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nor in the seven of the third. They looked with the most profound contempt upon all the phantasmata which their inventive genius had originated; and they regarded only as bugbears for the people the denizens of their mystic Pantheon-the strange and monstrous series of ram-headed, cat-headed, hawk-headed, cow-headed, lion-headed, snake-headed, crocodile-headed deities, with their various colours, blue, green, red, and yellow; and their strange paraphernalia of caps, feathers, tiaras, horns, sheaths, full moons, crescents, sceptres, ansated crosses; and the remainder of the fantastic, and almost unimaginable trumpery which modern Egyptologists describe and descant upon with such careful, and often tedious, minuteness.
It is true that Champollion-Figeac (the learned brother of the great unraveller of the hieroglyphic system of writing of the Egyptians), complains with some bitterness that, “on the uncertain evidence of Greek and Roman writers, the ancient Egyptian philosophers, the institutors of one of the most illustrious nations which has ever existed,” [we can scarcely agree with the learned Frenchman in this warm eulogy], "should have been declared to be ignorant of the Divinity, sunk in the darkness of polytheism, adoring only material agents, blind, impious, and (to sum up the whole), Atheists.";
In his own view, the Egyptian religion was the sublime symbolization of a great truth. It was a pure monotheism, manifesting itself externally by a symbolical polytheism. certain" (he continues), “that the Egyptians had elevated themselves by their reflection and long observation of nature, to the idea of the unity of God, of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state of rewards and punishments.'
Under the name of Ammon or Amon-Ra, the Egyptians (according to Champollion-Figeac), worshipped the one eternal Deity. In the numerous other gods of their Pantheon they merely recognized the personification of his attributes.
We certainly do not concur in this modern attempt to rationalize an execrable and debasing superstition. It is strange, indeed, that the French writer should not perceive how little in reality the case for the Egyptians is mended by his explanation. A rational religion elevates the mind, and purifies the morals. The great object and certain result of the Egyptian superstition was to oppress the intellect by an enormous weight of absurd and unintelligible legends; to reduce the popular mind into servile
" It is
i See Egypte Ancienne, par M. Champollion-Figeac, p. 244, 245. This work forms part of a series entitled, Į'Univers Pittoresque, published by Firmin Didot, Frères, and which, from its cheapness and useful illustrations, merits to be better known in England.
subjection to a domineering priesthood; and to pollute the source of all ethical perceptions by obscene, disgusting, and unmeaning ceremonies. Such a religion never yet sprung from a class of men who were firmly convinced of the unity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the just distribution of rewards and punishments in a future state. There is nothing more mischievous than the attempt to give a colour of rationality to what is essentially irrational and absurd.
The Egyptian priests, it is well known, taught a future state of rewards and punishments. This increased their sway over the popular mind, by prolonging their imaginary influence into the precincts of a future world, in which they themselves no more believed than the Epicureans of Rome, at the time when Juvenal wrote of his countrymen,
“Esse aliquos manes, et subterranea regna
Nec pueri credunt." We agree, therefore, with Plutarch in thinking that the Egyptian theology was so contrived as necessarily to lead the minds of the vulgar to excessive superstition, while it impelled more active and enquiring intellects, εις αθέους και θηριώδεις λογισμούς.* And though we may not, perhaps, have much respect for the authority of Eusebius of Cæsarea, we are compelled to agree with him when he terms the religion of the Egyptians άσχήμων αθεότης μάλλον ή θεολογία.
We assume it therefore to be perfectly clear that the philosophy of the Egyptian priesthood (as distinct from the people) was really atheism based upon the theory of a chaotic cosmogony.
This doctrine of an original chaos had been introduced early into Greece, as we see from the poems of Hesiod; but it was not till the seventh or perhaps the sixth century before Christ that it was made the foundation of the physical system of a regular school of philosophy.
The brief records of the early history of the Ionic school, as long as it remained under the direction of Thales and his two immediate successors, Anaximander and Anaximenes, are certainly in a great part untrustworthy and fabulous. It was not till Anaxagoras removed this school from Miletus to Athens, that we gain a reliable knowledge of its principles. Nothing is more certain than that Thales borrowed his philosophy from Egypt. Ουδείς τε αυτου καθηγήσατο (says Diogenes Laertius) πλήν ότ' εις Αίγυπτον ελθών τους ιερεύσι συνδιέτριψεν. The historical tradition is, in this instance, so well corroborated by the nature of the doctrines themselves when we find them clearly
expounded by Anaxagoras, that we can have no hesitation in receiving them as authentic.
We will not pretend to penetrate into the darkness which envelopes the earlier era of the Iopic school while it remained in Asia Minor, or to decide whether the philosopher of Miletus really believed that WATER was the great principle of all things; that the earth was water condensed, air the same element rarified, and that from air was engendered fire. It seems clear that no authentic writings of Thales survived even to the time of Aristotle, nor is it at all certain that he ever committed his philosophy to writing. Diogenes Laertius appears to speak of Anaxagoras as the first who composed a treatise of philosophy. The opinions of Anaxagoras therefore were well known; those of Thales, and his two immediate successors, Anaximander and Anaximenes (preserved only by vague tradition in Ionia) were probably as imperfectly known at Athens as those which Pythagoras had taught in Italy, and which were already becoming an enigma in Greece even in the fourth century before the Chris
If Thales really were the author of the paradoxical opinion that fire was produced from water, we may charitably attribute it rather to the condition of Greece in his day than to his own conviction. It was, perhaps, necessary to arouse the attention of the people by some startling assertion, in order to induce them to listen to the more solid doctrines which he had ultimately to propound. For this reason, Thales might represent fire as engendered from water; and Heraclitus, determined to excel him, might insist that water was engendered from fire. Every sect in Greece had its paradoxes, and without them we may presume that they would scarcely have obtained hearers.
What we know with certainty is, that when Anaxagoras taught the Ionic philosophy on the west of the Ægean, he represented chaos as the first condition of things, and it seems reasonable to suppose that he derived this doctrine from the founders of his sect. The opinions of Thales as to the existence of a God and the immortality of the soul, are also matters of doubt and discussion, and in all probability were greatly misrepresented at
The atheism of the early Ionian school seems clearly established by the evidence of Aristotle, and the bye-name bestowed upon Anaxagoras. The founder of the Lyceum represents Anaxagoras, compared to previous philosophers, as a sober man among a crowd of drunken enthusiasts. While his predecessors regarded only the materials of which the world was composed, he for the first time (observes Aristotle) assigns an
NEW SERIES. --VOL. I., NO. I.
a later age.
intentional and intelligent cause to the arrangement of the cosmos."
The weak point of the Ionic philosophy was quickly discovered at Athens, and the acute Athenians probably laughed at the idea that fire, air, earth, and water, after having been intermixed from all eternity in one confused mass, should ečasovns, and without any assignable cause (which had not at all times previously been equally operative), separate and arrange themselves into an order so harmonious and beautiful as to excite the admiration of the wisest of men, and to surpass by its vastness and perfection the utmost power of humanity to estimate and describe. To call in the aid of chance was merely to accumulate words without increasing ideas. In order to remedy this great flaw in his philosophy, Anaxagoras introduces for the first time the doctrine of a motive power in the arrangement of matter, which he termed νούς, or mind. Πάντα χρήματα ην όμου (said the philosopher, in the beginning of his great work) eita voûs ελθών αυτά διεκόσμησε. This addition of the νούς,
«« "Ος εξαπίνης επαγείρας
Πάντα συνεσφήκωσεν ομου τεταραχμένα πρόσθεν,” gained for its author the bye-name of Nous, which at once records the innovation of the philosopher, and attests the previous atheism of the Ionic philosophy. In reality, however, the nous of Anaxagoras added little or nothing of sounder doctrine to the atheism of his predecessors. It was a concession forced upon him rather than a voluntary escape from error.
His Mind or Intelligence was merely a substitute for a deity which he did not choose to admit. It does not appear to have been represented as intermixed with matter in the original chaos, but as existing apart and acceding (100v) to the chaos for the purpose of arrang
erowv) ing it. But what the nous was, where it had previously existed,
-what were its powers and attributes,-of all these we are totally ignorant, and it is probable that the Athenians, who listened to Anaxagoras, remained in as great ignorance as ourselves. We only know that it was not God, but a bar interposed to render unnecessary the action of a deity. Others of the Grecian philosophers rejected the vows, and substituted púois, the natura of the Latins. This was even more ridiculous than the nous, and in reality reduced the motive principle to its original nullity. Upon the whole, therefore, we may perhaps (without being too rash) assume that the chaotic theory, and the negation of a God, were, from the first, the doctrines of the Ionic school, and that these doctrines were borrowed by Thales
Metaphys., i., 3.
from the priests of Egypt, from whom he is admitted to have derived his philosophy.
If it be asked why we thus disentomb the “dry bones” (as Dr. Stanley might term them)" of the oldest system of Grecian philosophy, the reply is obvious, that, in the age of Darwinian speculations upon the origin of species, it may be useful to induce our atheistic philosophers to compare their ideas upon the important subject of cosmogony and the origin of the human race, with those of two great nations of antiquity. If the primeval chaos appear to modern science an irrational dogma, let it examine its own theories in a manner equally unprejudiced; and they may eventually appear not less ridiculous. There is at least a nous to animate and enlighten the philosophy of Anaxagoras; but it would be difficult to discover anything like nous in the system of Darwin.
CHAP. II.-Grecian Polytheism, and its treatment by the Poets.
According to the common chronological systems, Thales was born in the second year of the thirty-fifth Olympiad, B.C. 639, and died in the first year of the fifty-eighth Olympiad, B.c. 548. But long before the Egyptian system of physics was taught methodically in the schools of Ionia, the doctrine of an original chaos had passed from the Nile into Greece, and had introduced the atheism which was its natural concomitant. We discover it first in the writings of the poets, and particularly in the theogony of Hesiod, who flourished, according to the Arundel marbles, about 944 years B.C.
To Hesiod and Homer has been attributed the invention of the poetic theology of the Greeks, of which atheism was the basis and fable the superstructure. Herodotus treats the origin of this theology as a matter of yesterday. But though he speaks thus lightly of a period which he himself estimated at about four hundred years, it was a yesterday which he and his contemporaries knew only through the medium of wild fiction, and absurd and contradictory traditions. We must found our notions of the early history of Greece upon such lights as we can collect from the science of ethnology, and from a careful scrutiny of the various traditions of nations.
Dr. Stanley, in the commencement to his Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church, compares ecclesiastical history, as it is treated by some writers, to the valley of dry bones described in the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel. In order to “lay sinews" upon the bones, and "bring up flesh upon them,” he enlivens his work by the introduction of characteristic traits, local descriptions, anecdotes, etc. By this mode of treating the subject he has of course produced an amusing work. His lectures, though very far from equal either in learning or in original investigation to the elder D’Israeli’s ‘Curiosities of Literature, remind us of those very agreeable volumes.