« ForrigeFortsæt »
or where the resistance of inertia was longest, we differ altogether from M. Brouwer in his belief, that the suitors fancied Apollo to have gone distracted. If they ever said so, this must have been merely by way of putting the Oracle on its mettle, and calling forth some plainer —not any essentially differentanswer from the enigmatic god; for there it was that the doubts of the clients settled, and on that it was the practical demurs hinged. Not because even Battus, vexed as he was about his precious eyesight, distrusted the Oracle, but because he felt sure that the Oracle had not spoken out freely; therefore, had he and many others in similar circumstances presumed to delay. A second edition was what they waited for, corrected and enlarged. We have a memorable instance of this policy in the Athenian envoys, who, upon receiving a most ominous doom, but obscurely expressed, from the Delphic Oracle, which politely concluded by saying, "And so get out, you vagabonds, from my temple- don't cumber my decks any longer;' were advised to answer sturdily—"No! — we shall not get out- we mean to sit here forever, until you think proper to give us a more reasonable reply." Upon which spirited rejoinder, the Pythia saw the policy of revising her truly brutal rescript as it had stood originally.
The necessity, indeed, was strong for not acquiescing in the Oracle, until it had become clearer by revision or by casual illustrations, as will be seen even under our next head. This head concerns the case of those who found themselves deceived by the event of any oracular prediction. As usual, there is a Spartan case of this nature. Cleomenes com
plained bitterly that the Oracle of Delphi had deluded him by holding out as a possibility, and under given conditions as a certainty, that he should possess himself of Argos. But the Oracle was justified: there was an inconsiderable place outside the walls of Argos which bore the same name. Most readers will remember the case of Cambyses, who had been assured by a legion of oracles that he should die at Ecbatana. Suffering, therefore, in Syria from a scratch inflicted upon his thigh by his own sabre, whilst angrily sabring a ridiculous quadruped whom the Egyptian priests had put forward as a god, he felt quite at his ease so long as he remembered his vast distance from the mighty capital of Media, to the eastward of the Tigris. The scratch, however, inflamed, for his intemperance had saturated his system with combustible matter; the inflammation spread; the pulse ran high: and he began to feel twinges of alarm. At length mortification commenced but still he trusted to the old prophecy about Ecbatana, when suddenly a horrid discovery was made that the very Syrian village at his own head-quarters was known by the pompous name of Ecbatana. Josephus tells a similar story of some man contemporary with Herod the Great. And we must all remember that case in Shakspeare, where the first king of the red rose, Henry IV., had long fancied his destiny to be that he should meet his death in Jerusalem; which naturally did not quicken his zeal for becoming a crusader. "All time enough," doubtless he used to say; "no hurry at all, gentlemen!" But at length, finding himself pronounced by the doctor ripe for dying, it became
a question whether the prophet were a false prophet, or the doctor a false doctor. However, in such a case, it is something to have a collision of opinions - a prophet against a doctor. But, behold, it soon transpired that there was no collision at all. It was the Jerusalem chamber, occupied by the king as a bed-room, to which the prophet had alluded. Upon which his majesty reconciled himself at once to the ugly necessity at hand
"In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."
The last case that of oracular establishments turning out to be accomplices of thieves-is one which occurred in Egypt on a scale of some extent; and is noticed by Herodotus. This degradation argued great poverty in the particular temples: and it is not at all improbable that, amongst a hundred Grecian Oracles, some, under a similar temptation, would fall into a similar disgrace.
But now, as regards even this lowest extremity of infamy, much more as regards the qualified sort of disrepute attending the three minor cases, one single distinction puts all to rights. The Greeks never confounded the temple, and household of officers attached to the temple service, with the dark functions of the presiding god. In Delphi, besides the Pythia and priests, with their train of subordi nate ministers directly billeted on the temple, there were two orders of men outside, Delphic citizens, one styled Αριςεις, the other styled ̔Οσιοι, -a sort of honorary members, whose duty was probably inter alia, to attach themselves to persons of corresponding rank in the retinues of the envoys or consulting 24
clients, and doubtless to collect from them, in convivial moments, all the secrets or general information which the temple required for satisfactory answers. If they personally went too far in their intrigues or stratagems of decoy, the disgrace no more recoiled on the god, than, in modern times, the vices or crimes of a priest can affect the pure religion at whose altars he officiates.
Meantime, through these outside ministersthough unaffected by their follies or errors as trepanners - the Oracle of Delphi drew that vast and comprehensive information, from every local nook or recess of Greece, which made it in the end a blessing to the land. The great error is, to suppose the majority of cases laid before the Delphic Oracle strictly questions for prophetic functions. Ninetynine in a hundred respected marriages, state-treaties, sales, purchases, founding of towns or colonies, &c., which demanded no faculty whatever of divination, but the nobler faculty (though unpresumptuous) of sagacity, that calculates the natural consequences of human acts, coöperating with elaborate investigation of the local circumstances. If, in any paper on the general civilization of Greece (that great mother of civilization for all the world), we should ever attempt to trace this element of Oracles, it will not be difficult to prove that Delphi discharged the office of a central bureau d'administration, a general dépôt of political information, an organ of universal combination for the counsels of the whole Grecian race. And that which caused the declension of the Oracles was the loss of political independence and autonomy. After Alexander, still more after the Roman con