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INFLUENCE OF PAGANISM UPON MORALS.
This and the following chapter treat of the relative influence of Paganism and Christianity upon Morals. In the present chapter, the influence of Paganism, and in the next the influence of Christianity upon Morals, will be considered.
We may form some idea of the moral degradation of the Pagan world when we reflect that they had no heavenly ideal of exalted virtue to follow.
The heathen gods and goddesses were monsters of iniquity. Jupiter and Bacchus, Mars and Mercury, Venus and Circe, were the patrons of some particular passion. Every vice was canonized in the person of some divinity. Lust and drunkenness, violence and theft, had each its respective patron deity. The Pagans had a religious worship; but unlike the Christian worship, it was not intended to exercise, nor did it exercise, any influence on the morals of the people. They had their priests. But what could be expected of a priesthood that offered sacri
1 Lecky, History of European Morals, Vol. I., p. 161.
fice to divinities whose crimes they avowed? The disciples could not be expected to excel their masters; water does not rise above its level. Moreover, moral teaching was not included among the priestly functions. To make man virtuous was no more the business of the priest than of the physician or the tax-gatherer. The priest was a mere state official.
They had festival days, but they were devoted to debauchery and not to moral growth. They had numerous temples, but they were haunts of licentiousness; the voice of exhortation to virtue never resounded within their walls. They offered sacrifices to Mercury from gratitude for his having made known the knavery and artifices of their slaves, and the slaves offered him the first-fruits of their pilferings. On the festivals of Bacchus prizes were given to the deepest drinkers.2 In Greece and Rome the worship of Aphrodite was characterized by shameless impurity and unnatural crimes. Shrines consecrated to Venus were maintained at the expense of notorious courtesans. Ovid advised women to shun the temples of the gods, that they might not be there reminded of the lasciviousness of Jupiter.3
"It is a matter of general notoriety," says Tertullian, "that the temples are the very places where adulteries are arranged, and procuresses pursue their victims between the altars."4 In the chambers of the priests and ministers of the temple impurity was
1 Pausanias, V. 24, I.
2 Döllinger, The Gentile and the Jew, II., 191.
3 Trist. 2.
Apol. C. 15.
committed amid clouds of incense, and this more frequently than in the privileged haunts ofsin.' Prostitution was practised as a religious rite in many countries, notably in Syria, Armenia, Babylonia, and Lydia.
If such scenes were enacted in the temples, we may judge of the obscenities of the theatres. The quarrels of the gods, their adulterous gallantries, their robberies and their deeds of violence, were the favorite themes of the plays. The effects of these exhibitions on the impressible hearts of the spectators are vividly described by Juvenal. These representations were witnessed not only by the masses, but also by the Senate and Consuls, and even by the augurs and Vestal virgins, who had special seats assigned to them.
It should also be borne in mind that these popular amusements were regarded as religious acts, forming a part of the public worship. They were intended to appease the wrath of the gods and to propitiate their favor.
What mimic art presented in the theatre, was reproduced in paintings on the walls of temples and private houses. Art was made the handmaid of vice. At every step the Greek and the Roman were confronted by lascivious portraits of their divinities. Religion became associated with lewdness in the mind of youth, and the impure image was stamped upon the imagination, even before the heart was conscious of the poison it was imbibing.
1 Minutius Octavus, C. 25.
Gentile and Jew, Vol. I., passim.
& Sat. VI., 67.
We need not the pen of a Juvenal or a Tertullian to depict the abomination of Pagan art. A glance at the indecent pictures that have been unearthed from the ruins of Pompeii, reveals a moral depravity which the most prurient imagination can scarcely conceive.
If such were the gods, what must the mortals that worshipped them have been? If such crimes were represented as having been committed in heaven, what infamous deeds must have polluted the earth? If man, by his corrupt nature, has so strong a tendency to glide down the slippery path of vice, what momentum must have been given to his passions by the examples of the gods, of whose excesses he was constantly reminded? "What means," says Seneca, “this appeal to the precedent of the gods, but to inflame our lusts, and to furnish a license and excuse for the corrupt act under shelter of its divine prototype?"
After having feasted their eyes on wanton spectacles in the temples and theatres, the people hastened to the arena to slake their thirst for human blood. The gladiators must show no mercy to their antagonists; the sooner they despatch one another, the more they delight the eager and impatient spectators. As soon as one victim has fallen, a fresh combatant enters the lists, till the amphitheatre runs with human blood. Cæsar once brought six hundred and forty gladiators into the arena. Trajan,
1De Vita Brevi, 16.
2 Suet. Dom., 4.
on one occasion, had ten thousand slaves engaged in mortal combat, and prolonged the spectacle for one hundred and twenty-three days.' At another time, Agrippa caused fourteen hundred men to fight in the amphitheatre of Berytus in Syria. These sanguinary contests extended over the empire; they were witnessed by multitudes of both sexes and every grade of society; they served to stifle all sentiments of compassion and to inflame the most fierce and brutal instincts of the human breast. the special delight of Claudius to watch the countenance of the dying, for he took an artistic pleasure in observing the varying phases of their agony.
The revolting practice of disgorging food by artificial means, in order to gratify the appetite anew, was quite general among the upper classes in Rome. Cicero, in defending King Dejotarus from the charge of having attempted to poison Cæsar while he was his guest, incidentally reminds Cæsar, who was presiding on the bench, of having expressed a wish to dispose of his last meal on a certain occasion. Cicero's remark was not intended as a reproach any more than if he had alluded to Cæsar's having taken a bath or a nap; for he was too dexterous an advocate to irritate the judge.
Juvenal lashes Domitian's gluttony by making the fisherman advise him:
"Haste to unload your stomach and devour
A turbot destined for this happy hour."—(Sat. IV.)
1 Dio Cass. LXVIII., 15.