« FöregåendeFortsätt »
a proof, as has been already observed, of its being derived from ancient tradition, and that it had its origin in the religion and worship of the true God. It is not indeed to be questioned, but that God, before the deluge, did manifest his will to mankind in different methods, as he has since done to his people, sometimes in his own person and viva voce, sometimes by the ministry of angels or of prophets inspired by himself, and at other times by apparitions or in dreams. When the descendants of Noah dispersed themselves into different regions, they carried this tradition along with them, which was every where retained, though altered and corrupted by the darkness and ignorance of idol. atry. None of the ancients have insisted more upon the necessity of consulting the gods on all occasions by augurs and oracles than Xenophon; and he founds that necessity, as I have more than once observed elsewhere, upon a principle deduced from the most refined reason and discernment. He represents, in several places, that man of himself is very frequently ignorant of what is advantageous or pernicious to him; that, far from being capable of penetrating the future, the present itself escapes him, so narrow and shortsighted is he in all his views; that the slightest obstacles can frustrate his greatest designs; that only the divinity, to whom all ages are present, can impart a certain knowledge of the future to him ; that no other being has power to facilitate the success of his enter. prises; and that it is reasonable to believe he will guide and protect those, who adore him with the purest affection, who invoke him at all times with the greatest constancy and fidelity, and consult him with most sincerity and resignation.
Of Augurs. What a reproach is it to human reason, that so bright and luminous a principle should have given birth to the absurd reasonings and wretched notions in favour of the science of augurs and soothsayers, and been the occasion of espousing with blind devotion the most ridiculous puerilities! To make the most important affairs of state depend upon a bird's happening to sing upon the right or left hand; upon the greediness of chickens in pecking their grain ; the inspection of the entrails of beasts ; the liver's being entire and in good condition, which, according to them, did sometimes entirely disappear, without leaving any trace or mark of its having ever subsisted ! To these superstitious observances may be added, accidental rencounters, words spoken by chance, and afterwards turned into good or bad presages,
forebod ings, prodigies, monsters, eclipses, comets, every extraordinary phenomenon, every unforeseen accident, with an infinity of chimeras of the like nature,
Whence could it happen, that so many great men, illustrious generals, able politicians, and even learned philosophers, have actually given into such absurd imaginations ? Plutarch, in particular, so estimable in other respects, is to be pitied for his servile observance of the senseless customs of the pagan idolatry, and his ridiculous credulity in dreams, signs, and prodigies. He tells us somewhere, that he abstained a great while from eating eggs upon account of a dream, with which he has not thought fit to make us further acquainted
The wisest of the pagans did not want a just sense of the art of divination, and often spoke of it to each other, and even in public, with the utmost contempt, and in a manner sufficiently expressive of its ridicule. The grave censor, Cato, was of opinion, that one soothsayer could not look at another without laughing. Hannibal was amazed at the simplicity of Prusias, whom he had advised to give battle, upon his being diverted from it by the inspection of the entrails of a victimi “What,” said he, “have you more confidence in the liver of a beast, than in so old and experienced a captain as I am ?” Marcellus, who had been five times consul; and was augur, said, that he had discovered a method of not being put to a stand by the sinister flight of birds, which was, to keep himself close shut up in his litter.
Cicero explains himself upon augury without ambiguity or reserve. No one was more capable of speaking pertinently upon it than himself (as Mr. Morin observes in his dissertation upon the same subject.). As he was adopted into the college of augurs, he had made himself acquainted with the most concealed of their secrets, and had all possible opportunity of informing himself fully in their science. That he did so, sufficiently appears from the two books he has left us upon divination, in which it may be said he has exhausted the subject. In his second, wherein he refutes his brother Quintus, who had espoused the cause of the augurs, he disputes and defeats his false reasonings with a force, and at the same time with so refined and delicate a raillery, as leaves us nothing to wish; and he demonstrates by proofs, that rise upon each other in their force, the falsity, contrariety, and impossibility of that art. But what is very surprising, in the midst of all his arguments, he takes occasion to blame the generals and magistrates, who, on important conjunctures, had contemned the prognostics; and maintains, that the use of them, as great an abuse as it was in his own sense, ought nevertheless to be respected out of regard to religion, and the prejudice of the people.
All that I have hitherto said tends to prove, that paganism was divided into two sects, almost equally enemies of religion ; the one by their superstitious and blind regard for the augurs, the other by their irreligious contempt and derision of them. ·
The principle of the first, founded on one side upon the ignorance and weakness of man in the affairs of life, and on the other upon the prescience of the Divinity, and his almighty providence, was true ; but the consequence deduced from it, in regard to the augurs, false and absurd. They ought to have proved that it was certain the Divinity himself had established these external signs to denote his intentions, and that he had obliged himself to a punctual conformity to them upon all occasions. But they had nothing of this kind in their system. The augurs and soothsayers, therefore, were the effect and invention of the ignorance, rashness, curiosity, and blind passions of
$ Errabit multis in rebus antiquitas : quam vel usu jam, vel doctrina, vel vetustate immutatam- videmus. Retinetur autem et ad opinio; nem vulgi, et ad magnas utilitates reip. mos, religio, disciplina, jus augurum, collegii auctoritas. Nec vero non omni supplicio digni P. Claudius, L. Junius consules, qui contra auspicia navigárunt. Perendum enim fuit religioni, nec petrius mos tam contumaciter repudiandus. Divin. 1. i n. 70, 71.
man, who presumed to interrogate God, and would oblige him to give answers upon his every idle imagination and unjust enterprise.
The others, who gave no real credit to any thing advanced by the science of the augurs, did not fail however to observe their trivial ceremonies out of policy, for the better subjecting the minds of the people to themselves, and to reconcile them to their own purposes by the assistance of superstition. But, by their contempt for the augurs, and the entire conviction of their falsity, they were led into a disbelief of the divine Providence, and to despise religion itself; conceiving it inseparable from the numerous absurdities of this kind, which rendered it ridiculous, and consequently unworthy a man of sense.
Both the one and the other behaved in this manner, because, having mistaken the Creator, and abused the . light of nature, which might have taught them to know and to adore him, they were deservedly abandoned to their own darkness and absurd opinions; and if we had not been enlightened by the true religion, even at this day we might have given ourselves up to the same superstitions.
of Oracles. No country was ever richer in, or more productive of oracles, than Greece. I shall confine myself to those which were the most noted.
The oracle of Dodona, a city of the Molossians, was much celebrated ; where Jupiter gave answers either by vocal oaks, or doves, which had also their language,
h Certain instruments were fastened to the tops of oaks, which, being shaken bythe wind, or by some other means, rendered a confused sound. Servius observes, that the same word in the Thessalian language signifies dove and PROPHETess, which had given room for the fabulous