Humane Religion Magazine
January - February 1998 Issue
THE COMPASSION OF A “PAGAN”
The following article, excerpted from the works of Ovid, was written circa 15 A.D. Ovid was a Roman citizen who lived most of his life under the rule of Caesar Augustus. The same Augustus whose demand for a worldwide census brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, for the birth of Jesus.
Ovid died A.D. 18, when Jesus was still a very young man. But although they shared a common time period, their lifestyles were very different. Jesus was the product of a village culture, in which the labor of men and women was necessary for their sustenance and their survival. Ovid was born of wealthy parents and was a favorite among the fashionable people who enjoyed the luxury and diversions of the Imperial court which, under Augustus, has been characterized as a place where "wit and good manners took the place of morality."
But as he grew older, this favored son of a hedonistic, pagan society, developed an understanding far beyond that of his contemporaries. Ovid understood the horrors to which human beings subjected the animals entrusted to their care. He abhorred Roman sacrificial worship and refused to believe that the "Deity in the heavens can rejoice in the slaughter of the laborious, useful ox."
Given the spiritual understanding and compassion that Ovid demonstrated, how can anyone doubt that Jesus Christ was at least as developed as he.* How can they resist the fact that when Jesus drove the animals and people out of the Temple, he too, was taking a stand against the cult of animal sacrifice. How can the compassion of Jesus for all forms of life be questioned, when he taught that God was concerned with the life and the fate of the smallest sparrow.
And, ultimately, how can those who consider him to be the Son of God—the most highly developed being who ever walked the earth—deny Jesus the compassion and spiritual understanding that Ovid demonstrates in the following selection from Metamorphoses
"But why have you deserved to die, you sheep, you harmless breed who serve men with the nectar you carry in your full udders; who give your wool as soft coverings for us—who assist us more by your life than by your death?
“Why have the oxen deserved this—beings without guile and without deceit; innocent and mild, born for the endurance of labor? Ungrateful, indeed, is man and unworthy of the boundless gifts of the harvest, who after unyoking him from the plough, can slaughter the tiller of his fields; who can strike with the axe that neck worn bare with the labor, through which he had so often turned up the hard ground, which had afforded so many a harvest.
*Especially when you can consider that in his early years, Ovid wrote the ultimate, erotic “love” poems, beloved by countless generations of college undergraduates with raging hormones.
"And is it not enough that such wickedness is committed by men. They have involved the gods themselves in this abomination, and they believe that a Deity in the heavens can rejoice in the slaughter of the hard-working and useful ox. The victim...is placed before their altars, and ignorant of the purpose of the proceedings, it hears the prayers of the priest...It is placed before their altars, It sees the fruits of the earth, which it cultivated, placed on its head between its horns and, struck down, its life blood dyes the sacrificial knife, which it had perhaps already seen, lying in wait in the clear bowl of water...
"From whence such hunger in man after unnatural and unlawful foods? Do you dare, O mortal race, to continue to feed on flesh? Cease, I adjure you, and give heed to my admonition. And when you present to your palates the limbs of slaughtered oxen, know and feel that you are feeding on the tillers of the ground...
"To what wicked habits does he accustom his palate...who cuts the throat of a calf, turning a deaf ear to its piteous moans. Or, who has the heart to pierce the throat of a kid which utters cries like those of a child, or, who can feed on the bird whom he had fed with his own hand?" #
“BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL, FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY.”