Imágenes de páginas




Religious rites of the Greeks and Romans sometimes beautiful and interesting-Pomp and splendour of those celebrities-The Panathenaa-The general observances of a different character-The rites of Bacchus-The Lupercalia-The Corinthian Venus-Impure and corrupting orgies-The priesthood and the fraternities set apart for the due observance of the religious celebrities— Especial offices of several of the priestly orders-No provision made for the instruction of the people, by any portion of the priestly brotherhood-The system designed for political influence,

not moral.


HE legislators of Greece, more earnest to govern than to instruct mankind, adapted their religious institutions to the purposes of popular indulgence. For the citizen, whose senses and fancy might otherwise have engaged him in more mischievous pursuits, the splendid machinery of an external worship was prepared. Processions, and shows, and festivals, of frequent recurrence, and of varied interest, were to occupy his idleness, or to amuse his curiosity; and his passions were to be absorbed in gay and magnificent observances, which might divert attention from politics to pleasure. Accordingly, the system was gradually matured, of wanton, cheerful, and imposing celebrities, which constituted the boast and delight of the Greek. In the midst of his temples, in his marble vestibules, in

the shade of his porticoes, or in the streets of his cities and villages, he was almost incessantly engaged in ceremonies calculated to gratify his busy and versatile character; and the rites of his worship, however injurious in their influence on his manners and morals, were to become accessory, as was supposed, to the tranquillity of the state, and the views of the legislature.

Of the ceremonies thus interwoven with religion, some, it will be admitted, were beautiful, and, perhaps, salutary, and formed to humanize the multitude, by the associations of cheerful and innocent observances. Sometimes the assembled people were to celebrate the return of the verdure of spring, and the harvests of autumn; and a common gratitude for the gifts of heaven was to be attested by the piety of a common thanksgiving. At other periods, the solemnity was exhibited in honour of characters illustrious for their valour or their virtue, or in laudable commemoration of glorious or happy events. The victories by which invading armies had been repelled; the cessation of a pestilence; the restoration of peace between contending states; the re-establishment of public liberty by the patriot or the sage, were occurrences which might periodically call forth the legiti mate and grateful exercise of general piety. Even the more common events of life were to be accompanied by rites designed to impress the minds of men with a due sense of the kindness of Providence; and the birth of a child, the enrolment of his name in the list of citizens, and his attested progress in the exercises of the Gymnasium, were each to be distinguished by some appropriate festival. The young and the old, the parent and the progeny, the individual and the state, were almost equally concerned in these

affecting and useful celebrities; and, while devotion was thus blended with the common affairs of men, festivity and joy were rendered auxiliary to religion

Many of these institutions were celebrated with extraordinary pomp. On some occasions, upwards of three hundred oxen, decorated with wreaths of flowers, were led in solemn procession to the altar; the temples, perfumed with incense, were crowded with choirs of young people of both sexes, displaying all the charms of early life, and chanting in chorus the praises of the gods; appropriate dramas, the productions of immortal genius, were exhibited in the theatres, to delight, at once, and to instruct the multitudet. The poet, the painter, the orator, the historian, the sophist, exercised their talents to win the applause of their fellow countrymen; and song and dance, and the spectacles of the Gymnasium, were combined to unite the people in one general gaiety, and attach them more closely to religion and to the


In the festival of the Panathenæa we behold a splendid example of these singular and salutary celebrities. The festivity commenced with horse races on the banks of the Ilyssus; and these were succeeded by the strengthening and martial exercises

Aristot. de Mor. lib. viii. c. 11. Plut. de Glor. Athen.

cap. ii.

These representations were exhibited at an immense expense; and fleets might have been fitted out, and armies maintained, by the sums which were thus lavished. The Romans seem to have been scarcely less extravagant. The daily pay of Roscius amounted to 201. according to Macrobius, Saturn. 2, 10; and Cicero computes his annual receipts at 5,000l. and Pliny at 4,000. Cicer. Pro Rosc. Plin. Nat. Hist. 7. 39.

of the Stadium. The people were next assembled in the area of the Stodeum, where the wisdom and valour which had meditated or bled for the welfare of the state, became the themes of poets and of philosophers distinguished for their talents; and the proud and honourable emulation of the living citizen was kindled by the inspiring applause lavished on the name and on the deeds of departed heroes *.

At a stated period a numerous procession assembled without the walls of the city. It was composed of different classes of the people, crowned with flowers, and selected for the dignity of their deportment, or for the beauty of their form. Among them, arranged in orderly ranks, were venerable old men bearing branches of olive; men of middle age, armed with lances and bucklers; young men, who recited inspired and inspiring hymns in honour of the gods; beautiful boys, clad in simple but becoming tunics; and girls, more lovely, who carried baskets, covered with splendid veils, on their heads, and containing every thing necessary for the pomp and pleasure of the approaching sacrifice †.

Eight musicians accompanied this part of the procession. A tribe of rhapsodists followed, who sung to the listening populace the sublime strains in which the first of bards had celebrated the achievements of their ancestors; and the scene was closed by a train of dancers, who, armed at all points, and

Xenoph. Symp. p. 872. Aristoph. In Nubil. 358. Schol. Athenæ, lib. iv. p. 168. Demost. de Coron. 492. Plut. In Pericl. Philostr. In Vita Apollon. lib. vii. c. 4. p. 283.

+ Thucid. lib. vi. c. 57, 58. Xenoph. Sympos. p. 883. Ovid. Metam. lib. ii. v. 711. Aristoph. In Pace. v. 948.

attacking each other in mock combat, at stated intervals, represented, to the sound of the flute, the memorable battle of Minerva and the Titans *.

To institutions like these philosophy and virtue have nothing to. object. They were indulgent in their celebration, and humanizing in their influence. Uniting the people in a splendid but orderly festivity, they promoted a useful association of all the orders of the state, and blended the rich and the poor in one common and delightful celebrity. Labour and toil were thus permitted to repose. The high and the low, united by these bonds of public fellowship, lost something, the first, of the pride and haughtiness which dignity of station so frequently inspires, the second, of the jealousy and envy with which superior affluence and rank are so generally beheld. All, by consequence, became more social. A better and more moral citizenship was diffused. The factions of the state were softened by the cheerfulness of the public pomp; and the intercourse promoted by legitimate pleasure, while it became a means of individual gratification and of social joy, contributed to soften and to civilize the manners, the tempers, and the passions of men.

But we are not long permitted to contemplate the Grecian people assembled in the observances of a cheerful and animating worship. Festivals there were, more numerous and frequent, and of a very different character; and we cannot, without astonishment, advert to the vehemence with which the elegant Greek, and the less fanciful Roman, could associate in orgies distinguished by the vilest

Plato. In Hipp. vol. ii. p. 228.


« AnteriorContinuar »