Imágenes de páginas

extravagance, and the most wanton, unblushing, and unbridled effrontery.

During the rites of Bacchus, whole cities were converted into one scene of uproar and confusion. The votaries, male and female, crowned with ivy and poplar, and full, as it was pretended, of the majesty and the divinity of the god, rushed through the streets, or along the highways, with shout, and dance, and revelling licentiousness. The most indecent spectacles, the most wanton exclamations, and the most open obscenities, excited at every moment the applauding vociferation of popular frenzy. Some of the devotees were seen to tear the raw entrails of the victims with their teeth and nails; others, with holy ferocity, strangled serpents in their hands, and piously twined them round their bodies and in their hair ; others elevated the most disgusting emblems on poles, and chanted aloud appropriate songs; and others exhibited every extravagance of gesture which was most likely to kindle the fury, or provoke the libertinism, of the surrounding multitude *

The festival of the Lupercalia was scarcely less intemperate or offensive. The numerous priests by whom the shameless but holy ceremonies were to be performed, ran naked through the streets, and indulged, without reserve, in all the pious excesses permitted by the celebrity. The whips which they carried in their hands were by every lash to aid the secret vows of some childless woman ; female crowds were therefore mingled in the riot, anxious to receive the carnal blessing; and the modesty even of matrons of the highest class, was not repelled by the grossness of a spectacle equally opposed to the purity of morals, and to all the sacred decencies of life *.

* Appendix, Note H. H.

The rites of Venus were celebrated with still greater excess. Her temple at Corinth was perpetually open to the influx of worshippers from every part of Greece, and from the coast of Asia. A thousand courtezans, distinguished for their beauty, and trained for their profession, were consecrated to the service of the accommodating priestess; and an immense expense was amply remunerated by an infamous office. The more wanton the revelry, the greater was the devotion. The grossest of passions was hurried into the execrable extremes of the most execrable sensuality; and, by a monstrous and almost incredible conjunction, voluptuousness, unrestricted and unreserved, was ingrafted on religion, and dissolute riot was accompanied by the extravagance of a fantastic and fanatical worship f.

Rites of this kind were frequent and numerous. The passions and vivacity of the people were indulged, till indulgence became a habit, and habit a necessity, and till it might have been politically hazardous to curtail or purify institutions which, in a moral view, it was so mischievous to maintain. The stream, therefore, was allowed to flow. One half of the year was devoted to festivals and to riots, such as have been described ; and if, while so much of human life was devoted to the orgies of superstition and obscenity, there was yet to remain in the public mind either dignity or virtue, it is not to the religion of the times we are to ascribe the effect, but to the salutary institutions of political wisdom.

Appendix, Note I. I.

+ Appendix, Note K. K.

For the celebration of these almost ceaseless solemnities in honour of the gods, and for the other services of the temples, a high and consecrated order was set apart, by the law, in every town of Greece and Italy; and, exclusive of this body, countless fraternities were maintained, who had their appropriate offices in the less important, but still necessary, departments of the popular superstition. Almost every deity had his temple, his servants, and his worship. The altars of the Greek were scarcely less splendid in their ministerial establishment, than those of the proud and credulous Roman; and the Roman was peculiarly ambitious to furnish his shrines and his gods with a numerous and powerful priesthood. From the age of Numa to that of Gratian, the regular succession of the several colleges of the sacerdotal order was preserved at Rome. Fifteen pontiffs exercised their supreme jurisdiction over all things and persons that were consecrated to the service of the gods; and the various questions which perpetually arose in a loose and traditionary system, were submitted to the judgment of that holy tribunal. Fifteen grave and learned augurs observed the face of heaven, and deduced the fall of states and empires from the flight of birds. Fifteen keepers of the Sybilline books consulted the history of future, and, as it should seem, of contingent events. Six vestals devoted their virgin years to the guardianship of the sacred fire, and of the unknown pledges of the duration of Rome, which no mortal had been suffered to behold with impunity. Seven Eupolos prepared the table of the gods, conducted the solemn procession, and regulated the ceremonies of the annual procession. The three flamens of Jupiter, of Mars, and of Quiri. nus, were considered as the peculiar ministers of

he three most powerful deities who watched over the fate of Rome and of the universe. The king of the sacrifices represented the person of Numa and his successors, in the religious functions which could be performed only by royal hands. The confraternities of the Salians, the Lupercals, and other orders, presided over rites at once fanatical and absurd, with a lively confidence of recommending themselves to the favour of the immortal gods * To the mother of the gods, the laughter loving Venus, the garden god, and the deity of the vine, were consecrated hierarchs and subaltern priests, to regulate the order of their sacred mysteries, and to engage the populace in the holy revelry of their wanton worship. In all these, the dignity of the priestly character was protected by the laws and manners of their country. Their robes of purple, their chariots of state, their sumptuous entertainments, their


and dignified deportment, or their conscious and well sustained authority, attracted the admiration and excited the reverence of the people ; and they received, from the consecrated lands, and the public revenue, and the votaries of their temple, an ample stipend, which liberally supplied the splendour of the priesthood, and provided for the expenses of the religious worship of the state.

This enumeration by no means includes the whole of the priestly orders established at Rome. Even after the reform of Gratian had curtailed the number of the gods, four hundred and twenty four temples still decorated the capital, and were still open to the piety of the people; and if, at the period of her decline, the religion of the “ mighty mistress of the

* Gibbon. Decl. and Fall. ch. xxviii.

" *

“ world,” was yet able to maintain establishments of such magnificence and pomp, we may form some estimate of the power and number of its ministry, in those days of triumphant superstition, when

gods were more easily to be found in Italy than men

The duties of these priestly orders were various, formal, and minute, and were reduced to an accurate scale by the pious exactness of a legal or traditionary rubrick. The sixty Curiæ were to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, and to conclude the rites by a public feast f. The Arval fraternity were empowered to determine all controversies concerning landmarks I. The Politii and Pinarii presided over the rites of Pan and of Hercules. And the various colleges of Aruspices, Augurs, and Auspices, were to inspect the heavens, to consult the bowels of the victims, to observe the flight of birds, and to pronounce whether the exta of the victims were dry, contracted, or diseased; whether the flame in which the victims had been consumed was pure, or mingled with smoke, and whether the smoke ascended in broken or continuous volumes, or was of long or of short duration l.

* The sarcasm of Petronius. It was merited. + Dionys. Halicarnass. lib. ij. † Plin. lib. ii. c. 2. § 2. || The office of the augur has been described by Godwin with sufficient accuracy. The augur sat upon a tower, in his soothsaying robe called lana, with his head uncovered, and his face turned towards the south. After quartering the heavens with his staff iuto certain temples or spaces, he observed in what region the birds appeared; and then, killing the victim, and offering up cere tain prayers, he pronounced the determination of the gods, according to the lucky or unlucky sign which he beheld. Godwin. Rom. Antiq. lib. ii. sect. 2. ch. vi. p. 48.


« AnteriorContinuar »