Imatges de pÓgina

tion of some impending misfortunes. Of this class may be reckoned the appearance of two suns, the nights illuminated by rays of light, the views of fighting armies, swords, and spears, darting through the air; showers of milk, of blood, of stones, of ashes, of frogs, beasts with two heads, or infants who had some feature resembling those of the brute creation. These were all dreadful prodigies, which filled the people with inexpressible astonishment, and the Roman Empire with an extreme perplexity; and whatever unhappy circumstance followed upon these, was sure to be either caused or predicted by them.*

*Nothing is more easy than to account for these productions, which have no relation to any events that may happen to follow them. The appearance of two suns has frequently happened in England, as well as in other places, and is only caused by the clouds being placed in such a situation, as to reflect the image of that luminary; nocturnal fires, enflamed spears, fighting armies, were no more than what we call the Aurora Borealis or northern lights, or ignited vapours floating in the air; showers of stones, of Washes, or of fire, were no other than the effects of the eruptions of some volcano at a considerable distance; showers of milk were caused by some quality in the air, condensing, and giving a whitish colour to the water; and those of blood are now well known to be only the red spots left upon the earth, on stones and leaves of trees, by the butterflies which hatch in hot and stormy





FEW superstitions have been so famous, and so seductive to the minds of men during a number of ages, as oracles. In treaties of peace or truces, the Greeks never forgot to stipulate for the liberty of resorting to oracles. No colony undertook new settlements, no war was declared, no important affair begun, without first consulting the oracles.

The most renowned oracles were those of Delphos, Dodona, Trophonius, Jupiter Hammon, and the Clarian Apollo. Some have attributed the oracles of Dodona to oaks, others to pigeons. The opinion of those pigeon-prophetesses was introduced by the equivocation of a Thessalian word, which signified both a pigeon and a woman; and gave room to the fable, that two pigeons having taken wing from Thebes, one of them fled into Lybia, where it occasioned the establishing of the oracle of Jupiter Hammon; and the other, having stopped in the oaks of the forest of Dodona, informed the inhabitants of the neighbouring parts, that it was Jupiter's intention there should be an oracle in that place. Herodotus has thus explained the fable: there were

formerly two Priestesses of Thebes, who were carried off by Phenecian merchants. She that was sold into Greece, settled in the forest of Dodona, where great numbers of the ancient inhabitants of Greece went to gather acorns. She there erected a little chapel at the foot of an oak, in honour of the same Jupiter, whose priestess she had been; and here it was this ancient oracle was established, which in after times became so famous. The manner of delivering the oracles of Dodona was very singular. There were a great number of kettles suspended from trees near a copper statue, which was also suspended with a bunch of rods in its hand. When the wind happened to put it in motion, it struck the first kettle, which communicating its motion to the next, all of them tingled, and produced a certain sound which continued for a long time; after which the oracle spoke.


This oracle, which was in the desert, in the midst of the burning sands of Africa, declared to Alexander that Jupiter was his father. After several questions, having asked if the death of his father was suddenly revenged, the oracle answered, that the death of Philip was revenged, but that the father of Alexander was immortal. This oracle gave occasion to Lucan to put great sentiments in the mouth of Cato. After the battle of Pharsalia, when Cesar began to be master of the world, Labrenus said to Cato: "As we have now so good an oppor

tunity of consulting so celebrated an oracle, let us know from it how to regulate our conduct during this war. The gods will not declare themselves more willingly for any one than Cato. You have always been befriended by the gods, and may therefore have the confidence to converse with Jupiter. Inform yourselves of the destiny of the tyrant and the fate of our country; whether we are to preserve our liberty, or to lose the fruit of the war; and you may learn too what that virtue is to which you have been elevated, and what its reward."

Cato, full of the divinity that was within him, returned to Labrenus an answer worthy of an oracle : "On what account, Labrenus, would you have me consult Jupiter? Shall I ask him whether it be better to lose life than liberty? Whether life be a real good? We have within us, Labrenus, an oracle that can answer all these questions. Nothing happens but by the order of God. Let us not require of him to repeat to us what he has sufficiently engraved in our hearts, Truth has not withdrawn into those deserts; it is not graved on those sands. The abode of God is in heaven, in the earth, in the sea, and in virtuous hearts. God speaks to us by all that we see, by all that surrounds us. Let the inconstant and those that are subject to waver, according to events, have recourse to oracles. For my part, I find in nature every thing that can inspire the most constant resolution. The dastard, as well as the brave, cannot avoid death. Jupiter cannot tell us more." Cato thus spoke, and quitted the country without consulting the oracle.


Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, and several other authors relate, that a herd of goats discovered the oracle of Delphos, or of the Pythian Apollo. When a goat happened to come near enough the cavern, to breathe air that passed out of it, she returned skipping and bounding about, and her voice articulated some extraordinary sounds; which having been observed by the keepers, they went to look in, and were seized with a fury which made them jump about, and foretel future events. Coretas, as Plutarch tells, was the name of the goat-herd who discovered the oracle. One of the guardians of Demetrius, coming too near the mouth of the cavern, was suffocated by the force of the exhalations, and died suddenly. The orifice or vent-hole of the cave was covered with a tripod consecrated to Apollo, on which the priestesses, called Pythonesses,* sat, to fill themselves with the prophetic vapour, and to conceive the spirit of divination, with the fervor that made them know futurity, and foretel it in Greek hexameters. Plutarch

* The responses here were delivered by a young priestess called Pythia or Phoebas, placed on a tripos, or stool with three feet, called also cortina, from the skin of the serpent Python with which it was covered. It is uncertain after what manner these oracles were delivered, though Cicero supposes the Pythoness was inspired, or rather intoxicated by certain vapours which ascended from the cave. Some say that the Pythoness being once debauched, the oracles were afterwards delivered by an old woman in the dress of a young maid.

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