Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans (04-06)
LECTURE IV. Theology
Posidonius defined man as "the beholder and expounder of heaven." 1 Nature itself--the ancients vied with each other in insisting on this point--destined him to contemplate the sky and to observe its perpetual motions. Other animals bend towards the earth, but man proudly raises his eyes to the stars,--this is an idea which we find repeated time after time. His eye, the marvel of the human body, tiny mirror in which immensity is reflected, gateway of the soul open towards the infinite, follows from here below the distant evolutions of the celestial armies. The old astronomers, who did not use the telescope, marvelled at the power of the eye, and the ancients expressed their astonishment at the range of vision which reached the remotest constellations. They give it the pre-eminence over all the other senses, for the eyes are to them the intermediaries between the sidereal gods and human reason. Struck by the light from on high, the power of sight devotes itself to following the motions of these radiant bodies, which move above us. It ascertains that the course of the sun, which occasions the changes of the seasons, the phases of the moon, the rising and the setting of the fixed stars, even the march of the planets which appear to be wandering stars, are all regulated by immutable laws, and are reproduced in accordance with invariable periods of time. In heaven there are never derangements or errors, there nothing moves without design. Reason, reflecting on the marvellous phenomena which are perceived by the eye, realises that they cannot be due to chance or to the action of a blind force, but recognises that they are ruled by a divine intelligence. The ceaseless harmony of movements so diverse is inconceivable without the intervention of a guiding Providence. The stars themselves prove to us
their divinity so clearly that to fail to see it is to be incapable of seeing anything. Nobody could deny to the heavenly bodies the possession of reason without being himself destitute of it: that at least is the opinion of Cicero. 1 The view of the starry heaven thus led to astronomy and to philosophy, which are the queens of the sciences, the one in the domain of the visible, the other in the domain of ideas; and the study of these is the noblest employment to which man can put his faculties.
We have seen that since the days of Plato and Aristotle, and even earlier, 2 Greek thinkers proved the divinity of the stars by the character of their movements, and in a general way all metaphysicians point to the order of nature as proving the existence of God. Voltaire himself in the Philosophical Dictionary uses expressions on this subject which would not have been disowned by the ancients. But what characterises ancient ideas is the fact that they closely connect belief in the gods with observation of the sky. Astronomy here serves as an introduction to theology. This sidereal religion, developed by an erudite clergy, has always retained the stamp of its learned origin.
The essential quality of these sidereal gods, the one most frequently insisted upon, is that they are everlasting. We have seen that astronomy had led the old Chaldeans to this notion. 3 The invariability of the revolutions of the heavenly bodies led to the conclusion that they were eternal. The stars unceasingly pursue their never-ending course; arrived at the limit of their path, they resume without pause the race already run, and the cycles of years, in accordance with which their movements take place, are prolonged to infinity in the past, and continue to infinity in the future. Thus a clergy of astronomers necessarily conceived the gods of heaven, as being "the masters of eternity," or "those whose name is praised to all eternity,"--these titles are constantly bestowed in inscriptions on the Syrian Baals. The stars which the Syrians worshipped did not die, like
[paragraph continues] Osiris in Egypt, or Attis in Asia Minor: each time they seemed to sink, they were born again to a new life, always unconquerable. This theological notion penetrated with astrology into Roman paganism. As often as a dedication is found to a deus Aeternus, it refers to a sidereal, most frequently a Syrian, god. The epithet aeternus completes and explains that of invictus, which, like the former, is applied to the stars in general, and specially to the Sun. These celestial powers always issue triumphantly from their strife with darkness; unceasingly menaced, they have been, are, and shall be ever victorious.
It is a remarkable fact that it is not until the second century of our era that this qualifying epithet aeternus comes into use in ritual at the same time as the cult of the god Heaven (Caelus) spreads. In vain had philosophers long set the First Cause beyond the limitations of time: their theories had not made impression on the popular mind, nor had they succeeded in modifying the traditional formulary of liturgies. For the multitude, divinities remained beings more beautiful, more vigorous, more powerful than men, but born like them and preserved only from decay and death. Semitic priests popularised throughout the Roman world the idea that God is without beginning and without end, and so contributed, side by side with Jewish proselytism, to invest with the authority of a religious dogma what had hitherto been but a metaphysical theory.
The importance attached to this idea enables us to understand that it was applied even to gods living upon the earth, in whom an image or manifestation of the sun was seen. The emperors, whose soul has descended to earth from heaven above, and is to re-ascend thither after death, are called, from the second century onwards, not only invicti but aeterni, like the stars to which they are united by identity of nature. This expression was introduced into the official vocabulary, and ultimately a sovereign was addressed as "Your Eternity," almost as naturally as we say "Your Majesty," although that epithet, applied to the short-lived princes who, in the third century, flit across the throne like shadows across a screen, seems almost cruelly ironical.
This, however, is but a political caricature of a great religious idea,--an idea which appealed to the imagination, and which poetry also adopted. Manilius 1 contrasts the permanence of the heavens with the frailty of earthly things:
Thrones have perished, peoples passed from dominion to slavery, from captivity to empire, but the same months of the year have always brought up on the horizon the same stars. All things that are subject to death are also subject to change, the years glide away, and lands become unrecognisable, each century transforms the features of nations, but Heaven remains invariable, and preserves all its parts; the flight of time adds nothing to them, nor does age take aught from them. It will remain the same for ever, because for ever it has been the same. Thus it appeared to the eyes of our forefathers, thus will our descendants behold it. It is God, for it is unchangeable throughout the ages.
Men did not stop there, but separating eternity from the stars and from heaven, whose loftiest quality it was, they adored that eternity itself as a divinity. Here is not a mere abstraction, like Equity or Clemency or one of the many other abstractions which the Romans had conceived and fervently worshipped, notwithstanding the fact that they figured Aeternitas on their coins. The path which led to this worship is more intricate, and its beginnings go back to a very early stage of thought. Time, when this notion, which is lacking among many savages, appeared, was not defined as a conception of the reason, or in Kant's phrase, "a priori form of conception." This is a being who has an existence per se, who is even regarded sometimes as a material body, and who is endowed with an activity of his own. "Zeno," says Cicero, 2 "attributed a divine power (vis divina) to the stars, but also to the years, the months, and the seasons." We have here a very ancient belief, which is found for instance in Egypt. The magic idea of a power superior to man is connected, from the very beginning, with the notation of time Calendars had a religious before acquiring a secular significance: their original object was not to secure the measurement of the gliding moments, but to indicate the
recurrence of propitious or unpropitious dates separated by periodic intervals. It is an empirical fact that the return of fixed moments is associated with the appearance of certain phenomena: it is easy to believe that the one is the cause of the other. They have therefore a peculiar efficacy, a sacred character. 1 Astronomy fixed the duration of these periods with an ever-increasing accuracy: it not only distinguished the sequence of days and nights, but also that of the months, corresponding to the revolutions of the moon, and that of the years, corresponding to those of the sun. Its progress led to a division of the day into two periods of twelve hours each. All these durations continued to be regarded as having a definite influence, as being endowed with a magic potency, and astrology sought to codify these activities, by placing each division of time under the protection of a star in its system of "chronocratories."
When the idea of an Eternity arose, more vast than the sum-total of years and centuries, it was regarded likewise as a divinity. "General opinion," says Proclus, 2 "makes the Hours goddesses and the Month a god, and their worship has been handed on to us: we say also that the Day and the Night are deities, and the gods themselves have taught us how to call upon them. Does it not necessarily follow that Time also should be a god, seeing that it includes at once months and hours, days and nights?"
In fact infinity of Time was elevated to the dignity of Supreme Cause not only by individual thinkers, but by Oriental cults. You all know by name Zervan Akarana, "Time Unlimited," which a sect of Persian Magi regarded as the First Principle. This doctrine, which was developed in Mesopotamia, was adopted by the mysteries of Mithra and passed with them into the West, where this god was represented in the form of a monster with the head of a lion, to indicate that he devours all things. As might have been expected, the worship of Time was there closely combined with that of "the eternal Heaven" (Caelus aeternus), whose revolutions marked its
everlasting course, and, as the master of all things, it was sometimes identified with Destiny, whose irresistible activity was exerted to produce the endless motion of the stars.
Each portion of Infinity brings on some propitious or unpropitious movement of the heavens, which is anxiously watched, and these motions incessantly modify the earthly world. The Centuries and the Years, each subject to the influence of a star or a constellation, the Seasons which are related to the four winds and to the four cardinal points, the twelve Months over which the signs of the zodiac preside, the Day and the Night, the twelve Hours, are all personified and deified, as being the authors of all the changes of the universe.
The allegorical figures invented by astrological cults to represent these abstractions came into common use under the Empire. This symbolism did not even die out with idolatry: it was adopted by Christianity, in spite of the fact that it was in reality contrary to its spirit, and up to the Middle Ages these symbols of the fallen gods were reproduced ad infinitum in sculpture, mosaics, and miniatures, and it may be said that the old superstitions of the Chaldeans are still perpetuated by modern art.
Like the divisions of Time, numbers were divine for a similar reason. The ancients said that they had been revealed to mankind by the motions of the stars. 1 In fact the progress of mathematics must often have been a result of the progress of astronomy, and the former participated in the sacred character of the latter. Certain numerals were thus considered for astronomical reasons as endowed with an especial potency: seven and nine, which are the fourth and the third part of the month, seven again and twelve, because they correspond to the planets and to the signs of the zodiac, three hundred and sixty, because that was the--approximate--number of days in the year. To these figures was attributed a peculiar efficacy; thus it was necessary in magical incantations to repeat the operative formula for a given number of times in order that it might produce the desired effect. Mathematics also entered
largely into astrological divination,--mathematici is in Latin a synonym of Chaldaei,--and they served as a foundation or a pretext for a subtle and extravagant symbolism. Thus very often a name is replaced by a numerical equivalent, that is, by the sum-total of its letters considered as figures and added together. But despite these uses and abuses, connected with sidereal religion or, at least, superstition, there is a great difference between numbers and the divisions of Time: the former might be sacred, they could never be deified, they were not worshipped, nor were artistic representations of them imagined.
What has been said brings out the importance attached by the adepts of star-worship to the idea of divine eternity,--an importance shown by the fact that some had actually made it the supreme principle of their religion. But there was another divine attribute correlative to the former. The stars are not only eternal gods, but also universal, their power is unlimited in space as in time. Already in Syria the Baals, who had become solar deities, bore the title of Mar‘olam, which may be translated "Lord of the Universe" as well as "Lord of Eternity," and men undoubtedly liked to claim for them this double quality. 1 With earthly genii or demons, who protected definite spots, were contrasted the celestial gods, who are "catholic." This word, which was to have such a great destiny, was at first merely an astrological term: it denoted activities which are not limited to individuals, nor to particular events, but apply to the whole human race and to the entire earth.
Everything is, in fact, subject to the changes brought about by the revolutions of the stars. All the events of this world are determined by sidereal influences. The transformations of nature, like the dispositions and actions of man, are due to the fatal energies which reside in the sky. Hence necessarily follows not only the idea of the universality, but also that of the omnipotence, of the sidereal deities. The Semitic cults
spread throughout the Latin world the conception of the absolute, unlimited sovereignty of God over the earth. Apuleius of Madaura calls the Syrian goddess "omnipotens et omniparens," all-powerful and all-producing.
But here we must make a distinction: if all the gods are equally everlasting, all cannot be universal and omnipotent in the same degree. Undoubtedly Destiny holds sovereign sway over the whole world, and the celestial orbs by their combined movements are the authors of all that was, and is, and is to come. But this unlimited power only belongs properly to the ensemble of the cosmic harmony. It resides in the Whole regarded as divine, it manifests itself to a greater or less degree in its different parts. Perhaps you remember the opening of Dante's Il Paradiso:
Per l’ universo penetra e risplende
In una parte più e meno altrove.
Nel ciel che più della sua luce prende,
Fu’ io. . .
The poet of the Middle Ages is only expressing here an astrological notion. The starry heaven is the principal seat of the divine energy and light which are spread throughout the world. But all the stars have not an equal share of its power: only some among them, or even one among them, can properly be called "catholic" and omnipotent (παντοκράτωρ). We proceed to pass in review these various divinities.
The highest of these gods is Heaven (Οὐρανός, Caelus), "Summus ipse deus," says Cicero, 1 "arcens et continens ceteros," that is to say, the heaven of the fixed stars, which embraces all the other spheres. The divine Power which there resides, and which causes it to move, was sometimes in the West identified with Bel,--that is to say, with Zeus,--and in Latin lands was invoked under the title of "Optimus Maximus Caelus Aeternus Iupiter." The movement of this heaven was a continuous
revolution, not a motion forwards and backwards like that of the planets, and, assigning a moral sense to the word ἀπλανής, men said that since it did not wander or err, therefore it was not subject to error, and that this infallibility was a proof of its divinity. Certain theologians, associating this with infinite Time, represented Heaven as the supreme power of the world.
The vast orb of the sky was deified in its whole, and in its parts. Its two portions, alternately dark and luminous, were worshipped under the form of the Dioscuri. The sons of Tyndareus, according to the Greek legend, shared in turn life and death, and they became in the eyes of theologians the personification of the two hemispheres.
But each of the constellations, each star which glittered in the eternal vault, was equally divine. Each had its myth. As we have already said, 1 the traditional figures which we reproduce on our celestial charts, are the fossil remains of a luxuriant mythological vegetation. The sidereal monsters, to which potent virtues were attributed, were the residuum of a number of forgotten beliefs. Worship of animals had been abandoned in temples, but the Lion, the Bull, the Eagle, the Fishes, which Oriental imagination had recognised in the capricious grouping of the stars, continued to be considered sacred. Old totems of Semitic tribes or of Egyptian nomes survived in the form of constellations. Heterogeneous elements, borrowed from all the religions of the East, were combined in ancient uranography, and in the power attributed to the phantoms which it conjured up was repeated the echo of old-fashioned worships, which frequently remain unknown to us.
Then came the Greeks, who professed to piece these celestial beings on to their national religion. They succeeded in adorning the sky without troubling themselves very much to distinguish their own inventions from those which they received from a foreign tradition. "Catasterism," that is "translation to the stars," was a convenient method of giving an astronomical termination to ancient fables. Thus poetical tales, which were only half believed, represented fabulous heroes and even members of human society as living on high in the form of
glittering constellations. There Perseus found Andromeda again, and the centaur Chiron, who is none other than the Archer, fraternised with Orion, the gigantic hunter. "The Ram was the famous ram with the Golden Fleece which had carried off Phrixus and Helle over the sea and had let the maiden fall into the waves of the Hellespont. It might also be that which was the subject of the dispute between Atreus and Thyestes, or again it might be the ram which guided the thirsty company of Bacchus to the wells of the oasis of Ammon." 1
But this patch-work assemblage of heroes, animals, and sacred objects was scarcely worshipped save en bloc. Particular veneration was bestowed on twelve constellations to which the most potent influence over destiny was attributed, namely, the twelve signs of the zodiac. Astrological treatises are full of details concerning their qualities; and their influence, which results sometimes from their astronomic nature, sometimes from the mythical character which was bestowed upon them, was exerted especially during the month over which each presided, and their images figure in large numbers on the monuments of pagan worship, particularly on those of the mysteries of Mithra. Further even than this, since each sign of the zodiac was divided into three decans, a god was imagined for each of these thirty-six compartments of the heaven.
Not only were the stars of heaven an object of worship, but also the subtle substance which lit their fires, the Ether which filled the lofty spaces of the heavens. Sacrifices were offered to it, or it was celebrated in hymns as the source of all brightness, and the worshippers even dedicated inscriptions to this pure and serene air that it might chase away the devastating hail.
Into the sphere of the fixed stars, which marks the bounds of the world, are fitted seven other spheres, those of the planets, which are, in order, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. The qualities and influences which are attributed to them are due sometimes to astronomical motives. They are deduced from their apparent movements as discovered by observation. Saturn makes people apathetic and vacillating, because, being farthest from the earth, it appears
to move most deliberately. But most frequently the reasons assigned are purely mythological. The planets, being identified with the divinities of Olympus, have borrowed their nature. Mars, Venus, Mercury, have a history known to all: the mere mention of their names is enough to explain their action: Venus needs must favour lovers, and Mercury assure success in business and swindling. This double conception of planetary divinities, of whom now one, now the other, displays the activities, favourable or destructive, which are attributed to them, corresponds to the hybrid origin of astrology, which pretends to be a science but always remained a creed, and is found again also, to a lesser degree, in the doctrines concerning fixed stars.
But, like the Olympians who were identified with them, the planetary gods are much the most powerful of all. Their positions in the sky, their reciprocal relations or, to use the technical term, aspects, have a decisive influence on all physical and moral phenomena of this world. They exercise a manifold patronage, more diverse and more extensive than that of the gods of Olympus and the saints of Paradise. They are the tutelary deities not only of the series of days, 1 but of that of the hours, and even of centuries and millenaries. To each was attached a plant, a metal, a stone, which derived miraculous powers from this special protection. Each presided over a period of life, a portion of the body, and a faculty of the soul, possessed a colour and a taste, corresponded to one of the vowels. These various relations in which they were supposed to stand to the whole of nature, afforded numerous opportunities for paying them worship. As we shall see in another lecture, 2 their worship was much more popular than that of the other sidereal gods, and their images are reproduced on monuments with much greater frequency.
Beneath the lowest sphere, that of the moon, the zones of the elements, are placed in tiers: the zones of fire, air, water, and earth. To these four principles, as well as to the constellations, the Greeks gave the name of στοιχεῖα, and the Chaldeans
already worshipped the one as well as the other. The influence of Oriental religions, like that of Stoic cosmology, spread throughout the West the worship of these four bodies, believed to be elements, whose infinite variety of combinations gave rise to all perceptible phenomena. In the mysteries of Mithra, a group, frequently reproduced, in which a lion represented fire, a bowl water, and a serpent the earth, figured emblematically the strife of these gods, at the same time kindly and hostile, which constantly devoured each other, and whose perpetual opposition and transmutation brought about all the changes of nature. By the end of the pagan period, the divinity of these physical agents was a religious principle accepted by all heathendom. Consequently, by a piquant contrast, the conventional representations of these polymorphous substances, which antique sculpture had rarely chiselled, were multiplied at the very moment when Christianity was robbing them of their sacred character.
These elements were not only deified: they were themselves haunted by formidable powers; especially the zone of air, which envelops the earth, was the chosen home of demons, kindly or malignant beings, who occupied the middle space and served as intermediaries between gods and men, superior to the latter, inferior to the former.
There is, however, an essential difference between the powers of this sublunary world--elements and demons--and the stars. The former are subject to the activity of the latter, their various manifestations are caused by the combined influence of the heavenly bodies; to the latter alone belong constancy and regularity; they alone serve for the purposes of scientific divination.
To sum up, then, this long catalogue, astrological paganism deified the active principles which move all celestial and terrestrial bodies. Water, fire, earth, the sea, and the blast of the winds, but above all the luminous heavens of the fixed stars and planets revealed the boundless power of the God who filled all nature. But this pantheism no longer naively regarded this
nature as peopled by capricious spirits and unregulated powers. Having become scientific, it conceived the gods as cosmic energies, the providential action of which is ordered in a harmonious system.
Oriental theologians developed the idea that the world forms a trinity; it is three in one and one in three; it is made up of the sphere of the fixed stars, regarded as not resolvable into parts, of the seven spheres of the planets and of the earth, starting from the moon. According to some of these theologians, each of the inferior worlds received a portion of its power from the superior worlds and shared in their energy, and the source of all force and all virtue resided in the highest sphere, one and indivisible, which regulated the movements of all the other parts of the universe.
But this is not the theory which triumphed in the Roman empire. Rather it was supposed that the motive power, which set in motion all the cosmic organism, came from the Sun, and thus the Sun was raised to the rank of a Supreme God. 1 This Sun-worship was the logical result of a paganism steeped in erudition, which had become a religious form of cosmology. Renan 2 once observed: "The life of our planet has its real source in the sun. All force is a transformation of the sun. Before religion had gone so far as to proclaim that God must be placed in the absolute and the ideal, that is to say, outside of the world, one cult only was reasonable and scientific, and that was the cult of the Sun." The worship of Sun and Moon preceded that of the other planets, and even when the system of "the Seven" was constructed by astronomy, a distinction was made between the great luminaries which preside over day and night and the five other wandering stars. But it is a remarkable fact that at first the primacy was assigned to the Moon. It was only by slow degrees that the ancients discovered the unequalled importance in the cosmic system as a whole of the heavenly body which gives us light and, to say the truth, they never attained to the fulness of the idea. Thus it is that, if we
go back to the earliest historical times, we see that in Babylonia the principal god--for he was endowed with the male sex,--was the Moon, Sin, which regularly precedes Shamash, the Sun. This god preserved the chief place at Carrhæ in Osroëne and throughout a large part of Anatolia up to the time of the Roman Empire. The predominance of the worship of Men, as he was called in Asia Minor, is due to the persistence in this remote country of ancient ideas, elsewhere out of date.
In hot countries the sun is, above all, an enemy, against which men protect themselves, and the dwellers in the scorching plains of Mesopotamia preferred to the star whose burning heat inflamed the air, parched the land, and exhausted the body, that star whose gentle light illumined, without menacing, them. In the freshness of the night the Moon shed the wholesome dews, and her brightness, then as now, guided caravans across the desert. Everywhere her phases, obvious to all eyes, served to measure time before the duration of the year was known, and sacred calendars regulated religious ceremonies and civil life according to her course. When her face was hidden, a fearful portent was seen in this eclipse, and there was attributed to this powerful divinity a multitude of mysterious influences, the recollection of which survived in astrology and was indefinitely perpetuated in popular superstitions. To it also were attributed strange effects on the growth of plants and on the health of women. As is often the case, the goddess retained in common belief the power of which theology had robbed her. However, she was never entirely deprived of her authority. In Egypt in spite of very early attempts to establish the undivided sovereignty of the Sun Ra, in the end, in heaven as on earth, preference was given over single sovereignty to the joint power of sister and brother, of wife and husband, of Isis and Osiris. This dualism still inspires the Alexandrine mysteries of the epoch of the Ptolemies, and is reaffirmed in the theories of Egyptian astrologers who divided the supremacy over the other five planets between the "two eyes of heaven."
But among the Semitic peoples an erudite clergy, hereditarily devoted to the study of the starry sky, drew more boldly the religious conclusions of their scientific discoveries. Little by little
they established the primary importance of the sun in the celestial mechanism, and they asserted its pre-eminence more confidently in proportion as they understood it better.
Continually placing it farther and farther off in space, these priests acquired a more and more correct idea of its formidable dimensions. When they had studied its revolutions, they realised what relations connected it with physical phenomena and with the succession of the seasons. The final blow was struck at the ancient prestige of the moon when it was discovered that she shines with a borrowed or, as they said, a bastard light. Sun-worship is essentially a learned cult: it grew with science itself, and was definitely established at the period when the latter attained its zenith in antiquity. At no other point does one perceive more clearly the ties which, in the religions of the East, united intellectual research with the evolution of belief.
According to the so-called "Chaldean" system, the sun, as we have seen, 1 occupies the fourth rank in the series of planets. Three are above it, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and three below it, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. In other words, the Sun moves in the midst of the heavenly spheres. It occupies the central position among the seven circles of the universe.
The other planets appeared to revolve round it, or rather to escort it, and astrologers delighted to point to the Royal Sun (Βασιλεὺς Ἥλιος) advancing in the midst of his satellites, as earthly princes, whose tutelar star he is, march encircled by their guards.
Further, the "Chaldeans" had thought out an original solution of a problem which caused much perplexity to ancient astronomers, namely, that presented by the irregular courses of the planets. They had observed that the apparent advances, stoppages, and regressions of these latter were connected with the revolutions of the sun,--in reality of the earth,--and they had come to the conclusion that the sun governed their movements: the sun was as it were the chorus-leader who directed the rhythmic evolutions of the wandering stars. It not only drew in its course Mercury and Venus which, as had been ascertained, were never more than a short distance from it, but
it also regulated the movements of the three superior planets, and acted upon them by the force of its heat in much the same way as upon terrestrial vapours, which it caused to ascend or descend. According to the position which it occupies relatively to them, it impels them forwards, arrests them, or drives them backwards; and this it does mechanically, exerting its power, like every astrological influence, according to certain angles or "aspects."
Berosus made a particular application of this same theory to the phases of the moon, and other Chaldeans extended this explanation to the movements of comets. They even went so far as to make the revolutions of the fixed stars depend upon the sun. The essential idea on which all these doctrines were based is that the sun in virtue of its intense heat possesses a power of alternate repulsion and attraction, which according to its distance, or the direction of its rays, now drives the heavenly bodies away from it, and now draws them towards it,--unique focus of energy which causes them all to move. This mechanical theory, which contains a sort of anticipation of the doctrine of universal gravitation and of the heliocentric system, was bound to serve as the basis of a whole learned theology.
For, as we have said, in the eyes of Chaldean astronomers the fixed stars, and above all the planets, are the authors of all the phenomena of the universe, and nothing here below is produced save in virtue of their combined activities. That, then, which rules the complicated play of their revolutions and their aspects, will be the arbiter of destiny, the master of all nature. Placed at the centre of the great cosmic organism, it animates the whole of it, as the heart supports human life, and both in scientific treatises and in mystic hymns men delighted to term it "the heart of the world" (καδία τοῠ κόσμου).
Thus the bright star of day, set in the midst of the celestial spheres, by the power of its heat vivifies the immense macrocosm through which its fires radiate. Henceforth it will no longer be celebrated, in verse and in prose, merely as the power which, besides light, brings to the world below warmth, fertility, and joy; the ancient conception is amplified and rendered more precise by the touch of science: the sun will
become the conductor of the cosmic harmony, the master of the four elements and the four seasons, the heavenly power which, by the invariable changes of its annual course, produces, nourishes, and destroys animals and plants, and by the alternation of day and night warms and cools, dries or moistens the earth and the atmosphere. But, above all, in sidereal religion it will be that supreme regulator of the movements of the stars which at every moment inspires their ever-changing motions, that to which they owe all their qualities and perhaps even (as some believed) their light. Pliny already recognised it as the sovereign divinity which governed nature, principale naturae regimen ac numen. 1
But this universe, so well ordered, cannot be driven by a blind force. The sun, which directs the harmonious movements of the cosmic organism, will, then, be a fire endowed with reason, an intelligent light (φῶς νοερόν). It will be regarded by heathen theologians as the reason which controls the world, mens mundi et temperatio. 2 The most important corollaries will be drawn from this, for the sun, the reason of the world, will become the creator of the particular reason which directs the human microcosm. To it is attributed the formation of souls. Its glowing disk, darting its rays upon the earth, constantly sent particles of fire into the bodies which it called to life, and after death, as we shall see, 3 it caused them to reascend to it. Such, in its broad outlines, is the scientific theology which provided both a foundation and a justification for Roman Sun-worship.
From astronomical speculations the Chaldeans had deduced a whole system of religious dogmas. The sun, set in the midst of the superimposed planets, regulates their harmonious movements. As its heat impels them forward, then draws them back, it is constantly influencing, according to its various aspects, the direction of their course and their action upon the earth. Fiery heart of the world, it vivifies the whole of this great organism, and as the stars obey its commands, it reigns supreme
over the universe. The radiance of its splendour illumines the divine immensity of the heavens, but at the same time in its brilliance there is intelligence; it is the origin of all reason, and, as a tireless sower, it scatters unceasingly on the world below the seeds of a harvest of souls. Our brief life is but a particular form of the universal life. Physical theories, applied to the movements of the planets to and fro, will be extended to the relations of the King of the stars with the psychic essences which are subject to him. By a succession of emissions and absorptions he will alternately cause these fiery emanations to descend into the bodies which they animate, and after death will gather them up and make them reascend into his bosom. This coherent and magnificent theology, founded upon the discoveries of ancient astronomy in its zenith, gradually imposed on mankind the cult of the "Invincible Sun" as the master of all nature, creator and preserver of men.
This Sun-worship was the final form which Roman paganism assumed. In 274 the emperor Aurelian, as we have seen, 1 conferred on it official recognition when, on his return from Syria, inspired by what he had seen at Palmyra, he founded a gorgeous temple in honour of Sol invictus, served by priests who had precedence even over the members of the ancient Collegium pontificum; and in the following century, the Claudian emperors worshipped the almighty star not only as the patron but also as the author of its race. The invincible Sun, raised to the supreme position in the divine hierarchy, peculiar protector of sovereigns and of the Empire, tends to absorb or subordinate to himself all the other divinities of ancient Olympus.
These Emperors thus recognised the superiority over Roman idolatry of this cosmic religion of the East, which the speculations of theologians had elevated to a kind of monotheism. A still closer approach to the Christian conception was obtained. This astronomic pantheism, which deified the world, having the Sun for its centre, readily agreed with Stoic hylozoism. Without much difficulty it was harmonised with the ancient theory which placed the seat of divinity in the highest sphere, that of the fixed stars; but from the time of its expansion it was
engaged in a struggle against those who, following Plato and Aristotle, set God outside the limits of all the universe, representing him as a Being no longer immanent, but transcendent, distinct from all matter. Philo the Jew was not the only man to reproach the Chaldeans with worshipping the creation instead of the creator. Oriental cults were bound to make early concessions to this idealism, and from the second century, even among the Syrian priests, the doctrine is found to prevail that a Jupiter "Most High" sits in the ether which spreads above the vault of the highest heaven (Iupiter summus exsuperantissimus). The Sun henceforth becomes a subordinate power, a reflexion or sensible expression of a superior divinity. But in order to avoid breaking with tradition, from the luminary which gives us light was detached that universal "Reason," of which the Sun had hitherto been the focus, and the existence of another purely spiritual sun was postulated, which shone and reigned in the world of intelligence (νοερός κόσμος), and to this were transferred the qualities which henceforth appeared incompatible with matter. We can follow this doctrinal evolution in the works of the Neo-Platonists, and discern its termination in the speculations of Julian the Apostate. The "intelligent" Sun (νοερός) becomes the intermediary between the "intelligible" God (νοητός) and the visible universe.
We have rapidly sketched the system of theology which was imposed on the Empire. Let us in conclusion attempt to set before ourselves what a revolution these ideas produced in paganism. At the moment when they expanded over the Latin world, the mass of the people still remained almost entirely in the ancient state of idolatry which was contemporary with the Punic wars, and the rustic superstitions of the peasants of Latium still found expression in the pontifical ritual of the Roman people. The learned theology which spread from the East, elevated and enlarged religious thought by holding out an infinitely more lofty conception of divinity. This pantheism stoutly asserted the unity of the world, governed by a supreme intelligence, but in this vast organism, all the parts
of which acted and reacted upon each other, man, a privileged creature, was connected with the sidereal gods by a close relationship. His eye perceived their distant light. His divine reason in virtue of its nature could grasp divine truths. In place of the inhabitants of Olympus a kind of supermen, born in time and exempted only from old age and death, it conceived ever-lasting beings, unwearied and invincible, who ceaselessly ran their changeless course throughout an endless series of ages; in place of gods bound to a city or to a country and, so to speak, adscripti glebae, differing with the diversity of peoples, it reverenced universal or, as they were already called, "catholic"--powers, whose activity, regulated by the revolutions of the celestial spheres, extended over all the earth and embraced the whole human race. An almost anarchical society of Immortals, whose feeble and capricious will raised doubts as to their power, was replaced by the idea of a harmonious ensemble of sidereal gods, who, irresistibly guided by the Sun, the heart of the world, the source of all movement and all intelligence, imposed everywhere the inevitable laws of omnipotent Destiny,--last but not least in place of the old methods of divination, now fallen into discredit, of deceitful portents and ambiguous oracles, astrology promised to substitute a scientific method, founded on an experience of almost infinite duration; astrology claimed the power of deciphering with certainty the hitherto inscrutable book of the sky, and of determining the destiny of individuals with the same precision as the date of an eclipse.
We can understand how the amplitude of this masterly conception would raise men's enthusiasm and inspire poets, how it would appear like a complete revelation of the world, and how, in combination at first with Stoic philosophy, then modified by Platonic idealism, the ancient "Chaldean" creed should have been able so long to resist Christianity, the triumph of which it had nevertheless prepared.
The same Semitic race which brought about the fall of paganism is also that which put forth the most powerful effort to save it.
57:1 Capelle, Die Schrift von der Welt, Leipzig, 1895, p. 6 , n. 4. "Contemplatorem caeli." "Οὐ μόνον θεατὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξηγητήν."
58:1 Cic., Nat. Deorum, ii, 21, § 56.
60:1 Manil., Astron., 495 sqq.
60:2 Cic., Nat. Deor., ii, 63 (=Zenon. fr. 165 von Arnim).
61:2 Proclus, In Timæum, 248 D.
63:1 Religions orientates, 2d edition, Paris, 1909, p. 375, n. 80 (Engl. translation, p. 258, n. 80).
64:1 Cicer., Somn. Scipionis, c. 4.
66:1 Bouché-Leclercq, Astrologie grecque, p. 131.
69:1 See my paper, La Théologie solaire du Paganisme romain (Mém. Acad. Inscr., xii). Paris, 1909.
69:2 Renan, Dialogues et Fragments philosophiques, 1876, p. 168.
73:1 Plin., Nat. Hist., ii, 5, § 13.
73:2 Cic., Somn. Scip., 4.
LECTURE V. Astral Mysticism 1--Ethics and Cult
A theology which was based on theories of celestial mechanism, which deified mere abstractions such as Time and its subdivisions, which attributed a sacred character to numbers themselves, must, it would seem, have been repellent by reason of its dry metaphysical character. A creation of astronomers, it would appear to have been incapable of appealing to any but an intellectual élite, and of winning over any but speculative minds. We might well be astonished, at first sight, that a religion so arid and abstruse should have been able to conquer the ancient world, and we ask ourselves how it obtained a hold over men's souls and was able to attract a multitude of believers.
The answer is that this potent system, which set itself to satisfy the intelligence, made a yet more effective appeal to emotion. If the cults of the East pretended to answer all the questions which man asks concerning the world and himself, they also aimed at stirring his emotions, at arousing in him the rapture of ecstasy.
The leaning towards mysticism, which is one of the characteristic traits of the Syrian Posidonius, was shared by all the adepts of "Chaldean" creeds. We must attempt to analyse here the character of this sidereal mysticism, an original form of devotion, if there ever was one, a curious and little known expression of religious feeling in the days of antiquity, and to show what system of ethics sprang from it, what form of worship corresponded to it, and how it was reconciled with fatalism. After the theory, we pass on to the practice.
The magnificent appearance of the glittering sky has always vividly impressed mankind, and whoever has enjoyed the soft brilliance of an Eastern night, will understand how in that country adoration was naturally excited for the inextinguishable centres of light on high. But this "cosmic emotion," as it has been termed, varies constantly according to the idea which has been formed of the universe. There is assuredly an enormous distance between the views of primitive man, who, when he raised his eyes to the firmament, sometimes dreaded lest this solid vault should fall and crush him, and the veneration of a Kant, who, when considering the stellar systems piled up to infinity above him, felt himself seized with the same respectful wonder that he bestowed on the moral law which he apprehended within him by reason. The feeling has been developed with the progress of knowledge, and in proportion to the precision to which ideas of immensity and eternity attained. In the Greeks the cosmos did not arouse, as in ourselves, the troublesome thought of an extension prolonged to infinity beyond the most distant nebula which the telescope can reach. The world then had limits. Above the sphere of the fixed stars, which surrounded it on all sides, the ancients supposed that there was nothing but a void or ether. Heaven in their astronomy was like the earth in their geography, a much more limited expression than it is nowadays. The vastness of the visible constellations was not so overwhelming to them as it is to our scientific knowledge, and the distances at which they fixed these bodies, did not suggest to them as to us a distance so great that its extent transcends the limits of our imagination and even figures cannot enable us to realise it. When they gazed into the depths of space, they were not seized to the same degree as we with giddiness at the abysses, nor crushed by the feeling of their own littleness. They would not have cried like Pascal, when meditating on the disproportion between man and nature, incommensurable and speechless: "The eternal silence of these boundless spaces frightens me." 1 The feeling which struck the ancients was mainly one of admiration. Seneca 2
develops this thought, that the stars, even if we do not bear in mind the benefits which they diffuse over our earthly abode, provoke our wonder by their beauty and demand our veneration by their majesty.
From the passages which are devoted to celebrating their splendour, I will quote only one, the final touch of which will make clear the entire difference which separates the ancient from the modern conception. Manilius ends his fifth book by a grandiose description of the brilliance of those moonless nights when even stars of the sixth magnitude kindle their crowded and gleaming fires, seeds of light amid the darkness. The glittering temples of the sky then shine with torches more numerous than the sands of the seashore, than the flowers of the meadow, than the waves of the ocean, than the leaves of the forest. "If nature," adds the poet, "had given to this multitude powers in proportion to its numbers, the ether itself would not have been able to support its own flames, and the conflagration of Olympus would have consumed the entire world." 1
We have seen 2 how admiration for the beauty of the cosmos, the discovery of the celestial harmony, had led to the declaration of the existence of a guiding Providence. But this is not the most characteristic side of the doctrine: all systems of theology invoke the order of nature as a proof of the existence of God. What is more original is that they took this "cosmic emotion" which every man feels and transformed it into a religious sentiment.
The resplendent stars, which eternally pursue their silent course above us, are divinities endowed with personality and animated by feelings. On the other hand, the soul is a particle detached from the cosmic fires. The warmth which animates the human microcosm, is part of the same substance which vivifies the universe, the reason which guides us partakes of the nature of those luminaries which enlighten it. 3 Itself a fiery
essence, it is kin to the gods which glitter in the firmament. Thus contemplation of the heaven becomes a communion. The desire which man feels to fix his eyes long upon the star-spangled vault, is a divine passion which transports him. A call from heaven draws him towards the radiant spaces. In the splendour of the night his spirit is intoxicated with the glow which the fires above shed upon him. As men possessed, or as the corybantes in the delirium of their orgies, he gives himself up to ecstasy, which frees him from the trammels of his flesh and lifts him, far above the mists of our atmosphere, into the serene regions where move the everlasting stars. Borne on the wings of enthusiasm, he projects himself into the midst of this sacred choir and follows its harmonious movements. Then he partakes in the life of these luminous gods, which from below he sees twinkling in the radiance of the ether; before the appointed hour of death he participates in their divinity, and receives their revelations in a stream of light, which by its brilliance dazzles even the eye of reason.
Such are the sublime effusions in which the mystic eloquence of a Posidonius delights. Nevertheless in this learned theology, whose first authors were astronomers, erudition never loses its rights. Man, attracted by the brightness of the sky, does not only take an unspeakable delight in considering the rhythmic dance of the stars, regulated by the harmonies of a divine music produced by the movements of the celestial spheres. Never weary of this ever-repeated spectacle, he does not confine himself to enjoying it. The thirst for knowledge, which is innate in him, impels him to enquire what is the nature of these glowing bodies whose radiance reaches him, to discover the causes and the laws of their unceasing movements. He aspires to comprehend the course of the constellations and the sinuous path of the planets, which should reveal to him the rules of life and the secrets of destiny. As soon as he approaches the limits of the heavens, his desire to understand them is inflamed by the actual facility which he experiences in satisfying it. The transports which draw him towards the higher regions, do not dull but enlighten his mind. Are not all discoveries of astronomy revelations of their nature made by the sidereal gods to their
earnest disciples? This mystic contemplation of heaven, source of all intelligence, will be the religious ideal of lofty spirits. The astronomer Ptolemy, who of all the savants of antiquity had perhaps the most influence on succeeding generations, will forget his complicated calculations and his arduous researches to sing of this intoxication. We have preserved the following lines of his 1: "Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day, but when I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth; I ascend to Zeus himself to feast me on ambrosia, the food of the gods."
Let us compare this serene ecstasy with the transports of Dionysiac intoxication, such as Euripides for example depicts for us so strikingly in the Bacchæ, and we shall at once realise the distance which separates this astral religion from the earlier paganism. In the one, under the stimulus of wine, the soul communicates with the exuberant forces of nature, and the overflowing energy of physical life expresses itself in tumultuous exaltation of the senses and impetuous disorder of the spirit. In the other, it is with pure light that reason quenches her thirst for truth; and "the abstemious intoxication," 2 which exalts her to the stars, kindles in her no ardour save a passionate yearning for divine knowledge. The source of mysticism is transferred from earth to heaven.
We, who in our northern towns scarcely perceive the light of the stars, continually veiled in fogs and dimmed by smoke, we to whom they are merely bodies in a state of incandescence moved by mechanical forces, we can hardly comprehend the strength of the religious feeling which they inspired in the men of old. The indefinable impression which is produced by the great spectacles of nature, the desire which possesses us of probing the causes of her phenomena, were in their case combined with the aspirations of faith towards these "visible gods," who were ever present to be worshipped. The passion for knowledge, the ardour of devotion, were blended in the deep emotion which was stirred by the idea of a communion between man and the harmony of the skies.
Think of the prestige which such a theory gave to the astrologer who is in constant relation with the divine stars. It is nowhere more clearly expressed than in a passage of a rhetorician belonging to the Augustan age, Arellius Fuscus. 1 "He to whom the gods themselves reveal the future, who imposes their will even on kings and peoples, cannot be fashioned," he says, "by the same womb which bore us ignorant men. His is a superhuman rank. Confidant of the gods, he is himself divine." Then he adds:
If the pretensions of astrology are genuine, why do not men of every age devote themselves to this study? Why from our infancy do we not fix our eyes on nature and on the gods, seeing that the stars unveil themselves for us, and that we can live in the midst of the gods? Why exhaust ourselves in efforts to acquire eloquence, or devote ourselves to the profession of arms? Rather let us lift up our minds by means of the science which reveals to us the future, and before the appointed hour of death let us taste the pleasures of the Blest.
This lofty conception, which was formed of astrology, queen of sciences, this mysticism which gave it a sacred character, entailed ethical consequences of extreme importance. The mathematici of the Roman empire were the successors of the ancient Chaldean priests, and they never forgot it. They love to assume the holy guise of incorruptible prophets, and to consider the exercise of their profession as a priesthood. They are fond of laying stress on the purity of their morals, and they complacently enumerate all the qualities which bring them near to the divine nature,--chastity, sobriety, integrity, self-renunciation. If others seek fortune at the price of a thousand efforts, the astrologer, dedicated to arduous research, is bound to surrender himself entirely to be penetrated by the intelligence of God.
"Impendendus homo est, dens esse ut possit in ipso." 2
Thus astrologers, who profess to discover the mysteries of fate, lead an austere life, or at any rate they affect it. This is the very condition of their power. Mortals do not share in the heavenly ecstasy, unless they have merited it by the morality of their conduct. Science is a revelation promised to virtue. Man must be purified from all defilement in order to render himself worthy of the society of the gods, and of the knowledge of heavenly things. This idea, that a man's vices weigh him down and detain him here below, is frequently found developed. The doctrine contrasts the body formed of earth with the sacred fire of the spirit. All carnal desires in some measure materialise this sacred fire at the same time that they pollute it, and hinder it from ascending to the ether. On the other hand, if the soul emancipates itself from the passions of the body, it will be able to fly lightly and easily to the stars. In the vehement polemic which Posidonius launches against Epicurus, he reproaches him, 1 in regard to his astronomical doctrines, with having been "blinder than a mole," and he adds: "No wonder, for to discover the real nature of things is not the part of men devoted to pleasure, but of those whose virtuous character makes the good their ideal, and who do not prefer to it the comfort of their beloved flesh." The absurdity of the cosmography professed by the Epicureans is, in his eyes, a consequence of their dissolute life. Here we see set forth the idea, so dangerously developed later, that true knowledge is the reward of piety.
The marvels of nature produce on us a mysterious impression. The view of immensity elevates us above the vulgarities of life. This feeling, innate in man, astral religion has seized upon and developed splendidly in order to make it a source of morality. Theologians celebrate the spiritual joys which this religion has in store for its adepts, the intensity of which renders all material delights insipid and contemptible; in a hundred ways they contrast the meanness of earthly with the splendour of heavenly things. How should the worshippers of the sky take delight in chariot-races, or be seduced by the songs and dances of the theatre, they who have the privilege of contemplating the gods
and of listening to their prophetic voices? How utterly do their thoughts, which move among the stars, scorn from the heights of this resplendent abode the gilded palaces and the pompous luxury of wealth! They heap not up silver and gold, treasures worthy of the dark places of the earth from which avarice draws them, but they fill their souls with spiritual riches and make them masters of all nature, in such wise that their possessions extend to the confines of the East and of the West. Even the privations of exile cannot touch them, since under all climes they find the same stars at the same distance from their watchful eyes. Can they but mingle with them, and their souls mount to the bright regions to which they are drawn by their kinship with the heavenly fires, it matters but little to them what earth they tread with their feet. Absorbed in her sublime researches, our reason will disdain the perishable goods of this life and the gross pleasures of the multitude. She will free herself from all the carnal desires aroused in her by the body, fashioned of earth. Thus devotion to science is surrounded in sidereal worship with a halo of religion. The exaltation of intellectual life, which alone is divine, leads here to asceticism.
Astral mysticism, we see, conceived a blissful state of mind where man, even on earth, freed himself of all that was earthly, emancipated himself from the needs of the body, as from bonds, and from the impulses born of it, to devote himself to the contemplation of nature and of the starry sky, which imparted to him direct knowledge of divine activity. This ideal, sternly ascetic, in that it set the satisfaction of bodily instincts in sharp opposition to the aspirations of sovereign reason, led to a life of self-renunciation, illumined only by the sacred joys of study. But has man's will the power to choose this happy lot? Does not astrology formulate a principle destructive of all morality and all religion, the principle of fatalism?
Fatalism indeed is the capital principle which astrology imposed on the world. The Chaldeans were the first to conceive the idea of Necessity dominating the universe. 1 This is
also one of the ruling ideas of the Stoics. 1 An absolute determinism is implied in all the postulates of the science of stellar influence on human life, and Manilius has expressed it in a striking line:
"Fata regunt orbem, certa stant omnia lege." 2
The power of this fatalistic conception in ancient times may be estimated by its long-continued survival, at least in the East, where it originated. From the Alexandrine period, it spread over the whole Hellenic world, and at the close of paganism it is still against this doctrine that the efforts of Christian apologetics are mainly directed, but it was destined to outlast all attacks and even to impose itself on Islam. For, Mahommedanism is, in this respect, the heir of paganism.
The capital objection which its adversaries, whether heathen or Christian, never ceased to advance against it,--the dialectic of Carneades made already brilliant use of this weapon,--is the same that the defenders of the doctrine of free will have never ceased to repeat--namely, that the absence of free will destroys responsibility: rewards and punishments are meaningless if men act under a dominating necessity; if they are born heroes or criminals, morality entails no merit and immorality no reproach. We cannot set forth here the metaphysical discussions provoked by this controversy, which always has been, and always will be, carried on. But, from a practical point of view, Stoicism proved by facts--an irrefutable argument in ethics--that fatalism is not incompatible with a manly and active virtue. Nay more, it was possible to regard it as giving a religious basis to virtue, if virtue resulted from the accord of microcosm and macrocosm which found its highest expression in ecstasy. Some modern thinkers, like Schleiermacher, have made true religion consist in the feeling, on the part of the creature, of absolute dependence on the infinite Cause of the universe. Astrology, by strengthening this feeling of dependence, has been a source of real piety. Its professors elevate to a duty complete resignation to omnipotent fate, cheerful acceptance
of the inevitable. They declare themselves submissive to destiny even the most capricious, like an intelligent slave who guesses his master's wishes in order to satisfy them, and can make the harshest servitude tolerable. This passionate surrender, this eagerness to submit to divine Fate inspired certain souls in days of old with feelings so fervent as to recall the rapture of Christian devotion, which burns to subject itself to the will of God. It has been observed that the renunciation of Demetrius, quoted by Seneca, 1 affords a singular parallel to one of the most famous Christian prayers, the "Suscipe" of St. Ignatius, which ends the book of Spiritual Exercises:
I have but one complaint to address to you, immortal gods, that you did not make me sooner know your will. I would myself have anticipated what, at your call, I offer to submit to now. Would you take my children? It is for you that I have reared them. Do you desire some part of my body? Take it from me; it is but a slight sacrifice I make, since I must soon leave it altogether. Do you desire my life? Why should I hesitate to restore to you that which you gave me? . . . I am not constrained to aught, I suffer nought against my will, I am not obedient to God, I am in accord with him, and the more so, because I know that everything takes place in virtue of an immutable law proclaimed from all eternity.
It is the ideal of pure Stoicism that is expressed in this effusion, but, if it cannot be called anti-religious, it was at least in contradiction to all established religions. If an irrevocable Destiny is imposed on us, no sacred ceremony can change its decrees. Worship is unavailing, it is idle to demand from divination the secrets of a future which nothing can alter, and prayers--to use an expression of Seneca 2--are nothing but the consolations of sickly souls.
And without doubt certain spirits, as Suetonius states of the Emperor Tiberius, 3 "fully convinced that everything is ruled by Fate, neglected the practice of religion." The astrologer Vettius Valens 4 declares it useless. "It is impossible to defeat
by sacrifice that which has been established from the beginning of time." We must therefore reverence the superior power which rules the universe, without demanding aught of it, and we must content ourselves with the joy which is caused by a feeling of intimate union of creature with creator.
But ordinary people did not rise to this haughty ideal of piety. A Peripatetic of the third century, Alexander of Aphrodisiac, has forcibly characterised the want of logic which led the majority of mankind to act in contradiction to their theories. 1
Those [he says] who maintain energetically in their discourses that Fate is inevitable and who attribute all events to it, seem to place no reliance on it in the actions of their own lives. For they call upon Fortune, thus recognising that it has an action independent of Fate; and moreover they never cease to pray to the gods, as though these could grant their prayers even in opposition to Fate; and they do not hesitate to have recourse to omens, as though it were possible for them, by learning any fated event in advance, to guard themselves against it. The reasons which they invent to establish a harmony between their theories and their conduct, are but pitiful sophisms.
And in fact, as a Christian writer of the fourth century observes, if the pagans of Rome were about to marry, if they intended to make a purchase, or aspired to some dignity, they hastened to ask the soothsayer for prognostications, while at the same time praying the Fates to grant them years of prosperity.
A fundamental inconsistency which we noted from the beginning 2 is obvious in all this development of astrology, which professed to become an exact science, but which always remained a sacerdotal theology. The stars were regarded as divine at Babylon before the doctrine of universal determinism had been constructed, and this character was preserved--in defiance of logic. In the temples of Oriental gods astrology assumed, or rather maintained, a very different character from that under which it presented itself in the schools or the observatories. A didactic treatise like the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy,
where the effects of the planets are traced to physical causes, could never have become the gospel of any sect. In the sidereal cults Fortune will no longer be represented as a goddess blind and deaf, who with unreasoning favour or implacable malignity makes sport of deserving and undeserving alike. Less stress will be laid on the all-powerfulness of Necessity than upon the divinity of the stars. These were no longer merely cosmic forces, whose propitious or unpropitious operation was weakened or strengthened according to the windings of a course fixed from all eternity. The old mythology had not here been reduced to mathematical formula. The celestial bodies had remained gods and goddesses, endowed with senses and qualities, sometimes wroth but always placable, who could be propitiated by prayers and offerings. Occult ceremonies, magical incantations, had, it was thought, the power of rescuing even here below the faithful from the enslavement which Destiny caused to lie heavy on the rest of mankind, nay more, of bending the celestial spirits to the will of the believer. Even the theorist Firmicus Maternus, though vigorously asserting the omnipotence of Fate, invokes the aid of the gods to enable him to resist the influence of the stars.
Sidereal determinism, pushed to its extreme consequences, was a theory of despair, the weight of which crushed the man. He felt himself mastered, overpowered by blind forces which impelled him as irresistibly as they caused the celestial spheres to move. His mind sought to escape from the oppression of this cosmic mechanism, to free itself from the slavery in which Ἀναγκή held it. No longer was reliance placed upon the ceremonies of ancient cults to rescue him from the rigour of her dominion, but Oriental religions provided the remedy for the evil which they had spread. The new master who has possessed himself of the sky will be propitiated by new means. Not only magic but also mysteries profess to teach methods for exorcising Fate. They will be able to appease the wrath of sidereal powers, and to win their favour by rites and offerings; they will teach above all how to prolong man's life beyond the term appointed by Destiny, and to assure him an immortality of bliss. 1
Thus belief in Fate not only (1) became a source of moral inspiration to noble minds, but also (2) provided a justification of the necessity of positive worship.
Concerning the worship which was paid to the stars in the West we possess very few data, even for the most important of all, that of the Sun. I will not lay stress on certain details which have come down to us about the rites of the Moon, the stars, the signs of the zodiac, etc. We shall only mention some liturgical practices which have had permanent results.
It was customary to worship the rising Sun (Oriens) at dawn, at the moment when its first rays struck the demons who invaded the earth in the darkness. Tacitus describes to us how, at the battle of Bedriacum in A.D. 69, the soldiers of Vespasian saluted the rising sun with loud shouts after the Syrian custom. 1 In temples thrice a day--at dawn, at midday, and at dusk--a prayer was addressed to the heavenly source of light, the worshipper turning towards the East in the morning, towards the South at midday, and towards the West in the evening. Perhaps this custom survived in the three daily services of the early Church.
A very general observance required that on the 25th of December the birth of the "new Sun" should be celebrated, when after the winter solstice the days began to lengthen and the "invincible" star triumphed again over darkness. It is certain that the date of this Natalis Invicti was selected by the Church as the commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus, which was previously confused with the Epiphany. In appointing this day, universally marked by pious rejoicings, which were as far as possible retained,--for instance the old chariot-races were preserved,--the ecclesiastical authorities purified in some degree the customs which they could not abolish. This substitution, which took place at Rome probably between 354 and 360, was adopted throughout the Empire, and that is why we still celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.
The pre-eminence assigned to the dies Solis also certainly
contributed to the general recognition of Sunday as a holiday. This is connected with a more important fact, namely, the adoption of the week by all European nations. We have seen that in the astrological system each day was sacred to a planet. It is probable that the worshipper prayed to the presiding star of each day in turn. We still possess the text of these prayers addressed to the planets in the East as in the West. We have some in Greek, but of a late date, and the most curious are those of the pagans of Harran near Edessa, which an Arabic writer has transmitted to us in great detail. Thus, for instance, to call upon Saturn it was necessary to await the favourable moment, to don black vestments, to approach the sacred place humbly, like a man sunk in sorrow, to burn a perfume composed of incense and opium mixed with grease and the urine of a goat, then, at the moment when the smoke arose, to raise the eyes to the star and say:
"Lord, whose name is august, whose power is widespread, whose spirit sublime, O Lord Saturn the cold, the dry, the dark, the harmful, . . . crafty sire who knowest all wiles, who art deceitful, sage, understanding, who causest prosperity or ruin, happy or unhappy is he whom thou makest such. I adjure thee, O primeval Father, by thy great mercies, and thy noble qualities, to do for me this and that!"
"This having been said," continues the text, which I am abridging, "thou shalt bow thyself down with humility and contrition, and while bending thou shalt repeat the prayer several times."
We do not suppose that in the Roman Empire devotees would have gone through such complicated ceremonies every day in honour of the planets,--the great prayer to Jupiter fills not less than four pages,--but certainly the use of an analogous liturgy in certain cults, notably in the mysteries of Mithra, contributed largely to the adoption of the week throughout the Roman Empire.
This diffusion of the week and even its invention are much more recent than is usually supposed. It is known that the Jews already divided time into consecutive groups of seven days ending with the Sabbath, but these days were not each under
the patronage of a planet: they were merely counted. This system of the measurement of time originates in the division of the lunar month into four equal parts. This hebdomadal period is also found elsewhere, but the astrological week has a much later origin. It is connected with the general theory of "chronocratories," which assigned to each planet the dominion over an hour, a day, a year, and even over a period of a thousand years 1; and the assignment of each of these to one of the gods is the result of an ingenious calculation, which is based on the so-called "Chaldean" arrangement of the planets. Now this arrangement appears nowhere before the second century B.C., and it may be considered certain that our week is a creation of the Hellenistic period. It was probably first introduced into the sidereal cults of Mesopotamia and of Syria, thence passed to Alexandria, and it is about the age of Augustus that it began to supplant in Latin countries the old Roman nundinum of eight days, and it ended by replacing all local calendars. Adopted by the Church, in spite of its suspicious origin, it was imposed on all Christian peoples. When to-day we name the days Saturday, Sunday, Monday, we are heathen and astrologers without knowing it, since we recognise implicitly that the first belongs to Saturn, the second to the Sun, and the third to the Moon.
If I may be allowed to conclude with an observation, which takes us a little away from our subject, there can perhaps be no more striking proof of the power and popularity of astrological beliefs than the influence which they have exercised over popular language. All modern idioms preserve traces of it, which we can no longer discern save with difficulty, survivals of vanished superstitions. Do we still remember, when we speak of a martial, jovial, or lunatic character, that it must have been formed by Mars, Jupiter, or the Moon, that an influence is the effect of a fluid emitted by the celestial bodies, that it is one of these "astra" which, if hostile, will cause me a disaster, and that, finally, if I have the good fortune to find myself among you, I certainly owe it to my lucky star?
77:1 See my paper, Le mysticisme astral dans l’antiquite (Bulletins de l’Acad. royale de Belgique), Mai, 1909.
78:1 "Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie." (Pascal, Pensées.)
78:2 Seneca, De Beneficiis, iv, 23.
79:1 Manil., v, 742:
Ipse suas aether flammas sufferre nequiret,
Totus et accenso mundus flagraret Olympo.
81:1 Anthol. Palat., ix, 577.
81:2 Νηφάλιος μέθη (Philo).
82:1 Seneca., Suasor., 4.
82:2 Manilius, iv, 407.
83:1 Cleomedes, De Motu Circul., ii, 1, § 87.
85:2 Manil., iv, 14.
86:1 Seneca, De Provid., v, 5.
86:2 Seneca, Quasi. Nat., ii, 35, "Aegrae mentis solacia."
86:3 Suetonius, Vita Tib., 69.
86:4 Vettius Valens, v, 9 (p. 220, 28 ed, Kroll).
87:1 Alex. Aphrod., De Anima Mantissa, p. 182, 18 ed. Bruns.
89:1 Tacit., Hist., iii, 24.
91:1 See above, Lecture IV, p. 67.
LECTURE VI. Eschatology
In the previous lecture we showed how, to the astronomer theologians, contemplation of the sky had become the source of a mystic union with the divine stars. The sublime joys of ecstasy, which brings man into communion with the sidereal gods, give him but a foretaste of the bliss which is in store for him when after death his soul, ascending to the celestial spheres, shall penetrate all their mysteries. The transient exaltation, which illumines his intelligence here below, is a dim foreshadowing of the intoxication which will be wrought in him by the immediate prospect of the stars and the full comprehension of truth. The most ideal pursuits of the sage in this world are but a faint adumbration of a blessedness which will be perfected in the life to come.
Thus astral mysticism based upon a psychological experience the construction of a complete doctrine of immortality. It glorified its ideal of earthly life and projected it into the life beyond. These ideas, as they spread throughout the Roman world, could not fail to modify profoundly the whole conception of man's destiny. In to-day's lecture we shall devote ourselves to exhibiting this transformation.
At the beginning of the Empire the ancient beliefs concerning existence beyond the grave, the idea that the dead man lived a gloomy life in the tomb, sustained by the funeral offerings of his descendants, retained hardly any influence, and the mythological tales about the Styx, Charon's barque, and the punishments inflicted in the nether world no longer obtained any credence. Philosophical criticism had shown the absurdity of these lugubrious chimeras. Greek philosophy in general aimed at realising the summum bonum in this world. Of the two great systems which were predominant at Rome, one
flatly denied a future life. It is well known that Epicurus taught that the soul is composed of atoms and is dissolved with the body, and there is no doctrine of the Master on which his disciples insist with more complacent assurance. Lucretius 1 praises him for having driven from men's minds "this dread of Acheron which troubles the life of man to its inmost depths." The other great philosophical school, Stoicism, showed considerable hesitation concerning the fate in store for our souls. Its various representatives held different views on this point. Panætius, the friend of the Scipios, one of the writers who contributed most to win Rome over to the tenets of the Porch, resolutely declined to believe in a survival of the individual. In reality it is in this world that true Stoicism places the realisation of its ideal. For it the aim of existence is not the preparation for death but the attainment of perfect virtue. By giving freedom from the passions, virtue confers independence and felicity. The sage, a happy being, is a god on earth, and heaven can offer nothing more to him. In this system eschatological theories had only a secondary importance, and that explains their variations.
The negative point of view adopted by Panætius is that of the majority, perhaps, of the theorists of astrology. Among those who prided themselves on philosophy, many denied immortality or at least doubted it, as for instance Ptolemy, who was influenced by the ideas of the Peripatetics, or Vettius Valens, who represents purer Stoicism. According to them the divine spark which animated bodies, became merged after death in the cosmic fires, from which it had issued, without preserving any individuality. From death, then, they expected nothing but liberation from Destiny, of which they were the bondsmen here below; henceforth they were freed from those cruel necessities and pitiless vicissitudes to which those beings are subject who live under the planetary vaults. Their conception of existence and their highest aspirations were those to which the most antique of modern poets has given forcible
expression; I mean Leconte de Lisle, who, adopting a definition of Alfred de Vigny, declared that life is "a sombre incident between two endless periods of sleep." His musical and despondent apostrophe is well known 1:
Accueille tes enfants dans ton sein étoilé,
Affranchis nous du temps, du nombre, et de l’espace,
Et rends nous le repose que la vie a troublé." 2
This pessimism, which regarded annihilation as a blessing, might be accepted by certain spirits and sometimes preached with a kind of passion, as by Pliny in a famous confession of faith. 3 But the majority, without venturing to admit the certainty of a future life, clung to it as a comfortable hypothesis entertained by certain thinkers.
We find it hard to resign ourselves to complete annihilation; even when reason acquiesces in the destruction of our transitory being, subconsciously we protest against it. The deep instinct of self-preservation drives man to desire a continuance of life, and feeling revolts against the anguish of an irrevocable separation, against the final loss of all one loves. Moreover in imperial Rome there were so many unpunished crimes, so much undeserved suffering, that men naturally took refuge in the hope of a happier future which would repair all the in-justices of a sorrowful present. This is the explanation of the ever-increasing triumph of new theories concerning a life to come. To the scepticism and the negative views which were prevalent at the end of the Republic, at least in intellectual circles, were opposed doctrines taught by the professors of the theology which found in Posidonius its most illustrious exponent. A Stoic, he combines the teaching of the Porch with
the idealism of Plato, who held that the soul, being an immaterial essence, must rise to a fairer world. But he welcomes also, and above all, the religious traditions of the Syrians, of which he is to be the eloquent propagandist.
All Oriental mysteries profess to reveal to their adepts the secret of attaining to a blessed immortality. In place of the shifting and contradictory opinions of philosophers concerning the fate of man after death, these religions offered a certainty based on a divine revelation and corroborated by the belief of countless generations which had clung to it. The despairing world eagerly welcomed these promises, and philosophy, under-going a transformation, joined with the ancient beliefs of the East to give to the Empire a new eschatology.
In point of fact, the different cults conceived blessedness under very different forms, some of them gross enough. To the followers of Bacchus or of the Phrygian Sabazius drunkenness is divine possession. The devotee was to be admitted to the feast of the gods, there to rejoice with them for ever in a state of pleasant intoxication. The Alexandrine mysteries of Isis and Serapis diffused a less material conception of future happiness. The dead will descend to the nether world in full possession of his body as well as of his soul, and will enjoy an eternal rapture in contemplating face to face the ineffable beauty of the gods, whose equal he has become. But of the various beliefs which secured adepts in the Roman world, none was to become so influential as that of sidereal eschatology. This is the purest and most elevated doctrine which can be put to the credit of ancient paganism, and it was to establish a firm hold on the Western mind.
We shall attempt to show how it developed, by whom and when it was disseminated, and what different forms it assumed in the Græco-Roman world.
Certain beliefs which are found, side by side with many others, among primitive peoples, regard the spirits of the dead as departing to inhabit the moon or the sun, or even fancy that their evergrowing host forms the multitude of stars or crowds
the long track of the Milky Way. This very ancient idea received a new significance when philosophers, as far back as Heraclitus, taught that the soul is of the same nature as the ether, which is, as it were, the soul of the universe. Just as the one causes our bodies to move, the other, they said, caused the stars to fly across the spaces of the heavens. At death the body fell to dust and was reunited with the earth, but the glowing breath which had animated it, ascended to the luminous fluid that extended above the clouds, and coalesced with this subtle air, which was the source of all life. The official epitaph on the Athenians who fell at Potidæa in 432 B.C., expresses the conviction that the ether has received into its bosom the souls of these heroes as the earth has received their bodies. 1
There we have an opinion wide-spread in the fifth century from one end of the Hellenic world to the other. In opposition, then, to the views of the Homeric age and of popular belief; these doctrines taught that the abode of souls was neither the tomb nor the nether realm of Pluto, but the upper zone of the universe. Some, with greater exactitude, made them the companions of the stars, whose divinity philosophers devoted themselves to proving. 2 The two ideas are closely related, for the affinity of gods and men is an eminently Greek idea. Some sects of mystics--Orphic or Pythagorean--taught that the spirits of the dead departed to dwell in the moon, or to shine among the constellations. Thus Aristophanes 3 transforms the Pythagorean poet, Ion of Chios, the friend of Sophocles, into the morning star. In Plato's view souls which have made a good use of their lives return to inhabit the heavenly bodies, which served as their dwelling-place before birth, and there partake of the bliss of a divine existence.
Moreover, the Greeks, as we have seen, 4 had long before told how certain heroes of fable had been transported to heaven in reward for their exploits. Hercules, Perseus and Andromeda, the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, and many others had thus been
metamorphosed into constellations. "Catasterism" forms the dénoûment of a number of mythological stories. Hence it did not appear bold to assign to eminent men of the day the same destiny as to the heroes of the past, and no one saw anything offensive in the supposition that their divine spirits took a place in the sky. The astronomer Conon did not hesitate even to recognise there the lock of hair which queen Berenice had dedicated to Aphrodite, and which became thenceforth a new cluster of stars. All persons, animals, and objects whose image men professed to find in the celestial vault, thus had their legends which connected them with some mythological episode or some historical event.
These doctrines, which in this way gradually spread over classical Greece, were to be taken up and transformed by the Stoics. To the disciples of Zeno the soul of man is a portion of that divine fire in which their pantheistic naturalism saw at once the productive force and the intelligence of the world. Human reason, a particle of this universal reason, was conceived as a breath, a fiery emanation. Now the stars are the most brilliant manifestation of the cosmic fire. The philosophy of the Porch, then, favoured the belief that the soul was united with the heavenly bodies by a special relation, and thus Stoicism was readily reconciled with astrology. It is a remarkable fact that this doctrine was defended, in the second century before our era, notably by Hipparchus, who was not only one of the great astronomers but a convinced adept of astrological theories, and, as we have seen, 1 Pliny applauds him warmly for having proved better than any one else that man is related to the stars and that our souls are "a part of the heaven."
Yet the pure Stoics, as we said above, while fully admitting the continued existence of this divine essence which warms and governs the body, inclined to the belief that after death it was reabsorbed into the universal fire without retaining any individuality. But very early this philosophy was led to make concessions to popular beliefs. Certain of its professors sought to bring the new principles which were formulated in the sphere of physics and psychology into agreement with the mystic ideas
propagated by the religious sects which began to spread from Asia over the Græco-Latin world. Posidonius, let us recall the fact, was the most active agent in bringing about this syncretism between East and West, and his pupil Cicero gives us in the Dream of Scipio the earliest statement of this eschatology at Rome: The souls of those who have deserved immortality will not descend to the depths of the earth, they will rise again to the starry spheres. We shall return several times to this remarkable Dream.
A number of inscriptions attest the extent to which this belief had spread by the first century before our era. There is an unlimited choice of examples to quote. Thus an epitaph on a girl thirteen years old discovered in the island of Thasos 1 says: "In this tomb lies the body of a young maiden, anthophoros (flower-bearer) of Ceres, carried off by the merciless Fates. But her soul by the good-will of the Immortals dwells among the stars and takes its place in the sacred choir of the blest." Here is a Latin epitaph, 2 one among many of the same kind: "My divine soul shall not descend to the shades; heaven and the stars have borne me away; earth holds my body, and this stone an empty name." Epigraphy proves that these ideas of a future life became gradually prevalent. They were more and more generally accepted under the Roman Empire in proportion as Oriental religions acquired more authority, and in the last days of paganism they exerted a preponderating influence.
After this rapid sketch of the historical development of sidereal eschatology, we shall attempt to trace the outlines of the doctrine and to show its varieties.
We shall have to examine four points:
2. How does the soul ascend to heaven?
3. Where is the abode of the blest to be found?
4. How is the blessedness that is vouchsafed to them conceived?
1. Who is it that wins the boon of this sidereal immortality?
It appears certain that in the East it was at first reserved for
those monarchs who, while still on earth, were raised by the reverence of their subjects above their fellow-men and put almost, or altogether, on a level with the heavenly powers. Traces of this primitive conception survived even at Rome. According to a tradition which is echoed by Manilius, 1 Nature first revealed her mysteries to the minds of kings, whose lofty thoughts reach the summit of the heavens. Another doctrine was also taught, that the divine souls of sovereigns come from a higher place than those of other men, that the greater a man's dignity, the greater is the dower he gets from heaven. But, in a general way, the rites employed to ensure immortality to kings by putting them on a level with the gods, were by degrees extended to important members of their entourage. This was a sort of privilege, of posthumous nobility, which was conferred on great ministers of state, or which they usurped, long before the common crowd of the dead attained it. Such is the idea to which Cicero gives expression in the Dream of Scipio 2: "To all those who have saved, succoured, or exalted their fatherland, there is assigned a fixed place in heaven, where they will enjoy everlasting bliss, for it is from heaven that they who guide and preserve states have descended, thither to reascend." This is the republican paraphrase of the doctrine of the divinity of kings. But if an ex-consul is thus willing to accord apotheosis to statesmen, philosophers claim it for sages, men of letters for great poets, and artists for creative geniuses. Here the old Greek worship of heroes, combined with belief in "catasterism," comes in to enlarge the narrow conception of monarchy. Hermes Trismegistus 3 taught that there were different kinds of royal souls, for there is a royalty of spirit, a royalty of art, a royalty of science, even a royalty of bodily strength. All exceptional men resemble the gods, and the people were loath to believe that they perished for ever. Some modern writers have shared this sentiment. "That a Shah of Persia or a critic of Milan," said Carducci, who had suffered at the hands of the latter class, "dies irrevocably, I believe, and I congratulate
myself on the belief. But that Mazzini or that Dante Alighieri is utterly dead, I am entirely unconvinced."
Among those heroes whose merits had opened to them the gates of heaven,--"virtus recludens immeritis mori caelum," as Horace puts it, 1--the military monarchies of the East placed in the forefront the warriors who had died sword in hand in defence of their country, or rather of their king. This doctrine, which was deep-rooted particularly in Syria, has been preserved, as is well known, in Islam. But, side by side with these valiant soldiers, pious priests also were judged to merit immortality, or rather they adjudged it to themselves. Who could be more worthy to mount to the stars than those who, while yet on earth, lived in their society and in contemplation of them? Then, when Oriental mysteries spread, they all professed to prolong the existence of the initiated beyond the hour of death appointed by Destiny and to exempt them from the fatal law imposed on mankind. Participation in the occult ceremonies of worship becomes an infallible means of securing salvation. The gods welcomed amongst them the faithful who had served them fervently and had purified themselves by the scrupulous performance of rites.
But the demands of a less exclusive morality did not allow happiness beyond the grave to be secured as the reward of sectarian piety. Side by side with devotional observances the practice of more essentially human virtues was demanded. The purity necessary to salvation, which was originally ritual purity, now became spiritual. Though priests doubtless insisted strongly on the fulfilment of religious duties, the more philosophical theologians looked, above all, to the psychological conditions necessary for translation to heaven. We have indicated in dealing with the subject of ecstasy, 2--and we shall return to it shortly,--how souls made gross by carnal passions were unable to ascend to the abode of the gods of light. For those who have not kept themselves pure throughout their lives, a posthumous purification is indispensable.
2. This brings us to the second question which we have set before ourselves: How did souls rise to the stars?
It may be said that originally they made use of every method of locomotion: they ascended to heaven on foot, on horseback, in carriages, and they even had recourse to aviation. Among the ancient Egyptians the firmament was conceived as being so close to the mountains of the earth that it was possible to climb up to it with the aid of a ladder. Although the stars had been relegated to. an infinite distance in space, the ladder still survived in Roman paganism as an amulet and as a symbol. Many people continued to place in tombs a small bronze ladder which recalled the naive beliefs of distant ages; and in the mysteries of Mithra a ladder of seven steps, made of seven different metals, still symbolised the passage of the soul across the planetary spheres.
Though it had become difficult to reach heaven on foot, it was still possible to get there on horseback,--on the back of a winged horse. Thus the large cameo of Paris called "The Apotheosis of Augustus," represents a prince of his house, Germanicus or Marcellus, borne by a "Pegasus," which doubtless has no connection with Bellerophon's mount. Sometimes a griffin is preferred to Pegasus: the monster flies heaven-wards carrying on its sturdy back the deceased raised to the level of the gods. The dead, however, more frequently travelled in a car,--the car of the Sun. The idea that the divine charioteer drives a team across the heavenly fields existed in very early times in Syria as well as in Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The horses of fire and the chariot of fire, which carried up the prophet Elijah in a whirlwind, are very probably the horses and chariot of the Sun. In the same way, when Mithra's mission on earth was fulfilled, he had been conveyed in the chariot of Helios to the celestial spheres over the ocean, and the happy lot which the hero had won for himself he granted also to his followers. The Emperors in particular were commonly reputed to become companions of the Sun-god after death, as they had been his protégés in life, and to be conducted by him in his chariot up to the summit of the eternal vaults.
Finally, there is a very wide-spread belief of Syrian origin
that souls fly to heaven on the back of an eagle. 1 According to the story, Etana in Babylon, like Ganymede in Greece, had been carried off in this way. The pious shared this happy lot. This is why the eagle is used as the ordinary decorative motif on sepulchral stelae at Hierapolis, the holy city of the great Syrian goddess, and it appears with the same meaning in the West. At the funeral rites of Emperors at Rome there was always fastened to the top of the pyre on which the corpse was to be consumed, an eagle, which was supposed to bear aloft the monarch's soul, and art frequently represents the busts of the Cæsars resting on an eagle in the act of taking flight, by way of suggesting their apotheosis. The reason is that in the East the eagle is the bird of the Baals, solar gods, and it carries to its master those who have been his servants in the world below.
All these supposed methods of reaching heaven are very primitive: they start from the supposition that a load has to be carried; they hardly imply a separation of body and soul, and they are anterior to the distinctions which philosophers established between different parts of man's being. They are religious survivals of very ancient conceptions, which only vulgar minds still interpreted literally.
The same idea is involved when magicians by secret processes professed to assure the credulous of the possibility of raising themselves upwards. If we are to believe Arnobius, 2 they asserted that they could cause wings to grow from the backs of their dupes, so as to enable them to fly up to the stars. One of the wonders which miracle-mongers most frequently boasted of working was that of soaring up into the air. The phenomena of levitation are produced at all periods. The power which magic professed to bestow on its adepts, is merely one particular application of this art to eschatology or rather to deification (ἀπαθανατισμός). Of this the papyrus erroneously called a "Mithraic liturgy" is the most typical example. 3
These mechanical means of raising oneself, body and soul,
to the starry vault could still be recognised by superstition, which picks up all the ideas that have dropped out in the evolution of beliefs. They carry us back to an extremely low stage of religion, as we said. Hence theologians no longer accepted them save as symbols. Other doctrines of a more advanced character were developed, and these constituted the true teaching of the great Oriental mysteries, just as they had secured the adhesion of thinking men. They connected the ascent of the soul after death with physical and ethical theories, and thus caused sidereal immortality to enter into the order of the universe. They either appealed to solar attraction, or based their doctrine on the actual nature of the soul.
The Pythagoreans already believed that the glittering particles of dust which danced ceaselessly in a sunbeam (ξύσματα), were souls descending from the ether, borne on the wings of light. They added that this beam, passing through the air and through water down to its depths, gave life to all things here below. This idea persisted under the Empire in the theology of the mysteries. Souls descended upon the earth, and reascended after death toward the sky, thanks to the rays of the sun, which served as the means of transport. On Mithraic bas-reliefs, one of the seven rays which surround the head of Sol Invictus, is seen disproportionately prolonged towards the dying Bull in order to awake the new life that is to spring from the death of the cosmogonic animal. But this ancient belief was brought into connection with a general theory held by the Chaldeans. 1 We saw that in the eyes of astrologers the human soul was an igneous essence, of the same nature as the celestial fires. The radiant sun continually caused particles of his resplendent orb to descend into the bodies which he called to life. Conversely, when death has dissolved the elements of which the human being is composed, and the soul has quitted the fleshly envelope in which it was imprisoned, the sun elates it again to himself. Just as his ardent heat causes all material substances to rise from the earth, so it draws to him again the invisible essence that dwells in us. He is the Ἀναγωγεύς, "he who brings up from below," who attracts the spirit out of the
flesh that defiles it. By a series of emissions and absorptions he in turn sends his burning emanations into bodies at birth and after death causes them to reascend into his bosom.
In this theory it is to the power of the sun, the great cosmic divinity, that the ascension of the soul is due. According to another doctrine mentioned above, which we are now going to consider more closely, the cause of this ascension is the physical nature of the soul.
This doctrine is set forth with great precision by Cicero in the Tusculan Disputations, 1 doubtless after Posidonius. The soul is a fiery breath (anima inflammata)--that is to say, its substance is the lightest in this universe composed of four elements. It necessarily, therefore, has a tendency to rise, for it is warmer and more subtle than the gross and dense air which encircles the earth. It will the more easily cleave this heavy atmosphere, since nothing moves more rapidly than a spirit. It must, therefore, in its continuous ascent, pass through that zone of the sky where gather the clouds and the rain, and where rule the winds, which, by reason of exhalations from the earth, is damp and foggy. When finally it reaches the spaces filled by an air that is rarefied and warmed by the sun, it finds elements similar to its own substance, and, ceasing to ascend, it is maintained in equilibrium. Henceforth it dwells in these regions, which are its natural home, continually vivified by the same principles that feed the everlasting fires of the stars.
This theory made it easier than the previous theory had done to establish a firm connexion between ethical beliefs concerning future destiny and physical theories about the constitution of the universe and the nature of man. We have seen 2 that virtue was conceived as liberation from the dominion of the flesh; the soul is never purely spiritual or immaterial, but when it abandons itself to the passions, it becomes gross, its substance grows more corporeal, if I may use the expression, and then it is too heavy to rise to the stars and gain the spheres of light. Its mere density will compel it to float in our mephitic atmosphere until it has been purified and consequently
lightened. Thus the door is opened to all doctrines concerning punishment beyond the grave. How did pagans conceive this Purgatory situated in the air?
There is a very old opinion that the soul is a breath and that, at the moment when it escapes through the mouth of the dying man, it is carried away by the winds. Thus the atmosphere was filled with wandering souls, which became demons with power to succour or harm mortals. The origin of these beliefs goes back to the most primitive animism. But the mysteries introduced into them the idea of purification. Souls tossed by whirlwinds are freed from defilements contracted during life, just as linen hung in the air is bleached and loses all odour. When, after being thus buffeted and blown about by the winds, souls are purified from part of their sins, they rise to the zone of the clouds, where they are drenched by rain and plunged into the gulf of the upper waters. Thus cleansed from the stains that polluted them, they reach at last the fires of heaven, whose heat scorches them. Not till they have undergone this threefold trial, during which they have passed through countless years of cruel expiation, do they find at length everlasting peace in the serenity of the ether.
Virgil alludes to this doctrine in the famous line of the sixth book of the Æneid, 1 where, speaking of souls, he says:
Suspensae ad ventos, aliis sub gurgite vasto
Infectum eluitur scelus aut exuritur igni.
Again, the passage of souls through the elements is represented symbolically on a funeral monument almost contemporary with the poet. Above the portrait of the deceased there appear first in the spandrels of this cippus, two busts of the Winds facing each other. Higher up, on the architrave are two Tritons and two dolphins, which evidently represent the idea of the aqueous element. Finally, at the top of the stone, in the pediment, we see two lions which, as on the Mithraic monuments, are symbols of fire, the igneous principle. 2
Side by side with physical ideas, mythological beliefs always retained their sway. Various sects professed to assure to the deceased a passage through these regions peopled by malevolent demons: they taught their members prayers which would propitiate hostile powers; they instructed them in formula, consisting of veritable "pass-words," which would compel the commandants (ἄρχοντες), posted to guard the gates of heaven, to allow them to enter the upper sphere. Here is a legacy from the ancient religions of the East. The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a veritable guide to the other world, and the Orphic tablets of Petilia are of the same character. The papyrus of Paris, called a Mithraic liturgy, affords us the most characteristic example of the use of these magical processes.
But more often the priests professed to give the soul a god to lead it on its perilous journey through the whirlwinds of air, water, and fire to the starry heavens. "Among the dead," says a funeral inscription, 1 "there are two companies: one moves upon the earth, the other in the ether among the choirs of stars; I belong to the latter, for I have obtained a god as my guide." This divine escort of souls frequently retains the name of Hermes in conformity with ancient Greek mythology. An epigram belonging to the first century of our era apostrophises the deceased in these words: "Hermes of the wingèd feet, taking thee by the hand, has conducted thee to Olympus and made thee to shine among the stars." 2 But more often the rôle of escort now devolves upon the Sun himself: We have seen 3 that at the end of paganism the royal star is figured as carrying mortals in his flying chariot. Those who had not by their piety merited the protection of the god whose duty it was to escort and introduce them, and who nevertheless ventured up to heaven, were cast headlong into the perpetually raging gulf of the warring elements which fought unceasingly around the earth.
3. The lowest of the seven planetary spheres, that of the moon, separates the domain of the violent and restless elements and of beings subject to fate, from that of the eternal gods, where all is order and regularity. What becomes of the souls that enter this celestial zone, and where are they stationed? In other words, where is the abode of the blest?--the third question which we have to examine.
The masses did not attain to very precise ideas on this subject: they hesitated, they contented themselves with the general assertion that the soul is "among the stars." At the beginning of their poems, Lucan addressing Nero and Statius addressing Domitian both asked what part of heaven these Emperors will inhabit after their apotheosis 1: Will they mount on the flaming chariot of the Sun? will they take their place as new stars among the constellations? Or even will Jupiter himself in the height of the heavens yield to them his sceptre? In the same way theologians doubted where to place the Elysian Fields. The Stoics had already emphatically declared that they were not situated in the depths of the earth, as the ancient Greeks believed. In conformity with their system of physical interpretations of mythological names, Acheron became in their eyes the air, Tartarus and Pyriphlegethon the zones of fire and hail. As for the Elysian Fields, they are found to be located sometimes in the moon, sometimes between the moon and the sun, sometimes in the sphere of the fixed stars and particularly in the Milky Way, sometimes beyond this extreme sphere of the heavens, outside the limits of the world. Among the various doctrines there are two of which we have more precise information from ancient authors. One is set forth by Plutarch after Demetrius of Tarsus 2: it is a combination of the ideas of Posidonius with the religious beliefs of the mysteries. According to this doctrine, man is composed of body (σῶμα), nutritive soul (ψυχή), and reason (νοῦς). The body is made of earth; the vital principle, which nourishes it and causes it to grow, is lunar; reason comes to us from the sun. Death severs from the body the nutritive soul and the rational soul; the former is
dissolved in the moon, the latter ultimately, after complete purification, reascends to its original source, the fount of all light.
This doctrine was adopted by those who regarded the Sun as the principal god. But when, as we have explained, 1 paganism renounced the view that the Sun is the lord of the world, the Prime Cause, and set the Supreme Being beyond the limits of the sensible world, enthroning him above the planetary spheres in the highest of the heavens, the abode of the blest was naturally transferred to the seat of divinity; and a theory, more complicated than that of solar immortality, but doubtless only a development of it, prevailed towards the end of the Roman empire.
This psychology, which owed its triumph to the astrological cults of Asia, professed to establish a sevenfold division in the soul, to which corresponded seven creations. It taught that our soul descends from the height of heaven to this sublunary world, passing through the gates of the planetary spheres, and thus at its birth the soul acquires the dispositions and the qualities peculiar to each of these stars. After death it regains its celestial home by the same path. Then, as it traverses the zones of the sky, which are placed one above another, it divests itself of the passions and faculties which it has acquired during its descent to earth, as it were of garments. To the moon it surrenders its vital and alimentary energy, to Mercury its cupidity, to Venus its amorous desires, to the sun its intellectual capacities, to Mars its warlike ardour, to Jupiter its ambitious dreams, to Saturn its slothful tendencies. It is naked, disencumbered of all sensibility, when it reaches the eighth heaven, there to enjoy, as a sublime essence, in the eternal light where live the gods, bliss without end.
All these doctrines, then, in spite of differences in detail, taught that souls, descended from the light above, were raised to the region of the stars, where they dwelt forever with these radiant divinities. This eschatology of "Chaldean" origin gradually displaced all others under the Empire. The Elysian Fields, which not only the ancient Greeks, but also the followers of Isis and Serapis still located in the depths of the earth, were
transferred to the ether which laves the stars, and the subterranean world became henceforth the gloomy abode of malevolent spirits. This conception, a novelty in Europe, had long been that of Persian dualism, which the mysteries of Mithra imported into the West. Their theology systematically contrasts the infernal darkness, into which are plunged demons and reprobates, with the bright abodes of the gods and the elect.
4. Before concluding this lecture, we have still a fourth question to examine: What conception was formed of the bliss reserved for the elect who were raised to the stars?
We have seen (p. 95) that the mysteries of Bacchus and Thracian Orphism represented immortality as a sort of holy intoxication: the faithful, sharing the banquet of the gods, rejoiced with them for ever at a feast liberally supplied with wine. These beliefs were combined with sidereal eschatology, only the locality of the repast was transferred to the new Olympus, and the idea of a celestial banquet was to survive up to the end of paganism and to impose itself, at any rate as a symbol, even on Christianity.
But Plato had already ridiculed those who looked upon ceaseless wine-bibbing as the highest reward of virtue, and the author of the Epinomis already conceived eternal life as the contemplation of the most beautiful things which eye can perceive--that is, the constellations. This idea was developed in the sidereal cults, and Posidonius was to set forth in stately language how the contemplation of the sky and the study of the stars is the preparation for another existence, in which human reason will know the fulness of the sublime joy which a transient ecstasy causes it here below. As soon as it is delivered from the trammels of the flesh, the soul will soar to these lofty regions, whither it has hitherto been unable to escape except at intervals. Flying across the immensity of space, it will reascend to the stars from which it descended. Embracing in its view the entire circuit of the world, it will perceive our globe as a scarcely visible point, or as an ant-heap for the dominion of which a host of minute insects contend. This earth, frozen in
the north, scorched in the south, submerged all round by the ocean, intersected by deserts, devastated and defiled, is uninhabitable except here and there. How contemptible will appear to the soul the narrowness of its former dwelling, how empty the ambition of those who dream of no other immortality than glory in this finite realm! As soon as it reaches the starry spheres, reason is nourished and expands; in its former home it regains its original qualities; it rejoices among the divine stars; it contemplates all the glory of the bright heaven, and at the same time it is ravished by the accordant sounds of enchanting music, the glorious world-concert made by the harmonious movement of the spheres. Freed from the passions of the body, it will be able to abandon itself entirely to its insatiable desire for knowledge. Marvelling at the sidereal revolutions, it will set itself to comprehend them; its keener vision will enable it to discover the causes of all phenomena, and it will receive a full revelation of all the secrets of Nature--that is, of God.
The doctrine of sidereal immortality is certainly the most elevated that antiquity conceived. It was at this definitive formula that paganism stopped. This belief was not to perish utterly with it; and even after the stars had been despoiled of their divinity, it survived to some extent the theology which had created it. If I had not already abused your patience, it would be an interesting study to join you in searching for survivals of these pagan tenets through the Middle Ages, and in showing the forms which they assumed in the popular creed and amongst the divines. In general, souls continued to be represented as passing through the spheres of heaven in order to reach the abode of the Most High. May I remind you that Dante was still inspired by these most ancient astrological conceptions? His Paradise shows us the blest, who have practised the virtues proper to each of the planets, inhabiting the spheres of these seven wandering stars. To destroy these old eschatological ideas it was necessary for Copernicus and Galileo to overthrow the system of Ptolemy and bring down those heavens peopled by bright beings, and so to open to the imagination the infinite spaces of a boundless universe.
93:1 Lucret., III, 37:
Funditus humanam qui vitam turbat ab imo.
94:1 Poèmes antiques, "Dies Irae."
To fade in thy embrace,
Gather thy children to thy bosom starred,
Free us from time, from number, and from space,
And give us back the rest that life hath marred.
94:3 Pliny, Nat. Hist., vii, 55, § 188.
96:1 Corp. Incr. Att., i, 442: Αἰθὴρ μὲν ψυχὰς ὑπεδέξατο, σώματα δὲ χθών.
96:3 Aristoph., Pax, 831.
98:1 Kaibel, Epigr. Gr., 324.
98:2 Buecheler, Carmina Epigr., 611.
99:1 Manil., i, 41.
99:2 Cic., Somn. Scip., c. 3.
99:3 Herm. Trism. ap. Stobaeum, Ecl., p. 466, Wachsmuth.
100:1 Horace, Odes, iii, 2, 21.
102:1 For further details see my paper "L’aigle funéraire des Syriens et l’apothéose des empereurs" (Revue de l’histoire des religions), 1910.
102:2 Arnob., Adv. Nat., ii, 33, 62 (p. 65, 5; 97, 27, Reifferscheid).
102:3 Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie, 1910, compare my Oriental Religions (1911), p. 260.
104:1 Tusc. Disp., i, 43, § 18.
105:1 Virgil, Æn., vi, 740.
105:2 Jahresb. Inst. Wien, xii (1910), p. 213.
106:1 Kaibel, Epigramm. Græca, 650.
106:2 Haussoullier, Revue de philologie, 1909, p. 6.
107:1 Lucan, i, 45 ss. Stat., Thebaid., i, 22.
107:2 Plut., De Facie in Orbe Lunae, c. 26; cf. my Théologie solaire, pp. 464, 475.
108:1 See above, Lecture IV, p. 75.