Page images
PDF
EPUB

laws? It may be true, as he affirms, that without these laws the Romans would never have made any sensible progress. Nor is it to be denied that when they neglected them they became “the basest of slaves, and the most corrupt of men.' Cicero declared that in his estimation that one little book of the twelve tables was of more value than all the libraries of the philosophers.* It is altogether probable that in this case his judgment is correct. But it may still be asked, How came the Romanpeople to obeythese laws? In Athens, where the code chiefly originated, the la 's were unable to produce subordination. At home they were far from establishing general morality, rendering the government stable, and securing public happiness. Is it then to be supposed that, by a transfer to Italy, the same principles of justice, when adapted to the circumstances of another people, acquired such power that they created a virtuous national character and secured all the blessings of permanent freedom? It is obvious that for the primary sources of national prosperity we must look to something more efficacious than ordinary civil laws. The Roman character was formed by the institutions of Numa. The precise period at which this prince lived is uncertain. It is impossible, among a rude and uncultivated people, to fix with precision the chronology of so remote an age. In regard to the period to which the reign of Numa is to be assigned, there

appears to have been among the ancients themselves a great diversity of opinion. Some affirmed that Numa was a scholar of Pythagoras, while others believed that he was entirely unacquainted with Grecian learning. Among those who maintain the last mentioned opinion are Polybius and Livy, the latter of whom thinks,t that even if Numa had flourished in the time of Pythagoras instead of two centuries earlier, it would have been impossible in so barbarous an age, that any communication should have been opened between Rome and Magna Grecia. Cicerof supposes the current report that the Roman lawgiver was a Pythagorean, to have arisen from the fact that Italy was formerly filled with philosophers of that sect from the schools of Magna Grecia. But Numa, he remarks, who lived many years before Pythagoras, is to be regarded as the greater man, for having shown so much wisdom in laying the foundations of an empire nearly two centuries before the Greeks gave proofs of

# De Oratore, I. 44.

+ Liv. I. 18.

| De Oratore II. 37.

any

such skill. Plutarch, after enumerating many circumstances which seemed to indicate that Numa must have been acquainted with the doctrines of Pythagoras, cuts short the argument by observing: “But as these matters are very dubious, to support or refute them further would look like the juvenile affectation of dispute.”* The example of Plutarch in passing over this disputed point may be followed with advantage; for it is much more important to know what the views and institutions of Numa were, than froin what source he received them. In common with some other legislators, this prince laid claim to inspiration, by which means he secured for his laws the sanction of divine authority. His institutions are distinguished above all others (if we except those of Moses) for their strong moral and religious tendency. The object which he had in view, and the means which he adopted to accomplish it, are pointed to in the following passage of Plutarch. “Numa having settled these matters with a view to establish himself in the people's good graces, immediately after attempted to soften them, as iron is softened by fire, and to bring them from a violent and warlike disposition, to a more just and gentle temper. Persuaded that no ordinary means were sufficient to form and reduce so high spirited and untractable a people to mildness and peace, he called in the assistance of religion.”+ The character and influence of the institutions of Numa may be best seen by a reference to some of the prominent features of his religion.

1. One of the most remarkable of these is his views of the Deity as indicated by the absence of image worship. On this point no writer is more explicit than his biographer Plutarch. “His regulations concerning images seem likewise to have some relation to the doctrine of Pythagoras; who was of opinion that the First Cause was [is] not an object of sense, nor liable to passion, but invisible, incorruptible, and discernible only by the mind. Thus Numa forbade the Romans to represent the Deity in the form either of man or beast. Nor was there among them formerly any image or statue of the Divine Being : during the first hundred and seventy years they built temples indeed, and

* On the question whether Numa and Pythagoras knew each other ; Drachenborch's Livy J. 18, Bucheri Instit. Hist. Philos. 95, Niebuhr's Rome, I. 181.

| Life of Numa.

[ocr errors]

other sacred domes, but placed in them no figure of any kind, persuaded that it is impious to represent things divine by what is perishable, and that we can have no conception of God but by the understanding. His sacrifices too resembled the Pythagorean worship; for they were without any effusion of blood, consisting chiefly of flour, libations of wine, and other very simple and unexpensive things. »* The testimony of Plutarch, in regard to the absence of images and the simplicity of the religious rites, is strengthened by other authority. “Although some superstitions were introduced by Numa,” says Tertullian, “nevertheless at that time the worship of the Deity among the Romans was not yet attended with images, or performed in temples. Religion was chaste, and the rites without ostentation. There was then no capitol ascending to heaven, and as yet the altars were hastily made of turf, and the vessels earthen. But little splendor appeared, and God himself was nowhere seen; for the ingenuity of Greeks and Tuscans had not yet inundated the city with images.t Another witness is Varro, as quoted by Augustine. “He says also that the ancient Romans worshipped the gods more than one hundred and seventy years without an image. If this, he adds, had continued till the present time, the gods would receive a purer homage.”I These passages might seem to be sufficient to prove that the early Romans were not worshippers of idols. But the truth of this representation has been denied by distinguished men, and assertions supposed to be at variance with these have been found in other ancient writers. The objections to the statements of Varro, Plutarch, and Tertullian are exhibited in the following extract from Meiners Historia Doctrinae De Vero Deo. “For I have observed that distinguished men have been induced by a certain passage of Plutarch to believe that Numa strictly prohibited all images of the gods formed in human shape, because he believed that the divine nature is uncompounded and indivisible, and that it is to be discerned only with the mind. It is not at all wonderful that Plutarch fell into this opinion; for since he desired to ascribe his own doctrines or those of Plato to almost all ancient people and men, he would do this the more readily in respect to Numa, because he falsely thought that this Roman king had at some time or other been instructed by Pythagoras. But it is easy to see * Life of Numa.

† Apologet. IV. c. 25. # De Civ. Dei. IV. 31, cf. I. 131.

from the sacred rites instituted by this founder, and reformer of the Roman religion, and from the gods which he introduced, that such noble ideas concerning the divine nature as Plutarch attributes to him, never entered his mind. For the Roman nation owe to Numa not only the worship of fire and the society of vestal virgins, but also their gods of stone, Terminus and Jupiter, by whom the Feciales swore, and Libitina, and Jupiter Elicius. (Dion. Halicar. II. 74, Liv. I. 20, 21.)

The same man appointed a constant priest of Jupiter, and connected with him two others, one of Mars, the other of Quirinus. He also chose twelve priests to Mars Gradivus, and the Pontifex Maximus, whose duty it was to instruct the people both in celestial ceremonies, and in funeral rites, and the mode of appeasing the manes, and how certain prodigies given by lightning or in some other form (I use Livy's own words) were to be taken up and investigated. He moreover consecrated a grove to the muses, because their interviews with his wife Egeria were held in that place. To this grove he frequently retired without witnesses, as if to a meeting with the goddess. Even granting, therefore, that this Roman king, who set up stones to be worshipped by his subjects, dedicated no shrines and images to the deities, we can only infer from this, that among rude and half-civilized men, no one was capable of making images of the gods. Pliny favors this conjecture, affirming that Demaratus, the father of Priscus Tarquinius, employed the statuaries Euchira and Eugrammus, and that these men first introduced the plastic art into Italy (XXXV. 12,(43). But if any one should think Pliny more worthy of belief in another passage (XXXIV. 7, (16), then the idea which generally prevails that Numa prohibited all images of the divine nature, must certainly be false. For the learned writer not only declares that a very ancient statue of Hercules was consecrated by Evander, but also that “ Janus with two faces was made a god by King Numa, and wrought out, rudely indeed, but yet with much labor.”* The object of this writer is to prove that, with the exception of the Israelites, Greeks, and Christians, and the nations whose literature and religion may be traced to these, there has never, from the earliest ages, been any people who have had correct ideas of the true God.f It was the opinion of Cudworth, founded

[ocr errors]

Page 225. + “Except these illustrious nations, of whom mention has SECOND SERIES, VOL. IX. NO. II.

2

nations

chiefly on a passage in Seneca, that the Etrusci (from whom the Romans early received religious impressions) had orthodox notions of the Deity. If Meiners, without affirming that images were worshipped in the infancy of Rome, had confined himself to an exposition of the defectiveness of the ideas of the divine nature prevalent in the earliest periods of Italian history, it would not be necessary to enter into a controversy with him. The idea, however, which runs through his book, that, aside from the Jews, the further back into the childbood of the nations of antiquity the history of religion is carried, the more puerile and imperfect the prevailing views of the Divinity will be found to be, is not altogether accurate. It leaves out of view the traditional religion received from the first parents of the human race, and supposes (what indeed is elsewhere asserted by the same writer*) that the only source of religions is the inability of the human intellect, in the infancy of society, to account for the phenomena of nature without referring to some higher power. But if the ideas of the Deity become more and more crude and erroneous the higher they are traced towards the origin of the race, it might be expected that the more cultivated and intellectual

any
nation should become, the more pure

would be the prevailing notions of the Deity. Whereas, if those nations whose theology is derived from revelation are left out of the account, with the exception of a few philosophers, the fact is just the contrary. It were indeed natural, from the gradual progress of the arts and sciences from rude beginnings to higher just been made, no other ever existed, which had made such progress in observing and interpreting nature, or so investigated the illimitable universe, and the immensity of the heavenly bodies and of the forces by which they are impelled ; their amazing velocity and eternal permanence; the courses of the seasons, and the use and adaptation of all vegetable and animal life, as to draw from them the conclusion, that such a mass of material objects, harmonizing with each other, never could have been created and organized by chance, nor even by necessity, or the contrivance of several architects, but only by the energy and design of one mighty mind." Meiners, De Vero Deo, p. 17.

* “ The only cause of the origin of religions, was the want of a correct knowledge of nature, or the inability of rude men to investigate the true causes of natural phenomena."Meiners Geschichte der Religionen, I. 16.

« PreviousContinue »