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incurring the guilt of perjury, whilst they pledged themselves to a falsehood *; yet we shall see reason for inferring that, in the majority of cases, such oaths implied either in their original an attribution more or less of divinity to the object by which they were sworn; or in the swearer, the reckless vaunts of infidelity and atheism. Thus ^Eschylus represents the bold bearing of Parthenopasus to have shown itself in such blasphemy—
By his spear he swears,
This was by no means an unusual oath, if we consider the representations of the poets, as we perhaps fairly may consider them, evidence of a previous, though probably a very limited, custom. Nor was it confined to warriors or even men: females employed this oath. Euripides makes Antigone say, "Be the steel my witness, and the sword by which I swear J." Statius introduces Capaneus as boasting, " My valour and the sword I hold are
* We have already mentioned this miserable expedient among the Jews, when they swore by Jerusalem, the temple, their own head, &c. In their case, it received what it deserved, the awful rebuke of Him who looks to the heart.
t Septem adv. Theb. 530. \ Phcen. 1691.
my God*;" an expression which, perhaps, he borrowed from Virgil, in the well-known ejaculation of Mezentius—
My ri^ht hand, my God,
And Lucian tells us that the Scythians swore by their acinaces (a sort of sword), which they worshipped as their God, and by the wind; the former representing death, the latter being an emblem of life J. Some writers suppose that swearing by the sceptre, one of the forms inseparable from our earliest acquaintance with classical antiquity, was identical with swearing by the spear, which was held by their kings as their sceptre. That it was connected with idolatry is made evident by many testimonies. Eustathius mentions distinctly that Caeneus erected a spear, and commanded it to be worshipped as a God§; and Justin declares that, from the earliest date, the ancients worshipped their spears as their gods ||. No wonder Agamemnon called the oath he swore by his sceptre a great and
• Theb. iii. 615.
t JEn. x. 773. Dextra mihi Deus, et telum quod missile libro, Nunc adsint. X Lucian, in Toxari. in Scytha. xxivxxw xa) z«,«ox|/Sof
§ Eust. in Iliad A. Some consider this tradition as the work only of fancy.
|| Justin. Epit. Trogi Pomp. lib. 43. Quoted in Schutz. yEsch. Septem adv: Theb: 531.
solemn oath*. It is certain that this form of oath prevailed through almost all the countries of the north; it can be traced among the Danes, and also our Saxon ancestors. With many other forms savouring of paganism, it was forbidden by authority in the sixth synod-f; and the Council of Constantinople excommunicated those Christians who swore by Heathen oaths.
Among the Arcadians, as we learn from Herodotus J, the most binding oath was by the waters of the Styx, a fountain in their country.
Of their oath by the souls of the departed, we have different instances upon record; among the rest, that celebrated burst of Athenian eloquence, when Demosthenes swears by the patriots who fell in battle at Marathon §. So Propertius, "I call to witness the ashes of my forefathers ||and again, "By the bones of my mother and of my father, I swear to thee: if I deceive thee, alas! let the ashes of both weigh heavy on my soul." So in Silius Italicus, "By the head of my noble father, and no divinity is more sacred, I swear^f." But we need not multiply instances; the classical remains of Greece and Rome abound with them: but not more abundant are they in those remains, than are
* II. A. 234. t Du Cange, De Jur. Vet.
% Erato, 47. $ Pro Corona.
|| Propertius, lib. ii. Eleg. 20, v. 15.
the degrading facts in the records of the Christian church, which testify how Rome Christian, in this point, as in others, willingly and closely followed the example of Rome Pagan. These oaths are jugj; tantamount to those, which Christians swore so freely by the souls of the saints and the faithful departed. Thus, when we find Helen* swearing a sacred oath by the head of Menelaus; and Ilioneus-f-, in his address to Latinus, swearing by the fates of iEneas, and by his powerful right hand; and the Pythagoreans} swearing by Pythagoras, our thoughts are involuntarily carried onwards to those days of strange mental thraldom and bigotry, when Christians swore by the safety of the Apostolic see and the Popes; when monks swore by their abbot's foot, and Norman warriors by their earl's hand, and the head of the Emperor §. But of these, hereafter.
We must not omit to mention the custom prevalent among the Greeks, of swearing by their tutelary deities; the Argives by Juno, &c.; the Ephesians by Diana. They swore also by the deities who presided over their respective arts and callings.
* Eurip. Helen. 834. t Mn. vii., 234.
y Potter. De Jur. § Du Cange.
Numa is said to have established among the Romans, as their most binding pledge of truth, an oath by the goddess Fides: whether this was any thing more than their solemn affirmation upon their faithful word, does not, I think, appear. Certainly one very ancient form, if indeed it is to be regarded as an oath at all, seems to have been, "I promise," or, "I speak the truth from the thoughts of my heart;" "from my conscience*." "Per fidem," however, is an adjuration which Virgil connects with a direct appeal to the Gods above as witnesses of the truth-f.
One of the most ancient forms of oath, either in Greece or Rome, was that of slaying an animal, very generally a swine, and imprecating the curse of heaven, in case of falsehood, to fall as inevitably on the perjured head, as death was the fate of that victim. Very frequently they first cut off" part of the animaTs hair, and distributed it among all who were to share in the obligation. We find this form of adjuration fully described in Homer J. Livy represents himself as merely giving the substance
* Ex anirai mei sententia. Cic. Acad. Qusest. iv. 47. t iEneid: ii. 141. J Horn. II. Hi. 290.