« PreviousContinue »
tire, and to the second Satire of Perpus; as the last of these authors has almost tranfcribed the preceding dialogue, intitled, Alcibiades the First, in his fourth Sacire,
· The speakers in this dialogue upon Prayer, are Socrates and Alcibiades ; and the substance of it (when drawn together out of the intricacies and digressions) as follows
Socrates meeting his pupil Alcibiades, as he was going to his devotions, and observing his eyes to be fixed upon the earth with great seriousness and attention, tells him, that he had reason to be thoughtful on that occasion, since it was possible for a man to bring down evils upon himself by his own Prayers, and that those things which the Gods fend him in answer to his petitions might turn to his destruction: This, says he, may not only happen when a man prays for what he knows is mischievous in its own nature, as Oedipus implored the Gods to fow diffension between his fons, but when he prays for what he believes would be for his good, and against what he believes would be to his detriment. This the Philosopher shews must necessa
rily happen among us, fince most men are blinded with ignorance, prejudice, or passion, which hinder them from seeing such things” as are really beneficial to them. For an instance, he asks Alçibiades, Whether he would not be thoroughly pleased and satisfied if that God to whom he was going to address himself, should promise to make him the Sovereign of the whole earth ? Alcibiades answers, that he should doubtless look upon such a promise as the greatest favour that could be bestowed upon him. Socrates then asks him, If after receiving this great favour he would be contented to lose his life? Or if he would receive it though he was sure he should make an ill use of it ? To both which questions Alcibiades answers in the negative. Socrates then shews him from the examples of others, how these might probably be the effects of such a blessing. He then adds, That other reputed pieces of good fortune, as that of having a fon or procuring the highest poft in a government, are subject to the like fatal consequences ; which nevertheless, says he, men ardently desire, and would not fail to pray for, if they thought their
prayers might be effectual for the obtaining of them.
Having established this great point, That all the most apparent blessings in this life are obnoxious to such dreadful consequences, and that no man knows what in its events would prove to him a bleffing or a curse, he teaches Alcibiades after what manner he ought to pray.
In the first place, he recommends to him, as the model of his devotions, a fhort prayer, which a Greek Poet composed for the ufe of his friends, in the following words ; Jupiter, give us those things which are good for us, whether they are such things as we pray for,
we pray for, or such Tbings as we do not pray for; and remove from us those things which are burtful, though they are such things as we pray for.
In the second place, that his Difciple may ask fuch things as are expedient for him, he shews him, that it is absolutely necessary to apply himself to the study of true wisdom, and to the knowledge of that which is his chief good, and the most suitable to the excellency of his nature.
In the third and last place he informs him, that the best methods he could make use of to draw down blessings upon -himself, and to render his prayers acceptable; would be to live in a conItant practice of his duty towards the Gods, and towards men. Under this head he very much recommends a form of Prayer the Lacedæmonians made use of, in which they petition the Gods, to give them all good things, so long as they were virtuous. Under this head likewise he gives a very remarkable account of an Oracle to the following purpose.
When the Athenians in the war with the Lacedæmonians received many defeats both by sea and land, they sent a message to the oracle of Jupiter Ammon, to ask the reason why they who erected so many temples to the Gods, and adorned them with such coftly offerings ; why they who had instituted so many festivals, and accompanied them with such pomps and ceremonies ; in short, why they who had Nain so many Hecatombs at their altars, should be less successful than the Lacedemonians, who fell fo short of them in all these particulars. To this, says he, the Oracle made the following
reply; I am better pleased with the prayer. of the Lacedæmonians than with all the oblations of the Greeks. As this
As this prayer implied and encouraged virtue in those who made it ; the Philosopher proceeds to fhew how the most vicious man might be devout, so far as victims could make him, but that his offerings were regarded by the Gods as bribes, and his petitions as blafphemies. He likewise quotes on this occasion two verses out of Homer, in which the Poet says that the scent of the Trojan sacrifices was carried up to heaven by the winds, but that it was not acceptable to the Gods, who were displeased with Priam and all his people.
The conclusion of this dialogue is very remarkable. Socrates having deterred Alcibiades from the prayers and sacrifice which he was going to offer, by setting forth the above-mentioned difficulties of performing that duty as he ought, adds these words, We must therefore wait 'till such time as we may learn how we ought to behave our selves towards the Gods and towards men. But when will that time come, says Alcibiades, and who is it will instruct us ? For I would fain see this man, whoever he is. It is one, says.