« 上一頁繼續 »
authority to control its energies, was hopeless. Lucian, like a cunning general, is careful to attack his foes separately. In the piece which he dedicates to Paphos or Delphi, he keeps clear of Heliopolis and Bombyce, as cautiously as Rabelais, had be written somewhat earlier, and with more serious purposes, would have avoided lashing Franciscans and Dominicans in the same romance. But it is easy to see which he considered as the more formidable enemy. The proper Greek mythology is to him the object of broad jesting, and a merry contempt—with very few exceptions, (the tract concerning Sacrifices is the chief of them,) he is not betrayed into anything like earnest indignation by its absurdities; and the piece which forms the main exception is, we may safely pronounce, from the internal evidence of style, among the earliest of his productions that have descended to us. It is in a far different mood that he deals with those dark Asiatic temples from whose recesses an older, severer, and, above all, more mysterious variety of the same blasphemous quackery was spreading its influence wider and wider every day over the Roman world, at the very moment when the pure light before which all these painted meteors alike were, ere long, to wax dim, had begun to manifest its growing splendour in the same quarter of the globe. His bitterness is betrayed by the gravity with which he paints the true Loretto of his time at Manbog; and we at once perceive the real state of relations between the European and the Asiatic systems of religious fraud in this remarkable particular, that he attacks systematically the ridiculous deities of the former, the audacious priests of the latter.
Dr. Franklin, by the way, treats, as a mere fiction, one circumstance in Lucian's description of the famous Hieropolitan temple, namely, the presence of lions and bears walking about and feeding quietly in the outer court of the goddess, in the midst of horses, oxen, and tame birds of various kinds; and Wieland thinks he solves the difficulty by suggesting that the cunning Galli disguised sheep and calves in the skins of wild beasts, and took care to arrange matters so that the uninitiated should not approach them too closely. We confess we are weak enough to think it far from impossible that the beasts were what they seemed; and perhaps Wieland's scepticism might have been more Pyrrhonic on this head, bad he been acquainted with the tiger-packs, and certain other pets of the modern princes of Hindostan, to say nothing of a crowd of traditions too diverse in origin, and too uniform in essentials, to be easily dismissed as resting on mere invention. How should we guess, from mere European experience, to what extent the art of taming might be carried among a body of wealthy jugglers, devoting themselves, through a long succession of
ages, to the craft and traffic of popular deceit ?-But, not to go beyond Europe, or very recent times, had Wieland forgotten altogether the lion that lived four weeks in Rubens' chamber, when he was painting his · Daniel'? There can be no doubt that the success of this piece of trickery, however accomplished, was perfect in its way, since Lucian mentions these inonsters as coolly as he does the dimensions of the area in which he saw them; and who can doubt what the effect must have been on those who came prepared for every superstitious impression, of a spectacle which seemed to proclaim so distinctly, in the midst of so many congenial accompaniments, the actual presence of a deity, before whom every form of universal nature was subdued in the quiescence of a common awe?*
The satirist's unextinguishable hatred of those intrusive superstitions peeps out, even where we should have least expected anything of the kind, amidst the merriment and drollery of his famous Milesian tale, (the origin of all modern novels and romances,) where the thievery of the itinerant priests brings so many blows upon the innocent shoulders of their
comrade the ass. It is a favourite object of modern infidel writers to represent the progress of Christianity in those days as having been comparatively easy, in consequence of the utter previous demolition of the old heathen creed; but every circumstance in Lucian's picture of the religious condition of his time may be set up in evidence against them. We all know where, and among what classes of Gentile society, the true religion first established itself-and, surely, if we are to put any faith in this great painter of manners, among those classes in the Asiatic provinces of the empire, there was no tabula rasa of the popular mind ready and willing to receive any new impression that might chance to come. Every line speaks of a people sunk in abject subjection to a most elaborate system of superstition, hoary indeed with age, and high-blown with presumption, but not, therefore, the less on the alert, nor the less vigorous in its activity. His account of Alexander of Abonoteichos is, in every point of view, one of the most extraordinary documents to which the historian of human delusions can refer; and we venture to recommend that single tract to the serious attention of those who, though bearing the name of Christians, are
* Gilbert White is not ashamed to quote, upon a somewhat similar occasion, the words of sacred writ, every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind.' (St. James, iii. 7.) And, by the way, let us use the license of a note, to remark that White's delightful work is no longer shut up in a quarto. It is most pleasing to ness the exertions ma by eminent writers of our time to produce food for the juvenile mind. Shall we be pardoned for observing, that the ' Natural History of Selborne' ought to have a place among the household books of every English family ?
not ashamed to bid us wait for some self-wrought crumbling away of the spirit of Brahminism ere we look for any results but those of political evil, from preaching the gospel within sight of its bloody shrines.
• As things are now,' says Lucian, in one of his epistles,' every man is, as the proverb has it, an ant or a camel;' and the saying is a key to the history of the time. The social chain had rusted and dwindled through all its middle links; there was little left between the lord and the slave ; and this can never be the case in an age either of barbarism or of refinement, without bringing along with it evils yet more deadly than those political mischiefs which are its visible attendants. The perilous extent to which slavery had grown all over the empire is known from other sources ;—the fact is implied in Lucian's writings passim. We have nowhere from him those glimpses of a peaceful and contented peasant life which lend so many charms to the works wherein the earlier periods both of Greek and of Roman society are illustrated. With him the transition from the beechen bowl to the golden cup studded with gems is immediate, and the existence of a rooted and universal enmity between the hovel and the palace seems to be taken for granted. It was far beyond the power of the mildest and most benevolent of despots to cure evils which were necessary consequences of the very events to which they themselves owed the possession of universal dominion. The imperial government was built, and it behoved it to rest upon, a total corruption of manners :-the settled ennui of gorgeous luxury, and the heart-broken prostration and listlessness of misery sunk below all hope, these were the only elements of safety which even an Antonine could contemplate from the throne which dazzled the world. The bloated excess of sensual indulgence, and the nerveless exhaustion of over-wearied penury, were their twin-ministrants; and these are influences almost alike effective in both the kindred causes of superstition and tyranny.
It is curious to trace the contradictions into which Gibbon could be betrayed by that miserable spleen, which, like an everpresent demon, controlled the workings of his masculine understanding.
The division of Europe,' says he, into a number of independent states, connected, however, with each other, by the general resemblance of religion, language, and manners, is productive of the most beneficial consequences to the liberty of mankind. A modern tyrant, who should find no resistance either in his own breast, or in his people, would soon experience a gentle restraint from the example of his equals, the dread of present censure, the advice of his allies, and the apprehension of his enemies. The object of his displeasure, escaping from the narrow limits of his dominions, would easily obtain, in a happier climate, a secure refuge, a new fortune adequate to his merit, the freedom of
complaint, and perhaps the means of revenge. But the empire of the Romans filled the world, and when that empire fell into the hands of a single person, the world became a safe and dreary prison for his enemies. The slave of imperial despotism, whether he was condemned to drag his gilded chain in Rome and the senate, or to wear out a life of exile on the barren rock of Seriphus, or the frozen banks of the Danube, expected his fate in silent despair. To resist was fatal, and it was impossible to fly. On every side he was encompassed with a vast extent of sea and land, which he could never hope to traverse without being discovered, seized, and restored to his irritated master. Beyond the frontiers, his anxious view could discover nothing, except the ocean, inhospitable deserts, hostile tribes of barbarians, of fierce manners and unknown language, or dependent kings, who would gladly purchase the emperor's protection by the sacrifice of an obnoxious fugitive. “ Wherever you are,” said Cicero to the exiled Marcellus, “ remember that you are equally within the power of the conqueror.” '-Gibbon, vol. i. p. 132. And he adds, in a note :
• The place of Ovid's exile is well known, by his just, but unmanly lamentations. It should seem that he only received an order to leave Rome in so many days, and to transport himself to Tomi. Guards and gaolers were unnecessary. Under Tiberius, a Roman knight attempted to fly to the Parthians. He was stopt in the streights of Sicily; but so little danger did there appear in the example, that the most jealous of tyrants disdained to punish it. Tacit. Annal. vi. 14.'
But a few pages before we read, that If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom. The labours of these monarchs were overpaid by the immense reward that inseparably waited on their success; by the honest pride of virtue, and by the exquisite delight of beholding the general happiness of which they were the authors.'-Idem, vol. i. p. 126.
The superstition barbare de la Palestine' (as a bolder infidel phrases it) was not destined to disturb a scene of such profound repose. The Roman police was, indeed, perfect for all political
but purposes, and so was, so perhaps still is, that of the French ;
it would not be difficult to prove, with whatever disgust the loungers of the boulevards and cafés might witness such an attempt, that no police is more wretchedly inefficient, where political purposes are not concerned, than the Parisian; that more untraced, and unavenged blood, for example, is annually shed in and about that glittering Babylon than in any three Christian cities besides : and, in like manner, the reader of Lucian is furnished with perfect evidence that, amidst all the splendour of the golden æra of the Antonines, there was no lack of rottenness in the state of the magnificent empire, for which, be it admitted, these virtuous princes would fain have effected all that their eulogist has fancied. Robberies and midnight murders occur in our author's writings almost as frequently as adulteries and debauches; and we learn from a casual parenthesis in his account of the great Paphlagonian impostor, that a gentleman no more dreamt of travelling in those days in Asia Minor-then the garden of the world—without a guard of soldiers, than he would now in the most barbarous province of the Grand Seignior's dominion. The lucky chance that Lucian's janissaries had followed him to the gate of the serpent-oracle's abode, saved the life of the rash Pyrrhonist, when the cool-headed master of the loathsome show (who knew very well that the disappearance of such a person might be inquired into) could scarcely have prevented his being toru in pieces by the crowd of rude and exasperated devotees. And had Marcus Aurelius condescended to play the Haroon Alraschid for a single night in any great city of his empire, he would have found out that the evils of the time called for other remedies than those periodical courses of lectures with which he held it his duty, as a sovereign, to edify audiences both Greek and Roman, and considerably more thronged, we may believe, than have usually gratified the vanity of unpurpled professors of ethics. Had Gibbon condescended to examine other sources as diligently as he certainly did the formal and professed documents of history, he would, perhaps, have avoided more important errors than that at which we have been glancing; but it is singular that one so fond of dwelling on the ridiculous superstitions which priestly craft was able to engraft on the religion of the Bible during the decline and fall of the old Roman power, should have touched with so gentle a hand upon the prevalence of absurdities of kindred origin and complexion, and attended with moral consequences of precisely the same character, among every order of men in a society which he has the fancy to set before his readers as equally happy and enlightened. His boasted age of philosophical light and heathen toleration never had any existence except in the pages of hirelings and flatterers, and in those of well-meaning princes, the dupes of their own vanity, and of the lies by which