Eschatology

TN the previous lecture we showed how, to the * astronomer theologians, contemplation of the sky had become the source of a mystic union with the divine stars. The sublime joys of ecstasy, which brings man into communion with the sidereal gods, give him but a foretaste of the bliss which is in store for him when after death his soul, ascending to the celestial spheres, shall penetrate all their mysteries. The transient exaltation, which illumines his intelligence here below, is a dim foreshadowing of the intoxication which will be wrought in him by the immediate prospect of the stars and the full comprehension of truth. The most ideal pursuits of the sage in this world are but a faint adumbration of a blessedness which will be perfected in the life to come.

Thus astral mysticism based upon a psychological experience the construction of a complete 167

doctrine of immortality. It glorified its ideal of earthly life and projected it into the life beyond. These ideas, as they spread throughout the Roman world, could not fail to modify profoundly the whole conception of man's destiny. In to-day's lecture we shall devote ourselves to exhibiting this transformation.

At the beginning of the Empire the ancient beliefs concerning existence beyond the grave, the idea that the dead man lived a gloomy life in the tomb, sustained by the funeral offerings of his descendants, retained hardly any influence, and the mythological tales about the Styx, Charon's barque, and the punishments inflicted in the nether world no longer obtained any credence. Philo sophical criticism had shown the absurdity of these lugubrious chimeras. Greek philosophy in general aimed at realising the summum bonum in this world. Of the two great systems which were predominant at Rome, one flatly denied a future life. It is well known that Epicurus taught that the soul is composed of atoms and is dissolved with the body, and there is no doctrine of the Master on which his disciples insist with more complacent assurance. Lucretius1 praises him for having driven from men's minds "this dread of Acheron which troubles the life of man to its inmost depths." The other great philosophical school, Stoicism, showed considerable hesitation concerning the fate in store for our souls. Its various representatives held different views on this point. Panaetius, the friend of the Scipios, one of the writers who contributed most to win Rome over to the tenets of the Porch, resolutely declined to believe in a survival of the individual. In reality it is in this world that true Stoicism places the realisation of its ideal. For it the aim of. existence is not the preparation for death but the attainment of perfect virtue. By giving freedom from the passions, virtue confers independence and felicity. The sage, a happy being, is a god on earth, and heaven can offer nothing more to him. In this system eschatological theories had only a secondary importance, and that explains their variations.

The negative point of view adopted by Panaetius

Et metus, illeforas praeeeps Acheruntis agendus

Fundittis htimanam qui vitam turbat ab into.

is that of the majority, perhaps, of the theorists of astrology. Among those who prided themselves on philosophy, many denied immortality or at least doubted it, as for instance Ptolemy, who was influenced by the ideas of the Peripatetics, or Vettius Valens, who represents purer Stoicism. According to them the divine spark which animated bodies, became merged after death in the cosmic fires, from which it had issued, without preserving any individuality. From death, then, they expected nothing but liberation from Destiny, of which they were the bondsmen here below; henceforth they were freed from those cruel necessities and pitiless vicissitudes to which those beings are subject who live under the planetary vaults. Their conception of existence and their highest aspirations were those to which the most antique of modern poets has given forcible expression; I mean Leconte de Lisle, who, adopting a definition of Alfred de Vigny, declared that life is "a sombre incident between two endless periods of sleep." His musical and despondent apostrophe is well known1:

"Et toi, divine Mort, oil tout rentre et s'efface, Accueille tes enfants dans ton sein £toil£, 1 Polmes antiques, " Dies Irae."

Affranchis nous du temps, du nombre, et de l'espace, Et rends nous le repose que la vie a troublé."*

This pessimism, which regarded annihilation as a blessing, might be accepted by certain spirits and sometimes preached with a kind of passion, as by Pliny in a famous confession of faith.2 But the majority, without venturing to admit the certainty of a future life, clung to it as a comfortable hypothesis entertained by certain thinkers.

We find it hard to resign ourselves to complete annihilation; even when reason acquiesces in the destruction of our transitory being, subconsciously we protest against it. The deep instinct of self-preservation drives man to desire a continuance of life, and feeling revolts against the anguish of an irrevocable separation, against the final loss of all one loves. Moreover in imperial Rome there were so many unpunished crimes, so much undeserved suffering, that men naturally took refuge in the

10 Death divine, at whose recall Returneth all To fade in thy embrace, Gather thy children to thy bosom starred, Free us from time, from number, and from space, And give us back the rest that life hath marred.

hope of a happier future which would repair all the injustices of a sorrowful present. This is the explanation of the ever-increasing triumph of new theories concerning a life to come. To the scepticism and the negative views which were prevalent at the end of the Republic, at least in intellectual circles, were opposed doctrines taught by the professors of the theology which found in Posidonius its most illustrious exponent. A Stoic, he combines the teaching of the Porch with the idealism of Plato, who held that the soul, being an immaterial essence, must rise to a fairer world. But he welcomes also, and above all, the religious traditions of the Syrians, of which he is to be the eloquent propagandist.

All Oriental mysteries profess to reveal to their adepts the secret of attaining to a blessed immortality. In place of the shifting and contradictory opinions of philosophers concerning tiie fate of man after death, these religions offered a certainty based on a divine revelation and corroborated by the belief of countless generations which had clung to it. The despairing world eagerly welcomed these promises, and philosophy, undergoing a transformation, joined with the ancient beliefs of the East to give to the Empire a new eschatology.

In point of fact, the different cults conceived blessedness under very different forms, some of them gross enough. To the followers of Bacchus or of the Phrygian Sabazius drunkenness is divine possession. The devotee was to be admitted to the feast of the gods, there to rejoice with them for ever in a state of pleasant intoxication. The Alexandrine mysteries of Isis and Serapis diffused a less material conception of future happiness. The dead will descend to the nether world in full possession of his body as well as of his soul, and will enjoy an eternal rapture in contemplating face to face the ineffable beauty of the gods, whose equal he has become. But of the various beliefs which secured adepts in the Roman world, none was to become so influential as that of sidereal eschatology. This is the purest and most elevated doctrine which can be put to the credit of ancient paganism, and. it was to establish a firm hold on the Western mind.

We shall attempt to show how it developed, by whom and when it was disseminated, and what different forms it assumed in the Graeco-Roman world.

Certain beliefs which are found, side by side with many others, among primitive peoples, regard the spirits of the dead as departing to inhabit the moon or the sun, or even fancy that their evergrowing host forms the multitude of stars or crowds the long track of the Milky Way. This very ancient idea received a new significance when philosophers, as far back as Heraclitus, taught that the soul is of the same nature as the ether, which is, as it were, the soul of the universe. Just as the one causes our bodies to move, the other, they said, caused the stars to fly across the spaces of the heavens. At death the body fell to dust and was reunited with the earth, but the glowing breath which had animated it, ascended to the luminous fluid that extended above the clouds, and coalesced with this subtle air, which was the source of all life. The official epitaph on the Athenians who fell at Potidaea in 432 B.C., expresses the conviction that the ether has received into its bosom the souls of these heroes as the earth has received their bodies.1

1 Corp. Inscr.Att., i., 442: AWfyp /xèv yftvxàs inredé^o, g&imtol ôè xQùv.

There we have an opinion wide-spread in the fifth century from one end of the Hellenic world to the other. In opposition, then, to the views of the Homeric age and of popular belief, these doctrines taught that the abode of souls was neither the tomb nor the nether realm of Pluto, but the upper zone of the universe. Some, with greater exactitude, made them the companions of the stars, whose divinity philosophers devoted themselves to proving.1 The two ideas are closely related,^ for the affinity of gods and men is an eminently Greek idea. Some sects of mystics—Orphic or Pythagorean—taught that the spirits of the dead departed to dwell in the moon, or to shine among the constellations. Thus Aristophanes2 transforms the Pythagorean poet, Ion of Chios, the friend of Sophocles, into the morning star. In Plato's view souls which have made a good use of their lives return to inhabit the heavenly bodies, which served as their dwelling-place before birth, and there partake of the bliss of a divine existence.

Moreover, the Greeks, as we have seen,3 had long before told how certain heroes of fable had

been transported to heaven in reward for their exploits. Hercules, Perseus and Andromeda, the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, and many others had thus been metamorphosed into constellations. "Cat aster ism" forms the dinodment of a number of mythological stories. Hence it did not appear bold to assign to eminent men of the day the same destiny as to the heroes of the past, and no one saw anything offensive in the supposition that their divine spirits took a place in the sky. The astronomer Conon did not hesitate even to recognise there the lock of hair which queen Berenice had dedicated to Aphrodite, and which became thenceforth a new cluster of stars. All persons, animals, and objects whose image men professed to find in the celestial vault, thus had their legends which connected them with some mythological episode or some historical event.

These doctrines, which in this way gradually spread over classical Greece, were to be taken up and transformed by the Stoics. To the disciples of Zeno the soul of man is a portion of that divine fire in which their pantheistic naturalism saw at once the productive force and the intelligence of the world. Human reason, a particle of this uni versal reason, was conceived as a breath, a fiery emanation. Now the stars are the most brilliant manifestation of the cosmic fire. The philosophy of the Porch, then, favoured the belief that the soul was united with the heavenly bodies by a special relation, and thus Stoicism was readily reconciled with astrology. It is a remarkable fact that this doctrine was defended, in the second century before our era, notably by Hipparchus, who was not only one of the great astronomers but a convinced adept of astrological theories, and, as we have seen,1 Pliny applauds him warmly for having proved better than any one else that man is related to the stars and that our souls are "a part of the heaven."

Yet the pure Stoics, as we said above, while fully admitting the continued existence of this divine essence which warms and governs the body, inclined to the belief that after death it was reabsorbed into the universal fire without retaining any individuality. But very early this philosophy was led to make concessions to popular beliefs. Certain of its professors sought to bring the new principles which were formulated in the sphere of

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