Dreams that changed history: Persian



A few dreams and how they how they played a role in history:  

Astyages King of the Medes had a daughter named, Mandane. “… concerning whom he hada wonderful dream. He dreamt that she urinated is such a quantity as not only to fill his capital, but to flood the whole of Asia. This vision he laid before such of the Magi as had the gift of interpreting dreams, who expounded its meaning to him in full, where at he was greatly terrified.”

 He refused to marry her to any of the royal Medians, as was custom, but instead gave her as bride to a subject Prince of the Persians, named Cambyses. Now a year later, he had a second dream “ He fancied that a vine grew from the privy parts of his daughter, and overshadowed the whole of Asia. After this dream , which he submitted also to the interpreters, he sent to Persia and fetched away Mandane, who was with child, and not far from her time” 

Now the interpretations of the Magi, of his dreams, was that the child of his daughter was destine to rule all of Asia in his stead. As soon as the child was born (Cyrus I the Great) he called Harpagus, a kinsman of his, and ordered him to take the child and put it to death. But Harpagus , being kinsman to the child also, as it was the grandson of Astyages, refused to do so, and give the child to herdsman for safe keeping and to raise. He did and Cyrus grew up to one day found the Persian Empire. 

Cyrus’s Dream

While Cyrus I was on campaign in the east against the tribes of the Massagetae, had a dream. He dreamt “ He seemed to see in his sleep the eldest of the sons of Hystapes, with wings upon his shoulders, shadowing with the one wing Asia, and Europe with the other. “ Now Hystaspes was a kinsman of Cyrus, and of the royal line, and his eldest son was Darius. Cyrus called in Hystapes and told him of the vision , worried that his son Darius was plotting to overthrow him. And wanted him to appear before the king , upon return to Susa. Now Herodotus sees this a forewarning that Cyrus was to be killed in battle , and not as a plot. But the evidence reveals , that yes Cyrus was killed a few days later in battle, and the Empire fell to his son Cambyses II, to which Darius son of Hystaspes was his Cupbearer, and upon his death, a complicated coup seemed to come about, with the end result of Darius becoming King as Darius I. So perhaps it was a vision of a plot? 

Cambyses II Dream 

After Cyrus I had died, his son Cambyses II became king, during his invasion of Egypt, had sent his brother Smerdis ( Bardiya, by some accounts) back to Persia to keep an eye on the affairs at the capital of Susa, then he had a dream “ Cambyses had a vision in his sleep, he thought a messenger from Persia came to him with tidings that Semerdis sat upon the royal thorne and with his head touched the heavens. Fearing therefore for himself and thinking it likely that his brother would kill him and , and rule in his stead, Cambyses sent in to Persia  Prexaspes…bidding him to put Smerdis to death. So this Prexaspes went up to Susa and slew Smerdis…”

 Upon his return from Egypt, there came word to Cambyese of a “ revolt” where as a pair of Magi brothers one the steward of the household had declared Smerdis the other brother, King, an uncanny similarity of names, denouncing Cambyses.  Cambyses forth wit called to question if Prexaspes, if he had failed, in his task, convinced that he told the truth and had preformed the deed, in haste to return and put an end to this usurper, wounded himself and died. 

Darius I as I have mentioned form the dream of Cyrus I, was Cupbearer of Cambyses II, was with him when all this took place, and within a term of 7 months had, killed the usurper Smerdis and became King. Invading Europe and beginning a war with the Greeks after the Ionian revolt and the burning of Sardis. 

Xerxes I

Xerxes was the son of Darius I, following in his father’s footsteps he took up the war against the Greeks and planned to become master of Europe as well as Asia. While at Sardis planning the invasion of Europe there were many discussions as to , if he should invade or not. His uncle Artabanus ( Darius‘ brother) , argued strongly as it was not in his or the empires best interest to invade to the point that finale Xerxes was swayed in to not attempting it. That night as he slept he had a dream: “ he thought a tall beautiful man stood over him and said, “ Hast thou then changed thy mind, Persian, and wilt thou notlead forth they host against the Greeks, after commanding the Persians to gather their levies> Be sure thou doest not well to change; nor is there a man here who will approve thy conduct. The course that thou didst determine on during the day, let that be followed.”After thus speaking the man seemed to Xerxes to fly away” Next day he announced that he intended to follow the council of Artabanus and not war with the Greeks. 

Then a second dream:

“ But when night came, again the same vision stood over Xerxes as he slept and said , “ Son of Darius, it seems thou hast openly before all the Persians renounced the expedition, making light of my words, as though thou hast not heard them spoken. Know therefore and be well assured, that unless thou go forth to the war, this thing shall happen unto thee – as thou art grown mighty and puissant in a short space, so likewise shalt thou within a little time be brought low indeed.” 

Frightened awake he sent for Artabanus and explained the vision. To ease his mind, Artabanus donned the robes of Xerxes and lay in his bed instead, and when a sleep the vision came and stood beside him and said: “Thou art the man, then , who, feigning to be tender of Xerxes, seeks to dissuade him from leading the his armies against the Greeks! But thou shalt not escape scathless, either now or in time to come, because thou hast sought to prevent that which is fated to happen. As for Xerxes, it has been plainly told to himself, what will befall him, if he refuses to preform my bidding.” In such words, as Artabanus thought, the vision threatened him, and then endeavored to burn out his eyes with a red hot irons. At this he shrieked and leaping form the couch hurried to Xerxes, and sitting down at his side, gave him a full account of the vision…” Xerxes went on to invade Europe in 480 B C

Reference: Taken form The Histories: Herodotus of Halicarnassus

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan


The Devil in the Belfry: A Poe story


 EVERYBODY knows, in a general way, that the finest place in the world is-or, alas, was-the Dutch borough of Vondervotteimittiss. Yet as it lies some distance from any of the main roads, being in a somewhat out-of-the-way situation, there are perhaps very few of my readers who have ever paid it a visit. For the benefit of those who have not, therefore, it will be only proper that I should enter into some account of it. And this is indeed the more necessary, as with the hope of enlisting public sympathy in behalf of the inhabitants, I design here to give a history of the calamitous events which have so lately occurred within its limits. No one who knows me will doubt that the duty thus self-imposed will be executed to the best of my ability, with all that rigid impartiality, all that cautious examination into facts, and diligent collation of authorities, which should ever distinguish him who aspires to the title of historian. 

By the united aid of medals, manuscripts, and inscriptions, I am enabled to say, positively, that the borough of Vondervotteimittiss has existed, from its origin, in precisely the same condition which it at present preserves. Of the date of this origin, however, I grieve that I can only speak with that species of indefinite definiteness which mathematicians are, at times, forced to put up with in certain algebraic formulae. The date, I may thus say, in regard to the remoteness of its antiquity, cannot be less than any assignable quantity whatsoever. 

Touching the derivation of the name Vondervotteimittiss, I confess myself, with sorrow, equally at fault. Among a multitude of opinions upon this delicate point-some acute, some learned, some sufficiently the reverse-I am able to select nothing which ought to be considered satisfactory. Perhaps the idea of Grogswigg-nearly coincident with that of Kroutaplenttey-is to be cautiously preferred. It runs: “Vondervotteimittis-Vonder, lege Donder-Votteimittis, quasi und Bleitziz-Bleitziz obsol:-pro Blitzen.” This derivative, to say the truth, is still countenanced by some traces of the electric fluid evident on the summit of the steeple of the House of the Town-Council. I do not choose, however, to commit myself on a theme of such importance, and must refer the reader desirous of information to the “Oratiunculae de Rebus Praeter-Veteris,” of Dundergutz. See, also, Blunderbuzzard “De Derivationibus,” pp. 27 to 5010, Folio, Gothic edit., Red and Black character, Catch-word and No Cypher; wherein consult, also, marginal notes in the autograph of Stuffundpuff, with the Sub-Commentaries of Gruntundguzzell.

 Notwithstanding the obscurity which thus envelops the date of the foundation of Vondervotteimittis, and the derivation of its name, there can be no doubt, as I said before, that it has always existed as we find it at this epoch. The oldest man in the borough can remember not the slightest difference in the appearance of any portion of it; and, indeed, the very suggestion of such a possibility is considered an insult. The site of the village is in a perfectly circular valley, about a quarter of a mile in circumference, and entirely surrounded by gentle hills, over whose summit the people have never yet ventured to pass. For this they assign the very good reason that they do not believe there is anything at all on the other side.

 Round the skirts of the valley (which is quite level, and paved throughout with flat tiles), extends a continuous row of sixty little houses. These, having their backs on the hills, must look, of course, to the centre of the plain, which is just sixty yards from the front door of each dwelling. Every house has a small garden before it, with a circular path, a sun-dial, and twenty-four cabbages. The buildings themselves are so precisely alike, that one can in no manner be distinguished from the other. Owing to the vast antiquity, the style of architecture is somewhat odd, but it is not for that reason the less strikingly picturesque. They are fashioned of hard-burned little bricks, red, with black ends, so that the walls look like a chess-board upon a great scale. The gables are turned to the front, and there are cornices, as big as all the rest of the house, over the eaves and over the main doors. The windows are narrow and deep, with very tiny panes and a great deal of sash. On the roof is a vast quantity of tiles with long curly ears. The woodwork, throughout, is of a dark hue and there is much carving about it, with but a trifling variety of pattern for, time out of mind, the carvers of Vondervotteimittiss have never been able to carve more than two objects-a time-piece and a cabbage. But these they do exceedingly well, and intersperse them, with singular ingenuity, wherever they find room for the chisel.

 The dwellings are as much alike inside as out, and the furniture is all upon one plan. The floors are of square tiles, the chairs and tables of black-looking wood with thin crooked legs and puppy feet. The mantelpieces are wide and high, and have not only time-pieces and cabbages sculptured over the front, but a real time-piece, which makes a prodigious ticking, on the top in the middle, with a flower-pot containing a cabbage standing on each extremity by way of outrider. Between each cabbage and the time-piece, again, is a little China man having a large stomach with a great round hole in it, through which is seen the dial-plate of a watch.

 The fireplaces are large and deep, with fierce crooked-looking fire-dogs. There is constantly a rousing fire and a huge pot over it, full of sauerkraut and pork, to which the good woman of the house is always busy in attending. She is a little fat old lady, with blue eyes and a red face, and wears a huge cap like a sugar-loaf, ornamented with purple and yellow ribbons. Her dress is of orange-colored linsey-woolsey, made very full behind and very short in the waist—and indeed very short in other respects, not reaching below the middle of her leg. This is somewhat thick, and so are her ankles, but she has a fine pair of green stockings to cover them. Her shoes-of pink leather-are fastened each with a bunch of yellow ribbons puckered up in the shape of a cabbage. In her left hand she has a little heavy Dutch watch; in her right she wields a ladle for the sauerkraut and pork. By her side there stands a fat tabby cat, with a gilt toy-repeater tied to its tail, which “the boys” have there fastened by way of a quiz.

 The boys themselves are, all three of them, in the garden attending the pig. They are each two feet in height. They have three-cornered cocked hats, purple waistcoats reaching down to their thighs, buckskin knee-breeches, red stockings, heavy shoes with big silver buckles, long surtout coats with large buttons of mother-of-pearl. Each, too, has a pipe in his mouth, and a little dumpy watch in his right hand. He takes a puff and a look, and then a look and a puff. The pig-which is corpulent and lazy-is occupied now in picking up the stray leaves that fall from the cabbages, and now in giving a kick behind at the gilt repeater, which the urchins have also tied to his tail in order to make him look as handsome as the cat.

 Right at the front door, in a high-backed leather-bottomed armed chair, with crooked legs and puppy feet like the tables, is seated the old man of the house himself. He is an exceedingly puffy little old gentleman, with big circular eyes and a huge double chin. His dress resembles that of the boys-and I need say nothing farther about it. All the difference is, that his pipe is somewhat bigger than theirs and he can make a greater smoke. Like them, he has a watch, but he carries his watch in his pocket. To say the truth, he has something of more importance than a watch to attend to-and what that is, I shall presently explain. He sits with his right leg upon his left knee, wears a grave countenance, and always keeps one of his eyes, at least, resolutely bent upon a certain remarkable object in the center of the plain.

 This object is situated in the steeple of the House of the Town Council. The Town Council are all very little, round, oily, intelligent men, with big saucer eyes and fat double chins, and have their coats much longer and their shoe-buckles much bigger than the ordinary inhabitants of Vondervotteimittiss. Since my sojourn in the borough, they have had several special meetings, and have adopted these three important resolutions:”That it is wrong to alter the good old course of things:””That there is nothing tolerable out of Vondervotteimittiss:” and-“That we will stick by our clocks and our cabbages.”

 Above the session-room of the Council is the steeple, and in the steeple is the belfry, where exists, and has existed time out of mind, the pride and wonder of the village-the great clock of the borough of Vondervotteimittiss. And this is the object to which the eyes of the old gentlemen are turned; who sit in the leather-bottomed arm-chairs.

 The great clock has seven faces-one in each of the seven sides of the steeple-so that it can be readily seen from all quarters. Its faces are large and white, and its hands heavy and black. There is a belfry-man whose sole duty is to attend to it; but this duty is the most perfect of sinecures-for the clock of Vondervotteimittis was never yet known to have anything the matter with it. Until lately, the bare supposition of such a thing was considered heretical. From the remotest period of antiquity to which the archives have reference, the hours have been regularly struck by the big bell. And, indeed the case was just the same with all the other clocks and watches in the borough. Never was such a place for keeping the true time. When the large clapper thought proper to say; “Twelve o’clock!” all its obedient followers opened their throats simultaneously, and responded like a very echo. In short, the good burghers were fond of their sauerkraut, but then they were proud of their clocks.

 All people who hold sinecure offices are held in more or less respect, and as the belfry-man of Vondervotteimittiss has the most perfect of sinecures, he is the most perfectly respected of any man in the world. He is the chief dignitary of the borough, and the very pigs look up to him with a sentiment of reverence. His coat-tail is very far longer-his pipe, his shoe-buckles, his eyes, and his stomach, very far bigger-than those of any other old gentleman in the village; and as to his chin, it is not only double, but triple.

 I have thus painted the happy estate of Vondervotteimittiss: alas, that so fair a picture should ever experience a reverse! 

There has been long a saying among the wisest inhabitants, that “no good can come from over the hills”; and it really seemed that the words had in them something of the spirit of prophecy. It wanted five minutes of noon, on the day before yesterday, when there appeared a very odd-looking object on the summit of the ridge of the eastward. Such an occurrence, of course, attracted universal attention, and every little old gentleman who sat in a leather-bottomed arm-chair turned one of his eyes with a stare of dismay upon the phenomenon, still keeping the other upon the clock in the steeple.

 By the time that it wanted only three minutes to noon, the droll object in question was perceived to be a very diminutive foreign-looking young man. He descended the hills at a great rate, so that everybody had soon a good look at him. He was really the most finicky little personage that had ever been seen in Vondervotteimittiss. His countenance was of a dark snuff-color, and he had a long hooked nose, pea eyes, a wide mouth, and an excellent set of teeth, which latter he seemed anxious of displaying, as he was grinning from ear to ear. What with mustachios and whiskers, there was none of the rest of his face to be seen. His head was uncovered, and his hair neatly done up in papillotes.

 His dress was a tight-fitting swallow-tailed black coat (from one of whose pockets dangled a vast length of white handkerchief), black kerseymere knee-breeches, black stockings, and stumpy-looking pumps, with huge bunches of black satin ribbon for bows. Under one arm he carried a huge chapeau-de-bras, and under the other a fiddle nearly five times as big as himself. In his left hand was a gold snuff-box, from which, as he capered down the hill, cutting all manner of fantastic steps, he took snuff incessantly with an air of the greatest possible self-satisfaction. God bless me!-here was a sight for the honest burghers of Vondervotteimittiss!

 To speak plainly, the fellow had, in spite of his grinning, an audacious and sinister kind of face; and as he curvetted right into the village, the old stumpy appearance of his pumps excited no little suspicion; and many a burgher who beheld him that day would have given a trifle for a peep beneath the white cambric handkerchief which hung so obtrusively from the pocket of his swallow-tailed coat. But what mainly occasioned a righteous indignation was that the scoundrelly popinjay, while he cut a fandango here, and a whirligig there, did not seem to have the remotest idea in the world of such a thing as keeping time in his steps.

 The good people of the borough had scarcely a chance, however, to get their eyes thoroughly open, when, just as it wanted half a minute of noon, the rascal bounced, as I say, right into the midst of them; gave a chasse here, and a balance there; and then, after a pirouette and a pas-de-zephyr, pigeon-winged himself right up into the belfry of the House of the Town Council, where the wonder-stricken belfry-man sat smoking in a state of dignity and dismay. But the little chap seized him at once by the nose; gave it a swing and a pull; clapped the big chapeau de-bras upon his head; knocked it down over his eyes and mouth; and then, lifting up the big fiddle, beat him with it so long and so soundly, that what with the belfry-man being so fat, and the fiddle being so hollow, you would have sworn that there was a regiment of double-bass drummers all beating the devil’s tattoo up in the belfry of the steeple of Vondervotteimittiss.

 There is no knowing to what desperate act of vengeance this unprincipled attack might have aroused the inhabitants, but for the important fact that it now wanted only half a second of noon. The bell was about to strike, and it was a matter of absolute and pre-eminent necessity that everybody should look well at his watch. It was evident, however, that just at this moment the fellow in the steeple was doing something that he had no business to do with the clock. But as it now began to strike, nobody had any time to attend to his manoeuvres, for they had all to count the strokes of the bell as it sounded.

 “One!” said the clock. “Von!” echoed every little old gentleman in every leather-bottomed arm-chair in Vondervotteimittiss. “Von!” said his watch also; “von!” said the watch of his vow; and “von!” said the watches of the boys, and the little gilt repeaters on the tails of the cat and pig.

 “Two!” continued the big bell; and “Doo!” repeated all the repeaters.

 “Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine! Ten!” said the bell. “Dree! Vour! Fibe! Sax! Seben! Aight! Noin! Den!” answered the others. 

“Eleven!” said the big one. “Eleben!” assented the little ones. 

“Twelve!” said the bell. “Dvelf!” they replied perfectly satisfied, and dropping their voices. “Und dvelf it is!” said all the little old gentlemen, putting up their watches. But the big bell had not done with them yet. 

“Thirteen!” said he. “Der Teufel!” gasped the little old gentlemen, turning pale, dropping their pipes, and putting down all their right legs from over their left knees. “Der Teufel!” groaned they, “Dirteen! Dirteen!!-Mein Gott, it is Dirteen o’clock!!” Why attempt to describe the terrible scene which ensued? All Vondervotteimittiss flew at once into a lamentable state of uproar. 

“Vot is cum’d to mein pelly?” roared all the boys-“I’ve been ongry for dis hour!” 

“Vot is com’d to mein kraut?” screamed all the vrows, “It has been done to rags for this hour!” 

“Vot is cum’d to mein pipe?” swore all the little old gentlemen, “Donder and Blitzen; it has been smoked out for dis hour!”-and they filled them up again in a great rage, and sinking back in their arm-chairs, puffed away so fast and so fiercely that the whole valley was immediately filled with impenetrable smoke. 

Meantime the cabbages all turned very red in the face and it seemed as if old Nick himself had taken possession of everything in the shape of a timepiece. The clocks carved upon the furniture took to dancing as if bewitched, while those upon the mantel-pieces could scarcely contain themselves for fury, and kept such a continual striking of thirteen and such a frisking and wriggling of their pendulums as was really horrible to see. But, worse than all, neither the cats nor the pigs could put up any longer with the behavior of the little repeaters tied to their tails, and resented it by scampering all over the place, scratching and poking, and squeaking and screeching, and caterwauling and squalling, and flying into the faces, and running under the petticoats of the people, and creating altogether the most abominable din and confusion which it is possible for a reasonable person to conceive. And to make matters still more distressing, the rascally little scape-grace in the steeple was evidently exerting himself to the utmost. Every now and then one might catch a glimpse of the scoundrel through the smoke. There he sat in the belfry upon the belfry-man, who was lying flat upon his back. 

In his teeth the villain held the bell-rope, which he kept jerking about with his head, raising such a clatter that my ears ring again even to think of it. On his lap lay the big fiddle, at which he was scraping, out of all time and tune, with both hands, making a great show, the nincompoop! of playing “Judy O’Flannagan and Paddy O’Rafferty.” 

Affairs being thus miserably situated, I left the place in disgust, and now appeal for aid to all lovers of correct time and fine kraut. Let us proceed in a body to the borough, and restore the ancient order of things in Vondervotteimittiss by ejecting that little fellow from the steeple.


Author: Edgar Alan Poe (1839)

CONTIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

A Few Greek Festivals


Anthesteria, one of the four Athenian festivals in honour of Dionysus (Dionysia), was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion (the February/March full moon). At the center of the festival was the celebration of the maturing of the wine stored at the previous vintage, and the beginning of spring. The festival was likely celebrated for more than two millennia, from before 1500 BC to after AD 500. The three days of the feast were called Pithoigia (casks), Choës (beakers) and Chytroi (pots).

During the feast, social order was interrupted or inverted, the slaves being allowed to participate, uniting the household in ancient fashion. The Anthesteria also have aspects of a festival of the dead who freely roamed the city, comparable to the Roman Feast of the Lemures, the expulsion of ancestral ghosts: compare All Souls’ Night and carnival. Either the Keres or the Carians were entertained, and expelled from the city after the festival, symbolizing either the souls of the dead or the aboriginal inhabitants of Attica. A Greek proverb, employed of those who pestered for continued favours, ran “Out of doors, Keres! It is no longer Anthesteria”. The festival was called Rosalia in Latin, loaned as Rusaliya into Slavic. The Rusalki were originally spirits associated with the cult.
The name Anthesteria, according to the account of it given above, is usually connected with (“flower,” or the “bloom” of the grape, cognate to Sanskrit andhas “Soma plant”)
The month Anthesterion is named after the festival, not vice versa, and since the month’s name is not restricted to the Attic calendar, but was known also in Ionia, it follows that the festival predates the Ionian colonisation, making it the oldest datable part of the Eleusinian Mysteries, originating likely as early as 1500 BC.

A. W. Verrall (Journal of Hellenic Studies, xx., 1900, p. 115) explains the name differently, as a feast of “revocation” (from to “pray back” or “up”), at which the ghosts of the dead were recalled to the land of the living (cp. the Roman mundus patet). J. E. Harrison (ibid. 100, 109, and Prolegomena), regarding the Anthesteria as primarily a festival of all souls, the object of which was the expulsion of ancestral ghosts by means of placation, explains as the feast of the opening of the graves (meaning a large urn used for burial purposes), as the day of libations, and as the day of the grave-holes (not “pots,” which is), in point of time really anterior to the E. Rohde and Martin P. Nilsson, however, take it to mean “water vessels,” and connect the ceremony with the Hydrophoria, a libation festival said to propitiate the dead who had perished in the flood of Deucalion.

On the first day, called Pithoigia (opening of the casks), libations were offered from the newly opened casks to the god of wine, all the household, including servants and slaves, joining in the festivities. The rooms and the drinking vessels in them were adorned with spring flowers, as were also the children over three years of age.

The second day, named Choës (feast of beakers), was a time of merrymaking. The people dressed themselves gaily, some in the disguise of the mythical personages in the suite of Dionysus, and paid a round of visits to their acquaintances. Drinking clubs met to organize drink-off matches, the winner being he who drained his cup most rapidly. Others poured libations on the tombs of deceased relatives. On the part of the state this day was the occasion of a peculiarly solemn and secret ceremony in one of the sanctuaries of Dionysus in the Lenaeum, which for the rest of the year was closed. The basilissa (or basilinna), wife of the archon basileus for the duration, went through a ceremony of marriage to the wine god, in which she was assisted by fourteen Athenian matrons, called geraerae, chosen by the basileus and sworn to secrecy. The days on which the Pithoigia and Choës were celebrated were both regarded as (nefasti, “unlucky”) and (“defiled”), necessitating expiatory libations; on them the souls of the dead came up from the underworld and walked abroad; according to Photius, people chewed leaves of buckthorn and besmeared their doors with tar to protect themselves from evil. But at least in private circles the festive character of the ceremonies predominated.
Thucydides noted that “the more ancient Dionysia were celebrated on the twelfth day of the month of Anthesterion in the temple of Dionysus Limnaios (“Dionysus in the Marshes”) (Thucydides, ii.15).

The third day was named Chytroi (feast of pots), a festival of the dead. Cooked pulse was offered to Hermes Chthonios, Hermes in his capacity of a god of the lower world, and to the souls of the dead, who were then bidden to depart. None of the Olympians were included and no one tasted the pottage, which was food of the dead. Although no performances were allowed at the theatre, a sort of rehearsal took place, at which the players for the ensuing dramatic festival were selected.

Carneian festival
The Carneian festival was one of the most important religious festivals in ancient Sparta and other Dorian cities, held in honor of Apollo Carneios, who was worshipped in various parts of the Peloponnesus. There were nine major festivals on the Spartan calendar, the most important of which were the Carneia, the Gymnopaedia and the Hyakinthia held at Amyclae.

The Carneia began on the seventh day of the month of Carneios (the Athenian Metageitnion) and lasted nine days. Nine tents were pitched near the city walls, inhabited by nine men who lived like soldiers, obeying the commands of a herald. The priest conducting the sacrifices was known as the Agetes; thus, the festival was sometimes known as Agetoria or Agetoreion. From each of the Spartan tribes, five unmarried men (Karneatai) were chosen as the Agetes’ ministers, an office they held for four years, during which they were not allowed to marry. Some of the Karneatai were called staphylodromoi (“grape-cluster runners”). During the festival, the staphylodromoi chased after a man wearing a garland; to catch him meant good luck in the coming harvest.

According to tradition, the army was not allowed to leave the Spartan territory during this festival. The Spartan rulers were not permitted to lead any kind of military campaign or declare war, and all male citizens had to be purified. Because of this, the Spartans did not send any soldiers to the Battle of Marathon or Thermopilea until the festival ended.

The Carneia was also celebrated at the Sharmen city of Cyrene in North Africa, as attested in Pindar’s fourth Pythian ode and Callimachus’s hymn to Apollo.


SOURCES: Various
CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

William Wilson: A Poe Story


LET me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn–for the horror–for the detestation of my race. To the uttermost regions of the globe have not the indignant winds bruited its unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned!–to the earth art thou not forever dead? to its honors, to its flowers, to its golden aspirations?–and a cloud, dense, dismal, and limitless, does it not hang eternally between thy hopes and heaven?

I would not, if I could, here or to-day, embody a record of my later years of unspeakable misery, and unpardonable crime. This epoch—these later years–took unto themselves a sudden elevation in turpitude, whose origin alone it is my present purpose to assign. Men usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle. From comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus. What chance–what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate. Death approaches; and the shadow which foreruns him has thrown a softening influence over my spirit. I long, in passing through the dim valley, for the sympathy–I had nearly said for the pity—of my fellow men. I would fain have them believe that I have been, in some measure, the slave of circumstances beyond human control. I would wish them to seek out for me, in the details I am about to give, some little oasis of fatality amid a wilderness of error. I would have them allow–what they cannot refrain from allowing–that, although temptation may have erewhile existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted before–certainly, never thus fell. And is it therefore that he has never thus suffered? Have I not indeed been living in a dream? And am I not now dying a victim to the horror and the mystery of the wildest of all sublunary visions?

I am the descendant of a race whose imaginative and easily excitable temperament has at all times rendered them remarkable; and, in my earliest infancy, I gave evidence of having fully inherited the family character. As I advanced in years it was more strongly developed; becoming, for many reasons, a cause of serious disquietude to my friends, and of positive injury to myself. I grew self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable passions. Weak-minded, and beset with constitutional infirmities akin to my own, my parents could do but little to check the evil propensities which distinguished me. Some feeble and ill-directed efforts resulted in complete failure on their part, and, of course, in total triumph on mine. Thenceforward my voice was a household law; and at an age when few children have abandoned their leading-strings, I was left to the guidance of my own will, and became, in all but name, the master of my own actions.

My earliest recollections of a school-life, are connected with a large, rambling, Elizabethan house, in a misty-looking village of England, where were a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, and where all the houses were excessively ancient. In truth, it was a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the refreshing chilliness of its deeply-shadowed avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thousand shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefinable delight, at the deep hollow note of the church-bell, breaking, each hour, with sullen and sudden roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere in which the fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded and asleep.

It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as I can now in any manner experience, to dwell upon minute recollections of the school and its concerns. Steeped in misery as I am–misery, alas! Only too real—I shall be pardoned for seeking relief, however slight and temporary, in the weakness of a few rambling details. These, moreover, utterly trivial, and even ridiculous in themselves, assume, to my fancy, adventitious importance, as connected with a period and a locality when and where I recognize the first ambiguous monitions of the destiny which afterwards so fully overshadowed me. Let me then remember.

The house, I have said, was old and irregular. The grounds were extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with a bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This prison-like rampart formed the limit of our domain; beyond it we saw but thrice a week–once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by two ushers, we were permitted to take brief walks in a body through some of the neighbouring fields—and twice during Sunday, when we were paraded in the same formal manner to the morning and evening service in the one church of the village. Of this church the principal of our school was pastor. With how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I wont to regard him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit! This reverend man, with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid and so vast,—could this be he who, of late, with sour visage, and in snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the Draconian laws of the academy? Oh, gigantic paradox, too utterly monstrous for solution!

At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned a more ponderous gate. It was riveted and studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged iron spikes. What impressions of deep awe did it inspire! It was never opened save for the three periodical egressions and ingressions already mentioned; then, in every creak of its mighty hinges, we found a plenitude of mystery–a world of matter for solemn remark, or for more solemn meditation.

The extensive enclosure was irregular in form, having many capacious recesses. Of these, three or four of the largest constituted the play-ground. It was level, and covered with fine hard gravel. I well remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor anything similar within it. Of course it was in the rear of the house. In front lay a small parterre, planted with box and other shrubs; but through this sacred division we passed only upon rare occasions indeed–such as a first advent to school or final departure thence, or perhaps, when a parent or friend having called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the Christmas or Midsummer holy-days.

But the house!–how quaint an old building was this!–to me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its windings–to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult, at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the lateral branches were innumerable–inconceivable–and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered upon infinity. During the five years of my residence here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other scholars.

The school-room was the largest in the house–I could not help thinking, in the world. It was very long, narrow, and dismally low, with pointed Gothic windows and a ceiling of oak. In a remote and terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure of eight or ten feet, comprising the sanctum, “during hours,” of our principal, the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid structure, with massy door, sooner than open which in the absence of the “Dominic,” we would all have willingly perished by the peine forte et dure. In other angles were two other similar boxes, far less reverenced, indeed, but still greatly matters of awe. One of these was the pulpit of the “classical” usher, one of the “English and mathematical.” Interspersed about the room, crossing and re-crossing in endless irregularity, were innumerable benches and desks, black, ancient, and time-worn, piled desperately with much-bethumbed books, and so be-seamed with initial letters, names at full length, grotesque figures, and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have entirely lost what little of original form might have been their portion in days long departed. A huge bucket with water stood at one extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous dimensions at the other.

Encompassed by the massy walls of this venerable academy, I passed, yet not in tedium or disgust, the years of the third lustrum of my life. The teeming brain of childhood requires no external world of incident to occupy or amuse it; and the apparently dismal monotony of a school was replete with more intense excitement than my riper youth has derived from luxury, or my full manhood from crime. Yet I must believe that my first mental development had in it much of the uncommon–even much of the outre. Upon mankind at large the events of very early existence rarely leave in mature age any definite impression. All is gray shadow–a weak and irregular remembrance–an indistinct regathering of feeble pleasures and phantasmagoric pains. With me this is not so. In childhood I must have felt with the energy of a man what I now find stamped upon memory in lines as vivid, as deep, and as durable as the exergues of the Carthaginian medals.

Yet in fact–in the fact of the world’s view–how little was there to remember! The morning’s awakening, the nightly summons to bed; the comings, the recitations; the periodical half-holidays, and perambulations; the play-ground, with its broils, its pastimes, its intrigues;–these, by a mental sorcery long forgotten, were made to involve a wilderness of sensation, a world of rich incident, an universe of varied emotion, of excitement the most passionate and spirit-stirring. “Oh, le bon temps, que ce siecle de fer!”

In truth, the ardor, the enthusiasm, and the imperiousness of my disposition, soon rendered me a marked character among my schoolmates, and by slow, but natural gradations, gave me an ascendancy overall not greatly older than myself;–over all with a single exception.

This exception was found in the person of a scholar, who, although no relation, bore the same Christian and surname as myself;–a circumstance, in fact, little remarkable; for, notwithstanding a noble descent, mine was one of those everyday appellations which seem, by prescriptive right, to have been, time out of mind, the common property of the mob. In this narrative I have therefore designated myself as William Wilson,–a fictitious title not very dissimilar to the real. My namesake alone, of those who in school phraseology constituted “our set,” presumed to compete with me in the studies of the class–in the sports and broils of the play-ground–to refuse implicit belief in my assertions, and submission to my will–indeed, to interfere with my arbitrary dictation in any respect whatsoever. If there is on earth a supreme and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a master mind in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its companions.

Wilson’s rebellion was to me a source of the greatest embarrassment;–the more so as, in spite of the bravado with which in public I made a point of treating him and his pretensions, I secretly felt that I feared him, and could not help thinking the equality which he maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle. Yet this superiority–even this equality–was in truth acknowledged by no one but myself; our associates, by some unaccountable blindness, seemed not even to suspect it. Indeed, his competition, his resistance, and especially his impertinent and dogged interference with my purposes, were not more pointed than private. He appeared to be destitute alike of the ambition which urged, and of the passionate energy of mind which enabled me to excel. In his rivalry he might have been supposed actuated solely by a whimsical desire to thwart, astonish, or mortify myself; although there were times when I could not help observing, with a feeling made up of wonder, abasement, and pique, that he mingled with his injuries, his insults, or his contradictions, a certain most inappropriate, and assuredly most unwelcome affectionateness of manner. I could only conceive this singular behavior to arise from a consummate self-conceit assuming the vulgar airs of patronage and protection.

Perhaps it was this latter trait in Wilson’s conduct, conjoined with our identity of name, and the mere accident of our having entered the school upon the same day, which set afloat the notion that we were brothers, among the senior classes in the academy. These do not usually inquire with much strictness into the affairs of their juniors. I have before said, or should have said, that Wilson was not, in the most remote degree, connected with my family. But assuredly if we had been brothers we must have been twins; for, after leaving Dr. Bransby’s, I casually learned that my namesake was born on the nineteenth of January, 1813–and this is a somewhat remarkable coincidence; for the day is precisely that of my own nativity.

It may seem strange that in spite of the continual anxiety occasioned me by the rivalry of Wilson, and his intolerable spirit of contradiction, I could not bring myself to hate him altogether. We had, to be sure, nearly every day a quarrel in which, yielding me publicly the palm of victory, he, in some manner, contrived to make me feel that it was he who had deserved it; yet a sense of pride on my part, and a veritable dignity on his own, kept us always upon what are called “speaking terms,” while there were many points of strong congeniality in our tempers, operating to awake me in a sentiment which our position alone, perhaps, prevented from ripening into friendship. It is difficult, indeed, to define, or even to describe, my real feelings towards him. They formed a motley and heterogeneous admixture;–some petulant animosity, which was not yet hatred, some esteem, more respect, much fear, with a world of uneasy curiosity. To the moralist it will be unnecessary to say, in addition, that Wilson and myself were the most inseparable of companions.

It was no doubt the anomalous state of affairs existing between us, which turned all my attacks upon him, (and they were many, either open or covert) into the channel of banter or practical joke (giving pain while assuming the aspect of mere fun) rather than into a more serious and determined hostility. But my endeavours on this head were by no means uniformly successful, even when my plans were the most wittily concocted; for my namesake had much about him, in character, of that unassuming and quiet austerity which, while enjoying the poignancy of its own jokes, has no heel of Achilles in itself, and absolutely refuses to be laughed at. I could find, indeed, but one vulnerable point, and that, lying in a personal peculiarity, arising, perhaps, from constitutional disease, would have been spared by any antagonist less at his wit’s end than myself;–my rival had a weakness in the faucal or guttural organs, which precluded him from raising his voice at any time above a very low whisper. Of this defect I did not fall to take what poor advantage lay in my power.

Wilson’s retaliations in kind were many; and there was one form of his practical wit that disturbed me beyond measure. How his sagacity first discovered at all that so petty a thing would vex me, is a question I never could solve; but, having discovered, he habitually practiced the annoyance. I had always felt aversion to my uncourtly patronymic, and it’s very common, if not plebeian praenomen. The words were venom in my ears; and when, upon the day of my arrival, a second William Wilson came also to the academy, I felt angry with him for bearing the name, and doubly disgusted with the name because a stranger bore it, who would be the cause of its twofold repetition, who would be constantly in my presence, and whose concerns, in the ordinary routine of the school business, must inevitably, on account of the detestable coincidence, be often confounded with my own.

The feeling of vexation thus engendered grew stronger with every circumstance tending to show resemblance, moral or physical, between my rival and myself. I had not then discovered the remarkable fact that we were of the same age; but I saw that we were of the same height, and I perceived that we were even singularly alike in general contour of person and outline of feature. I was galled, too, by the rumor touching a relationship, which had grown current in the upper forms. In a word, nothing could more seriously disturb me, (although I scrupulously concealed such disturbance,) than any allusion to a similarity of mind, person, or condition existing between us. But, in truth, I had no reason to believe that (with the exception of the matter of relationship, and in the case of Wilson himself,) this similarity had ever been made a subject of comment, or even observed at all by our schoolfellows. That he observed it in all its bearings, and as fixedly as I, was apparent; but that he could discover in such circumstances so fruitful a field of annoyance, can only be attributed, as I said before, to his more than ordinary penetration.

His cue, which was to perfect an imitation of myself, lay both in words and in actions; and most admirably did he play his part. My dress it was an easy matter to copy; my gait and general manner were, without difficulty, appropriated; in spite of his constitutional defect, even my voice did not escape him. My louder tones were, of course, un-attempted, but then the key, it was identical; and his singular whisper, it grew the very echo of my own.

How greatly this most exquisite portraiture harassed me, (for it could not justly be termed a caricature,) I will not now venture to describe. I had but one consolation–in the fact that the imitation, apparently, was noticed by myself alone, and that I had to endure only the knowing and strangely sarcastic smiles of my namesake himself. Satisfied with having produced in my bosom the intended effect, he seemed to chuckle in secret over the sting he had inflicted, and was characteristically disregardful of the public applause which the success of his witty endeavours might have so easily elicited. That the school, indeed, did not feel his design, perceive its accomplishment, and participate in his sneer, was, for many anxious months, a riddle I could not resolve. Perhaps the gradation of his copy rendered it not so readily perceptible; or, more possibly, I owed my security to the master air of the copyist, who, disdaining the letter, (which in a painting is all the obtuse can see,) gave but the full spirit of his original for my individual contemplation and chagrin.

I have already more than once spoken of the disgusting air of patronage which he assumed toward me, and of his frequent officious interference with my will. This interference often took the ungracious character of advice; advice not openly given, but hinted or insinuated. I received it with a repugnance which gained strength as I grew in years. Yet, at this distant day, let me do him the simple justice to acknowledge that I can recall no occasion when the suggestions of my rival were on the side of those errors or follies so usual to his immature age and seeming inexperience; that his moral sense, at least, if not his general talents and worldly wisdom, was far keener than my own; and that I might, to-day, have been a better, and thus a happier man, had I less frequently rejected the counsels embodied in those meaning whispers which I then but too cordially hated and too bitterly despised.

As it was, I at length grew restive in the extreme under his distasteful supervision, and daily resented more and more openly what I considered his intolerable arrogance. I have said that, in the first years of our connection as schoolmates, my feelings in regard to him might have been easily ripened into friendship: but, in the latter months of my residence at the academy, although the intrusion of his ordinary manner had, beyond doubt, in some measure, abated, my sentiments, in nearly similar proportion, partook very much of positive hatred. Upon one occasion he saw this, I think, and afterwards avoided, or made a show of avoiding me.

It was about the same period, if I remember aright, that, in an altercation of violence with him, in which he was more than usually thrown off his guard, and spoke and acted with an openness of demeanor rather foreign to his nature, I discovered, or fancied I discovered, in his accent, his air, and general appearance, a something which first startled, and then deeply interested me, by bringing to mind dim visions of my earliest infancy–wild, confused and thronging memories of a time when memory herself was yet unborn. I cannot better describe the sensation which oppressed me than by saying that I could with difficulty shake off the belief of my having been acquainted with the being who stood before me, at some epoch very long ago–some point of the past even infinitely remote. The delusion, however, faded rapidly as it came; and I mention it at all but to define the day of the last conversation I there held with my singular namesake.

The huge old house, with its countless subdivisions, had several large chambers communicating with each other, where slept the greater number of the students. There were, however, (as must necessarily happen in a building so awkwardly planned,) many little nooks or recesses, the odds and ends of the structure; and these the economic ingenuity of Dr. Bransby had also fitted up as dormitories; although, being the merest closets, they were capable of accommodating but a single individual. One of these small apartments was occupied by Wilson.

One night, about the close of my fifth year at the school, and immediately after the altercation just mentioned, finding every one wrapped in sleep, I arose from bed, and, lamp in hand, stole through a wilderness of narrow passages from my own bedroom to that of my rival. I had long been plotting one of those ill-natured pieces of practical wit at his expense in which I had hitherto been so uniformly unsuccessful. It was my intention, now, to put my scheme in operation, and I resolved to make him feel the whole extent of the malice with which I was imbued. Having reached his closet, I noiselessly entered, leaving the lamp, with a shade over it, on the outside. I advanced a step, and listened to the sound of his tranquil breathing. Assured of his being asleep, I returned, took the light, and with it again approached the bed. Close curtains were around it, which, in the prosecution of my plan, I slowly and quietly withdrew, when the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and my eyes, at the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked;–and a numbness, an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my frame. My breast heaved, my knees tottered, my whole spirit became possessed with an objectless yet intolerable horror. Gasping for breath, I lowered the lamp in still nearer proximity to the face. Were these–these the lineaments of William Wilson? I saw, indeed, that they were his, but I shook as if with a fit of the ague in fancying they were not. What was there about them to confound me in this manner? I gazed;–while my brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts. Not thus he appeared–assuredly not thus–in the vivacity of his waking hours. The same name! the same contour of person! the same day of arrival at the academy! And then his dogged and meaningless imitation of my gait, my voice, my habits, and my manner! Was it, in truth, within the bounds of human possibility, that what I now saw was the result, merely, of the habitual practice of this sarcastic imitation?

Awe-stricken, and with a creeping shudder, I extinguished the lamp, passed silently from the chamber, and left, at once, the halls of that old academy, never to enter them again.

After a lapse of some months, spent at home in mere idleness, I found myself a student at Eton. The brief interval had been sufficient to enfeeble my remembrance of the events at Dr. Bransby’s, or at least to effect a material change in the nature of the feelings with which I remembered them. The truth–the tragedy–of the drama was no more. I could now find room to doubt the evidence of my senses; and seldom called up the subject at all but with wonder at extent of human credulity, and a smile at the vivid force of the imagination which I hereditarily possessed. Neither was this species of skepticism likely to be diminished by the character of the life I led at Eton. The vortex of thoughtless folly into which I there so immediately and so recklessly plunged, washed away all but the froth of my past hours, engulfed at once every solid or serious impression, and left to memory only the veriest levities of a former existence.

I do not wish, however, to trace the course of my miserable profligacy here–a profligacy which set at defiance the laws, while it eluded the vigilance of the institution. Three years of folly, passed without profit, had but given me rooted habits of vice, and added, in a somewhat unusual degree, to my bodily stature, when, after a week of soulless dissipation, I invited a small party of the most dissolute students to a secret carousal in my chambers. We met at a late hour of the night; for
our debaucheries were to be faithfully protracted until morning. The wine flowed freely, and there were not wanting other and perhaps more dangerous seductions; so that the gray dawn had already faintly appeared in the east, while our delirious extravagance was at its height. Madly flushed with cards and intoxication, I was in the act of insisting upon a toast of more than wonted profanity, when my attention was suddenly diverted by the violent, although partial unclosing of the door of the apartment, and by the eager voice of a servant from without. He said that some person, apparently in great haste, demanded to speak with me in the hall.

Wildly excited with wine, the unexpected interruption rather delighted than surprised me. I staggered forward at once, and a few steps brought me to the vestibule of the building. In this low and small room there hung no lamp; and now no light at all was admitted, save that of the exceedingly feeble dawn which made its way through the semi-circular window. As I put my foot over the threshold, I became aware of the figure of a youth about my own height, and habited in a white kerseymere morning frock, cut in the novel fashion of the one I myself wore at the moment. This, the faint light enabled me to perceive; but the features of his face I could not distinguish. Upon my entering he strode hurriedly up to me, and, seizing me by. the arm with a gesture of petulant impatience, whispered the words “William Wilson!” in my ear.

I grew perfectly sober in an instant. There was that in the manner of the stranger, and in the tremulous shake of his uplifted finger, as he held it between my eyes and the light, which filled me with unqualified amazement; but it was not this which had so violently moved me. It was the pregnancy of solemn admonition in the singular, low, hissing utterance; and, above all, it was the character, the tone, the key, of those few, simple, and familiar, yet whispered syllables, which came with a thousand thronging memories of bygone days, and struck upon my soul with the shock of a galvanic battery. Ere I could recover the use of my senses he was gone.

Although this event failed not of a vivid effect upon my disordered imagination, yet was it evanescent as vivid. For some weeks, indeed, I busied myself in earnest inquiry, or was wrapped in a cloud of morbid speculation. I did not pretend to disguise from my perception the identity of the singular individual who thus perseveringly interfered with my affairs, and harassed me with his insinuated counsel. But who and what was this Wilson?–and whence came he?–and what were his purposes? Upon neither of these points could I be satisfied; merely ascertaining, in regard to him, that a sudden accident in his family had caused his removal from Dr. Bransby’s academy on the afternoon of the day in which I myself had eloped. But in a brief period I ceased to think upon the subject; my attention being all absorbed in a contemplated departure for Oxford. Thither I soon went; the uncalculating vanity of my parents furnishing me with an outfit and annual establishment, which would enable me to indulge at will in the luxury already so dear to my heart,–to vie in profuseness of expenditure with the haughtiest heirs of the wealthiest earldoms in Great Britain.

Excited by such appliances to vice, my constitutional temperament broke forth with redoubled ardor, and I spurned even the common restraints of decency in the mad infatuation of my revels. But it were absurd to pause in the detail of my extravagance. Let it suffice, that among spendthrifts I out-Heroded Herod, and that, giving name to a multitude of novel follies, I added no brief appendix to the long catalogue of vices than usual in the most dissolute university of Europe.

It could hardly be credited, however, that I had, even here, so utterly fallen from the gentlemanly estate, as to seek acquaintance with the vilest arts of the gambler by profession, and, having become an adept in his despicable science, to practise it habitually as a means of increasing my already enormous income at the expense of the weak-minded among my fellow-collegians. Such, nevertheless, was the fact. And the very enormity of this offence against all manly and honourable sentiment proved, beyond doubt, the main if not the sole reason of the impunity with which it was committed. Who, indeed, among my most abandoned associates, would not rather have disputed the clearest evidence of his senses, than have suspected of such courses, the gay, the frank, the generous William Wilson–the noblest and most commoner at Oxford—him whose follies (said his parasites) were but the follies of youth and unbridled fancy–whose errors but inimitable whim–whose darkest vice but a careless and dashing extravagance?

I had been now two years successfully busied in this way, when there came to the university a young parvenu nobleman, Glendinning–rich, said report, as Herodes Atticus–his riches, too, as easily acquired. I soon found him of weak intellect, and, of course, marked him as a fitting subject for my skill. I frequently engaged him in play, and contrived, with the gambler’s usual art, to let him win considerable sums, the more effectually to entangle him in my snares. At length, my schemes being ripe, I met him (with the full intention that this meeting should be final and decisive) at the chambers of a fellow-commoner, (Mr. Preston,) equally intimate with both, but who, to do him Justice, entertained not even a remote suspicion of my design. To give to this a better colouring, I had contrived to have assembled a party of some eight or ten, and was solicitously careful that the introduction of cards should appear accidental, and originate in the proposal of my contemplated dupe himself. To be brief upon a vile topic, none of the low finesse was omitted, so customary upon similar occasions that it is a just matter for wonder how any are still found so besotted as to fall its victim.

We had protracted our sitting far into the night, and I had at length effected the manoeuvre of getting Glendinning as my sole antagonist. The game, too, was my favorite ecarte! The rest of the company, interested in the extent of our play, had abandoned their own cards, and were standing around us as spectators. The parvenu, who had been induced by my artifices in the early part of the evening, to drink deeply, now shuffled, dealt, or played, with a wild nervousness of manner for which his intoxication, I thought, might partially, but could not altogether account. In a very short period he had become my debtor to a large amount, when, having taken a long draught of port, he did precisely what I had been coolly anticipating–he proposed to double our already extravagant stakes. With a well-feigned show of reluctance, and not until after my repeated refusal had seduced him into some angry words which gave a color of pique to my compliance, did I finally comply. The result, of course, did but prove how entirely the prey was in my toils; in less than an hour he had quadrupled his debt.

For some time his countenance had been losing the florid tinge lent it by the wine; but now, to my astonishment, I perceived that it had grown to a pallor truly fearful. I say to my astonishment. Glendinning had been represented to my eager inquiries as immeasurably wealthy; and the sums which he had as yet lost, although in themselves vast, could not, I supposed, very seriously annoy, much less so violently affect him. That he was overcome by the wine just swallowed, was the idea which most readily presented itself; and, rather with a view to the preservation of my own character in the eyes of my associates, than from any less interested motive, I was about to insist, peremptorily, upon a discontinuance of the play, when some expressions at my elbow from among the company, and an ejaculation evincing utter despair on the part of Glendinning, gave me to understand that I had effected his total ruin under circumstances which, rendering him an object for the pity of all, should have protected him from the ill offices even of a fiend.

What now might have been my conduct it is difficult to say. The pitiable condition of my dupe had thrown an air of embarrassed gloom over all; and, for some moments, a profound silence was maintained, during which I could not help feeling my cheeks tingle with the many burning glances of scorn or reproach cast upon me by the less abandoned of the party. I will even own that an intolerable weight of anxiety was for a brief instant lifted from my bosom by the sudden and extraordinary interruption which ensued. The wide, heavy folding doors of the apartment were all at once thrown open, to their full extent, with a vigorous and rushing impetuosity that extinguished, as if by magic, every candle in the room. Their light, in dying, enabled us just to perceive that a stranger had entered, about my own height, and closely muffled in a cloak. The darkness, however, was now total; and we could only feel that he was standing in our midst. Before any one of us could recover from the extreme astonishment into which this rudeness had thrown all, we heard the voice of the intruder.

“Gentlemen,” he said, in a low, distinct, and never-to-be-forgotten whisper which thrilled to the very marrow of my bones, “Gentlemen, I make no apology for this behaviour, because in thus behaving, I am but fulfilling a duty. You are, beyond doubt, uninformed of the true character of the person who has to-night won at ecarte a large sum of money from Lord Glendinning. I will therefore put you upon an expeditious and decisive plan of obtaining this very necessary information. Please to examine, at your leisure, the inner linings of the cuff of his left sleeve, and the several little packages which may be found in the somewhat capacious pockets of his embroidered morning wrapper.”

While he spoke, so profound was the stillness that one might have heard a pin drop upon the floor. In ceasing, he departed at once, and as abruptly as he had entered. Can I–shall I describe my sensations?—must I say that I felt all the horrors of the damned? Most assuredly I had little time given for reflection. Many hands roughly seized me upon the spot, and lights were immediately re-procured. A search ensued. In the lining of my sleeve were found all the court cards essential in ecarte, and, in the pockets of my wrapper, a number of packs, facsimiles of those used at our sittings, with the single exception that mine were of the species called, technically, arrondees; the honours being slightly convex at the ends, the lower cards slightly convex at the sides. In this disposition, the dupe who cuts, as customary, at the length of the pack, will invariably find that he cuts his antagonist an honor; while the gambler, cutting at the breadth, will, as certainly, cut nothing for his victim which may count in the records of the game.

Any burst of indignation upon this discovery would have affected me less than the silent contempt, or the sarcastic composure, with which it was received. “Mr. Wilson,” said our host, stooping to remove from beneath his feet an exceedingly luxurious cloak of rare furs, “Mr. Wilson, this is your property.” (The weather was cold; and, upon quitting my own room, I had thrown a cloak over my dressing wrapper, putting it off upon reaching the scene of play.) “I presume it is supererogatory to seek here (eyeing the folds of the garment with a bitter smile) for any farther evidence of your skill. Indeed, we have had enough. You will see the necessity, I hope, of quitting Oxford–at all events, of quitting instantly my chambers.”

Abased, humbled to the dust as I then was, it is probable that I should have resented this galling language by immediate personal violence, had not my whole attention been at the moment arrested by a fact of the most startling character. The cloak which I had worn was of a rare description of fur; how rare, how extravagantly costly, I shall not venture to say. Its fashion, too, was of my own fantastic invention; for I was fastidious to an absurd degree of coxcombry, in matters of this frivolous nature. When, therefore, Mr. Preston reached me that which he had picked up upon the floor, and near the folding doors of the apartment, it was with an astonishment nearly bordering upon terror, that I perceived my own already hanging on my arm, (where I had no doubt unwittingly placed it,) and that the one presented me was but its exact counterpart in every, in even the minutest possible particular. The singular being who had so disastrously exposed me, had been muffled, I remembered, in a cloak; and none had been worn at all by any of the members of our party with the exception of myself. Retaining some presence of mind, I took the one offered me by Preston; placed it, unnoticed, over my own; left the apartment with a resolute scowl of defiance; and, next morning ere dawn of day, commenced a hurried journey from Oxford to the continent, in a perfect agony of horror and of shame.

I fled in vain. My evil destiny pursued me as if in exultation, and proved, indeed, that the exercise of its mysterious dominion had as yet only begun. Scarcely had I set foot in Paris ere I had fresh evidence of the detestable interest taken by this Wilson in my concerns. Years flew, while I experienced no relief. Villain!–at Rome, with how untimely, yet with how spectral an officiousness, stepped he in between me and my ambition! At Vienna, too–at Berlin–and at Moscow! Where, in truth, had I not bitter cause to curse him within my heart? From his inscrutable tyranny did I at length flee, panic-stricken, as from a pestilence; and to the very ends of the earth I fled in vain.

And again, and again, in secret communion with my own spirit, would I demand the questions “Who is he?–whence came he?–and what are his objects?” But no answer was there found. And then I scrutinized, with a minute scrutiny, the forms, and the methods, and the leading traits of his impertinent supervision. But even here there was very little upon which to base a conjecture. It was noticeable, indeed, that, in no one of the multiplied instances in which he had of late crossed my path, had he so crossed it except to frustrate those schemes, or to disturb those actions, which, if fully carried out, might have resulted in bitter mischief. Poor justification this, in truth, for an authority so imperiously assumed! Poor indemnity for natural rights of self-agency so pertinaciously, so insultingly denied!

I had also been forced to notice that my tormentor, for a very long period of time, (while scrupulously and with miraculous dexterity maintaining his whim of an identity of apparel with myself,) had so contrived it, in the execution of his varied interference with my will, that I saw not, at any moment, the features of his face. Be Wilson what he might, this, at least, was but the veriest of affectation, or of folly. Could he, for an instant, have supposed that, in my admonisher at Eton–in the destroyer of my honor at Oxford,–in him who thwarted my ambition at Rome, my revenge at Paris, my passionate love at Naples, or what he falsely termed my avarice in Egypt,–that in this, my arch-enemy and evil genius, could fall to recognise the William Wilson of my school boy days,–the namesake, the companion, the rival,–the hated and dreaded rival at Dr. Bransby’s? Impossible!–But let me hasten to the last eventful scene of the drama.

Thus far I had succumbed supinely to this imperious domination. The sentiment of deep awe with which I habitually regarded the elevated character, the majestic wisdom, the apparent omnipresence and omnipotence of Wilson, added to a feeling of even terror, with which certain other traits in his nature and assumptions inspired me, had operated, hitherto, to impress me with an idea of my own utter weakness and helplessness, and to suggest an implicit, although bitterly reluctant submission to his arbitrary will. But, of late days, I had given myself up entirely to wine; and its maddening influence upon my hereditary temper rendered me more and more impatient of control. I began to murmur,–to hesitate,–to resist. And was it only fancy which induced me to believe that, with the increase of my own firmness, that of my tormentor underwent a proportional diminution? Be this as it may, I now began to feel the inspiration of a burning hope, and at length nurtured in my secret thoughts a stern and desperate resolution that I would submit no longer to be enslaved.

It was at Rome, during the Carnival of 1800, that I attended a masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio. I had indulged more freely than usual in the excesses of the wine-table; and now the suffocating atmosphere of the crowded rooms irritated me beyond endurance. The difficulty, too, of forcing my way through the mazes of the company contributed not a little to the ruffling of my temper; for I was anxiously seeking, (let me not say with what unworthy motive) the young, the gay, the beautiful wife of the aged and doting Di Broglio. With a too unscrupulous confidence she had previously communicated to me the secret of the costume in which she would be habited, and now, having caught a glimpse of her person, I was hurrying to make my way into her presence.–At this moment I felt a light hand placed upon my shoulder, and that ever-remembered, low, damnable whisper within my ear.

In an absolute phrenzy of wrath, I turned at once upon him who had thus interrupted me, and seized him violently by the collar. He was attired, as I had expected, in a costume altogether similar to my own; wearing a Spanish cloak of blue velvet, begirt about the waist with a crimson belt sustaining a rapier. A mask of black silk entirely covered his face.

“Scoundrel!” I said, in a voice husky with rage, while every syllable I uttered seemed as new fuel to my fury, “scoundrel! impostor! Accursed villain! you shall not–you shall not dog me unto death! Follow me, or I stab you where you stand!”–and I broke my way from the ball-room into a small ante-chamber adjoining–dragging him unresistingly with me as I went.

Upon entering, I thrust him furiously from me. He staggered against the wall, while I closed the door with an oath, and commanded him to draw. He hesitated but for an instant; then, with a slight sigh, drew in silence, and put himself upon his defence.

The contest was brief indeed. I was frantic with every species of wild excitement, and felt within my single arm the energy and power of a multitude. In a few seconds I forced him by sheer strength against the wainscoting, and thus, getting him at mercy, plunged my sword, with
brute ferocity, repeatedly through and through his bosom.

At that instant some person tried the latch of the door. I hastened to prevent an intrusion, and then immediately returned to my dying antagonist. But what human language can adequately portray that astonishment, that horror which possessed me at the spectacle then presented to view? The brief moment in which I averted my eyes had been sufficient to produce, apparently, a material change in the arrangements at the upper or farther end of the room. A large mirror,–so at first it seemed to me in my confusion–now stood where none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.

Thus it appeared, I say, but was not. It was my antagonist–it was Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his dissolution. His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown them, upon the floor. Not a thread in all his raiment–not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own!

It was Wilson; but he spoke no longer in a whisper, and I could have fancied that I myself was speaking while he said: “You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead–dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist–and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.”

Author: Edgar Alan Poe
CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

Asian Religions Supplant Those of Rome



We are fond of regarding ourselves as the heirs of Rome, and we like to think that the Latin genius, after having absorbed the genius of Greece, held an intellectual and moral supremacy in the ancient world similar to the one Europe now maintains, and that the culture of the peoples that lived under the authority of the Caesars was stamped forever by their strong touch. It is difficult to forget the present entirely and to renounce aristocratic pretensions. We find it hard to believe that the Orient has not always lived, to some extent, in the state of humiliation from which it is now slowly emerging, and we are inclined to ascribe to the ancient inhabitants of Smyrna, Beirut or Alexandria the faults with which the Levantines of to-day are being reproached. The growing influence of the Orientals that accompanied the decline of the empire has frequently been considered a morbid phenomenon and a symptom of the slow decomposition of the ancient world. Even Renan does not seem to have been sufficiently free from an old prejudice when he wrote on this subject: “That the oldest and most worn out civilization should by its corruption subjugate the younger was inevitable.”

But if we calmly consider the real facts, avoiding the optical illusion that makes things in our immediate vicinity look larger, we shall form a quite different opinion. It is beyond all disputes that Rome found the point of support of its military power in the Occident. The legions from the Danube and the Rhine were always braver, stronger and better disciplined than those from the Euphrates and the Nile. But it is in the Orient, especially in these countries of “old civilization,” that we must look for industry and riches, for technical ability and artistic productions, as well as for intelligence and science, even before Constantine made it the center of political power.

While Greece merely vegetated in a state of poverty, humiliation and exhaustion; while Italy suffered depopulation and became unable to provide for her own support; while the other countries of Europe were hardly out of barbarism; Asia Minor, Egypt and Syria gathered the rich harvests Roman peace made possible. Their industrial centers cultivated and renewed all the traditions that had caused their former celebrity. A more intense intellectual life corresponded with the economic activity of these great manufacturing and exporting countries. They excelled in every profession except that of arms, and even the prejudiced Romans admitted their superiority. The menace of an Oriental empire haunted the imaginations of the first masters of the world. Such an empire seems to have been the main thought of the dictator Caesar, and the triumvir Antony almost realized it.

Even Nero thought of making Alexandria his capital. Although Rome, supported by her army and the right of might, retained the political authority for a long time, she bowed to the fatal moral ascendency of more advanced peoples. Viewed from this standpoint the history of the empire during the first three centuries may be summarized as a “peaceful infiltration” of the Orient into the Occident. This truth has become evident since the various aspects of Roman civilization are being studied in greater detail; and before broaching the special subject of these studies we wish to review a few phases of the slow metamorphosis of which the propagation of the Oriental religions was one phenomenon.

In the first place the imitation of the Orient showed itself plainly in political institutions. To be convinced of this fact it is sufficient to compare the government of the empire in the time of Augustus with what it had become under Diocletian. At the beginning of the imperial regime Rome ruled the world but did not govern it. She kept the number of her functionaries down to a minimum, her provinces were mere unorganized aggregates of cities where she only exercised police power, protectorates rather than annexed countries. As long as law and order were maintained and her citizens, functionaries and merchants could transact their business, Rome was satisfied. She saved herself the trouble of looking after the public service by leaving broad authority to the cities that had existed before her domination, or had been modeled after her. The taxes were levied by syndicates of bankers and the public lands rented out. Before the reforms instituted by Augustus, even the army was not an organic and permanent force, but consisted theoretically of troops levied before a war and discharged after victory.

Rome’s institutions remained those of a city. It was difficult to apply them to the vast territory she attempted to govern with their aid. They were a clumsy apparatus that worked only by sudden starts, a rudimentary system that could not and did not last.

What do we find three centuries later? A strongly centralized state in which an absolute ruler, worshiped like a god and surrounded by a large court, commanded a whole hierarchy of functionaries; cities divested of their local liberties and ruled by an omnipotent bureaucracy, the old capital herself the first to be dispossessed of her autonomy and subjected to prefects. Outside of the cities the monarch, whose private fortune was identical with the state finances, possessed immense domains managed by intendants and supporting a population of serf-colonists. The army was composed largely of foreign mercenaries, professional soldiers whose pay or bounty consisted of lands on which they settled. All these features and many others caused the Roman Empire to assume the likeness of ancient Oriental monarchies.

It would be impossible to admit that like causes produce like results, and then maintain that a similarity is not sufficient proof of an influence in history. Wherever we can closely follow the successive transformations of a particular institution, we notice the action of the Orient and especially of Egypt. When Rome had become a great cosmopolitan metropolis like Alexandria, Augustus reorganized it in imitation of the capital of the Ptolemies. The fiscal reforms of the Caesars like the taxes on sales and inheritances, the register of land surveys and the direct collection of taxes, were suggested by the very perfect financial system of the Lagides, and it can be maintained that their government was the first source from which those of modern Europe were derived, through the medium of the Romans. The imperial “saltus”, superintended by a procurator and cultivated by metayers reduced to the state of serfs, was an imitation of the ones that the Asiatic potentates formerly cultivated through their agents. It would be easy to increase this list of examples. The absolute monarchy, theocratic and bureaucratic at the same time that was the form of government of Egypt, Syria and even Asia Minor during the Alexandrine period was the ideal on which the deified Caesars gradually fashioned the Roman Empire.

One cannot however deny Rome the glory of having elaborated a system of private law that was logically deduced from clearly formulated principles and was destined to become the fundamental law of all civilized communities. But even in connection with this private law, where the originality of Rome is uncontested and her preeminence absolute, recent researches have shown with how much tenacity the Hellenized Orient maintained its old legal codes, and how much resistance local customs, the woof of the life of nations, offered to unification. In truth, unification never was realized except in theory. More than that, these researches have proved that the fertile principles of that provincial law, which was sometimes on a higher moral plane than the Roman law, reacted on the progressive transformation of the old “ius civile”. And how could it be otherwise? Where not a great number of famous jurists like Ulpian of Tyre and Papinian of Hemesa natives of Syria? And did not the law-school of Beirut constantly grow in importance after the third century, until during the fifth century it became the most brilliant center of legal education? Thus Levantines cultivated even the patrimonial field cleared by Scaevola and Labeo.

In the austere temple of law the Orient held as yet only a minor position; everywhere else its authority was predominant. The practical mind of the Romans, which made them excellent lawyers, prevented them from becoming great scholars. They esteemed pure science but little, having small talent for it, and one notices that it ceased to be earnestly cultivated wherever their direct domination was established. The great astronomers, mathematicians, and physicians, like the originators or defenders of the great metaphysical systems, were mostly Orientals. Ptolemy and Plotinus were Egyptians, Porphyry and Iamblichus, Syrians, Dioscorides and Galen, Asiatics. All branches of learning were affected by the spirit of the Orient. The clearest minds accepted the chimeras of astrology and magic.

Philosophy claimed more and more to derive its inspiration from the fabulous wisdom of Chaldea and Egypt. Tired of seeking truth, reason abdicated and hoped to find it in a revelation preserved in the mysteries of the barbarians. Greek logic strove to coordinate into a harmonious whole the confused traditions of the Asiatic religions.

Letters, as well as science, were cultivated chiefly by the Orientals. Attention has often been called to the fact that those men of letters that were considered the purest representatives of the Greek spirit under the empire belonged almost without exception to Asia Minor, Syria or Egypt. The rhetorician Dion Chrysostom came from Prusa in Bithynia, the satirist Lucian from Samosata in Commagene on the borders of the Euphrates. A number of other names could be cited. From Tacitus and Suetonius down to Ammianus, there was not one author of talent to preserve in Latin the memory of the events that stirred the world of that period, but it was a Bithynian again, Dion Cassius of Nicea, who, under the Severi, narrated the history of the Roman people.

It is a characteristic fact that, besides this literature whose language was Greek, others were born, revived and developed. The Syriac, derived from the Aramaic which was the international language of earlier Asia, became again the language of a cultured race with Bardesanes of Edessa. The Copts remembered that they had spoken several dialects derived from the ancient Egyptian and endeavored to revive them. North of the Taurus even the Armenians began to write and polish their barbarian speech. Christian preaching, addressed to the people, took hold of the popular idioms and roused them from their long lethargy. Along the Nile as well as on the plains of Mesopotamia or in the valleys of Anatolia it proclaimed its new ideas in dialects that had been despised hitherto, and wherever the old Orient had not been entirely denationalized by Hellenism, it successfully reclaimed its intellectual autonomy.

A revival of native art went hand in hand with this linguistic awakening. In no field of intellect has the illusion mentioned above been so complete and lasting as in this one. Until a few years ago the opinion prevailed that an “imperial” art had come into existence in the Rome of Augustus and that thence its predominance had slowly spread to the periphery of the ancient world. If it had undergone some special modifications in Asia these were due to exotic influences, undoubtedly Assyrian or Persian. Not even the important discoveries of M. de Voguee in Hauran were sufficient to prove the emptiness of a theory that was supported by our lofty conviction of European leadership.

To-day it is fully proven not only that Rome has given nothing or almost nothing to the Orientals but also that she has received quite a little from them. Impregnated with Hellenism, Asia produced an astonishing number of original works of art in the kingdoms of the Diadochs. The old processes, the discovery of which dates back to the Chaldeans, the Hittites or the subjects of the Pharaohs, were first utilized by the conquerors of Alexander’s empire who conceived a rich variety of new types, and created an original style. But if during the three centuries preceding our era, sovereign Greece played the part of the demiurge who creates living beings out of pre-existing matter, during the three following centuries her productive power became exhausted, her faculty of invention weakened, the ancient local traditions revolted against her empire and with the help of Christianity overcame it. Transferred to Byzantium they expanded in a new efflorescence and spread over Europe where they paved the way for the formation of the Romanesque art of the early Middle Ages.

Rome, then, far from having established her suzerainty, was tributary to the Orient in this respect. The Orient was her superior in the extent and precision of its technical knowledge as well as in the inventive genius and ability of its workmen. The Caesars were great builders but frequently employed foreign help. Trajan’s principal architect, a magnificent builder, was a Syrian, Apollodorus of Damascus.

Her Levantine subjects not only taught Italy the artistic solution of architectonic problems like the erection of a cupola on a rectangular or octagonal edifice, but also compelled her to accept their taste, and they saturated her with their genius. They imparted to her their love of luxuriant decoration and of violent polychromic, and they gave religious sculpture and painting the complicated symbolism that pleased their abstruse and subtle minds.

In those times art was closely connected with industry, which was entirely manual and individual. They learned from each other, they improved and declined together, in short they were inseparable. Shall we call the painters that decorated the architecturally fantastic and airy walls of Pompeii in Alexandrian or perhaps Syrian taste artisans or artists? And how shall we classify the goldsmiths, Alexandrians also, who carved those delicate leaves, those picturesque animals, those harmoniously elegant or cunningly animated groups that cover the phials and goblets of Bosco Reale?

And descending from the productions of the industrial arts to those of industry itself, one might also trace the growing influence of the Orient; one might show how the action of the great manufacturing centers of the East gradually transformed the material civilization of Europe; one might point out how the introduction into Gaul of exotic patterns and processes changed the old native industry and gave its products a perfection and a popularity hitherto unknown. But I dislike insisting overmuch on a point apparently so foreign to the one now before us. It was important however to mention this subject at the beginning because in whatever direction scholars of to-day pursue their investigations they always notice Asiatic culture slowly supplanting that of Italy. The latter developed only by absorbing elements taken from the inexhaustible reserves of the “old civilizations” of which we spoke at the beginning.

The Hellenized Orient imposed itself everywhere through its men and its works; it subjected its Latin conquerors to its ascendancy in the same manner as it dominated its Arabian conquerors later when it became the civilizer of Islam. But in no field of thought was its influence, under the empire as decisive as in religion, because it finally brought about the complete destruction of the Greco-Latin paganism.

The invasion of the barbarian religions was so open, so noisy and so triumphant that it could not remain unnoticed. It attracted the anxious or sympathetic attention of the ancient authors, and since the Renaissance modern scholars have frequently taken interest in it. Possibly however they did not sufficiently understand that this religious evolution was not an isolated and extraordinary phenomenon, but that it accompanied and aided a more general evolution, just as that aided it in turn. The transformation of beliefs was intimately connected with the establishment of the monarchy by divine right, the development of art, the prevailing philosophic tendencies, in fact with all the manifestations of thought, sentiment and taste.

We shall attempt to sketch this religious movement with its numerous and far-reaching ramifications. First we shall try to show what caused the diffusion of the Oriental religions. In the second place we shall examine those in particular that originated in Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria and Persia, and we shall endeavor to distinguish their individual characteristics and estimate their value. We shall see, finally, how the ancient idolatry was transformed and what form it assumed in its last struggle against Christianity, whose victory was furthered by Asiatic mysteries, although they opposed its doctrine.

But before broaching this subject a preliminary question must be answered. Is the study which we have just outlined possible? What items will be of assistance to us in this undertaking? From what sources are we to derive our knowledge of the Oriental religions in the Roman Empire? It must be admitted that the sources are inadequate and have not as yet been sufficiently investigated.

Perhaps no loss caused by the general wreck of ancient literature has been more disastrous than that of the liturgical books of paganism. A few mystic formulas quoted incidentally by pagan or Christian authors and a few fragments of hymns in honor of the gods are practically all that escaped destruction. In order to obtain an idea of what those lost rituals may have been one must turn to their imitations contained in the chorus of tragedies, and to the parodies comic authors sometimes made; or look up in books of magic the plagiarisms that writers of incantations may have committed. But all this gives us only a dim reflection of the religious ceremonies. Shut out from the sanctuary like profane outsiders, we hear only the indistinct echo of the sacred songs and not even in imagination can we attend the celebration of the mysteries.

We do not know how the ancients prayed, we cannot penetrate into the intimacy of their religious life, and certain depths of the soul of antiquity we must leave unsounded. If a fortunate windfall could give us possession of some sacred book of the later paganism its revelations would surprise the world. We could witness the performance of those mysterious dramas whose symbolic acts commemorated the passion of the gods; in company with the believers we could sympathize with their sufferings, lament their death and share in the joy of their return to life. In those vast collections of archaic rites that hazily perpetuated the memory of abolished creeds we would find traditional formulas couched in obsolete language that was scarcely understood, naive prayers conceived by the faith of the earliest ages, sanctified by the devotion of past centuries, and almost ennobled by the joys and sufferings of past generations. We would also read those hymns in which philosophic thought found expression in sumptuous allegories or humbled itself before the omnipotence of the infinite, poems of which only a few stoic effusions celebrating the creative or destructive fire, or expressing a complete surrender to divine fate can give us some idea.

But everything is gone, and thus we lose the possibility of studying from the original documents the internal development of the pagan religions. We should feel this loss less keenly if we possessed at least the works of Greek and Latin mythographers on the subject of foreign divinities like the voluminous books published during the second century by Eusebius and Pallas on the Mysteries of Mithra. But those works were thought devoid of interest or even dangerous by the devout Middle Ages, and they are not likely to have survived the fall of paganism. The treatises on mythology that have been preserved deal almost entirely with the ancient Hellenic fables made famous by the classic writers, to the neglect of the Oriental religions.

As a rule, all we find in literature on this subject are a few incidental remarks and passing allusions. History is incredibly poor in that respect. This poverty of information was caused in the first place by a narrowness of view characteristic of the rhetoric cultivated by historians of the classical period and especially of the empire. Politics and the wars of the rulers, the dramas, the intrigues and even the gossip of the courts and of the official world were of much higher interest to them than the great economic or religious transformations. Moreover, there is no period of the Roman Empire concerning which we are so little informed as the third century, precisely the one during which the Oriental religions reached the apogee of their power. From Herodianus and Dion Cassius to the Byzantines, and from Suetonius to Ammianus Marcellinus, all narratives of any importance have been lost, and this deplorable blank in historic tradition is particularly fatal to the study of paganism.

It is a strange fact that light literature concerned itself more with these grave questions. The rites of the exotic religions stimulated the imagination of the satirists, and the pomp of the festivities furnished the novelists with brilliant descriptive matter. Juvenal laughs at the mortifications of the devotees of Isis; in his “Necromancy” Lucian parodies the interminable purifications of the magi, and in the “Metamorphoses” Apuleius relates the various scenes of an initiation into the mysteries of Isis with the fervor of a neophyte and the studied refinement of a rhetorician. But as a rule we find only incidental remarks and superficial observations in the authors. Not even the precious treatise _On the Syrian Goddess_, in which Lucian tells of a visit to the temple of Hierapolis and repeats his conversation with the priests, has any depth. What he relates is the impression of an intelligent, curious and above all an ironical traveler.

In order to obtain a more perfect initiation and a less fragmentary insight into the doctrines taught by the Oriental religions, we are compelled to turn to two kinds of testimony, inspired by contrary tendencies, but equally suspicious: the testimony of the philosophers, and that of the fathers of the church. The Stoics and the Platonists frequently took an interest in the religious beliefs of the barbarians, and it is to them that we are indebted for the possession of highly valuable data on this subject.

Plutarch’s treatise “Isis and Osiris” is a source whose importance is appreciated even by Egyptologists, whom it aids in reconstructing the legends of those divinities. But the philosophers very seldom expounded foreign doctrines objectively and for their own sake. They embodied them in their systems as a means of proof or illustration; they surrounded them with personal exegesis or drowned them in transcendental commentaries; in short, they claimed to discover their own ideas in them. It is always difficult and sometimes impossible to distinguish the dogmas from the self-confident interpretations which are usually as incorrect as possible.

The writings of the ecclesiastical authors, although prejudiced, are very fertile sources of information, but in perusing them one must guard against another kind of error. By a peculiar irony of fate those controversialists are to-day in many instances our only aid in reviving the idolatry they attempted to destroy. Although the Oriental religions were the most dangerous and most persistent adversaries of Christianity, the works of the Christian writers do not supply as abundant information as one might suppose. The reason for this is that the fathers of the church often show a certain reserve in speaking of idolatry, and affect to recall its monstrosities only in guarded terms. Moreover, as we shall see later on, the apologists of the fourth century were frequently behind the times as to the evolution of doctrines, and drawing on literary tradition, from epicureans and skeptics, they fought especially the beliefs of the ancient Grecian and Italian religions that had been abolished or were dying out, while they neglected the living beliefs of the contemporary world.

Some of these polemicists nevertheless directed their attacks against the divinities of the Orient and their Latin votaries. Either they derived their information from converts or they had been pagans themselves during their youth. This was the case with Firmicus Maternus who has written a bad treatise on astrology and finally fought the “Error of the Profane Religions”. However, the question always arises as to how much they can have known of the esoteric doctrines and the ritual ceremonies, the secret of which was jealously guarded. They boast so loudly of their power to disclose these abominations, that they incur the suspicion that the discretion of the initiates baffled their curiosity. In addition they were too ready to believe all the calumnies that were circulated against the pagan mysteries, calumnies directed against occult sects of all times and against the Christians themselves.

In short, the literary tradition is not very rich and frequently little worthy of belief. While it is comparatively considerable for the Egyptian religions because they were received by the Greek world as early as the period of the Ptolemies, and because letters and science were always cultivated at Alexandria, it is even less important for Phrygia, although Cybele was Hellenized and Latinized very early, and excepting the tract by Lucian on the goddess of Hierapolis it is almost nothing for the Syrian, Cappadocian and Persian religions.

The insufficiency of the data supplied by writers increases the value of information furnished by epigraphic and archeological documents, whose number is steadily growing. The inscriptions possess a certainty and precision that is frequently absent in the phrases of the writers. They enable one to draw important conclusions as to the dates of propagation and disappearance of the various religions, their extent, the quality and social rank of their votaries, the sacred hierarchy and sacerdotal personnel, the constitution of the religious communities, the offerings made to the gods, and the ceremonies performed in their honor; in short, conclusions as to the secular and profane history of these religions, and in a certain measure their ritual. But the conciseness of the lapidary style and the constant repetition of stereotyped formulas naturally render that kind of text hardly explicit and sometimes enigmatical. There are dedications like the “Nama Sebesio” engraved upon the great Mithra bas-relief preserved in the Louvre that caused a number of dissertations to be written without any one explaining it. And besides, in a general way, epigraphy gives us but little information about the liturgy and almost nothing regarding the doctrines.

Archeology must endeavor to fill the enormous blanks left by the written tradition; the monuments, especially the artistic ones, have not as yet been collected with sufficient care nor interpreted with sufficient method. By studying the arrangement of the temples and the religious furniture that adorned them, one can at the same time determine part of the liturgical ceremonies which took place there. On the other hand, the critical interpretation of statuary relics enables us to reconstruct with sufficient correctness certain sacred legends and to recover part of the theology of the mysteries. Unlike Greek art, the religious art at the close of paganism did not seek, or sought only incidentally, to elevate the soul through the contemplation of an ideal of divine beauty. True to the traditions of the ancient Orient, it tried to edify and to instruct at the same time. It told the history of the gods and the world in cycles of pictures, or it expressed through symbols the subtle conceptions of theology and even certain doctrines of profane science, like the struggle of the four elements; just as during the Middle Ages, so the artist of the empire interpreted the ideas of the clergy, teaching the believers by means of pictures and rendering the highest religious conceptions intelligible to the humblest minds. But to read this mystic book whose pages are scattered in our museums we must laboriously look for its key, and we cannot take for a guide and exegetist some Vincent de Beauvais of Diocletian’s period as when looking over the marvelous sculptured encyclopedias in our Gothic cathedrals. Our position is frequently similar to that of a scholar of the year 4000 who would undertake to write the history of the Passion from the pictures of the fourteen stations, or to study the veneration of the saints from the statues found in the ruins of our churches.

But, as far as the Oriental religions are concerned, the results of all the laborious investigations now being made in the classical countries can be indirectly controlled, and this is a great advantage. To-day we are tolerably well acquainted with the old religions of Egypt, Babylonia and Persia. We read and translate correctly the hieroglyphics of the Nile, the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia and the sacred books, Zend or Pahlavi, of Parseeism. Religious history has profited more by their deciphering than the history of politics or of civilization. In Syria also, the discovery of Aramaic and Phoenician inscriptions and the excavations made in temples have in a certain measure covered the deficiency of information in the Bible or in the Greek writers on Semitic paganism.

Even Asia Minor, that is to say the uplands of Anatolia, is beginning to reveal herself to explorers although almost all the great sanctuaries, Pessinus, the two Comanas, Castabala, are as yet buried underground. We can, therefore, even now form a fairly exact idea of the beliefs of some of the countries that sent the Oriental mysteries to Rome. To tell the truth, these researches have not been pushed far enough to enable us to state precisely what form religion had assumed in those regions at the time they came into contact with Italy, and we should be likely to commit very strange errors, if we brought together practices that may have been separated by thousands of years.

It is a task reserved for the future to establish a rigorous chronology in this matter, to determine the ultimate phase that the evolution of creeds in all regions of the Levant had reached at the beginning of our era, and to connect them without interruption of continuity to the mysteries practiced in the Latin world, the secrets of which archeological researches are slowly bringing to light.

We are still far from welding all the links of this long chain firmly together; the orientalists and the classical philologists cannot, as yet, shake hands across the Mediterranean. We raise only one corner of Isis’s veil, and scarcely guess a part of the revelations that were, even formerly, reserved for a pious and chosen few. Nevertheless we have reached, on the road of certainty, a summit from which we can overlook the field that our successors will clear. In the course of these lectures I shall attempt to give a summary of the essential results achieved by the erudition of the nineteenth century and to draw from them a few conclusions that will, possibly, be provisional. The invasion of the Oriental religions that destroyed the ancient religions and national ideals of the Romans also radically transformed the society and government of the empire, and in view of this fact it would deserve the historian’s attention even if it had not foreshadowed and prepared the final victory of Christianity.


TITLE: The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism (1911)

BY: Franz Cumont

CONTIBUTOR: Callum McCormick (NOTE: Accept the fact that Christianity is not a western European religion, but a mergences of eastern and western paganism rituals)