(E. H. Blakeney, trans.)
Most Glorious of Immortals, might God (Zeus),
Invoked by many a name, O Sovran King
Of Universal nature, piloting
This world in harmony with law (themis), – all hail!
Thee it is meet that mortals should invoke,
For we Thine offspring are, and sole of all
Created things that live and move on earth
Receive from Thee the image of the Word.
Therefore I praise Thee, and shall hymn Thy power
Unceasingly. Thee the wide world obeys,
As onward ever in its course it rolls
Where’er Thou guidest, and rejoices still
Beneath Thy sway: so strong an instrument
Is held by Thine unconquerable hands –
That two-edged thunderbolt of living fire
Which never fails. Beneath its dreadful blow
All Nature reels; therewith Thou dost direct
The Universal Reason which, commixt
With all the greater and lesser lights,
Moves thro’ the Universe. How great Thou art,
The King supreme for ever and for aye!
No work is done apart from Thee, O God,
Or in the world or in the heavens above
Or in the deep, save only what is wrought
By sinners in their folly. Nay, ’tis Thine
To make the uneven smooth and bring to birth
Order from chaos. By Thy power, great Spirit,
The foul itself grows fair; all things are blent
Together, good with evil; things that strive
Will find in Thee a friend; that so may reign
One Law, one Reason, everlastingly
O Thou most bounteous God who sittest throned
In clouds, the Lord of Lightning, save mankind
From baleful ignorance; yea scatter it,
O Father, from the soul, and make men wise
With Thine own wisdom, for by wisdom Thou
Dost govern the whole world in righteousness;
That so, being honoured, we may Thee requite
With honour, chanting without pause Thy deeds,
As is most meet; for greater guerdon ne’er
Befalls or man or god than evermore
Duly to praise the Universal Law.
Both the translation and the original Greek are taken from E. H. Blakeney, trans., The Hymn of Cleanthes (New York: MacMillan Company, 1921), 8-9. (The Greek text is found in pages 6 and 7 of the same book.)
Cleanthes was a Stoic philosopher born at Assos in peninsular Troas, in what is now the northwestern part of Anatolia, Turkey, around 331 B.C. After a long life, he died around 232 B.C. He succeeded Zeno, who was the founder of Stoicism, and presided over the Stoa (the "Porch") for thirty years until he was succeeded himself by Chrysippus. Many years later, the Christian Lactantius was to note that Zeno had come upon many of the doctrines shared by Christians. "Zeno rerum naturae dispositorem atque opificem universitatis λόγον praedicat." ("Zeno preached that the Logos (Reason) established the order of things and framed the universe.") Divine Institutes, iv.9. Many have commented on the Stoic influence found in St. Paul's epistles and even in the Gospel of St. John (the "Word" or "Logos"). The Stoics, in particular in regard to their notion of the Natural Law, had a great influence on Roman law.
There are only scatterings of Cleanthes's teachings left, and no systematic restatement can be made from such disjecta membra, or scattered members. Like most Greeks that gravitated towards monotheism, his concept of God was pantheistic, and God was seen as in the world, sort of as its soul, the natura naturans and natura naturata sharing the same substance. To the Stoic, God was not also wholly "Other" or transcendent. And yet we see in this pagan philosopher, who had no benefit of the Jew and his Revelation, a remarkable sensitivity and grasp, however dark, of an Eternal Law, a "Deep Magic," underlying the entirety of creation, including man. Man had to hearken to that Law, and conformity to it was virtue, while disobedience to it vice.
The poem has been hailed as "the noblest expression of heathen devotion which Greek literature has preserved to us." (Blakesney, 6 (referencing Lightfoot)).