Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

Swear, since death equally awaits the man who keeps

his oath religiously. But Swearing has a nameless child ;—he has no feet,— He has no hands,—but he pursues swiftly, till he seizes And destroys the whole family, and the entire house; But the family of him who religiously observes his oath

prospers in future days *.

Glaucus, on hearing this stern rebuke, implored the Deity to pardon his rash words. The sentence of the oracle well deserves the best consideration of men who live in the clear light of the Gospel. "To tempt the Deity is the same with doing the act-y." "Of Glaucus, (continued Leotychides,) no one descendant is there, no one branch is left to be called by his name, but, root and branch, he is swept away from Sparta."

We cannot wonder at this being one of the most celebrated traditions of antiquity; nor can I refrain from adding the testimony borne to the prevalence of the same belief by the orator Lycurgus:—" Men of Athens, this too you ought to learn,—an oath is the bond which keeps the democracy together. The commonwealth consists of three parts, the archon, the judge, and the individual citizen ; and every one of these binds himself by the same pledge of faith, and rightly too; for with regard to their fellow-men, many have often defrauded and deceived them, and

* See also Juvenal, xiii. 199. His reflections upon this event are remarkably striking, t Herod: Erato, 86.

have not only escaped from all present danger, but have never been called to account for their deeds of injustice; but from the Gods no one can conceal himself by perjury, nor can he ever escape their vengeance; on the contrary, even should it not be in his own person, yet, at all events, the children, and the whole race of the perjured man, fall into great misfortunes*." Such were the sentiments which long prevailed in Greece; but, unhappily for that ill-fated country, another and a new philosophy found its way thither, which laughed at such sentiments as the offspring of superstition, and which led to the establishment of principles and of habits, as disgraceful as they were pernicious-f-. And in this point of reverence, or contempt for an oath, we see the result of these principles as described by an eye-witness J.

Such a melancholy state of degeneracy from their early integrity and religious regard for the awful sanction of an oath might have been anticipated, in a country where the stage was suffered to sap the foundation of all moral and religious principle, by that most fatal of all weapons, ridicule; and that evil demon ruled in Athens. Honesty and religion were laughed out of countenance in that city, and

* Lyc: v., Leoc: 80.

t Diagoras denied that there were Gods, because the

perjurer was allowed to go unpunished. Selden II., 11.

% Polybius. See Part II. of this work, ch. iv.

P

left it to its fate. With regard to the particular point of the traditionary religious belief in the divine vengeance attendant upon perjury, we have a fair specimen in repeated instances, of the too-successful efforts of that engine, ridicule, to undermine the very corner-stone of society, and by extirpating religious fear, to burst asunder the bands which held together their commonwealth. "Whence is the thunder-bolt?" (an old man is made to ask Socrates, whose venerable name is given to an infidel philosopher of the new light.) "Evidently Jupiter hurls this at the perjured."—" How, you old fool and dotard (is the Atheist's reply); if he strike the perjured, why has he not burnt up Simon, and Cleonymus, and Theorus? They are desperate perjurers. Instead of this, he strikes his own temple, and the promontory of Sunium, and the lofty oaks. In return for what injury shown to him ?—An oak cannot take a false oath!" The old man is confounded by the question. "I do not know how to explain that," he says, "but you seem to be right*." At the same time, the advantage here, as ever, taken by the enemies of truth, of an unsound argument used in the cause of truth, ought to teach us Christians a lesson. Those enemies too often easily persuade men that all is false, if what they have hitherto relied upon is shown to be untenable. An unsound

* Aristoph. Nubes, 394.

argument may, for a time, have, with the bulk of mankind, more powerful influence than one whose foundation is sure. It may be regarded as a pious fraud to employ it, but in the end it will prove deceitful; in the day of trial, it will always be found in the ranks of the adversary.

CHAPTER XIII.
PERJURY IN ROME.

In examining the question, whether Perjury was considered in Rome as an offence against the state to be visited by the civil magistrate, we are met on the threshold by a broad assertion of Michaelis, which deserves notice.—" In those honourable times," he says, referring to the early days of the commonwealth, "the Romans had no punishment for perjury, except that of the Censor marking the perjured person as a bad man," referring us, in a note, for his proof, to Aulus Gellius, Nodes Attica, lib. vii., c. 18; but his proof is very far from bearing out his assertion. A. Gellius there only relates a mere matter of fact, with regard to those men who had attempted to evade their oath after the battle of Cannas. It is a well-known story. Hannibal had sent them to negotiate an exchange of prisoners, under an oath to return if the Senate would not accede to his terms; and one, or more of them, on leaving his camp, returned immediately under pretence of having left something behind, and, persuading themselves that they had fulfilled the letter of their engagement, after the failure of their embassy at Rome, did not return. Now Aulus Gellius says of these men,

« EdellinenJatka »