Sidor som bilder

but it was also believed that they had been the inventors of it. This assertion is so much the more to be attended to, because, the intercourse between Egypt and Greece being very great, Plato would never have dared to write an untruth which might be contradicted by any one of his countrymen. On the contrary, we find many authorities which confirm this assertion of Plato; for he, having said that it was necessary for his countrymen to read mathematics, gives as a reason, that in Egypt the children were in the habit of learning them as soon as they had learned their letters; and both Herodotus and Diodorus inform us, that these letters were the demotic alphabet, not very dissimilar from the hieratic, and of which it was equally believed Hermes was the inventor; and something of the same import is said by Clement of Alexandria. We are, in fact, informed by Apuleius, that when he was initiated in the mysteries of Isis, the Hierophantes shewed him books written in unknown characters; and M. Zoéga, with his usual acuteness, proves, that in this passage Apuleius speaks of two different sorts of characters, the hieroglyphics and the alphabetical; and, from another passage of Clement, he proves that the Egyptian words could not conveniently be written in Greek characters. I beg you will pay particular attention to this passage of Clement; for, as I stated in a former Lecture, this difficulty which the Greek writers

experienced in writing in their alphabet the Egyptian words, was one of the principal causes why the Greeks have so unwarrantably altered the names of the Egyptian kings, animals, and places, as to render it extremely difficult to recognise them.

The hieroglyphics, says Zoëga, are letters; and, like letters, they are arranged in lines, and express sentiments, actions, and ideas. For by their shape they are pictures, by their disposition letters.

Signa hieroglyphicorum ad literarum instar singulatim ordinata in series sive versus, animi sensus factorum idearumque seriem exprimant. Id enim hieroglyphicis proprium est, ut quoad figuram picturæ sint, quoad ordinem litteræ.” This is a very striking passage; and, as far as I know the only one uttered by a modern writer, in which it is so pointedly, and so positively asserted, that hieroglyphics are letters. He allows, indeed, another species of hieroglyphics, which we should call symbolical, but which he calls anaglyphs; these, he says, have been called hieroglyphics on account of their shortness, and principally on account of the custom of using them in the temples, for which reason they obtained the name of sacred, or hieroglyphics. They, however, are not what we should call alphabetical letters, because they express ideas. Such, for instance, is the celebrated inscription on the propylæum of the Egyptian temples at Saïs and Thebes, exhibiting the figures of an old man, an infant, a hawk, a fish, and a crocodile ; in which the infant is the emblem of nativity, the old man


of death, the hawk of the deity, the fish for hatred, and the crocodile for impudence. So that, according to Clement, the whole means, “O you who are born, and you who die, remember, that the gods hate impudence.” All this is sufficiently plain, and perfectly coin

cides with the modern discoveries, by which we are enabled to read inscriptions engraved on monuments much anterior to the time of Moses, and nearly ascending to the age of Abraham. The difficulty consists in finding out which was the first mode of writing employed by mankind; that is, whether hieroglyphics preceded or succeeded the invention of the alphabet. To ascertain this point, we should consider that every thing is emblematic, every thing is figurative, every thing is more or less hieroglyphical, amongst the ancients. They began in Chaldea, by placing, or rather by giving to some constellations the name of the ram, and of the bull, either to signify the productions of these animals during the spring, or, as we shall see in a future Lecture, to pay a peculiar homage to the Deity, as soon as they began to depart from the pure religion of Noah. Fire was the symbol of the Deity amongst the Persians; the rising of Sirius, or the dog-star, informed the Egyptians of the inundation of the Nile; the serpent holding its tail in its mouth, became the image of eternity. The whole of nature was disguised, and emblematically represented, by the primitive inhabitants of our globe.

Travellers from the most remote antiquity have found in India frightful statues, furnished with ten arms, symbolically representing the power of virtue, or the power of the deity. These statues, by our missionaries, have been taken for representations of the devil. In this supposition, whatever ignorance they may have betrayed about the origin of idolatry, and of the progress and civilization of the natives, our missionaries have shewn a consistency highly calculated to prove the little advance they themselves had made in the history of mankind. Being persuaded that the true knowledge of the Deity was confined to Europe, they never thought it possible that the Hindoo nation, who could not speak French, English, or Portuguese, did not worship the devil.

If we place all the symbols and emblems which we have received from antiquity, under the inspection of a man of sense, or even of a scholar, who had never heard of them, he will not be able to understand, and much less will he be able to explain, any of them. It is a figurative and emblematical language, which requires a particular study before it can be understood.

It is for this reason that the ancient philosophers, and Pythagoras principally, who had travelled much in India and Egypt, employed this mode to convey instruction to their pupils. Most, if not all, the precepts of this last mentioned philosopher, are couched in such figurative expressions as to become riddles, or hieroglyphics.

“ Do not stir the fire with the sword,” said he ; to signify, do not irritate a man who is already in a passion.

“ Do not eat beans," to signify, avoid public assemblies, in which we know the vote was given by beans.

During the storm, go and worship the echo;" to signify, during civil wars retire to the country.

Such is a specimen of the figurative mode of speaking of Pythagoras, the sense of which is not now difficult to understand. But he is not the only instructor of mankind who has employed this mode. Most of the ancients have been equally emblematical, and have made use of the same emblematical figures. One of the most beautiful of these figures that ever was uttered, is that of Timeus of Locri, who described the Deity to be a circle, the centre of which was every where, and the circumference no where. Plato adopted this emblem ; and, amongst the moderns, Pascal has inserted it amongst the materials which he meant to employ in a future work, and to which the French have given the title of “Pensées de Pascal."

The sacred pages exhibit innumerable examples of this mode of speaking, which the Hebrews had adopted from the Egyptians. A striking and most beautiful specimen is found in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes. “ When the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders shall cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows

« FöregåendeFortsätt »