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THE GODS OF GREECE, ITALY, AND
WRITTEN IN 1784, AND SINCE REVISED,
We cannot justly conclude, by arguments preceding the proof of facts, that one idolatrous people must have borrowed their deities, rites, and tenets from another; fince Gods of all shapes and dimensions may be framed by the boundless powers of imagination, or by the frauds and follies of men, in countries never connected ; but, when features of resemblance, too strong to have been accidental, are observable in different systems of polytheism, without fancy or prejudice to colour them and improve the likeness, we can scarce help believing, that some connection has immemorially subsisted between the several nations, who have adopted them : it is my design in this essay, to point out such a resemblance between the popular worship of the old Greeks and Italians and that of the Hindus ; nor can there be room to doubt of a great similarity between their strange religions and that of Egypt, China, Persia, Phrygia, Phænice, Syria; to which, perhaps, we may fafely add some of the southern kingdoms and even islands of America; while the Gothick system, which prevailed in the northern regions of Europe, was not merely similar to those of Greece and Italy, but almost the same in another dress with an embroidery of images apparently Afiatick. From all this, if it be satisfactorily proved, we may infer a general union or affinity between the most distinguished inhabitants of the primitive world, at the time when they deviated, as they did too early deviate, from the rational adoration of the only true God.
There seem to have been four principal sources of all mythology. I. Historical, or natural, truth has been perverted into fable by ignorance, imagination, flattery, or stupidity; as a king of Crete, whose tomb had been discovered in that island, was conceived to have been the God of Olympus, and Minos, a legislator of that country, to have been his son, and to hold a supreme appellate jurisdiction over departed fouls; hence too probably flowed the tale of CADMUS, as BOCHART learnedly traces it; hence beacons or volcano. became one-eyed giants and monsters vomiting flames; and two rocks, from their appearance to mariners in certain positions, were
supposed to crush all vessels attempting to pass between them; of which idle fictions many other instances might be collected from the Odyfey and the various Argonautick poems. The less we say of Julian stars, deifications of princes or warriours, altars raised, with those of APOLLO, to the basest of men, and divine titles bestowed on such wretches as CAJUS OCTAVIANUS, the less we shall expose the infamy of grave senators and fine poets, or the brutal folly of the low multitude: but we may be assured, that the mad apotheosis of truly great men, or of little men falsely called great, has been the origin of gross idolatrous errors in every part of the pagan world. II. The next source of them appears to have been a wild admiration of the heavenly bodies, and, after a time, the systems and calculations of Astronomers : hence came a considerable portion of Egyptian and Grecian fable; the Sabian worship in Arabia ; the Persian types
and emblems of Mibr or the fun, and the far extended adoration of the elements and the powers of nature; and hence perhaps, all the artificial Chronology of the Chinese and Indians, with the invention of demigods and heroes to fill the vacant niches in their extravagant and imaginary periods. III. Numberless divinities have been created solely by the magick of
poetry; whose essential business it is, to personify
the most abstract notions, and to place a nymph or a genius in every grove and almost in every flower : hence Hygieia and Jaso, health and remedy, are the poetical daughters of ÆscuLAPius, who was either a distinguished physician, or medical skill personified ; and hence Chloris, or verdure, is married to the Zephyr. IV. The metaphors and allegories of moralists and metaphysicians have been also very fertile in Deities; of which a thousand examples might be adduced from PLATO, Cicero, and the inventive commentators on HOMER in their pedigrees of the Gods, and their fabulous lessons of morality : the richest and noblest stream from this abundant fountain is the charming philosophical tale of Psyche, or the Progress of the Soul; than which, to my taste, a more beautiful, sublime, and well supported allegory was never produced by the wisdom and ingenuity of man.
Hence also the Indian MA'YA', or, as the word is explained by some Hindu scholars, "the first in« clination of the Godhead to diversify himself
(such is their phrase) by creating worlds,” is feigned to be the mother of universal nature, and of all the inferiour Gods; as a Cashmirian informed me, when I asked him, why CA'MA, or Love, was represented as her son ; but the word MA'YA', or delusion, has a more subtile and recondite sense in the Védánta philosophy, where it signifies the system of perceptions, whether of secondary or of primary qualities, which the Deity was believed by EpiCHARMUS, PLATo, and many truly pious men, to raise by his omnipresent spirit in the minds of his creatures, but which had not, in their opinion, any existence independent of mind.
In drawing a parallel between the Gods of the Indian and European heathens, from whatever source they were derived, I shall remember, that nothing is less favourable to enquiries after truth than a systematical spirit, and shall call to mind the saying of a Hindu writer, “ that who“ ever obstinately adheres to any set of opinions,
may bring himself to believe that the freshest * sandal- wood is a flame of fire:” this will effectually prevent me from insisting, that such a God of India was the JUPITER of Greue; such, the APOLLO; such, the MERCURY: in fact, since all the causes of polytheism contributed largely to the assemblage of Grecian divinities (though Bacon reduces them all to refined allegories, and NEWTON to a poetical disguise of true history), we find many Joves, many APOLLOS, many MERCURIES, with distinct attributes and capacities ; nor shall I presume to suggest more, than that, in one capacity or another, there exists a striking similitude between the chief objects of worship in ancient Greece or Italy and in the