The poet Diagoras of Melos was perhaps the most famous atheist of the fifth century. Although he did not write about atheism, anecdotes about his unbelief suggest it was self-confident, almost teasing, and very public.
He revealed the secret rituals of the Eleusinian mystery religion to everyone and “thus made them ordinary,” that is, he purposefully demystified a cherished sacred rite, apparently to provoke his contemporaries into thought.
In another famous story, a friend pointed out an expensive display of votive gifts and said, “You think the gods have no care for man? Why, you can see from all these votive pictures here how many people have escaped the fury of storms at sea by praying to the gods who have brought them safe to harbor.”
To which Diagoras replied, “Yes, indeed, but where are the pictures of all those who suffered shipwreck and perished in the waves?”
A good question.
Diagoras was indicted for profaning the mysteries, but escaped. A search was put out for him throughout the Athenian empire, which indicates that the charges were serious, but he was not found.
-- Excerpt from Doubt: A History, by Jennifer Michael Hecht –
Have a great Friday!