"Umbra Non tacitas Erebi sedes, Ditisque profundi Pallida regna petunt."
First, then, from a study of the Greek mythology we find all the dead a dull populace of ghosts fluttering through the neutral melancholy of Hades without discrimination. And finally we discern in the world of the dead a sad middle region, with a Paradise on the right and a Hell on the left, the whole presided over by three incorruptible judges, who appoint the new corners their places in accordance with their deserts.
The question now arises, What did the Greeks think in relation to the ascent of human souls into heaven among the gods? Did they except none from the remediless doom of Hades? Was there no path for the wisest and best souls to climb starry Olympus? To dispose of this inquiry fairly, four distinct considerations must be examined. First, Ulysses sees in the infernal regions the image of Herakles shooting the shadows of the Stymphalian birds, while his soul is said to be rejoicing with fair legged Hebe at the banquets of the immortal gods in the skies. To explain this, we must remember that Herakles was the son of Alcmene, a mortal woman, and of Zeus, the king of the gods. Accordingly, in the flames on Mount Oeta, the surviving ghost which he derived from his mother descends to Hades, but the purified soul inherited from his father has the proper nature and rank of a deity, and is received into the Olympian synod.5 Of course no blessed life in heaven for the generality of men is here implied. Herakles, being a son and favorite of Zeus, has a corresponding destiny exceptional from that of other men.
Secondly, another double representation, somewhat similar, but having an entirely different interpretation, occurs in the case of Orion, the handsome Hyrian hunter whom Artemis loved. At one time he is described, like the spectre of the North American Indian, chasing over the Stygian plain the disembodied animals he had in his lifetime killed on the mountains:
"Swift through the gloom a giant hunter flies: A ponderous brazen mace, with direful sway, Aloft he whirls to crush the savage prey;
5 Ovid, Met. lib. ix. II. 245-272.
Grim beasts in trains, that by his truncheon fell, Now, phantom forms, shoot o'er the lawn of hell."
In the common belief this, without doubt, was received as actual fact. But at another time Orion is deified and shown as one of the grandest constellations of the sky,
"A belted giant, who, with arm uplift, Threatening the throne of Zeus, forever stands, Sublimely impious."
This, obviously, is merely a poetic symbol, a beautiful artifice employed by the poets to perpetuate a legend by associating it with the imperishable hieroglyphs of the galaxy. It is not credible that men imagined that group of stars only outlined in such shape by the help of arbitrary fancy to be literally the translated hunter himself. The meaning simply was that he was immortalized through the eternal linking of his name and form with a stellar cluster which would always shine upon men. "The reverence and gratitude of a weak world for the heroes and benefactors they could not comprehend, named them divinities, whom they did star together to an idolatrous immortality which nationalized the heavens" with the shining shapes of the great and brave. These types of poetry, symbols lent to infant science, were never meant to indicate a literal translation and metamorphosis of human souls, but were honors paid to the memories of illustrious men, emblems and pledged securities of their unfading fame. With what glorious characters, with what forms of deathless beauty, defiant of decay, the sky was written over! Go out this evening beneath the old rolling dome, when the starry scroll is outspread, and you may still read the reveries of the marvelling minds of the antique world, as fresh in their magic loveliness as when the bards and seers of Olympus and the Agean first stamped them in heaven. There "the great snake binds in his bright coil half the mighty host." There is Arion with his harp and the charmed dolphin. The fair Andromeda, still chained to her eternal rock, looks mournfully towards the delivering hero whose conquering hand bears aloft the petrific visage of Medusa. Far off in the north the gigantic Bootes is seen driving towards the Centaur and the Scorpion. And yonder, smiling benignantly upon the crews of many a home bound ship, are revealed the twin brothers, joined in the embrace of an undying friendship.
Thirdly, it is asserted by several Latin authors, in general terms, that the ghost goes to Hades but the soul ascends to heaven; and it has been inferred most erroneously that this statement contains the doctrine of an abode for men after death on high with the gods. Ovid expresses the real thought in full, thus:
"Terra tegit carnem; tumulum circumvolat umbra; Orcus habet manes; spiritus astra petit."
"The earth conceals the flesh; the shade flits round the tomb; the under world receives the image; the spirit seeks the stars." Those conversant with the opinions then prevalent will scarcely doubt that these words were meant to express the return of the composite man to the primordial elements of which he was made. The particulars of the dissolving individual are absorbed in the general elements of the universe. Earth goes back to earth, ghost to the realm of ghosts, breath to the air, fiery essence of soul to the lofty ether in whose pure radiance the stars burn. Euripides expressly says that when man dies each part goes whence it came, "the body to the ground, the spirit to the ether."6 Therefore the often misunderstood phrase of the Roman writers, "the soul seeks the stars," merely denotes the impersonal mingling after death of the divine portion of man's being with the parent Divinity, who was supposed indeed to pervade all things, but more especially to reside beyond the empyrean.
Fourthly: what shall be said of the apotheosis of their celebrated heroes and emperors by the Greeks and Romans, whereby these were elevated to the dignity of deities, and seats were assigned them in heaven? What was the meaning of this ceremony? It does not signify that a celestial immortality awaits all good men; because it appears as a thing attainable by very few, is only allotted by vote of the Senate. Neither was it supposed actually to confer on its recipients equality of attributes with the great gods, making them peers of Zeus and Apollo. The homage received as gods by Alexander and others during their lives, the deification of Julius Casar during the most learned and skeptical age of Rome, with other obvious considerations, render such a supposition inadmissible. In view of all the direct evidence and collateral probabilities, we conclude that the genuine import of an ancient apotheosis was this: that the soul of the deceased person so honored was admitted, in deference to his transcendent merits, or as a special favor on the part of the gods, into heaven, into the divine society. He was really a human soul still, but was called a god because, instead of descending, like the multitude of human souls, to Hades, he was taken into the abode and company of the gods above the sky. This interpretation derives support from the remarkable declaration of Aristotle, that "of two friends one must be unwilling that the other should attain apotheosis, because in such case they must be forever separated."7 One would be in Olympus, the other in Hades. The belief that any, even a favored few, could ever obtain this blessing, was of quite limited development, and probably sprang from the esoteric recesses of the Mysteries. To call a human soul a god is not so bold a speech as it may seem. Plotinus says. "Whoever has wisdom and true virtue in soul itself differs but little from superior beings, in this alone being inferior to them, that he is in body. Such an one, dying, may therefore properly say, with Empedocles, 'Farewell! a god immortal now am I.'"
The expiring Vespasian exclaimed, "I shall soon be a god."8 Mure says that the doctrine of apotheosis belonged to the Graco Pelasgic race through all their history.9 Seneca severely satirizes the ceremony, and the popular belief which upheld it, in an elaborate lampoon called Apocolocyntosis, or the reception of Claudius among the pumpkins. The broad travesty of
6 The Suppliants, l. 533.
7 Nicomachean Ethics, lib. viii. cap. 7.
8 Suetonius, cap. xxiii.
9 Hist. Greek Literature, vol. i. ch. 2, sect. 5.
Deification exhibited in Pumpkinification obviously measures the distance from the honest credulity of one class and period to the keen infidelity of another.
One of the most important passages in Greek literature, in whatever aspect viewed, is composed of the writings of the great Theban lyrist. Let us see what representation is there made of the fate of man in the unseen world. The ethical perception, profound feeling, and searching mind of Pindar could not allow him to remain satisfied with the undiscriminating views of the future state prevalent in his time. Upon such a man the problem of death must weigh as a conscious burden, and his reflections would naturally lead him to improved conclusions. Accordingly, we find him representing the Blessed Isles not as the haven of a few favorites of the gods, but as the reward of virtue; and the punishments of the wicked, too, are not dependent on fickle inclinations, but are decreed by immutable right. He does not describe the common multitude of the dead, leading a dark sad existence, like phantoms in a dream: his references to death and Hades seem cheerful in comparison with those of many other ancient Greek authors. Dionysius the Rhetorician, speaking of his Threnes, dirges sung at funerals, says, "Simonides lamented the dead pathetically, Pindar magnificently."
His conceptions of the life to come were inseparably connected with certain definite locations. He believed Hades to be the destination of all our mortal race, but conceived it subdivided into a Tartarus for the impious and an Elysium for the righteous. He thought that the starry firmament was the solid floor of a world of splendor, bliss, and immortality, inhabited by the gods, but fatally inaccessible to man. When he thinks of this place, it is with a sigh, a sigh that man's aspirations towards it are vain and his attempts to reach it irreverent. This latter thought he enforces by an earnest allusion to the myth of Bellerophon, who, daring to soar to the cerulean seat of the gods on the winged steed Pegasus, was punished for his arrogance by being hurled down headlong. These assertions are to be sustained by citations of his own words. The references made are to Donaldson's edition.
In the second Pythian Ode10 Pindar repeats, and would appear to endorse, the old monitory legend of Ixion, who for his outrageous crimes was bound to an ever revolving wheel in Hades and made to utter warnings against such offences as his own. In the first Pythian we read, "Hundred headed Typhon, enemy of the gods, lies in dreadful Tartarus."11 Among the preserved fragments of Pindar the one numbered two hundred and twenty three reads thus: "The bottom of Tartarus shall press thee down with solid necessities." The following is from the first Isthmian Ode: "He who, laying up private wealth, laughs at the poor, does not consider that he shall close up his life for Hades without honor."12 The latter part of the tenth Nemean Ode recounts, with every appearance of devout belief, the history of Castor and Pollux, the god begotten twins, who, reversing conditions with each other on successive days and nights, spent their interchangeable immortality each alternately in heaven and in Hades. The astronomical interpretation of this account may be correct; but its applicability to the wondering faith of the earlier poets is extremely doubtful.
10 L. 39.
11 LI. 15, 16.
12 L. 68.
The seventh Isthmian contains this remarkable sentence: "Unequal is the fate of man: he can think of great things, but is too ephemeral a creature to reach the brazen floored seat of the gods."13 A similar sentiment is expressed in the sixth Nemean: "Men are a mere nothing; while to the gods the brazen heaven remains a firm abode forever."14 The one hundred and second fragment is supposed to be a part of the dirge composed by Pindar on the death of the grandfather of Pericles. It runs in this way: "Whoso by good fortune has seen the things in the hollow under the earth knows indeed the end of life: he also knows the beginning vouchsafed by Zeus." It refers to initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and means that the initiate understands the life which follows death. It is well known that a clear doctrine of future retribution was inculcated in the Mysteries long before it found general publication. The ninety fifth fragment is all that remains to us of a dirge which appears, from the allusion in the first line, to have been sung at a funeral service performed at midnight, or at least after sunset. "While it is night here with us, to those below shines the might of the sun; and the red rosied meadows of their suburbs are filled with the frankincense tree, and with golden fruits. Some delight themselves there with steeds and exercises, others with games, others with lyres; and among them all fair blossoming fortune blooms, and a fragrance is distilled through the lovely region, and they constantly mingle all kinds of offerings with the far shining fire on the altars of the gods." This evidently is a picture of the happy scenes in the fields that stretch around the City of the Blessed in the under world, and is introduced as a comfort to the mourners over the dead body.
The ensuing passage the most important one on our subject is from the second Olympic Ode.15 "An honorable, virtuous man may rest assured as to his future fate. The souls of the lawless, departing from this life, suffer punishment. One beneath the earth, pronouncing sentence by a hateful necessity imposed upon him, declares the doom for offences committed in this realm of Zeus. But the good lead a life without a tear, among those honored by the gods for having always delighted in virtue: the others endure a life too dreadful to look upon. Whoever has had resolution thrice in both worlds to stand firm, and to keep his soul pure from evil, has found the path of Zeus to the tower of Kronos, where the airs of the ocean breathe around the Isle of the Blessed, and where some from resplendent trees, others from the water glitter golden flowers, with garlandsofwhich they wreathe their wrists and brows in the righteous assemblies of Rhadamanthus, whom father Kronos has as his willing assistant." The "path of Zeus," in the above quotation, means the path which Zeus takes when he goes to visit his father Kronos, whom he originally dethroned and banished, but with whom he is now reconciled, and who has become the ruler of the departed spirits of the just, in a peaceful and joyous region.
The following passage constitutes the ninety eighth fragment. "To those who descend from a fruitless and ill starred life Persephone [the Queen of the Dead] will grant a compensation for their former misfortune, after eight years [the judicial period of atonement and lustration for great crimes] granting them their lives again. Then, illustrious kings, strong,
13 Ll. 42-44.
14 Ll. 4-6.
15 Ll. 55-78.
swift, wise, they shall become the mightiest leaders; and afterwards they shall be invoked by men as sacred heroes." In this piece, as in the preceding one where reference is made to the thrice living man, is contained the doctrine, early brought from the East, that souls may repeatedly return from the dead and in new bodies lead new lives. One other fragment, the ninety sixth, added to the foregoing, will make up all the important genuine passages in Pindar relating to the future life. "By a beneficent allotment, all travel to an end freeing from toil. The body indeed is subject to the power of death; but the eternal image is left alive, and this alone is allied to the gods. When we are asleep, it shows in many dreams the approaching judgment concerning happiness and misery." When our physical limbs are stretched in insensible repose, the inward spirit, rallying its sleepless and prophetic powers, foretells the balancing awards of another world.
We must not wholly confound with the mythological schemes of the vulgar creed the belief of the nobler philosophers, many of whom, as is well known, cherished an exalted faith in the survival of the conscious soul and in a just retribution. "Strike!" one of them said, with the dauntless courage of an immortal, to a tyrant who had threatened to have him brayed in a mortar: "strike! you may crush the shell of Anaxarchus: you cannot touch his life." Than all the maze of fabulous fancies and physical rites in which the dreams of the poets and the guesses of the people were entangled, how much more
"Just was the prescience of the eternal goalThat gleamed, 'mid Cyprian shades, on Zeno's soul, Or shone to Plato in the lonely cave, God in all space, and life in every grave!"
An account of the Greek views on the subject of a future life which should omit the doctrine of Plato would be defective indeed. The influence of this sublime autocrat in the realms of intellect has transcended calculation. However coldly his thoughts may have been regarded by his contemporary countrymen, they soon obtained cosmopolitan audience, and surviving the ravages of time and ignorance, overleaping the bars of rival schools and sects, appreciated and diffused by the loftiest spirits of succeeding ages, closely blended with their own speculations by many Christian theologians have held an almost unparalleled dominion over the minds of millions of men for more than fifty generations.
In the various dialogues of Plato, written at different periods of his life, there are numerous variations and inconsistencies of doctrine. There are also many mythical passages obviously intended as symbolic statements, poetic drapery, by no means to be handled or looked at as the severe outlines of dialectic truth. Furthermore, in these works there are a vast number of opinions and expressions introduced by the interlocutors, who often belong to antagonistic schools of philosophy, and for which, of course, Plato is not to be held responsible. Making allowance for these facts, and resolutely grappling with the many other difficulties of the task, we shall now attempt to exhibit what we consider were the real teachings of Plato in relation to the fate of the soul. This exposition, sketchy as it is, and open to question as it may be in some particulars, is the carefully weighed result of earnest, patient, and repeated study of all the relevant passages.
In the first place, it is plain that Plato had a firm religious and philosophical faith in the immortality of the soul, which was continually attracting his thoughts, making it a favorite theme with him and exerting no faint influence on his life. This faith rested both on ancient traditions, to which he frequently refers with invariable reverence, and on metaphysical reasonings, which he over and over presents in forms of conscientious elaboration. There are two tests of his sincerity of faith: first, that he always treats the subject with profound seriousness; secondly, that he always uses it as a practical motive. "I do not think," said Socrates, "that any one who should now hear us, even though he were a comic poet, would say that I am talking idly."16 Again, referring to Homer's description of the judgments in Hades, he says, "I, therefore, Callicles, am persuaded by these accounts, and consider how I may exhibit my soul before the judge in the most healthy condition."17 "To a base man no man nor god is a friend on earth while living, nor under it when dead," say the souls of their ancestors to the living; "but live honorably, and when your destined fate brings you below you shall come to us as friends to friends."18 "We are plants, not of earth, but of heaven."19 We start, then, with the affirmation that Plato honestly and cordially believed in a future life.
Secondly, his ethical and spiritual beliefs, like those of nearly all the ancients, were closely interwoven with physical theories and local relations. The world to him consisted of two parts, the celestial region of ideas, and the mundane region of material phenomena, corresponding pretty well, as Lewes suggests, to our modern conception of heaven and earth. Near the close of the Phado, Socrates says that the earth is not of the kind and magnitude usually supposed. "We dwell in a decayed and corroded, muddy and filthy region in the sediment and hollows of the earth, and imagine that we inhabit its upper parts; just as if one dwelling in the bottom of the sea should think that he dwelt on the sea, and, beholding the sun through the water, should imagine that the sea was the heavens. So, if we could fly up to the summit of the air as fishes emerging from the sea to behold what is on the earth here and emerge hence, we should know that the true earth is there. The people there dwell with the gods, and see things as they really are; and what the sea is to us the air is to them, and what the air is to us the ether is to them." Again, in the tenth book of the Republic, eleventh chapter, the soul is metaphorically said in the sea of this corporeal life to get stones and shell fish attached to it, and, fed on earth, to be rendered to a great extent earthy, stony, and savage, like the marine Glaucus, some parts of whose body were broken off and others worn away by the waves, while such quantities of shells, sea weed, and stones had grown to him that he more resembled a beast than a man. In keeping with the whole tenor of the Platonic teaching, this is a fine illustration of the fallen state of man in his vile environment of flesh here below. The soul, in its earthly sojourn, embodied here, is as much mutilated and degraded from its equipped and pure condition in its lofty natal home, the archetypal world of Truth above the base Babel of material existence, as Glaucus was on
16 Phado, 40.
17 Gorgias, 173.
18 Menexenus, 19.
19 Timaus, 71.
descending from his human life on the sunny shore to his encrusted shape and blind prowling in the monstrous deep.
At another time Plato contrasts the situation of the soul on earth with its situation in heaven by the famous comparison of the dark cave. He supposes men, unable to look upwards, dwelling in a cavern which has an opening towards the light extending lengthwise through the top of the cavern. A great many images, carrying various objects and talking aloud, pass and repass along the edge of the opening. Their shadows fall on the side of the cave below, in front of the dwellers there; also the echoes of their talk sound back from the wall. Now, the men, never having been or looked out of the cave, would suppose these shadows to be the real beings, these echoes the real voices. As respects this figure, says Plato, we must compare ourselves with such persons. The visible region around us is the cave, the sun is the light, and the soul's ascent into the region of mind is the ascent out of the cave and the contemplation of things above.20
Still again, Plato describes the ethereal paths and motions of the gods, who, in their chariots, which are the planets and stars, ride through the universe, accompanied by all pure souls, "the family of true science, contemplating things as they really are." "Reaching the summit, they proceed outside, and, standing on the back of heaven, its revolution carries them round, and they behold that supercelestial region which no poet here can ever sing of as it deserves." In this archetypal world all souls of men have dwelt, though "few have memory enough left," "after their fall hither," "to call to mind former things from the present." "Now, of justice and temperance, and whatever else souls deem precious, there are here but faint resemblances, dull images; but beauty was then splendid to look on when we, in company with the gods, beheld that blissful spectacle, and were initiated into that most blessed of all mysteries, which we celebrated when we were unaffected by the evils that awaited us in time to come, and when we beheld, in the pure light, perfect and calm visions, being ourselves pure and as yet unmasked with this shell of a body to which we are now fettered."21
To suppose all this employed by Plato as mere fancy and metaphor is to commit an egregious error. In studying an ancient author, we must forsake the modern stand point of analysis, and envelop ourselves in the ancient atmosphere of thought, where poetry and science were as indistinguishably blended in the personal beliefs as oxygen and nitrogen are in the common air. We have not a doubt that Plato means to teach, literally, that the soul was always immortal, and that in its anterior states of existence, in the realm of ideas on high, it was in the midst of those essential realities whose shifting shadows alone it can behold in its lapsed condition and bodily imprisonment here. That he closely intertwisted ethical with physical theories, spiritual destinies with insphering localities, the fortunes of men with the revolutions of the earth and stars, is a fact which one can hardly read the Timaus and fail to see; a fact which continually reappears. It is strikingly shown in his idea of the consummation of all things at regular epochs determined by the recurrence of a grand
20 Republic, lib. vii. cap. 1 4.
21 Phadrus, 56-58, 63, 64.
revolution of the universe, a period vulgarly known under the name of the "Platonic Year."22 The second point, therefore, in the present explanation of Plato's doctrine of another life, is the conception that there is in the empyrean a glorious world of incorruptible truth, beauty, and goodness, the place of the gods, the native haunt of souls; and that human souls, having yielded to base attractions and sunk into bodies, are but banished sojourners in this phenomenal world of evanescent shadows and illusions, where they are "stung with resistless longings for the skies, and only solaced by the vague and broken reminiscences of their former state."
Thirdly, Plato taught that after death an unerring judgment and compensation await all souls. Every soul bears in itself the plain evidence of its quality and deeds, its vices and virtues; and in the unseen state it will meet inevitable awards on its merits. "To go to Hades with a soul full of crimes is the worst of all evils."23 "When a man dies, he possesses in the other world a destiny suited to the life which he has led in this."24 In the second book of the Republic he says, "We shall in Hades suffer the punishment of our misdeeds here;" and he argues at much length the absolute impossibility of in any way escaping this. The fact of a full reward for all wisdom and justice, a full retribution for all folly and vice, is asserted unequivocally in scores of passages, most of them expressly connecting the former with the notion of an ascent to the bright region of truth and intellect, the latter with a descent to the black penal realm of Hades. Let the citation of a single further example suffice. "Some souls, being sentenced, go to places of punishment beneath the earth; others are borne upward to some region in heaven."25 He proves the genuineness of his faith in this doctrine by continually urging it, in the most earnest, unaffected manner, as an animating motive in the formation of character and the conduct of life, saying, "He who neglects his soul will pass lamely through existence, and again pass into Hades, aimless and unserviceable."26
The fourth and last step in this exposition is to show the particular form in which Plato held his doctrine of future retribution, the way in which he supposed the consequences of present good and evil would appear hereafter. He received the Oriental theory of transmigration. Souls are born over and over. The banishment of the wicked to Tartarus is provisional, a preparation for their return to incarnate life. The residence of the good in heaven is contingent, and will be lost the moment they yield to carelessness or material solicitations. The circumstances under which they are reborn, the happiness or misery of their renewed existence, depend on their character and conduct in their previous career; and thus a poetic justice is secured. At the close of the Timaus, Plato describes the whole animal kingdom as consisting of degraded human souls, from "the tribe of birds, which were light minded souls, to the tribe of oysters, which have received the most remote habitations as a punishment of their extreme ignorance." "After this manner, then, both formerly and
22 Statesman, 14, 15.
23 Gorgias, 165.
24 Republic, lib. vi. cap. i.
25 Phadrus, 61.
26 Timaus, 18.
now, animals transmigrate, experiencing their changes through the loss or acquisition of intellect and folly." The general doctrine of metempsychosis is stated and implied very frequently in many of the Platonic dialogues. Some recent writers have tried to explain these representations as figures of speech, not intended to portray the literal facts, but merely to hint their moral equivalents. Such persons seem to us to hold Plato's pages in the full glare of the nineteenth century and read them in the philosophic spirit of Bacon and Comte, instead of holding them in the old shades of the Academy and pondering them in the marvelling spirit of Pythagoras and Empedocles.
We are led by the following considerations to think that Plato really meant to accredit the transmigration of souls literally. First, he often makes use of the current poetic imagery of Hades, and of ancient traditions, avowedly in a loose metaphorical way, as moral helps, calling them "fables." But the metempsychosis he sets forth, without any such qualification or guard, with so much earnestness and frequency, as a promise and a warning, that we are forced, in the absence of any indication to the contrary, to suppose that he meant the statements as sober fact and not as mythical drapery. As with a parable, of course we need not interpret all the ornamental details literally; but we must accept the central idea. And in the present case the fundamental thought is that of repeated births of the soul, each birth trailing retributive effects from the foregone. For example, the last four chapters of the tenth book of the Republic contain the account of Erus, a Pamphylian, who, after lying dead on the battle field ten days, revived, and told what he had seen in the other state. Plato in the outset explicitly names this recital an "apologue." It recounts a multitude of moral and physical particulars. These details may fairly enough be considered in some degreeas mythical drapery, or as the usual traditional painting; but the essential conception running through the account, for the sake of which it is told, we are not at liberty to explain away as empty metaphor. Now, that essential conception is precisely this: that souls after death are adjudged to Hades or to heaven as a recompense for their sin or virtue, and that, after an appropriate sojourn in those places, they are born again, the former ascending, squalid and scarred, from beneath the earth, the latter descending, pure, from the sky. In perfect consonance with this conclusion is the moral drawn by Plato from the whole narrative. He simply says, "If the company will be persuaded by me, considering the soul to be immortal and able to bear all evil and good, we shall always persevere in the road which leads upwards."
Secondly, the conception of the metempsychosis is thoroughly coherent with Plato's whole philosophy. If he was in earnest about any doctrine, it was the doctrine that all knowledge is reminiscence. The following declarations are his. "Soul is older than body." "Souls are continually born over again from Hades into this life." "To search and learn is simply to revive the images of what the soul saw in its pre existent state of being in the world of realities."27 Why should we hesitate to attribute a sincere belief in the metempsychosis to the acknowledged author of the doctrine that the soul lived in another world before appearing here, and that its knowledge is but reminiscence? If born from the other world
27 Menexenus, 15.
once, we may be many times; and then all that is wanted to complete the dogma of transmigration is the idea of a presiding justice. Had not Plato that idea?
Thirdly, the doctrine of a judicial metempsychosis was most profoundly rooted in the popular faith, as a strict verity, throughout the great East, ages before the time of Plato, and was familiarly known throughout Greece in his time. It had been imported thither by Musaus and Orpheus at an early period, was afterwards widely recommended and established by the Pythagoreans, and was unquestionably held by many of Plato's contemporaries. He refers once to those "who strongly believe that murderers who have gone to Hades will be obliged to come back and end their next lives by suffering the same fate which they had before inflicted on others."28 It is also a remarkable fact that he states the conditions of transmigration, and the means of securing exemption from it, in the same way that the Hindus have from immemorial time: "The soul which has beheld the essence of truth remains free from harm until the next revolution; and if it can preserve the vision of the truth it shall always remain free from harm," that is, be exempt from birth; but "when it fails to behold the field of truth it falls to the earth and is implanted in a body."29 This statement and several others in the context corresponds precisely with Hindu theology, which proclaims that the soul, upon attaining real wisdom, that is, upon penetrating beneath illusions and gazing on reality, is freed from the painful necessity of repeated births. Now, since the Hindus and the Pythagoreans held the doctrine as a severe truth, and Plato states it in the identical forms which they employed, and never implies that he is merely poetizing, we naturally conclude that he, too, veritably inculcates it as fact.
Finally, we are the more confirmed in this supposition when we find that his lineal disciples and most competent expounders, such as Proclus, and nearly all his later commentators, such as Ritter, have so understood him. The great chorus of his interpreters, from Plotinus to Leroux, with scarcely a dissentient voice, approve the opinion pronounced by the learned German historian of philosophy, that "the conception of the metempsychosis is so closely interwoven both with his physical system and with his ethical as to justify the conviction that Plato looked upon it as legitimate and valid, and not as a merely figurative exposition of the soul's life after death." To sum up the whole in one sentence: Plato taught with grave earnestness the immortality of the soul, subject to a discriminating retribution, which opened for its temporary residences three local regions, heaven, earth, and Hades, and which sometimes led it through different grades of embodied being. "O thou youth who thinkest that thou art neglected by the gods, the person who has become more wicked departs to the more wicked souls; but he who has become better departs to the better souls, both in life and in all deaths."30
Whether Aristotle taught or denied the immortality of the soul has been the subject of innumerable debates from his own time until now. It is certainly a most ominous fact that his great name has been cited as authority for rejecting the doctrine of a future life by so many
28 The Laws, b. ix. ch. 10.
29 Phadrus, 60-62.
30 The Laws, lib. x. cap. 13.
of his keenest followers; for this has been true of weighty representatives of every generation of his disciples. Antagonistic advocates have collected from his works a large number of varying statements, endeavoring to distinguish between the literal and the figurative, the esoteric and the popular. It is not worth our while here, either for their intrinsic interest or for their historic importance, to quote the passages and examine the arguments. All that is required for our purpose may be expressed in the language of Ritter, who has carefully investigated the whole subject: "No passage in his extant works is decisive; but, from the general context of his doctrine, it is clear that he had no conception of the immortality of any individual rational entity."31
It would take a whole volume instead of a chapter to set forth the multifarious contrasting tenets of individual Greek philosophers, from the age of Pherecydes to that of Iamblichus, in relation to a future life. Not a few held, with Empedocles, that human life is a penal state, the doom of such immortal souls as for guilt have been disgraced and expelled from heaven. "Man is a fallen god condemned to wander on the earth, sky aspiring but sense clouded." Purged by a sufficient penance, he returns to his former godlike existence. "When, leaving this body, thou comest to the free ether, thou shalt be no longer a mortal, but an undying god." Notions of this sort fairly represent no small proportion of the speculations upon the fate of the soul which often reappear throughout the course of Greek literature. Another class of philosophers are represented by such names as Marcus Antoninus, who, comparing death to disembarkation at the close of a voyage, says, "If you land upon another life, it will not be empty of gods: if you land in nonentity, you will have done with pleasures, pains, and drudgery."32 And again he writes, "If souls survive, how has ethereal space made room for them all from eternity? How has the earth found room for all the bodies buried in it? The solution of the latter problem will solve the former. The corpse turns to dust and makes space for another: so the spirit, let loose into the air, after a while dissolves, and is either renewed into another soul or absorbed into the universe. Thus room is made for succession."33 These passages, it will be observed, leave the survival of the soul at all entirely hypothetical, and, even supposing it to survive, allow it but a temporary duration. Such was the common view of the great sect of the Stoics. They all agreed that there was no real immortality for the soul; but they differed greatly as to the time of its dissolution. In the words of Cicero, "Diu mansuros aiunt animos; semper, negant:" they say souls endure for a long time, but not forever. Cleanthes taught that the intensity of existence after death would depend on the strength or weakness of the particular soul. Chrysippus held that only the souls of the wise and good would survive at all.34 Panatius said the soul always died with the body, because it was born with it, which he proved by the resemblances of children's souls to those of their parents.35 Seneca has a great many contradictory passages on this subject
31 Hist. Anc. Phil. p. iii. b. ix. ch. 4.
32 Meditations, lib. iii. cap. 3.
33 Ibid. lib. iv. cap. 21.
34 Plutarch, Plac. Phil. iv. 7.
35 Tusc. Quast. lib. i. cap. 32.
in his works; but his preponderant authority, upon the whole, is that the soul and the body perish together.36 At one time he says, "The day thou fearest as the last is the birthday of eternity." "As an infant in the womb is preparing to dwell in this world, so ought we to consider our present life as a preparation for the life to come."37 At another time he says, with stunning bluntness, "There is nothing after death, and death itself is nothing."
Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil. 38
Besides the mystics, like Plotinus, who affirmed the strict eternity of the soul, and the Stoics, like Poseidonius, who believed that the soul, having had a beginning, must have an end, although it might endure for a long period after leaving the body, there were among the Greeks and Romans two other classes of believers in a future life, namely, the ignorant body of the people, who credited, more or less fully, the common fables concerning Hades; and an educated body of select minds, who, while casting off the popular superstitions, yet clung tenaciously to the great fact of immortality in some form or other, without attempting to define the precise mode of it.
There was among the illiterate populace, both Greek and Roman, even from the age of Eumolpus to that of Augustus, a good deal of firm faith in a future life, according to the gross scheme and particulars preserved to us still in the classic mythology. A thousand current allusions and statements in the general literature of those times prove the actual existence of a common and literal belief in Hades with all its accompaniments. This was far from being, in the average apprehension, a mere myth. Plato says, "Many, of their own accord, have wished to descend into Hades, induced by the hope of there seeing and being with those they have loved."39 He also says, "When a man is about to die, the stories of future punishment which he had formerly ridiculed trouble him with fears of their truth."40 And that frightful accounts of hell really swayed and terrified the people, even so late as the time of the Roman republic, appears from the earnest and elaborate arguments employed by various writers to refute them.
The same thing is shown by the religious ritual enacted at funerals and festivals, the forms of public and private worship observed till after the conversion of Constantine. The cake of rice and honey borne in the dead hand for Cerberus, the periodical offerings to the ghosts of the departed, as at the festivals called Feralia and Parentalia,41 the pictures of the scenery of the under world, hung in the temples, of which there was a famous one by Polygnotus,42 all imply a literal crediting of the vulgar doctrine. Altars were set up on the spots where Tiberius and Caius Gracchus were murdered, and services were there performed in honor of their manes. Festus, an old Roman lexicographer who lived in the second or third century, tells us there was in the Comitium a stone covered pit which was supposed to be the
36 Christoph Meiners, Vermischte Philosophische Schriften. Commentarius quo Stoicorum Sententia; de Animorum post mortem Statu satis illustrantur.
37 Epist. 102.
38 Troades, 1. 397.
39 Phado, 34.
40 Republic, lib. i. cap. 5.
41 Ovid, Fasti, lib. ii. II. 530-580.
42 Pausanias, lib. x. cap. 28.
mouth of Orcus, and was opened three days in the year for souls to rise out into the upper world.43 Apuleius describes, in his treatise on "the god of Socrates," the Roman conceptions of the departed spirits of men. They called all disembodied human souls "lemures." Those of good men were "lares," those of bad men "larva." And when it was uncertain whether the specified soul was a lar or a larva, it was named "manes." The lares were mild household gods to their posterity. The larva were wandering, frightful shapes, harmless to the pious, but destructive to the reprobate.44
The belief in necromancy is well known to have prevailed extensively among the Greeks and Romans. Aristophanes represents the coward, Pisander, going to a necromancer and asking to "see his own soul, which had long departed, leaving him a man with breath alone."45 In Latin literature no popular terror is more frequently alluded to or exemplified than the dread of seeing ghosts. Every one will recall the story of the phantom that appeared in the tent of Brutus before the battle of Philippi. It pervades the "Haunted House" of Plautus. Callimachus wrote the following couplet as an epitaph on the celebrated misanthrope:
"Timon, hat'st thou the world or Hades worse? Speak clear! Hades, O fool, because there are more of us here!" 46
Pythagoras is said once to have explained an earthquake as being caused by a synod of ghosts assembled under ground! It is one of the best of the numerous jokes attributed to the great Samian; a good nut for the spirit rappers to crack. There is an epigram by Diogenes Laertius, on one Lycon, who died of the gout:
"He who before could not so much as walk alone, The whole long road to Hades travell'd in one night!"
Philostratus declares that the shade of Apollonius appeared to a skeptical disciple of his and said, "The soul is immortal."47 It is unquestionable that the superstitious fables about the under world and ghosts had a powerful hold, for a very long period, upon the Greek and Roman imagination, and were widely accepted as facts.
At the same time, there were many persons of more advanced culture to whom such coarse and fanciful representations had become incredible, but who still held loyally to the simple idea of the survival of the soul. They cherished a strong expectation of another life, although they rejected the revolting form and drapery in which the doctrine was usually set forth. Xenophon puts the following speech into the mouth of the expiring Cyrus: "I was never able, my children, to persuade myself that the soul, as long as it was in a mortal body, lived, but when it was removed from this, that it died; neither could I believe that the soul ceased to think when separated from the unthinking and senseless body; but it seemed to me most probable that when pure and free from any union with the body, then it became most
43 De Significatione Verborum, verbum "Manalis."
44 Lessing, Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet.
45 Ayes, I. 1485.
46 Epigram IV.
47 Vita Apollonii, lib. viii. cap. 31.
wise."48 Every one has read of the young man whose faith and curiosity were so excited by Plato's writings that he committed suicide to test the fact of futurity. Callimachus tells the story neatly:
"Cleombrotus, the Ambracian, having said, 'Farewell, O sun!' leap'd from a lofty wall into the world Of ghosts. No deadly ill had chanced to him at all; But he had read in Plato's book upon the soul." 49
The falling of Cato on his sword at Utica, after carefully perusing the Phado, is equally familiar.
In the case of Cicero, too, notwithstanding his fluctuations of feeling and the obvious contradictions of sentiment in some of his letters and his more deliberate essays, it is, upon the whole, plain enough that, while he always regarded the vulgar notions as puerile falsehoods, the hope of a glorious life to come was powerful in him. This may be stated as the result of a patient investigation and balancing of all that he says on the subject, and of the circumstances under which he says it. To cite and criticize the passages here would occupy too much space to too little profit.
At the siege of Jerusalem, Titus made a speech to his soldiers, in the course of it saying to them, "Those souls which are severed from their fleshly bodies by the sword in battle, are received by the pure ether and joined to that company which are placed among the stars."50 The beautiful story of Cupid and Psyche, that loveliest of all the myths concerning the immortality of the soul, was a creation by no means foreign to the prevalent ideas and feelings of the time when it was written. The "Dissertations" of Maximus Tyrius abound with sentences like the following. "This very thing which the multitude call death is the birth of a new life, and the beginning of immortality."51 "When Pherecydes lay sick, conscious of spiritual energy, he cared not for bodily disease, his soul standing erect and looking for release from its cumbersome vestment. So a man in chains, seeing the walls of his prison crumbling, waits for deliverance, that from the darkness in which he has been buried he may soar to the ethereal regions and be filled with glorious light."52
The conception of man as a member of the cosmic family of gods and genii was known to all the classic philosophers, and was cherished by the larger portion of them. Pindar affirms one origin for gods and men. Plato makes wise souls accompany the gods in their excursions about the sky. Cicero argues that heaven, and not Hades, is the destination of the soul at death, because the soul, being lighter than the earthly elements surrounding it here, would rise aloft through the natural force of gravitation.53 Plutarch says, "Demons are the spies and scouts of the gods, wandering and circuiting around on their commands." Disembodied souls
48 Cyropadia, lib. viii. cap. 7.
49 Epigram XXIV.
50 Josephus, De Bell. lib. vi. cap. 1.
51 Diss. XXV.
52 Diss. XLI.
53 Tusc. Quest. lib i. cap. 17.
and demons were the same. The prevalence of such ideas as these produced in the Greek and Roman imagination a profound sense of invisible beings, a sense which was further intensified by the popular personifications of all natural forces, as in fountains and trees, full of lapsing naiads and rustling dryads. An illustrative fact is furnished by an effect of the tradition that Thetis, snatching the body of Achilles from the funeral pile, conveyed him to Leuke, an island in the Black Sea. The mariners sailing by often fancied they saw his mighty shade flitting along the shore in the dusk of evening.54 But a passage in Hesiod yields a more adequate illustration: "When the mortal remains of those who flourished during the golden age were hidden beneath the earth, their souls became beneficent demons, still hovering over the world they once inhabited, and still watching, clothed in thin air and gliding rapidly through every region of the earth, as guardians over the affairs of men."55
But there were always some who denied the common doctrine of a future life and scoffed at its physical features. Through the absurd extravagances of poets and augurs, and through the growth of critical thought, this unbelief went on increasing from the days of Anaxagoras, when it was death to call the sun a ball of fire, to the days of Catiline, when Julius Casar could be chosen Pontifex Maximus, almost before the Senate had ceased to reverberate his voice openly asserting that death was the utter end of man. Plutarch dilates upon the wide skepticism of the Greeks as to the infernal world, at the close of his essay on the maxim, "Live concealed." The portentous growth of irreverent unbelief, the immense change of feeling from awe to ribaldry, is made obvious by a glance from the known gravity of Hesiod's "Descent of Theseus and Pirithous into Hades," to Lucian's "Kataplous," which represents the cobbler Mycillus leaping from the banks of the Styx, swimming after Charon's boat, climbing into it upon the shoulders of the tyrant Megapenthes and tormenting him the whole way. Pliny, in his Natural History, affirms that death is an everlasting sleep.56 The whole great sect of the Epicureans united in supporting that belief by the combined force of ridicule and argument. Their views are the most fully and ably defended by the consummate Lucretius, in his masterly poem on the "Nature of Things." Horace,57 Juvenal,58 Persius,59 concur in scouting at the tales which once, when recited on the stage, had made vast audiences perceptibly tremble.60 And Cicero asks, "What old woman is so insane as to fear these things?"61
There were two classes of persons who sought differently to free mankind from the terrors which had invested the whole prospect of death and another world. The first were the materialists, who endeavored to prove that death was to man the absolute end of every thing. Secondly, there were the later Platonists, who maintained that this world is the only Hades, that heaven is our home, that all death is ascent to better life. "To remain on high with the gods is life; to descend into this world is death, a descent into Orcus," they said. The following couplet, of an unknown date, is translated from the Greek Anthology:
"Diogenes, whose tub stood by the road, Now, being dead, has the stars for his abode."
54 Muller, Greek Literature, ch. vi.
55 Works and Days, lib. i. II. 120-125.
56 Lib. ii. cap. 7.
57 Lib. i. epist. 16.
58 Sat. II.
59 Sat. II.
60 Tusc. Quest. lib. i. cap. 16.
61 Ibid. cap. 21.
Macrobius writes, in his commentary on the "Dream of Scipio," "Here, on earth, is the cavern of Dis, the infernal region. The river of oblivion is the wandering of the mind forgetting the majesty of its former life and thinking a residence in the body the only life. Phlegethon is the fires of wrath and desire. Acheron is retributive sadness. Cocytus is wailing tears. Styx is the whirlpool of hatreds. The vulture eternally tearing the liver is the torment of an evil conscience."62
To the ancient Greek in general, death was a sad doom. When he lost a friend, he sighed a melancholy farewell after him to the faded shore of ghosts. Summoned himself, he departed with a lingering look at the sun, and a tearful adieu to the bright day and the green earth. To the Roman, death was a grim reality. To meet it himself he girded up his loins with artificial firmness. But at its ravages among his friends he wailed in anguished abandonment. To his dying vision there was indeed a future; but shapes of distrust and shadow stood upon its disconsolate borders; and, when the prospect had no horror, he still shrank from its poppied gloom.
62 Lib. i. cap. 9, 10.
MOHAMMEDAN DOCTRINE OF A FUTURE LIFE.
ISLAM has been a mighty power in the earth since the middle of the seventh century. A more energetic and trenchant faith than it was for eight hundred years has not appeared among men. Finally expelled from its startling encampments in Spain and the Archipelago, it still rules with tenacious hold over Turkey, a part of Tartary, Palestine, Persia, Arabia, and large portions of Africa. At this moment, as to adherence and influence, it is subordinate only to the two foremost religious systems in the world, Buddhism and Christianity. The dogmatic structure of Islam as a theology and its practical power as an experimental religion offer a problem of the gravest interest. But we must hasten on to give an exposition of merely those elements in it which are connected with its doctrine of a future life.
It is a matter of entire notoriety that there is but the least amount of originality in the tenets of the Mohammedan faith. The blending together of those tenets was distinctive, the unifying soul breathed into them was a new creation, and the great aim to which the whole was subordinated was peculiar; but the component doctrines themselves, with slight exception, existed before as avowed principles in the various systems of belief and practice that prevailed around. Mohammed adopted many of the notions and customs of the pagan Arabs, the central dogma of the Jews as to the unity of God, most of the traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures, innumerable fanciful conceits of the Rabbins,1 whole doctrines of the Magians with their details, some views of the Gnostics, and extensive portions of a corrupted Christianity, grouping them together with many modifications of his own, and such additions as his genius afforded and his exigencies required. The motley strangely results in a compact and systematic working faith.
The Islamites are divided into two great sects, the Sunnees and the Sheeahs. The Arabs, Tartars, and Turks are Sunnees, are dominant in numbers and authority, are strict literalists, and are commonly considered the orthodox believers. The Persians are Sheeahs, are inferior in point of numbers, are somewhat freer in certain interpretations, placing a mass of tradition, like the Jewish Mischna, on a level with the Koran,2 and are usually regarded as heretical. To apply our own ecclesiastical phraseology to them, the latter are the Moslem Protestants, the former the Moslem Catholics. Yet in relation to almost every thing which should seem at all fundamental or vital they agree in their teachings. Their differences in general are upon trivial opinions, or especially upon ritual particulars. For instance, the Sheeahs send all the Sunnees to hell because in their ablutions they wash from the elbow to the finger tips; the Sunnees return the compliment to their rival sectarists because they wash from the finger tips to the elbow. Within these two grand denominations of Sheeah and
1 Rabbi Abraham Geiger, Prize Essay upon the question, proposed by the University of Bonn, "Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthum aufgenommen?"
2 Merrick, Translation of the Sheeah Traditions of Mohammed in the Hyat ul Kuloob, note x.
Sunnee are found a multitude of petty sects, separated from each other on various questions of speculative faith and ceremonial practice. Some take the Koran alone, and that in its plain literal sense, as their authority. Others read the Koran in the explanatory light of a vast collection of parables, proverbs, legends, purporting to be from Mohammed. There is no less than a score of mystic allegorizing sects3 who reduce almost every thing in the Koran to symbol, or spiritual signification, and some of whom as the Sufis are the most rapt and imaginative of all the enthusiastic devotees in the world.
A cardinal point in the Mohammedan faith is the asserted existence of angels, celestial and infernal. Eblis is Satan. He was an angel of lofty rank; but when God created Adam and bade all the angels worship him, Eblis refused, saying, "I was created of fire, he of clay: I am more excellent and will not bow to him."4 Upon this God condemned Eblis and expelled him from Paradise. He then became the unappeasable foe and seducing destroyer of men. He is the father of those swarms of jins, or evil spirits, who crowd all hearts and space with temptations and pave the ten thousand paths to hell with lures for men.
The next consideration preliminary to a clear exhibition of our special subject, is the doctrine of predestination, the unflinching fatalism which pervades and crowns this religion. The breath of this appalling faith is saturated with fatality, and its very name of Islam means "Submission." In heaven the prophet saw a prodigious wax tablet, called the "Preserved Table," on which were written the decrees of all events between the morning of creation and the day of judgment. The burning core of Mohammed's preaching was the proclamation of the one true God whose volition bears the irresistible destiny of the universe; and inseparably associated with this was an intense hatred of idolatry, fanned by the wings of God's wrath and producing a fanatic sense of a divine commission to avenge him on his insulters and vindicate for him his rightful worship from every nation. There is an apparent conflict between the Mohammedan representations of God's absolute predestination of all things, and the abundant exhortations to all men to accept the true faith and bring forth good works, and thus make sure of an acceptable account in the day of judgment. The former make God's irreversible will all in all. The latter seem to place alternative conditions before men, and to imply in them a power of choice. But this is a contradiction inseparable from the discussion of God's infinite sovereignty and man's individual freedom. The inconsistency is as gross in Augustine and Calvinism as it is in the Arabian lawgiver and the creed of the Sunnees. The Koran, instead of solving the difficulty, boldly cuts it, and does that in exactly the same way as the thorough Calvinist. God has respectively elected and reprobated all the destined inhabitants of heaven and hell, unalterably, independently of their choice or action. At the same time, reception of the true faith, and a life conformed to it, are virtually necessary for salvation, because it is decreed that all the elect shall profess and obey the true faith. Their obedient reception of it proves them to be elected. On the other hand, it is foreordained that none of the reprobate shall become disciples and followers of the Prophet. Their rejection of
3 Churchill, Mount Lebanon, vol. i. ch. xv.
4 Sale's Translation of the Koran, ch. vii.
him, their wicked misbelief, is the evidence of their original reprobation. As the Koran itself expresses it, salvation is for "all who are willing to be warned; but they shall not be warned unless God please:"5 "all who shall be willing to walk uprightly; but they shall not be willing unless God willeth."6
But such fine drawn distinctions are easily lost from sight or spurned in the eager affray of affairs and the imminent straits of the soul. While in dogma and theory the profession of an orthodox belief, together with scrupulous prayer, fasting, alms, and the pilgrimage to Mecca, or the absence of these things, simply denotes the foregone determinations of God in regard to the given individuals, in practice and feeling the contrasted beliefs and courses of conduct are held to obtain heaven and hell. And we find, accordingly, that Mohammed spoke as if God's primeval ordination had fixed all things forever, whenever he wished to awaken in his followers reckless valor and implicit submission. "Whole armies cannot slay him who is fated to die in his bed." On the contrary, when he sought to win converts, to move his hearers by threatenings and persuasions, he spoke as if every thing pertaining to human weal and woe, present and future, rested on conditions within the choice of men. Say, "'There is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet,' and heaven shall be your portion; but cling to your delusive errors, and you shall be companions of the infernal fire." Practically speaking, the essence of propagandist Islam was a sentiment like this. All men who do not follow Mohammed are accursed misbelievers. We are God's chosen avengers, the commissioned instruments for reducing his foes to submission. Engaged in that work, the hilts of all our scimitars are in his hand. He snatches his servant martyr from the battle field to heaven. Thus the weapons of the unbelievers send their slain to paradise, while the weapons of the believers send their slain to hell. Up, then, with the crescent banner, and, dripping with idolatrous gore, let it gleam over mountain and plain till our sickles have reaped the earth! "The sword is the key of heaven and the key of hell. A drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting and prayer. Whoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven. In the day of judgment his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion and odoriferous as musk."7 An infuriated zeal against idolaters and unbelievers inflamed the Moslem heart, a fierce martial enthusiasm filled the Moslem soul, and tangible visions of paradise and hell floated, illuminate, throughtheMoslem imagination. And so from the Persian Gulf to the Caucasus, from Sierra Leone to the Pyrenees, the polity of Mohammed overran the nations, with the Koran in its left hand, the exterminating blade in its right, one thunder shout still breaking from its awful lips: "Profess Islam, and live, with the clear prospect of eternal bliss beyond life; reject it, and die, with the full certainty of eternal anguish beyond death." When the crusading Christians and the Saracenic hosts met in battle, the conflict was the very frenzy of fanaticism. "There the question of salvation or damnation lay on the ground between the marshalled armies, to be fought for and carried by the stronger." Christ and Allah encountered, and the endless fate of their opposed
5 Koran, ch. lxxiv.
6 Ibid. ch. lxxxi.
7 Gibbon, Decline and Fall of Rome, ch. 1.
followers hung on the swift turning issue. "Never have the appalling ideas of the invisible world so much and so distinctly mingled with the fury of mortal strife as in this instance. To the eyes of Turk and Arab the smoke of the infernal pit appeared to break up from the ground in the rear of the infidel lines. As the squadrons of the faithful moved on to the charge, that pit yawned to receive the miscreant host; and in chasing the foe the prophet's champions believed they were driving their antagonists down the very slopes of perdition. When at length steel clashed upon steel and the yell of death shook the air, the strife was not so much between arm and arm as between spirit and spirit, and each deadly thrust was felt to pierce the life at once of the body and of the soul."8
That terrible superstition prevails almost universally among the Mussulmans, designated the "Beating in the Sepulchre," or the examination and torture of the body in the grave. As soon as a corpse is interred, two black and livid angels, called the Examiners, whose names are Munkeer and Nakeer, appear, and order the dead person to sit up and answer certain questions as to his faith. If he give satisfactory replies, they suffer him to rest in peace, refreshed by airs from paradise; but if he prove to have been an unbeliever or heretic, they beat him on the temples with iron maces till he roars aloud with pain and terror. They then press the earth on the body, which remains gnawed and stung by dragons and scorpions until the last day. Some sects give a figurative explanation of these circumstances. The utter denial of the whole representation is a schismatic peculiarity of the sect of Motozallites. But all true believers, both Sunnee and Sheeah, devoutly accept it literally. The commentators declare that it is implied in the following verse of the Koran itself: "How, therefore, will it be with them when they die and the angels shall strike their faces and their backs?" 9
The intermediate state of souls from the time of death until the resurrection has been the subject of extensive speculation and argument with the Islamites. The souls of the prophets, it is thought, are admitted directly to heaven. The souls of martyrs, according to a tradition received from Mohammed, rest in heaven in the crops of green birds who eat of the fruits and drink of the rivers there. As to the location of the souls of the common crowd of the faithful, the conclusions are various. Some maintain that they and the souls of the impious alike sleep in the dust until the end, when Israfil's blasts will stir them into life to be judged. But the general and orthodox impression is that they tarry in one of the heavens, enjoying a preparatory blessedness. The souls of the wicked, it is commonly held, after being refused a place in the tomb and also being repulsed from heaven, are carried down to the lower abyss, and thrown into a dungeon under a green rock, or into the jaw of Eblis, there to be treated with foretastes of their final doom until summoned to the judgment.10
A very prominent doctrine in the Moslem creed is that of the resurrection of the body. This is a central feature in the orthodox faith. It is expounded in all the emphatic details of its gross literality by their authoritative doctors, and is dwelt upon with unwearied reiteration by the Koran. True, some minor heretical sects give it a spiritual interpretation; but the great
8 Taylor, Hist. of Fanaticism, sect. vii.
9 Ch. xlvii.
10 Sale, Preliminary Discourse, sect. iv.
body of believers accept it unhesitatingly in its most physical shape. The intrinsic unnaturalness and improbability of the dogma were evidently felt by Mohammed and his expositors; and all the more they strove to bolster it up and enforce its reception by vehement affirmations and elaborate illustrations. In the second chapter of the Koran it is related that, in order to remove the skepticism of Abraham as to the resurrection, God wrought the miracle of restoring four birds which had been cut in pieces and scattered. In chapter seventh, God says, "We bring rain upon a withered country and cause the fruits to spring forth. Thus will we bring the dead from their graves." The prophet frequently rebukes those who reject this belief. "What aileth them, that they believe not the resurrection?"11 "Is not He who created man able to quicken the dead?"12 "The scoffers say, 'Shall we be raised to life, and our forefathers too, after we have become dust and bones? This is nothing but sorcery.'"13 First, Israfil will blow the blast of consternation. After an interval, he will blow the blast of examination, at which all creatures will die and the material universe will melt in horror. Thirdly, he will blow the blast of resurrection. Upon that instant, the assembled souls of mankind will issue from his trumpet, like a swarm of bees, and fill the atmosphere, seeking to be reunited to their former bodies, which will then be restored, even to their very hairs.
The day of judgment immediately follows. This is the dreadful day for which all other days were made; and it will come with blackness and consternation to unbelievers and evil doers, but with peace and delight to the faithful. The total race of man will be gathered in one place. Mohammed will first advance in front, to the right hand, as intercessor for the professors of Islam. The preceding prophets will appear with their followers. Gabriel will hold suspended a balance so stupendous that one scale will cover paradise, the other hell. "Hath the news of the overwhelming day of judgment reached thee?"14 "Whoever hath wrought either good or evil of the weight of an ant shall in that day behold the same."15 An infallible scrutiny shall search and weigh every man's deeds, and exact justice shall be done, and no foreign help can avail any one. "One soul shall not be able to obtain any thing in behalf of another soul."16 "Every man of them on that day shall have business enough of his own to employ his thoughts."17 In all the Mohammedan representations of this great trial and of the principles which determine its decisions, no reference is made to the doctrine of predestination, but all turns on strict equity. Reckoning a reception or rejection of the true faith as a crowning merit or demerit, the only question is, Do his good works outweigh, by so much as a hair, his evil works? If so, he goes to the right; if not, he must take the left. The solitary trace of fatalism or rather favoritism is this: that no idolater, once in hell, can ever possibly be released, while no Islamite, however wicked, can be damned eternally. The punishment of unbelievers is everlasting, that of believers limited. The opposite of this opinion is a great heresy with the generality of the Moslems. Some say the judgment will require but the twinkling of an eye; others that it will occupy fifty thousand years, during which time the sun will be drawn from its sheath and burn insufferably, and the wicked will stand looking up, their feet shod with shoes of fire, and their skulls boiling like pots. At last,
11 Ch. lxxxiv.
12 Ch. lxxv.
13 Ch. xxxvii., lvi.
14 Koran, ch. lxxxviii.
15 Ibid. ch. xcix.
16 Ibid. ch. lxxxii.
17 Ibid. ch. lxxx.
when sentence has been passed on them, all souls are forced to try the passage of al Sirat, a bridge thinner than a hair, sharper than a razor, and hotter than flame, spanning in one frail arch the immeasurable distance, directly over hell, from earth to paradise. Some affect a metaphorical solution of this air severing causeway, and take it merely as a symbol of the true Sirat, or bridge of this world, namely, the true faith and obedience; but every orthodox Mussulman firmly holds it as a physical fact to be surmounted in the last day.18 Mohammed leading the way, the faithful and righteous will traverse it with ease and as quickly as a flash of lightning. The thin edge broadens beneath their steps, the surrounding support of convoying angels' wings hides the fire lake below from their sight, and they are swiftly enveloped in paradise. But as the infidel with his evil deeds essays to cross, thorns entangle his steps, the lurid glare beneath blinds him, and he soon topples over and whirls into the blazing abyss. In Dr. Frothingham's fine translation from Ruckert,
"When the wicked o'er it goes, stands the bridge all sparkling; And his mind bewilder'd grows, and his eye swims darkling. Wakening, giddying, then comes in, with a deadly fright, Memory of all his sin, rushing on his sight. But when forward steps the just, he is safe e'en here: Round him gathers holy trust, and drives back his fear. Each good deed's a mist, that wide, golden borders gets; And for him the bridge, each side, shines with parapets."
Between hell and paradise is an impassable wall, al Araf, separating the tormented from the happy, and covered with those souls whose good works exactly counterpoise their evil works, and who are, consequently, fitted for neither place. The prophet and his expounders have much to say of this narrow intermediate abode.19 Its lukewarm denizens are contemptuously spoken of. It is said that Araf seems hell to the blessed but paradise to the damned; for does not every thing depend on the point of view?
The Mohammedan descriptions of the doom of the wicked, the torments of hell, are constantly repeated and are copious and vivid. Reference to chapter and verse would be superfluous, since almost every page of the Koran abounds in such tints and tones as the following. "The unbelievers shall be companions of hell fire forever." "Those who disbelieve we will surely cast to be broiled in hell fire: so often as their skins shall be well burned we will give them other skins in exchange, that they may taste the sharper torment." "I will fill hell entirely full of genii and men." "They shall be dragged on their faces into hell, and it shall be said unto them, 'Taste ye that torment of hell fire which ye rejected as a falsehood.'" "The unbelievers shall be driven into hell by troops." "They shall be taken by the forelocks and the feet and flung into hell, where they shall drink scalding water." "Their only entertainment shall be boiling water, and they shall be fuel for hell." "The smoke of hell shall cast forth sparks as big as towers, resembling yellow camels in color." "They who believe not shall
18 W. C. Taylor, Mohammedanism and its Sects.
19 Koran, ch. viii. Sale, Preliminary Discourse, p. 125.
have garments of fire fitted on them, and they shall be beaten with maces of red hot iron." "The true believers, lying on couches, shall look down upon the infidels in hell and laugh them to scorn."
There is a tradition that a door shall be shown the damned opening into paradise, but when they approach it, it shall be suddenly shut, and the believers within will laugh. Pitiless and horrible as these expressions from the Koran are, they are merciful compared with the pictures in the later traditions, of women suspended by their hair, their brains boiling, suspended by their tongues, molten copper poured down their throats, bound hands and feet and devoured piecemeal by scorpions, hung up by their heels in flaming furnaces and their flesh cut off on all sides with scissors of fire. 20 Their popular teachings divide hell into seven stories, sunk one under another. The first and mildest is for the wicked among the true believers. The second is assigned to the Jews. The third is the special apartment of the Christians. They fourth is allotted to the Sabians, the fifth to the Magians, and the sixth to the most abandoned idolaters; but the seventh the deepest and worst belongs to the hypocrites of all religions. The first hell shall finally be emptied and destroyed, on the release of the wretched believers there; but all the other hells will retain their victims eternally.
If the visions of hell which filled the fancies of the faithful were material and glowing, equally so were their conceptions of paradise. On this world of the blessed were lavished all the charms so fascinating to the Oriental luxuriousness of sensual languor, and which the poetic Oriental imagination knew so well how to depict. As soon as the righteous have passed Sirat, they obtain the first taste of their approaching felicity by a refreshing draught from "Mohammed's Pond." This is a square lake, a month's journey in circuit, its water whiter than milk or silver and more fragrant than to be comparable to any thing known by mortals. As many cups are set around it as there are stars in the firmament; and whoever drinks from it will never thirst more. Then comes paradise, an ecstatic dream of pleasure, filled with sparkling streams, honeyed fountains, shady groves, precious stones, all flowers and fruits, blooming youths, circulating goblets, black eyed houris, incense, brilliant birds, delightsome music, unbroken peace.21 A Sheeah tradition makes the prophet promise to Ali twelve palaces in paradise, built of gold and silver bricks laid in a cement of musk and amber. The pebbles around them are diamonds and rubies, the earth saffron, its hillocks camphor. Rivers of honey, wine, milk, and water flow through the court of each palace, their banks adorned with various resplendent trees, interspersed with bowers consisting each of one hollow transparent pearl. In each of these bowers is an emerald throne, with a houri upon it arrayed in seventy green robes and seventy yellow robes of so fine a texture, and she herself so transparent, that the marrow of her ankle, notwithstanding robes, flesh, and bone, is as distinctly visible as a flame in a glass vessel. Each houri has seventy locks of hair, every one under the care of a maid, who perfumes it with a censer which God has made to smoke with incense without the presence of fire; and no mortal has ever breathed such fragrance as is there exhaled. 22
20 Hyat ul Kuloob, ch. x. p. 206.
21 Koran, ch. lv. ch. lvi.
22 Hyat ul Kuloob, ch. xvi. p. 286.
Such a doctrine of the future life as that here set forth, it is plain, was strikingly adapted to win and work fervidly on the minds of the imaginative, voluptuous, indolent, passionate races of the Orient. It possesses a nucleus of just and natural moral conviction and sentiment, around which is grouped a composite of a score of superstitions afloat before the rise of Islam, set off with the arbitrary drapery of a poetic fancy, colored by the peculiar idiosyncrasies of Mohammed, emphasized to suit his special ends, and all inflamed with a vindictive and propagandist animus. Any word further in explanation of the origin, or in refutation of the soundness, of this system of belief once so imminently aggressive and still so widely established would seem to be superfluous.
EXPLANATORY SURVEY OF THE FIELD AND ITS MYTHS.
SURVEYING the thought of mankind upon the subject of a future life, as thus far examined, one can hardly fail to be struck by the multitudinous variety of opinions and pictures it presents. Whence and how arose this heterogeneous mass of notions?
In consequence of the endowments with which God has created man, the doctrine of a future life arises as a normal fact in the development of his experience. But the forms and accompaniments of the doctrine, the immense diversity of dress and colors it appears in, are subject to all the laws and accidents that mould and clothe the products within any other department of thought and literature. We must refer the ethnic conceptions of a future state to the same sources to which other portions of poetry and philosophy are referred, namely, to the action of sentiment, fancy, and reason, first; then to the further action, reaction, and interaction of the pictures, dogmas, and reasonings of authoritative poets, priests, and philosophers on one side, and of the feeling, faith, and thought of credulous multitudes and docile pupils on the other. In the light of these great centres of intellectual activity, parents of intellectual products, there is nothing pertaining to the subject before us, however curious, which may not be intelligibly explained, seen naturally to spring out of certain conditions of man's mind and experience as related with the life of society and the phenomena of the world.
So far as the views of the future life set forth in the religions of the ancient nations constitute systematically developed and arranged schemes of doctrine and symbol, the origin of them therefore needs no further explanation than is furnished by a contemplation of the regulated exercise of the speculative and imaginative faculties. But so far as those representations contain unique, grotesque, isolated particulars, their production is accounted for by this general law: In the early stages of human culture, when the natural sensibilities are intensely preponderant in power, and the critical judgment is in abeyance, whatever strongly moves the soul causes a poetical secretion on the part of the imagination.1 Thus the rainbow is personified; a waterfall is supposed to be haunted by spiritual beings; a volcano with fiery crater is seen as a Cyclops with one flaming eye in the centre of his forehead. This law holds not only in relation to impressive objects or appearances in nature, but also in relation to occurrences, traditions, usages. In this way innumerable myths arise, explanatory or amplifying thoughts secreted by the stimulated imagination and then narrated as events. Sometimes these tales are given and received in good faith for truth, as Grote abundantly proves in his volume on Legendary Greece; sometimes they are clearly the gleeful play of the fancy, as when it is said that the hated infant Herakles having been put to Hera's breast as she lay asleep in heaven, she, upon waking, thrust him away, and the lacteal fluid, streaming athwart the firmament, originated the Milky Way! To apply this law to our special subject:
1 Chambers's Papers for the People, vol. i.: The Myth, p. 1.
What would be likely to work more powerfully on the minds of a crude, sensitive people, in an early stage of the world, with no elaborate discipline of religious thought, than the facts and phenomena of death? Plainly, around this centre there must be deposited a vast quantity of ideas and fantasies. The task is to discriminate them, trace their individual origin, and classify them.
One of the most interesting and difficult questions connected with the subject before us is this: What, in any given time and place, were the limits of the popular belief? How much of the current representations in relation to another life were held as strict verity? What portions were regarded as fable or symbolism? It is obvious enough that among the civilized nations of antiquity the distinctions of literal statement, allegory, historic report, embellished legend, satire, poetic creation, philosophical hypothesis, religious myth, were more or less generally known. For example, when Aschylus makes one of his characters say, "Yonder comes a herald: so Dust, Clay's thirsty sister, tells me," the personification, unquestionably, was as purposed and conscious as it is when a poet in the nineteenth century says, "Thirst dived from the brazen glare of the sky and clutched me by the throat." So, too, when Homer describes the bag of Aolus, the winds, in possession of the sailors on board Ulysses' ship, the half humorous allegory cannot be mistaken for religious faith. It is equally obvious that these distinctions were not always carefully observed, but were often confounded. Therefore, in respect to the faith of primitive times, it is impossible to draw any broad, fixed lines and say conclusively that all on this side was consciously considered as fanciful play or emblem, all on that side as earnest fact. Each particular in each case must be examined by itself and be decided on its own merits by the light and weight of the moral probabilities. For example, if there was any historic basis for the myth of Herakles dragging Cerberus out of Hades, it was that this hero forcibly entered the Mysteries and dragged out to light the enactor of the part of the three headed dog. The aged North man, committing martial suicide rather than die in his peaceful bed, undoubtedly accepted the ensanguined picture of Valhalla as a truth. Virgil, dismissing Aneas from the Tartarean realm through "the ivory gate by which false dreams and fictitious visions are wont to issue," plainly wrought as a poet on imaginative materials.