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THE SYMBOLICAL FORM COMMON TO THE
WISDOM OF ANTIQUITY,
WELL AS SACRED.
(A SUPPLEMENT TO THE LAST LECTURE.)
was observed in the foregoing lecture, that in ancient times sentiment and science were expressed by wise men of all professions under signs and symbols. I could not pursue this observation in the body of the lecture, as being less proper for the pulpit. But it is pity we should drop a matter of so much curiosity and importance without descending to some examples of what I there advanced.
Whoever enters into the learning of antiquity, or, if already learned, recollects what he has met with, will soon discover, that theologians, moralists, politicians, philosophers, astronomers; all who have made any pretensions to wisdom, have used the language of symbols: as if the mind were turned by nature to this kind of ex$ 2
pression, as the tongue is to sounds: and indeed this language of signs is, properly speaking, the language of the mind; which understands and reasons from the ideas, or images of things, imprinted upon the imagination.
All the idols in the world, with their several insignia, were originally emblematic figures, expressive of the lights of heaven and the powers of nature. Apollo and Diana were the sun and moon; the one a male, the other a female power, as being the lesser and weaker of the two. Both are represented as shooting with arrows, because they cast forth rays of light, which pierce and penetrate all things.
As the objects, so the forms of worship were symbolical particularly that of dancing in. circles to celebrate the revolutions and retrogradations of the heavenly bodies. It was an ancient precept, προςκυνει περιφερόμενος; "turn round or move in a circle when you practice divine adoration :" that is, do as the heavenly bodies themselves do.
"that move in mystic dance, not without song. MILT. We find the sacred dance appointed and practised in the church: where its true and original intention was probably to ascribe to the Creator the glory of the heavenly motions: and the idea might be that of a religious dance, in those words
words of the psalm, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad: the other parts of the creation being called upon to signify their ado ration by their own proper motions; as the sea to roar, the trees to wave, the floods to clap their hands.
The figures by which the constellations and signs are distinguished in the heavens, are mostly symbols of such high antiquity, that we are not able to trace them up to their original. The accounts given of them by the Greeks and Romans deserve no regard, being childish and ridiculous. In many of these the meaning is easy, because they speak for themselves. The Bears, inhabitants of the artic regions, have possession of the northern pole. The Ram, Bull, and Lion, all sacred to the solar light and fire, are accommodated to the degrees of the sun's power as it increases in the summer months. The Crab, which walks sideway and backwards, is placed where the sun moves parallel to the equator, and begins in that sign to recede towards the south. The Scales are placed at the autumnal equinox, where the light and darkness are equally balanced: the Capricorn, or wild mountain-goat, is placed at the tropical point from whence the sun begins to climb upwards towards the north. The ear of $ 3
corn in the hand of Virgo marks the season of harvest. The precession of the equinoctial points has now removed the figures and the stars they belong to out of their proper places; but such was their meaning when they were in them.
Royalty and government were from the earliest times distinguished by symbolical insignia. A kingdom was always supposed to be attended with power and glory. The glory of empire was signified by a crown with points resembling rays of light, and adorned with orbs, as the heaven is studded with stars. Sometimes it was signified by horns, which are a natural crown to animals; as we see in the figure of Alexander upon some ancient coins. The power of empire was denoted by a rod or sceptre. A rod was given to Moses for the exercising of a miraculous power; whence was derived the magical wand of enchanters; and he is figured with horns to denote the glory which attended him when he came down from the presence of God. In the Iliad of Homer, the priest of Apollo, who comes to the Greeks to ransom his captive daughter, is distinguished by a sceptre in his hand, and a crown upon his head; which is called so, the crown of the God, because the glory of the priest was supposed to be de
rived from the deity he represented. So long as monarchy prevailed, the sceptre of kings was a single rod: but when Brutus first formed a republic at Rome, he changed the regal sceptre into a bundle of rods, or faggot of sticks, with an ax in the middle, to signify that the power in this case was not derived from heaven, but from the multitude of the people, as peers in empire; who were accordingly flattered with majesty from that time forward; till monarchy returned, and then they were as extravagant the other way,
"Divisum imperium cum Jove Cæsar habet." Virgil plainly understands the bundle of rods as the ensign of popular power, by opposing to it the majesty of monarchy.
-Non populi fasces, non pupura Regum.
The metaphysical objects of the mind, such as the virtues, the vices, the properties and qualities of things, were represented of old with great ingenuity for moral instruction. We have a good specimen of this kind in the emblematical figure of Time, which, for any thing we know, may be almost as ancient as time itself. He was figured by the artists of Grecce as an old man, running on tiptoes, with wings at