This is close to what Xenophanes observed when he coined the term “anthropomorphism,” stating:
Ethiopians say the their gods are flat-nosed and dark,
Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired
If oxen and horses and lions had hands
and were able to draw with their hands and do the same things as men,
horses would draw the shapes of gods to look like horses
and oxen to look like oxen, and each would make the
gods’ bodies have the same shape as they themselves had
The statement attributed to Xenophanes is interesting. Unfortunately no reference was given, and it should have been. There are rather too many “interesting” but bogus quotes attributed to ancient figures dotted around the web. Let’s make sure we’re not adding to them!
In this case the item comes from the Wikipedia article on Xenophanes of Colophon, which features the quote. This gives a reference of H. Diels and W. Kranz (eds.), Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, pp. 38–58, 1st Edition, Berlin, 1903, B, 16, 15. The link is to an archive.org copy of the book.
Xenophanes is extant only in fragments. I learn that the fragment in question comes to us because the early Christian writer Clement of Alexandria quoted it: Wikipedia says: “Clement, Miscellanies V.xiv.109.1-3 and VII.iv.22.1. Both quoted in Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy 2001, p. 43″. In other words there is material in the Stromata, books 5 and 7.
Book 5, chapter 14 consists of pagan testimonies in favour of Christian teaching. In the standard ANF version the Xenophanes quote reads:
Rightly, then, Xenophanes of Colophon, teaching that God is one and incorporeal, adds:-
“One God there is midst gods and men supreme;
In form, in mind, unlike to mortal men.”
“But men have the idea that gods are born,
And wear their clothes, and have both voice and shape.”
“But had the oxen or the lions hands,
Or could with hands depict a work like men,
Were beasts to draw the semblance of the gods,
The horses would them like to horses sketch,
To oxen, oxen, and their bodies make
Of such a shape as to themselves belongs.”
Which is not quite what we have above.
In Stromata book 7, chapter 4, we find:
Now, as the Greeks represent the gods as possessing human forms, so also do they as possessing human passions. And as each of them depict their forms similar to themselves, as Xenophanes says, “Ethiopians as black as apes, the Thracians ruddy and tawny;” so also they assimilate their souls to those who form them: the Barbarians, for instance, who make them savage and wild; and the Greeks, who make them more civilized, yet subject to passion.
So the initial quotation consists of two quotations run together in their presumed order.
Looking now at the Diels volume, I quickly find that no-one on Wikipedia has verified the supposed reference. Xenophanes is chapter 11, p. 38, which is p.53 of the PDF. The quotes are in sections; B is “fragmente”. On p.54 (69 of the PDF) is B.15 and B.16, which someone unspecified has run together in reverse order to make the Wikipedia quote. And thus are legends made!
Actually it’s not that inaccurate. All the words are by Xenophanes; only the arrangement is speculative. Interesting to see it; and interesting how Clement quotes him for quite a different purpose to that of the moderns. For Clement, this is all proof that the gods are false — a reasonable argument –, and, as Xenophanes says, there is only one God.