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The political state of the world was of the saddest kind. All authority was concentrated at Rome and in the legions. There occurred the most shameful and degrading scenes. The Roman aristocracy, which had conquered the world, and which, in short, had alone governed under the Cæsars, delivered itself up to the most frightful Saturnalia of grime which the world has ever seen. Cæsar and Augustus, in establishing the aristocracy, had seen with perfect accuracy the necessities of their times. The world was so low in the political sense that no other government was possible. Since Rome had conquered provinces innumerable, the ancient constitution, founded on the privileges of patrician families, a species of obstinate and malevolent Tories, could not subsist. But Augustus had failed in all the duties of true policy in that he left the future to chance. Without regular hereditary succession, without fixed rules of adoption, without electoral laws, without constitutional limitations, Cæsarism was like a colossal weight on the deck of a ship without ballast. The most terrible shocks were inevitable. Thrice in a century, under Caligula, under Nero, and under Domitian, the greatest power which had ever existed fell into the hands of execrable or extravagant men. Hence, horrors, which have scarcely been exceeded by the monsters of the Mongal dynasties. In that fatal series of sovereigns we are reduced almost to excusing a Tiberius, who was absolutely wicked only towards the close of his life! a Claudius, who was simply eccentric, 164awkward and surrounded by evil advisers. Rome became a school of vice and cruelty. It must be added that the evil came especially from the East, from those flatterers of low rank, from these infamous men whom Egypt and Syria sent to Rome, where profiting by the oppression of the true Romans, they felt themselves all powerful with the scoundrels who governed them. The most shocking ignominies of the Empire, such as the apotheosis of the Emperor, his deification, when alive, came from the East, and especially from Egypt which was then one of the most corrupt countries in the universe.

The true Roman spirit, in effect, still survived. Human nobility was far from being extinct. A great tradition of pride and of virtue was kept up in some families, which came to power with Nerva, and made the splendour of the century of the Antonines of which Tacitus has been the eloquent interpreter. A time, which was that of minds so profoundly honest as Quintilian, Pliny the younger and Tacitus, is not a time of which we need despair. The disturbance of the surface did not affect the great basis of honesty and of seriousness which underlay good society in Rome; some families still afforded models of valour, of devotion to duty, of concord, of solid virtue. There were in the noble houses admirable wives, admirable sisters. Was there ever a more touching fate than that of the young and chaste Octavia, daughter of Claudius, and wife of Nero, pure amidst so many infamies, killed at twenty-two years of age, before she had had time to enjoy her life? The women described in the inscriptions as Castissimæ, univiræ are not rare. Wives accompanied their husbands in exile; others shared their noble deaths. The old Roman simplicity was not lost; the education of children was grave and careful. The noblest women laboured with their hands at woolwork; the cares of the toilette were almost unknown in good families.


The excellent statesmen who sprang up under Trajan were not improvised. They had served under preceding reigns; only they had had little influence, cast into the shade as they were by the freedmen and the basest favourites of the Emperor. Men of the highest character thus occupied exalted positions under Nero. The skeleton was good, the accession of the bad Emperors to power, disastrous though it was, did not suffice to change the general course of affairs and the principles of the State. The Empire, far from being in decadence, was in all the force of the most robust youth. The decadence was coming, but that would be two centuries later, and, strange to say, under the least evil of the sovereigns. Looked at from the political point of view, the situation was analogous to that of France, which, for want of an invariable rule since the Revolution as to the succession of powers, has gone through the most perilous adventures, without its internal organisation and national force suffering too much. From the moral point of view we may compare the time of which we speak with the eighteenth century, an epoch which we might fancy to be altogether corrupt, if we judged by the memories, the manuscript literature, the collection of anecdotes of the times, yet, in which houses maintained a great severity of morals.

Philosophy had allied itself with the honest Roman families, and resisted nobly. The Stoic school produced the great characters of Cremastius Cordus, of Thraseas, of Arria, of Helvidius Priscus, of Annæus Cornelius, of Musonius Rufus—admirable masters of aristocratic virtue. The stiffness and the exaggerations of this school, arose from the horrible cruelty of the government of the Cæsars. The perpetual thought of the good man was how he might best endure tortures and prepare for death. Lucan, with bad taste, Persius, with greater talents, expressed the highest sentiments of a great soul. Seneca the philosopher, Pliny the elder, Papirius Fabianus, maintained an elevated tradition of 166science and philosophy. Everyone did not yield, there were still wise men. But, too often, they had no other resource than death. The ignoble parts of humanity were at times in the ascendent. The spirit of vertigo and cruelty then overflowed and turned Rome into a veritable hell.

This government, so frightfully unequal at Rome, was much better in the provinces. Few of the disorders which shocked the capital were felt there. In spite of its defects the Roman administration was much better than the royalties and republics which the conquest had suppressed. The time of the sovereign municipalities had gone by for centuries. These little states had destroyed themselves by their egotism, their jealous spirit, their ignorance, or their little care for private liberties. The ancient Greek life, all struggles, all exterior, satisfied no one. It had been charming in its day, but this brilliant Olympus of a democracy of demi-gods having lost its freshness, had become something dry, cold, insignificant, vain, superficial, for want of goodness and of solid honesty. This, it was, which constituted the legitimacy of the Macedonian domination, then of the Roman administration. The Empire did not yet know the excess of centralization. Until the time of Diocletian, it left much liberty to the provinces and cities. Kingdoms, almost independent, existed in Palestine, in Syria, in Asia Minor, in little Armenia, in Thrace under the protection of Rome. These kingdoms became dangers only in the days of Caligula, because the rules of the great and profound political policy of Augustus were neglected. The free cities, and they were numerous, governed themselves according to their own laws; they had the legislative power and all the magistracy of an autonomous state, until the third century, municipal decrees began with the formula, “The senate and the people . . .” The theatres served, not only for the pleasures of the stage, they were the centres of opinion and of movement. The majority of the towns 167were under various names, little republics. The municipal spirit was very strong in them; they had not lost the right of declaring war—a melancholy right which had turned the world into a field of carnage. “The benefits conferred by the Roman people on the human race,” were the theme of declamations which were sometimes adulatory, but the sincerity of which cannot always be denied with justice. The worship of the “Roman peace,” the idea of a great democracy organised under the protection of Rome was at the bottom of all thoughts. A Greek orator exhibited vast erudition in proving that the glory of Rome ought to be gathered amongst all the branches of the Hellenic race as a sort of common patrimony. In what concerned Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, it may be said that the Roman conquest destroyed no liberty. These countries had long been dead to the political life which they had never had.

In short, notwithstanding the exactions of the governors, and the violence, inseparable from an absolute government the world in many respects had never yet been so happy. An administration coming from a distant centre was so great an advantage that even the plunderings of the Prætors in the last days of the Republic had not been sufficient to make it odious. The Julian law, besides, had greatly narrowed the field of abuse and of collusions. The follies or the cruelties of the Emperor, except under Nero, affected only the Roman aristocracy and the immediate surroundings of the Prince. There never was a time when a man who did not meddle in politics could live more comfortably. The republics of antiquity, in which everyone was forced to occupy himself with the quarrels of parties, were exceedingly uncomfortable places of abode. People were incessantly upset or proscribed. Now the time seemed expressly fitted for large proselytisms above the quarrels of the little towns and the rivalries of dynasties. Such attempts against liberty as there were, arose out of what 168was still left of independence in provinces or communities much more than from the Roman administration. We have had, and we shall still have, numerous instances of this kind of thing to remark.

In those of the conquered countries in which political necessities had not existed for centuries, and where the people were deprived only of the right to tear each other to pieces by continual wars, the Empire was a period of prosperity and of well-being, such as had never been known, we may even add without paradox, of liberty, On the one hand, freedom of trade and of industry, of which the Greek Republics had no idea, became possible. On the other, liberty of thought could only gain by the new system. That liberty is always stronger when it has to deal with a king or a prince, than when it has to negotiate with a narrow and jealous citizen. The ancient republics did not possess it. The Greeks did without it in great things, thanks to the incomparable strength of their genius, but it ought not to be forgotten that Athens had her inquisition. The inquisition was the archon king; the holy office was the Royal Porch, whither were taken accusations of “impiety.” Accusations of that kind were very numerous; it is concerning cases of this description that most of the great Attic orations were delivered. Not merely philosophical crimes, such as denying God or providence, but the slightest blow struck at the municipal worship, the preaching of foreign religions, the most childish infractions of the scrupulous legislation of the mysteries, were crimes which might be punished with death. The gods whom Aristophanes mocked at on the stage, killed sometimes. They killed Socrates, they wanted to kill Alcibiades. Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Theodorus the Atheist, Diagoras of Melos, Prodicus of Ceos, Stilpo, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Aspasia, Euripides, were more or less seriously disquieted. Liberty of thought was, in short, the fruit of the royalties which sprang out of the Macedonian 169conquest. It was the Attali, the Ptolemies, who first gave to thinkers the facilities that none of the old republics had ever offered to them. The Roman Empire continued the same tradition. There was, under the empire, more than one arbitrary act against the philosophers, but they arose always, through their interfering with politics. We may seek in vain in the list of Roman laws before Constantine for a text against the liberty of thought, in the history of the emperors for a process against abstract doctrine. Not one scholar was disturbed. Men who would have been burned in the middle ages, such as Galen, Lucian, Plotinus, lived on in peace, protected by the law. The empire inaugurated a period of liberty, inasmuch as it extinguished the absolute sovereignty of the family, of the city, of the tribe, and replaced or tempered these sovereignties by that of the state. Now an absolute power becomes more vexatious in proportion to the narrowness of the limits within which it is exercised. The ancient republics, feudality, tyrannized over the individual much more than the State did. We must admit that the Roman Empire at certain periods persecuted Christianity cruelly, but, at least, it did not stop it. Now the republics would have rendered it impossible; Judaism, if it had not submitted to the pressure of Roman authority, would have been sufficient to stifle it. The Pharisees were prevented from crushing out Christianity only by the Roman magistrates.

Large ideas of universal brotherhood springing for the most part out of stoicism, a sort of general sentiment of humanity, were the fruits of the less narrow system and of the less exclusive education to which the individual was subjected. There were dreams of a new era and of new worlds. The public wealth was great, and, notwithstanding the imperfection of the economic doctrines of the times, wealth was widely spread. Morals were not what they have often been imagined to be. At Rome, it is true, all the vices were displayed with a 170revolting cynicism; the spectacles, especially, had introduced a frightful corruption. Certain countries, like Egypt, have thus sunk into the lowest depths. But there was, in most of the provinces, a middle class, where goodness, conjugal faith, the domestic virtues, probity, were sufficiently spread out. Is there anywhere an idea of family life in a world of honest citizens of small towns, more charming than that which Plutarch has left us? What bonhomie! What gentleness of manners! What chaste and amiable simplicity! Chæronea was evidently not the only place where life was so pure and so innocent.

Customs even outside Rome were still to a certain ex-tent cruel, it may be through the memory of antique manners, everywhere rather sanguinary, it may be through the special influence of Roman hardness. But there was progress even in this respect. What soft and pure sentiment, what impression of tender melancholy had not found its tenderest expression by the pen of Virgil or Tibullus? The world grew more yielding, lost its antique rigour, acquired gentleness and susceptibility. Maxims of humanity grew common; equality, the abstract idea of the rights of man, were loudly preached by stoicism. Woman, thanks to the dowry system of the Roman law, became more and more her own mistress; precepts on the manner of treating slaves improved; Seneca ate with his. The slave was no longer of necessity that grotesque and malicious being, whom Latin comedy introduced to provoke outbursts of laughter, and whom Cato recommended to be treated as a beast of burden. The times have now greatly changed. The slave is morally the equal of his master; it is admitted that he is capable of virtue, of fidelity, of devotion, and he has given proofs that he is so. Prejudices as to nobility of birth are dying out. Many very humane and very just laws are enacted even under the worst of the Emperors. Tiberius was an able financier; he founded upon an excellent basis an establishment 171of the nature of a land-bank. Nero brought to the system of taxation, until then iniquitous and barbarous, improvements which put our own times to the blush. The progress of legislation was considerable, though the punishment of death was stupidly frequent. Love of the poor, sympathy for all, alms-giving, became virtues.

The theatre was one of the most insupportable scandals to honest people, and was one of the first causes of the antipathy of Jews and Judaizers of every class against the profane civilization of the time. These gigantic circles appeared to them the sewer in which all the vices festered. Whilst the front ranks applauded, repulsion and horror alone were produced on the upper benches. The spectacles of gladiators were established in the provinces only with difficulty. The Greek countries at least objected to them, and clung more often to their ancient Greek exercises. The sanguinary games preserved always in the East a very pronounced mark of their Roman origin. The Athenians in emulation of the Corinthians having, one day deliberated as to imitating these barbarous games, a philosopher is said to have risen and moved that before this was done, the altar of Pity should be overthrown. The horror of the theatre, of the stadium, of the gymnasium, that is to say, of the public places, and of what constituted essentially a Greek or a Roman city, was thus one of the deepest sentiments of the Christian, and one of those which produced the greatest results. Ancient civilization was a public civilization; everything was done in the open air, before the assembled citizens. It was the reverse of our societies, where life is altogether private and closed within the compass of the house. The theatre was the heir of the agora and of the forum. The anathema uttered against the theatre rebounded upon all society. A profound rivalry was established between the Church on the one hand, the public games on the other. The slave, driven from the 172games, betook himself to the Church. I never sit down in these mournful arenas, which are always the best preserved ruins of an ancient city, without seeing there in the spirit the struggle of the two worlds—here the honest poor man, already half a Christian, sitting in the last rank, veiling his face, and going out indignant—there a philosopher rising suddenly and reproaching the crowd with its baseness. These examples were rare in the first century, but the protest began to make itself heard. The theatre began to fall into evil repute.

Legislation and the administrative rules of the Empire were still a veritable chaos. The central despotism, the municipal and provincial franchises, the caprice of the governors, the violences of the independent communities clashed in the strangest manner. But religious liberty gained by these conflicts. The splendid unitary administration of Trajan will be more fatal to the rising worship than the irregular state, full of the unforeseen, without rigorous police of the time of the Cæsars.

The institutions of public assistance, founded on the principle that the State has paternal duties towards its members, developed themselves extensively only after the period of Nerva and Trajan. Some traces of them are, however, found in the first century. There were already charities for children, distributions of food to the poor, an assize of bread, with indemnities to the corn merchants, precautions about provisions, premiums and assurances for ship owners, bread bonds, which permitted corn to be bought at a reduced price. All the emperors, without exception, showed the greatest solicitude about these questions, minor ones, if you like, but on certain occasions of primary importance. In the earliest ages it is possible that the world had no need of charity. The world was young and valiant, the hospital was useless. The good and simple Homeric moral, according to which the host and the beggar alike come from Jupiter, is the moral of robust and cheerful youth. 173Greece, in her classic age, enunciated the most exquisite maxims of pity, of benevolence, of humanity, without mixing up with them any after-thought of social inquietude, or of melancholy. Man, at this time, was still healthy and happy; he could not take evil into account. In connection with institutions of mutual succour, the Greeks had besides, a great priority over the Romans. Never did a liberal or benevolent disposition spring from that cruel nobility, who exercised during the period of the Republic, so oppressive a power. At the time of which we speak, the colossal fortunes of the aristocracy, luxury, the great agglomerations of men at certain points, and above all, the hard-heartedness peculiar to the Romans, their aversion to pity had given birth to pauperism. The civilities of certain Emperors to the Roman canaille had only served to aggravate the evil. The sportula, the tesseræ frumentariæ encouraged vice and idleness, but brought no remedy to misery. Here, as in many other matters, the East had a great superiority over the Western world. The Jews possessed real charitable institutions. The temples of Egypt appear sometimes to have had a poor box. The college of recluses, male and female, in the Serapeum, at Memphis, was also in a way, a charitable establishment. The terrible crisis, through which humanity passed in the capital of the Empire, was but little felt in distant countries, where life remained more simple. The reproach of having poisoned the earth, the comparison of Rome with a courtezan, who has poured forth upon the world the dregs of her immorality, was just in many ways. The provinces were better than Rome, or rather the impure elements from all parts, which were collected at Rome, as in a sewer, had formed there a centre of infection where the old Roman virtues were stifled, and where the good seed from elsewhere developed itself but slowly.

The intellectual state of various parts of the Empire was not very satisfactory. In this respect there was a 174real falling off. The higher culture of the mind is not as independent of political circumstances as is private morality, though the progress of the two may be on parallel lines. Marcus Aurelius was certainly a more honest man than all the old Greek philosophers, yet his positive notions of the realities of the universe are inferior to those of Aristotle or of Epicurus; for he believed at times in the gods as finished and distinct personages, in dreams and in omens. The world at the Roman period made progress in morality, and suffered a scientific decline. From Tiberius to Nerva, the decline is altogether sensible. The Greek genius, with an originality, a force, a richness, which have never been equalled, had created in the course of centuries, the national encyclopædia, the normal discipline of the mind. This marvellous movement dating from Thales, and from the first schools of Ionia (six hundred years before Jesus Christ) had almost stopped about the year 120 B.C. The last survivors of these five centuries of genius, Apollonius of Perga, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, Hero, Archimedes, Hipparchus, Chrysippus, Carneades, Panetius, had died without leaving successors. I see only Posidonius and some astronomers who continued still the old traditions of Alexandria, of Rhodes, of Pergamus. Greece, so able in creating, had not known how to extract from her science, or her philosophy, a popular teaching, a remedy against superstition. Whilst possessing in their bosom admirable scientific institutions, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece itself, were given over to the most foolish beliefs. Now, when science cannot control superstition, superstition chokes science. Between these two opposed forces, the duel is to the death.

Italy, in adopting Greek science, had learned for a moment to animate it with a new sentiment. Lucretius had furnished the model of the great philosophical poem, at once hymn and blasphemy, inspiring in turn, serenity and despair, penetrated with that profound sentiment of human destiny, which was always wanting 175to the Greeks. They, like true children, as they were, took life in so gay a fashion, that they never dreamed of cursing the gods, or of finding nature unjust or perfidious towards man. Graver thoughts arose amongst the Latin philosophers. But Rome knew no better than Greece how to make science the basis of popular education. Whilst Cicero gave with an exquisite tact, a finished form to the ideas which he borrowed from the Greeks; whilst Lucretius wrote his astonishing poem; whilst Horace avowed to Augustus, who was in no way moved by it, his frank incredulity; whilst Ovid, one of the most charming poets of the time, treated the most respectable fables like an elegant literature; whilst the great Stoics drew practical consequences from the Greek philosophy, the maddest chimeras found believers, the faith in the marvellous was unbounded. Never was the world more occupied with prophecies and prodigies. The fine eclectic deism of Cicero, continued and perfected still more by Seneca, remained the belief of a small number of lofty minds exercising no influence whatever upon their age.

The Empire until the time of Vespasian had nothing which could be called public instruction. What there was of this kind at a later date was confined almost exclusively to the insipid exercises of the grammarians; the general decadence was rather pressed on than delayed. The last days of the republican government, and the reign of Augustus, were witnesses to one of the finest literary movements that ever took place. But after the death of the great Emperor the decadence is rapid, or, more correctly, altogether sudden. The intelligent and cultivated society of Cicero, Atticus, Cæar, Mæcenas, Agrippa, Pollio, had disappeared like a dream. Without doubt there were still enlightened men, men abreast of the science of their time, occupying high social positions, such as Seneca and the literary society of which he was the centre, Lucilius, Gallio, Pliny. The body of Roman law, which is philosophy 176itself in the form of a code, the putting in practice of Greek rationalism, continued its majestic growth. The great Roman families had preserved a bottom of elevated religion, and a great horror of superstition. The geographers, Strabo and Pomponius Mela, the doctor and encyclopædist, Celsus, the botanist, Dioscorides, the jurisconsult Sempronius Proculus, were very able men. But they were the exceptions. Except for some thousands of enlightened men, the world was plunged into the most complete ignorance of the laws of nature. Credulity was a general disease. Literary culture was reduced to hollow rhetoric, which taught nothing. The essentially moral and practical direction which philosophy has taken banished grand speculations. Human knowledge, if we except geography, made no progress. The instructed and well-read amateur replaced the creative scholar. The supreme defect of the Romans here made its fatal influence felt. This people so great for empire were second-rate in mind. The best educated Romans, Lucretius, Vitruvius, Celsus, Pliny, Seneca, were in positive knowledge the pupils of the Greeks. Too often even it was the most mediocre Greek science that they copied indifferently. The city of Rome had never had a great scientific school. Charlatanism reigned there almost without control. In short, the Latin literature which certainly had admirable parts, flourished but a short time and did not go out of the Western world.

Greece happily remained faithful to her genius. The prodigious blaze of the Roman power had dazzled her, crushed her down, but had not destroyed her. In fifty years she will have reconquered the world, she will again be the mistress of all who think, she will sit on the throne with the Antonines. But now Greece herself is in one of her hours of lassitude. Genius is rare there; original science inferior to what it had been in the six preceding centuries and to what it will be in the pet, The school of Alexandria, decaying for nearly 177two centuries but which however in the time of Cæsar still possessed Sosigenes, is now mute.

From the death of Augustus to the accession of Trajan must be reckoned as a period of momentary abasement of the human mind. The antique world was far from having said its last word; but the cruel trial through which it had passed, had robbed it of voice and heart. Better days are dawning, and the mind relieved from the desolating rule of the Cæsars will appear to revive. Epictetus, Plutarch, Dionysius, the golden-mouthed, Chrysostom, Tacitus, Quintilian, Pliny, the younger, Juvenal, Rufus of Ephesus, Aretæus, Galen, Ptolemy, Hypsicles, Theon, Lucian, will recall the best days of Greece, not of that inimitable Greece which existed but once for the despair and the charm of those who love the beautiful, but a Greece rich and flourishing yet, which whilst confounding her gifts with those of the Roman spirit will produce new fruits full of originality.

The general taste was very bad. There are no great Greek writers. The Latin authors whom we know, with the exception of the satirist Persius, are mediocre and without genius. Declamation spoiled everything. The principle by which the public judged the works of the mind was pretty much the same as in our own day. They only looked for the brilliant strokes. The word was no longer the simple vesture of the thought, drawing all its elegance from its perfect proportion to the idea it expressed. Words were cultivated for their own sake. The object of an author in writing was to show his talent. The excellence of a recitation or public lecture was measured by the number of applauded words with which it was sown. The great principle that in matters of art everything ought to serve for ornament, but that all that is put in expressly as ornament is bad, this principle, I say, was profoundly forgotten. The time was if you will, very literary. They only spoke of eloquence, of good style, and at bottom almost all the world wrote ill; there was not a single 178orator, for the good orator, and the good writer are men who make a trade of neither one nor the other. At the theatre the principal actor absorbed attention; plays were suppressed that showy pieces might be recited—the cantica. The spirit of literature was a silly dilettantism which seized even upon the Emperors, a foolish vanity which led everybody to try to prove that he had wit. Hence an extreme insipidity, interminable “Theseids,” dramas written to be read in society, a whole poetic banality which can only be compared to the classic tragedies and epics of sixty years ago.

Stoicism itself could not escape this defect, or at least did not know before Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, how to find a graceful form to envelope its doctrines. The tragedies of Seneca are really extraordinary monuments where the loftiest sentiments are expressed in the tone of a literary charlatanism, wholly fatiguing and indicative at once of moral progress and an irredeemable decadence of taste. The same maybe said of Lucan. The tension of soul, the natural effect of the eminently tragic character of the situation gave birth to an inflated style, where the only care was to shine by fine sentences. Something of the same kind happened amongst us under the Revolution; the severest crisis that had ever been known produced scarcely anything but a literature of rhetoricians, full of declamation. We must not stop at that. The new thoughts were sometimes expressed with a great deal of pretension. The style of Seneca is sober, simple, and pure compared with that of S. Augustine. But we forgive S. Augustine his, detestable though it often is, and his insipid concetti, for the sake of his fine sentiments.

In any case that education, noble and distinguished as it was in many ways, never reached the people. That would have been a comparatively slight inconvenience, if the people had had at least a religious training analogous in some sort to that which the most disinherited portions of our societies receive in the Church. 179But religion in all parts of the Empire was at the lowest ebb. Rome with good reason had left the ancient worships undisturbed, cutting away only those things which were inhuman, seditious, or injurious to others. She had extended over all a sort of official varnish which made them all very much alike, and after a fashion melted them down together. Unfortunately these old worships, of very diverse origin, had one feature in common; it was equally impossible to arrive at theological instruction; at an applied morality; at an edifying preaching; at a pastoral ministry really fruitful for the people. The Pagan temple was in no way what the synagogue and the church were in their palmy days. I mean that common house, school, hostelry, hospital, shelter, where the poor may find an asylum. It was a cold cella, where one scarcely entered, and where one learned nothing. The Roman worship was perhaps the least bad of those which were still practised. Purity of heart and of body were there considered as making part of real religion. By its gravity, its decency, its austerity, this worship, but for some farces like those of our carnival, was superior to the bizarre and often ridiculous ceremonies which persons afflicted with Oriental notions secretly introduced. The affectation which led the Roman patricians to distinguish “religion” —that is to say their own worship, from “superstition,” that is to say foreign modes of worship, appears to us sufficiently puerile. All Pagan worship was essentially superstitious. The peasant who in our days puts a halfpenny into the box of some miracle-chapel, who invokes such a saint for his oxen or his horses, who drinks a certain water for certain diseases, is in those matters distinctly Pagan. Almost all our superstitions are the relics of a religion anterior to Christianity, which the latter has not been able entirely to root out. If one desired to find in our days the image of Paganism, it is in some secluded village at the bottom of the most backward country, that it is to be looked for.


Having for guardians only a vacillating popular tradition and interested sacristan, the worship could not but fall back into adulation. Augustus, although with hesitation, suffered himself to be worshipped in the provinces while yet alive. Tiberius allowed that ignoble meeting of the Asiatic townsmen, who disputed the honour of erecting a temple to him, to be held under his eyes. The extravagant impieties of Caligula produced no re-action; outside Judaism there was not a single priest to resist such follies, Sprung for the most part from a primitive worship of natural forces, ten times transformed by mixtures of all kinds, and by the imagination of the people, Pagan worship was limited by its past. It was impossible to extract from them what they did not contain—deism, edification. The Fathers of the Church make us smile when they talk of the misdeeds of Saturn as of those of the father of a family, and Jupiter as a husband. And surely it was much more ridiculous still to erect Jupiter (that is to say the atmosphere) into a moral god who commands, forbids, rewards, punishes. In a world which aspired to possess a catechism, which can be done with a worship like that of Venus, which arose out of an old social necessity of the first Phœnecian navigators in the Mediterranean, but became with time an outrage to those who looked up to it more and more as the essence of religion?

In all quarters, in short, the need of a monotheistic religion, having the morality of the divine prescriptions for its basis, was felt more and more. There thus came a time when natural religion, reduced to pure childishness, to the grimaces of sorcerers, would not suffice for society where humanity wanted a moral and philosophical religion. Buddhism, Zoroasterism answered to that need in India, in Persia. Orpheism and the Mysteries had attempted the same thing in the Greek world, with-out succeeding in a durable manner. At this epoch the problem presented itself to the whole of the world with a sort of solemn unanimity and imperious grandeur.


Greece, it is true, formed an exception in this respect. Hellenism was much less used than other religions of the empire. Plutarch in his little Bœotian town lived by Hellenism, tranquil, happy, contented as a child with the calmest religious conscience. With him, not a trace of crisis, of rending, of disquiet, of imminent revolution. But it was only the Greek spirit which was capable of so infantine a serenity. Always satisfied with herself; proud of her past and of that brilliant mythology of which she possessed all the holy places, Greece did not share all the internal torments, which worried the rest of the world. Only she did not call for Christianity; only she wished to pass it by; only she thought to do better. She held to that eternal youth, to that patriotism, to that gaiety which have always characterised the veritable Hellene, and which to-day cause the Greek to be a stranger to the profound cares which eat us up. Hellenism thus found itself in a position to attempt a renaissance which no other of the religions of the empire would have been able to attempt. In the second, third, and fourth centuries of our era, Hellenism will constitute itself an organised religion by a sort of fusion of the Greek mythology and philosophy, and with its wonder-working philosophers, its ancient sages promoted to the rank of prophets, its legends of Pythagoras and of Apollonius, will enter into a rivalry with Christianity, which, though it remained powerless, was none the less the most dangerous obstacle which the religion of Jesus found in its path.

That attempt was not made so early as the time of the Cæsars. The first philosophers who attempted a species of alliance between philosophy and Paganism—Euphrates of Tyre, Apollonius of Tyana, and Plutarch, are of the end of the century. Euphrates of Tyre is but little known to us. Legend has so covered up the warp and woof of the real biography of Apollonius that it is difficult to say, whether he is to be reckoned amongst the sages, amongst the founders of religions, or amongst the 182charlatans. Plutarch is less a thinker, an innovator than a man of moderate mind who wishes to make all the world agree by rendering philosophy timid and religion half reasonable. There is nothing in him of Porphyry or of Julian. The attempts at allegorical exegesis by the Stoics are very weak. The mysteries like those of Bacchus, where the immortality of the soul was taught by graceful symbols, were limited to certain countries and had no extended influence. The unbelief in the official religion was general in the enlightened class. The politicians who most affected to sustain the worship of the State made a jest of it with much wit. They openly put forward the immoral system that religious fables are good only for the people and ought to be maintained for them. The precaution was wholly useless, for the faith of the people was itself profoundly shattered.

After the accession of Tiberius, it is true, a religious reaction made itself felt. It appears that the world was frightened by the avowed incredulity of the times of Cæsar and Augustus; the unlucky attempt of Julian was anticipated; all the superstitions found themselves revivified for reasons of State. Valerius Maximus gives us the first example of a writer of the lower class, making himself the auxiliary of the theologians at bay; of a venal or prostituted pen put at the service of religion. But it is the foreign religions which profit most by this return. The serious reaction in favour of the Græco-Roman cult will only be produced in the second century. Now the classes which have been seized with religious disquiet turn towards the religions, come from the East. Isis and Serapis find more favour than ever. Importers of every species, miracle-mongers, magicians, profit by the demand, and as usually happens at periods when and in countries where the religion of the State is weak, increased on every side, recalling the real or fictitious types of Apollonius of Tyana, Alexander of Abonoticus, of Peregrinus, of Simon 183of Gitton. These very errors and chimeras were as a prayer of the travailing earth, like the unfruitful efforts of a world seeking its rule and arriving sometimes in its convulsive efforts at monstrous creations destined to oblivion.

To sum up:—the middle of the first century is one of the worst epochs of ancient history. Greek and Roman society show themselves in decadence after what has gone before, and much behind hand with respect to what is to follow But the grandeur of the crisis revealed clearly some strange and sacred formation. Life appeared to have lost its motive: suicides were multiplied. Never had a century presented such a struggle between good and evil. The evil was a powerful despotism, which put the world into the hands of men, who were either criminals or lunatics; it was the corruption of morals, the result of introducing into Rome the vices of the East; it was the absence of a good religion, and of a serious public instruction. The good was on one side, philosophy fighting with uncovered breast, against the tyrants, defying the monsters, three or four times proscribed in in half a century (under Nero, Vespasian and Domitian) it was on another side the efforts after popular virtue these legitimate aspirations after a better religious state, this tendency towards confraternities, towards mono-theistic worship; this rehabilitation of the poor, which was principally produced under cover of Judaism, or Christianity. These two great protestations were far from being in agreement. The philosophical party and the Christian party did not know each other, and they had so little idea of the community of their efforts, that the philosophical party, having come to power by the advent of Nerva, was far from being favourable to Christianity Truth to tell, the design of the Christian was much more radical. The stoic masters of the Empire, reformed it and presided over it during the hundred best years in the history of humanity The Christian Masters of the Empire, after Constantine, succeeded in 184ruining it. The heroism of some ought not to make us forget that of others. Christianity, so unjust to Pagan virtues, took up the task of depreciating those who had fought against the same enemies that it had. There was in the resistance of philosophy as much grandeur as in that of Christianity, but the rewards have been unequal. The martyr who turned away from the feet of the idols has his legend: why should not Annæus Cornutus, who declared before Nero, that his books would never be worth those of Chrysippus; why should not Helvidius Priscus, who told Vespasian to his face, It is for you to kill, and for me to die”; why should not Demetrius, the cynic, who answered the angry Nero “You threaten me with death but nature threatens you,”—why should not these men have their place amongst the popular heroes whom all men love and salute? Does humanity dispose of so many forces against vice and baseness, that every school of virtue should be allowed to reject the aid of others, and to maintain that it only has the right to be courageous, proud, resigned?

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