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The Greek nation appears to have been composed of two distinct races; the Hellenes (who were probably Teutonic, and the original settlers), and the Pelasgi, who were certainly Semitic (probably from the borders of Assyria), and who, entering Greece as conquerors, became intermixed with the old inhabitants. The Greek language was formed from the intermixture of Teutonic and Semitic caused by this conquest. [?] In addition to these two original stems were colonies from Phænicia and Egypt; the latter of whom may, perhaps, notwithstanding learned opinions to the contrary, be all placed during the dynasties of the Hyksos (or shepherd kings), for, at any other period, the Egyptians seem to have been little imbued with the spirit of colonization.
The original deities of Greece were therefore most probably a medley of the Teutonic, Assyrian (the Phænician being nearly the same as the Assyrian) and the Egyptian theologies. Among these, we think, the Assyrian or Phænician predominated ; although Herodotus (from very doubtful sources of information) gives the preference to the Egyptian.
In the following statement he is entitled to more credence :“Whence the gods severally sprang, whether or no they had all existed from eternity, what forms they bore-these are questions of which the Greeks knew nothing till the other day, so to speak. For Homer and Hesiod were the first to compose theogonies, and give the gods their epithets, to allot them their several offices and occupations, and they lived but four hundred years before my time, as I believe. As for the poets, who are thought by some to be earlier than these, they are in my judgment decidedly later writers."
It will easily be seen how much meaning may be deduced from this passage of Herodotus. It seems to assume that almost everything which Greece believed of its deities, beyond the bare names, was a mere poetical dream. It attributes to the ancient poets of Greece such a vast influence, as to have completely modified and cast in their own mould the manners, religion, and mode of thinking of a whole nation. And, lastly, it would lead us (independent of the evident proof from their own writings) to infer that both Hesiod and Homer were atheists; for a sincere polytheist would neither invent new deities, nor attach any degrading legends to the old. This, however, we shall shew to have been the constant practice of Homer and Hesiod, in which they were followed by most of the subsequent poets of their nation. We propose, therefore, in the present chapter to con
sider: 1. The theological system of the Grecian poets, and the inherent evidence that it was based on atheism; and, 2. The views of Homer with respect to the Grecian Hades, and the future state of mortals after death.
Sect. I. The Theology of the Grecian Poets.—The earliest complete system of Grecian theogony which has survived to modern times, is that of Hesiod. The Ascræan poet was evidently acquainted with the fundamental principles of the Egyptian philosophy, -which might either have been imported into Greece before his time by the colonies from the land of Kemè, or introduced by some of that class of wandering philosophers who, from the earliest antiquity, had visited distant nations in search of knowledge. To the chaotic system of Egypt he adapted the rude Pantheon of the Greeks, connecting the whole (after his fashion) by a genealogy of the deities, and a superstructure of poetic fable.
At the opening of his poem, the Muses are described as finding him feeding his flock at the foot of Mount Helicon. They bestow upon him as a sceptre a branch of green laurel, and bið him to celebrate the race of immortals. Thus authorized, or
, rather commanded, the poet expounds in verse to the Grecian world the history of the deities. The commencement of his system explains the whole.
I. “First of all things was chaos.”p Chaos existed before the first of the gods, and as chaos could not make itself, it must have been eternal, while the gods (a race of yesterday) sprung from its womb. This is both Egyptian in its philosophy, and atheistic in its spirit.
II. From chaos sprung the Earth (the solid seat of the immortals, who possess the summit of snowy Olympus), and dark Tartarus, in the recess [or most retired part] of the earth, and Love.
III. From Earth proceeded Heaven, and Ocean; and,
Such is the veil which Hesiod throws over his atheistic theory. By this he meant the initiated to understand, that chaos was the original of all things, and that earth, ocean, and heaven sprung from chaos, by the fortuitous adhesion of congenial elements,-which, in poetic phrase, he calls Love. To this philosophical system, he adds (as a fabulous superstructure for the vulgar), the gods and their theogony. But the gods (according to the system of Hesiod, and which all Greece adopted from him) were a race adverse to men—a sort of modification of the Evil principle.
p Theogon., V., 116.
This view of the race of snowy Olympus was continually present to the Grecian mind. If a Greek philosopher chose to admit the deities in conversation, it was to throw upon them (as scapegoats) all the calamities of mankind. The poets (while they hypocritically praised them) were indefatigable in sounding their delinquencies. The vulgar sacrificed to them from fear, while they were constantly holding themselves on their guard, and protecting themselves by spells and enchantments against the malice and envy of the denizens of heaven.
Herodotus himself represents Solon (the wisest of his age) as saying to Cresus, " Cræsus, you ask me concerning human affairs, and I answer you as one who thinks that all the gods are envious, and disturbers of mankind.”
The Greeks might praise Jupiter (as sycophants), but they really considered him the Ahriman of their theology. The poetic version which the Greeks invented of the origin of evil, is at once beautiful and laughable.
Prometheus (one of the inferior deities) was the Ormuzd (or Good principle) of the heavenly race. Of all the deities he was the only one who ever sincerely and disinterestedly benefited mankind. By some of the poets he was represented as the maker, -by all as the unwearied benefactor of the human race. This he did with a perfect knowledge of all that he was to suffer for their sakes, from the indignation of the foul Ahriman, Jupiter.
“ All things I foresaw;
The Chained Prometheus, 101.
& Chained to the rocky side of Mount Caucasus, as a punishment for his theft of fire for mortals, the beneficent deity enumerates all the inestimable services which he had rendered to the race of mankind, concluding, in one sweeping clause, as follows:
“Learn in one word the summary of all :
9 Herodotus, i., 32. The above is from what Gibbon terms “Littlebury's lame translation.” The original Greek, which is more emphatic, is as follows :*Ω Κροίσε, επιστάμενόν με το θείον παν εόν φθονερόν τε και ταραχώδες, επειρώτες άνθρωπηΐων πραγμάτων πέρι;
ably have worshipped from any other motive than fear, but to whom, with the usual ingratitude of mankind, they erected not a single temple) belonged to a family which had suffered much from the rage and envy of Jupiter.
Iapetus married the fair-haired ocean-goddess Clymene, by whom he had, 1, the magnanimous Atlas ; 2, the greatly-glorious Menæetius; 3, the wise and subtle Prometheus ; 4, the foolish Epimetheus."
On the shoulders of Atlas Jupiter placed the expanse of the heavens; and compelled him to groan for ever under the enormous burden. Menoetius was punished for his overweening pride, and was struck down to Erebus by the thunderbolt of Jupiter. The punishment of Prometheus has been immortalized by the most sublime dramatic poem of Greece. The foolish Epimetheus was made the unconscious engine of opening to mankind the fatal box of evil.
Incensed at the favours bestowed by Prometheus upon mortals, the implacable Jupiter fiercely announced the fatal gift of evil which he intended to bestow upon mankind.
“Him thus, in anger, cloud-compelling Jove
He said, and smiled,” etc. The Cretan-born then commanded Vulcan to mould a female figure of clay, beautiful as the immortals themselves, but endowed with human voice and language. Life was breathed into the figure; and all the deities combined to endow it with gifts. Minerva taught it feminine arts, and the skill of the loom ; Venus bestowed the graces, troubled desires, and consuming cares; Mercury infused into the bosom of the beautiful creature a supereminent faculty of perverting the truth, an undaunted impudence to support her falsehoods, a soft and insinuating eloquence, and all the arts of deceit, with a slight propensity to strife.
This is, of course, an ingenuous caricature of woman, in the true Greek style.
Hesiod, Theogon., V., 507--511.
• Hesiod, Oper., etc., i., 53.
The female thus endowed by the gods was called Pandora. Mercury carried the smiling mischief to the foolish Epimetheus. Now Prometheus, well knowing the envious disposition, the cruelty, and treachery of the gods, had strictly charged his simple-minded brother to refuse any gift which the celestials might offer to him, and to send it back to Jupiter. But the indocile Epimetheus received Pandora without scruple; not the less so, that she brought with her a magnificent "pithos,” or casket, which might be supposed from its tempting exterior to contain no ordinary riches. This casket was presented by Pandora to Epimetheus, who, in an evil moment, opened the fatal box, from which rushed out immediately all the ills and calamities which have since afflicted the human race. Perceiving the mischief he had done, Epimetheus hastily closed the lid, and retained hope at the bottom of the box.
The fable is no doubt admirable of its kind; but what a picture it presents of the opinion which the Greeks had conceived of their deities !
Homer is in no respect more flattering in his portraits of the gods than his predecessor Hesiod. There is no injustice or cruelty,-no weakness, meanness, treachery, or infamy,—which he is not ready to impute to the inhabitants of Olympus. He describes the contention between Achilles and Agamemnon, which was the groundwork of the Iliad, as the work of Apollo : “For he being enraged against the king, excited an evil pestilence in the army, and the people perished.” Agamemnon had given the provocation, and the people are, by the appointment of the god, the sufferers for the crime of the king !
Quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi.” Such was the justice of the Delphic deity—the oracle-giving Apollo! It is true the gods sometimes took an entire city or people under their protection; but they were ready to sacrifice their unhappy clients (without the slightest fault on their part) for any motives of rage or vanity.
In the fourth book of the Iliad, Jupiter reproaches Juno for her insatiable hate against Troy, and thus affectionately appeals to her better feelings :
“What is the enormous provocation which Priam and his children can have given yon, that you should thus incessantly seek after the destruction of the Trojan people ? I presume, if you were to enter the gates and lofty walls of Troy, and were to devour up raw the good king Priam (ei dè cú y' wuòv Beßpúbois IIpiauov, K.7.1), and his sons, and the rest of the Trojans, you would at length be satisfied.” [Jupiter evidently looks upon his consort as an ogress, and with excellent reason.] “Put an end, on any terms, to these perpetual jars between us.
You have my