Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Complete
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Part 1 out of 13

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by Edward Bulwer Lytton



My Dear Sir,

I am not more sensible of the distinction conferred upon me when you
allowed me to inscribe this history with your name, than pleased with
an occasion to express my gratitude for the assistance I have derived
throughout the progress of my labours from that memorable work, in
which you have upheld the celebrity of English learning, and afforded
so imperishable a contribution to our knowledge of the Ancient World.
To all who in history look for the true connexion between causes and
effects, chronology is not a dry and mechanical compilation of barren
dates, but the explanation of events and the philosophy of facts. And
the publication of the Fasti Hellenici has thrown upon those times, in
which an accurate chronological system can best repair what is
deficient, and best elucidate what is obscure in the scanty
authorities bequeathed to us, all the light of a profound and
disciplined intellect, applying the acutest comprehension to the
richest erudition, and arriving at its conclusions according to the
true spirit of inductive reasoning, which proportions the completeness
of the final discovery to the caution of the intermediate process. My
obligations to that learning and to those gifts which you have
exhibited to the world are shared by all who, in England or in Europe,
study the history or cultivate the literature of Greece. But, in the
patient kindness with which you have permitted me to consult you
during the tedious passage of these volumes through the press--in the
careful advice--in the generous encouragement--which have so often
smoothed the path and animated the progress--there are obligations
peculiar to myself; and in those obligations there is so much that
honours me, that, were I to enlarge upon them more, the world might
mistake an acknowledgment for a boast.

With the highest consideration and esteem,
Believe me, my dear sir,
Most sincerely and gratefully yours,
London, March, 1837.


The work, a portion of which is now presented to the reader, has
occupied me many years--though often interrupted in its progress,
either by more active employment, or by literary undertakings of a
character more seductive. These volumes were not only written, but
actually in the hands of the publisher before the appearance, and
even, I believe, before the announcement of the first volume of Mr.
Thirlwall's History of Greece, or I might have declined going over any
portion of the ground cultivated by that distinguished scholar [1].
As it is, however, the plan I have pursued differs materially from
that of Mr. Thirlwall, and I trust that the soil is sufficiently
fertile to yield a harvest to either labourer.

Since it is the letters, yet more than the arms or the institutions of
Athens, which have rendered her illustrious, it is my object to
combine an elaborate view of her literature with a complete and
impartial account of her political transactions. The two volumes now
published bring the reader, in the one branch of my subject, to the
supreme administration of Pericles; in the other, to a critical
analysis of the tragedies of Sophocles. Two additional volumes will,
I trust, be sufficient to accomplish my task, and close the records of
Athens at that period when, with the accession of Augustus, the annals
of the world are merged into the chronicle of the Roman empire. In
these latter volumes it is my intention to complete the history of the
Athenian drama--to include a survey of the Athenian philosophy--to
describe the manners, habits, and social life of the people, and to
conclude the whole with such a review of the facts and events narrated
as may constitute, perhaps, an unprejudiced and intelligible
explanation of the causes of the rise and fall of Athens.

As the history of the Greek republics has been too often corruptly
pressed into the service of heated political partisans, may I be
pardoned the precaution of observing that, whatever my own political
code, as applied to England, I have nowhere sought knowingly to
pervert the lessons of a past nor analogous time to fugitive interests
and party purposes. Whether led sometimes to censure, or more often
to vindicate the Athenian people, I am not conscious of any other
desire than that of strict, faithful, impartial justice. Restlessly
to seek among the ancient institutions for illustrations (rarely
apposite) of the modern, is, indeed, to desert the character of a
judge for that of an advocate, and to undertake the task of the
historian with the ambition of the pamphleteer. Though designing this
work not for colleges and cloisters, but for the general and
miscellaneous public, it is nevertheless impossible to pass over in
silence some matters which, if apparently trifling in themselves, have
acquired dignity, and even interest, from brilliant speculations or
celebrated disputes. In the history of Greece (and Athenian history
necessarily includes nearly all that is valuable in the annals of the
whole Hellenic race) the reader must submit to pass through much that
is minute, much that is wearisome, if he desire to arrive at last at
definite knowledge and comprehensive views. In order, however, to
interrupt as little as possible the recital of events, I have
endeavoured to confine to the earlier portion of the work such details
of an antiquarian or speculative nature as, while they may afford to
the general reader, not, indeed, a minute analysis, but perhaps a
sufficient notion of the scholastic inquiries which have engaged the
attention of some of the subtlest minds of Germany and England, may
also prepare him the better to comprehend the peculiar character and
circumstances of the people to whose history he is introduced: and it
may be well to warn the more impatient that it is not till the second
book (vol. i., p. 181) that disquisition is abandoned for narrative.
There yet remain various points on which special comment would be
incompatible with connected and popular history, but on which I
propose to enlarge in a series of supplementary notes, to be appended
to the concluding volume. These notes will also comprise criticisms
and specimens of Greek writers not so intimately connected with the
progress of Athenian literature as to demand lengthened and elaborate
notice in the body of the work. Thus, when it is completed, it is my
hope that this book will combine, with a full and complete history of
Athens, political and moral, a more ample and comprehensive view of
the treasures of the Greek literature than has yet been afforded to
the English public. I have ventured on these remarks because I thought
it due to the reader, no less than to myself, to explain the plan and
outline of a design at present only partially developed.

London, March, 1837.




I Situation and Soil of Attica.--The Pelasgians its earliest
Inhabitants.--Their Race and Language akin to the Grecian.--
Their varying Civilization and Architectural Remains.--
Cecrops.--Were the earliest Civilizers of Greece foreigners
or Greeks?--The Foundation of Athens.--The Improvements
attributed to Cecrops.--The Religion of the Greeks cannot
be reduced to a simple System.--Its Influence upon their
Character and Morals, Arts and Poetry.--The Origin of
Slavery and Aristocracy.

II The unimportant consequences to be deduced from the admission
that Cecrops might be Egyptian.--Attic Kings before
Theseus.--The Hellenes.--Their Genealogy.--Ionians and
Achaeans Pelasgic.--Contrast between Dorians and Ionians.--
Amphictyonic League.

III The Heroic Age.--Theseus.--His legislative Influence upon
Athens.--Qualities of the Greek Heroes.--Effect of a
Traditional Age upon the Character of a People.

IV The Successors of Theseus.--The Fate of Codrus.--The
Emigration of Nileus.--The Archons.--Draco.

V A General Survey of Greece and the East previous to the
Time of Solon.--The Grecian Colonies.--The Isles.--Brief
account of the States on the Continent.--Elis and the
Olympic Games.

VI Return of the Heraclidae.--The Spartan Constitution and
Habits.--The first and second Messenian War.

VII Governments in Greece.

VIII Brief Survey of Arts, Letters, and Philosophy in Greece,
prior to the Legislation of Solon.



I The Conspiracy of Cylon.--Loss of Salamis.--First Appearance
of Solon.--Success against the Megarians in the Struggle for
Salamis.--Cirrhaean War.--Epimenides.--Political State of
Athens.--Character of Solon.--His Legislation.--General View
of the Athenian Constitution.

II The Departure of Solon from Athens.--The Rise of Pisistratus.
--Return of Solon.--His Conduct and Death.--The Second and
Third Tyranny of Pisistratus.--Capture of Sigeum.--Colony
In the Chersonesus founded by the first Miltiades.--Death of

III The Administration of Hippias.--The Conspiracy of Harmodius
and Aristogiton.--The Death of Hipparchus.--Cruelties of
Hippias.--The young Miltiades sent to the Chersonesus.--The
Spartans Combine with the Alcmaeonidae against Hippias.--The
fall of the Tyranny.--The Innovations of Clisthenes.--His
Expulsion and Restoration.--Embassy to the Satrap of Sardis.
--Retrospective View of the Lydian, Medean, and Persian
Monarchies.--Result of the Athenian Embassy to Sardis.--
Conduct of Cleomenes.--Victory of the Athenians against the
Boeotians and Chalcidians.--Hippias arrives at Sparta.--The
Speech of Sosicles the Corinthian.--Hippias retires to

IV Histiaeus, Tyrant of Miletus, removed to Persia.--The
Government of that City deputed to Aristagoras, who invades
Naxos with the aid of the Persians.--Ill Success of that
Expedition.--Aristagoras resolves upon Revolting from the
Persians.--Repairs to Sparta and to Athens.--The Athenians
and Eretrians induced to assist the Ionians.--Burning of
Sardis.--The Ionian War.--The Fate of Aristagoras.--Naval
Battle of Lade.--Fall of Miletus.--Reduction of Ionia.--
Miltiades.--His Character.--Mardonius replaces Artaphernes
in the Lydian Satrapy.--Hostilities between Aegina and
Athens.--Conduct of Cleomenes.--Demaratus deposed.--Death
Of Cleomenes.--New Persian Expedition.

V The Persian Generals enter Europe.--Invasion of Naxos,
Carystus, Eretria.--The Athenians Demand the Aid of Sparta.
--The Result of their Mission and the Adventure of their
Messenger.--The Persians advance to Marathon.--The Plain
Described.--Division of Opinion in the Athenian Camp.--The
Advice of Miltiades prevails.--The Drear of Hippias.--The
Battle of Marathon.



I The Character and Popularity of Miltiades.--Naval expedition.
--Siege of Paros.--Conduct of Miltiades.--He is Accused and
Sentenced.--His Death.

II The Athenian Tragedy.--Its Origin.--Thespis.--Phrynichus.--
Aeschylus.--Analysis of the Tragedies of Aeschylus.

III Aristides.--His Character and Position.--The Rise of
Themistocles.--Aristides is Ostracised.--The Ostracism
examined.--The Influence of Themistocles increases.--The
Silver--mines of Laurion.--Their Product applied by
Themistocles to the Increase of the Navy.--New Direction
given to the National Character.

IV The Preparations of Darius.--Revolt of Egypt.--Dispute for
The Succession to the Persian Throne.--Death of Darius.--
Brief Review of the leading Events and Characteristics of
his Reign.

V Xerxes conducts an Expedition into Egypt.--He finally resolves
on the Invasion of Greece.--Vast Preparations for the
Conquest of Europe.--Xerxes arrives at Sardis.--Despatches
Envoys to the Greek States, demanding Tribute.--The Bridge
of the Hellespont.--Review of the Persian Armament at
Abydos.--Xerxes encamps at Therme.

VI The Conduct of the Greeks.--The Oracle relating to Salamis.--
Art of Themistocles.--The Isthmian Congress.--Embassies to
Argos, Crete, Corcyra, and Syracuse.--Their ill Success.--
The Thessalians send Envoys to the Isthmus.--The Greeks
advance to Tempe, but retreat.--The Fleet despatched to
Artemisium, and the Pass of Thermopylae occupied.--Numbers
of the Grecian Fleet.--Battle of Thermopylae.

VII The Advice of Demaratus to Xerxes.--Themistocles.--Actions off
Artemisium.--The Greeks retreat.--The Persians invade
Delphi, and are repulsed with great Loss.--The Athenians,
unaided by their Allies, abandon Athens, and embark for
Salamis.--The irresolute and selfish Policy of the
Peloponnesians.--Dexterity and Firmness of Themistocles.--
Battle of Salamis.--Andros and Carystus besieged by the
Greeks.--Anecdotes of Themistocles.--Honours awarded to him
in Sparta.--Xerxes returns to Asia.--Olynthus and Potidaea
besieged by Artabazus.--The Athenians return Home.--The
Ostracism of Aristides is repealed.

VIII Embassy of Alexander of Macedon to Athens.--The Result of his
Proposals.--Athenians retreat to Salamis.--Mardonius
occupies Athens.--The Athenians send Envoys to Sparta.--
Pausanias succeeds Cleombrotus as Regent of Sparta.--Battle
of Plataea.--Thebes besieged by the Athenians.--Battle of
Mycale.--Siege of Sestos.--Conclusion of the Persian War.



I Remarks on the Effects of War.--State of Athens.--Interference
of Sparta with respect to the Fortifications of Athens.--
Dexterous Conduct of Themistocles.--The New Harbour of the
Piraeus.--Proposition of the Spartans in the Amphictyonic
Council defeated by Themistocles.--Allied Fleet at Cyprus
and Byzantium.--Pausanias.--Alteration in his Character.--
His ambitious Views and Treason.--The Revolt of the Ionians
from the Spartan Command.--Pausanias recalled.--Dorcis
replaces him.--The Athenians rise to the Head of the Ionian
League.--Delos made the Senate and Treasury of the Allies.--
Able and prudent Management of Aristides.--Cimon succeeds
To the Command of the Fleet.--Character of Cimon.--Eion
besieged.--Scyros colonized by Atticans.--Supposed Discovery
of the Bones of Theseus.--Declining Power of Themistocles.
--Democratic Change in the Constitution.--Themistocles
ostracised.--Death of Aristides.

II Popularity and Policy of Cimon.--Naxos revolts from the
Ionian League.--Is besieged by Cimon.--Conspiracy and
Fate of Pausanias.--Flight and Adventures of Themistocles.
--His Death.

III Reduction of Naxos.--Actions off Cyprus.--Manners of
Cimon.--Improvements in Athens.--Colony at the Nine Ways.
--Siege of Thasos.--Earthquake in Sparta.--Revolt of Helots,
Occupation of Ithome, and Third Messenian War.--Rise and
Character of Pericles.--Prosecution and Acquittal of Cimon.
--The Athenians assist the Spartans at Ithome.--Thasos
Surrenders.--Breach between the Athenians and Spartans.--
Constitutional Innovations at Athens.--Ostracism of Cimon.

IV War between Megara and Corinth.--Megara and Pegae garrisoned
by Athenians.--Review of Affairs at the Persian Court.--
Accession of Artaxerxes.--Revolt of Egypt under Inarus.--
Athenian Expedition to assist Inarus.--Aegina besieged.--The
Corinthians defeated.--Spartan Conspiracy with the Athenian
Oligarchy.--Battle of Tanagra.--Campaign and Successes of
Myronides.--Plot of the Oligarchy against the Republic.--
Recall of Cimon.--Long Walls completed.--Aegina reduced.--
Expedition under Tolmides.--Ithome surrenders.--The
Insurgents are settled at Naupactus.--Disastrous Termination
of the Egyptian Expedition.--The Athenians march into
Thessaly to restore Orestes the Tagus.--Campaign under
Pericles.--Truce of five Years with the Peloponnesians.--
Cimon sets sail for Cyprus.--Pretended Treaty of Peace with
Persia.--Death of Cimon.

V Change of Manners in Athens.--Begun under the Pisistratidae.--
Effects of the Persian War, and the intimate Connexion with
Ionia.--The Hetaerae.--The Political Eminence lately
acquired by Athens.--The Transfer of the Treasury from Delos
to Athens.--Latent Dangers and Evils.--First, the Artificial
Greatness of Athens not supported by Natural Strength.--
Secondly, her pernicious Reliance on Tribute.--Thirdly,
Deterioration of National Spirit commenced by Cimon in the
Use of Bribes and Public Tables.--Fourthly, Defects in
Popular Courts of Law.--Progress of General Education.--
History.--Its Ionian Origin.--Early Historians.--Acusilaus.
of the Life and Writings of Herodotus.--Progress of
Philosophy since Thales.--Philosophers of the Ionian and
Eleatic Schools.--Pythagoras.--His Philosophical Tenets and
Political Influence.--Effect of these Philosophers on
Athens.--School of Political Philosophy continued in Athens
from the Time of Solon.--Anaxagoras.--Archelaus.--Philosophy
not a thing apart from the ordinary Life of the Athenians.



I Thucydides chosen by the Aristocratic Party to oppose
Pericles.--His Policy.--Munificence of Pericles.--Sacred
War.--Battle of Coronea.--Revolt of Euboea and Megara--
Invasion and Retreat of the Peloponnesians.--Reduction of
Euboea.--Punishment of Histiaea.--A Thirty Years' Truce
concluded with the Peloponnesians.--Ostracism of Thucydides.

II Causes of the Power of Pericles.--Judicial Courts of the
dependant Allies transferred to Athens.--Sketch of the
Athenian Revenues.--Public Buildings the Work of the People
rather than of Pericles.--Vices and Greatness of Athens had
the same Sources.--Principle of Payment characterizes the
Policy of the Period.--It is the Policy of Civilization.--
Colonization, Cleruchia.

III Revision of the Census.--Samian War.--Sketch of the Rise and
Progress of the Athenian Comedy to the Time of Aristophanes.

IV The Tragedies of Sophocles.




Situation and Soil of Attica.--The Pelasgians its earliest
Inhabitants.--Their Race and Language akin to the Grecian.--Their
varying Civilization and Architectural Remains.--Cecrops.--Were the
earliest Civilizers of Greece foreigners or Greeks?--The Foundation of
Athens.--The Improvements attributed to Cecrops.--The Religion of the
Greeks cannot be reduced to a simple System.--Its Influence upon their
Character and Morals, Arts and Poetry.--The Origin of Slavery and

I. To vindicate the memory of the Athenian people, without disguising
the errors of Athenian institutions;--and, in narrating alike the
triumphs and the reverses--the grandeur and the decay--of the most
eminent of ancient states, to record the causes of her imperishable
influence on mankind, not alone in political change or the fortunes of
fluctuating war, but in the arts, the letters, and the social habits,
which are equal elements in the history of a people;--this is the
object that I set before me;--not unreconciled to the toil of years,
if, serving to divest of some party errors, and to diffuse through a
wider circle such knowledge as is yet bequeathed to us of a time and
land, fertile in august examples and in solemn warnings--consecrated
by undying names and memorable deeds.

II. In that part of earth termed by the Greeks Hellas, and by the
Romans Graecia [2], a small tract of land known by the name of Attica,
extends into the Aegaean Sea--the southeast peninsula of Greece. In
its greatest length it is about sixty, in its greatest breadth about
twenty-four, geographical miles. In shape it is a rude triangle,--on
two sides flows the sea--on the third, the mountain range of Parnes
and Cithaeron divides the Attic from the Boeotian territory. It is
intersected by frequent but not lofty hills, and, compared with the
rest of Greece, its soil, though propitious to the growth of the
olive, is not fertile or abundant. In spite of painful and elaborate
culture, the traces of which are yet visible, it never produced a
sufficiency of corn to supply its population; and this, the
comparative sterility of the land, may be ranked among the causes
which conduced to the greatness of the people. The principal
mountains of Attica are, the Cape of Sunium, Hymettus, renowned for
its honey, and Pentelicus for its marble; the principal streams which
water the valleys are the capricious and uncertain rivulets of
Cephisus and Ilissus [3],--streams breaking into lesser brooks,
deliciously pure and clear. The air is serene--the climate healthful
--the seasons temperate. Along the hills yet breathe the wild thyme,
and the odorous plants which, everywhere prodigal in Greece, are more
especially fragrant in that lucid sky;--and still the atmosphere
colours with peculiar and various taints the marble of the existent
temples and the face of the mountain landscapes.

III. I reject at once all attempt to penetrate an unfathomable
obscurity for an idle object. I do not pause to inquire whether,
after the destruction of Babel, Javan was the first settler in Attica,
nor is it reserved for my labours to decide the solemn controversy
whether Ogyges was the contemporary of Jacob or of Moses. Neither
shall I suffer myself to be seduced into any lengthened consideration
of those disputes, so curious and so inconclusive, relative to the
origin of the Pelasgi (according to Herodotus the earliest inhabitants
of Attica), which have vainly agitated the learned. It may amuse the
antiquary to weigh gravely the several doubts as to the derivation of
their name from Pelasgus or from Peleg--to connect the scattered
fragments of tradition--and to interpret either into history or
mythology the language of fabulous genealogies. But our subtlest
hypotheses can erect only a fabric of doubt, which, while it is
tempting to assault, it is useless to defend. All that it seems to me
necessary to say of the Pelasgi is as follows:--They are the earliest
race which appear to have exercised a dominant power in Greece. Their
kings can be traced by tradition to a time long prior to the recorded
genealogy of any other tribe, and Inachus, the father of the Pelasgian
Phoroneus, is but another name for the remotest era to which Grecian
chronology can ascend [4]. Whether the Pelasgi were anciently a
foreign or a Grecian tribe, has been a subject of constant and
celebrated discussion. Herodotus, speaking of some settlements held
to be Pelaigic, and existing in his time, terms their language
"barbarous;" but Mueller, nor with argument insufficient, considers
that the expression of the historian would apply only to a peculiar
dialect; and the hypothesis is sustained by another passage in
Herodotus, in which he applies to certain Ionian dialects the same
term as that with which he stigmatizes the language of the Pelasgic
settlements. In corroboration of Mueller's opinion we may also
observe, that the "barbarous-tongued" is an epithet applied by Homer
to the Carians, and is rightly construed by the ancient critics as
denoting a dialect mingled and unpolished, certainly not foreign. Nor
when the Agamemnon of Sophocles upbraids Teucer with "his barbarous
tongue," [6] would any scholar suppose that Teucer is upbraided with
not speaking Greek; he is upbraided with speaking Greek inelegantly
and rudely. It is clear that they who continued with the least
adulteration a language in its earliest form, would seem to utter a
strange and unfamiliar jargon to ears accustomed to its more modern
construction. And, no doubt, could we meet with a tribe retaining the
English of the thirteenth century, the language of our ancestors would
be to most of us unintelligible, and seem to many of us foreign. But,
however the phrase of Herodotus be interpreted, it would still be
exceedingly doubtful whether the settlements he refers to were really
and originally Pelasgic, and still more doubtful whether, if Pelasgia
they had continued unalloyed and uncorrupted their ancestral language.
I do not, therefore, attach any importance to the expression of
Herodotus. I incline, on the contrary, to believe, with the more
eminent of English scholars, that the language of the Pelasgi
contained at least the elements of that which we acknowledge as the
Greek;--and from many arguments I select the following:

1st. Because, in the states which we know to have been peopled by the
Pelasgi (as Arcadia and Attica), and whence the population were not
expelled by new tribes, the language appears no less Greek than that
of those states from which the Pelasgi were the earliest driven. Had
they spoken a totally different tongue from later settlers, I conceive
that some unequivocal vestiges of the difference would have been
visible even to the historical times.

2dly. Because the Hellenes are described as few at first--their
progress is slow--they subdue, but they do not extirpate; in such
conquests--the conquests of the few settled among the many--the
language of the many continues to the last; that of the few would
influence, enrich, or corrupt, but never destroy it.

3dly. Because, whatever of the Grecian language pervades the Latin
[7], we can only ascribe to the Pelasgic colonizers of Italy. In
this, all ancient writers, Greek and Latin, are agreed. The few words
transmitted to us as Pelasgic betray the Grecian features, and the
Lamina Borgiana (now in the Borgian collection of Naples, and
discovered in 1783) has an inscription relative to the Siculi or
Sicani, a people expelled from their Italian settlements before any
received date of the Trojan war, of which the character is Pelasgic--
the language Greek.

IV. Of the moral state of the Pelasgi our accounts are imperfect and
contradictory. They were not a petty horde, but a vast race,
doubtless divided, like every migratory people, into numerous tribes,
differing in rank, in civilization [8], and in many peculiarities of
character. The Pelasgi in one country might appear as herdsmen or as
savages; in another, in the same age, they might appear collected into
cities and cultivating the arts. The history of the East informs us
with what astonishing rapidity a wandering tribe, once settled, grew
into fame and power; the camp of to-day--the city of to-morrow--and
the "dwellers in the wilderness setting up the towers and the palaces
thereof." [9] Thus, while in Greece this mysterious people are often
represented as the aboriginal race, receiving from Phoenician and
Egyptian settlers the primitive blessings of social life, in Italy we
behold them the improvers in agriculture [10] and first teachers of
letters. [11]

Even so early as the traditional appearance of Cecrops among the
savages of Attica, the Pelasgians in Arcadia had probably advanced
from the pastoral to the civil life; and this, indeed, is the date
assigned by Pausanias to the foundation of that ancestral Lycosura, in
whose rude remains (by the living fountain and the waving oaks of the
modern Diaphorte) the antiquary yet traces the fortifications of "the
first city which the sun beheld." [12] It is in their buildings that
the Pelasgi have left the most indisputable record of their name.
Their handwriting is yet upon their walls! A restless and various
people--overrunning the whole of Greece, found northward in Dacia,
Illyria, and the country of the Getae, colonizing the coasts of Ionia,
and long the master-race of the fairest lands of Italy,--they have
passed away amid the revolutions of the elder earth, their ancestry
and their descendants alike unknown;--yet not indeed the last, if my
conclusions are rightly drawn: if the primitive population of Greece--
themselves Greek--founding the language, and kindred with the blood,
of the later and more illustrious Hellenes--they still made the great
bulk of the people in the various states, and through their most
dazzling age: Enslaved in Laconia--but free in Athens--it was their
posterity that fought the Mede at Marathon and Plataea,--whom
Miltiades led,--for whom Solon legislated,--for whom Plato thought,--
whom Demosthenes harangued. Not less in Italy than in Greece the
parents of an imperishable tongue, and, in part, the progenitors of a
glorious race, we may still find the dim track of their existence
wherever the classic civilization flourished,--the classic genius
breathed. If in the Latin, if in the Grecian tongue, are yet the
indelible traces of the language of the Pelasgi, the literature of the
ancient, almost of the modern world, is their true descendant!

V. Despite a vague belief (referred to by Plato) of a remote and
perished era of civilization, the most popular tradition asserts the
Pelasgic inhabitants of Attica to have been sunk into the deepest
ignorance of the elements of social life, when, either from Sais, an
Egyptian city, as is commonly supposed, or from Sais a province in
Upper Egypt, an Egyptian characterized to posterity by the name of
Cecrops is said to have passed into Attica with a band of adventurous

The tradition of this Egyptian immigration into Attica was long
implicitly received. Recently the bold skepticism of German scholars
--always erudite--if sometimes rash--has sufficed to convince us of
the danger we incur in drawing historical conclusions from times to
which no historical researches can ascend. The proofs upon which rest
the reputed arrival of Egyptian colonizers, under Cecrops, in Attica,
have been shown to be slender--the authorities for the assertion to be
comparatively modern--the arguments against the probability of such an
immigration in such an age, to be at least plausible and important.
Not satisfied, however, with reducing to the uncertainty of conjecture
what incautiously had been acknowledged as fact, the assailants of the
Egyptian origin of Cecrops presume too much upon their victory, when
they demand us to accept as a counter fact, what can be, after all,
but a counter conjecture. To me, impartially weighing the arguments
and assertions on either side, the popular tradition of Cecrops and
his colony appears one that can neither be tacitly accepted as
history, nor contemptuously dismissed as invention. It would be,
however, a frivolous dispute, whether Cecrops were Egyptian or
Attican, since no erudition can ascertain that Cecrops ever existed,
were it not connected with a controversy of some philosophical
importance, viz., whether the early civilizers of Greece were
foreigners or Greeks, and whether the Egyptians more especially
assisted to instruct the ancestors of a race that have become the
teachers and models of the world, in the elements of religion, of
polity, and the arts.

Without entering into vain and futile reasonings, derived from the
scattered passages of some early writers, from the ambiguous silence
of others--and, above all, from the dreams of etymological analogy or
mythological fable, I believe the earliest civilizers of Greece to
have been foreign settlers; deducing my belief from the observations
of common sense rather than from obscure and unsatisfactory research.
I believe it,

First--Because, what is more probable than that at very early periods
the more advanced nations of the East obtained communication with the
Grecian continent and isles? What more probable than that the
maritime and roving Phoenicians entered the seas of Greece, and were
tempted by the plains, which promised abundance, and the mountains,
which afforded a fastness? Possessed of a superior civilization to
the hordes they found, they would meet rather with veneration than
resistance, and thus a settlement would be obtained by an
inconsiderable number, more in right of intelligence than of conquest.

But, though this may be conceded with respect to the Phoenicians, it
is asserted that the Egyptians at least were not a maritime or
colonizing people: and we are gravely assured, that in those distant
times no Egyptian vessel had entered the Grecian seas. But of the
remotest ages of Egyptian civilization we know but little. On their
earliest monuments (now their books!) we find depicted naval as well
as military battles, in which the vessels are evidently those employed
at sea. According to their own traditions, they colonized in a remote
age. They themselves laid claim to Danaus: and the mythus of the
expedition of Osiris is not improbably construed into a figurative
representation of the spread of Egyptian civilization by the means of
colonies. Besides, Egypt was subjected to more than one revolution,
by which a large portion of her population was expelled the land, and
scattered over the neighbouring regions [13]. And even granting that
Egyptians fitted out no maritime expedition--they could easily have
transplanted themselves in Phoenician vessels, or Grecian rafts--from
Asia into Greece. Nor can we forget that Egypt [14] for a time was
the habitation, and Thebes the dominion, of the Phoenicians, and that
hence, perhaps, the origin of the dispute whether certain of the first
foreign civilizers of Greece were Phoenicians or Egyptians: The
settlers might come from Egypt, and be by extraction Phoenicians: or
Egyptian emigrators might well have accompanied the Phoenician. [15]

2dly. By the evidence of all history, savage tribes appear to owe
their first enlightenment to foreigners: to be civilized, they conquer
or are conquered--visit or are visited. For a fact which contains so
striking a mystery, I do not attempt to account. I find in the
history of every other part of the world, that it is by the colonizer
or the conqueror that a tribe neither colonizing nor conquering is
redeemed from a savage state, and I do not reject so probable an
hypothesis for Greece.

3dly. I look to the various arguments of a local or special nature,
by which these general probabilities may be supported, and I find them
unusually strong: I cast my eyes on the map of Greece, and I see that
it is almost invariably on the eastern side that these eastern
colonies are said to have been founded: I turn to chronology, and I
find the revolutions in the East coincide in point of accredited date
with the traditional immigrations into Greece: I look to the history
of the Greeks, and I find the Greeks themselves (a people above all
others vain of aboriginal descent, and contemptuous of foreign races)
agreed in according a general belief to the accounts of their
obligations to foreign settlers; and therefore (without additional but
doubtful arguments from any imaginary traces of Eastern, Egyptian,
Phoenician rites and fables in the religion or the legends of Greece
in her remoter age) I see sufficient ground for inclining to the less
modern, but mere popular belief, which ascribes a foreign extraction
to the early civilizers of Greece: nor am I convinced by the
reasonings of those who exclude the Egyptians from the list of these
primitive benefactors.

It being conceded that no hypothesis is more probable than that the
earliest civilizers of Greece were foreign, and might be Egyptian, I
do not recognise sufficient authority for rejecting the Attic
traditions claiming Egyptian civilizers for the Attic soil, in
arguments, whether grounded upon the fact that such traditions,
unreferred to by the more ancient, were collected by the more modern,
of Grecian writers--or upon plausible surmises as to the habits of the
Egyptians in that early age. Whether Cecrops were the first--whether
he were even one--of these civilizers, is a dispute unworthy of
philosophical inquirers [16]. But as to the time of Cecrops are
referred, both by those who contend for his Egyptian, and those who
assert his Attic origin, certain advances from barbarism, and certain
innovations in custom, which would have been natural to a foreigner,
and almost miraculous in a native, I doubt whether it would not be our
wiser and more cautious policy to leave undisturbed a long accredited
conjecture, rather than to subscribe to arguments which, however
startling and ingenious, not only substitute no unanswerable
hypothesis, but conduce to no important result. [17]

VI. If Cecrops were really the leader of an Egyptian colony, it is
more than probable that he obtained the possession of Attica by other
means than those of force. To savage and barbarous tribes, the first
appearance of men, whose mechanical inventions, whose superior
knowledge of the arts of life--nay, whose exterior advantages of garb
and mien [18] indicate intellectual eminence, till then neither known
nor imagined, presents a something preternatural and divine. The
imagination of the wild inhabitants is seduced, their superstitions
aroused, and they yield to a teacher--not succumb to an invader. It
was probably thus, then, that Cecrops with his colonists would have
occupied the Attic plain--conciliated rather than subdued the
inhabitants, and united in himself the twofold authority exercised by
primeval chiefs--the dignity of the legislator, and the sanctity of
the priest. It is evident that none of the foreign settlers brought
with them a numerous band. The traditions speak of them with
gratitude as civilizers, not with hatred as conquerors. And they did
not leave any traces in the establishment of their language:--a proof
of the paucity of their numbers, and the gentle nature of their
influence--the Phoenician Cadmus, the Egyptian Cecrops, the Phrygian
Pelops, introduced no separate and alien tongue. Assisting to
civilize the Greeks, they then became Greeks; their posterity merged
and lost amid the native population.

VII. Perhaps, in all countries, the first step to social improvement
is in the institution of marriage, and the second is the formation of
cities. As Menes in Egypt, as Fohi in China, so Cecrops at Athens is
said first to have reduced into sacred limits the irregular
intercourse of the sexes [19], and reclaimed his barbarous subjects
from a wandering and unprovidential life, subsisting on the
spontaneous produce of no abundant soil. High above the plain, and
fronting the sea, which, about three miles distant on that side,
sweeps into a bay peculiarly adapted for the maritime enterprises of
an earlier age, we still behold a cragged and nearly perpendicular
rock. In length its superficies is about eight hundred, in breadth
about four hundred, feet [20]. Below, on either side, flow the
immortal streams of the Ilissus and Cephisus. From its summit you may
survey, here, the mountains of Hymettus, Pentelicus, and, far away,
"the silver-bearing Laurium;" below, the wide plain of Attica, broken
by rocky hills--there, the islands of Salamis and Aegina, with the
opposite shores of Argolis, rising above the waters of the Saronic
Bay. On this rock the supposed Egyptian is said to have built a
fortress, and founded a city [21]; the fortress was in later times
styled the Acropolis, and the place itself, when the buildings of
Athens spread far and wide beneath its base, was still designated
polis, or the CITY. By degrees we are told that he extended, from
this impregnable castle and its adjacent plain, the limit of his
realm, until it included the whole of Attica, and perhaps Boeotia
[22]. It is also related that he established eleven other towns or
hamlets, and divided his people into twelve tribes, to each of which
one of the towns was apportioned--a fortress against foreign invasion,
and a court of justice in civil disputes.

If we may trust to the glimmering light which, resting for a moment,
uncertain and confused, upon the reign of Cecrops, is swallowed up in
all the darkness of fable during those of his reputed successors,--it
is to this apocryphal personage that we must refer the elements both
of agriculture and law. He is said to have instructed the Athenians
to till the land, and to watch the produce of the seasons; to have
imported from Egypt the olive-tree, for which the Attic soil was
afterward so celebrated, and even to have navigated to Sicily and to
Africa for supplies of corn. That such advances from a primitive and
savage state were not made in a single generation, is sufficiently
clear. With more probability, Cecrops is reputed to have imposed upon
the ignorance of his subjects and the license of his followers the
curb of impartial law, and to have founded a tribunal of justice
(doubtless the sole one for all disputes), in which after times
imagined to trace the origin of the solemn Areopagus.

VIII. Passing from these doubtful speculations on the detailed
improvements effected by Cecrops in the social life of the Attic
people, I shall enter now into some examination of two subjects far
more important. The first is the religion of the Athenians in common
with the rest of Greece; and the second the origin of the institution
of slavery.

The origin of religion in all countries is an inquiry of the deepest
interest and of the vaguest result. For, the desire of the pious to
trace throughout all creeds the principles of the one they themselves
profess--the vanity of the learned to display a various and recondite
erudition--the passion of the ingenious to harmonize conflicting
traditions--and the ambition of every speculator to say something new
upon an ancient but inexhaustible subject, so far from enlightening,
only perplex our conjectures. Scarcely is the theory of to-day
established, than the theory of to-morrow is invented to oppose it.
With one the religion of the Greeks is but a type of the mysteries of
the Jews, the event of the deluge, and the preservation of the ark;
with another it is as entirely an incorporation of the metaphysical
solemnities of the Egyptian;--now it is the crafty device of priests,
now the wise invention of sages. It is not too much to say, that
after the profoundest labours and the most plausible conjectures of
modern times, we remain yet more uncertain and confused than we were
before. It is the dark boast of every pagan mythology, as one of the
eldest of the pagan deities, that "none among mortals hath lifted up
its veil!"

After, then, some brief and preliminary remarks, tending to such
hypotheses as appear to me most probable and simple, I shall hasten
from unprofitable researches into the Unknown, to useful deductions
from what is given to our survey--in a word, from the origin of the
Grecian religion to its influence and its effects; the first is the
province of the antiquary and the speculator; the last of the
historian and the practical philosopher.

IX. When Herodotus informs us that Egypt imparted to Greece the names
of almost all her deities, and that his researches convinced him that
they were of barbarous origin, he exempts from the list of the
Egyptian deities, Neptune, the Dioscuri, Juno, Vesta, Themis, the
Graces, and the Nereids [23]. From Africa, according to Herodotus,
came Neptune, from the Pelasgi the rest of the deities disclaimed by
Egypt. According to the same authority, the Pelasgi learned not their
deities, but the names of their deities (and those at a later period),
from the Egyptians [24]. But the Pelasgi were the first known
inhabitants of Greece--the first known inhabitants of Greece had
therefore their especial deities, before any communication with Egypt.
For the rest we must accept the account of the simple and credulous
Herodotus with considerable caution and reserve. Nothing is more
natural--perhaps more certain--than that every tribe [25], even of
utter savages, will invent some deities of their own; and as these
deities will as naturally be taken from external objects, common to
all mankind, such as the sun or the moon, the waters or the earth, and
honoured with attributes formed from passions and impressions no less
universal;--so the deities of every tribe will have something kindred
to each other, though the tribes themselves may never have come into
contact or communication.

The mythology of the early Greeks may perhaps be derived from the
following principal sources:--First, the worship of natural objects;--
and of divinities so formed, the most unequivocally national will
obviously be those most associated with their mode of life and the
influences of their climate. When the savage first intrusts the seed
to the bosom of the earth--when, through a strange and unaccountable
process, he beholds what he buried in one season spring forth the
harvest of the next--the EARTH itself, the mysterious garner, the
benign, but sometimes the capricious reproducer of the treasures
committed to its charge--becomes the object of the wonder, the hope,
and the fear, which are the natural origin of adoration and prayer.
Again, when he discovers the influence of the heaven upon the growth
of his labour--when, taught by experience, he acknowledges its power
to blast or to mellow--then, by the same process of ideas, the HEAVEN
also assumes the character of divinity, and becomes a new agent, whose
wrath is to be propitiated, whose favour is to be won. What common
sense thus suggests to us, our researches confirm, and we find
accordingly that the Earth and the Heaven are the earliest deities of
the agricultural Pelasgi. As the Nile to the fields of the Egyptian--
earth and heaven to the culture of the Greek. The effects of the SUN
upon human labour and human enjoyment are so sensible to the simplest
understanding, that we cannot wonder to find that glorious luminary
among the most popular deities of ancient nations. Why search through
the East to account for its worship in Greece? More easy to suppose
that the inhabitants of a land, whom the sun so especially favoured--
saw and blessed it, for it was good, than, amid innumerable
contradictions and extravagant assumptions, to decide upon that
remoter shore, whence was transplanted a deity, whose effects were so
benignant, whose worship was so natural, to the Greeks. And in the
more plain belief we are also borne out by the more sound inductions
of learning. For it is noticeable that neither the moon nor the
stars--favourite divinities with those who enjoyed the serene nights,
or inhabited the broad plains of the East--were (though probably
admitted among the Pelasgic deities) honoured with that intense and
reverent worship which attended them in Asia and in Egypt. To the
Pelasgi, not yet arrived at the intellectual stage of philosophical
contemplation, the most sensible objects of influence would be the
most earnestly adored. What the stars were to the East, their own
beautiful Aurora, awaking them to the delight of their genial and
temperate climate, was to the early Greeks.

Of deities, thus created from external objects, some will rise out (if
I may use the expression) of natural accident and local circumstance.
An earthquake will connect a deity with the earth--an inundation with
the river or the sea. The Grecian soil bears the marks of maritime
revolution; many of the tribes were settled along the coast, and
perhaps had already adventured their rafts upon the main. A deity of
the sea (without any necessary revelation from Africa) is, therefore,
among the earliest of the Grecian gods. The attributes of each deity
will be formed from the pursuits and occupations of the worshippers--
sanguinary with the warlike--gentle with the peaceful. The pastoral
Pelasgi of Arcadia honoured the pastoral Pan for ages before he was
received by their Pelasgic brotherhood of Attica. And the
agricultural Demeter or Ceres will be recognised among many tribes of
the agricultural Pelasgi, which no Egyptian is reputed, even by
tradition [26], to have visited.

The origin of prayer is in the sense of dependance, and in the
instinct of self-preservation or self-interest. The first objects of
prayer to the infant man will be those on which by his localities he
believes himself to be most dependant for whatever blessing his mode
of life inclines him the most to covet, or from which may come
whatever peril his instinct will teach him the most to deprecate and
fear. It is this obvious truth which destroys all the erudite systems
that would refer the different creeds of the heathen to some single
origin. Till the earth be the same in each region--till the same
circumstances surround every tribe--different impressions, in nations
yet unconverted and uncivilized, produce different deities. Nature
suggests a God, and man invests him with attributes. Nature and man,
the same as a whole, vary in details; the one does not everywhere
suggest the same notions--the other cannot everywhere imagine the same
attributes. As with other tribes, so with the Pelasgi or primitive
Greeks, their early gods were the creatures of their own early

As one source of religion was in external objects, so another is to be
found in internal sensations and emotions. The passions are so
powerful in their effects upon individuals and nations, that we can be
little surprised to find those effects attributed to the instigation
and influence of a supernatural being. Love is individualized and
personified in nearly all mythologies; and LOVE therefore ranks among
the earliest of the Grecian gods. Fear or terror, whose influence is
often so strange, sudden, and unaccountable--seizing even the bravest
--spreading through numbers with all the speed of an electric sympathy
--and deciding in a moment the destiny of an army or the ruin of a
tribe--is another of those passions, easily supposed the afflatus of
some preternatural power, and easily, therefore, susceptible of
personification. And the pride of men, more especially if habitually
courageous and warlike, will gladly yield to the credulities which
shelter a degrading and unwonted infirmity beneath the agency of a
superior being. TERROR, therefore, received a shape and found an
altar probably as early at least as the heroic age. According to
Plutarch, Theseus sacrificed to Terror previous to his battle with the
Amazons;--an idle tale, it is true, but proving, perhaps, the
antiquity of a tradition. As society advanced from barbarism arose
more intellectual creations--as cities were built, and as in the
constant flux and reflux of martial tribes cities were overthrown, the
elements of the social state grew into personification, to which
influence was attributed and reverence paid. Thus were fixed into
divinity and shape, ORDER, PEACE, JUSTICE, and the stern and gloomy
ORCOS [27], witness of the oath, avenger of the perjury.

This, the second source of religion, though more subtle and refined in
its creations, had still its origin in the same human causes as the
first, viz., anticipation of good and apprehension of evil. Of
deities so created, many, however, were the inventions of poets--
(poetic metaphor is a fruitful mother of mythological fable)--many
also were the graceful refinements of a subsequent age. But some (and
nearly all those I have enumerated) may be traced to the earliest
period to which such researches can ascend. It is obvious that the
eldest would be connected with the passions--the more modern with the

It seems to me apparent that almost simultaneously with deities of
these two classes would arise the greater and more influential class
of personal divinities which gradually expanded into the heroic
dynasty of Olympus. The associations which one tribe, or one
generation, united with the heaven, the earth, or the sun, another
might obviously connect, or confuse, with a spirit or genius
inhabiting or influencing the element or physical object which excited
their anxiety or awe: And, this creation effected--so what one tribe
or generation might ascribe to the single personification of a
passion, a faculty, or a moral and social principle, another would
just as naturally refer to a personal and more complex deity:--that
which in one instance would form the very nature of a superior being,
in the other would form only an attribute--swell the power and amplify
the character of a Jupiter, a Mars, a Venus, or a Pan. It is in the
nature of man, that personal divinities once created and adored,
should present more vivid and forcible images to his fancy than
abstract personifications of physical objects and moral impressions.
Thus, deities of this class would gradually rise into pre-eminence and
popularity above those more vague and incorporeal--and (though I guard
myself from absolutely solving in this manner the enigma of ancient
theogonies) the family of Jupiter could scarcely fail to possess
themselves of the shadowy thrones of the ancestral Earth and the
primeval Heaven.

A third source of the Grecian, as of all mythologies, was in the
worship of men who had actually existed, or been supposed to exist.
For in this respect errors might creep into the calendar of heroes, as
they did into the calendar of saints (the hero-worship of the
moderns), which has canonized many names to which it is impossible to
find the owners. This was probably the latest, but perhaps in after-
times the most influential and popular addition to the aboriginal
faith. The worship of dead men once established, it was natural to a
people so habituated to incorporate and familiarize religious
impressions--to imagine that even their primary gods, first formed
from natural impressions (and, still more, those deities they had
borrowed from stranger creeds)--should have walked the earth. And
thus among the multitude in the philosophical ages, even the loftiest
of the Olympian dwellers were vaguely supposed to have known
humanity;--their immortality but the apotheosis of the benefactor or
the hero.

X. The Pelasgi, then, had their native or aboriginal deities
(differing in number and in attributes with each different tribe), and
with them rests the foundation of the Greek mythology. They required
no Egyptian wisdom to lead them to believe in superior powers. Nature
was their primeval teacher. But as intercourse was opened with the
East from the opposite Asia--with the North from the neighbouring
Thrace, new deities were transplanted and old deities received
additional attributes and distinctions, according as the fancy of the
stranger found them assimilate to the divinities he had been
accustomed to adore. It seems to me, that in Saturn we may trace the
popular Phoenician deity--in the Thracian Mars, the fierce war-god of
the North. But we can scarcely be too cautious how far we allow
ourselves to be influenced by resemblance, however strong, between a
Grecian and an alien deity. Such a resemblance may not only be formed
by comparatively modern innovations, but may either be resolved to
that general likeness which one polytheism will ever bear towards
another, or arise from the adoption of new attributes and strange
traditions;--so that the deity itself may be homesprung and
indigenous, while bewildering the inquirer with considerable
similitude to other gods, from whose believers the native worship
merely received an epithet, a ceremony, a symbol, or a fable. And
this necessity of caution is peculiarly borne out by the
contradictions which each scholar enamoured of a system gives to the
labours of the speculator who preceded him. What one research would
discover to be Egyptian, another asserts to be Phoenician; a third
brings from the North; a fourth from the Hebrews; and a fifth, with
yet wilder imagination, from the far and then unpenetrated caves and
woods of India. Accept common sense as our guide, and the
contradictions are less irreconcilable--the mystery less obscure. In
a deity essentially Greek, a Phoenician colonist may discover
something familiar, and claim an ancestral god. He imparts to the
native deity some Phoenician features--an Egyptian or an Asiatic
succeeds him--discovers a similar likeness--introduces similar
innovations. The lively Greek receives--amalgamates--appropriates
all: but the aboriginal deity is not the less Greek. Each speculator
may be equally right in establishing a partial resemblance, precisely
because all speculators are wrong in asserting a perfect identity.

It follows as a corollary from the above reasonings, that the religion
of Greece was much less uniform than is popularly imagined; 1st,
because each separate state or canton had its own peculiar deity;
2dly, because, in the foreign communication of new gods, each stranger
would especially import the deity that at home he had more especially
adored. Hence to every state its tutelary god--the founder of its
greatness, the guardian of its renown. Even in the petty and limited
territory of Attica, each tribe, independent of the public worship,
had its peculiar deities, honoured by peculiar rites.

The deity said to be introduced by Cecrops is Neith, or more properly
Naith [28]--the goddess of Sais, in whom we are told to recognise the
Athene, or Minerva of the Greeks. I pass over as palpably absurd any
analogy of names by which the letters that compose the word Keith are
inverted to the word Athene. The identity of the two goddesses must
rest upon far stronger proof. But, in order to obtain this proof, we
must know with some precision the nature and attributes of the
divinity of Sais--a problem which no learning appears to me
satisfactorily to have solved. It would be a strong, and, I think, a
convincing argument, that Athene is of foreign origin, could we be
certain that her attributes, so eminently intellectual, so thoroughly
out of harmony with the barbarism of the early Greeks, were accorded
to her at the commencement of her worship. But the remotest traditions
(such as her contest with Neptune for the possession of the soil), if
we take the more simple interpretation, seem to prove her to have been
originally an agricultural deity, the creation of which would have
been natural enough to the agricultural Pelasgi;--while her supposed
invention of some of the simplest and most elementary arts are
sufficiently congenial to the notions of an unpolished and infant era
of society. Nor at a long subsequent period is there much resemblance
between the formal and elderly goddess of Daedalian sculpture and the
glorious and august Glaucopis of Homer--the maiden of celestial beauty
as of unrivalled wisdom. I grant that the variety of her attributes
renders it more than probable that Athene was greatly indebted,
perhaps to the "Divine Intelligence," personified in the Egyptian
Naith--perhaps also, as Herodotus asserts, to the warlike deity of
Libya--nor less, it may be, to the Onca of the Phoenicians [29], from
whom in learning certain of the arts, the Greeks might simultaneously
learn the name and worship of the Phoenician deity, presiding over
such inventions. Still an aboriginal deity was probably the nucleus,
round which gradually gathered various and motley attributes. And
certain it is, that as soon as the whole creation rose into distinct
life, the stately and virgin goddess towers, aloof and alone, the most
national, the most majestic of the Grecian deities--rising above all
comparison with those who may have assisted to decorate and robe her,
embodying in a single form the very genius, multiform, yet individual
as it was, of the Grecian people--and becoming among all the deities
of the heathen heaven what the Athens she protected became upon the

XI. It may be said of the Greeks, that there never was a people who
so completely nationalized all that they borrowed from a foreign
source. And whatever, whether in a remoter or more recent age, it
might have appropriated from the creed of Isis and Osiris, one cause
alone would have sufficed to efface from the Grecian the peculiar
character of the Egyptian mythology.

The religion of Egypt, as a science, was symbolical--it denoted
elementary principles of philosophy; its gods were enigmas. It has
been asserted (on very insufficient data) that in the earliest ages of
the world, one god, of whom the sun was either the emblem or the
actual object of worship, was adored universally throughout the East,
and that polytheism was created by personifying the properties and
attributes of the single deity: "there being one God," says Aristotle,
finely, "called by many names, from the various effects which his
various power produces." [30] But I am far from believing that a
symbolical religion is ever the earliest author of polytheism; for a
symbolical religion belongs to a later period of civilization, when
some men are set apart in indolence to cultivate their imagination, in
order to beguile or to instruct the reason of the rest. Priests are
the first philosophers--a symbolical religion the first philosophy.
But faith precedes philosophy. I doubt not, therefore, that
polytheism existed in the East before that age when the priests of
Chaldea and of Egypt invested it with a sublimer character by
summoning to the aid of invention a wild and speculative wisdom--by
representing under corporeal tokens the revolutions of the earth, the
seasons, and the stars, and creating new (or more probably adapting
old and sensual) superstitions, as the grosser and more external types
of a philosophical creed [31]. But a symbolical worship--the creation
of a separate and established order of priests--never is, and never
can be, the religion professed, loved, and guarded by a people. The
multitude demand something positive and real for their belief--they
cannot worship a delusion--their reverence would be benumbed on the
instant if they could be made to comprehend that the god to whom they
sacrificed was no actual power able to effect evil and good, but the
type of a particular season of the year, or an unwholesome principle
in the air. Hence, in the Egyptian religion, there was one creed for
the vulgar and another for the priests. Again, to invent and to
perpetuate a symbolical religion (which is, in fact, an hereditary
school of metaphysics) requires men set apart for the purpose, whose
leisure tempts them to invention, whose interest prompts them to
imposture. A symbolical religion is a proof of a certain refinement
in civilization--the refinement of sages in the midst of a subservient
people; and it absorbs to itself those meditative and imaginative
minds which, did it not exist, would be devoted to philosophy. Now,
even allowing full belief to the legends which bring the Egyptian
colonists into Greece, it is probable that few among them were
acquainted with the secrets of the symbolical mythology they
introduced. Nor, if they were so, is it likely that they would have
communicated to a strange and a barbarous population the profound and
latent mysteries shrouded from the great majority of Egyptians
themselves. Thus, whatever the Egyptian colonizers might have
imported of a typical religion, the abstruser meaning would become,
either at once or gradually, lost. Nor can we--until the recent age
of sophists and refiners--clearly ascertain any period in which did
not exist the indelible distinction between the Grecian and Egyptian
mythology: viz.--that the first was actual, real, corporeal,
household; the second vague, shadowy, and symbolical. This might not
have been the case had there been established in the Grecian, as in
the Egyptian cities, distinct and separate colleges of priests, having
in their own hands the sole care of the religion, and forming a
privileged and exclusive body of the state. But among the Greeks (and
this should be constantly borne in mind) there never was, at any known
historical period, a distinct caste of priests [32]. We may perceive,
indeed, that the early colonizers commenced with approaches to that
principle, but it was not prosecuted farther. There were sacred
families in Athens from which certain priesthoods were to be filled--
but even these personages were not otherwise distinguished; they
performed all the usual offices of a citizen, and were not united
together by any exclusiveness of privilege or spirit of party. Among
the Egyptian adventurers there were probably none fitted by previous
education for the sacred office; and the chief who had obtained the
dominion might entertain no irresistible affection for a caste which
in his own land he had seen dictating to the monarch and interfering
with the government. [33]

Thus, among the early Greeks, we find the chiefs themselves were
contented to offer the sacrifice and utter the prayer; and though
there were indeed appointed and special priests, they held no
imperious or commanding authority. The Areopagus at Athens had the
care of religion, but the Areopagites were not priests. This absence
of a priestly caste had considerable effect upon the flexile and
familiar nature of the Grecian creed, because there were none
professionally interested in guarding the purity of the religion, in
preserving to what it had borrowed, symbolical allusions, and in
forbidding the admixture of new gods and heterogeneous creeds. The
more popular a religion, the more it seeks corporeal representations,
and avoids the dim and frigid shadows of a metaphysical belief. [34]

The romantic fables connected with the Grecian mythology were, some
home-sprung, some relating to native heroes, and incorporating native
legends, but they were also, in great measure, literal interpretations
of symbolical types and of metaphorical expressions, or erroneous
perversions of words in other tongues. The craving desire to account
for natural phenomena, common to mankind--the wish to appropriate to
native heroes the wild tales of mariners and strangers natural to a
vain and a curious people--the additions which every legend would
receive in its progress from tribe to tribe--and the constant
embellishments the most homely inventions would obtain from the
competition of rival poets, rapidly served to swell and enrich these
primary treasures of Grecian lore--to deduce a history from an
allegory--to establish a creed in a romance. Thus the early mythology
of Greece is to be properly considered in its simple and outward
interpretations. The Greeks, as yet in their social infancy, regarded
the legends of their faith as a child reads a fairy tale, credulous of
all that is supernatural in the agency--unconscious of all that may be
philosophical in the moral.

It is true, indeed, that dim associations of a religion, sabaean and
elementary, such as that of the Pelasgi (but not therefore foreign and
philosophical), with a religion physical and popular, are, here and
there, to be faintly traced among the eldest of the Grecian authors.
We may see that in Jupiter they represented the ether, and in Apollo,
and sometimes even in Hercules, the sun. But these authors, while,
perhaps unconsciously, they hinted at the symbolical, fixed, by the
vitality and nature of their descriptions, the actual images of the
gods and, reversing the order of things, Homer created Jupiter! [35]

But most of the subtle and typical interpretations of the Grecian
mythology known to us at present were derived from the philosophy of a
later age. The explanations of religious fables--such, for instance,
as the chaining of Saturn by Jupiter, and the rape of Proserpine by
Pluto, in which Saturn is made to signify the revolution of the
seasons, chained to the courses of the stars, to prevent too
immoderate a speed, and the rape of Proserpine is refined into an
allegory that denotes the seeds of corn that the sovereign principle
of the earth receives and sepulchres [36];--the moral or physical
explanation of legends like these was, I say, the work of the few,
reduced to system either from foreign communication or acute
invention. For a symbolical religion, created by the priests of one
age, is reinstated or remodelled after its corruption by the
philosophers of another.

XII. We may here pause a moment to inquire whence the Greeks derived
the most lovely and fascinating of their mythological creations--those
lesser and more terrestrial beings--the spirits of the mountain, the
waters, and the grove.

Throughout the East, from the remotest era, we find that mountains
were nature's temples. The sanctity of high places is constantly
recorded in the scriptural writings. The Chaldaean, the Egyptian, and
the Persian, equally believed that on the summit of mountains they
approached themselves nearer to the oracles of heaven. But the
fountain, the cavern, and the grove, were no less holy than the
mountain-top in the eyes of the first religionists of the East.
Streams and fountains were dedicated to the Sun, and their exhalations
were supposed to inspire with prophecy, and to breathe of the god.
The gloom of caverns, naturally the brooding-place of awe, was deemed
a fitting scene for diviner revelations--it inspired unearthly
contemplation and mystic revery. Zoroaster is supposed by Porphyry
(well versed in all Pagan lore, though frequently misunderstanding its
proper character) to have first inculcated the worship of caverns
[37]; and there the early priests held a temple, and primeval
philosophy its retreat [38]. Groves, especially those in high places,
or in the neighbourhood of exhaling streams, were also appropriate to
worship, and conducive to the dreams of an excited and credulous
imagination; and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, burnt incense, not only
on the hills, but "under every green tree." [39]

These places, then--the mountain, the forest, the stream, and the
cavern, were equally objects of sanctity and awe among the ancient

But we need not necessarily suppose that a superstition so universal
was borrowed, and not conceived, by the early Greeks. The same causes
which had made them worship the earth and the sea, extended their
faith to the rivers and the mountains, which in a spirit of natural
and simple poetry they called "the children" of those elementary
deities. The very soil of Greece, broken up and diversified by so
many inequalities, stamped with volcanic features, profuse in streams
and mephitic fountains, contributed to render the feeling of local
divinity prevalent and intense. Each petty canton had its own Nile,
whose influence upon fertility and culture was sufficient to become
worthy to propitiate, and therefore to personify. Had Greece been
united under one monarchy, and characterized by one common monotony of
soil, a single river, a single mountain, alone might have been deemed
divine. It was the number of its tribes--it was the variety of its
natural features, which produced the affluence and prodigality of its
mythological creations. Nor can we omit from the causes of the
teeming, vivid, and universal superstition of Greece, the accidents of
earthquake and inundation, to which the land appears early and often
to have been exposed. To the activity and caprice of nature--to the
frequent operation of causes, unrecognised, unforeseen, unguessed, the
Greeks owed much of their disposition to recur to mysterious and
superior agencies--and that wonderful poetry of faith which delighted
to associate the visible with the unseen. The peculiar character not
only of a people, but of its earlier poets--not only of its soil, but
of its air and heaven, colours the superstition it creates: and most
of the terrestrial demons which the gloomier North clothed with terror
and endowed with malice, took from the benignant genius and the
enchanting climes of Greece the gentlest offices and the fairest
forms;--yet even in Greece itself not universal in their character,
but rather the faithful reflections of the character of each class of
worshippers: thus the graces [40], whose "eyes" in the minstrelsey of
Hesiod "distilled care-beguiling love," in Lacedaemon were the nymphs
of discipline and war!

In quitting this subject, be one remark permitted in digression: the
local causes which contributed to superstition might conduct in after
times to science. If the Nature that was so constantly in strange and
fitful action, drove the Greeks in their social infancy to seek agents
for the action and vents for their awe, so, as they advanced to
maturer intellect, it was in Nature herself that they sought the
causes of effects that appeared at first preternatural. And, in
either stage, their curiosity and interest aroused by the phenomena
around them--the credulous inventions of ignorance gave way to the
eager explanations of philosophy. Often, in the superstition of one
age, lies the germe that ripens into the inquiry of the next.

XIII. Pass we now to some examination of the general articles of
faith among the Greeks; their sacrifices and rites of worship.

In all the more celebrated nations of the ancient world, we find
established those twin elements of belief by which religion harmonizes
and directs the social relations of life, viz., a faith in a future
state, and in the providence of superior powers, who, surveying as
judges the affairs of earth, punish the wicked and reward the good
[41]. It has been plausibly conjectured that the fables of Elysium,
the slow Cocytus, and the gloomy Hades, were either invented or
allegorized from the names of Egyptian places. Diodorus assures us
that by the vast catacombs of Egypt, the dismal mansions of the dead--
were the temple and stream, both called Cocytus, the foul canal of
Acheron, and the Elysian plains [42]; and, according to the same
equivocal authority, the body of the dead was wafted across the
waters by a pilot, termed Charon in the Egyptian tongue. But,
previous to the embarcation, appointed judges on the margin of the
Acheron listened to whatever accusations were preferred by the living
against the deceased, and if convinced of his misdeeds, deprived him
of the rites of sepulture. Hence it was supposed that Orpheus
transplanted into Greece the fable of the infernal regions. But there
is good reason to look on this tale with distrust, and to believe that
the doctrine of a future state was known to the Greeks without any
tuition from Egypt;--while it is certain that the main moral of the
Egyptian ceremony, viz., the judgment of the dead, was not familiar to
the early doctrine of the Greeks. They did not believe that the good
were rewarded and the bad punished in that dreary future, which they
imbodied in their notions of the kingdom of the shades. [43]

XIV. Less in the Grecian deities than in the customs in their honour,
may we perceive certain traces of oriental superstition. We recognise
the usages of the elder creeds in the chosen sites of their temples--
the habitual ceremonies of their worship. It was to the east that the
supplicator turned his face, and he was sprinkled, as a necessary
purification, with the holy water often alluded to by sacred writers
as well as profane--a typical rite entailed from Paganism on the
greater proportion of existing Christendom. Nor was any oblation duly
prepared until it was mingled with salt--that homely and immemorial
offering, ordained not only by the priests of the heathen idols, but
also prescribed by Moses to the covenant of the Hebrew God. [44]

XV. We now come to those sacred festivals in celebration of religious
mysteries, which inspire modern times with so earnest an interest.
Perhaps no subject connected with the religion of the ancients has
been cultivated with more laborious erudition, attended with more
barren result. And with equal truth and wit, the acute and searching
Lobeck has compared the schools of Warburton and St. Croix to the
Sabines, who possessed the faculty of dreaming what they wished.
According to an ancient and still popular account, the dark enigmas of
Eleusis were borrowed from Egypt;--the drama of the Anaglyph [45].
But, in answer to this theory, we must observe, that even if really,
at their commencement, the strange and solemn rites which they are
asserted to have been--mystical ceremonies grow so naturally out of
the connexion between the awful and the unknown--were found so
generally among the savages of the ancient world--howsoever dispersed
--and still so frequently meet the traveller on shores to which it is
indeed a wild speculation to assert that the oriental wisdom ever
wandered, that it is more likely that they were the offspring of the
native ignorance [46], than the sublime importation of a symbolical
philosophy utterly ungenial to the tribes to which it was
communicated, and the times to which the institution is referred. And
though I would assign to the Eleusinian Mysteries a much earlier date
than Lobeck is inclined to affix [47], I search in vain for a more
probable supposition of the causes of their origin than that which he
suggests, and which I now place before the reader. We have seen that
each Grecian state had its peculiar and favourite deities, propitiated
by varying ceremonies. The early Greeks imagined that their gods
might be won from them by the more earnest prayers and the more
splendid offerings of their neighbours; the Homeric heroes found their
claim for divine protection on the number of the offerings they have
rendered to the deity they implore. And how far the jealous desire to
retain to themselves the favour of tutelary gods was entertained by
the Greeks, may be illustrated by the instances specially alluding to
the low and whispered voice in which prayers were addressed to the
superior powers, lest the enemy should hear the address, and vie with
interested emulation for the celestial favour. The Eleusinians, in
frequent hostilities with their neighbours, the Athenians, might very
reasonably therefore exclude the latter from the ceremonies instituted
in honour of their guardian divinities, Demeter and Persephone (i. e.,
Ceres and Proserpine). And we may here add, that secrecy once
established, the rites might at a very early period obtain, and
perhaps deserve, an enigmatic and mystic character. But when, after a
signal defeat of the Eleusinians, the two states were incorporated,
the union was confirmed by a joint participation in the ceremony [48]
to which a political cause would thus give a more formal and solemn
dignity. This account of the origin of the Eleusinian Mysteries is
not indeed capable of demonstration, but it seems to me at least the
most probable in itself, and the most conformable to the habits of the
Greeks, as to those of all early nations.

Certain it is that for a long time the celebration of the Eleusinian
ceremonies was confined to these two neighbouring states, until, as
various causes contributed to unite the whole of Greece in a common
religion and a common name, admission was granted all Greeks of all
ranks, male and female,--provided they had committed no inexpiable
offence, performed the previous ceremonies required, and were
introduced by an Athenian citizen.

With the growing flame and splendour of Athens, this institution rose
into celebrity and magnificence, until it appears to have become the
most impressive spectacle of the heathen world. It is evident that a
people so imitative would reject no innovations or additions that
could increase the interest or the solemnity of exhibition; and still
less such as might come (through whatsoever channel) from that antique
and imposing Egypt, which excited so much of their veneration and
wonder. Nor do I think it possible to account for the great
similarity attested by Herodotus and others, between the mysteries of
Isis and those of Ceres, as well as for the resemblance in less
celebrated ceremonies between the rites of Egypt and of Greece,
without granting at once, that mediately, or even immediately, the
superstitious of the former exercised great influence upon, and
imparted many features to, those of the latter. But the age in which
this religious communication principally commenced has been a matter
of graver dispute than the question merits. A few solitary and
scattered travellers and strangers may probably have given rise to it
at a very remote period; but, upon the whole, it appears to me that,
with certain modifications, we must agree with Lobeck, and the more
rational schools of inquiry, that it was principally in the interval
between the Homeric age and the Persian war that mysticism passed into
religion--that superstition assumed the attributes of a science--and
that lustrations, auguries, orgies, obtained method and system from
the exuberant genius of poetical fanaticism.

That in these august mysteries, doctrines contrary to the popular
religion were propounded, is a theory that has, I think, been
thoroughly overturned. The exhibition of ancient statues, relics, and
symbols, concealed from daily adoration (as in the Catholic festivals
of this day), probably, made a main duty of the Hierophant. But in a
ceremony in honour of Ceres, the blessings of agriculture, and its
connexion with civilization, were also very naturally dramatized. The
visit of the goddess to the Infernal Regions might form an imposing
part of the spectacle: spectral images--alternations of light and
darkness--all the apparitions and effects that are said to have
imparted so much awe to the mysteries, may well have harmonized with,
not contravened, the popular belief. And there is no reason to
suppose that the explanations given by the priests did more than
account for mythological stories, agreeably to the spirit and form of
the received mythology, or deduce moral maxims from the
representation, as hackneyed, as simple, and as ancient, as the
generality of moral aphorisms are. But, as the intellectual progress
of the audience advanced, philosophers, skeptical of the popular
religion, delighted to draw from such imposing representations a
thousand theories and morals utterly unknown to the vulgar; and the
fancies and refinements of later schoolmen have thus been mistaken for
the notions of an early age and a promiscuous multitude. The single
fact (so often insisted upon), that all Greeks were admissible, is
sufficient alone to prove that no secrets incompatible with the common
faith, or very important in themselves, could either have been
propounded by the priests or received by the audience. And it may be
further observed, in corroboration of so self-evident a truth, that it
was held an impiety to the popular faith to reject the initiation of
the mysteries--and that some of the very writers, most superstitious
with respect to the one, attach the most solemnity to the ceremonies
of the other.

XVI. Sanchoniathon wrote a work, now lost, on the worship of the
serpent. This most ancient superstition, found invariably in Egypt
and the East, is also to be traced through many of the legends and
many of the ceremonies of the Greeks. The serpent was a frequent
emblem of various gods--it was often kept about the temples--it was
introduced in the mysteries--it was everywhere considered sacred.
Singular enough, by the way, that while with us the symbol of the evil
spirit, the serpent was generally in the East considered a benefactor.
In India, the serpent with a thousand heads; in Egypt, the serpent
crowned with the lotos-leaf, is a benign and paternal deity. It was
not uncommon for fable to assert that the first civilizers of earth
were half man, half serpent. Thus was Fohi of China [49] represented,
and thus Cecrops of Athens.

XVII. But the most remarkable feature of the superstition of Greece
was her sacred oracles. And these again bring our inquiries back to
Egypt. Herodotus informs us that the oracle of Dodona was by far the
most ancient in Greece [50], and he then proceeds to inform us of its
origin, which he traces to Thebes in Egypt. But here we are beset by
contradictions: Herodotus, on the authority of the Egyptian priests,
ascribes the origin of the Dodona and Lybian oracles to two
priestesses of the Theban Jupiter--stolen by Phoenician pirates--one
of whom, sold into Greece, established at Dodona an oracle similar to
that which she had served at Thebes. But in previous passages
Herodotus informs us, 1st, that in Egypt, no priestesses served the
temples of any deity, male or female; and 2dly, that when the
Egyptians imparted to the Pelasgi the names of their divinities, the
Pelasgi consulted the oracle of Dodona on the propriety of adopting
them; so that that oracle existed before even the first and
fundamental revelations of Egyptian religion. It seems to me,
therefore, a supposition that demands less hardy assumption, and is
equally conformable with the universal superstitions of mankind (since
similar attempts at divination are to be found among so many nations
similarly barbarous) to believe that the oracle arose from the
impressions of the Pelasgi [51] and the natural phenomena of the spot;
though at a subsequent period the manner of the divination was very
probably imitated from that adopted by the Theban oracle. And in
examining the place it indeed seems as if Nature herself had been the
Egyptian priestess! Through a mighty grove of oaks there ran a
stream, whose waters supplied a fountain that might well appear, to
ignorant wonder, endowed with preternatural properties. At a certain
hour of noon it was dry, and at midnight full. Such springs have
usually been deemed oracular, not only in the East, but in almost
every section of the globe.

At first, by the murmuring of waters, and afterward by noises among
the trees, the sacred impostors interpreted the voice of the god. It
is an old truth, that mystery is always imposing and often convenient.
To plain questions were given dark answers, which might admit of
interpretation according to the event. The importance attached to the
oracle, the respect paid to the priest, and the presents heaped on the
altar, indicated to craft and ambition a profitable profession. And
that profession became doubly alluring to its members, because it
proffered to the priests an authority in serving the oracles which
they could not obtain in the general religion of the people. Oracles
increased then, at first slowly, and afterward rapidly, until they
grew so numerous that the single district of Boeotia contained no less
than twenty-five. The oracle of Dodona long, however, maintained its
pre-eminence over the rest, and was only at last eclipsed by that of
Delphi [52], where strong and intoxicating exhalations from a
neighbouring stream were supposed to confer prophetic phrensy.
Experience augmented the sagacity of the oracles, and the priests, no
doubt, intimately acquainted with all the affairs of the states
around, and viewing the living contests of action with the coolness of
spectators, were often enabled to give shrewd and sensible
admonitions,--so that the forethought of wisdom passed for the
prescience of divinity. Hence the greater part of their predictions
were eminently successful; and when the reverse occurred, the fault
was laid on the blind misconstruction of the human applicant. Thus no
great design was executed, no city founded, no colony planted, no war
undertaken, without the advice of an oracle. In the famine, the
pestilence, and the battle, the divine voice was the assuager of
terror and the inspirer of hope. All the instincts of our frailer
nature, ever yearning for some support that is not of the world, were
enlisted in behalf of a superstition which proffered solutions to
doubt, and remedies to distress.

Besides this general cause for the influence of oracles, there was
another cause calculated to give to the oracles of Greece a marked and
popular pre-eminence over those in Egypt. A country divided into
several small, free, and warlike states, would be more frequently in
want of the divine advice, than one united under a single monarchy, or
submitted to the rigid austerity of castes and priestcraft; and in
which the inhabitants felt for political affairs all the languid
indifference habitual to the subjects of a despotic government. Half
a century might pass in Egypt without any political event that would
send anxious thousands to the oracle; but in the wonderful ferment,
activity, and restlessness of the numerous Grecian towns, every month,
every week, there was some project or some feud for which the advice
of a divinity was desired. Hence it was chiefly to a political cause
that the immortal oracle of Delphi owed its pre-eminent importance.
The Dorian worshippers of Apollo (long attached to that oracle, then
comparatively obscure), passing from its neighbourhood and befriended
by its predictions, obtained the mastership of the Peloponnesus;--
their success was the triumph of the oracle. The Dorian Sparta (long
the most powerful of the Grecian states), inviolably faithful to the
Delphian god, upheld his authority, and spread the fame of his
decrees. But in the more polished and enlightened times, the
reputation of the oracle gradually decayed; it shone the brightest
before and during the Persian war;--the appropriate light of an age of
chivalry fading slowly as philosophy arose!

XVIII. But the practice of divination did not limit itself to these
more solemn sources--its enthusiasm was contagious--its assistance was
ever at hand [53]. Enthusiasm operated on the humblest individuals.
One person imagined himself possessed by a spirit actually passing
into his soul--another merely inspired by the divine breath--a third
was cast into supernatural ecstasies, in which he beheld the shadow of
events, or the visions of a god--a threefold species of divine
possession, which we may still find recognised by the fanatics of a
graver faith! Nor did this suffice: a world of omens surrounded every
man. There were not only signs and warnings in the winds, the
earthquake, the eclipse of the sun or moon, the meteor, or the
thunderbolt--but dreams also were reduced to a science [54]; the
entrails of victims were auguries of evil or of good; the flights of
birds, the motions of serpents, the clustering of bees, had their
mystic and boding interpretations. Even hasty words, an accident, a
fall on the earth, a sneeze (for which we still invoke the ancient
blessing), every singular or unwonted event, might become portentous,
and were often rendered lucky or unlucky according to the dexterity or
disposition of the person to whom they occurred.

And although in later times much of this more frivolous superstition
passed away--although Theophrastus speaks of such lesser omens with
the same witty disdain as that with which the Spectator ridicules our
fears at the upsetting of a salt-cellar, or the appearance of a
winding-sheet in a candle,--yet, in the more interesting period of
Greece, these popular credulities were not disdained by the nobler or
wiser few, and to the last they retained that influence upon the mass
which they lost with individuals. And it is only by constantly
remembering this universal atmosphere of religion, that we can imbue
ourselves with a correct understanding of the character of the Greeks
in their most Grecian age. Their faith was with them ever--in sorrow
or in joy--at the funeral or the feast--in their uprisings and their
downsittings--abroad and at home--at the hearth and in the market-
place--in the camp or at the altar. Morning and night all the greater
tribes of the elder world offered their supplications on high: and
Plato has touchingly insisted on this sacred uniformity of custom,
when he tells us that at the rising of the moon and at the dawning of
the sun, you may behold Greeks and barbarians--all the nations of the
earth--bowing in homage to the gods.

XIX. To sum up, the above remarks conduce to these principal
conclusions; First, that the Grecian mythology cannot be moulded into
any of the capricious and fantastic systems of erudite ingenuity: as a
whole, no mythology can be considered more strikingly original, not
only because its foundations appear indigenous, and based upon the
character and impressions of the people--not only because at no one
period, from the earliest even to the latest date, whatever occasional
resemblances may exist, can any identify be established between its
most popular and essential creations, and those of any other faith;
but because, even all that it borrowed it rapidly remodelled and
naturalized, growing yet more individual from its very complexity, yet
more original from the plagiarisms which it embraced; Secondly, that
it differed in many details in the different states, but under the
development of a general intercourse, assisted by a common language,
the plastic and tolerant genius of the people harmonized all discords
--until (catholic in its fundamental principles) her religion united
the whole of Greece in indissoluble bonds of faith and poetry--of
daily customs and venerable traditions; Thirdly, that the influence of
other creeds, though by no means unimportant in amplifying the
character, and adding to the list of the primitive deities, appears
far more evident in the ceremonies and usages than the personal
creations of the faith. We may be reasonably skeptical as to what
Herodotus heard of the origin of rites or gods from Egyptian priests;
but there is no reason to disbelieve the testimony of his experience,
when he asserts, that the forms and solemnities of one worship closely
resemble those of another; the imitation of a foreign ceremony is
perfectly compatible with the aboriginal invention of a national god.
For the rest, I think it might be (and by many scholars appears to me
to have been) abundantly shown, that the Phoenician influences upon
the early mythology of the Greeks were far greater than the Egyptian,
though by degrees, and long after the heroic age, the latter became
more eagerly adopted and more superficially apparent.

In quitting this part of our subject, let it be observed, as an
additional illustration of the remarkable nationality of the Grecian
mythology, that our best light to the manners of the Homeric men, is
in the study of the Homeric gods. In Homer we behold the mythology of
an era, for analogy to which we search in vain the records of the
East--that mythology is inseparably connected with the constitution of
limited monarchies,--with the manners of an heroic age:--the power of
the sovereign of the aristocracy of heaven is the power of a Grecian
king over a Grecian state:--the social life of the gods is the life
most coveted by the Grecian heroes;--the uncertain attributes of the
deities, rather physical or intellectual than moral--strength and
beauty, sagacity mixed with cunning--valour with ferocity--inclination
to war, yet faculties for the inventions of peace; such were the
attributes most honoured among men, in the progressive, but still
uncivilized age which makes the interval so pre-eminently Grecian--
between the mythical and historic times. Vain and impotent are all
attempts to identify that religion of Achaian warriors with the
religion of oriental priests. It was indeed symbolical--but of the
character of its believers; typical--but of the restless, yet
poetical, daring, yet graceful temperament, which afterward conducted
to great achievements and imperishable arts: the coming events of
glory cast their shadows before, in fable.

XX. There now opens to us a far more important inquiry than that into
the origin and form of the religion of the Greeks; namely, the
influences of that religion itself upon their character--their morals
--their social and intellectual tendencies.

The more we can approach the Deity to ourselves--the more we can
invest him with human attributes--the more we can connect him with the
affairs and sympathies of earth, the greater will be his influence
upon our conduct--the more fondly we shall contemplate his attributes,
the more timidly we shall shrink from his vigilance, the more
anxiously we shall strive for his approval. When Epicurus allowed the
gods to exist, but imagined them wholly indifferent to the concerns of
men, contemplating only their own happiness, and regardless alike of
our virtues or our crimes;--with that doctrine he robbed man of the
divinity, as effectually as if he had denied his existence. The fear
of the gods could not be before the eyes of votaries who believed that
the gods were utterly careless of their conduct; and not only the
awful control of religion was removed from their passions, but the
more beautiful part of its influence, resulting not from terror but
from hope, was equally blasted and destroyed: For if the fear of the
divine power serves to restrain the less noble natures, so, on the
other hand, with such as are more elevated and generous, there is no
pleasure like the belief that we are regarded with approbation and
love by a Being of ineffable majesty and goodness--who compassionates
our misfortunes--who rewards our struggles with ourselves. It is this
hope which gives us a pride in our own natures, and which not only
restrains us from vice, but inspires us with an emulation to arouse
within us all that is great and virtuous, in order the more to deserve
his love, and feel the image of divinity reflected upon the soul. It
is for this reason that we are not contented to leave the character of
a God uncertain and unguessed, shrouded in the darkness of his own
infinite power; we clothe him with the attributes of human excellence,
carried only to an extent beyond humanity; and cannot conceive a deity
not possessed of the qualities--such as justice, wisdom, and
benevolence--which are most venerated among mankind. But if we
believe that he has passed to earth--that he has borne our shape, that
he has known our sorrows--the connexion becomes yet more intimate and
close; we feel as if he could comprehend us better, and compassionate
more benignly our infirmities and our griefs. The Christ that has
walked the earth, and suffered on the cross, can be more readily
pictured to our imagination, and is more familiarly before us, than
the Dread Eternal One, who hath the heaven for his throne, and the
earth only for his footstool [55]. And it is this very humanness of
connexion, so to speak, between man and the Saviour, which gives to
the Christian religion, rightly embraced, its peculiar sentiment of
gentleness and of love.

But somewhat of this connexion, though in a more corrupt degree,
marked also the religion of the Greeks; they too believed (at least
the multitude) that most of the deities had appeared on earth, and
been the actual dispensers of the great benefits of social life.
Transferred to heaven, they could more readily understand that those
divinities regarded with interest the nations to which they had been
made visible, and exercised a permanent influence over the earth,
which had been for a while their home.

Retaining the faith that the deities had visited the world, the Greeks
did not however implicitly believe the fables which degraded them by
our weaknesses and vices. They had, as it were--and this seems not to
have been rightly understood by the moderns--two popular mythologies--
the first consecrated to poetry, and the second to actual life. If a
man were told to imitate the gods, it was by the virtues of justice,
temperance, and benevolence [56]; and had he obeyed the mandate by
emulating the intrigues of Jupiter, or the homicides of Mars, he would
have been told by the more enlightened that those stories were the
inventions of the poets; and by the more credulous that gods might be
emancipated from laws, but men were bound by them--"Superis sea jura"
[57]--their own laws to the gods! It is true, then, that those fables
were preserved--were held in popular respect, but the reverence they
excited among the Greeks was due to a poetry which flattered their
national pride and enchained their taste, and not to the serious
doctrines of their religion. Constantly bearing this distinction in
mind, we shall gain considerable insight, not only into their
religion, but into seeming contradictions in their literary history.
They allowed Aristophanes to picture Bacchus as a buffoon, and
Hercules as a glutton, in the same age in which they persecuted
Socrates for neglect of the sacred mysteries and contempt of the
national gods. To that part of their religion which belonged to the
poets they permitted the fullest license; but to the graver portion of
religion--to the existence of the gods--to a belief in their
collective excellence, and providence, and power--to the sanctity of
asylums--to the obligation of oaths--they showed the most jealous and
inviolable respect. The religion of the Greeks, then, was a great
support and sanction to their morals; it inculcated truth, mercy,
justice, the virtues most necessary to mankind, and stimulated to them
by the rigid and popular belief that excellence was approved and guilt
was condemned by the superior powers [58]. And in that beautiful
process by which the common sense of mankind rectifies the errors of
imagination--those fables which subsequent philosophers rightly deemed
dishonourable to the gods, and which the superficial survey of modern
historians has deemed necessarily prejudicial to morals--had no
unworthy effect upon the estimate taken by the Greeks whether of human
actions or of heavenly natures.

XXI. For a considerable period the Greeks did not carry the notion of
divine punishment beyond the grave, except in relation to those
audacious criminals who had blasphemed or denied the gods; it was by
punishments in this world that the guilty were afflicted. And this
doctrine, if less sublime than that of eternal condemnation, was, I
apprehend, on regarding the principles of human nature, equally
effective in restraining crime: for our human and short-sighted minds
are often affected by punishments, in proportion as they are human and
speedy. A penance in the future world is less fearful and distinct,
especially to the young and the passionate, than an unavoidable
retribution in this. Man, too fondly or too vainly, hopes, by
penitence at the close of life, to redeem the faults of the
commencement, and punishment deferred loses more than half its
terrors, and nearly all its certainty.

As long as the Greeks were left solely to their mythology, their views
of a future state were melancholy and confused. Death was an evil,
not a release. Even in their Elysium, their favourite heroes seem to
enjoy but a frigid and unenviable immortality. Yet this saddening
prospect of the grave rather served to exhilarate life, and stimulate
to glory:--"Make the most of existence," say their early poets, "for
soon comes the dreary Hades!" And placed beneath a delightful
climate, and endowed with a vivacious and cheerful temperament, they
yielded readily to the precept. Their religion was eminently glad and
joyous; even the stern Spartans lost their austerity in their sacred
rites, simple and manly though they were--and the gayer Athenians
passed existence in an almost perpetual circle of festivals and

This uncertainty of posthumous happiness contributed also to the
desire of earthly fame. For below at least, their heroes taught them,
immortality was not impossible. Bounded by impenetrable shadows to
this world, they coveted all that in this world was most to be desired
[59]. A short life is acceptable to Achilles, not if it lead to
Elysium, but if it be accompanied with glory. By degrees, however,
prospects of a future state, nobler and more august, were opened by
their philosophers to the hopes of the Greeks. Thales was asserted to
be the first Greek who maintained the immortality of the soul, and
that sublime doctrine was thus rather established by the philosopher
than the priest. [60]

XXII. Besides the direct tenets of religion, the mysteries of the
Greeks exercised an influence on their morals, which, though greatly
exaggerated by modern speculators, was, upon the whole, beneficial,
though not from the reasons that have been assigned. As they grew up
into their ripened and mature importance--their ceremonial, rather
than their doctrine, served to deepen and diffuse a reverence for
religious things. Whatever the licentiousness of other mysteries
(especially in Italy), the Eleusinian rites long retained their renown
for purity and decorum; they were jealously watched by the Athenian
magistracy, and one of the early Athenian laws enacted that the senate
should assemble the day after their celebration to inquire into any
abuse that might have sullied their sacred character. Nor is it,
perhaps, without justice in the later times, that Isocrates lauds
their effect on morality, and Cicero their influence on civilization
and the knowledge of social principles. The lustrations and
purifications, at whatever period their sanctity was generally
acknowledged, could scarcely fail of salutary effects. They were
supposed to absolve the culprit from former crimes, and restore him, a
new man, to the bosom of society. This principle is a great agent of
morality, and was felt as such in the earlier era of Christianity: no
corrupter is so deadly as despair; to reconcile a criminal with self-
esteem is to readmit him, as it were, to virtue.

Even the fundamental error of the religion in point of doctrine, viz.,
its polytheism, had one redeeming consequence in the toleration which
it served to maintain--the grave evils which spring up from the fierce
antagonism of religious opinions, were, save in a few solitary and
dubious instances, unknown to the Greeks. And this general
toleration, assisted yet more by the absence of a separate caste of
priests, tended to lead to philosophy through the open and
unchallenged portals of religion. Speculations on the gods connected
themselves with bold inquiries into nature. Thought let loose in the
wide space of creation--no obstacle to its wanderings--no monopoly of
its commerce--achieved, after many a wild and fruitless voyage,
discoveries unknown to the past--of imperishable importance to the
future. The intellectual adventurers of Greece planted the first flag
upon the shores of philosophy; for the competition of errors is
necessary to the elucidation of truths; and the imagination indicates
the soil which the reason is destined to culture and possess.

XXIII. While such was the influence of their religion on the morals
and the philosophy of the Greeks, what was its effect upon their
national genius?

We must again remember that the Greeks were the only nation among the
more intellectual of that day, who stripped their deities of
symbolical attributes, and did not aspire to invent for gods shapes
differing (save in loftier beauty) from the aspect and form of man.
And thus at once was opened to them the realm of sculpture. The
people of the East, sometimes indeed depicting their deities in human
forms, did not hesitate to change them into monsters, if the addition
of another leg or another arm, a dog's head or a serpent's tail, could
better express the emblem they represented. They perverted their
images into allegorical deformities; and receded from the beautiful in
proportion as they indulged their false conceptions of the sublime.
Besides, a painter or a sculptor must have a clear idea presented to
him, to be long cherished and often revolved, if we desire to call
forth all the inspiration of which his genius may be capable; but how
could the eastern artist form a clear idea of an image that should
represent the sun entering Aries, or the productive principle of
nature? Such creations could not fail of becoming stiff or
extravagant, deformed or grotesque. But to the Greek, a god was
something like the most majestic or the most beautiful of his own
species. He studied the human shape for his conceptions of the
divine. Intent upon the natural, he ascended to the ideal. [61]

If such the effect of the Grecian religion upon sculpture, similar and
equal its influence upon poetry. The earliest verses of the Greeks
appear to have been of a religious, though I see no sufficient reason
for asserting that they were therefore of a typical and mystic,
character. However that be, the narrative succeeding to the sacred
poetry materialized all it touched. The shadows of Olympus received
the breath of Homer, and the gods grew at once life-like and palpable
to men. The traditions which connected the deities with humanity--the
genius which divested them of allegory--gave at once to the epic and
the tragic poet the supernatural world. The inhabitants of heaven
itself became individualized--bore each a separate character--could be
rendered distinct, dramatic, as the creatures of daily life. Thus--an
advantage which no moderns ever have possessed--with all the ineffable
grandeur of deities was combined all the familiar interest of mortals;
and the poet, by preserving the characteristics allotted to each god,
might make us feel the associations and sympathies of earth, even when
he bore us aloft to the unknown Olympus, or plunged below amid the
shades of Orcus.

The numerous fables mixed with the Grecian creed, sufficiently
venerable, as we have seen, not to be disdained, but not so sacred as
to be forbidden, were another advantage to the poet. For the
traditions of a nation are its poetry! And if we moderns, in the
German forest, or the Scottish highlands, or the green English fields,
yet find inspiration in the notions of fiend, and sprite, and fairy,
not acknowledged by our religion, not appended as an apocryphal
adjunct to our belief, how much more were those fables adapted to
poetry, which borrowed not indeed an absolute faith, but a certain
shadow, a certain reverence and mystery, from religion! Hence we find
that the greatest works of imagination which the Greeks have left us,
whether of Homer, of Aeschylus, or of Sophocles, are deeply indebted
to their mythological legends. The Grecian poetry, like the Grecian
religion, was at once half human, half divine--majestic, vast, august
--household, homely, and familiar. If we might borrow an illustration
from the philosophy of Democritus, its earthlier dreams and
divinations were indeed the impressions of mighty and spectral images
inhabiting the air. [62]

XXIV. Of the religion of Greece, of its rites and ceremonies, and of
its influence upon the moral and intellectual faculties--this--
already, I fear, somewhat too prolixly told--is all that at present I
deem it necessary to say. [63]

We have now to consider the origin of slavery in Greece, an inquiry
almost equally important to our accurate knowledge of her polity and

XXV. Wherever we look--to whatsoever period of history--conquest, or
the settlement of more enlightened colonizers amid a barbarous tribe,
seems the origin of slavery--modified according to the spirit of the
times, the humanity of the victor, or the policy of the lawgiver. The
aboriginals of Greece were probably its earliest slaves [64],--yet the
aboriginals might be also its earliest lords. Suppose a certain tribe
to overrun a certain country--conquer and possess it: new settlers are
almost sure to be less numerous than the inhabitants they subdue; in
proportion as they are the less powerful in number are they likely to
be the more severe in authority: they will take away the arms of the
vanquished--suppress the right of meetings--make stern and terrible
examples against insurgents--and, in a word, quell by the moral
constraint of law those whom it would be difficult to control merely
by, physical force;--the rigidity of the law being in ratio to the
deficiency of the force. In times semi-civilized, and even
comparatively enlightened, conquerors have little respect for the
conquered--an immense and insurmountable distinction is at once made
between the natives and their lords. All ancient nations seem to have
considered that the right of conquest gave a right to the lands of the
conquered country. William dividing England among his Normans is but
an imitator of every successful invader of ancient times. The new-
comers having gained the land of a subdued people, that people, in
order to subsist, must become the serfs of the land [65]. The more
formidable warriors are mostly slain, or exiled, or conciliated by
some remains of authority and possessions; the multitude remain the
labourers of the soil, and slight alterations of law will
imperceptibly convert the labourer into the slave. The earliest
slaves appear chiefly to have been the agricultural population. If
the possession of the government were acquited by colonizers [66],--
not so much by the force of arms as by the influence of superior arts
--the colonizers would in some instances still establish servitude for
the multitude, though not under so harsh a name. The laws they would
frame for an uncultured and wretched population, would distinguish
between the colonizers and the aboriginals (excepting perhaps only the
native chiefs, accustomed arbitrarily to command, though not
systematically to enslave the rest). The laws for the aboriginal
population would still be an improvement on their previous savage and
irregulated state--and generations might pass before they would attain
a character of severity, or before they made the final and
ineffaceable distinction between the freeman and the slave. The
perturbed restlessness and constant migration of tribes in Greece,
recorded both by tradition and by history, would consequently tend at
a very remote period to the institution and diffusion of slavery and
the Pelasgi of one tribe would become the masters of the Pelasgi of
another. There is, therefore, no necessity to look out of Greece for
the establishment of servitude in that country by conquest and war.
But the peaceful colonization of foreign settlers would (as we have
seen) lead to it by slower and more gentle degrees. And the piracies
of the Phoenicians, which embraced the human species as an article of
their market, would be an example, more prevalent and constant than
their own, to the piracies of the early Greeks. The custom of
servitude, thus commenced, is soon fed by new sources. Prisoners of
war are enslaved, or, at the will of the victor, exchanged as an
article of commerce. Before the interchange of money, we have
numerous instances of the barter of prisoners for food and arms. And
as money became the medium of trade, so slaves became a regular
article of sale and purchase. Hence the origin of the slave-market.
Luxury increasing slaves were purchased not merely for the purposes of
labour, but of pleasure. The accomplished musician of the beautiful
virgin was an article of taste or a victim of passion. Thus, what it
was the tendency of barbarism to originate, it became the tendency of
civilization to increase.

Slavery, then, originated first in conquest and war, piracy, or
colonization: secondly, in purchase. There were two other and
subordinate sources of the institution--the first was crime, the
second poverty. If a free citizen committed a heinous offence, he
could be degraded into a slave--if he were unable to pay his debts,
the creditor could claim his person. Incarceration is merely a
remnant and substitute of servitude. The two latter sources failed as
nations became more free. But in Attica it was not till the time of
Solon, several centuries after the institution of slavery at Athens,
that the right of the creditor to the personal services of the debtor
was formally abolished.

A view of the moral effects of slavery--of the condition of the slaves
at Athens--of the advantages of the system and its evils--of the light
in which it was regarded by the ancients themselves, other and more
fitting opportunities will present to us.

XXVI. The introduction of an hereditary aristocracy into a particular
country, as yet uncivilized, is often simultaneous with that of
slavery. A tribe of warriors possess and subdue a territory;--they
share its soil with the chief in proportion to their connexion with
his person, or their military services and repute--each becomes the
lord of lands and slaves--each has privileges above the herd of the
conquered population. Suppose again, that the dominion is acquired by
colonizers rather than conquerors; the colonizers, superior in
civilization to the natives,--and regarded by the latter with
reverence and awe, would become at once a privileged and noble order.
Hence, from either source, an aristocracy permanent and hereditary
[67]. If founded on conquest, in proportion to the number of the
victors, is that aristocracy more or less oligarchical. The extreme
paucity of force with which the Dorians conquered their neighbours,
was one of the main causes why the governments they established were
rigidly oligarchical.

XXVII. Proceeding onward, we find that in this aristocracy, are
preserved the seeds of liberty and the germe of republicanism. These
conquerors, like our feudal barons, being sharers of the profit of the
conquest and the glory of the enterprise, by no means allow undivided
and absolute authority to their chiefs. Governed by separate laws--
distinguished by separate privileges from the subdued community, they
are proud of their own freedom, the more it is contrasted with the
servitude of the population: they preserve liberty for themselves--
they resist the undue assumptions of the king [68]--and keep alive
that spirit and knowledge of freedom which in after times (as their
numbers increase, and they become a people, distinct still from the
aboriginal natives, who continue slaves) are transfused from the
nobles to the multitude. In proportion as the new race are warlike
will their unconscious spirit be that of republicanism; the connexion
between martial and republican tendencies was especially recognised by
all ancient writers: and the warlike habits of the Hellenes were the
cradle of their political institutions. Thus, in conquest (or
sometimes in immigration) we may trace the origin of an aristocracy
[69], as of slavery, and thus, by a deeper inquiry, we may find also
that the slavery of a population and the freedom of a state have their
date, though dim and undeveloped, in the same epoch.

XXVIII. I have thought that the supposed Egyptian colonization of
Attica under Cecrops afforded the best occasion to treat of the above
matters, not so much in reference to Cecrops himself as to the
migration of Eastern and Egyptian adventurers. Of such migrations the
dates may be uncertain--of such adventurers the names may be unknown.
But it seems to me impossible to deny the fact of foreign settlements
in Greece, in her remoter and more barbarous era, though we may


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