Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

Here, you will observe, that this horrible punishment was to have been inflicted for no greater crime than the casual breaking of a piece of furniture:-that this Vedius Pollio lived in the Augustan age, when Roman literature and refinement were carried to the greatest perfection : and that though the emperor ordered that his fish ponds should be destroyed, and his glasses broken, the favorite received no other punishment.

We may form some opinion of the extent of human sufferings, occasioned by slavery in the Roman Empire, if, in addition to these facts, we consider, that a single individual, seven years before the christian æra, had slaves to the number of four thousand one hundred and sixteen; and that any one of these made an unsuccessful attempt to regain his liberty, he was marked on the forehead, with a red hot iron.

In another lecture, by divine permission, the subject will be resumed; and further proof will be exhibited of the moral degradation of the heathen, whether of ancient or modern times.

:

LECTURE V.

Heathen Morals.

In this lecture, the subject of the last, will be further pursued. Additional evidence will be exhibited, of the corrupt state of morals, prevailing among pagans, whether of ancient or modern times. And,

1. We notice the crime of unchastity.

After what has been already said on the moral character of heathen divinities, and on the nature of those rites, which were observed in their worship, much evidence will not be required to convince you, that chastity, as inculcated by christianity, and by every rational system of moral philosophy, made no very conspicuous figure in the pagan character. For this reason, as well as for others, not less obvious, you will neither expect nor desire, that a long series of proofs should be adduced.

That both the Greeks and Romans suffered to pass without censure, and openly tolerated those connexions, which christianity pronounces criminal, and for which, it declares, that the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience, is well known. That, which was allowed by such philosophic statesmen, as Solon and Cato, would not be likely to be scrupled by an ignorant, unbridled populace.

Alluding to licentious intercourse among persons, who had not acknowledged the sacredness of hymenial obligations, Cicero in his oration for Cælius, makes the following extraor

[ocr errors]

dinary appeal. Quando enim hoc non fuctum est? Quando reprehensum ? Quando non permissum ? Quando denique fuit, ut quod licet not liceret ?

We may have occasion hereafter to animadvert upon this sentiment, as showing how unqualified were the most enlightened among pagans to become guides to others, either in the science or practice of morality. But, at present, we consider it only, as indicating the licentiousness of the senate, before which the sentiment was uttered, and the licentiousness of the Roman nation, even in its better days. For, uf any one, who should condemn the liberty of which he speaks, it is added, abhorret non modo ab hujus seculi licentia, verum etiam a majorum consuetudine atque concessis.

Even in that interesting and sacred relation, from which proceeds so much of the enjoyment and purity of domestic life, the Greeks and Romans were little acquainted with those better and finer feelings, which christianity inspires. The Spartans could hardly be said to have an individual existence. They were in every thing, identified with the State. Marriage was little more than an institution for keeping up their military establishment; and to this purpose, Lycurgus hiinself, designed that it should be made grossly subservient.

At Athens, before the age of Pericles, wives were treated merely as a better kind of servants. From them they differed little in their education. With their female slaves they lived in a secluded part of the house, associating little with each other, and scarcely at all with men, even their nearest relations. Thus ignorant and degraded, the Athenian matrons gradually lost, first the respect of their husbands, and, by unavoidable consequence, their affection. Unhappily there existed at this time at Athens a set of profligate females, whose intellects and manners were more cultivated. To associate with these, became customary, not only for the thoughtless and dissipated, but even for stalesmen and philosophers, whose example ought to have inflicted on vice the brand of infamy.

Set free from the restraints of shame, and emboldened by

such examples, licentiousness no longer courted retirement, but openly asserted claims to general influence and dominion.

That little sanctity was attached to matrimonial contracts, and that conjugal infidelity had become general among the Romans, at the time, when christianity was introduced, appears both from Juvenal and Tacitus. We ought indeed to make great allowances for the liberty, used in poetical satires; but it is impossible to imagine, that any author could have written with the spirit of Juvenal, unless it had been roused by witnessing a general contempt not only of chastity, but of decorum.

Tacitus was no poet. From his testimony no deductions are to be made on account of hyperbole or imagination. Yet he speaks of adultery, as a crime which had become common.culpa inter viros et fæminas vulgata.)Tac.Annal.150.

Nothing gives us a more unfavorable opinion of Roman chastity, than the welcome reception, found by pantomimes and buffoons, both in private families, and on the stage. Of buffoons, Rosinus informs us, there were two kinds;, one to give amusement in private circles, and the other on the theatre. He adds, that on account of the licentiousness of their language, and the indecency of their gestures, they became extremely acceptable to the people. (Rosini. Ant. Rom. 325. Salvian. 185.) This spectacle, new in the time of Augustus, was performed by action alone. It was exhibited, says Gifford, on a magnificent theatre raised for that purpose. It so astonished and delighted the people, that they forsook, in some measure, their tragic and comic poets, for the more expressive ballettes of Pylades and Bathyllus. (Gifford's Juv. 168.) We can form no idea, continues this author, of the attachment of the Romans to these exhibitions. It degenerated into a kind of passion, and occupied their whole souls.

When it is considered, that, by these pantomimes, were represented before vast and promiscuous assemblies some

of the worst actions of the heathen gods; and that the actors were held in admiration, not by the common people only, but by persons of high authority, and even by the emperors themselves, it is easily seen how extensively and rapidly the contagion would be communicated, and how insensibly, but inevitably, would be dissolved those restraints, which it is the honor of our intellectual and moral natures to feel, to acknowledge, and obey.

It is well known, that a species of impurity, still more flagitious and hateful,was neither unknown nor uncommon among the ancient heathen. Xenophon, as quoted by Leland, represents this to have been so common, that it was, in many places, established by the public laws. Aristotle informs us, that, among the Cretans, there was a law encouraging this crime. The lawgiver of Athens, it is reported, apparently on good evidence, neither passed any general law against this vice, nor was himself pure from its contamination. Cicero, from a passage, contained in his fifth book of Tusculan questions, appears to have considered the Greeks, as gencrally yielding to it. Nor did the Romans, in this particular, differ from them, as appears undeniably from the second Eclogue of Virgil, from several passages in the writings of Tully, but especially from the Satires of Juvenal. The same abominations are now practised both in China and Japan, where they are accounted neither a crime nor a sin. gularity.

After what has been stated, no one will be surprised at learning the prevalence of other vices. Those, which have been mentioned, show an entire prostration of moral principle. Open vice, must of course, have been exhibited just in proportion as interest could be advanced, or passions gratified.

Accordingly we are told by Polybius, as quoted by Dr. Middleton, that the want of integrity was general among the Greeks. “Those, who managed the public inonies in Greece, though they have ever so many bonds and sureties for their

« ForrigeFortsæt »