« PreviousContinue »
write in a nobler manner upon the gods of antiquity than the ancients themselves. He that would run the whole round of the spirit of heathenism to perfection, must become intimate with the poetry of Milton and Spenser; of Ovid, Homer, Theocritus, and the Greek tragedians; with the novels of Wieland, the sculptures of Phidias and others, and the pictures of Raphael, and the Caraccis, and Nicholas Poussin. But a single page of Spenser or one morning at the Angerstein Gallery, will make him better acquainted with it than a dozen such folios as Spence's Polymetis, or all the mythologists and book-poets who have attempted to draw Greek inspiration from a Latin fount.
ON THE GENII OF THE GREEKS AND ROMANS, AND THE SPIRIT THAT WAS SAID TO HAVE WAITED ON SOCRATES.
HE angelical or middle beings of the Greeks
and Romans are called by the common name of genii, though the term is not correct, for the Greeks were unacquainted with the word
genius. Their spirit was called a demon ; and we suspect that a further distinction is to be drawn between the two words, for a reason which will be seen by and by. The ill sense in which demon is now taken, originated with the Fathers of the Church, who, assuming that a pagan intelligence must be a bad one, caused the word to become synonymous with devil.
But there are few things more remarkable than the abundant use which the Church made of the speculations of the Greek philoso
phers, and the contempt with which indiscreet members of it have treated them. Take away the subtleties of the Platonic theology from certain sects of Christians, and their very orthodoxy would tumble to pieces.
Demon, if it be derived, as most of the learned think, from a word signifying to know by inquiry, and the root of which signifies ( torih, may be translated the enlightened, or, simply, a light or intelligence. A blessed spirit, eternally increasing in knowledge or illumination (which some think will be one of its beatitudes), gives an enlarged sense to the word demon.
Plato certainly had no ill opinion of his demon, even when the intelligence was acting in a manner which the vulgar pronounced to be evil, and upon which the philosopher has delivered a sentiment equally profound and hu
The following may be regarded as a summary of his notions about the spiritual world. Taking up the religion of his country, as proclaimed by Ilesiod and others, and endeavoring to harmonize it with reason, he conceived that, agreeably to the ranks and gradations which we fancy in nature, there must be intermediate beings between men and gods, — the gods themselves being far from the top of spirituality. We have already stated his opinions on that subject. Next to the gods came the demons, who partook of their divinity mixed with what he called the soul of the world, and ministered round about them as well as on earth ; in fact, were the angels of the Christian system but a little more allied to their superiors. “What other philosophers called demons,” says the devout platonical Jew Philo, “ Moses usually called angels.” Next to
* There is good reason to believe that Dionysius, the pretended Areopagite, who is the great authority with writers upon the angelical nature, was a Platon
demons, but farther apart from them than demons were from the gods, and yet partaking of the angelical office, were heroes, or spirits clothed in a light ethereal body, and partaking still more of the soul of the world ; perhaps the souls of men who had been heroical on earth, or sent down to embody them to that end. And lastly came the souls of men, which were the faintest emanation of the Deity, and clogged with earthly clothing in addition to the mundane nature of their spirits.*
The chiefs among these spiritual beings were very like the gods, and often mistaken for them, which is said to have given them great satisfaction. It is upon the strength of this fancy that attempts were made to account for the
izing Christian of the school of Alexandria. If so, there is no saying how far we are not indebted for our ordinary notions of angels themselves to Plato, nor indeed how far the Christian and Jewish angel and the demon of the Greeks are not one and the same spirit; for it is impossible to say how much of the Jewish Cabala is not Alexandrian. On the other hand, the Platonists of that city mixed up their dogmas with the Oriental philosophy, so that the angel comes round again to the East, and is traceable to Persia and India. Nothing of all this need shake him; for it is in the heart and hopes of man that his nest is found. Plato's angel, Pythagoras's, Philo's, Zoroaster's, and Jeremy Taylor's, are all the same spirit under different names; and those who would love him properly, must know as much, or they cannot. Henry Moore and others, who
may be emphatically styled our angelical doctors, avowedly undertook to unite the Platonic, Pythagorean, and Cabalistic opinion. (See Enfield's Abridgment of Brucker.) It is true they derived them all from the Hebrew, – which is about as much as if they had said that the Egyptians were skilled in all the learning of Moses, instead of Moses in all the learning of the Egyptians.
* Demons and heroes were the angels and saints of the Catholic hierarchy. They had their chapels, altars, feasts, and domestic worship precisely in the same spirit; and the souls of the departed were from time to time added to the list. (See the Abbé Banier's “Mythology and Fables of the Ancients," explained from history, vol. iii. p. 434.) The heroines were the female saints. We make this remark in no ironical spirit, though the Abbé would not thank as for it.
stories of the gods, and their freaks upon earth; for demons, any more than angels, were not incapable of a little aberration. The supposed visits, for instance, of Jupiter down to earth, when he came
“Now, like a ram, fair Helle to pervert,
Now, like a bull, Europa to withdraw,”
were the work of those spirits about him, who may truly be called the jovial, and who delighted in bearing his name, as a Scottish clan does that of its chieftain. We have already mentioned the pious indignation of Plutarch at the indiscreet tales of the poets. It is remarkable that, according to Plato, these satellites encircled their master precisely in the manner of the angelical hierarchies. “But how different,” it may be said, “were their natures !” Not, perhaps, quite so much so as may be fancied. We have already hinted a resemblance in one point; and, in others, the advantage has not always been kept on the
Milton's angels, when they let down the unascendable, heavenly staircase to imbitter the agonies of Satan, did a worse thing than any recorded of the Jupiters and Apollos. We must be cautious how, in attributing one or two virtues to a set of beings, we think we endow them with all the rest. Demons were not, as some thought them, the souls of
The latter had the honor of assisting demons, but were a separate class. Indeed, according to Plato, the word soul might as well have been put for man, in opposition to spirit; for he held that the human being was properly a soul, using the body only as an instrument. Nor was this soul the guardian angel or demon, though sometimes called a demon by reason of its superiority, but man himself. It was immortal, pre-existent; and the object
of virtue was to restore it to its former state of beatitude in certain regions of light, from which it had fallen. This, among other doctrines of Plato, has been a favorite one with the poets, and would appear to have been seriously entertained by one of the present day.* What difficulty it clears, or what trouble it takes away, we cannot see. Progression is surely a better doctrine than recovery ; especially if we look upon evil as partial, fugitive, and convertible, like a hard substance, to good. Besides, we should take the whole of our species with us, and not always be looking after our own lost perfections.
The guardian demons assigned to man, came out of the whole of these orders indiscriminately. Their rank was proportioned to the virtue and intelligence of the individual. Plotinus and others had guardian demons of a very high order. The demon of Socrates is said to have been called a god, because it was of the order that were taken for gods. It was the business of this spiritual attendant to be a kind of soul in addition. The soul, or real man, governed the animal part of us; and the demon governed the soul. He was a tutor accompanying the pupil. If the pupil did amiss, it was not the tutor's fault. He lamented, and tried to mend it, perhaps, by subjecting it to some misery, or even vice. The process in this case is not very clear. Good demons appear sometimes to be distinct from bad ones, sometimes to be confounded with them. The vulgar supposed, with the Jesuit who wrote the “ Pantheon,” that every person had two demons assigned to him: one a good demon who incited him to virtue; the other a bad one, who prompted him “to all manner of vice
* “Our life is but a dream and a forgetting.”