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woven in letters of gold. But the stratagems of priestly craft were rarely redeemed by the just solemnities of rational devotion, and often aided by the indecencies of gross and prurient representations ; and the scandals which prevailed in the public woré ship, and were sanctioned by the holy fraud of the ministers of the altar, have been recorded and condemned by the more grave and rational piety of the historian *

Even the most interesting ceremonies of this religion were degraded by the intermixture of obseryances, which, though unintelligible or absurd, was considered as essential to the efficacy of the worship. A cake of meal and salt was piously placed on the head of the victim, the hair was carefully plucked from the forehead, the thighs were burned with cloven wood; and, when the priest was solicited to explain the nature and purpose of these rites, he was to conceal his ignorance under an authoritative appeal to the wisdom and example of former times f.

The worship which was thus absurd, was often to be accompanied by the most sanguinary and savage oblations. Human victims, to be slain upon the altars, or buried alive, or committed to the flames, were frequently required by the wrath of the offended gods. Three beautiful Persian captives were sacrificed as a vow for victory, to Bacchus Omestes, or the devourer I. A Sybilline verse demanded the oblation of a Greek man and a Greek woman, and a Gaulish man and a Gaulish

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woman,

* Strabo, lib. viii. p. 581. lib. xii. p. 837. + Athæn. lib. vii. C. 13. p. 127..

Plutarch. In Themist.

and the requisition was obeyed*. At the beginning of the second Punic war, a man was buried alive to conciliate the divine favour t. And, when Rome was approached by the triumphant Gauls, the Romans most distinguished for their station and patriotism, assembled in the forum, and, being devoted by the pontiff, consecrated themselves to the infernal gods 1.

The ver sacrum was another sacrifice of devotion, designed to conciliate the protection of heaven. The superstition which encouraged and sanctified this oblation, displayed its zeal with numerical precision: In fulfilling the celebrated vow of Fabius, the money to be expended was to amount to the sum of three hundred and thirty-three thousand sesterces, three hundred and thirty-three denarii, and one-third of a denarii. Goats, sheep, swine, cows, sometimes all the young of the herds and flocks of a province, or of a nation, for a whole year, were to be offered up with unthinking and destructive prodigality ll. Even children might be legitimately included in the oblation; and, though their blood was not to stain the altar, they might be devoted to the miseries, of a barbarous desecration, and driven forth from their country to perish in distant lands.

Plutarch. In Marcel. The Cheronæan sage tells us very coolly, that human sacrifices were continued down to his time. The historian records the fact; the moralist forgets to condemn it.

+ Livy speaks as if this mode of sacrifice were frequently resorted to. Hist. lib. xxii. c. 57.

Majores natu amplissimis usi honoribus, in forum coierunt, ibique devovente pontifice, Diis et manibus consacreverunt. Florus. lib. i. c. 13.

ll The vow of Fabius included all the young of the herds and flocks throughout all Italy, produced from the 1st of March to the ist of May. Plut. In Num.

many other

The devotion which was vitiated by these idle or barbarous practices, was to be excited or regulated by a degrading reverence of external signs. The will of the gods, instead of being deduced from their benevolence and justice, was to be inferred from imaginary omens, the exta of animals, the flight of birds, the reveries of dreams, the manner in which the victim approached the altar, the common phenomena of nature, a word incidentally uttered, a casual tingling of the ears, or a convulsive motion of the eye-lids * These, and

appearances or signs, equally indifferents, were to excite the religious apprehensions of the people, and to be followed by acts of devotion, and by rites and expiations, as strange and irrational as the presages which had given them birth were idle and absurd. Was a serpent discovered in a house? An altar was to be erected on the spot, and consecrated with peculiar observances and prayers. Was a kite seen hovering in the air? The beholder was instantly to prostrate himself with devout humility. Was the imagination disturbed by grief

grief or malady? It was the comfortless and cruel Empusa, or some evil phantom commissioned by the waywardness of Hecate, that inflicted the calamity, and was to be propitiated only by appropriate ceremonies or vows . - Where such persuasions were entertained, how great and credulous must have been the superstition of the people! Where such superstition prevailed, how extravagant and impure must have been the popular devotion !

* Appendix, Note Y. + Sneezing, thunder, an eclipse, a yawn. These indications of the divine will were so numerous, that the devotion or superstition of the people was perpetually exercised. Homer. H. lib. i. v. 63. Sophocl. Electr. V.426. Theophrast. c. xvi. Theoorit. Idyll. iii. 37. Ælian. Var. Hist. lib. iv. c. 17.

| Terent. In Phorin. act iv. sc. 4. Aristoph. In Av. 501. In Ran. 295. Theopbrast. c. xvi. The effect produced by omens and presages on the public mind would be thought scarcely credible, : “ You must desist," said the consul Cornelius, as he entered the senate house with a pale and disturbed countenance, “ I myself have visited the boiler, and the head of the liver is consumed.”. Livy, lib. xii. c. 15.

But this devotion was often as immoral in its tendency, as it was absurd in its superstition. When the people, assembled at Corinth from every part of Greece, approached the shrine of their beloved goddess, the patroness of stupration, vows and sacrifices were pronounced and tendered in perfect accordance with the impurity adored. Crowds of females were associated in the worship of the deity, who were taught to consider chastity and decorum as crimes. The priestess derived her revenue from the source of infamy and corruption; and the profligacy of the devotion was sufficiently redeemed by the amplitude of the tribute.

On various other occasions, licentiousness, equally extravagant and disgusting, was to degrade, and to be authorized by, the solemnities of worship. Bands of courtezans, as beautiful as they were profligate, were to seduce the votaries of a Cybele or a Flora, and to kindle the flames of wantonness and of impurity * Farces, according to the ritual of the devotion, were to be exhibited in the theatre, and pro

, cessions in the circus, of the grossest character; and the female ministrants heard and obeyed with alacrity the order of the multitude, to cast aside the invidious

"Gibbon, Miscellan. Works, Vol.'v. p. 452.

robe, and display the charms more openly, which a slight and almost transparent drapery had but ill concealed. This revelry, so well calculated to awaken the fervor of the passions, was restrained neither by the voice of shame, nor the authority of law. The moralist and the magistrate sanctioned by their

permission the orgies which they might have secretly condemned *; and custom and religion were alike to legitimate the infamies, which public welfare and, private and public decency should have contributed to proscribe,

The mind of the people was thus to be impressed by devotion itself, with images of obscenity. But, if the passions of men, even when admonished by the. voice of genuine religion, be too apt to degenerate into impurity and crime; what was to be expected, when licentiousness was thus authorized to kindle her torch at the altars of the gods? What was to follow, when the worst tendencies of human nature were cherished and indulged under the express authority of heaven? And what must have been the creed, which, with the concurrence of the bards, the pontiffs, and the legislators of the most civilized regions of the earth, was to admit and sanction practices, calculated only to impair or subvert all the essential decencies, and all the moral economy of lifet?

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* When Cato, during the festival of Flora, entered the theatre, a momentary respect for virtue and decorum checked the libertinism of the populace; but as soon as he discovered the effect which his presence had produced, he prudently retired, and his complaisance was acknowledged by the plaudits of the multitude.

+ The acute and sarcastic Gibbon has glanced at the probable influence of the devotion authorized and enjoined under the mythology of Greece and Rome. He speaks of “ gay, frolicksome, and wanton rites ; of naked girls, selected for their beauty, who danced

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