Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

on lower ground, and, as it grew feebler, into darker gloom. They who believed in it themselves may not have thought their sacrifices or their thanksgivings to lack any thing in abundance, or splendor, or solemnity; but it is apparent, since they passed away, that their religious fervor was apt to show itself only in extravagant ceremonies, at which the Greek might have sneered as vulgar and unstudied, or else in superstitious precepts, that even the Hindoo could, in many instances, have despised. Rome was to heathenism the beginning of its end.

Like all other systems, however, the Roman struggled, or perhaps more securely resolved, to make itself eternal. Seeming to feel the instability of its own principles, it threw itself upon the political and social principles, that is, the laws and customs of the Commonwealth, of which it was conceived to be the ornament and the safeguard. The fact was otherwise; and it scarcely requires reflection to perceive that the religion which depended upon the secular institutions of a country was exposed to all the chances and changes of merely human laws.

It followed, naturally, that the points of greatest importance in the religious practices of the Romans were the forms of prayer, or festival, or authority, which could be observed by men's lips or eyes, how

5 It is in this view only we can 6 " Tatius et Numa,” says Monrepeat with Herder, as with many tesquieu, “asservirent les dieux à another writer, that the religion of la politique.” Diss. sur la Politique the Romans was a civil and military des Romains dans la Religion. one. Ideas Philos. Hist., Book XIV. ch. 11.

Hist., "hlitary na Politique , asse

as V

ever little they might be felt within their hearts. Internal strength was supposed to correspond to the marks of external ceremonies, which could be neither too numerous nor too cumbrous to protect the worship they served rather to conceal than to express. But in proportion, as it now appears, to the publicity and multiplicity of forms were the scantiness and the obscurity of the creed within. When the second war with the Samnites was on the point of breaking out subsequently to many acts of aggression committed by the Romans, an embassy was sent into Samnium, where, after some vain and insincere attempts to prevent hostilities, the herald accompanying the ambassadors lifted his hands towards heaven, and prayed, that, if the Commonwealth of Rome had been faithless to her ancient covenant, the gods would now abandon her to her enemies." It is vain to say that this was a mere form, to which none who heard the herald would attach any overdue consideration. The time of indifference to the immortals, much less of contempt for their sense or their power, had not yet arrived; and the embassy was fulfilling as solemn a ceremony as could be observed by a warlike nation.

There are still many instances to be found of the tenacity with which the show, and what was esteemed the substance, of the Roman religion were at this, and in the earlier period, preserved. About half a century before the tribunate of Licinius Stolo, there occurred a year of great distress. Excessive heat, parching the plains and drying up the streams, was soon attended by disease, which seized at first upon cattle, then upon herdsmen, and shortly spread throughout the country and the city. In the extremity of suffering and terror to which the poorer classes especially were reduced, they sought for omens, and offered sacrifices of every fashion, new as well as old, strange as well as common, by which they thought the gods might be appeased. But the chief men of the city, as the historian calls the Patricians and the Patrician priests, were angered by the unusual rites observed around them, and straightway charged the Ædiles to see that none but the gods of Rome were worshipped, and none but the rites of Rome employed. The cravings after new methods or new objects of adoration in times of prosperity would be much more ineffectual than the frenzy of a stricken people which could be thus decisively subdued.

7 Dion. Hal., Excerpt., XV. 14.

A more particular and striking case of the determination to uphold the customary observances, even in regard to domestic affairs, is that of Lucius Antonius, whose high birth could not screen him from the consequences of attempting to act with too great independence. He had put away his wife, without calling his relatives to counsel, and making his statement before them, as was required by the civil

8 “Ne qui, nisi Romani dii, neu Liv., XXV. 1, XXXIX. 16, and quo alio more quam patrio, coleren- Cic., De Legg., II. 8. tur." Liv., IV. 30. Compare

[ocr errors]

as well as the canon law; and was, on that account, expelled from the Senate by the Censors. Yet, to judge from every report we have concerning the authority of the Roman husband, the will of Antonius could only have been ratified by the family council, had it been called.

The religion of Rome was principally intrusted to the various priesthoods, of whom sufficient mention has been made. Possessing a limited control over the every-day duties of the people, and obliged to share their authority over the ritual services of public, if not of private life with many of the civil magistrates, the priests were far from being powerful; the more so in proportion as their doctrines or their forms were obliged to depend upon the secular institutions of the Commonwealth. Their offices were neither numerous 10 nor hereditary; nor were they sought with any ambition at all commensurate to the eagerness and the constancy that impelled the Roman to make himself a Tribune or a Consul.

In these considerations, however, we have advanced beyond the actual period of our history; and it was yet a long while before the priesthood ceased

9 Val. Max., II. 9, sect. 2. en faut bien retrancher un tiers."

10 “ En ajoutant aux collèges su- Daunou, Études Historiques, Tom. périeurs et secondaires les Flamines, XIII. p. 434. les Saliens, les Vestales, etc., vous 1 Two of the same Gens, or trouveriez, dans les derniers siècles Name, were forbidden to hold office de la république, plus de deux cents in the same college. Dion Cass., personnes préposées dans Rome au XXXIX. 17. culte public; mais sous les rois, il

to command the ambition and the service of the most distinguished men in Rome. On looking back again, it is plain that the possession of the sacerdotal offices was one great barrier which the Plebeians were obliged to surmount, before their liberty could be actually won.12 The superiority of the Plebeian priests never equalled that which the Patricians had long retained alone; and one must recur to the early times to see how the warning of the Augur was dreaded or the injunction of the Pontiff obeyed. A singular example of the religious respect, as it may be called, which was felt for all eminent citizens, such, for instance, as filled the priesthoods at this time, is recorded in the defence of Atilius Calatinus by his father-in-law, the great Fabius Rullianus, during the latter part of the second Samnite war. Calatinus was accused before the Centuries of having betrayed the town of Sora to the enemy; and so warmly was the charge urged against him, that he was just on the point of being condemned. Fabius, at that moment, rose up in the assembly. “Had I thought Calatinus guilty,” he declared, “I would have taken my daughter from him before now"; and the expression of the old hero's feelings, at once so simple and so steadfast, turned the votes of all the Centuries.13 It was thus that the Patricians had long ruled Rome.

It was thus, also, even when the times of Patrician

12 “ E vedesi, chi considera bene le istorie romane, quanto serviva la religione a comandare agli eserciti,

a ruinare la plebe," etc. Machiavelli, Disc. Tit. Liv., Lib. I. cap. 11.

13 Val. Max., VIII. 1, sect. 9.

« НазадПродовжити »