Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans (01-03)
Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans
by Franz Cumont
American lectures on the history of religions, series of 1911-1912
New York and London, G. P. Putnam's sons
It is the purpose of these lectures delivered under the auspices of the American Committee for Lectures on the History of Religions, to sum up the results of researches carried on by me for many years in the field of ancient astrology and astral religion. For some facts set forth here in a summary fashion, I can refer the reader interested in the details to a number of special articles published in various periodicals; the proof of other assertions will be given in a larger work that I hope at some future date to publish on this same general theme.
My sincere thanks are due to Mr. J. B. Baker of Oxford who has carried out the task of translating these lectures in so satisfactory a manner; and I am also largely indebted to my friend, Mr. J. G. C. Anderson of Christ Church, who was kind enough to undertake the revision of the manuscript. I also owe some valuable corrections to Prof. Morris Jastrow, Jr., of the University of Pennsylvania, who, as Secretary of the American Committee, may be said to have called this book into existence, and to whom I take pleasure in dedicating the volume, as a mark of recognition of his own researches in the cognate field of Babylonian-Assyrian astrology.
The American Lectures on the History of Religions are delivered under the auspices of the American Committee for Lectures on the History of Religions. This Committee was organised in 1892, for the purpose of instituting "popular courses in the History of Religions, somewhat after the style of the Hibbert Lectures in England, to be delivered by the best scholars of Europe and this country, in various cities, such as Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and others."
The terms of association under which the Committee exists are as follows:
1.--The object of this Association shall be to provide courses of lectures on the history of religions, to be delivered in various cities.
2.--The Association shall be composed of delegates from the institutions agreeing to co-operate, with such additional members as may be chosen by these delegates.
3.--These delegates--one from each institution, with the additional members selected--shall constitute themselves a Council under the name of the "American Committee for Lectures on the History of Religions."
4.--The Council shall elect out of its number a Chairman, a Secretary, and a Treasurer.
5.--All matters of local detail shall be left to the co-operating institution under whose auspices the lectures are to be delivered.
6.--A course of lectures on some religion, or phase of religion, from an historical point of view, or on a subject germane to the study of religions, shall be delivered annually, or at such intervals as may be found practicable, in the different cities represented by this Association.
7.--The Council (a) shall be charged with the selection of the lecturers, (b) shall have charge of the funds, (c) shall assign vii
the time for the lectures in each city, and perform such other functions as may be necessary.
8.--Polemical subjects, as well as polemics in the treatment of subjects, shall be positively excluded.
9.--The lectures shall be delivered in the various cities between the months of September and June.
10.--The copyright of the lectures shall be the property of the Association.
11.--The compensation of the lecturer shall be fixed in each case by the Council.
12.--The lecturer shall be paid in instalments after each course, until he shall have received half of the entire compensation. Of the remaining half, one half shall be paid to him upon delivery of the manuscript, properly prepared for the press, and the second half on the publication of the volume, less a deduction for corrections made by the author in the proofs.
The Committee as now constituted is as follows:
Prof. Crawford H. Toy, Chairman, 7 Lowell St., Cambridge, Mass.; Rev. Dr. John P. Peters, Treasurer, 227 W. 99th St., New York City; Prof. Morris Jastrow, Jr., Secretary, 248 S. 23rd St., Philadelphia, Pa.; President Francis Brown, Union Theological Seminary, New York City; Prof. Richard Gottheil, Columbia University, New York City; Prof. Robert F. Harper, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.; Prof. Paul Haupt, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.; Prof. F. W. Hooper, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences; Prof. E. W. Hopkins, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Prof. Edward Knox Mitchell, Hartford Theological Seminary, Hartford, Conn.; President F. K. Sanders, Washburn College, Topeka, Kan.; Prof. H. P. Smith, Meadville Theological Seminary, Meadville, Pa.
The lecturers in the course of American Lectures on the History of Religions and the titles of their volumes are as follows:
1894-1895--Prof. T. W. Rhys-Davids, Ph.D.--Buddhism.
1896-1897--Prof. Daniel G. Brinton, M.D., LL.D.--Religions of Primitive Peoples.
1897-1898--Rev. Prof. T. K. Cheyne, D.D. Jewish Religious Life after the Exile.
1898-1899--Prof. Karl Budde, D.D.--Religion of Israel to the Exile.
1904-1905--Prof. George Steindorff, Ph.D.--The Religion of the Ancient Egyptians.
1905-1906--Prof. George W. Knox, D.D., LL.D.--The Development of Religion in Japan.
1906-1907--Prof. Maurice Bloomfield, Ph.D., LL.D.--The Religion of the Veda.
1907-1908--Prof. A. V. W. Jackson, Ph.D., LL.D.--The Religion of Persia. 1
1909-1910--Prof. Morris Jastrow, Jr., Ph.D.--Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria.
1910-1911--Prof. J. J. M. DeGroot.--The Development of Religion in China.
The lecturer for 1911-1912 was Prof. Franz Cumont of Brussels, recognised as the leading authority on Greek Astrology and Mithraism. From 1892 until his resignation in 1910, Prof. Cumont held the Chair of Roman Institutions at the University of Ghent. Since 1899, he has been Curator of the Royal Museums of Antiquities at Brussels. Prof. Cumont's great work on the Mithra Cult was published in 1894-1900, and is the standard work on that subject. This was followed by a smaller summary, Les Mystères de Mithra, of which an English translation, under the title "Mysteries of Mithra," was published in 1903. A series of lectures delivered at the College de France on Les Religions Orientales dans le Paganisme Romain
[paragraph continues] (Paris, 1907; 2nd ed. 1910) has also appeared in an English garb (Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism. Chicago, 1911).
In 1900 and again in 1907, Prof. Cumont conducted archeological explorations in Asia Minor and in Northern Syria, the results of which were embodied in his Studia Pontica (Brussels, 1906) and in a volume of Greek and Latin inscriptions published in 1911.
In 1898, in collaboration with several scholars, M. Cumont undertook a catalogue, with detailed descriptions and copious extracts, of all Greek astrological codices (Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum), of which monumental work, up to the present, ten volumes have appeared. A Bibliography of Prof. Cumont's writings, including numerous articles contributed by him to archeological, historical, and philosophical journals of various countries, was published in 1908 by the Royal Academy of Belgium, of which body M. Cumont has been a member since 1902. He is also a corresponding member of the Institute de France and of the Academies of Berlin, Göttingen, and Munich.
The lectures contained in this volume are a summary in a popular form of extensive researches carried on by Prof. Cumont for many years. They were delivered before the following institutions: The Lowell Institute, Hartford Theological Seminary, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Meadville Theological Seminary, and Columbia University.
JOHN P. PETERS,
ix:1 This course was not published by the Committee, but will form part of Prof. Jackson's volume on the Religion of Persia in the series of "Handbooks on the History of Religions," edited by Prof. Morris Jastrow, Jr., and published by Messrs. Ginn & Company of Boston. Prof. Jastrow's volume is, therefore, the eighth in the series. Prof. De Groot's lectures have not yet been published, but will appear in 1912. Prof. Cumont's volume is, therefore, the ninth in the series.
Ἐκ τῶν οὐρανίων τὰ ἐπίγεια ἤρτηται
PHILO, De Opificio Mundi, c. 40.
After a long period of discredit and neglect, astrology is beginning to force itself once more on the attention of the learned world. In the course of the last few years scholars have devoted to it profound researches and elaborate publications. Greek manuscripts, which had remained a sealed book at a time when the quest for unpublished documents is all the rage, have now been laboriously examined, and the wealth of this literature has exceeded all expectation. On the other hand, the deciphering of the cuneiform tablets has given access to the wellsprings of a learned superstition, which up to modern times has exercised over Asia and Europe a wider dominion than any religion has ever achieved. I trust, therefore, that I am not guilty of undue presumption in venturing to claim your interest for this erroneous belief, so long universally accepted, which exercised an endless influence on the creeds and the ideas of the most diverse peoples, and which for that very reason necessarily demands the attention of historians.
After a duration of a thousand years, the power of astrology broke down when, with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, the progress of astronomy overthrew the false hypothesis upon which its entire structure rested, namely, the geocentric system of the universe. The fact that the earth revolves in space intervened to upset the complicated play of planetary influences, and the silent stars, relegated to the unfathomable depths of the sky, no longer made their prophetic voices audible to mankind. Celestial mechanics and spectrum analysis finally robbed them of their mysterious prestige. Thenceforth in that learned system of divination, which professed to discover from the stars the secret of our destiny, men saw nothing but the most monstrous of all the chimeras begotten of superstition. Under the sway of reason the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries condemned this heresy in the name of scientific orthodoxy. In 1824, Letronne thought it necessary to apologise for discoursing to the Academy of Inscriptions on "absurd dreams" in which he saw "nothing but one of those failings which have done most dishonour to the human mind," 1--as though man's failings were not often more instructive than his triumphs.
But at the end of the nineteenth century the development of history, from various sides, recalled the attention of investigators to ancient astrology. It is an exact science which was superimposed on primitive beliefs, and when classical philology, enlarging its horizon, brought fully within its range of observation the development of the sciences in antiquity, it could not set aside a branch of knowledge, illegitimate, I allow, but indissolubly linked not only with astronomy and meteorology, but also with medicine, botany, ethnography, and physics. If we go back to the earliest stages of every kind of learning, as far as the Alexandrine and even the Babylonian period, we shall find almost everywhere the disturbing influence of these astral "mathematics." This sapling, which shot up among the rank weeds by the side of the tree of knowledge, sprang from the same stock and mingled its branches with it.
But not only is astrology indispensable to the savant who desires to trace the toilsome progress of reason in the pursuit of truth along its doublings and turnings,--which is perhaps the highest mission of history; it also benefited by the interest which was roused in all manifestations of the irrational. This pseudo-science is in reality a creed. Beneath the icy crust of a cold and rigid dogma run the troubled waters of a jumble of worships, derived from an immense antiquity; and as soon as enquiry was directed to the religions of the past, it was attracted to this doctrinal superstition, perhaps the most astonishing that has ever existed. Research ascertained how, after having reigned supreme in Babylonia, it subdued the cults of Syria and of Egypt, and under the Empire,--to mention only the West,--transformed even the ancient paganism of Greece and Rome.
It is not only, however, because it is combined with scientific
theories, nor because it enters into the teaching of pagan mysteries, that astrology forces itself on the meditations of the historian of religions, but for its own sake (and here we touch the heart of the problem), because he is obliged to enquire how and why this alliance, which at first sight seems monstrous, came to be formed between mathematics and superstition. It is no explanation to consider it merely a mental disease. Even then, to speak the truth, this hallucination, the most persistent which has ever haunted the human brain, would still deserve to be studied. If psychology to-day conscientiously applies itself to disorders of the memory and of the will, it cannot fail to interest itself in the ailments of the faculty of belief, and specialists in lunacy will do useful work in dealing with this species of morbid manifestation with the view of settling its etiology and tracing its course. How could this absurd doctrine arise, develop, spread, and force itself on superior intellects for century after century? There, in all its simplicity, is the historical problem which confronts us.
In reality the growth of this body of dogma followed a course not identical with, but parallel, I think, to that of certain other theologies. Its starting-point was faith, faith in certain stellar divinities who exerted an influence on the world. Next, people sought to comprehend the nature of this influence: they believed it to be subject to certain invariable laws, because observation revealed the fact that the heavens were animated by regular movements, and they conceived themselves able to determine its effects in the future with the same certainty as the coming revolutions and conjunctions of the stars. Finally, when a series of theories had been evolved out of that twofold conviction, their original source was forgotten or disregarded. The old belief became a science; its postulates were erected into principles, which were justified by physical and moral reasons, and it was pretended that they rested on experimental data amassed by a long series of observations. By a common process, after believing, people invented reasons for believing,--"fides quaerens intellectum,"--and the intelligence working on the faith reduced it to formula, the logical sequence of which concealed the radical fallacy.
There is something tragic in this ceaseless attempt of man to penetrate the mysteries of the future, in this obstinate struggle of his faculties to lay hold on knowledge which evades his probe, and to satisfy his insatiable desire to foresee his destiny. The birth and evolution of astrology, that desperate error on which the intellectual powers of countless generations were spent, seems like the bitterest of disillusions. By establishing the unchangeable character of the celestial revolutions the Chaldeans imagined that they understood the mechanism of the universe, and had discovered the actual laws of life. The ancient beliefs in the influence of the stars upon the earth were concentrated into dogmas of absolute rigidity. But these dogmas were frequently contradicted by experience, which ought to have confirmed them. Then not daring to doubt the principles on which depended their whole conception of the world, these soothsayer-logicians strove to correct their theories. Unable to bring themselves to deny the influence of the divine stars on the affairs of this world, they invented new methods for the better determination of this influence, they complicated by irrelevant data the problem, of which the solution had proved false, and thus there was piled up little by little in the course of ages a monstrous collection of complicated and often contradictory doctrines, which perplex the reason, and whose audacious unsubstantiality will remain a perpetual subject of astonishment. We should be confounded at the spectacle of the human mind losing itself so long in the maze of these errors, did we not know how medicine, physics, and chemistry have slowly groped their way before becoming experimental sciences, and what prolonged exertions they have had to make in order to free themselves from the tenacious grasp of old superstitions.
Thus various reasons commended to the attention of scholars these old writings of the Greek astrologers so long neglected. They set to work to re-read and to re-publish these repulsive-looking books which had not been reprinted since the sixteenth century. The last edition--and a shockingly bad one--of the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy is dated 1581. Further, a number of unknown authors emerged from obscurity, a crowd of
manuscripts mouldering in the tombs of libraries were restored to light. 1
The profit which can be gained from them is not confined to the science of which they treat and to the adjacent domains, which astrology has more or less penetrated. Their utility is much more varied and general, and it would be difficult to set out in full their manifold applications. 2
I shall not dwell on the interest afforded to the scholar by a series of texts spread over more than fifteen centuries, from the Alexandrine period to the Renaissance. Nor, again, will I attempt to estimate the importance which might be claimed in the political sphere by a doctrine which has often guided the will of kings, and decided their enterprises. Nor can I prove here by examples how the propagation of astrological doctrines reveals unsuspected relations between the oldest civilisations, and leads him who traces it from Alexandria and from Babylon as far as India, China, and Japan, bringing him back again from the Far East to the Far West.
So many questions of such varied interest cannot be considered all at once. We must exercise restraint and confine ourselves to one view of the subject. Our object in this course of lectures shall be limited to showing how oriental astrology and star-worship transformed the beliefs of the Græco-Latin world, what at different periods was the ever-increasing strength of their influence, and by what means they established in the West a sidereal cult, which was the highest phase of ancient paganism. In Greek anthropomorphism the Olympians were merely an idealised reflection of various human personalities. Roman formalism made the worship of the national gods an expression of patriotism, strictly regulated by pontifical and civil law. Babylon was the first to erect the edifice of a cosmic religion, based upon science, which brought human activity and human relations with the astral divinities into the
general harmony of organised nature. This learned theology, by including in its speculations the entire world, was to eliminate the narrower forms of belief, and, by changing the character of ancient idolatry, it was to prepare in many respects the coming of Christianity.
xii:1 "Rêveries absurdes . . . une des faiblesses qui ont le plus déshonoré l’esprit humain."
xv:1 See Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (ten volumes published), Brussels, 1893-1911.
xv:2 See Franz Boll, Zur Erforschung der antiken Astrologie (Neue Jahrbücher f. d. Klass. Altertum), xxi (1903).
Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans
LECTURE I. The Chaldeans
During the period of the French Revolution citizen Dupuis, in three bulky volumes "On the Origin of all Forms of Worship" (1794), developed the idea that the primary source of religion was the spectacle of celestial phenomena and the ascertainment of their correspondence with earthly events, and he undertook to show that the myths of all peoples and all times were nothing but a set of astronomical combinations. According to him, the Egyptians, to whom he assigned the foremost place among "the inventors of religions," had conceived, some twelve or fifteen thousand years before our era, the division of the ecliptic into twelve constellations corresponding to the twelve months; and when the expedition of Bonaparte discovered in the temples of the Nile valley, notably at Denderah, some zodiacs to which a fabulous antiquity was attributed, these extraordinary theories appeared to receive an unexpected confirmation. But the bold mythological fabric reared in the heavens by the savant of the Revolution fell to pieces when Letronne proved that the zodiac of Denderah dated, not from an epoch anterior to the most ancient of the known Pharaohs, but from that of the Roman emperors.
Science in her cycles of hypotheses is liable to repeat herself. An attempt has recently been made to restore to favour the fancies of Dupuis, by renovating them with greater erudition. Only, the mother country of "astral mythology" is to be sought, not on the banks of the Nile, but on those of the Euphrates. The "Pan-Babylonists," as they have been called, maintain that
Behind the literature and cults of Babylon and Assyria, behind the legends and myths, behind the Pantheon and religious beliefs, behind even the writings which appear to be purely historical, lies an astral conception of the universe and of its phenomena, affecting all thoughts, all beliefs, all practices, and penetrating even into the
domain of purely secular intellectual activity, including all branches of science cultivated in antiquity. According to this astral conception, the greater gods were identified with the planets, and the minor ones with the fixed stars. A scheme of correspondences between phenomena in the heavens and occurrences on earth was worked out. The constantly changing appearance of the heavens indicates the ceaseless activity of the gods, and since whatever happened on earth was due to divine powers, this activity represented the preparation for terrestrial phenomena, and more particularly those affecting the fortunes of mankind. . . . Proceeding further, it is claimed that the astral-mythological cult of ancient Babylonia became the prevailing Weltanschauung of the ancient Orient, and that whether we turn to Egypt or to Palestine, to Hittite districts or to Arabia, we shall find these various cultures under the spell of this conception.
[paragraph continues] It furnishes the key to the interpretation of Homer as well as of the Bible. 1 In particular, all the Old Testament should be explained by a series of sidereal myths. The patriarchs are "personifications of the sun or moon," and the traditions of the Sacred Books are "variations of certain 'motifs,' whose real significance is to be found only when they are transferred to phenomena in the heavens."
Such is a wholly impartial summary of the theories professed by the advocates of the Altorientalische Weltanschauung. I borrow it, with slight abbreviation, from an address delivered by Morris Jastrow, Jr., at the Oxford Congress in 1908. 2 Now of this system. it may be said that what is true in it is not new, and what is new is not true. That Babylon was the mother of astronomy, star-worship, and astrology, that thence these sciences and these beliefs spread over the world, is a fact already told us by the ancients, and the course of these lectures will prove it clearly. But the mistake of the Pan-Babylonists, whose wide generalisations rest on the narrowest and flimsiest of bases, lies in the fact that they have transferred to the nebulous origins of history conceptions which were not developed at the beginning but quite at the end of Babylonian civilisation. This
vast theology, founded upon the observation of the stars, which is assumed to have been built up thousands of years before our era,--nay, before the Trojan War,--and to have imposed itself on all still barbarous peoples as the expression of a mysterious wisdom, cannot have been in existence at this remote period, for the simple reason that the data on which it would have been founded, were as yet unknown.
How often, for instance, has the theory of the precession of the equinoxes been brought into the religious cosmology of the East! But what becomes of all these symbolical explanations, if the fact be established that the Orientals never had a suspicion of this famous precession before the genius of Hipparchus discovered it? 1 Just as the dreams of Dupuis vanished when the date of the Egyptian zodiacs was settled, so the Babylonian mirage was dispelled when scholars advanced methodically through the desert of cuneiform inscriptions and determined the date when astronomy began to take shape, as an exact science, in the observatories of Mesopotamia. This new delusion will depart to the realm of dreams to join the idea, so dear to poets of old, of Chaldean shepherds discovering the causes of eclipses while watching their flocks.
When we have to ascertain at what date oriental star-worship effected the transformation of Syrian and Greek paganism, we shall not find it necessary to plunge into the obscurity of the earliest times; we shall be able to study the facts in the full light of history. "An astral theory of the universe is not an outcome of popular thought, but the result of a long process of speculative reasoning carried on in restricted learned circles. Even astrology, which the theory presupposes as a foundation, is not a product of primitive popular fancies but is rather an advanced scientific hypothesis." 2 In this first lecture, then, we shall have to begin by asking ourselves at what date a scientific astronomy and astrology were developed at Babylon, and then proceed to examine how they led to the formation of
a learned theology and gave to Babylonian religion its ultimate character.
Let us consult, the historians of astronomy. The original documents of Chaldean erudition have been deciphered and published during these last twenty years mainly by the industry of Strassmaier and Kugler, 1 and we are able to-day to realise to some extent what knowledge the Babylonians possessed at different periods.
Now here is one first discovery pregnant with consequences: before the eighth century no scientific astronomy was possible owing to the absence of one indispensable condition, namely, the possession of an exact system of chronology. The old calendar already in use about the year 2500, and perhaps earlier, was composed of twelve lunar months. But as twelve lunar periods make only 354 days, a thirteenth month was from time to time inserted to bring the date at which the festivals recurred each year, into harmony with the seasons. It was only little by little that greater precision was attained by observing at what date the heliac rising of certain fixed stars took place. So inaccurate a computation of time allowed of no precise calculations and consequently of no astronomy worthy of the name. In fact, during the first twenty or thirty centuries of Mesopotamian history nothing is found but empirical observations, intended chiefly to indicate omens, and the rudimentary knowledge which these observations display, is hardly in advance of that of the Egyptians, the Chinese, or the Aztecs. These early observers could employ only such methods as do not necessitate the record of periodic phenomena. For instance, the determination of the four cardinal points by means of the rising and setting of the sun, for use in the orientation of temples, was known from the very earliest antiquity.
But by degrees, direct observation of celestial phenomena, intended either to enable soothsayers to make predictions or to fix the calendar, led to the establishment of the fact that certain
of these phenomena recurred at regular intervals, and the attempt was then made to base predictions on the calculation of this recurrence or periodicity. This necessitated a strict chronology, at which the Babylonians did not arrive till the middle of the eighth century B.C.: in 747 they adopted the so-called "era of Nabonassar." This was not a political or religious era, or one signalised by any important event. It merely indicated the moment when, doubtless owing to the establishment of a lunisolar cycle, they kept properly constructed chronological tables. Farther back there was no certainty in regard to the calculation of time. It is from that moment that the records of eclipses begin which Ptolemy used, and which are still sometimes employed by men of science for the purpose of testing their lunar theories. The oldest is dated March 21, 721 B.C. 1
For the period of the Sargonides, who reigned over Nineveh from the year 722, the documents of the famous library of Ashurbanapal, and especially the reports made to these Assyrian kings by the official astrologers, allow us to form a sufficiently clear idea of the state of their astronomical knowledge. They had approximately traced the ecliptic, that is, the line which the sun seems to follow in the sky during its annual course, and they had divided it into four parts corresponding to the four seasons. Without having succeeded in establishing the real zodiac, they attempted at any rate, with the object of testing the calendar, to draw up the list of constellations whose heliac rising corresponded to the various months. From the fixed stars they already distinguished the planets to the number of five; they had traced their course, now forwards now backwards, and determined, at least approximately, the duration of their synodic revolutions,--for instance, one tablet calculates that this duration in the case of Venus is 577.5 days, instead of the actual 584. But as yet they had no idea of their respective distances from the earth, for the order in which the seven principal stars are enumerated in the inscriptions of Nineveh,--the Moon, the Sun, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury, Mars,
[paragraph continues] --has no relation to any astronomical fact. Jupiter, or Marduk, is put at the head of the five planets, because Marduk is the principal god of Babylon. Finally, those priests had not only fixed with remarkable accuracy the duration of the lunar period at a little more than twenty-nine and one half days, but, having ascertained that eclipses occurred with a certain periodicity, they had gone so far as frequently--but not regularly--to predict their recurrence. In their reports to the kings of Nineveh astrologers often prided themselves on the fact that an eclipse which they had foreseen, had occurred. This was their great achievement.
The destruction of Nineveh in the year 606 B.C. did not interrupt the conquests of astronomy. Under Nebuchadnezzar (604-561) Babylon returned to the days of her past glory, and in this ancient sanctuary of science, amid the general prosperity, astronomy received a new impetus, which was not checked by the almost voluntary submission of the old Semitic capital to the kings of Persia in 539. A valuable tablet, dated 523, shows the astonishing advance made since the fall of Assyria. Here for the first time we find the relative positions of the sun and the moon calculated in advance; we find, noted with their precise dates, the conjunctions of the moon with the planets and of the planets with each other, and their situation in the signs of the zodiac, which here appears definitely established,--or, to put it more briefly, the monthly ephemerides of the sun and the moon, the principal phenomena of the planets, and eclipses. All this indicates an intensity of thought and a perseverance in observation of which we have as yet no other example, and F. X. Kugler has therefore very properly regarded this tablet as the oldest known document of the scientific astronomy of the Chaldeans. True science is at length disencumbered of the empirical determinations which had accumulated in the course of many centuries. From that time some fifty documents, now deciphered,--the most recent of which belongs to the year 8 B.C.,--enable us to follow its development under the dominion of the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Parthians until about the commencement of our era. There is noticeable a continual advance and an
increasing improvement in the methods employed, at least up to the end of the second century B.C., to which belong the most perfect examples which we possess. Chronological reckonings are rendered more accurate by the adoption of a lunisolar cycle of nineteen years; the zodiac is definitely established by the substitution for the ancient constellations of variable sizes of a geometrical division of the circle in which the planets move, into twelve equal parts, each subdivided into three portions or decans, equivalent to ten of our degrees. If the Babylonians were not aware of the precession of the equinoxes before the Greeks, at least they discovered the inequality of the seasons, resulting from a variation in the apparent speed of the sun. Above all, they calculated with astonishing accuracy the duration of the various lunar months, and, if they did not fully grasp the data of the problem of solar eclipses, they determined the conditions under which those of the moon took place. Finally,--and this was a still more arduous and complicated problem,--having determined the periods of the sidereal and synodic revolutions of the planets, they constructed perpetual ephemerides giving year by year the variations in the position of these five stars; then in the second century before our era they became so bold as to attempt an a priori calculation of planetary phenomena, such as they had previously worked out for the moon and the sun.
We have been obliged to introduce into this description certain technical details in order to fix exactly the period at which Chaldean science became established. It was not, as we have been asked to believe, in the remote obscurity of the fourth or even the fifth millennium that the mighty fabric of their astronomy was reared. It was during the first millennium that it was laboriously and gradually constructed. From this it follows that in Babylonia and in Greece, the two nations among whom the methodical study of the heavens led to the construction of systems which imposed themselves on the world, the development of these theories was partly contemporaneous. In the sixth century, when Thales is said to have predicted an eclipse, the Greeks began by being disciples of the Orientals, from whom they borrowed the rudiments of their knowledge.
[paragraph continues] But towards the middle of the fifth century they soared aloft on their own wings and soon reached greater heights than their former teachers.
The Babylonians after all had studied astronomy only empirically. By applying to it trigonometry, of which their predecessors were ignorant, the Greeks attained a certainty hitherto unknown, and obtained results previously impossible. But for several centuries the development of the two sciences went on side by side in East and West, and to a large extent independently. It would now be impossible to say to whom amongst the Greeks or the Babylonians belongs the credit of certain discoveries. 1 But it is the peculiar distinction of the Chaldeans that they made religion profit by these new conceptions and based upon them a learned theology. In Greece science always remained laic, in Chaldea it was sacerdotal.
There is every reason for believing that religious origins were much the same among the Babylonians as among other Semitic peoples. Here as elsewhere differentiation comes only with progress. Numerous traces are found of a primitive "animism" which regarded as divinities animals, plants, and stones, as well as wind, rain, and storm, and believed them to have mysterious relations with mankind. Being experts in divination, the Chaldeans devoted themselves from the first to the practice of deriving omens from phenomena and occurrences in which they saw manifestations of the will of that motley host of spirits which filled the universe: movements of the clouds, direction of the wind, thunder and lightning, earthquakes and floods, as well as the birth of monstrous animals, the inspection of the liver, or even the appearance of locusts seemed to be portents favourable or unfavourable to human undertakings. All this was set down in writing and codified by the priests--for, every kind of superstition was codified by these Semites as well as the laws of Hammurabi. But among the countless multitude of gods who peopled the realm of nature, the Babylonians attributed a particularly
powerful influence to the stars. These brilliant objects, which they saw moving unceasingly over the vault of heaven,--conceived as a solid dome quite close to the earth,--inspired them with superstitious fear. Any one who has experienced the impression produced by the splendour of an Eastern night will understand this sense of awe. They believed that in the complicated patterns of the stars, which gleamed in the night, they could recognise fantastic shapes of polymorphous monsters, of strange objects, of sacred animals, of imaginary personages,--some of which still figure on our celestial maps. These formidable powers might be favourable or inimical. In the clearness of their transparent atmosphere the Chaldean priests continually watched their puzzling courses: they saw them appear and disappear, hide themselves under the earth to return at the other extremity of the horizon, rising again to a new life after a transitory death, always victorious over the darkness; they observed them losing themselves in the brilliance of the sun to emerge from it presently, like a young bridegroom entering the bridal chamber to issue forth again in the morning; they followed also the windings of the planets, whose complicated path seemed to aim at throwing off the track an enemy who threatened their course; they were astonished that in eclipses the moon and even the sun himself could grow dim, and they believed that a huge black dragon devoured them or concealed them from view. The sky was thus unceasingly the scene of combats, alliances, and amours, and this marvellous spectacle gave birth to a luxuriant mythology in which there appeared, subject to no law but their own passions, all the heroes of fable, all the animals of creation, all the phantoms of imagination.
Between beings and objects, all alike conceived as living, primitive animism everywhere establishes hidden and unexpected relations, which it is the object of magic to discover and utilise. In particular, the influence which the stars exerted upon our world seemed undeniable. Did not the rising and setting of the sun every day bring heat and cold, as well as light and darkness? Did not the changes of the seasons correspond to a certain state of the sky? What wonder, therefore, that by
induction men arrived at the conclusion that even the lesser stars and their conjunctions had a certain connection with the phenomena of nature and the events of human life. At an early time--and here the Pan-Babylonists are right--arose the idea that the configuration of the sky corresponds to the phenomena of the earth. Everything in sky and earth alike is incessantly changing, and it was thought that there existed a correspondence between the movements of the gods above and the alterations which occurred here below. This is the fundamental idea of astrology. Perhaps in this scheme of coincidences the Babylonians even went so far as to divide the firmament into countries, mountains, and rivers, corresponding to the geography known to them.
Here, as everywhere, the human mind long sought the way of truth in the maze of conjectures and chimeras. But the very delusion which peopled the heavenly abodes with kindly or hostile powers, whose incessant evolutions were a menace or a promise to mankind, urged the Chaldeans to study assiduously their appearances, evolutions, and disappearances. With indefatigable patience they observed them, and noted the most important social or political events which had accompanied or followed such and such an aspect of the heavens, in order to assure themselves that a given coincidence would be regularly repeated. Thus they engraved on their tablets with scrupulous care all the astronomical or meteorological phenomena from which they derived their prognostications: phases of the moon, situation and conjunctions of the planets, eclipses, comets, falls of aerolites, and halos.
The purely empirical and very simple determinations, accompanied by predictions, which have been preserved to us, are naive and almost puerile: even in the time of the Sargonides there is nothing in them which recalls the learned precision of a Greek horoscope. But from this mass of documents, laboriously collected in the archives of the temples, the laws of the movements of the heavenly bodies were disengaged with increasing precision. Primitive man commonly believes that new stars are produced each time they disappear, that the sun dies and is born each day or at least each winter, that the moon is swallowed
up during eclipses, and that another takes its place. To these early ideas, all vestiges of which did not disappear, nay, have not disappeared--we speak still of a "new moon"--there succeeded the discovery that the same stars always traversed the upper spheres with a brightness which increased and diminished by turns. With the irregularity of atmospheric disturbances was necessarily contrasted the regularity of side-real revolutions and occultations. Little by little the priestly astronomers, as we have seen, succeeded in constructing an astronomical calendar and foretelling the return, at a fixed date, of phenomena previously described, and they were able to predict to the astonished crowds the arrival of the eclipses which terrified them. There is nothing surprising in the fact that, as they ascribed to the heaven itself the revelation of this marvellous knowledge, they should have seen in astronomy a divine science.
It is impossible to exaggerate the religious importance which an eminently superstitious people attached to these discoveries. Schiaparelli, a most competent historian of the exact sciences in antiquity, has remarked that "the tendency which dominates the whole Babylonian astronomy is to discover all that is periodic in celestial phenomena, and to reduce it to a numerical expression in such a manner as to be able to predict its repetition in the future." 1 The scientific discoveries which were made from the Assyrian period onwards enabled astrologers, as we have seen, to foresee certain events with an absolute certainty which no other kind of prognostication attained. An endless perspective reaching far into the future was opened to minds astonished at their own audacity. Divination by means of the stars was thus elevated above all other methods which were in contemporary use. It is beyond doubt that the pre-eminence henceforth assigned to astrology was bound to lead to a transformation of the whole of theology. "The science of the observation of the heavens, which had been perfected little by little by the priests, became in their hands a body of astral doctrine, which never lost the flavour of the school, but which
nevertheless permeated the entire Babylonian religion, and at least in part transformed it." 1
The development of the old Babylonian religion bears no relation to astronomical theories. It was rather political circumstances which gave to certain gods in turn the primacy among the multitude of divinities worshipped in the land of Sumer and Accad, and, in accordance with a process which is repeated everywhere, caused the functions of other local powers to be attributed to their all-usurping and all-absorbing personality. When Babylon is the capital of the kings, it is the patron of this city, Marduk, identified with Bel, that occupies the foremost place in the Pantheon; when Nineveh is the seat of empire, it is Ashur. Even the groupings and hierarchies, which most plainly betray the intervention of priestly combination, do not appear to be prompted by astronomical speculations. In the system of triads, which theologians conceived, the primacy was given to Anu, Enlil, and Ea, spirits of Heaven, Earth, and Water; below these they placed Sin, Shamash, or Ramman, and Ishtar, the genii of the Sun and the Moon or the atmosphere and the goddess of the fertility of the earth, identified with the planet Venus. In spite of the presence in this symmetrical arrangement of the two luminaries at all times worshipped in that country, and sometimes of the most brilliant of the stars, it is impossible to see an astral principle in this grouping. Prof. Jastrow, the best judge in these matters, does not hesitate to regard the truly sidereal cult, which grew up at Babylon under the influence of the learned theories developed by the priestly caste, as a new religion. I quote his words: 2
The Star-worship which developed in Babylon and Assyria in connection with the science of the observation of the heavens was at bottom a new religion, the victory of which brought about the decadence of the old popular belief. In point of fact, in the ritual of worship, in ceremonies of incantation and purification, in hymns and prayers, in the chants of ceremonial lamentation, in old festivals, in honour of the gods of nature, just as in hepatoscopy (or
examination of the livers of victims) and in the other kinds of divination, which were maintained up to the end of the Babylonian empire, popular ideas always survived. The priests would have been careful not to destroy or imperil the dominion which they exercised over the multitude by changing the forms of worship in the direction of the new religion. But astral doctrines could not, for all that, fail to make their influence felt little by little as a dissolvent force.
The new doctrines were reconciled or combined after a fashion with the old creeds by placing the abode of the gods in the stars, or by identifying them with the latter. By a logical and fully justified development of primitive belief, which attributed to the sun and moon a powerful effect upon the earth, a preponderating influence over the determination of destiny had also been assigned to the five planets, which like the former traversed the constellations of the zodiac. These were therefore identified with the principal figures of the Assyrio-Babylonian pantheon. In accordance with the rank which was assigned to them and in accordance also with the brightness, colour, or duration of the revolution of the stars, relations were established between stars and gods. To Marduk, the foremost of the latter, was assigned Jupiter, whose golden light burns most steadily in the sky, Venus fell to Ishtar, Saturn to Ninib, Mercury to Nebo, Mars, by reason of its blood-red colour, to Nergal, patron of war. As for the fixed stars, singly or grouped in constellations, they were correlated with the less important lords, heroes, or genii. This was no impediment to regarding Ishtar, for instance, always as the goddess of the fertility of the earth, and worshipping her as such. Thus, as in the paganism of the Roman period, divinities assumed a double character, the one traditional and based on ancient beliefs, the other adventitious and inspired by learned theories.
The origin of this religious evolution goes back far into the past, but we are not able at the present day to mark the stages of its development and to assign dates to them. Perhaps it will be possible some day to follow the progress of Babylonian astronomy in the cuneiform tablets, and to show how an ever-widening conception of the heavens little by little transformed the modes of belief. Doubtless the theories of astronomers never
completely eliminated the naive tales which tradition related about the divine stars; here, as elsewhere, the enquiry into physical causes failed to get rid of mythical survivals, and the doctrines of oriental cosmographers continued to be encumbered with absurd notions. In order to be convinced on this point it is sufficient to glance at the astronomic curiosities of the Book of Enoch, which as late as the first century before our era echoes the old Chaldean doctrines.
It may be regarded as proved that this astral religion succeeded in establishing itself in the sixth century B.C., during the period of the short-lived glory of the second Babylonian empire, and after its fall, when new ideas derived from East and West were introduced, first by the Persians and afterwards by the Greeks, into the valley of the Euphrates. 1 If, as we shall show, 2 the Platonic dialogue, the Epinomis, is inspired by this religion, it had already formulated some of its chief dogmas before the fourth century. The essential characteristics of its theology are known to us, not from native texts, but from the information supplied by Western writers on "Chaldean" beliefs. The word Χαλδαῖος, Chaldaeus, bore amongst the ancients very different meanings from time to time. These terms designated first of all the inhabitants of Chaldea, that is, lower Mesopotamia, and next the members of the Babylonian priesthood. Thus at the period of the Achamenid kings, in the official processions of Babylon, there walked first the magi, as Quintus Curtius states, 3 that is to say the Persian priests established in the conquered capital, then the Chaldaei, that is the native sacerdotal body. Later the epithet Χαλδαῖος was applied as a title of honour to the Greeks who had studied in the Babylonian schools and proclaimed themselves disciples of the Babylonians; finally it served to denote all those charlatans who professed to foretell the future according to the stars. The variations in meaning of this ethnical term, which ultimately became, like the term magi, a professional designation, have produced in turn an immense exaggeration of the antiquity,
or an undue depreciation of the worth, of the data furnished us by Diodorus Siculus, 1 Philo of Alexandria, and other writers on the religious and cosmic system of the "Chaldeans." These pieces of information, as might be expected, are of value only for the period immediately preceding these authors. They apply to those conceptions which were current among the priests of Mesopotamia under the Seleucids at the moment when the Greeks entered into continuous relations with them. Some of these conceptions are certainly very much older, and go back to ancient sacerdotal traditions. Diodorus contrasts the unity of the doctrines of the hereditary caste of the Chaldeans with the divergent views of the Greek philosophers on the most essential principles; but it is possible that the speculative mind of the Greeks had contributed to the clear formulation of these ancient beliefs and to the co-ordination of the dogmas of this religion, as it had done also in the case of astrology, which is a part of that religion.
The following are the broad lines of this theology.
From the leading fact established by them, namely, the invariability of the sidereal revolutions, the Chaldeans had naturally been led to the idea of a Necessity, superior to the gods themselves, since it commanded their movements; and this Necessity, which ruled the gods, was bound, a fortiori, to hold sway over mankind. The conception of a fatality linked with the regular movements of the heavens originated at Babylon, but this universal determinism was not there carried to its ultimate logical consequences. A sovereign providence had, it is true, by an irrevocable decree regulated the harmony of the world. But certain disturbances in the heavens, irregular occurrences such as appearances of comets or showers of falling stars, sufficed to maintain the belief in the exceptional operation of a divine will interfering arbitrarily in the order of nature. Priests foretold the future according to the stars, but by purifications, sacrifices, and incantations they professed to
drive away evils, and to secure more certainly the promised blessings. This was a necessary concession to popular beliefs which the very maintenance of the cult demanded. But under normal conditions, as experience proved, the divine stars were subject to an inflexible law, which made it possible to calculate Beforehand all that they would bring to pass.
In oriental civilisations, which are priestly civilisations, the intimate union of learning and belief everywhere characterises the development of religious thought. But nowhere does this alliance appear more extraordinary than at Babylon, where we see a practical polytheism of a rather gross character combined with the application of the exact sciences, and the gods of heaven subjected to the laws of mathematics. This strange association is to us almost incomprehensible, but it must be remembered that at Babylon a number was a very different thing from a figure. Just as in ancient times and, above all, in Egypt, the name had a magic power, and ceremonial words formed an irresistible incantation, so here the number possesses an active force, the number is a symbol, and its properties are sacred attributes. Astrology is only a branch of mathematics, which the heavens have revealed to mankind by their periodic movements.
From their, main discovery, that of the invariability of astronomical laws, the Chaldeans had deduced another important conclusion, namely, the eternity of the world. The world was not born in the beginning, it will not be subject to destruction in the future; a divine providence has from the out-set ordered it as it shall be for ever. The stars, in fact, perform their revolutions according to ever invariable cycles of years, which, as experience proves, succeed each other to infinity. Each of these cosmic cycles will be the exact reproduction of those which have preceded it, for when the stars resume the same position, they are bound to act in precisely the same manner as before. The life of the universe, then, was conceived as forming a series of vast periods, which the most probable estimate fixed at 432,000 years. As early as the beginning of the third century before our era, Berosus, a priest of Bel, expounded to the Greeks the theory of the eternal return of
things, which Nietzsche prided himself on having discovered.
In the same way as it regarded numbers as sacred, this religion of astronomers defied Time, the course of which was bound up with the revolutions of the heavens. At regular intervals it brought back the moon, the sun, the stars to their starting-point, and as it seemed to govern their movements, it was naturally regarded as a divine power. It was the heavenly bodies that by their regular movements taught man to divide into successive sections the unbroken chain of moments. Each of the periods marked in the unending flight of time shared the divinity of the stars, particularly the Seasons. In their worship old festivals of nature were combined with ideas derived from astrology.
Babylonian theology had never entirely broken with the primitive veneration with which Semitic tribes regarded all the mysterious forces surrounding man. In the time of Hammurabi the supreme triad was composed, as we have said, of the gods of Heaven, Earth, and Water. Sidereal theology had systematised this very ancient cult of the powers of nature by connecting them with astronomical theories. A vast pantheism had inherited and codified the ideas of ancient animism. The eternal world is wholly divine, either because it is itself God, or because it is conceived as containing within it a divine soul which pervades all things. The great reproach which Philo the Jew casts upon the Chaldeans is precisely this, that they worship the creation instead of the Creator.
This world is worshipped in its entirety, and worship is paid also to its various parts: first of all, to Heaven, not only in virtue of a reminiscence of the old Babylonian religion, which gave the foremost place in the Pantheon to Anu, but also because it is the abode of the higher powers. Among the stars the most important were conceived to be the moon and the sun,--for it is in this order that they were placed,--then the five planets, which were, as we have seen, dedicated to, or identified with, the principal divinities of mythology. To them was given the name of Interpreters, because, being endowed with a particular movement, not possessed by the fixed stars, which are
subject to a motion of their own, they above all others make manifest to man the purposes of the gods. But worship was also bestowed on all the constellations of the firmament, as the revealers of the will of Heaven, and in particular on the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the thirty-six decans, which were called the Counsellor Gods; then, outside the zodiac, on twenty-four stars, twelve in the northern, and twelve in the southern hemisphere, which, being sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, became the Judges of the living and the dead. All these heavenly bodies, whose variable movements and activities had been observed from the remotest times, announced not only hurricanes, rains, and scorching heats, but the good or evil fortune of countries, nations, kings, and even of mere individuals.
The domain of the divine god did not end at the zone of the moon, which is the nearest to us. The Chaldeans also worshipped, as beneficent or formidable powers, the Earth, whether fruitful or barren, the Ocean and the Waters that fertilise or devastate, the Winds which blow from the four points of the horizon, Fire which warms and devours. They confounded with the stars under the generic name of Elements (στοιχεῖα) these primordial forces, which give rise to the phenomena of nature. The system which recognises only four elements, prime sources of all things, is a creation of the Greeks.
If all the movements of the heavens inevitably have their reactions upon the earth, it is, above all, the destiny of man that depends upon them. The Chaldeans admitted, it appears, that the principle of life, which warms and animates the human body, was of the same essence as the fires of heaven. From these the soul received its qualities at birth, and at that moment the stars determined its fate here below. 1 Intelligence was divine, and allowed the soul to enter into relations with the gods above. By contemplating the stars the faithful received from them the revelation of all knowledge as well as all prescience. The priestly astrologers were always to some extent visionaries, who regarded as inspirations from on high all the ideas which sprang up in their own minds. Doubtless they had already conceived the idea that after death pious souls re-ascend
to the divine stars, whence they came, and in this celestial abode obtain a glorious immortality. 1
To sum up, at the moment when the Greeks conquered Mesopotamia under Alexander, they found above a deep substratum of mythology a learned theology, founded on patient astronomical observations, which professed to reveal the nature of the world regarded as divine, the secrets of the future, and the destinies of man. In our next lecture we shall attempt to show what influence the Babylonian religion in contact with Hellenism exerted and underwent in turn, and how it was combined with the Stoic philosophy.
4:1 See e.g. Fries, Studien zur Odyssee (Mitt. Vorderasiat. Gesellschaft), 1910.
4:2 Transactions of the Third International Congress for the History of Religions. Oxford, 1908, i, p. 234; cf. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens and Assyriens, ii (1910), p. 432.
5:2 Jastrow, l.c., p. 236.--Since this lecture was written, an excellent paper on this subject has been published by Carl Bezold, Astronomie, Himmelschau and Astrallehre bei den Babyloniern (Sitzungsb. Akad. Heidelberg, 1911, Abh. No. 2).
6:1 F. X. Kugler, S. J., Die Babylonische Mondrechnung, 1900, and Sternkunde and Sterndienst in Babel, 1907--1909 (in progress). A clear and able resume of Kugler's researches has been given by Schiaparelli; see below, p. 13.
7:1 One of these eclipses is noted both in Ptolemy's Almagest and in a cuneiform tablet, see Boll, in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyclopädie, s. v. "Finsternisse," col. 2354.
13:1 Schiaparelli, I Primordi ed i Progressi dell’ Astronomia presso i Babilonesi (Extr. of "Scientia," Rivista di Scienza, iii), Bologna, 1908, p. 22.
14:1 Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens and Assyriens, ii, p. 432.
14:2 Jastrow, op. cit., ii, p. 455.
16:1 Jastrow, l.c.
16:3 Quint. Curtius, v, 1, 22.
17:1 Diodor. Sic., ii, 29--31; Philo, De Migr. Abrah., 32; Quis Rerum div. Heres sit, 20 etc.
21:1 See below, Lecture VI.
LECTURE II. Babylon and Greece
The relations of Greek philosophy with oriental theologies form a subject of vast extent, which has long been discussed. In this lecture we do not pretend to solve these problems or even to cover the whole ground which they embrace. Our interest is confined to one particular point, namely, when and how Semitic star-worship came to modify the ancient beliefs of the Hellenes.
Every sidereal cult, properly so called, was originally foreign to the Greeks as to the Romans--a fact which undoubtedly proves that the common ancestors of the Italians and the Hellenes dwelt in a northern land, where the stars were frequently concealed by fogs or obscured by clouds. For them nearly all the constellations remained a nameless and chaotic mass, and the planets were not distinguished from the other stars. Even the sun and the moon, although they were regarded as divinities, like all the powers of nature, occupied but a very secondary place in the Greek religion. Selene does not appear to have obtained anywhere an organised cult, and in the few places where Helios had temples, as for instance in the island of Rhodes, a foreign origin may reasonably be suspected.
Aristophanes characterises the difference between the religion of the Greeks and that of the barbarians by observing that the latter sacrifice to the Sun and the Moon, the former to personal divinities like Hermes. The pre-Hellenic populations very probably shared the worship of "the barbarians" of whom Aristophanes speaks, and survivals are found in popular customs and beliefs. Perhaps, also, certain distant reminiscences of the original naturalism of the Aryan tribes led the common people to regard the stars as living beings. It was a shock to popular belief when Anaxagoras maintained that they were merely bodies in a state of incandescence. But although the piety of the multitude was full of reverence for the great celestial
luminaries, rulers of the day and of the night, the cities did not build temples to them. The cult of these cosmic powers had been eliminated by anthropomorphism.
From the days of Homer the gods are no longer physical agents, but moral--or, if you like, immoral--beings. Resembling men in their passions, they are their superiors in power alone; the close resemblance of their feelings to those of their devotees leads them to mingle intimately in the earthly life of the latter; inspired by a like patriotism they take part with the opposing hosts in the strifes of the cities, of which they are the official protectors; they are the protagonists in all the causes which are espoused by their worshippers. These immortal beings, whose image has been impressed upon the world by an aristocratic epic, are but faintly distinguished from the warrior heroes who worship them, save by the radiance of eternal youth. And sculptors, by investing them with a sovereign grace and a serene majesty, enabled them to elevate and ravish the souls of men by the mere sight of their imperishable beauty. The whole spirit of the Hellenic religion, profoundly human, ideally æsthetic, as poets and artists had fashioned it, was opposed to the deification of celestial bodies, far-off powers, devoid of feeling and of plastic form.
But though the prevalent worship and the city cults turned from the stars to venerate the august company of Olympians, though Apollo in the guise of a radiant youth eclipses the material brilliance of Helios, yet we find that the philosophers assign a place of honour to these same luminaries in their pantheon. Their systems, from the days of the Ionian physicists, revive and justify the old naturalistic beliefs, which were never entirely eradicated from the popular creed. Already in the eyes of Pythagoras the heavenly bodies are divine, moved by the ethereal soul which informs the universe and is akin to man's own soul. Plato accuses Anaxagoras of favouring atheism by his daring assertion that the sun is merely an incandescent mass and the moon an earth. Below the supreme eternal Being, who unites in himself every perfection, Plato would have us recognise the stars as "visible gods," which He animates with his own life, and which manifest his power. To the reformer's
mind these celestial gods are infinitely superior to those of the popular religion. This conception of the great idealist, to whom the theology of the ancient and even that of the modern world owes more than to any other thinker, was to be developed by his successors, and in their hands astronomy became almost a sacred science. With no less pious zeal, Plato's rival, Aristotle, defends the dogma of the divinity of the stars: in them, as in the First Cause itself, he sees eternal substances, principles of movement, and therefore divine; and this doctrine, which thus forms an integral part of his metaphysic, was to disseminate itself throughout the ages and throughout the world, wherever the authority of the Master was recognised.
In deifying the celestial bodies, these philosophers may have been influenced by the desire of recommending to the veneration of their disciples beings more pure than those whom mythology represented as the sorry heroes of ridiculous or indecent legends, and to whom fable attributed all sorts of mischievous and shameful deeds. The polemics of the early rationalists had discredited these absurd or odious myths, and the deification of the stars, while saving polytheism, which was practically indestructible, suppressed anthropomorphism, which Xenophanes had already attacked so resolutely. The new sidereal theology has all the appearance of a compromise between popular beliefs and pure monotheism.
The philosophers may also have been led to this view, I readily grant, by the logical development of their own thought: the unceasing movement of these enormous masses showed that they were living beings, and the eternal immutability of their orbits proved that a superior reason directed their everlasting course. The admirable harmony of their relations, the inevitable, as well as the perennial, regularity of their revolutions implied the presence of a divine essence in them.
All this is quite true: practical motives and theoretical reasons may have simultaneously influenced these thinkers. But nevertheless it is impossible to doubt that in their attempts at the reformation of religion they were also inspired by the example which was set by the nations of the Orient. The
[paragraph continues] Greeks, who owed the fundamental axioms of their uranography to the Babylonians, would not fail to be struck also by the lofty character of a star-worship which had become scientific. The elements of their sidereal theology were, in all probability, derived from external sources together with the rudiments of their astronomy.
Here we touch a question which is very extensive and still very obscure, in spite of the interminable discussions which it has provoked,--or perhaps by reason of these impassioned discussions. The history of the intellectual development of the ancient world offers perhaps no more fundamental problem than that of the influence which Babylonian science exercised on Greece.
Recently, as we have observed, a certain school of Assyriologists has curiously exaggerated the extent of this influence, and the excesses of the "Pan-Babylonists" have provoked a well-founded distrust of those fanciful views which see in Chaldea the mother of all wisdom. But the reality of Hellenic borrowings from Semitic sources remains none the less indisputable. At a distant date Hellas received from the far East a duodecimal or sexagesimal system of measurement, both of time and of objects. The habit of reckoning in terms of twelve hours which we still use to-day, is due to the fact that the Ionians borrowed from the Orientals this method of dividing the day. Besides the acquaintance with early instruments, such as the sun-dial, 1 they owed to the observatories of Mesopotamia the fundamental data of their celestial topography: the ecliptic, the signs of the zodiac, and the majority of the planets. To this first influx of positive knowledge corresponds a first introduction into the Greek systems of the mystic ideas which Orientals attached to them. I will not lay stress on the doubtful traditions which make Pythagoras a disciple of the Chaldeans, but it has proved possible to demonstrate that his system of numbers and geometrical figures, designed to represent certain gods, is in accordance with astrological theories. The dodecagon bears the name of Jupiter because this planet traverses the circle of
the zodiac in twelve years, that is to say, each year it traverses an arc terminated by the angles of the polygon which is inscribed in that circle.
But these first scientific and religious importations are assigned to a period when, as we know, the commercial cities of Ionia threw open their gates to Asiatic influences. It is more important to collect the traces of these Chaldean infiltrations after the Persian wars when Greek thought had achieved its autonomy. Certain facts recently brought to light indicate that the relations, direct or indirect, between the centres of Babylonian learning and of Greek culture, were never at any time entirely broken off. 1
It is known that Meton passes as the inventor of a cycle of nineteen years (enneakaidekaëteris) which would establish a periodic agreement between the old lunar year and the solar revolutions, and which replaced the ancient octaëteris, or cycle of eight years, up to that time in use. The Golden Number 2 of our calendars still reminds us how, according to the tradition, this discovery, communicated to the Athenians in the year 432, excited their admiration to such a degree that they caused the calculations of Meton to be engraved in golden characters in the Agora. All this is, however, a fable. Since an octaëteris is proved to have been in use at Babylonia, by documents of the sixth century, and an enneakaidekaëteris by inscriptions of the fourth century, and this latter may well be much older, it seems difficult to believe that Meton was not prompted by the example which the Orientals set him. This is the more probable because he would appear to have had some superficial acquaintance with astrology, if we may believe that, at the moment of the departure of the fleet for Sicily, his science revealed to
him the disaster which awaited that expedition. It is true that it is always possible to maintain that the Babylonians and the Greeks arrived independently at the same conclusions, or even to go so far as to assert that the former were the imitators of the latter.
But here is a more convincing argument. When the Greeks learned to recognise the five planets known in antiquity, they gave them names derived from their character. Venus, whose brightness Homer had already celebrated, was called "Herald of the Dawn" (Ἑωσφόρος) or "Herald of Light" (Φωσφόρος) or on the other hand "Vespertine" (Ἕσπερος), according as she was considered as the star of the morning or that of the evening (the identity of these two being not yet recognised). Mercury was named the "Twinkling Star" (Στίλβων), Mars, because of his red colour, the "Fiery Star" (Πυρόεις), Jupiter the "Luminous Star" (Φαέθων), Saturn the "Brilliant Star" (Φαίνων), or perhaps, taking the word in another sense, the "Indicator." Now, after the fourth century other titles are found to supersede these ancient names, which are gradually ousted from use. The planets become the stars of Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares, Zeus, Kronos, (Ἑρμοῦ, Ἀφροδίτης, κτλ. ἀστήρ). Now this seems due to the fact that in Babylonia these same planets were dedicated respectively to Nebo, Ishtar, Nergal, Marduk, and Ninib. In accordance with the usual procedure of the ancients, the Greeks substituted for these barbarous divinities those of their own deities who bore some resemblance to them. Clearly exotic ideas, the ideas of Semitic star-worship, have come in here, for the ancient mythology of Hellas did not put the stars under the patronage of the Olympians nor establish any connection between them. Thus the names of the planets which we employ to-day, are an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of a Babylonian nomenclature.
Perhaps some doubt might still remain, if we did not see at the same time some very peculiar beliefs of the sidereal religion of Babylon creeping into the doctrines of the philosophers. It is a well-known fact that this religion formed a triad, Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar. To the god of the Moon, regarded as
the most powerful of the three, and to the Sun had been added Venus, the most brilliant of the planets. These are the three great rulers of the zodiac, and their symbols,--crescents, discs, containing a star of four or six points--appear on the top of the boundary pillars (kudurru) from the fourteenth century B.C. Now the same association is found in an extract from Democritus, where the Sun, the Moon, and Venus are distinguished from the other planets. 1 The echo of the same theory extended even to the Romans. Pliny, in a passage which owes its erudition to some Chaldean author of the Hellenistic period, 2 remarks that Venus is "the rival of the Sun and the Moon," and he adds that "alone among the stars she shines with such brilliance that her rays cast a shadow,"--a statement which would be absurd in the climate of Rome, but which is strictly correct under the clear sky of Syria.
Another instance of borrowing is still more obvious. To Babylonian astrologers Saturn is the "planet of the Sun," he is the "Sun of the night," 3 that is to say, according to a system of substitutions, of which there are many examples, Saturn could take in astrological combinations the place of the star of day when the latter had disappeared. Diodorus was well aware of this fact. When explaining (II, 30) that the Chaldeans designate the planets as "the Interpreters" (ἑρμηνεῖς), because by their course they reveal to men the will of the gods, he adds: "the star which the Greeks name Kronos they call the 'star of the Sun,' because it is the most prominent, and gives the most numerous and most important predictions."
Now in the Epinomis of Plato,--it matters little in this connection whether this be a work of the Master himself in his old age, or whether it was composed by his pupil, Philip of Opus, who after copying the Laws may have added this appendix,--there is an allusion to this peculiar doctrine. In the enumeration of the planets which is there made it is stated that the slowest of them all bears according to some people
the name of Helios. 1 Moreover, the fact that the writer was acquainted with oriental theories comes out no less clearly from certain expressions of which he makes use in this passage, than from the very object which he has in view. He dreamed of a reconciliation between the cult of Apollo of Delphi, and that of the sidereal gods which the piety of Syria and Egypt had taught to the Greeks. According to him it behoved the Greeks to perfect this worship of the stars, recently introduced into their country, as they had perfected everything which they had received from the barbarians. These phrases, in which Hellenic pride is clearly revealed, while at the same time there slips in a confession of dependence on the foreigner, are highly characteristic. Their whole significance is apparent now that a typical detail has revealed to us what the author's astronomical learning owes to the Chaldeans. Hereafter perhaps it will be proper to attach some importance to a note preserved in a papyrus of Herculaneum, 2 and due, it seems, to this very Philip of Opus to whom the composition of the Epinomis is attributed. It would appear that Plato in his old age received a "Chaldean" guest, who was able to instruct him in the discoveries made by his compatriots.
It seems to me to be beyond doubt that the influence of oriental star-worship upon the Epinomis was much more extensive than has hitherto been admitted. It is not from the Pythagoreans that the author borrows, but, as he himself says, from the Syrians. We find set forth or indicated in this brief dialogue the fundamental doctrines, of which we have already seen some expressly attributed to the Chaldeans, while others we shall find developed in the stellar theology of the Roman period.
These doctrines are the idea that science in general is a gift of the gods, and that mathematics in particular were revealed to men by Uranus, considered as a deity, who caused them to be understood by his periodical phenomena; the demonstration
that, whatever may be the opinion of the vulgar, the stars are animated and divine, and that between these celestial divinities and the earth a hierarchically organised army of airy spirits acts as intermediary; the declaration that the most perfect of the sciences is astronomy, which has become a theology. Man, the author says, attracted by the beauty of the visible world, does not merely conceive the desire of knowing all that his nature allows him to apprehend, he rises to a fervent contemplation of the wondrous spectacle of harmonious movements, which surpass all choruses in majesty and magnificence. This study, in short, is inseparable from virtue; this wisdom secures supreme happiness, and it has as its reward in the next world a life of bliss like that which the pious astronomer has led on earth, but more perfect, a life in which he will be entirely absorbed in the contemplation of celestial splendours, and will attain to supreme felicity.
Truly the Epinomis is that which it professes to be: the first gospel preached to Hellenes of the stellar religion of Asia. The ideas which are here set forth will not cease to influence the Platonic school. Thus Xenocrates, to whom astronomy is a sacred science, will develop demonology, and we shall see how an eclectic, Posidonius, will expand and exalt these same conceptions.
But, it will be said, if the Greeks thus bowed to the supremacy of the sidereal theology of the Chaldeans, how was it that astrology was not introduced among them? For from the sixth to the fourth century the whole marvellous development of their philosophy shows that it knows nothing of cosmic fatalism and stellar divination. Speaking generally, this assertion is correct, although certain traces of these speculations are found, as we have seen, in works of the early Pythagoreans, and recently a Chaldean doctrine has been successfully employed to explain a passage of Pindar. 1 Now, about the period when Philip of Opus published or wrote the Epinomis, another pupil
of Plato, the astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidos, declared: "No credence should be given to the Chaldeans, who predict and mark out the life of every man according to the day of his nativity." 1 Certain modern philologists--who doubtless look upon Greek history as a kind of experiment in a closed vessel, which a providence anxious to exclude every disturbing element conducted for the fullest instruction of the savants of the future--certain philologists, I say, have doubted whether Eudoxus in the fourth century could really have known and condemned oriental genethlialogy. But like Eudoxus, Theophrastus, a little later, spoke of it in his treatise on "Celestial Signs": he regarded with surprise the claim of the Chaldeans to be able to predict from these signs the. life and death of individuals, and not merely general phenomena, such as good or bad weather. 2
The insatiable curiosity of the Greeks, then, did not ignore astrology, but their sober genius rejected its hazardous doctrines, and their keen critical sense was able to distinguish the scientific data observed by the Babylonians from the erroneous conclusions which they derived from them. It is to their everlasting honour that, amid the tangle of precise observations and superstitious fancies which made up the priestly lore of the East, they discovered and utilised the serious elements, while neglecting the rubbish.
As long as Greece remained Greece, stellar divination gained no hold on the Greek mind, and all attempts to substitute an astronomic theology for their immoral but charming idolatry were destined to certain failure. The efforts of philosophers to impose on their countrymen the worship of "the great visible gods," as Plato terms them, recoiled before the might of a tradition supported by the prestige of art and literature. It was a purely intellectual movement which remained, as it would seem, without serious practical result. It changed neither popular nor official worship. The populace continued to pray "κατὰ τὰ πάτρια," after the fashion of their ancestors, to old
protectors of family and city, and the formulary of the old-fashioned liturgies remained unchanged in spite of all the objections which the science of the reformers could raise against it.
But after the conquests of Alexander a great change took place. The ancient ideal of the Greek republic gave way to the conception of universal monarchy. Thenceforth municipal cults disappeared before an international religion. The worship of the stars, common to all the peoples, was strengthened by everything that weakened the particularism of cities. In proportion as the idea of "humanity" spread, men were the more ready to reserve their homage for those celestial powers which extended their blessings to all mankind, and princes who proclaimed themselves the rulers of the world, could not be protected save by cosmopolitan gods.
Thus it was that thinkers agreed more and more in reserving the foremost place for the sidereal deities. Zeno and his disciples proclaimed their might still more clearly than the schools of Plato and Aristotle. Since stoic pantheism represented Reason, which governs all things, as residing in ethereal Fire, the stars in which the supreme Fire manifested itself with the greatest force and brilliance, would necessarily be invested with the loftiest divine qualities. In the same way the prodigious success attained by the doctrine of Euhemerus contributed to the exaltation of their power. This doctrine, we know, regarded the divinities of fable as superior mortals, to whom after death the gratitude or admiration of the multitude had accorded worship. In thus attributing to the Olympians of old no longer merely human form but also human nature, it left to the eternal and incorruptible stars alone the dignity of original gods, and exalted them in proportion as it lowered their rivals of bygone days.
Thus the political condition of the world, just as the tendencies of theology, drew Hellenism towards star-worship. But the interpenetration of the Orient and Greece which took place in this period, hastened this religious evolution in a remarkable
manner. The Stoa, as we shall see, was freely accessible to barbaric influences, and Euhemerus, we are told, drew his inspiration from Egyptian theologoumena. But the decisive agency was the contact which was established in the Seleucid Empire between Hellenic culture and Babylonian civilisation.
The Chaldeans, whom the policy of the kings of Antioch strove to conciliate, entered into close relations with the learned men who came to Asia in the train of their conquerors, and they even proceeded to carry their precepts throughout the land of Greece. A priest of Bel, Berosus, established himself about the year 280 in the island of Cos, and there revealed to his sceptical hearers the contents of the cuneiform writings accumulated in the archives of his country, annals of the ancient kings and astrological treatises. Another Chaldean, Soudines, invited to the court of Attalus I, king of Pergamus, practised there, about the year 238, the methods of divination in vogue in his native land, such as inspection of the liver (ἡπατοσκοπία), and he continued to be an authority frequently quoted by the later "mathematici." On the other hand, Greek savants of repute, Epigenes of Byzantium, Apollonius of Myndus, Artemidorus of Parium, declared themselves the disciples of these same Chaldeans, and boasted of being instructed in their priestly schools. At the same time centres of Greek science were established in the heart of Mesopotamia, and in the ancient observatories of Bel learners were initiated into the methods and discoveries of the astronomers of Alexandria or Athens. Under the Seleucids and the early Arsacids Babylon was a hellenised city, as is proved by the epigraphical discoveries which have been made there. Of this interpenetration of oriental and occidental learning we can to-day quote some striking proofs. So it has quite recently been shown that a series of prognostications derived from earthquakes, thunderstrokes, or the course of the moon were literally translated from Assyrian texts into the Greek Brontologia and Selenodromia. 1 But though the reality of the relation between the two sciences and pseudo-sciences
is uncontested and incontestable, there remains the difficulty of deciding in each case which of the two influenced the other.
Thus it has been maintained that the ancient Babylonians were already acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes, 1 but an examination of cuneiform tablets reveals the very important fact that they were ignorant of it at least up to about the end of the second century B.C. The credit of this discovery clearly belongs, therefore, to Hipparchus of Nicæa (about 161--126) as tradition asserts, and it is to him that the observatories of Mesopotamia owed the knowledge of it. But conversely, thanks to the recent publication of astrological treatises, it is possible to show that certain discoveries hitherto attributed to Hipparchus owe their origin in reality to some genuine Chaldeans. In one exceptional case we can detect a borrowing in the very act and indicate the intermediary who effected the transfer. Perhaps, then, some details will not be deemed superfluous here. 2
The part of astronomy in which Babylonians pushed their investigators furthest was probably the determination of the course of the moon, which enabled them to predict the periodic return of eclipses. Undoubtedly this was one of the most ancient studies to which the people of that country directed their energies. Sin, the Moon-god, was in their eyes a more considerable divinity than the Sun, Shamash, himself. Before the duration of the year was known, the phases of the moon served to measure time, and to fix the dates of sacred calendars; moreover, the star of night allowed herself to be observed by the naked eye better than any other, and it was possible to follow almost continuously her winding course in the heavens. The experience, extending over thousands of years, of this priesthood of astrologers, had led them little by little to construct tables,
which had attained a high degree of precision at the moment when, under Alexander, the Greeks entered into direct relations with them. The remains of these tables have been deciphered and interpreted by F. X. Kugler, and, astonishing to relate, they have revealed to him a mistake which was introduced into, and, perpetuated in, the calculations of modern astronomers. The old notations of the Chaldeans have allowed a correction of the canons of Oppoizer! About the year 200 before our era these learned priests had succeeded in determining in advance not only the dates of the phases and eclipses of the moon, but also the principal phenomena of the five planets. 1 Although in general inclined to depreciate the value of Babylonian science, in opposition to those who have unduly exaggerated it, this most authoritative modern interpreter of it marvels at the aspect of these great tables with their numerous columns regularly arranged, of which the figures dovetail into each other like the cogwheels of a machine, and the arrangement of which is expounded in explanatory notes. "One does not know," he cries, "which to admire the more: the extraordinary accuracy of the periods which is implied by the drawing up of each of the columns of figures, or the ingenuity with which these old masters contrived to combine all the factors to be considered." Even before the cuneiform inscriptions had been deciphered, historians admitted that the Chaldeans had deduced from their empirical observations, amassed from generation to generation, a theory of the motions of the moon which influenced the development of Greek doctrines. Further, an evident proof of this is supplied by the fact that in the Almagest Ptolemy 2 quotes, after Hipparchus, the eclipses of the years 621, 523, 502, 491, 383 B.C., observed at Babylon, and the first of these has been found noted in an Assyrian text. How absolutely the astronomer of Nicæa relied on his oriental predecessors can be ascertained to-day from some figures. Ptolemy attributed to Hipparchus an extremely exact calculation of the lunar periods; but it has been possible to demonstrate that the duration which he assigns to the various
months is precisely that which is laid down in the cuneiform tablets, namely:
43' 14 "
5' 35.8" 1
Clearly the priority of discovery belongs to the Orientals, as well as that of the inequality of the length of the seasons, of which they were perfectly aware.
But how did these data and these doctrines pass from the banks of the Euphrates to the Greek cities? Who was the intermediary between Hipparchus and the priests of Babylon? Documents recently published have revealed his name. Strabo, speaking of the schools of astronomers called "Chaldean," which existed in various towns of Mesopotamia, adds: 2 "Mathematicians frequently mention several of them, as Kidenas, Nabourianos, and Soudines." According to Pliny 3 the same Kidenas had recognised that Mercury is never more than 23° from the sun. This Kidenas was probably contemporary with Soudines, who lived in the second half of the third century before Christ.
Now the astrologer, Vettius Valens, 4 who wrote under the Antonines, tells us that he attempted to make for himself a canon of the sun and the moon for the purpose of determining eclipses, but, as time failed him, "he resolved to make use of Hipparchus for the sun, and Soudines, Kidenas and Apollonius for the moon . . . putting in their proper places the equinoxes and solstices at the eighth degree of the signs of the zodiac." Further, a passage in an anonymous commentary on Ptolemy 5 represents Kidenas as the inventor of an ecliptic period of 251
lunations (synodic months) and 269 anomalistic revolutions, the authorship of which was usually attributed to Hipparchus. It appears from this treatise that Hipparchus did not adopt simultaneously, as was believed, two ecliptic periods, one large, of 4267 lunations and 4573 anomalistic revolutions, and one small, one seventeenth of the former, consisting of 251 lunations and 269 anomalistic revolutions, but that he borrowed this latter from Kidenas and appears merely to have multiplied it by 17 in order to make it correspond to a nearly exact number of years, say 4612 sidereal revolutions (345 years) minus 7½°.
Now on a lunar table engraved in the second century in cuneiform characters on 18 columns, a masterpiece of accuracy, can be read the signature Ki-din-nu, and though ordinary scribes add their father's name, Ki-din-nu is without any addition: he is the astronomer whom every one knew.
Schiaparelli had already suspected the identity of this personage with the Kidenas of the Greeks. Kugler has definitely proved it, 1 for the equivalence of 251 synodic and 269 anomalistic months, which Ptolemy's commentator attributes to him, is found precisely stated in this table of Kidinnu, and further the same table places the equinoxes and the solstices at the 8th degree of the signs of the zodiac, as did Valens, who quotes the canons of Kidenas. To Hipparchus, on the contrary, the commencement of spring is the 0° of the Ram, but the Roman calendars usually adopted the 8th degree in conformity with the ancient usage of Babylon.
Kidenas or Kidinnu, then, belongs to that group of hellenised Chaldeans of whom Berosus is the most illustrious representative, and who in the third century before our era devoted themselves to the task of rendering accessible to the Greeks the treasures of knowledge which were contained in the cuneiform documents amassed in the libraries of their native land. On these traditional data he based the hypothesis of a new ecliptic period more correct than that of his Chaldean predecessors, which was employed by Hipparchus and afterwards by Ptolemy. The very quotations which are made from his works by Western writers prove that he had them translated into
[paragraph continues] Greek and that he thus enriched Hellenic astronomy with these lunar canons, to which the observations taken at Babylon, extending over a long period of centuries, had given an admirable precision.
Thus we see critical researches gradually determining the extent of the debt which Greece owes to Babylon, and substituting palpable realities for the huge and shadowy phantoms which wandered in the pre-historic twilight. The influence of the old oriental civilisation was not exercised solely on the domain of science, but also of literature. Prof. Diels of Berlin has recently pointed out 1 how the often satirical tales, in which trees and plants appear, belong to a class of fables popularised in Assyria before they were repeated by Callimachus in his Iambics and by the successors of Æsop. Further, the recent discovery of an Aramaic manuscript of the fifth century at Elephantine has enabled us to show how the romance of Akichar passed from the banks of the Euphrates to the Jewish communities of Palestine and Egypt (to which it furnished the motive of the book of Tobit) and reached Greece, where Theophrastus adopted it and immortalised the wise Akicharos. But above all, Babylon was to the men of old the mother of astronomy, as of star-worship. It is in this department more than all others that it is possible to show how the Greeks profited from the learned theories which had been formulated, and from the positive data which had been slowly accumulated by these ancient priests of Mesopotamia
Longa per assiduam complexi saecula curam. 2
The constructive logic of the Greeks, combining with the patient labours of the indigenous race, produced in those days on the banks of the Euphrates an intellectual movement, too little known, which would perhaps have attained to the glory of Alexandrine science, if it had not been lamentably arrested in the latter half of the second century by the ravages of the
[paragraph continues] Parthian invasion and the sack of Babylon. The Chaldeans themselves, emancipated from tradition, discussed freely the principles of the universe, and of the rival sects, which then sprang up at Borsippa, Orchoe, and elsewhere, some went so far as to reject as mendacious the very astrology which had been elaborated by their ancestors. 1 The most remarkable representative of this rationalistic movement is Seleucus of Seleucia, who may be either a Greek emigrant or a hellenised native. Giving up the firmament of primitive cosmogonies, he opened the infinite spaces of a limitless universe to the courses of the stars. Recurring to a bold hypothesis of Aristarchus of Samos, and advancing new arguments in its support, he showed that the sun is the centre of the world, and that the earth has a double motion, revolving round the sun and spinning on its own axis; at the same time he offered a better explanation than any one had previously propounded of the movement of the tides, which no doubt he had observed in the Persian Gulf, by referring them to the phases of the moon. Copernicus, who by the formulation of his heliocentric theory produced "the greatest revolution in the history of knowledge," seems to have been ignorant even of the name of his distant forerunner.
But the scientific rationalism of this Galileo of antiquity was destined to be condemned. It was opposed by the force of a thousand-year-old tradition, the anxious superstition of the mob, the haughty convictions and temporal interests of a powerful sacerdotal caste. The future belonged to a compromise, which, while respecting those ancient beliefs to which the majority of mankind was invincibly attached, would satisfy the demands of a more comprehensive intelligence. This conciliatory formula was discovered by stoicism. Everywhere it devoted itself to the task of justifying popular worships, sacred narratives, and ritual observances. In Greece, it was able without much difficulty to come to terms with cults more formalistic than doctrinal, more civic than moral, in which no authority demanded assent to definite dogmas. A system of accommodating allegories could readily put on gods or myths a physical, ethical, or psychological interpretation, which
reconciled them with the cosmology or ethics of the Porch. In the East, where more theological religions always implied a more definite conception of the world, the task appeared much less easy. Yet certain profound affinities reconciled stoicism with Chaldean doctrines. Whether these did or did not contribute to the development of the ideas of Zeno, they offer a singular analogy to his pantheism, which represented ethereal Fire as the primordial principle and regarded the stars as the purest manifestation of its power. Stoicism conceived the world as a great organism, the "sympathetic" forces of which acted and re-acted necessarily upon one another, and was bound in consequence to attribute a predominating influence to the celestial bodies, the greatest and the most powerful of all in nature, and its Εἱμαρμένη or Destiny, connected with the infinite succession of causes, readily agreed also with the determinism of the Chaldeans, founded, as it was, upon the regularity of the sidereal movements. Thus it was that this philosophy made remarkable conquests not only in Syria but as far as Mesopotamia. I recall only the fact that one of the masters of the Porch, the successor of Zeno of Tarsus at Athens, was Diogenes of Babylon (circa 240-150) and that, later on, another distinguished Stoic, Archidemus, founded a famous school at Babylon itself (second century B.C.). We know too little of their theories to determine what place was held in them by the beliefs of the country of their origin or of their adoption. We only perceive the result of this movement of ideas which was to lead to the entry of astrology and star-worship into the philosophy of Zeno. For us the person who almost alone represents this fusion of East and West is Posidonius of Apamea, of whom we shall speak in our next lecture, 1 but the preparations for this fusion were undoubtedly made by his predecessors. It is remarkable that the great astronomer, Hipparchus, whose scientific theories, as we have just seen, are directly influenced by Chaldean learning, was also a convinced supporter of one of the leading doctrines of stellar religion. "Hipparchus," says Pliny, 2 "will never receive all
the praise he deserves, since no one has better established the relationship between man and the stars, or shown more clearly that our souls are particles of heavenly fire." In this passage we see affirmed as early as the second century before our era a conception, the development of which we follow in the sidereal mysticism of the Roman period. 1
Hipparchus saw the ruin of the country where was born that science which he illumined. Invaded by the Parthians about the year 140 B.C., recaptured by Antiochus VII of Syria in 130, reconquered soon afterwards by King Phraates, Mesopotamia was terribly ravaged for more than a quarter of a century. Babylon, sacked and burned in 125, never recovered her former splendour: a progressive decay brought on her a death by slow consumption. The new Iranian princes evinced no solicitude for the culture of Semitic priests. The vast brick-built temples, when the hand of the restorer was withdrawn, crumbled into dust, one by one were extinguished the lights of a civilisation which extended backwards for forty centuries, and of the famous cities of Sumer and Accad there survived little but the name. The last astronomical tablet in cuneiform characters with which we are acquainted, is dated 8 B.C., and Strabo, 2 speaking of Babylon about the same period, applies to it a verse from a comic poet: "a mighty desert--such is the mighty town."
Henceforth it is far from their native land, in Syria, in Egypt, and in the West, that we must follow the development of the religious ideas derived from the Chaldea of antiquity.
25:1 Γνώμων, Herod., ii, 109.
26:1 Kugler, Im Bannkreis Babels, 1910, p. 116 ss. See for other proofs my paper, Babylon and die Griechische Astrologie (Neue Jahrb. f. das klass. Altertum, xxvii), (1911), 1 ss.
26:2 The "Golden Number" of the ecclesiastical calendar indicates the number of any year in the cycle of nineteen years which brings round the phases of the moon at the same dates. The dates of these phases in any year are thus the same as in other years which have the same "Golden Number."
28:1 Diels, Doxographi Graeci, p. 344, 16 = Fragm. der Vorsokratiker, p. 366, 22.
28:2 Plin., Nat. Hist., ii, 36.
28:3 Jastrow, Revue d’Assyriologie, vii, 1910, ss. p. 163
29:1 As a matter of fact, certain copyists, not understanding the meaning of this identification, have inserted as a correction "of Kronos," but the reading of the best manuscripts is Ἡλίου not Κρόνου, as has been observed by Bidez, Rev. de Philol., xxix (1905), p. 319.
29:2 Academicorum Phil. Ind. Hercul., ed. Mekler, p. 13, col. iii, 36.
30:1 Franz Boll, Neue Jahrb. für das klass. Altertum, xxi (1908), p. 119.
31:1 Cic., De Div., ii, 42, 87.
33:1 Bezold and Boll, Reflexe astrol. Keilinschriften bei Griechischen Schriftstellern (Abhandl. Akad. Heidelberg), 1911.
34:2 See my paper Babylon und die Griech. Astron., p. 6 ss., where the texts are fully given.
35:1 See above, Lecture I, p. 9.
35:2 Ptol., Syntax., v, 14; iv, 8, 11.
36:1 The durations calculated by modern astronomers are:
36:2 Strab., xvi, 1, 6, p. 639 C.
36:3 Plin., Nat. Hist., 39.
36:4 Vett. Val., Anthol., ix, p. 353, 22, ed. Kroll.
36:5 Published, Cat. Codd. Astr. VIII, part ii, p. 125.
37:1 Kugler, Im Bannkreis Babels, 1910, p. 122.
38:1 Diels, Orientalische Fabeln im Griechischen Gewande (Internation. Wochenschrift f. Wiss., 6 Aug., 1910).
38:2 Manil., i, 54.
39:1 Strab., xvi, 1, 6.
40:2 Plin., Nat. Hist., ii, 26, 95.
41:1 See below, Lecture V.
41:2 Strab., xvi, t, 5: Ἑρημία μεγάλη ᾽στιν ἠ Μεγάλη πόλις.
LECTURE III. The Dissemination in the West
We have seen the "Pan-Babylonist" mist, which obscured the historical horizon, vanish before the breath of criticism. It is not the fact that thousands of years before our era the Chaldeans constructed a learned and profound cosmology, which established its authority over all surrounding peoples. But their share in the intellectual and religious development of antiquity remains none the less most considerable. They are the creators of chronology and astronomy. They contrived to enlarge their theology progressively in order to keep it in harmony with their new conception of the world, and their astrology was regarded as the method of divination par excellence. Their conquests in the realm of science won such prestige for their beliefs that they spread from the Far East to the Far West, and even now their sway has not been wholly overthrown. In mysterious ways they penetrated as far as India, China, and Indo-China, where divination by means of the stars is still practised at the present day, and reached perhaps even the primitive centres of American civilisation. In the opposite direction they spread to Syria, to Egypt, and over the whole Roman world, where their influence was to prevail up to the fall of paganism and lasted through the Middle Ages up to the dawn of modern times. It is this dissemination throughout the West that we shall rapidly describe in this lecture.
The exchange of religious ideas between the two rival empires of the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile undoubtedly goes back, like their political relations, to a very remote antiquity. In the fifteenth century before our era, at the moment when--as the Tell-el-Amarna tablets show--Babylonian was the diplomatic language of the whole East, and
[paragraph continues] Egypt extended its empire or its suzerainty over the principalities of Canaan and Syria, we find Amenophis IV ordaining the exclusive worship of the Sun as lord of heaven and earth, protector of his person and of his subjects of every nationality. It is possible that this theological Pharaoh was led by the influence of Semitic star-worship to impose his attempt at reform upon the Egyptian clergy. Many other proofs might be advanced to show that the beliefs and even the cults of the Syrians found their way into the state of the Pharaohs. But the religious ideas with which we are particularly concerned here were late in being introduced. Astrology was unknown in ancient Egypt: it was not until the Persian period, about the sixth century, that it began to be cultivated there. The ascendancy which it then acquired, succeeded in breaking down the haughty reserve of the proudest and most exclusive people in the world, and a conservative clergy was compelled to admit to its ranks calculators of hours and makers of horoscopes (ὡρολόγοι, ὡροσκόποι) devoted to the study of Chaldean science. The history of this dissemination confirms what we said both about the late date of this religious development in Babylonia and about the irresistible prestige which the brilliant discoveries of astronomy conferred upon it from the Assyrian period onwards. This foreign religion was gradually naturalised in Egypt: the huge zodiacs, which decorated the walls of the temples, show how sacerdotal teaching succeeded in grafting the learned doctrines of the Chaldeans on native beliefs and in giving them an original development. National pride even ended by convincing itself that all this religious erudition was purely indigenous. About the year 150 B.C. there were composed in Greek--undoubtedly at Alexandria--the mystic treatises attributed to the fabulous king Nechepso and his confidant, the priest Petosiris, which became as it were the sacred books of the growing faith in the power of the stars. These apocryphal works of a mythical antiquity were to acquire incredible authority in the Roman world.
The god Tôt (Thoth), the Hermes Trismegistus of the Greeks, became in Egypt the revealer of the wisdom of horoscopers, as of all other kinds of wisdom. But it was a difficult task to
reconcile astrology with national beliefs, as Hermetism sought to do. For, astrology was not only a method of divination: it implied, as we have said, a religious conception of the world, and it was inseparably combined with Greek philosophy. Thus the Hermetic books comprise not merely treatises on learned superstition: it is a complete theology that the gods teach to the faithful in a series of what may be called apocalypses. This recondite literature, often contradictory, was apparently developed between 50 B.C. and A.D. 150. It has a considerable importance in relation to the diffusion throughout the Roman Empire of certain doctrines of sidereal religion moulded to suit Egyptian ideas. But it had only a secondary influence. It is not at Alexandria that this form of paganism was either produced or chiefly developed, but among the neighbouring Semitic peoples.
Syria, lying as it does nearer than Egypt to Babylon and Nineveh, was more vividly illumined by the radiance of those great centres of culture. The ascendancy of an erudite clergy who ruled there, was extended at an early date over all surrounding countries, eastwards over Persia, northwards over Cappadocia. But nowhere was it so readily accepted as among the Syrians, who were united with the Oriental Semites by community of language and blood.
The very names Σύριοι, "Syrian," and Ἀσσύριοι, "Assyrian," are originally identical, and for a long time the Greeks made no distinction between them. The plains of Mesopotamia and Cœle-Syria, inhabited by kindred races, extended across frontiers which are not marked out by nature, and, despite all political vicissitudes, relations between the great temples situated east and west of the Euphrates continued without interruption.
It is difficult to fix the date at which the influence of the "Chaldeans" began to be felt in Syria, but it is certainly not later than the period when the dominion of the Sargonides was extended as far as the Mediterranean, that is to say, the eighth century B.C.; and without admitting, with the Pan-Babylonists, that the stories of Genesis are merely astral myths, we may regard it as indisputable that before the Exile (597 B.C.) Israel
received from Babylon, along with some astronomical knowledge, certain beliefs connected with star-worship and astrology. We know that idolatry was repeatedly introduced into Zion. Thus king Manasseh caused the chariot of Shamash, the Sun-god, to be accepted there; he dared to set the "Queen of the Heavens" by the side of Iahweh. After the Exile, spiritual relations were continuous between Judaism and the great religious metropolis which had subjugated it. As late as the first century B.C., the author of the Book of Enoch, in his pretended revelations, is obviously inspired by Babylonian cosmology and legends.
If Israel, which repulsed all forms of polytheism with such inflexible determination, nevertheless yielded temporarily to the prestige of star-worship, how much more effectively must this cult have established its sway over Semitic tribes which had remained pagan? Under its influence they are seen to adopt new divinities: Bel of Babylon was worshipped all over northern Syria. The ancient divinities also were grouped anew: At Hierapolis, as at Heliopolis and Emesa, a new member was added to the original pair, Baal and Baalat, husband and wife, in order to form one of those triads of which Chaldean theology was fond. But this theology profoundly modified, above all, the conception of the higher powers reverenced by these pastoral or agricultural tribes. Side by side with their proper nature, it gave to these gods a second personality, which became none the less prominent because it was borrowed, and sidereal myths came to be interlined, as it were, with agrarian myths and soon obliterated them. From being lords of a clan and a narrow district, the Baals were promoted to the dignity of universal gods. The old spirit of storm and thunder, Baal Shammin, who dwelt in the sky, becomes the Most High (Ύ᾽ψιστος), the eternal regulator of cosmic movements. 1 The naturalistic and primitive worship which these peoples paid to the Sun, the Moon, and certain stars such as Venus, was systematised by a doctrine which constituted the Sun--identified with the Baals, conceived as supreme gods--the
almighty Lord of the world, thus paving the way in the East for the future transformation of Roman paganism. 1
There can be no doubt that Babylonian doctrines exercised decisive influence on this gradual metamorphosis and this latest phase of Semitic religion. The Seleucid princes of Antioch showed as great deference to the science of the Babylonian clergy as the Persian Achæmenids had done before them. We find Seleucus Nicator consulting these official soothsayers about the propitious hour for founding Seleucia on the Tigris; and, if we may believe Diodorus, 2 these diviners made to Alexander, Antigonus, and numerous other monarchs predictions which were fulfilled to the letter. Antiochus, king of Commagene, who died in 34 B.C., built on a spur of Mount Taurus, commanding a distant view of the Euphrates valley, a sepulchral monument on which, side by side with the images of his ancestral gods, he set the scheme of his nativity figured on a large bas-relief, 3 because his life had realised all the promises of this horoscope. The cities of Syria often stamp on their coins certain signs of the zodiac to mark the fact that they stood under their patronage. If princes and cities thus acknowledged the authority of astrology, we may imagine what was the power of this scientific theology in the temples. We may say that in the Alexandrine age it permeated the whole of Semitic paganism.
But in the empire of the Seleucids alongside of this "Chaldaism," if I may venture to use the term, Hellenism had established itself in a commanding position. Above the old native beliefs the doctrines of Stoicism in particular exercised dominion over men's minds. It has often been observed that the masters of the Stoic school are for the most part Orientals. Zeno himself was born at Kition in the island of Cyprus. Among his successors Chrysippus and others belonged to Tarsus in Cilicia. Diogenes of Babylon, Posidonius of Apamea, Antipater of Tyre--to mention only the leading representatives
of these doctrines--were all Syrians. In a certain sense it may be said that Stoicism was a Semitic philosophy. Given the fact that it was always the first care of this school to reconcile itself with established cults, it is a priori certain that Oriental star-worship did not remain foreign to its system. Had we a more precise knowledge of Asiatic civilisation during the Hellenistic period, we should be able to estimate more exactly what Zeno and, above all, his disciples owed to Chaldean theology and what it owed to them. We have already touched upon this point. 1 As it is, we cannot follow the development of this movement of ideas, which was definitively to introduce astrology together with star-worship into the philosophy of the Stoa. The thinker who is almost the sole representative we have of these syncretic tendencies, despite the fact that they must certainly have shown themselves long before him and abundantly around him, is Posidonius of Apamea.
Of the man himself we know almost nothing. Born at Apamea in the valley of the Orontes about 135 B.C., after long travels in pursuit of his studies, which took him as far as Gades (Cadiz), he settled in the island of Rhodes, whither his teaching attracted large numbers of Greeks and Romans, and he died at the age of eighty-four after an active career which filled the whole of the first half of the first century. Was he a pure Syrian, like Porphyry and Iamblichus in later times, or a descendant of the Macedonian conquerors? Was his mother-tongue Greek or Aramaic? We should like to know, but we are in total ignorance about the surroundings amid which this great man grew up; we know nothing of his society, nothing even of his education, except that he was the pupil of the Stoic Panætius.
But it is clear that this master, who in his time exercised a real intellectual sovereignty, owed it above all to the extent of his knowledge and the largeness of his comprehension. A native of the very heart of Syria, but naturalised as a Rhodian, Posidonius represented in all its fulness the alliance of Semitic tradition with Greek thought. He was the great intermediary and mediator not only between Romans and Hellenes, but
between East and West. Brought up on Plato and Aristotle, he was equally versed in Asiatic astrology and demonology. If he is Greek in the constructive power of his speculative genius, in the harmonious flow of his copious and highly-coloured style, his genius remained Oriental in the singular combination of the most exact science with a fervent mysticism. More of a theologian than a philosopher, in mind more learned than critical, he made all human knowledge conspire to the building up of a great system, the coping of which was enthusiastic adoration of the God who permeates the universal organism. In this vast syncretism all superstitions, popular or sacerdotal, soothsaying, divination, magic, find their place and their justification; but above all it was due to him that astrology entered into a coherent explanation of the world, acceptable to the most enlightened intellects, and that it was solidly based on a general theory of nature, from which it was to remain henceforth inseparable.
The almost total loss of the works of Posidonius prevents us from appreciating, save in an imperfect manner, the persuasive force of his teaching. But the echo of his words resounded far through the Roman dominion, where his authority balanced that of Epicurus. In his school at Rhodes he had long been the master of the masters of the world,--Pompey listened to him, Cicero attended his lectures,--and his influence on the development of later theology was immense in several directions. His pupil, Cicero, has frequent reminiscences of his teaching and translates his ideas into Latin. The symbolism of Philo the Jew is often inspired by his picturesque eloquence. Still later his ideas pass into and spread throughout the Stoic school--we see them, for instance, in the works of Seneca,--and they are echoed in the treatises of the astrologers of the imperial age.
The most striking of the literary productions which he inspired is the Astronomics of the so-called Manilius, a writer of whom we know absolutely nothing, not even his name, which is corrupt in the manuscripts, but who was in his own way a genuine poet: A work of remarkable inspiration, where the
brilliance of the descriptions blooms in the wilderness of a dry "mathematic," where a passionate enthusiasm for the marvels of science makes us forget that this science is false, where lofty intellectual ambitions and an unbounded confidence in the power of reason are combined with a blind and puerile credulity which accepts all predictions derived from the stars,--this work reveals to us better than any other the grandeur of such a system of the world as that conceived by Posidonius and the attraction which was exercised by this learned cosmology, sustained by a mystic faith in astrology, the revealer of the future.
The poem is dedicated to Tiberius, who perhaps suggested its composition, and some have proposed to see in it "the expression of the official religion of the age." 1 Obviously the first Cæsars, even more than the old republican aristocracy, among whom Posidonius counted so many disciples, would be inclined to adopt the ideas of one who broke with the old national particularism, in order to include the worships of all races in one vast synthesis, and appeared to give to the united Empire the formula of the theology of the future. Characteristically enough, Augustus as well as Tiberius had already been converted to astrology, and we shall see how the later princes granted an official protection to sidereal religion.
With the same movement of ideas, which was initiated or represented by Posidonius, was connected the revival of a strange sect, that of the Neo-Pythagoreans, which re-appeared in the East during the first half of the first century before our era. Although by its ideal of religious life it professed to connect itself with the old Pythagorean mysticism, its doctrine owes more to the theories developed by Posidonius, especially in his commentary on the Timaeus, and it borrowed much, either through the medium of the great Syrian or even directly, from Oriental religions. A marked dualism, which contrasts the soul with the body, and, as a consequence, a moral asceticism, a doctrine of the eternity of the universe and of the influence of the stars on the constant changes of the sublunary world, a belief in airy demons who defile and torment mankind, but above all--and this is the central point and the core of its
dogmatic system--a symbolism of numbers, to which is attributed an active force and a mystic power, all these essential features indicate a singularly close connection between Neo-Pythagorism and "Chaldean" theology. It is characteristic that the man who first revived at Rome the old South-Italian philosophy, Nigidius Figulus, the friend of Cicero, displays a curious interest in magic and in occult lore, and an ardent devotion to astrology, and that he was the first to expound in Latin the significance of the "barbaric sphere," that is to say, a series of constellations not recognised by the Greek astronomers but adopted in Oriental uranography. 1
But these groups of cultured theosophists addressed them-selves only to limited circles of "intellectuals." In a general way the new sidereal religion was from the first welcomed by the upper classes: it was cultivated by the aristocracy both of blood and of intellect. If it had continued to be preached only by polytheistic theorists, it would have remained, as in Greece, the exclusive preserve of a few speculative minds. Even the inspiration of a semi-official poet like Manilius would hardly have won for it the favour of the imperial court. And yet it achieved a widespread popularity. Its influence over the masses it did not owe to a literary diffusion, whatever may have been the success of certain romances which were inspired by it, such as the life of Apollonius by Philostratus and, still more, the Ethiopics of Heliodorus. It had in its service other missionaries, whose active propagandism spread it through the mixed populace of the towns as well as among the hosts of slaves who tilled the country estates. These popular propagandists were the clergy and the devotees of Oriental cults.
Towards the commencement of our era, when the peace and unity of the ancient world was assured by the foundation of the Empire, began the development of this great religious movement which little by little was to orientalise Roman paganism. The gods of the nations of the Levant imposed themselves, one after another, on the West. Cybele and Attis were transported
from Phrygia, Isis and Serapis travelled thither from Alexandria. Merchants, soldiers, and slaves brought the Baals of Syria and Mithra, an immigrant from the heart of Persia. We have attempted in another volume to show in what respects each of these foreign cults enriched the creeds of Rome. 1 The point which I desire to emphasise here, is that all of them, no matter what their origin, were influenced in different degrees by astrology and star-worship. These doctrines, as we have seen, grew up among the temples of Syria and Egypt, and transformed the theology of these countries more and more. Originally the mysteries of Isis and Serapis, established under the first Ptolemy, allowed them only a limited place, but in the time of Nero his teacher Chæremon, a priest of Alexandria and a Stoic philosopher, re-discovered in the religion of Egypt the worship of the powers of nature and, in particular, of the stars, and found again in prayer a means of rescuing men from the fatality which the influence of the heavenly bodies imposed upon them. Even in Asia Minor, where the sidereal cult is adventitious and recent, a member of a considerable family of Phrygian prelates is found celebrating in verse the sidereal divination which enabled him to publish far and wide infallible predictions. Attis, the Anatolian deity of vegetation, ended by becoming a solar god, just like Serapis, the Baals, and Mithra. In very early times, even in Mesopotamia, star-worship was imposed upon Persian Mazdaism, which was still a collection of traditions and rites rather than a body of doctrines, and a set of abstruse dogmas came to be super-imposed on the naturalistic myths of the Iranians. The mysteries of Mithra imported into Europe this composite theology, off-spring of the intercourse between Magi and Chaldeans; and the signs of the zodiac, the symbols of the planets, the emblems of the elements, appear time after time on the bas-reliefs, mosaics, and paintings of their subterranean temples. We find one of the members of their clergy proclaimed in his epitaph at Milan studiosus astrologiae. 2 The priests of the Persian god and
those of the so-called "Jupiters" of Syria contributed largely to the triumph of this pseudo-science, which towards the age of the Severi acquired an almost undisputed supremacy even in the Latin world.
Here it no longer presents itself as a learned theory taught by mathematicians, but as a sacred doctrine revealed to the adepts of exotic cults, which have all assumed the form of mysteries. The doctrine which is thus communicated to the initiated in the dim light of temples, undoubtedly remained more sacerdotal than, for instance, the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, a dry didactic treatise which could never have fostered any devotion. Here more room was left for mythology, mysticism, ethics, and superstition. This theology, however, had not escaped the prevailing ascendancy of Greek philosophy, any more than had the ideas of the most learned casters of nativities,--this is a fact which research has succeeded in proving. In reality these mysteries, which professed to be the depositaries of an ancient tradition imported from the Far East, constantly modified their teaching, in order to adapt it to altered times and environments; and if the wisdom which they revealed was always regarded as divine, it nevertheless varied remarkably in the course of ages and admitted ideas entirely foreign to its original content. This was a necessary consequence of the close union of learning and belief which, as we have said, characterises Oriental religions. They were always the expression of a given conception of the world, which determined the relations of heaven and earth and the duties of the faithful towards the gods. Hence they were bound to change in conformity with the evolution of physical or metaphysical ideas. If Greek thought could receive certain impulses or suggestions from the temples of Syria and Egypt, it invaded them in turn as a conqueror: and Stoicism in particular certainly gave to them more than it received from them. The great intellectual movement of which Posidonius was not so much the initiator as the most illustrious representative, undoubtedly combined devotion and philosophy, but it also introduced philosophy into devotion. The learned and mystic system of doctrine, which Manilius and others preached under Tiberius, imposed itself
on all Western paganism in the course of the following centuries; and we may say, making allowance for certain modifications, that this half-scientific, half-religious system, which was established in the Alexandrine period, continued to be the theology of the mysteries up to the time of their disappearance, even after the advent of Neo-Platonism.
As a characteristic production of this medley of ideas may be quoted those Chaldean Oracles, 1 whose origin is still a mystery, but which appear to have been compiled in the second century of our era. In these works of fantastic mysticism, in which the whole Neo-Platonic school saw the revelation of supreme wisdom, ancient beliefs of Semitic star-worship are combined with Hellenic theories. They are to Babylon what the Hermetic literature is to Egypt.
Thus the triumph of Oriental religions was simultaneously the triumph of astral religion, but to secure recognition by all pagan peoples, it needed an official sanction. The influence which it had acquired among the populace, was finally assured when the emperors lent it an interested support. That apotheosis by which from the beginning of the principate deceased princes were raised to the stars, is inspired both in form and spirit by Asiatic doctrines. We have seen that already Augustus and especially Tiberius allowed themselves to be converted to the ideas of the disciples of Posidonius. But they remained hostile to the popular forms of foreign worships, at least in their capital. Their ideal, which was entirely political, is the restoration of the old Roman faith and respect for the purely practical cult of the city. But in proportion as Cæsarism became more and more transformed into absolute monarchy, it tended more and more to lean for support on the Oriental clergy. These priests, loyal to the traditions of the Achæmenids and the Pharaohs, preached doctrines which tended to elevate sovereigns above mankind, and they supplied the emperors with a dogmatic justification of their despotism. For the old
principle of the sovereignty of the people, the original form of Cæsarism, was substituted a reasoned belief in supernatural influences. The emperor is the image of the Sun on earth, like him invincible and eternal (invictus, aeternus), as his official title declares. Already in the eyes of the Babylonians the Sun was the royal planet, and it is he that in Rome continues to give to his chosen ones the virtues of sovereignty, and destines them for the throne from the time of their appearance on earth. He remains in close communion with them, he is their companion (comes) and their congener, for they are united by community of nature. It may be said that they are consubstantial; and in the third century the monarch was worshipped as "god and master by right of birth" (deus et dominus natus), who had descended from heaven by grace of the Sun, and by his grace will reascend thither again after death. The idea that the monarch's soul, at the moment when destiny caused it to descend to this world, received from the Star of the day its sovereign power, led to the inference that he participated in the might of this divinity, and was its representative on earth. Thus it is noticeable that the princes who proclaimed most loudly their autocratic pretensions, a Domitian or a Commodus, were also those who most openly favoured Oriental cults.
These cults attained the zenith of their power when the advent of the Severi brought them the support of a half-Syrian Court. For nearly half a century, from A.D. 193 to 235, the Empire was governed by a family of Emesa, an ancient sacerdotal state, where on the edge of the Syrian desert rose the splendid temple of Elagabalus. Intelligent and ambitious princesses, Julia Domna, Sohæmias, Mæsa, and Mammæa, whose intellectual ascendancy was so considerable, became missionaries of their national religion. Officials of all ranks, senators and officers, rivalled each other in devotion to the gods who protected their sovereigns and were protected by them. You all know the bold proclamation of A.D. 218 which set upon the throne a boy of fourteen years, priest of Elagabalus, whose name he bore. The Greeks named him Heliogabalus in order to recall the solar character of this god. To this barbarous divinity, hitherto rather obscure, he sought to give the primacy
over all the others. Ancient authors relate with indignation how this crowned priest desired to elevate the black stone of his god, a rude idol brought from Emesa, to the rank of sovereign divinity of the Empire, subordinating the entire pantheon of antiquity to Sol Invictus Elagabal, as he is termed in inscriptions. The attempt of Heliogabalus to establish in heaven a kind of solar monotheism corresponding to the monarchy that ruled on earth, was doubtless too violent, tactless, and premature: it miscarried and provoked the assassination of its author.
But it corresponded to the aspirations of the day and it was renewed half a century later, this time with complete success. In 274, Aurelian was inspired with the same idea, when he created a new cult of the "Invincible Sun." Worshipped in a splendid temple, served by pontiffs who were raised to the level of the ancient pontiffs of Rome, celebrated every fourth year by magnificent games, Sol Invictus was definitively promoted to the highest rank in the divine hierarchy and became the official protector of the Sovereigns and of the Empire. The country in which Aurelian discovered the model which he sought to reproduce was Syria, where he had won a decisive victory over the famous queen Zenobia: he placed in his new sanctuary the images of Bel and Helios, which he captured at Palmyra. In establishing this new State cult, Aurelian in reality proclaimed the dethronement of the old Roman idolatry and the accession of Semitic Sun-worship.
With Constantius Chlorus (A.D. 305) there ascended the throne a solar dynasty which, connecting itself with Claudius II Gothicus, a votary of the worship of Apollo, professed to have Sol Invictus as its special protector and ancestor. Even the Christian emperors, Constantine and Constantius, did not altogether forget the pretensions which they could derive from so illustrious a descent, and the last pagan who occupied the throne of the Cæsars, Julian the Apostate, has left us a discourse in which, in the style of a subtle theologian and a fervent devotee, he justifies the adoration of the King Star, of whom he considered himself the spiritual son and heaven-sent champion.
If in conclusion we survey at a glance the whole course of the expansion which we have tried to describe, we shall be struck with the power of this sidereal theology, founded on ancient beliefs of Chaldean astrologers, transformed in the Hellenistic age under the twofold influence of astronomic discoveries and Stoic thought, and promoted, after becoming a pantheistic Sun-worship, to the rank of official religion of the Roman Empire. Preached on the one hand by men of letters and by men of science in centres of culture, diffused on the other hand among the bulk of the people by the servitors of Semitic, Persian or Egyptian gods, it is finally patronised by the emperors, who find in it at once a form of worship suitable for all their subjects and a justification of their autocratic pretensions.
In this way the astrological conception of life and of the world permeated the whole of society, and in particular produced a revolution in the beliefs of the Latin world. Despite all the speculations of metaphysicians, the masses had remained on the whole true to the old idolatry of the Republican period. Oriental theology led to the prevalence of a more lofty idea of God. In the declining days of antiquity the common creed of all pagans came to be a scientific pantheism, in which the infinite power of the divinity that pervaded the universe was revealed by all the elements of nature. In the following lectures we shall have to examine more closely this conception of the world, the theology which was bound up with it, and the moral and eschatological ideas which were derived from it.
45:1 See my Oriental Religions, p. 127 ss.
46:1 See below, Lecture IV, p. 69 sqq.
46:2 Diodorus Sic., ii, 31.
46:3 Humann and Puchstein, Reise in Nord Syrien and Klein Asien, Berlin, 1890, pl. XL.
49:1 Gardthausen, Augustus and seine Zeit, p. 1131.
50:1 See F. Boll, Sphaera, Leipsic, 1903.
51:1 The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, Chicago (Open Court Publishing Company), 1911.
51:2 Corp. Inscr. Lat., v, 5893.
53:1 Λόγια Χαλδαϊκά.