Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tribute. Does the blossom delight with its fragrance or its bloom ? Aurora has nourished it with her tears, and Zephyr has expanded it with his breath. Do the waters fret and babble among the rocks, or flow smoothly and gently through the windings of the valley? Some Naid sports with the current, and dances along the banks. Does the grape cluster on the vine, the harvest ripen into gold, or the orchard bend beneath its fruit? It is to the benignity of Bacchus, of Ceres, or of Pomona, that the wants of men are indebted for the increase and for the blessing. The shepherd tunes not his reed beneath the shade, the poet meditates not his song to love and beauty, without being favoured and inspired by some auspicious power; and Pan, Diana, Venus, or the Muses, are perpetually beheld sporting with and blessing their favoured votaries. Even death itself, divested of his terrors, appears in the form of a Cupid with an inverted torch. The very lights of heaven are but the radiances of celestial natures. The sun is a god, who, seated in a chariot of fire, and borne along by the swiftness of immortal steeds, daily circles the immensity of the world, and pours light and joy over the universe ; and the moon, presiding with more gentle sway over the night, supplies the absence of her brother, and cheers, with her tempered beams, the earth and the heavens. The scene of ocean has no less its appropriate rulers. In its courts and palaces of coral, Thetis, surrounded by nymphs of celestial bloom, celebrates her mysterious revels, and prepares the nightly couch for the wearied Apollo. Amid its blue and undulating waters, the long-haired Triton floats in his car of pearl, and directs his attendants to guide some favoured bark from the whirlpool or the rock; or, if the mighty element be caught by the tempest, and rage and foam against the shores, it is the wrath of Neptune that swells and tosses the waves, as it is his benignity that shall silence their uproar, and hush them into peace* Over all, from the depths of Erebus to the expanse of heaven, Jupiter, the sire of gods and men, exercises his paternal or controuling power. He grasps the thunder in his anger; sends forth the lightnings and commissions the storms to do his will; and shakes by his nod the foundations of the universe ; but, when he smiles, all-nature is vivified and cheered, and the inhabitants of earth and heaven, blessed by the celestial influence, acknowledge and adore the beneficence of their ruler.

The priest, the allegorist, and the poet, while they equally indulged in these interesting and expressive combinations, might hope to kindle the enthusiasm, or animate the piety of the credulous multitude ; and the barbarity of popular life and manners might be refined by the elegance of fables, thus fabricated in the recesses, and sanctified by the solemn and imposing authority, of religion.

But the framers of Grecian Polytheism have not limited their fancy to creations of this character. With an absurd and pernicious prodigality, they lavished celestial attributes on the most insignificant or worthless objects. Natural causes and material forms were converted into gods. There was scarcely a want, a wish, a whim, a prejudice, a vice, or virtue, of man, which did not possess its presiding divinity. The very animal functions of

Homer. II. v. v. 18. 27. Longinus has justly extolled the passage, and Pope has infused into his translation the spirit of the original.

human nature were to be performed under the aid, or in the presence, of some peculiar power; and twenty thousand deities, the easy creation of fear and hope, were scarcely deemed sufficient for the hierarchy of heaven.

Of these deities, so numerous that it was said to be easier to find a god than a man*, and so framed as to correspond with the necessities of fragile and afflicted mortalityt, it was, sometimes, conceived, that they might be insulted with impunity and seduced by bribes. If a town was to be besieged, the Romans solemnly invoked the tutelary deity of the place, and endeavoured to win him from the enemy, by the promise of more costly offerings than he had been accustomed to receive f. At the same time, they who thus tempted the gods of their opponents, attributed similar treachery or mutability to their own; and the name of the protecting divinity of Rome was studiously concealed, lest the foes of the republic should be able to allure him by similar offerings to similar desertion.

One people worshipped the stones on which they trod; another annually assembled to expel with tumult and violence, such alien deities as had migrated into their lands g. The Greeks and Romans despised the credulity of this miserable superstition;

• Nostra regio tam presentibus plena est numinibus, ut facilius possis deum quam hominem invenire. Petron. Sat. p. 35.

+ Fragilis et laboriosa mortalitas in partes ista digessit, ut portionibus quisquis coleret, quo rnaxime indigeret. Pliny, lib. ii.

c. 7.

1 Valer. Maximus, cited by Pliny, lib. xxvii. c. 2. The form of invocation was long preserved in the ritual of the Pontiff,

Herodian. lib. v. Quint. Curt. lib. iv. c. 7.

yet, while they themselves chained their gods to pedestals lest they should flee away; while they banished the citizen who affirmed that the statues of the temples were not divinities, but the work of the sculptor*; while they fancied with the poet, “ that many evils were inflicted by the gods on men, but many also by men upon the gods”t; while they erected temples to the goddess of fever, to Evil Fortune, to Orbilia, the destroyer of children, to fear, the last and meanest of the passions, and to the frontless audacity of contumacy and of insolencef; while they armed the Furies with the torch and the scourge, to exercise on earth the malignities of hell,ġ and permitted the squalid and offensive Mephitis herself to share in the government of the

• Plutarch. De Isid. et Osir. Oper. tom. ii. p. 397. The philosopher Stilpho, having affirmed that the statue of Minerva was not a god, was banished from Athens by a decree of the Areopagus. Diog. Laert. lib. ii. segm. 116.

lib. ii. c. 5.

+ Dione, in the Iliad, addresses this language to Venus, after the goddess had been wounded by Diomede. | Cicero, De Nat. Deor. lib. iii. c. 25. Valer. Maximus, Plin. Nat. Hist. lib. xi. c. 7.

Fear had many Temples, and was worshipped even at Sparta. Plut. In Cleomen. et in Thes. Cicero, De Leg. lib. ii. and Pliny, Nat. Hist. lib. ii. c. 7, admit the deification of impudence and contumacy.

ģ Virgil is never more sublime than when he describes the powers and operations of his gods; but, perhaps, the figure of Alecto, in the seventh Æneid, is the grandest and boldest painting of tbat inimitable poet.

Luctificam Alecti dirarum ab sede sororum
Infernisque ciet tenebris: cui tristia bella,
Træque, insidiæque, et crimina noxia cordi.
Odit et ipse pater Pluton, odêre sorores
Tartareæ mor trum; tut sese vertit in ora,
Tam sevæ facies, tot pullulat atra colubris.

Æn. lib. vii. 324.

world, and to claim the consecrated honours of the altar and of the oblation *; the credulity of the wildest or most stupid polytheist will be thought to have been equalled, or surpassed, by that of nations, contemptuously vain of their science and their taste, and proudly boastful of the pre-eminent purity and wisdom of their religion.

Through the whole of this strange system, we discover examples of celestial crime and celestial discord, which could not but have been injurious to the piety and morals of men. Not only were the deities uncertain and variable in their individual character, but divided and subdivided into factions, at once hostile to each other, and to the welfare of mankind. He who preferred the power of beauty, was to incense the jealous majesty of the Queen of heaven. He who bent before the altar of Jove, was not thereby to avert the wrath of the Divinity of the deep t. Even realms and kingdoms were to suffer, like humble individuals, from the discordances of heaven. Every nation had its patrons and its foes in the synod of Olympus; and its prosperity or decline was less to be attributed to its virtues or its vices, than to celestial favour fortuitously excited, or celestial enmity unknowingly and undeservedly provoked.

* Mephitis presides over noisome and pestiferous odours. In a gloomy, close, unventilated cave, in the valley of Amsanctus, a temple was aptly erected to this filthy goddess.

† In the first book of the Odyssey, Jupiter, conciliated by the piety and oblations of Ulysses, wishes to accelerate the return of the hero to Ithaca. Neptune, recollecting the extinguished right of his son Polyphemus resists; and the “ cloud-assembling god" deems it necessary to call the other deities to his assistance, in order to counteract the wrath, and to limit the power, of his brother.

« AnteriorContinuar »