Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Pagan Oracles
by [?]

It is remarkable–and, without a previous explanation, it might seem paradoxical to say it–that oftentimes under a continual accession of light important subjects grow more and more enigmatical. In times when nothing was explained, the student, torpid as his teacher, saw nothing which called for explanation–all appeared one monotonous blank. But no sooner had an early twilight begun to solicit the creative faculties of the eye, than many dusky objects, with outlines imperfectly defined, began to converge the eye, and to strengthen the nascent interest of the spectator. It is true that light, in its final plenitude, is calculated to disperse all darkness. But this effect belongs to its consummation. In its earlier and struggling states, light does but reveal darkness. It makes the darkness palpable and “visible.” Of which we may see a sensible illustration in a gloomy glass-house, where the sullen lustre from the furnace does but mass and accumulate the thick darkness in the rear upon which the moving figures are relieved. Or we may see an intellectual illustration in the mind of the savage, on whose blank surface there exists no doubt or perplexity at all, none of the pains connected with ignorance; he is conscious of no darkness, simply because for him there exists no visual ray of speculation–no vestige of prelusive light.

Similar, and continually more similar, has been the condition of ancient history. Once yielding a mere barren crop of facts and dates, slowly it has been kindling of late years into life and deep interest under superior treatment. And hitherto, as the light has advanced, pari passu have the masses of darkness strengthened. Every question solved has been the parent of three new questions unmasked. And the power of breathing life into dry bones has but seemed to multiply the skeletons and lifeless remains; for the very natural reason–that these dry bones formerly (whilst viewed as incapable of revivification) had seemed less numerous, because everywhere confounded to the eye with stocks and stones, so long as there was no motive of hope for marking the distinction between them.

Amongst all the illustrations which might illuminate this truth, none is so instructive as the large question of PAGAN ORACLES. Every part, indeed, of the Pagan religion, the course, geographically or ethnographically, of its traditions, the vast labyrinth of its mythology, the deductions of its contradictory genealogies, the disputed meaning of its many secret “mysteries” [teletai— symbolic rites or initiations], all these have been submitted of late years to the scrutiny of glasses more powerful, applied under more combined arrangements, and directed according to new principles more comprehensively framed. We cannot in sincerity affirm–always with immediate advantage. But even where the individual effort may have been a failure as regarded the immediate object, rarely, indeed, it has happened but that much indirect illumination has resulted–which, afterwards entering into combination with other scattered currents of light, has issued in discoveries of value; although, perhaps, any one contribution, taken separately, had been, and would have remained, inoperative. Much has been accomplished, chiefly of late years; and, confining our view to ancient history, almost exclusively amongst the Germans–by the Savignys, the Niebuhrs, the Otfried Muellers. And, if that much has left still more to do, it has also brought the means of working upon a scale of far accelerated speed.

The books now existing upon the ancient oracles, above all, upon the Greek oracles, amount to a small library. The facts have been collected from all quarters,–examined, sifted, winnowed. Theories have been raised upon these facts under every angle of aspect; and yet, after all, we profess ourselves to be dissatisfied. Amongst much that is sagacious, we feel and we resent with disgust a taint of falsehood diffused over these recent speculations from vulgar and even counterfeit incredulity; the one gross vice of German philosophy, not less determinate or less misleading than that vice which, heretofore, through many centuries, had impoverished this subject, and had stopped its discussion under the anile superstition of the ecclesiastical fathers.