Billeder på siden

in either case it was his doctrines which prevailed – must always confer a circumstantial value upon the original dissertations, "De Ethnicorum Oraculis." This original work of Van Dale is a book of considerable extent. But, in spite of its length, it divides substantially into two great chapters, and no more, which coincide, in fact, with the two separate dissertations. The first of these dissertations, occupying one hundred and eighty-one pages, inquires into the failure and extinction of the Oracles; when they failed, and under what circumstances. The second of these dissertations inquires into the machinery and resources of the Oracles during the time of their prosperity. In the first dissertation, the object is to expose the folly and gross ignorance of the fathers, who insisted on representing the history of the case roundly in this shape as though all had prospered with the Oracles up to the nativity of Christ; but that, after his crucifixion, and simultaneously with the first promulgation of Christianity, all Oracles had suddenly drooped; or, to tie up their language to the rigor of their theory, had suddenly expired. All this Van Dale peremptorily denies; and, in these days, it is scarcely requisite to add, triumphantly denies; the whole hypothesis of the fathers having literally not a leg to stand upon; and being, in fact, the most audacious defiance to historical records that, perhaps, the annals of human folly present.

In the second dissertation, Van Dale combats the other notion of the fathers - - that, during their prosperous ages, the Oracles had moved by an agency of evil spirits. He, on the contrary, contends that, from the first hour to the last of their long domination

over the minds and practice of the Pagan world, they had moved by no agencies whatever, but those of human fraud, intrigue, collusion, applied to human blindness, credulity, and superstition.

We shall say a word or two upon each question. As to the first, namely, when it was that the Oracles fell into decay and silence, thanks to the headlong rashness of the Fathers, Van Dale's assault cannot be refused or evaded. In reality, the evidence against them is too flagrant and hyperbolical. If we were to quote from Juvenal "Delphis et Oracula cessant," in that case, the fathers challenge it as an argument on their side, for that Juvenal described a state of things immediately posterior to Christianity; yet even here the word cessant points to a distinction of cases which already in itself is fatal to their doctrine. By cessant Juvenal means evidently what we, in these days, should mean in saying of a ship in action that her fire was slackening. This powerful poet, therefore, wiser so far than the Christian fathers, distinguishes two separate cases: first, the state of torpor and languishing which might be (and in fact was) the predicament of many famous Oracles through centuries not fewer than five, six, or even eight; secondly, the state of absolute dismantling and utter extinction which, even before his time, had confounded individual Oracles of the inferior class, not from changes affecting religion, whether true or false, but from political revolutions. Here, therefore, lies the first blunder of the fathers, that they confound with total death the long drooping which befell many great Oracles from languor in the popular sympathies, under changes hereafter to be noticed;

and, consequently, from revenues and machinery continually decaying. That the Delphic Oracle itself of all oracles the most. illustrious had not expired, but simply slumbered for centuries, the fathers might have been convinced themselves by innumerable passages in authors contemporary with themselves; and that it was continually throwing out fitful gleams of its ancient power, when any very great man (suppose a Cæsar) thought fit to stimulate its latent vitality, is notorious from such cases as that of Hadrian. He, in his earlier days, whilst yet only dreaming of the purple, had not found the Oracle superannuated or palsied. On the contrary, he found it but too clear-sighted; and it was no contempt in him, but too ghastly a fear and jealousy, which labored to seal up the grander ministrations of the Oracle for the future. What the Pythia had foreshown to himself, she might foreshow to others; and, when tempted by the same princely bribes, she might authorize and kindle the same aspiring views in other great officers. Thus, in the new condition of the Roman power, there was a perpetual peril, lest an oracle, so potent as that of Delphi, should absolutely create rebellions, by first suggesting hopes to men in high commands. Even as it was, all treasonable assumptions of the purple, for many generations, commenced in the hopes inspired by auguries, prophecies, or sortileges. And had the great Delphic Oracle, consecrated to men's feelings by hoary superstition, and privileged by secrecy, come forward to countersign such hopes, many more would have been the wrecks of ambition, and even bloodier would have been the blood-polluted line of the impe

rial successions.

Prudence, therefore, it was, and

state policy, not the power of Christianity, which gave the final shock (of the original shock we shall speak elsewhere) to the grander functions of the Delphic Oracle. But, in the mean time, the humbler and more domestic offices of this oracle, though naturally making no noise at a distance, seem long to have survived its state relations. And, apart from the sort of galvanism notoriously applied by Hadrian, surely the fathers could not have seen Plutarch's account of its condition, already a century later than our Saviour's nativity. The Pythian priestess, as we gather from him, had by that time become a less select and dignified personage; she was no longer a princess in the land-a change which was proximately due to the impoverished income of the temple; but she was still in existence; still held in respect; still trained, though at inferior cost, to her difficult and showy ministrations. And the whole establishment of the Delphic god, if necessarily contracted from that scale which had been suitable when great kings and commonwealths were constant suitors within the gates of Delphi, still clung (like the Venice of modern centuries) to her old ancestral honors, and kept up that decent household of ministers which corresponded to the altered ministrations of her temple. In fact, the evidences on behalf of Delphi as a princely house, that had indeed partaken in the decaying fortunes of Greece, but naturally was all the prouder from the irritating contrast of her great remembrances, are so plentifully dispersed through books, that the fathers must have been willingly duped. That in some way they

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

were duped is too notorious from the facts, and might be suspected even from their own occasional language; 'take, as one instance, amongst a whole harmony of similar expressions, this short passage from Eusebius — οἱ Ἕλληνες ὁμολογέντες εκλελοιπεναι αυτων τα χρηστηρια: the Greeks admitting that their Oracles have failed. (There is, however, a disingenuous vagueness in the very word εκλελοιπεναι), εδ' άλλοτε ποτε εξ αιωνος. and when? why, at no other crisis through the total range of their existence —ŋ xaτa τες χρονες της ευαγγελικής διδασκαλιας—than precisely at the epoch of the evangelical dispensation, etc. Eusebius was a man of too extensive reading to be entirely satisfied with the Christian representations upon this point. And in such indeterminate phrases as κατα τ8ς χρονες (which might mean indifferently the entire three centuries then accomplished from the first promulgation of Christianity, or specifically that narrow punctual limit of the earliest promulgation), it is easy to trace an ambidextrous artifice of compromise between what would satisfy his own brethren, on the one hand, and what, on the other hand, he could hope to defend against the assaults of learned Pagans.

In particular instances it is but candid to acknowledge that the fathers may have been misled by the remarkable tendencies to error amongst the ancients, from their want of public journals, combined with territorial grandeur of empire. The greatest possible defect of harmony arises naturally in this way amongst ancient authors, locally remote from each other; but more especially in the post-christian periods, when reporting any aspects of change, or any

« ForrigeFortsæt »