hail.” alexander the Great and Napoleon practiced religious toleration during their respective campaigns in Egypt (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 11.5, in Josephus, trans. Ralph Marcus, Loeb Classical Library [1937; repr. 1966], 6:472–9; Felix Markham, Napoleon [1963], 61–2). Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) visited the interiour of the temple after the fall of Jerusalem to Roman forces in 63 B.C. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.4, in Josephus, 7:481n, 482–5). Most of the specifics surrounding the destruction of the ancient library at alexandria in Egypt remain controversial (Roger S. Bagnall, “Alexandria: Library of Dreams,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings 146 [2002]: esp. 356–60).

1RC: “Acknonowledgement.” FC: “acknowledgement.”

2Preceding three words interlined.

3Omitted opening quotation mark editorially supplied.

4This word thus in Brunck, giving the phrase the meaning “bearing only a likeness to God.” Thom renders the word as “μοῦνοι.

5Omitted opening quotation mark editorially supplied.

6Extraneous closing quotation mark editorially omitted.

7Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

8Omitted opening quotation mark editorially supplied.

9RC: “cleary.” FC: “clearly.”

10Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and Cleanthes search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on destruction of historical records search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Alexander (“the Great”), king of Macedon search
  • Alexandria, Egypt; library at search
  • Bible; Acts referenced search
  • Bible; Genesis referenced search
  • Bougainville, Jean Pierre; as translator of Cleanthes search
  • Caesar, Julius; mentioned search
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius; mentioned search
  • Cleanthes; Hymn to Zeus search
  • Cleanthes; religion of search
  • Daniel (Old Testament figure) search
  • David, king of Israel search
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus; mentioned search
  • Duport, James; as translator search
  • Ezekiel (Hebrew prophet) search
  • Ezra (Hebrew scribe and priest) search
  • Grotius, Hugo; and Cleanthes’s Hymn to Zeus search
  • Hymn to Zeus (Cleanthes) search
  • Isaiah (Hebrew prophet) search
  • Jeremiah (Hebrew prophet) search
  • Joshua (Old Testament military leader) search
  • libraries; at Alexandria, Egypt search
  • Moses (Hebrew prophet) search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; practices religious toleration search
  • Paul, Saint search
  • Plutarch; mentioned search
  • Pompei, Girolamo; as translator search
  • Pompeius Magnus, Gnaeus (Pompey the Great) search
  • Priestley, Joseph; and Cleanthes search
  • Ptolemy I, king of Egypt search
  • Samuel (Hebrew prophet) search
  • Seneca (Roman statesman and philosopher); mentioned search
  • Solomon (king of Israel) search
  • Tacitus; mentioned search