Page images
PDF
EPUB

nions to amount to twenty thousand, every person of the above description being directed to bring a stone in his hand and cast it down in a stated place: this prince, being an Egyptian, introduced the mythology of his native country, upon which so many Grecian fables were formed, and from which a learned modern has with great sagacity traced a very curious analogy with the Mosaic accounts of the early ages; the Greeks adopted the fables without comprehending their allusions, and thereupon formed the constitution of a religion, which kept possession of great part of the world, till revelation dispelled its errors and enlightened the Gentile nations. Till Cecrops erected altars to Jupiter, made libations and established his worship, he was not known in Greece as a god: he set up the image of Mercury, sacrificed to Saturn, Ops, Rhea, Juno, and Minerva, and was in fact the institutor of the Pagan theology; the gods of Cecrops were soon made useful instruments in the hand of the founder of a monarchy, for before he could induce his people to cultivate the dry and barren country of Attica, he was forced to play off his new machinery, by raising a contest in heaven between Neptune and Minerva for the patronage of Cecropia, the capital of his new empire: he found interest enough with the deities to turn their decision in Minerva's favour; and by this contrivance he diverted his subjects from their maritime attachments to agriculture, and particularly to the cultivation of the olive: to strengthen still further the tutelary title of Minerva, he enforced the dedication of the city, by changing its name from Cecropia to Athenæ, a sacrifice few founders would have made, and a strong proof of his good sense and talents for government. If the reader recollects the story Ovid relates of Minerva's treatment of Erichthonius, Cecrop's son, he will not conceive highly of the gratitude, or even purity of

that virgin deity's character; though as we are setting out upon the Athenian ground, it may not be very prudent to talk scandal of Minerva.

At virgo est-negat Aglaurus, negat anguis apertus.

DAR. PHRYG. LIB. II.

Cecrops enjoyed his new government for the space of fifty years, but his attachment to his native soil of Egypt drew him into an unlucky expedition with King Pharaoh, in whose company he was drowned in the Red Sea, whilst in pursuit of the Israelites; notwithstanding which we are informed, upon the authority of the poet Euripides, that he was translated into the starry sphere, and become a constellation of some dignity after his death; and if we consider what obligations this prince had conferred on the gods, as well as men, we shall not think him too highly rewarded; on the contrary, we must own he was rather hardly dealt with both by Minerva as well as Mercury; the former of which shut his son in a chest in company with a dragon, and the latter betrayed his daughter into a false step ; an attachment, which though it does not convict her of vulgarity of taste, certainly does no credit to the chastity of her morals, or the gratitude of her seducer.

Cranaüs succeeded on the death of Cecrops, and after a reign of nine years was deposed by Amphictyon, who seized the throne of Athens, and rendered his name memorable to posterity by establishing the great Council or Law-Courts of the Amphictyons, who held their meetings at Thermopylæ. This prince introduced the practice of diluting and mixing wines ; a practice that obtained through all Greece for many ages : in memory of which sober institution, Amphictyon erected an altar to Bacchus the Upright, and placed it in the Temple of the Hours: he also consecrated an altar to the nymphs near at hand in the same Temple, that mankind might thereby be kept in mind of the gracefulness of temperance: and it is not easy to find any instance in the pagan worship, where superstition has been applied to more elegant or moral purposes. In small communities such regulations may be carried into effect, where all the people are under the eye of the sovereign; and in the same spirit of reformation Amphictyon published an edict, that none of his subjects should indulge themselves in the use of undiluted wine, except in one small glass after their meals to give them a taste of the potency of the god; under this restriction he permitted the free use of diluted wines, provided they observed in their meetings to address their libations to Jupiter, the preserver of man's health.

This virtuous usurper, after an administration of ten years, was in his turn expelled from the throne of Athens, by that Erichthonius, the son of Cecrops, whom Minerva shut up in a chest with his companion the dragon, and committed to the keeping of his sisters: this is the person whom Homer mentions in his second book of the Iliad by the name of Erechtheus : he is celebrated for having first yoked horses to a chariot, and also for introducing the use of silver coin in Attica.

Primus Erichthonius currus et quatuor ausus
Jungere Equos, rapidisque rotis insistere Victor.

VIRG. GEORG. 3, 113. But the institutions which have rendered the name of Erichthonius famous to all posterity, are those of the Eleusynian Mysteries and the Feasts of the Panathenæa. The first of these he established in honour of Ceres, on account of a seasonable supply of corn from the granaries of Egypt, when the city and territory of Athens were in imminent danger of starving by an extraordinary drought: these sacred mysteries were of Egyptian origin, and as they con.

sisted of forms and rites, unintelligible to the vulgar, and probably very little comprehended even by the initiated, the secret was well kept.

As for the Panathenæa, they were instituted, as their name indicates, in honour of Minerva, and were the great festival of the Athenians : the celebration was originally comprised in one day, but afterwards it was extended to several, and the various athletic games and races, with the recitation of poems, that accompanied it, attracted an immense resort of spectators. Every species of contention, both on foot and horseback, drew the bold and adventurous to the field of fame, whilst the prizes for music and the rival display of the drama in aftertimes recreated the aged, the elegant, and the learned: the conquerors in the several games gave entertainments to their friends, in which they presided, crowned with olive in honour of the guardian deity: these were scenes of the greatest festivity, till, when Athens had submitted to the Roman yoke, those sanguinary conquerors introduced the combats of gladiators into these favourite solemnities. Every age had its share in contributing to the spectacle ; the old men walked in procession with branches of olive in their hands, the young

in armour with shield and spear; the labouring peasants with spades, and their wives with waterbuckets; the boys crowned with garlands, and dressed in frocks or surplices of white, chaunted hymns to Minerva ; and the girls followed with baskets, in which the sacrificing utensils were contained.

A superstition, supported by splendour, and enlivened with festivity, was well calculated to keep a lasting hold upon the human mind.

NUMBER CXV.

The Eleusynian Mysteries, instituted by Erichthonius, were celebrated in the time of autumn every fifth year at Eleusis, where a great concourse of people met upon the occasion ; the ceremonies of initiation were preceded by sacrifices, prayers and ablutions; the candidates were exercised in trials of secrecy, and prepared by vows of continence; every circumstance was contrived to render the act as awful and striking as possible; the initiation was performed at midnight, and the candidate was taken into an interior sacristy of the temple, with a myrtle garland on his head ; where he was examined if he had duly performed his stated ablutions; clean hands, a pure heart, and a native proficiency in the Greek tongue were indispensable requisites: having passed this examination, he was admitted into the temple, which was an edifice of immense magnitude : after proclamation made that the strictest silence should be observed, the officiating priest took out the sacred volumes containing the mysteries; these books were written in a strange character, interspersed with the figures of animals and various emblems and hieroglyphics; they were preserved in a cavity between two large blocks of stone, closely fitted to each other, and they were carefully replaced by the priest with much solemnity, after he had explained what was necessary to be initiated out of them. The initiated were enjoined to honour their parents, to reverence the immortal gods, and abstain from

« PreviousContinue »