Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

any

have men inflicted on the gods *. We need but open

claffic author to meet with these grofs representations of the deities; and LONGINUS † with reason observes, that such ideas of the divine nature, if lị. terally taken, contain a true atheism.

Some writers I have been surprised, that the impieties of ARISTOPHANES should have been tolerated, nay publicly acted and applauded by the ATHENIANS; a people fo superstitious and so jealous of the public religion, that, at that very time, they put SOCRATES to death for his imagined incredulity. But these writers do not consider, that the ludicrous, familiar images, under which the gods are represented by that comic poet, instead of appearing impious, were the genuine lights in which the ancients conceived their divinities. What conduct can be more criminal or mean, than that of JUPITER in the AMPHITRION? Yet that play, which represented his gallant exploits, was supposed to agreeable to him, that it was always acted in ROME by public authority, when the state was threatened with peftilence, famine, or any general calamity S. The ROMANS supposed, that, like all old letchers, he would be highly pleased with the recital of his former feats of prowess and vigour, and that no topic was so proper upon which to flatter his vanity.

The LACEDEMONIANS, says XENOPHONI, always, during war, put up their petitions very early in the morning, in order to be beforehand with their enemies, and, by being the first solicitors, pre-engage the gods in their favour. We may gather from SENECA**, that it was usual for the votaries in the temples to make interest with the beadle or sexton, that they might have a feat near the image of the deity, in or. der to be the best heard in their prayers and applica

tions * Lib. ix. 382.

+ Cap. ix. I Pere Brumoy, Theatre des Grecs ; & Fontenelle, Hiftoire des Oracles. Arnob.. Lib. vii. I De Laced. Rep.

** Epift. xli.

tions to him. The TYRIANS, when besieged by A. LEXANDER, threw chains on the statue of HERCULES, to prevent that deity from deserting to the enemy *. AUGUSTUS, having twice lost his fleet by storms, forbad NEPTUNE to be carried in procession along with the other gods; and fancied, that he had sufficiently revenged himself by that expedient t. After GERMANICUS's death, the people were so enraged at their gods, that they stoned them in their temples; and openly renounced all allegiance to them.

To ascribe the origin and fabric of the universe to these imperfect beings, never enters into the imagination of any polytheist or idolater. Hesiod, whose writings, with those of Homer, contained the canonical system of the heatheng; Hesiod, I say, supposes gods and men to have sprung equally from the unknown powers of naturel.

of nature. And throughout the whole theogony of that author, PANDORA is the only instance of creation, or a voluntary production; and she too was formed by the gods merely from despight to PROMETHEUS, who had furnished men with stolen fire from the celestial regions. The ancient mythologists, indeed, seem throughout to have rather embraced the idea of generation than that of creation or formation; and to have thence accounted for the origin of this universe.

Ovid, who lived in a learned age, and had been instructed by philosophers in the principles of a divine creation or formation of the world; finding that such an idea would not agree with the popular mythology which he delivers, leaves it, in a manner, loose and detached from his system, Quifquis fuit ille Deorum**? Which-ever of the gods it was, says he, that diffipated the chaos, and introduced order

into • Quint. Curtius, lib. iv. cap. 3. Diod. Sic. lib. xvii. + Suet. in vita Aug. cap. 16. $ 1d. in vita Cal.canporn.nec. s Herodot. lib. ii. Lucian. Jupiter confutatus, de luciu, Saturn. &c. 11.2 OKODIY yiyaati Jeon Junior av Sparnio Her. Opera & Dies, l. 108. 9 Theog. 1, 570.

** Metamorph. lib. i. 1. 32.

[ocr errors]

into the universe. It could neither be Saturn, he knew, nor JUPITER, nor NEPTUNE, nor any of the received deities of paganism. His theological system had taught him nothing upon that head; and he leaves the matter equally undetermined.

DIODORUS SICULUS*, beginning his work with an enumeration of the most reasonable opinions concerning the origin of the world, makes no mention of a deity or intelligent mind; though it is evident from his history, that he was much more prone to superstition than to irreligion. And in another paffaget, talking of the IchthyOPHAGI, a nation in India, he says, that, there being so great difficulty in accounting for their descent, we must conclude them to be aborigenes, without any beginning of their generation, propagating their race from all eternity; as some of the physiologers, in treating of the origin of nature, have justly observed. “ But in such " subjects as thefe,” adds the historian, “ which ex“ ceed all human capacity, it may well happen, " that those who discourse the most know the least; “ reaching a specious appearance of truth in their rea

sonings, while extremely wide of the real truth and matter of fact.”

A strange sentiment in our eyes, to be embraced by a professed and zealous religionisti! But it was merely by accident, that the question concerning the origin of the world did ever in ancient times enter into religious systems, or was treated of by theologers. The philosophers alone made profesion of delivering systems of this kind; and it was pretty late too before these bethought themselves of having recourse to a mind or fupreme intelligence, as the first

cause * Lib. i. + Id. ibid.

The same author, who can thus account for the origin of the world without a Deity, esteems it impious to explain, from physical caufes, the common accidents of life, earthquakes, inundations, and tempests; and devoutly ascribes these to the anger of JUPITER or NEPTUNE. A plain proof whence he derived his ideas of religion. See lib. xv. p. 364. Es edit. RHODOMANNI.

cause of all. So far was it from being esteemed profane in those days to account for the origin of things without a Deity, that THALES, ANAXIMENES HERACLITUS, and others, who embraced that system of cosmogony, paft unquestioned; while ANAXAGORAS, the first undoubted theift among the philosophers, was perhaps the first that ever was accused of atheism *.

We are told by Sextus EMPIRICUSŤ, that Epicu. RUS, when a boy, reading with his preceptor these veries of HESIOD,

Eldest of beings chaos first arose;

Next earth, wide-stretch'd, the seat of all: the young scholar first betrayed his inquisitive genius, by asking, And chaos whence? But was told by his preceptor, that he must have recourse to the philofophers for a solution of such questions. And from this hint Epicurus left philology and all other studies, in order to betake himself to that science, whence alone he expected fatisfaction with regard to these sublime subjects.

The common people were never likely to push their researches so far, or derive from reasoning their fyítems of religion; when philologers and mythologifts, we see, scarcely ever discovered so much penetration. And even the philosophers who discoursed of such topics, readily assented to the grofsest theory, and admitted the joint crigin of gods and men from night and chaos, from fire, water, air, or whatever they established to be the ruling element.

Nor was it only on their first origin that the gods were supposed dependent on the powers of nature. Throughout the whole period of their existence they were subjected to the dominion of fate or destiny. Think of the force of neceflity," says AGRIPPA to the Roman people; “ that force to which even the

gods * See NOTE (ZZ). Adversus MATHEM. lib. ix.

[ocr errors]

gods must submit *.” And the younger PLINY+; agreeably to this way of thinking, tells us, tha: amidit the darkness, horror, and confusion, which ensued upon the first eruption of Vesuvius, several concluded, that all nature was going to wreck, 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 later systems which are founded on principles more just and more sublime. For my part, I can scarcely allow the principles even of MARCUS AURELIUS, PLUTARCH, and fome other Stoics and Academics, though much more refined than the pagan superstition, to be worthy of the honourable appellation of theism. For if the mythology of the heathens resemble the ancient EuROPEAN fystem of spiritual beings, excluding God and angels, and leaving only fairies and sprights; the creed of these philofophers may justly be said to exclude a deity, and to leave only angels and fairies.

1

Sect. V. Various Forms of Polytheisin: Allegory',

Hero-Worship

But it is chiefly our present business to consider the grofs polytheisin of the vulgar, and to trace all its various appearances, in the principles of human nature, Whence they are derived.

Whoever learns by argument the existence of invisible intelligent power, must reason from the admirable contrivance of natural objects, and must suppore 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

di* Dionys. Halic, lib. vi.

† Epift. lib. vi.

« ZurückWeiter »