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seeming renovation of the sun; the revolution of light and darkness ; the splendour, change, and circuit of the moon, and the canopy of heaven bespangled with stars, must have produced expressions of wonder and adoration. “O glorious luminary! great eye of the world! source of that light which guides my steps ! of that heat which warms me when chilled with cold! of that influence which cheers the face of nature ! whither dost thou retire every evening with the shades ? Whence dost thou spring every morning with renovated lustre, and never-fading glory? Art not thou the ruler, the creator, the god, of all that I behold ? I adore thee, as thy child, thy slave, thy suppliant! I crave thy protection, and the continuance of thy goodness! Leave me not to perish with cold, or to wander solitary in utter darkness! Return, return, after thy wonted absence : drive before thee the gloomy clouds that would obscure the face of nature. The birds begin to warble, and every animal is filled with gladness at thy approach : even the trees, the herbs, and the flowers, seem to rejoice with fresher beauties, and send forth a grateful incense to thy power, whence their origin is derived !” A number of individuals, inspired with the same ideas, would join in these orisons, which would be accompanied with corresponding gesticulations of the body. They would be improved by practice, and grow regular from repetition. The sounds and gestures would naturally fall into measured cadence. Thus the song and dance would be produced ; and a system of worship being formed, the muse would be consecrated to the purposes of religion.
Hence those forms of thanksgivings, and litanies of supplication, with which the religious rites of all nations, even the most barbarous, are at this day celebrated in every quarter of the known world. Indeed, this is a circumstance in which all nations surprisingly agree, how much soever they may differ in every other article of laws, customs, manners, and religion. The ancient Egyptians celebrated the festivals of their god Apis with hymns and dances. The superstition of the Greeks, partly derived from the Egyptians, abounded with poetical ceremonies, such as choruses and hymns, sung and danced at their apotheoses, sacrifices, games, and divinations. The Romans had their Carmen Secutare, and Salian priests, who on certain festivals sung and danced through the streets of Rome. The Israelites were famous for this kind of exultation :." And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances, and Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord,” &c. .“ And David danced before the Lord with all his might.” The psalms composed by this monarch, the songs of Deborah and Isaiah, are farther confirmations of what we have advanced.
From the Phænicians the Greeks borrowed the cursed Orthyan* song, when they sacrificed their children to Diana. The poetry of the bards constituted great part of the religious ceremonies among the Gauls and Britons ; and the carousals of the Goths were religious institutions, celebrated with songs of triumph. The Mahometan Dervise dances to the sound of the flute, and whirls himself round until he grows giddy, and falls into a trance. The Marabouts compose hymns in praise of Alla. The Chinese celebrate their grand festivals with processions of idols, songs, and instrumental music. The Tartars, Samoiedes, Laplanders, Negroes, even the Caffres called Hottentots, solemnize their worship (such as it is) with songs and dancing ; so that we may venture to say, poetry is the universal vehicle in which all nations have expressed their most sublime conceptions.
Poetry was, in all appearance, previous to any concerted plan of worship, and to every established system of legislation. When certain individuals, by dint of superior prowess or understanding, had acquired the veneration of their fellow savages, and erected themselves into divinities on the ignorance and superstition of mankind; then mythology, took place, and such a swarm of deities arose, as produced a religion replete with the most shocking absurdities. Those whom their superior talents had deified, were found to be still actuated by the most brutal passions of human nature ; and, in all probability, their votaries were glad to find such examples, to countenance their own vicious inclinations. Thus, fornication, incest, rape, and even bestiality, were sanctified by the amours of Jupiter, Pan, Mars, Venus, and Apollo. Theft was patronized by Mercury, drunkenness by Bacchus, and cruelty by Diana. The same heroes and legislators, those who delivered their country, founded cities, established societies, invented useful arts, or contributed, in any eminent degree, to the security and happiness of their fellow creatures, were inspired by the same lusts and appetites which domineered among the inferior classes of mankind; therefore, every vice incident to human nature was celebrated in the worship of one or other of these divinities, and every infirmity consecrated by public feast and solemn sacrifice. In these institutions, the Poet bore a principal share. It was his genius that contrived the plan, that executed the form of worship, and recorded in verse the origin and adventures of their gods and demigods. Hence the impurities and horrors of certain rites; the groves of Paphos and Baal-Peor ; the orgies of Bacchus ; the human sacrifices to Moloch and Diana. Hence the theogony of Hesiod; the theology of Homer ;
* Orthia was a surname of Diana, at Sparta, where was held in her honour the festival Diamastigosis ; so called, from boys being whipped before her altar. Sometimes these flagellations were so severe as to occasion death. B.
and those innumerable maxims scattered through the ancient poets, inviting mankind to gratify their sensual appetites, in imitation of the gods, who were certainly the best judges of happiness. It is well known, that Plato expelled Homer from his commonwealth, on account of the infamous characters by which he has distinguished his deities, as well as for some depraved sentiments which he found diffused through the course of the Iliad and Odyssey. Cicero enters into the spirit of Plato, and exclaims, in his first book De Natura Deorum:- " Nec multa absurdiora sunt ea, quæ, poetarum vocibus fusa, ipsa suavitate nocuerunt : qui, et ira inflammatos, et libidine furentes induxerunt Deos, feceruntque ut eorum bella, pugnas, prælia, vulnera videremus : odia præterea, dissidia, discordias, ortus, interritus, querelas, lamentationes, effusas in omni intemperantiâ libidines, adulteria, vincula, cum humano genere concubitus, mortalesque ex immortali procreatos.”—“Norare those things much more absurd, which, flowing from the poet's tongue, have done mischief even by the sweetness of his expression. The poets have introduced gods inflamed with anger and enraged with lust ; and even produced before our eyes their wars, their wrangling, their duels, and their wounds. They have exposed, besides, their antipathies, animosities, and dissentions ; their origin and death ; their complaints and lamentations ; their appetites indulged to all manner of excess, their adulteries, their fetters, their amorous commerce with the human species, and from immortal parents derived a mortal offspring."
As the festivals of the gods necessarily produced good
cheer, which often carried to riot and debauchery, mirth of consequence prevailed ; and this was always attended with buffoonery. Taunts and jokes, and raillery and repartee, would necessarily ensue ; and individuals would contend for the victory in wit and genius. These contests would in time be reduced to some regulations, for the entertainment of the people thus assembled, and some prize would be decreed to him who was judged to excel his rivals. The candidates for fame and profit being thus stimulated, would task their talents, and naturally recommend these alternate recriminations to the audience, by clothing them with a kind of poetical measure, which should bear a near resemblance to prose. Thus, as the solemn service of the day was composed in the most sublime species of poetry, such as the ode or hymn, the subsequent altercation was carried on in iambics, and gave rise to satire. We are told by the Stagirite, that the highest species of poetry was employed in celebrating great actions, but the humbler sort used in this kind of contention ;* and that in the ages of antiquity, there were some bards that professed heroics, and some that pretended to iambios only.
Οι μεν ηρoϊκών, οι δε ιάμβων ποιήται.
To these rude beginnings we not only owe the birth of satire, but likewise the origin of dramatic poetry. Tragedy herself, which afterwards attained to such dignity as to rival the epic muse, was at first no other than a trial of crambo, or iambics, between two peasants, and a goat was the prize, as Horace calls it, vile certamen ob hircum,“ a mean contest for a he-goat.” Hence the name agaywdía, signifying the goat-song, from tgázos hircus, and còn carmen.
Carmine qui tragico vilem certavit ob hircum,
* Οι μεν γαρ σεμνότεροι, τας καλάς εμιμούντο πράξειςοι δε ευτελέστεροι, τας των φαύλων, πρώτον λόγους ποιoύντες.
His muse severe, secure and undismay'd,
A lawless crowd, with wine and feasting warm. Satire, then, was originally a clownish dialogue in loose iambics, so called because the actors were disguised like satyrs, who not only recited the praises of Bacchus, or some other deity, but interspersed their hymns with sarcastic jokes and altercation. Of this kind is the Cyclop of Euripides, in which Ulysses is the principal actor. The Romans also had their Atellanæ, or interludes, of the same nature, so called from the city of Atella, where they were first acted; but these were highly polished in comparison of the original entertainment, which was altogether rude and innocent. Indeed the Cyclop itself, though composed by the accomplished Euripides, abounds with such impurity as ought not to appear on the stage of any civilized nation.
It is very remarkable, that the Atellane, which were in effect tragi-comedies, grew into such esteem among the Romans, that the performers in these pieces enjoyed several privileges which were refused to the ordinary actors. They were not obliged to unmask, like the other players, when their action was disagreeable to the audience. They were admitted into the army, and enjoyed the privileges of free citizens, without incurring that disgrace which was affixed to the characters of other actors.* The poet Laberius, who was of equestrian order, being pressed by Julius Cæsar to act a part in his own performance, complied with great reluctance, and complained of the dishonour he had incurred, in his prologue preserved by Macrobius, which is one of the most elegant morsels of antiquity.t.
Tragedy and comedy flowed from the same fountain, though their streams were soon divided. The same entertainment which, under the name of tragedy, was rudely exhibited by clowns, for the prize of a goat, near some rural altar of Bacchus, assumed the appellation of comedy when it was transferred into cities, and represented with a little anore decorum in a cart or wagon that strolled from street to
Cum artem ludicram, scenamque totam probro ducerent genus id hominum non modo honore civium reliquorum carere, sed etiam tribu moveri notatione censoria voluerunt. - Cic. apud S. Aug. de Civit. Dei.
+ See GOLDSMITH's translation of this prologue. Vol. i. p. 136.-B.