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crimes, and the apprehension of punishment. Conscience or religion pursues them, and their hearts are torn and distracted by the terrors of anticipated retribution. With these impressions they naturally lay hold of any means which may relieve and quiet their alarm; and penances, and sacrifices, and lustrations, have been consequently employed, in all times, to make atonement, as far as possible, for sin, and, thereby, procure rest and peace for the sinner.
Yet, when we examine these schemes for tranquillizing the spirit of the criminal, we find them, almost, without exception, contemptible or absurd. They have no rational reference to the guilt of crime, or to the nature of God. Madness or folly have carried them to excess; and folly or madness only could attribute to them a purifying or redeeming efficacy.
The Greeks and Romans were as anxious as other nations to devise systems of purification. We, consequently, discover innumerable ceremonies interwoven into the texture of their religion for the purpose of appeasing the wrath, or satisfying the justice, of their gods. The rich oblation, the lustral stream, the consecrated incense, were perpetually resorted to with all the credulity of ignorant and implicit faith. The offerings of superstition were to supply the ransom which should have been tendered by penitence and reformation.
The homicide, the false witness, or the murderer, were thus provided with a ready atonement for their crimes; and conscience was quieted by forms which contributed neither to deter the sinner from future guilt, nor to animate the motives of piety and
That which at first had been, probably, instituted
as a type, to preserve in the minds of men a due sense of the enormity of sin, and of the necessity of atonement, was regarded as itself the remedy and the salvation. It was not inquired on what principle of nature or reason the blood of bulls and of goats, or the water of a stream, or the perfume of a blossom, was to be invested with a salutary and saving efficacy. Men adopted, with ready zeal, the expiations which they found prescribed by their religion; and the temples were crowded, not by those who had forsaken their sins, but by those who satisfied themselves with the hope, that they had found a sufficient atonement for guilt in a cheap and accommodating ceremony.
The moral influence of the religion, diminished by so many other causes, was enfeebled yet more by this facility of expiation. A few punctilious observances, an attitude, an ejaculation, the sprink+ ling of a little water, might relieve the sinner from the necessity and the trouble of self-correction, and the painful alarm of apprehended punishment. Repentance and reformation were to have nothing to do with the easy absolution. The efficacy was to exist, not in the internal purity, but the external form; and the criminal, easily complying with the terms of mercy, might derive from a ready redemption of past crimes, an effectual encouragement for future transgressions *.
When Jason had slain his brother-in-law Absyrtha, he proceeded with Medea, who was yet more criminal than himself, to procure absolution from the priestess of Æa. The absolution was granted. A worthless offering was sufficient to pay for the blood
*Ovid. Fast. lib. ii. v. 37. Schol. In Ajac. 1. 667.
of a murdered relative; and the tranquillity and confidence of the murderers were restored.
The crime of Clytemnestra was punished by the vengeance of a son. How were the filial hands, so stained with the blood of a mother, to be cleansed? How was the victim, persecuted by the Furies, to avert and soften the vindictive powers? Was he to shed the tear of penitence on the altar, or to purify the taint which had corrupted the heart? This might have been a mode of redemption tedious or difficult; and Orestes, condemned to an easier penalty, was to find, in a stolen statue, the blessings of expiation.
By the feast of the Lectisternium the anger of the gods, and the crime by which it had been kindled, was to be appeased and redeemed with equal certainty. Festive tables were spread, and loaded with a repast worthy of celestial guests. On surrounding couches, decorated with flowers, and strewed with odoriferous herbs, the statues of the gods, to whom the feast was dedicated, appeared to recline*. A body of priests, who presided in flowing vestments over the festival, sometimes prolonged the celebrity for many days. The divine guests were gradually propitiated by the flavour of cups
* Valerius Maximus, lib. ii. ch. 1. mentions a Lectisternium dedicated to Jupiter. The statue of that god only was honoured with a couch, while the statues of Venus and Mercury, and the other deities, were less reverently placed on inferior seats. Nam Jovis epulo ipso in lectulum, Juno et Mercurius in sellas ad cœnam invitabantur. Livy frequently alludes to this ceremony, and refers the institution of it to the three hundred and fifty-fourth year of Rome. lib. v. c. 15. Suetonius speaks of the pillows which were laid on the splendid beds prepared for the gods. In Cæs. August. c. 75. The Greeks conciliated their divinities by a similar festival. In Schol. Pindari. Ode Olymp. 1.
and viands consecrated to their enjoyment; and the costly entertainment was repaid to the criminal, by the exemption from penalty which it procured, and the hope and trust which it restored.
Sacrifices and offerings of various kinds were instituted for the same purpose of propitiation. The herb, the incense, the cake of meal and of salt*, the fruits of the earth, were the prevailing oblations of earlier and more savage times; but, even then, the blood of the victim was sometimes shed, and the penalty of sin was supposed to be paid by the immolated animal. At a subsequent period the sanguinary offering became more prevalent, and was adapted, with anxious care, to the temper of the god or of the goddess to whom it was tendered. The bull was consecrated to Jove, the heifer to Juno, the dove to Venus, and the sow to Ceres t; but it was at length discovered, that oblations of this kind, with their accompanying libations, were not always of sufficient cost to appease and satisfy the offended deities. The child was, therefore, occasionally offered up by the father, and consumed amid the flames of the altar. The slave or the captive bled to expiate the private or public sin. Human victims,
Non sumptuosa blandior hostia
Farre pia, et saliente mica.
Hor. lib. iii. Ode 23. Horace was an Epicurean. He perfectly understood the folly of the more splendid sacrifices of his own time, and he could not always suppress a smile at the pompous vices of the religion of his
+ It was the duty of the priest to select the victims with a minute attention to the rules of sacrifice. The slightest error vitiated the oblation.
Dionys. Halicarnas. lib. v.
loaded with the crimes of the nation, were driven forth, by a fearful desecration, to perish under the inviolable interdict of fire and water. Three hundred captives expired before the shrines of the irritated gods, by the pious command of Aristomenes the Messenian; and the oracles, uttered by a senseless or frantic girl, under the control of an artful and venal priesthood *, were often heard to demand from individuals or the people, those savage holocausts by which it was thought the anger of the infernal or supernal deities might be most effectually appeased.
Still, however, the poverty which might not be able to supply the more precious oblation, was permitted to benefit by cheaper modes of expiation. Occasionally it was necesssary to lave the whole body, but a less general lustration might, at other times, be sufficient for the purification of the sinner t. Hippolytus, in Euripides, who had contracted guilt from the solicitations of Phædra, purified himself from the taint by bathing his ears; and the miser able Pilate seems to have imagined, that he was
*Plut. In Nic. et In Demosth. Herodot. lib. i. c. 53; lib. vi. c. 66.
The trouble of purification by water was often attached to the office of the priests, who stood at the entrance of the temple, "holding green boughs, dropping with water, in their hands, with which they besprinkled the people." Sozomen, Hist. Eccles. lib. vi. p. 644. Virgil refers to the same practice:
Idem ter socios purâ circumtulit undâ
Æneid. lib. vi. 229.
See also Pliny, Nat. Hist. lib. v. c. 30. A burning torch taken from the altar was sometimes immersed in consecrated water, and employed instead of the branch of olive or laurel. Eurip. Hercul. Fur. v. 288. Aristoph. In Pace.