Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

of doing good remains so pure and engaging, that it is impossible for a man to be insensible of it: but no kind of gratitude gave the Egyptians a more pleasing satisfaction, than that which was paid to their kings. Princes, whilst living, were by them honoured as so many visible representations of the Deity; and after their death were mourned as the fathers of their country. These sentiments of respect and tenderness proceeded from a strong persuasion, that the Divinity himself had placed them upon the throne, as he distinguished them so greatly from all other mortals; and that kings bore the most noble characteristics of the Supreme Being, as the power and will of doing good to others were united in their persons.

CHAPTER II.

CONCERNING THE PRIESTS AND RELIGION OF THE

EGYPTIANS.

PRIESTS, in Egypt, held the second rank to the kings. They had great privileges and revenues ; their lands were exempted from all imposts ; of which some traces are seen in Genesis, where it is said, !“ Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part, except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.”

The prince usually honoured them with a large share in his confidence and government, because they, of all his subjects, had received the best education, had acquired the greatest knowledge, and were most

i Gen. xlvii.26.

strongly attached to the king's person and the good of the public. They were at one and the same time the depositaries of religion and of the sciences; and to this circumstance was owing the great respect which was paid them by the natives as well as foreigners, by whom they were alike consulted upon the most sacred things relating to the mysteries of religion, and the most profound subjects in the several sciences.

* The Egyptians pretend to be the first institutors of festivals and processions in honour of the gods. One festival was celebrated in the city of Bubaste, whither persons resorted from all parts of Egypt, and upwards of seventy thousand, besides children, were seen at it. Another, surnamed the Feast of the Lights, was solemnized at Sais. All persons, throughout Egypt, who did not go to Sais, were obliged to illuminatate their windows.

Different animals were sacrificed in different countries; but one common and general ceremony was observed in all sacrifices, viz. the laying the hands upon the heads of the victim, loading at the same time with imprecations, and praying the gods to divert upon that victim all the calamities which might threaten Egypt.

"It is to Egypt that Pythagoras owed his favourite doctrine of the Metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls. The Egyptians believed, that at the death of men their souls transmigrated into other human bodies; and that if they had been vicious, they were imprisoned in the bodies of unclean or unhappy beasts,

1 Herod. 1. ii. c. 39.

# Diod. l. i. p. 88

k Herod. 1. ü. c. 60. VOL. I. 32

Both

to expiate in them their past transgressions; and that after a revolution of some centuries, they again ani. mated other human bodies,

The priests had the possession of the sacred books, which contained, at large, the principles of government, as well as the mysteries of divine worship.

were commonly involved in symbols and enigmas, which, under these veils, made truth more venerable, and excited more strongly the curiosity of men. The figure of Harpocrates, in the Egyptian sanctuaries, with his finger upon his mouth, seemed to intimate, that mysteries were there enclosed, the knowledge of which was revealed to very few. The sphinxes, placed at the entrances of all temples, implied the same. It is very well known, that pyramids, obelisks, pillars, statues, in a word, all public monuments, were usually adorned with hieroglyphics, that is, with symbolical writings; whether these were characters unknown to the vulgar, or figures of animals, which couched a hidden and parabolical meaning. "Thus, by a hare, was signified a lively and piercing attention, because this creature has a very delicate hearing. The statue of a judge without hands, and with eyes fixed upon

the the ground, symbolized the duties of those who were to exercise the judiciary functions.

It would require a volume to treat fully of the religion of the Egyptians. But I shall confine myself to two articles, which form the principal part of the Egyptian religion; and these are the worship of the different deities, and the ceremonies relating to funerals.

· Plot. de Isid. Osir. et p. 354. • Plut. Sympos. I. ir. p. 670.

pId. de Isid. p. 355.

SECTION I.

OF THE WORSHIP OF THE VARIOUS DEITIES.

Never were any people more superstitious than the Egyptians; they had a great number of gods, of different orders and degrees, which I shall omit, because they belong more to fable than to history. Among the rest, two were universally adored in that country, and these were Osiris and Isis, which are thought to be the sun and moon; and indeed the worship of those planets gave rise to idolatry.

Besides these gods, the Egyptians worshipped a great number of beasts; as the ox, the dog, the wolf, the hawk, the crocodile, the ibis, the cat, &c. Many of these beasts were the objects only of the superstition of some particular cities ; and whilst a people worshipped one species of animals as gods, their neighbours held the same animal gods in abomination. This was the source of the continual wars which were carried on between one city and another; and this was owing to the false policy of one of their kings, who, to deprive them of the opportunity and means of conspiring against the state, endeavoured to amuse them, by engaging them in religious contests. I call this a false and mistaken policy, because it directly thwarts the true spirit of government, the aim of which is, to unite all its members in the strictest ties, and to make all its strength consist in the perfect harmony of its several parts.

Every nation had a great zeal for their gods. “Among us," says Cicero," “it is very common to see temples

9 Or, Egyptian stork. *De Nat. Deor. I. i, n. 82. Tusc. Quæst I. v. p. 78.

robbed, and statues carried off; but it was never known, that any person in Egypt ever abused a crocodile, an ibis, a cat ; for its inhabitants would have suffered the most extreme torments, rather than be guilty of such sacrilege.” 'It was death for any person to kill one of these animals voluntarily : and even a punishment was decreed against him who should have killed an ibis, or a cat, without design. • Diodorus relates an incident, to which he himself was an eyewitness, during his stay in Egypt. A Roman having inadvertently, and without design, killed a cat, the exasperated populace ran to his house; and neither the authority of the king, who immediately detached a body of his guards, nor the terror of the Roman name, could rescue the unfortunate criminal. And such was the reverence which the Egyptians had for these animals, that in an extreme famine they chose to eat one another, rather than feed upon their imagined deities,

"Of all these animals, the bull Apis, called Epaphus by the Greeks, was the most famous. Magnificent temples were erected to him; extraordinary honours were paid him while he lived, and still greater after his death. Egypt went then into a general mourning. His obsequies were solemnized with such a pomp as is hardly credible. In the reign of Ptolemy Lagus, the bull Apis dying of old age,' the funeral pomp, besides the ordinary expenses, amounted to upwards of fifty thousand French crowns." After the last honours had

+

s Herod. 1. ii. c. 65.

· Diod. I. i. p. 74, 75. "Herodd. l. iii. c. 27, &c. p. 76. Diod. I. i. Plin. I. viii. c. 46. > Pliny affirms, that he was not allowed to exceed a certain term of years, and was drowned in the priests well. Non est fas eum certos riik *p! PINACS, 'pereampie in ?..cer lotum forte enecant. Nat. llist. I. v . 46

* Above $50,000.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »