Page images
PDF
EPUB

38

FUTURE LIFE.

BOOK I.

66

" i

there was a kind of silent protest against their sincerity. It was an evident, frequently an avowed, condescension to the prejudices of the vulgar. Livy admires the wisdom of Numa, who introduced the fear of the Gods, as a most efficacious means of controlling an ignorant and barbarous populace.” Even the serious Dionysius judges of religion according to its usefulness, not according to its truth, as the wise scheme of the legislator, rather than as the revelation of the Deity.k Pausanias, while he is making a kind of religious survey of Greece, expressing a grave veneration for all the temples and rites of antiquity, frequently relating the miraculous intervention of the several deities, is jealous and careful lest he should be considered a believer in the fables which he relates. The natural consequence of this double doctrine was not unforeseen. What,” says the Academic in Cicero, “ when men maintain all belief in the immortal Gods to have been invented by wise men for the good of the state, that religion might lead to their duty those who would not be led by reason, do they not sweep away the very foundations of all religion?" ° The mental childhood of the human race was passing

away, at least it had become wearied of its old toys. The education itself, by which, accord

m

n

Future Life,

IH. R. i. 19.

vi. 10, in which Augustine, after k Ant. Rom. ii. 8, 9.

citing some remarkable passages from m Beotica, 25; Laconica, 4. Seneca, concludes—Sed ille quem phi

" Toûtov TDV abyov, kal őoa é or losophiæ quasi liberum fecerat, quia κότα είρηται, ουκ αποδεχόμενος γρά- | illustris populi Romani senator erat, ow, ypáow oůdèy nooov. Corinth. colebat quod repudiabat, agebat quod xvii. In another place he repeats arguebat, quod culpabat, adorabat. that he gives the popular legend as p Gibbon has a striking sentence in he finds it. Arcad. viii.

his juvenile Essai sur la Litterature De Nat. Deor. i. 42. Compare | (Misc. Works, iv. 61): " Les Romains the chapter of the De Civitate Dei, étaient éclairés: cependant ces mêmes

[ocr errors]

CHAP. 1.

FUTURE LIFE.

39

ing to these generally judicious writers, the youthful mind was to be impregnated with reverential feelings for the objects of national worship, must have been coldly conducted by teachers conscious that they were practising a pious fraud

a pious fraud upon their disciples, and perpetually embarrassed by the necessity of maintaining the gravity befitting such solemn subjects, and of suppressing the involuntary smile, which might betray the secret of their own impiety. One class of fables seems to have been universally exploded even in the earliest youth, those which related to another life. The picture of the unrivalled satirist may be overcharged, but it corresponds strictly with the public language of the orator, and the private sentence of the philosopher:

The silent realm of disembodied ghosts,
The frogs that croak along the Stygian coasts ;
The thousand souls in one crazed vessel steer'd,

Not boys believe, save boys without a beard. Even the religious Pausanias speaks of the immortality of the soul as a foreign doctrine, introduced by the Chaldeans and the Magi, and embraced by some of the Greeks, particularly by Plato. Pliny, whose

” Natural History opens with a declaration that the universe is the sole Deity, devotes a separate chapter to a contemptuous exposure of the idle notion of the im

a

Romains ne furent pas choqués de cimur, ut existimemus apud inferos voir réunir dans la personne de César impiorum supplicia perferre un dieu, un prêtre, et un athée.” He qua si falsa sunt, id quod omnes adds atheist, as disbelieving with the intelligunt.--Cic. Pro Cluent. c. 61. Epicureans the providence of God. Nemo tam puer est ut Cerberum 9 Esse aliquid manes et subterranea regna,

timeat, et tenebras et larvarum haEt contum, et Stygio ranas in gurgite nigras; bitum nudis ossibus cohærentem. Atque una transire vadum tot millia cymba. Nec pueri credunt nisi qui nondum ære la

Mors nos aut consumit aut emittit, vantur.-Pro Sat, ii. 149.

Sen. Ep. 24.
Nisi forte ineptiis ac fabulis du- ? Messeniaca, c. xxxii.

40

RECEPTION OF FOREIGN RELIGIONS.

BOOK (.

Foreign
Religions.

mortality of the soul, as a vision of human pride, and equally absurd, whether under the form of existence in another sphere, or under that of transmigration."

We return then again to the question, what remained Reception of for minds thus enlightened beyond the poetic

faith of their ancestors, yet not ripe for philosophy ? how was the craving for religious excitement to be appeased, which turned with dissatisfaction or disgust from its accustomed nutriment? Here is the secret of the remarkable union between the highest reason and the most abject superstition which characterises the age of Imperial Rome. Every foreign religion found proselytes in the capital of the world ; not only the pure and rational theism of the Jews, which had made a progress, the extent of which it is among the most difficult questions in history to estimate: but the Oriental rites of Phrygia, and the Isiac and Serapic worship of Egypt, which, in defiance of the edict of the magistratet and the scorn of the philosopher, maintained their ground in the capital, and were so widely propagated among the provinces, that their vestiges may be traced in the remote districts of Gaul " and Britain ; * and at a later period the reviving Mithriac Mysteries, which in the same manner made their way into the western provinces of the empire." In the capital itself, every thing that was new, or secret,

X

u

Libvii. 55.

recent excavations at York, vestiges of See antè, p. 6.

Isiac worship have been discovered. As late as the time of Julian, The passage in Pliny, xxx. 1, refers the son of a German king had changed probably to Druidical magic. Brihis barbarous name of Agenario for tannia hodieque eam attonite celebrat that of Serapion, having been instructed tantis cæremoniis ut dedisse Persis in certain mysteries in Gaul. Amm. videri posset. Marcell. xvi. c. 12.

y Religions de l'Antiquité, i. 363; * I have been informed that in some and note 9, p. 743.

CHAP. I.

POETRY CEASES TO BE RELIGIOUS.

41

а

or imposing, found a welcome reception among a people that listened with indifference to philosophers who reasoned, and poets who embodied philosophy in the most attractive diction. For in Rome, poetry had forsworn the alliance of the old imaginative faith. The irreligious system of Euhemerus ? had found a translator in Ennius; that of Epicurus was commended by the unrivalled powers of Lucretius. Virgil himself, who, as he collected from all quarters the beauties of Poetry ceases ancient poetry, so he inlaid in his splendid glous. tessellation the noblest images of the poetic faith of Greece: yet, though at one moment he transfuses mythology into his stately verse, with all the fire of an ardent votary, at the next he appears as a pantheist, and describes the Deity but as the animating soul of the universe. An occasional fit of superstition crosses over the careless and Epicurean apathy of Horace. Astrology and witchcraft led captive minds which

с

Consultus erro, nunc retrorsum

? See quotation from Ennius, Cic. 1 i. 42. Plut. de Isid. et Osir. p. 421; de Divinat. ii. 50. Euhemerus, Brucker, i. 604. either of Messina in Sicily or of Mes- • Æn. vi. 724. According to his sene in Peloponnesus (he lived in the Life by Donatus, Virgil was an Epitime of Cassander king of Macedon), curean. was of the Cyrenaic school of philo- b Insanientis dum sapientiæ sophy, and was employed on a voyage

Vela dare, atque iterare cursus to the Red Sea by Cassander. But

Cogor relictos. he was still more celebrated for his And this because he heard thunder at theologic innovation : he pretended to noon-day. have discovered during this voyage on c See the Canidia of Horace. Acan island in the Eastern Ocean, called cording to Gibbon's just criticism, a Panchaia, a register of the births and

vulgar witch,” the Erictho of Ludeaths of the gods inscribed on a

“ tedious, disgusting, but golden column in the temple of the sometimes sublime.” Note, ch. sxv. Triphylian Jupiter. Hence he in- | vol. iv. p. 239. It is the difference ferred that all the popular deities between the weird sisters in Macbeth were mere mortals deified on account

and Middleton's “Witch,” excepting of their fame, or their benefactions to

of course the prolixity of Lucan. the human race. Cic. de Nat. Deor.

can, is

42

SUPERSTITIONS.

BOOK I.

Superstitions.

boasted themselves emancipated from the idle terrors of the avenging gods. In the Pharsalia of Lucan, which manifestly soars far above the vulgar theology, where the lofty Stoicism elevates the brave man who disdains, above the gods who flatter, the rising fortunes of Cæsar; yet in the description of the witch Erictho evoking the dead (the only purely imaginative passage in the whole rhetorical poem), there is a kind of tremendous truth and earnestness, which show that if the poet himself believed not “ the 'magic wonders which he drew," at least he well knew the terrors that would strike the age in which he wrote. The old established traders in human credulity had

almost lost their occupation, but their place

was supplied by new empirics, who swarmed from all quarters. The oracles were silent, while astrology seized the administration of the secrets of futurity. Pompey, and Crassus, and Cæsar, all consulted the Chaldæans, whose flattering predictions that they should die in old age, in their homes, in glory, so belied by their miserable fates, still brought not the unblushing science into disrepute. The repeated edicts which expelled the astrologers and “ mathematicians from Rome, were no less an homage to their power over the public mind, than their recall, the tacit permission to return, or the return in defiance of the insulted edict. Banished by Agrippa, by Augustus, by Tiberius,8 by Claudius, they are described in the inimitable language of Tacitus, as a race who, treacherous to those in power,

d

h

a Chaldeis sed major erit fiducia, quicquid Dixerit astrologus, credent de fonte re

latum Hammonis; quoniam Delphis oracula

cessant, Et genus humanum damnat caligo futuri.

Juv. vi. 553.

e Dion, xlix. c. 43.
f Dion. lvi. c. 25.
8 Tac. Ann. ii. 32.
b Tac. Ann. xii. 52.

« PreviousContinue »