Page images

pagan Greece or

higher standard than were those of Rome. The obscenities compelled among us to lurk in dark places, were perpetrated by them openly and without shame. The homage that public opinion pays to virtue is such that vice is not permitted to stalk abroad. Cæsar during his campaigns committed, without detriment to his reputation, unnatural excesses of gluttony and lust that would have consigned any American general to public infamy.

Chastity is held in public esteem in Christendom; it was religiously prostituted in Pagandom.

Lascivious paintings and statues that would not be tolerated in any public hall, and still less in a Christian church, were dutifully exposed in Pagan temples as an homage to the gods.

Unnatural crimes which are severely punished among us, were rarely prohibited by law in ancient Greece.

The profanation of our Christian temples by acts of lasciviousness is unheard of among us; with the Pagans the temples were favorite haunts of lust.

Lascivious dancing is reprobated by Christian ethics; it formed a part of the religious rites among Pagans.

Lucretia was their highest type of female chastity. Christianity furnishes innumerable examples of women who suffered tortures and death rather than yield to the aggressor.

The augurs and Vestal virgins could publicly witness the most lascivious plays on the stage, and the butchery of the gladiators in the Flavian amphitheatre, without detriment to their sacred calling.

1 Sueton., Cæsar, 49.

Imagine our Christian clergy and consecrated virgins frequenting the ballets and low theatres ! Could they do so without shocking the moral sense of the people and forfeiting all respect in the community ?

It is true, indeed, that the revelations of systematic crime in some Christian communities exhibit a state of moral turpitude hardly surpassed by Rome in the days of Nero. But Paganism was helpless to repair the evil. It had no remedial agencies at its disposal, nor any recuperative power to rise from the slough of sin. Its priests were silent. Its purest philosopher, Seneca, connived at, if he did not participate in, the corruptions of the court, and it sank under the superincumbent weight of its iniquity. The scandals of modern society, on the contrary, are exposed by the press; they are denounced from hundreds of pulpits, and condemned by a healthy public opinion.






The family is the source of society; the wife is the source of the family. If the fountain is not pure, the stream is sure to be foul and muddy. Social life is the reflex of family life.

The history of woman in Pagan countries has been, with rare exceptions, an unbroken record of bondage, oppression, and moral degradation. She had no rights that the husband felt bound to respect. In many of the ancient empires of Asia, notably in Babylon, India and Lydia, the wife was bought, like meat in the shambles, or like slaves in the market-place. Every woman, no matter of what rank, had to submit to be dishonored once in her life by some stranger in the temple of Venus.?

Her life was one of abject misery and unrequited toil. Ministering to-day to the capricious passion of her husband, to-morrow she is exposed to all the



[blocks in formation]



revulsions of feeling that follow the gratification of animal appetites." “ Among the Indians," says Strabo,"wives are purchased from their parents for a price equal to that of two head of cattle. They are treated as mere servants by their husbands, who have the right to scourge them as their caprices may dictate.” 2 To speak to any of the wives of the king of Persia, or even to approach too near her chariot . while on a journey, was punished with death. And it is worthy of remark that the same law obtains in that country even to this day

In Scythia, Tartary, and other countries, the wife who had the misfortune to survive her husband was immolated on his tomb. The same inhuman custom of self-immolation by widows, or Suttee, as it was popularly called, prevailed in India, till it was abolished by the English government in 1847. Previously to that period, several ineffectual attempts had been made to put an end to the practice. The Brahmins denounced the humane efforts of the English government as an unwarrantable interference with their religion. We may form some idea of the frequency of these human sacrifices from the fact that, between 1815 and 1826, 7154 cases of Suttee were officially reported to have occurred in Bengal alone.

Another scourge of woman was polygamy. By its baneful influence, her empire over the domestic kingdom was divided, and her conjugal rights were

1 Lecky, Hist. of European Morals. 3 Herodotus, B. I. 'L. XV., p. 68.

violated. No one can read Herodotus, the Father of History, without being painfully impressed with the loose ideas of marriage prevailing in Asia. Throughout that vast continent polygamy might be said to have been universal. The Zend-Avesta (or law-book of the Persians) prescribed no rule limiting the number of wives for each household. A maiden, remaining unmarried till her eighteenth year, was threatened with the most severe punishment in the life to come. They regarded the strength of the nation as depending more upon the number of children than upon integrity of morals.

The Medes, according to the testimony of Strabo, were compelled by law to have at least seven wives. The Mongols, the Tartars, and the people of the ancient empire of China legally sanctioned community of wives. The same custom prevailed among the Massagetæ, as Herodotus affirms.? Polygamy was regarded as honorable among the ancient Huns and Goths. A man's dignity was estimated by the number of his wives. In no country was the domestic life more grossly dishonored than in Great Britain."

Tacitus represents the domestic life of the Germans in a very favorable light. His honest indignation at the moral corruption of his country-women may have prompted him to embellish the sanctity of marriage among the Germans. He says that, of nearly all barbarous nations, they alone were content

Döllinger, The Gentile and the Jew, I., p. 407.
? B. I., No. 215.
8 Cæsar, Comment., I., v.


« EelmineJätka »