XI. When you hear, therefore, the mythological tales which the Egyptians tell of their gods, their wanderings, their mutilations, and many other disasters which befell them, remember what has just been said, and be assured that nothing of what is thus told you is really true, or ever happened in fact. For can it be imagined that it is the dog 1 itself which is reverenced by them under the name of Hermes 2? It is the qualities of this animal, his constant vigilance, and his acumen in distinguishing his friends from his foes, which have rendered him, as Plato says, a meet emblem of that god who is the chief patron of intelligence. Nor can we imagine that they think that the sun, like a newly born babe, springs up every day out of a lily. It is quite true that they represent the rising sun in this manner, 3 but the reason is because they wish to indicate thereby that it is moisture to which we owe the first kindling of this luminary. In like manner, the cruel and bloody king of Persia, Ochus, who not only put to death great numbers of the people, but even slew the Apis Bull himself, and afterwards served him up in a banquet to his friends, is represented by them by a
sword, and by this name he is still to be found in the catalogue of their kings. This name, therefore, does not represent his person, but indicates his base and cruel qualities, which were best suggested by the picture of an instrument of destruction. If, therefore, O Clea, you will hear and entertain the story of these gods from those who know how to explain it consistently with religion and philosophy, if you will steadily persist in the observance of all these holy rites which the laws require of you, and are moreover fully persuaded that to form true notions of the divine nature is more acceptable to them than any sacrifice or mere external act of worship can be, you will by this means be entirely exempt from any danger of falling into superstition, an evil no less to be avoided than atheism itself.
214:1 The animal here referred to must be the dog-headed ape,
, which we see in pictures of the Judgment assisting Thoth to weigh the heart of the dead. This dog-headed ape is a wonderfully intelligent creature, and its weird cleverness is astonishing.
214:2 The Egyptian Tehuti, or Thoth.