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to the territory of Jerusalem, produces balm and aromatic herbs, for the same reason that it supplies naphtha, corrosive salt, and sulphur.
It is said that petrifaction takes place in this desart with astonishing rapidity; and this, according to some natural philosophers, makes the petrifaction of Lot's wife Edith a very plausible story.
But it is said that this woman, “having looked back, became a pillar of salt.”. This, then, was not a natural petrifaction, operated by asphaltus and salt, but an evident miracle. Flavius Josephus says, that he saw this pillar. * St. Justin and St. Irenæus speak of it as a prodigy, which in their time was still existing.
These testimonies have been looked upon as ridicu. lous fables. It would, however, be very natural for some Jews to amuse themselves with cutting a heap of asphaltus into a rude figure, and calling it Lot's wife. I have seen cisterns of asphaltus, very well made, which
may last a long time. But it must be owned that St. Irenæus goes a little too far when he says, that Lot's wife remained in the country of Sodom no longer in corruptible flesh, but as a permanent statue of salt, her feminine nature still producing the ordinary effects :-" Uxor remansit in Sodomis, jam non caro corruptibilis, sed statua salis semper manens, et per naturalia ea quæ sunt consuetudinis hominis ostendens.”
St. Irenæus does not seem to express himself with all the precision of a good naturalist, when he says, Lot's wife is no longer of corruptible flesh, but still retains her feminine nature.
In the poem of Sodom, attributed to Tertullian, this is expressed with still greater energy
Dicitur et vivens alio sub corpore sexas,
Mirificè solito dispuogere sanguine menses. This was translated by a poet of Henry II.'s time, in his Gaulish style
La femme à Loth, quoique sel devenue, Est femme encor; car elle a sa menstrue.
* Antiq. book iv. cbap. 2.
The land of aromatics was also the land of fables. Into the desarts of Arabia Petræa the ancient mythologists pretend that Myrrha, the grand-daughter of a statue, fled after committing incest with her father, as Lot's daughters did with theirs, and that she was metamorphosed into the tree which bears myrrh. Other profound mythologists assure us, that she fled into Arabia Felix'; and this opinion is as well supported as the other.
Be this as it may, not one of our travellers has yet thought fit to examine the soil of Sodom, with its asphaltus, its salt, its trees and their fruits, to weigh the water of the lake, to analyse it, to ascertain whether bodies of greater specific gravity than common water float upon its surface, and to give us a faithful account of the natural history of the country. Our pilgrims to Jerusalem do not care to go and make these researches: this desart has become infested by wandering Arabs, who range as far as Damascus, and retire into the caverns of the mountains,—the authority of the pacha of Damascus having hitherto been inadequate to repress them. Thus the curious have very little information about anything concerning the Asphaltic Lake.
As to Sodom, it is a melancholy reflection for the learned that, among so many who may be deemed natives, not one has furnished us with any notion whatever of this capital city.
ASS. We will add a little to the article Ass in the Encyclopedia, concerning Lucian's Ass, which became golden in the hands of Apuleius. The pleasantest part of the adventure, however, is in Lucian ;-that a lady fell in love with this gentleman while he was an ass, but would have nothing more to say to him when he was but a man. These metamorphoses were very common throughout antiquity. Silenus's Ass had spoken; and the learned have thought that he explained himself in Arabic; for he was probably a man turned into an ass by the power of Bacchus, and Bacchus, we know, was an Arab.
Virgil speaks of the transformation of Moeris into a wolf, as a thing of very ordinary occurrence
Sæpe lupum fieri Merim, et se condere silvis.
Oft changed to wolf, he seeks the forest shade. Was this doctrine of metamorphoses derived from the old fables of Egypt, which gave out that the gods had changed themselves into animals, in the war against the giants ?
The Greeks, great imitators and improvers of the Oriental fables, metamorphosed almost all the gods into men or into beasts, to make them succeed the better in their amorous designs. 1. If the gods changed themselves into bulls, horses, swans, doves, &c.; why should not men have undergone the same operation?
Several commentators, forgetting the respect due to the Holy Scriptures, have cited the example of Nebuchadnezzar changed into an ox; but this was a miracle -a divine vengeance—a thing quite out of the course of nature, which ought not to be examined with profane eyes, and cannot become an object of our researches.
Others of the learned, perhaps with equal indiscretion, avail themselves of what is related in the Gospel of the Infancy. An Egyptian maiden, having entered the chamber of some women, saw there a mule with a silken cloth over his back, and an ebony pendant at his neck. These women were in tears, kissing him and giving him to eat. The mule was their own brother. Some sorceresses had deprived him of the human figure: but the Master of Nature soon restored it.
Although this gospel is apocryphal, the very name which it bears prevents us from examining this adventure in detail ; only it may serve to show how much metamorphoses were in vogue almost throughout the earth. The Christians, who composed this gospel, were
undoubtedly honest men. They did not seek to fabricate a romance; they related with simplicity what they had heard. The church, which afterwards rejected this gospel, together with forty-nine others, did not accuse its authors of impiety and prevarication : those obscure individuals addressed the populace in language conformable with the prejudices of the age in which they lived. China was perhaps the only country exempt from these superstitions.
The adventure of the companions of Ulysses, changed into beasts by Circe, was much more ancient than the dogma of the metempsychosis, broached in Greece and Italy by Pythagoras.
On what can the assertion be founded, that there is no universal error which is not the abuse of some truth; that there have been quacks only because there have been true physicians; and that false prodigies have been believed, only because there have been true ones?
Were there any certain testimonies that men had become wolves, oxen, horses, or asses? This universal error had for its principle only the love of the marvellous and the natural inclination to superstition.
One erroneous opinion is enough to fill the whole world with fables. An Indian doctor sees that animals have feeling and memory. He concludes that they have a soul. Men have one likewise. What becomes of the soul of man after death? What becomes of that of the beast? They must go somewhere. They go into the nearest body that is beginning to be formed. The soul of a Brahmin takes up its abode in the body of an elephant, the soul of an ass in that of a little Brahmin. Such is the dogma of the metempsychosis, which was built upon simple deduction.
But it is a wide step from this dogma to that of metamorphoses. We have no longer a soul without a tenement, seeking a lodging; but one body changed into another, the soul remaining as before. Now, we certainly have not in nature any example of such legerdemain.
Let us then enquire into the origin of so extravagant yet so general an opinion. If some father said to his son, sunk in ignorance and filthy debauchery, you are a hog, a horse, or an ass, and afterwards made him do penance with an ass's cap on his head, and some servant-girl of the neighbourhood gave it out that this young man had been turned into an ass as a punishment for his faults, her neighbours would repeat it to other neighbours, and from mouth to mouth this story, with a thousand embellishments, would make the tour of the world. An ambiguous expression would suffice to deceive the whole earth.
Here then let us confess, with Boileau, that ambiguity has been the parent of most of our ridiculous follies. : Add to this the power of magic, which has been acknowledged as indisputable in all nations, and you will no longer be astonished at anything.
One word more on asses. It is said, that in Mesopotamia they are warlike, and that Mervan, the twentyfirst caliph, was surnamed the Ass, for his valoar.
The patriarch Photius relates, in the extract from the Life of Isidorus, that Ammonius had an ass which had a great taste for poetry, and would leave his manger to go and hear verses.
The fable of Midas is better than the tale of Photius.
Machiavel's Golden Ass. Machiavel's Ass is but little known. The dictionaries which speak of it say, that it was a production of his youth : it would seem, however, that he was of mature age; for he speaks in it of the misfortunes which he had formerly and for a long time experienced. The work is a satire on his contemporaries. The author sees a number of Florentines, of whom one is changed into a cat, another into a dragon, a third into a dog that bays the moon, a fourth into à fox who does not suffer himself to be caught: each character is drawn under the name of an animal. The factions of the house of Medicis and their enemies, are doubtless figured therein ; and the key to this comic apocalypse
* See Magic.