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Extinction of Heathen Rites in Greece and Italy. - Eleusinian Mysteries
inadequate to the End proposed in them. - Conclusion.
THESE are the chief observations I have made after examining the paintings upon many vases, and comparing them with such allegories as I have found upon other works of ancient art. Excepting that examples have been retrenched, more there scarcely remained for me to say, for much respecting these painted vessels is yet unintelligible; but to have exposed more of what I have discovered than has been submitted, would have only been to stir a filthy pool. The grossness of paganism we may be pardoned for omitting; the attaching ourselves to whatever, connected with it, may prove of service to universal history, is surely laudable, and infinitely more pleasing. Many arcana of the pagan theology may never be ascertained, nevertheless, we have been permitted to recover from antiquity as much as may forward the useful, and even the polite and elegant arts; and provided that the architect and artist, who borrow the more
obvious emblems of the Grecian mysteries to embellish their works, apply them not incongruously, a nice attention to the more sophisticated symbols may be very well excused.
A veil seems to have been kindly drawn by Providence, for ages past, over the disgusting errors of paganism, which, having answered its purpose, may now perhaps be innocently removed, provided this be done with no irreverent hand.
The most polished states of Greece have been, perhaps designedly, possessed by an ignorant people, whose ferocity long rendered many parts inaccessible to the curious traveller, or whose jealousy prevented his search. Not to mention the complete destruction of Roman grandeur by the northern nations, volcanoes, kindled by a wise hand, have produced a moral as well as a physical change in many parts of Italy and Asia Minor, and burying whole tracts of country in oblivion, with their monuments and rites, may, perhaps, have in some measure contributed to furnish smooth footway for Christianity to advance upon.
As no impropriety can now attend discussions of the present nature, if we consider the result of our discoveries, and the object to which the ænigmatical allusions of this mysterious theology seem to have been ultimately directed, it will appear that a knowledge of the relative situation of man with regard to the Deity, was attempted through an exposition of the economy of the universe ; that renovation from water, first brought to knowledge by ancient tradition, and afterwards traced through various phenomena, was considered as a pledge of re-existence and a future state ; but the continual succession of decay and renovation observable in nature was blended with these speculations.
That many truths had been handed down by early tradition from the purest sources was the firm opinion of many of the ancient philosophers; but probably they little suspected how much those truths had been disfigured in their passage to them. This great fact, the renovation of created beings from water, after the flood, gave occasion to a mistaken notion of the pre-existence of the soul, for which Plato has endeavoured to account in his Phædo, by very absurd and inconclusive arguments. Some of the conjectures upon the state of the soul are there professed to be drawn in the way of inference from the orix and the vócspece, by which I presume we must understand the mysteries and the popular religion of his country; and, I doubt not, the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul was meant to be included amongst these inferences. That it formed a part of what was taught in the Eleusinian mysteries we know from a fragment of Cicero, preserved by Augustine (lib. iv. contra Pelagium), which is thus given, p. 403. vol. iii. Ed. Oxon. 4to. 1783.
“ Ex quibus humanæ vitæ erroribus et ærumnis fit, ut “ interdum veteres illi sive vates, sive in sacris initiisque tra“ dendis divinæ mentis interpretes, qui nos ob aliqua scelera
suscepta in vita superiore, pænarum luendarum causa natos
esse dixerunt, aliquid vidisse videantur; verumque sit illud, “ quod est apud Aristotelem, simili nos affectos esse supplicio,
atque eos, qui quondam, cum in prædonum Etruscorum manus “ incidissent, crudelitate excogitatâ necabantur ; quorum corpora 6 viva cum mortuis, adversa adversis accommodata quam aptissimè “ colligabantur: ita nostros animos cum corporibus copulatos, ut 66 vivos cum mortuis esse conjunctos.”
Here it is shown that those who conducted the mysteries taught a previous state of existence, and a state also of degradation resulting from sin ; and from a passage in the Phædo, it appears that in consequence of the latter the mysteries were considered necessary for cleansing and spiritualising every individual.
A consideration of the vignette prefixed to this last chapter, taken from one of the Townley terra cottas in the British Museum, will, I apprehend, afford a consistent and rational explanation of the origin of the opinion, that the soul had existed in a previous state, and of Socrates's' or Plato's doctrine of reminiscences. This monument represents a figure on the lotus with the body and limbs of an infant, feeble, and leaning for support on two perpendicular tendrils of the plant; but the head is that of an old man, expressing in the most evident manner a notion of a previous state, and of regeneration from water. The renovation of the animal and vegetable creation is represented by the composite figures in a state of rest on either side. In fact, the sculptured monuments of the ancient Greeks and Romans are full of allusions to the Noachic Deluge. The tradition of the patriarch having lived in the old world which had preceded that event, and having been, as it were, born again in the new, imperfectly preserved, led to the supposition, that the same had been the case with every individual. So that, although occasional reference is made in their monuments to the operation of the Divine Spirit on the primary chaotic fluid, yet the two circumstances were blended together; and I know not how the allusions to water in the construction of the Egyptian temples can be explained, if not by reference to these important events. For if the use of the temple was to express therein gratitude to the Deity for the preservation of mankind, what greater act of temporal mercy can we suppose them to have experienced in the early part of their history, than this preservation from water ? It would naturally follow, that if the buildings erected for offering prayer and praise admitted any ornament or devices, these would be records of the mercies they had experienced. The Egyptian temples in fact record them. But the renovation of a world submerged was viewed as another creation ; accordingly the Divine Spirit, symbolised as the orb of light, is represented on the cornice of these temples, extending its wings, and hovering over the columns of reeds swathed together at intervals, while the foliage of the capitals, elevated above these columns, marked where life had been borne aloft, and to what depth the waters had prevailed.
The boasted philosophy of Thales was no more than a publication of these doctrines in Greece, where they had been long preserved, in secret, at Eleusis. The Ionic order of architecture attested the opinions of Thales ; but the same had been more simply and strongly expressed in the earlier Doric. * That these traditions had come down in very gradual succession we may believe from the regular order in which the mysteries may be traced in Greece through Eumolpus up to Orpheus, and from him to certain personages called Cabirs, or the powerful ones. These Cabirs are to be found in other countries, though differing in point of number ; for they were four in Greece, with allusion to the number of males preserved in the patriarchal family; seven in Egypt and India, as the colonists of the renewed earth under the instructions of the patriarch, who completed the Ogdoad. Thus all these countries equally derived revealed truths from the purest sources, but in the course of time they variously disfigured and disguised them. The real history of these Cabirs is thus expressed ·by a genuine poet, in a very elegant little essay, which has been hitherto withheld from the public:
" To Shinaar from the East
Hence the Cabirs of Samothrace were supposed to have the winds under their controul, and were invoked in dangerous navigations, as if the patriarchs whom the Cabirs' represented could extend to others: the safety they had in a similar case experienced.
We further learn, from the fragment of Cicero, that a state of degradation, the consequence of sin, was taught in the mysteries ;
* See observations in the Appendix. + See animadv. in Athenæum, lib. x. p. 715. Ed. Casaub.