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-by accident, that the question concerning the origin of the world did ever in antient times enter into religious i
fystems, or was treated of by theologers. The-phi
losophers alone made profeffion of delivering fyftems of i this nature; and it was pretty late too before thefe be
· thought themselves of having recourse to a mind on su:preme intelligence, as the first caufe of all, .. So far was
it from being esteemed profane in thofe days to account for the origin of things without a deity, that THADES, ANAXIMENES, HERACLITUS, and others, who embraced that fystem of cosmogony, paft unquestioned ; while ANAXAGORAS, the first undoubted theift among the phiJosophers, was perhaps the firft that ever was accused of atheisin *.
We are told by Sextus EMPIRICUS t, that EpicuRUS, when a boy, reading with his preceptor thefe verses of HESIOD,
Eldest of beings, chaos first arose ;
the young scholar firft betrayed his inquisitive genius, by alking, And chaos whence ? But was told by his preceptor, that be muft have recourse to the philosophers for a so
* It will be easy to give a reason, why THALIS, ANAXIMANDIR, and those early philosophers, who really were atheists, might be very orthodox in the pagan creed ; and why ANAXAGORAS and SOCRATES, though real theists, must naturally, in antient times, be esteemed impious. The blind, unguided powers
of nature, if they could produce men, might also produce such beings as Jupiter and NEPTUNE, who being the most powerful, in. telligent existences in the world, would be proper objects of worship. But where a supreme intelligence, the first cause of all, is admitted, these capricious beings, if they exist at all, must appear very fubordinate and dependent, and consequently be excluded from the rank of deities. PATO (de leg. lib. x.) assigns this reason of the imputation thrown on ANAYAGORAS, viz. his denying the divinity of the stars, planets, and other created objecis. it Adversus MATHEM. lib, ix. -8
olution of fuch questions. And from this hint, Epicu2 Rusí left philology and all other studies, in order to be
take himself to that, science, whence alone he expected satisfaction with regard to these sublime subjects. w The common people were never likely to push their os researches so far, or derive from reasoning their systems - of religion ; when philologers and mythologists, we see, :: scarce ever discovered so much penetration. And even
the philosophers, who discoursed of such topics, readily assented to the grofleft theory, and admitted the joint origin of gods and men from night and chaos ; from
fire, water, air, or whatever they established to be the 2. ruling element.
Nor was it only on their first origin, that the gods were supposed dependent on the powers of nature. Through the whole period of their exiftence they were subjected to the dominion of fate or destiny. Think of the force of neceffity, says AGRIPPA to the ROMAN people, that force, to which even the gods muft submit t. And the Younger Pliny I, agreeable to this way of reasoning, tells us, that, amidst the darkness, horror and confusion which ensued upon the first eruption of VESUVIUS, feveral concluded, that all nature was going to wrack, and that gods and men were perishing in one common ruin.
It is great complaisance, indeed, if we dignify with the name of religion such an imperfect system of theology, and put it on a level with latter fystems, which i are founded on principles more just and more sublime. For my part, I can scarce allow the principles even of MARCUS AURELIUS, PLUTARCH, and some other Stoics and Academics, though infinitely more refined than the pagan superftition, to be worthy of the honourable deno
+ Dionys, HALIC, lib. vi.
Epift, libe vi.
mination of theism. For if the mythology of the heathens resemble the antient EUROPEAN system of spiria tual beings, excluding God and angels, and leaving only fairies and sprights; the creed of these philosophers may justly be said to exclude a deity, and to leave only angels and fairies.
Virung Sect. V, Various Forms of Polytheism : Allegory, Hero
But it is chiefly our present business to consider the gross polytheism and idolatry of the vulgar, and to trace all its various appearances, in the principles of human nature, whence they are derived.
! son to Whoever learns, by argument, the existence of invita fible intelligent power, must reason from the admirable contrivance of natural objects, and must suppose the world to be the workmanship of that divine being, the original cause of all things. But the vulgar polytheist, so far from admitting that idea, deifies every part of the universe, and conceives all the conspicuous productions of nature, to be themselves so many real divinities. The lun, moon, and stars, are all gods according to his system : Fountains are inhabited by nymphs, and trees by hamadryads : Even monkies, dogs, cats, and other animals often become sacred in his eyes, and strike him with a religious veneration. And thus, however strong men's propensity to believe invisible, intelligent power in nature, their propensity is equally strong to rest their attention on sensible, visible objects ; and in order to reconcile these oppofite inclinations, they are led to unite the invisible power with some visible object.
Pulji, tajn The distribution also of distinct provinces to the several deities is apt to cause some allegory, both physical
lite, and amiables
and morál, to enter into the vulgar systems of polytheism. The god of war will
' naturally be represented as furious, cruel, and impetuous : The god of poctry as elegant, po
US early times, as thievish and deceitful. The allegories, supposed in Homer and other mythologists, I allow, have been often fo ftrained, that men of sense are apt entirely to reject them, and to consider them as the production merely of the fancy and conceit of critics and commentators. But that allegory really has place in the heathen mythology is undeniable even on the least reflection. Cupid the son of VENUS; the Muses the daughters of Memory; PROMETHEUS, the wife brother, and EPIMETHEUS the foolifn ; Hygiena or the goddess of health descended from ÆSCULAPIUS or the god of phyfic: Who sees not, in these, and in many other instances, the plain traces of allegory? When a god is fupposed to preside over any passion, event, or fystem of actions, it is almost unavoidable to give him a genealogy, attributes, and adventures, fuitable to his supposed powers and influence; and to carry on that fimilitude and comparison, which is naturally so agreeable to the mind of man.
Allegories, indeed, entirely perfect, we ought not to expect as the products of ignorance and superstition ; there being no work of genius, that requires a nicer hand, or has been more rarely executed with success.
That Fear and Terror are the sons of Mars is juft; but why by Venus *? That Harmony is the daughter of Venys is regular ; but why by MARS+? That Sleep is the brother of Death is suitable; but why describe him as enamoured of one of the Graces ? And since the antient mythologists fall into mistakes so grofs and obvious,
*Heston, Theog. 1. 935 ILIAD xiv, 267.
+ Ic. ibid, & Plus, in vita PiloP«
༡༩» ༣༡ །དྲུག we have no reason surely to expect such refined and longe spun allegories, as some have endeayoured to deduce from their fietions f.
tyab The deities of the vulgar are so little superior
or to hu man creatures, that where men are affected with strong sentiments of veneration or gratitude for any hero or public benefactor, nothing can be more natural than to convert him into a god, and fill the heavens, after this manner, with continual recruits from amongst mankind, Moft of the divinities of the antient world are supposed to have once been men, and to have been beholden for their apothesis to the admiration and affection of the people. And the real history of their adventures, cor rupted by tradition, and elevated by the marvellous, became á plentiful source of fable ; especially in pafling through the hands of poets, allegorists, and priests, who successively improved upon the wonder and astonishment of the ignorant multitude.
Painters too and sculptors..came in for their share of profit in the sacred mysteries ; and furnishing men with sensible representations of their divinities, whom they cloathed in human figures, gave great encrease to the public devotion, and determined its object. It was probably for want of these arts in rude and barbarous ages, that men deificd plants, animals, and even brute, unorganized matter ; and rather than be without a sensible object of worship, affixed divinity to such ungainly forms. Could any statuary of Syria, in early times, have formed a just
+ Lucretius was plainly seduced by the strong appearance of allegorý, which is observable in the pagan fictions. He first addresses himself to Venus as to that generating power, which animates, renews and beautifies the universe : But is soon betrayed by the mythology into incoherencies, while he prays to that allegorical personage to appease the furies of her lover Mars: An idea not drawn from allęgory, but from the popular religion; and which LUCRETIUS, as an EPICURE AN, could not consistently admit of,