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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book I. - 4/29 -

afterward so celebrated, and even to have navigated to Sicily and to Africa for supplies of corn. That such advances from a primitive and savage state were not made in a single generation, is sufficiently clear. With more probability, Cecrops is reputed to have imposed upon the ignorance of his subjects and the license of his followers the curb of impartial law, and to have founded a tribunal of justice (doubtless the sole one for all disputes), in which after times imagined to trace the origin of the solemn Areopagus.

VIII. Passing from these doubtful speculations on the detailed improvements effected by Cecrops in the social life of the Attic people, I shall enter now into some examination of two subjects far more important. The first is the religion of the Athenians in common with the rest of Greece; and the second the origin of the institution of slavery.

The origin of religion in all countries is an inquiry of the deepest interest and of the vaguest result. For, the desire of the pious to trace throughout all creeds the principles of the one they themselves profess--the vanity of the learned to display a various and recondite erudition--the passion of the ingenious to harmonize conflicting traditions--and the ambition of every speculator to say something new upon an ancient but inexhaustible subject, so far from enlightening, only perplex our conjectures. Scarcely is the theory of to-day established, than the theory of to-morrow is invented to oppose it. With one the religion of the Greeks is but a type of the mysteries of the Jews, the event of the deluge, and the preservation of the ark; with another it is as entirely an incorporation of the metaphysical solemnities of the Egyptian;--now it is the crafty device of priests, now the wise invention of sages. It is not too much to say, that after the profoundest labours and the most plausible conjectures of modern times, we remain yet more uncertain and confused than we were before. It is the dark boast of every pagan mythology, as one of the eldest of the pagan deities, that "none among mortals hath lifted up its veil!"

After, then, some brief and preliminary remarks, tending to such hypotheses as appear to me most probable and simple, I shall hasten from unprofitable researches into the Unknown, to useful deductions from what is given to our survey--in a word, from the origin of the Grecian religion to its influence and its effects; the first is the province of the antiquary and the speculator; the last of the historian and the practical philosopher.

IX. When Herodotus informs us that Egypt imparted to Greece the names of almost all her deities, and that his researches convinced him that they were of barbarous origin, he exempts from the list of the Egyptian deities, Neptune, the Dioscuri, Juno, Vesta, Themis, the Graces, and the Nereids [23]. From Africa, according to Herodotus, came Neptune, from the Pelasgi the rest of the deities disclaimed by Egypt. According to the same authority, the Pelasgi learned not their deities, but the names of their deities (and those at a later period), from the Egyptians [24]. But the Pelasgi were the first known inhabitants of Greece--the first known inhabitants of Greece had therefore their especial deities, before any communication with Egypt. For the rest we must accept the account of the simple and credulous Herodotus with considerable caution and reserve. Nothing is more natural--perhaps more certain--than that every tribe [25], even of utter savages, will invent some deities of their own; and as these deities will as naturally be taken from external objects, common to all mankind, such as the sun or the moon, the waters or the earth, and honoured with attributes formed from passions and impressions no less universal;--so the deities of every tribe will have something kindred to each other, though the tribes themselves may never have come into contact or communication.

The mythology of the early Greeks may perhaps be derived from the following principal sources:--First, the worship of natural objects;-- and of divinities so formed, the most unequivocally national will obviously be those most associated with their mode of life and the influences of their climate. When the savage first intrusts the seed to the bosom of the earth--when, through a strange and unaccountable process, he beholds what he buried in one season spring forth the harvest of the next--the EARTH itself, the mysterious garner, the benign, but sometimes the capricious reproducer of the treasures committed to its charge--becomes the object of the wonder, the hope, and the fear, which are the natural origin of adoration and prayer. Again, when he discovers the influence of the heaven upon the growth of his labour--when, taught by experience, he acknowledges its power to blast or to mellow--then, by the same process of ideas, the HEAVEN also assumes the character of divinity, and becomes a new agent, whose wrath is to be propitiated, whose favour is to be won. What common sense thus suggests to us, our researches confirm, and we find accordingly that the Earth and the Heaven are the earliest deities of the agricultural Pelasgi. As the Nile to the fields of the Egyptian-- earth and heaven to the culture of the Greek. The effects of the SUN upon human labour and human enjoyment are so sensible to the simplest understanding, that we cannot wonder to find that glorious luminary among the most popular deities of ancient nations. Why search through the East to account for its worship in Greece? More easy to suppose that the inhabitants of a land, whom the sun so especially favoured-- saw and blessed it, for it was good, than, amid innumerable contradictions and extravagant assumptions, to decide upon that remoter shore, whence was transplanted a deity, whose effects were so benignant, whose worship was so natural, to the Greeks. And in the more plain belief we are also borne out by the more sound inductions of learning. For it is noticeable that neither the moon nor the stars--favourite divinities with those who enjoyed the serene nights, or inhabited the broad plains of the East--were (though probably admitted among the Pelasgic deities) honoured with that intense and reverent worship which attended them in Asia and in Egypt. To the Pelasgi, not yet arrived at the intellectual stage of philosophical contemplation, the most sensible objects of influence would be the most earnestly adored. What the stars were to the East, their own beautiful Aurora, awaking them to the delight of their genial and temperate climate, was to the early Greeks.

Of deities, thus created from external objects, some will rise out (if I may use the expression) of natural accident and local circumstance. An earthquake will connect a deity with the earth--an inundation with the river or the sea. The Grecian soil bears the marks of maritime revolution; many of the tribes were settled along the coast, and perhaps had already adventured their rafts upon the main. A deity of the sea (without any necessary revelation from Africa) is, therefore, among the earliest of the Grecian gods. The attributes of each deity will be formed from the pursuits and occupations of the worshippers-- sanguinary with the warlike--gentle with the peaceful. The pastoral Pelasgi of Arcadia honoured the pastoral Pan for ages before he was received by their Pelasgic brotherhood of Attica. And the agricultural Demeter or Ceres will be recognised among many tribes of the agricultural Pelasgi, which no Egyptian is reputed, even by tradition [26], to have visited.

The origin of prayer is in the sense of dependance, and in the instinct of self-preservation or self-interest. The first objects of prayer to the infant man will be those on which by his localities he believes himself to be most dependant for whatever blessing his mode of life inclines him the most to covet, or from which may come whatever peril his instinct will teach him the most to deprecate and fear. It is this obvious truth which destroys all the erudite systems that would refer the different creeds of the heathen to some single origin. Till the earth be the same in each region--till the same circumstances surround every tribe--different impressions, in nations yet unconverted and uncivilized, produce different deities. Nature suggests a God, and man invests him with attributes. Nature and man, the same as a whole, vary in details; the one does not everywhere suggest the same notions--the other cannot everywhere imagine the same attributes. As with other tribes, so with the Pelasgi or primitive Greeks, their early gods were the creatures of their own early impressions.

As one source of religion was in external objects, so another is to be found in internal sensations and emotions. The passions are so powerful in their effects upon individuals and nations, that we can be little surprised to find those effects attributed to the instigation and influence of a supernatural being. Love is individualized and personified in nearly all mythologies; and LOVE therefore ranks among the earliest of the Grecian gods. Fear or terror, whose influence is often so strange, sudden, and unaccountable--seizing even the bravest --spreading through numbers with all the speed of an electric sympathy --and deciding in a moment the destiny of an army or the ruin of a tribe--is another of those passions, easily supposed the afflatus of some preternatural power, and easily, therefore, susceptible of personification. And the pride of men, more especially if habitually courageous and warlike, will gladly yield to the credulities which shelter a degrading and unwonted infirmity beneath the agency of a superior being. TERROR, therefore, received a shape and found an altar probably as early at least as the heroic age. According to Plutarch, Theseus sacrificed to Terror previous to his battle with the Amazons;--an idle tale, it is true, but proving, perhaps, the antiquity of a tradition. As society advanced from barbarism arose more intellectual creations--as cities were built, and as in the constant flux and reflux of martial tribes cities were overthrown, the elements of the social state grew into personification, to which influence was attributed and reverence paid. Thus were fixed into divinity and shape, ORDER, PEACE, JUSTICE, and the stern and gloomy ORCOS [27], witness of the oath, avenger of the perjury.

This, the second source of religion, though more subtle and refined in its creations, had still its origin in the same human causes as the first, viz., anticipation of good and apprehension of evil. Of deities so created, many, however, were the inventions of poets-- (poetic metaphor is a fruitful mother of mythological fable)--many also were the graceful refinements of a subsequent age. But some (and nearly all those I have enumerated) may be traced to the earliest period to which such researches can ascend. It is obvious that the eldest would be connected with the passions--the more modern with the intellect.

It seems to me apparent that almost simultaneously with deities of these two classes would arise the greater and more influential class of personal divinities which gradually expanded into the heroic dynasty of Olympus. The associations which one tribe, or one generation, united with the heaven, the earth, or the sun, another might obviously connect, or confuse, with a spirit or genius inhabiting or influencing the element or physical object which excited their anxiety or awe: And, this creation effected--so what one tribe or generation might ascribe to the single personification of a passion, a faculty, or a moral and social principle, another would just as naturally refer to a personal and more complex deity:--that which in one instance would form the very nature of a superior being, in the other would form only an attribute--swell the power and amplify the character of a Jupiter, a Mars, a Venus, or a Pan. It is in the nature of man, that personal divinities once created and adored, should present more vivid and forcible images to his fancy than abstract personifications of physical objects and moral impressions. Thus, deities of this class would gradually rise into pre-eminence and popularity above those more vague and incorporeal--and (though I guard myself from absolutely solving in this manner the enigma of ancient theogonies) the family of Jupiter could scarcely fail to possess

Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book I. - 4/29

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