Page images
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

We will commence with Herodotus, as the most ancient.

When Henry Stephens entitled his comic rhapsody “ The Apology of Herodotus,” we know that his design was not to justify the tales of this father of history; he only sports with us, and shows that the enormities of his own times were worse than those of the Egyptians and Persians.' He made use of the liberty which the protestants assumed against those of the catholic, apostolic, and Roman churches. He sharply reproaches them with their debaucheries, their avarice, their crimes expiated by money, their indulgences publicly sold in the taverns, and the false relics manufactured by their own monks, calling them idolaters. He ventures to say, that if the Egyptians adored cats and onions, the catholics adore the bones of the dead. He dares to call them, in his preliminary discourses, theophages, and even theokeses.* We have fourteen editions of this book, for we relish general abuse, just as much as we résent that which we deem special and personal.

Henry Stephens only made use of Herodotus to render us hateful and ridiculous; we have quite a contrary design. We pretend to show that the modern histories of our good authors since Guicciardini are, in

* Eaters of God, and what is the necessary consequence of such a disposal of divinity.




general, as wise and true as those of Herodotus and Diodorus are foolish and fabulous.

1st. What does the father of history mean, by saying in the beginning of his work, “the Persian historians relate that the Phenicians were the authors of all the

From the Red Sea they entered ours,” &c. ? It would seem that the Phenicians having embarked at the isthmus of Suez, arrived at the straits of Babel-Mandel; coasted along Ethiopia, passed the line, doubled the Cape of Tempests, since called the Cape of Good Hope; returned between Africa and America; repassed the line, and entered from the ocean into the Mediterranean by the Pillars of Hercules, a voyage of more than four thousand of our long marine leagues, at a time when navigation was in its infancy.

2d. The first exploit of the Phenicians was to go towards . Argos to carry off the daughter of king Inachus; after which the Greeks, in their turn, carried off Europa, the daughter of the king of Tyre.

3d. Immediately afterwards comes Candaules, king of Lydia, who, meeting with one of his guards named Gyges, said to him, “ Thou must see my wife quite naked; it is absolutely essential." The queen, learning that she had been thus exposed, said to the soldier, “ You shall either die, or assassinate my husband and reign with me.” He chose the latter alternative, and the assassination was accomplished without difficulty.

4th. Then follows the history of Arion, carried on the back of a dolphin across the sea from the skirts of Calabria to Cape Matapan, an extraordinary voyage of about a hundred leagues.

5th. From tale to tale (and who dislikes tales ?) we arrive at the infallible oracle of Delphos, which somehow foretold that Crosus would cook a quarter of lamb and a tortoise in a copper pan, and that he would be. dethroned by a mullet.

6th. Among the inconceivable absurdities with which ancient history abounds, is there anything approaching. the famine with which the Lydians were tormented for

for one.

twenty-eight years? This people, whom Herodotus describes as being richer in gold than the Peruvians, instead of buying food from foreigners, found no better expedient than that of amusing themselves, every other day, with the ladies, without eating for eight-andtwenty successive years.

7th. Is there anything more marvellous than the history of Cyrus? His grandfather, the Mede Astyages, with a Greek name, dreamed that his daughter Mandane (another Greek name) inundated all Asia ; at another time that she produced a viné, of which all Asia eat the grapes; and thereupon the good man Astyages ordered one Harpagon, another Greek, to murder his grandson Cyrus,-for what grandfather would not kill his posterity after dreams of this nature?

8th. Herodotus, no less a good naturalist than an exact historian, does not fail to tell us that near Babylon the earth produced three hundred ears of wheat

I know a small country which yields three for one. I should like to have been transported to Diarbek when the Turks were driven from it by Catherine II. It has fine corn also, but returns not three hundred ears for one.

9th. What has always seemed to me very decent and edifying in Herodotus, is the fine religious custom established in Babylon, of which we have already spoken —that of all the married women going to prostitute themselves in the temple of Mylitta, for money, to the first stranger who presented himself. We reckon two millions of inhabitants in this city ;-the devotion must have been ardent. This law is very probable among the orientals, who have always shut up their women, and who, more than six ages before Herodotus, instituted eunuchs, to answer to them for the chastity of their wives.* I must no longer proceed

* Remark that Herodotus lived in the time of Xerxes, whilst Babylon was in its greatest splendour. The Greeks were ignorant of the Chaldean language, consequently some interpreter jested with him, or he jested at the Greeks. When the musicos of Amsterdam were in their greatest vogue, it would have been well

numerically; we should very soon, indeed, arrive at a hundred.

All that Diodorus of Sicily says, seven centuries after Herodotus, is of the same value, in all that regards antiquities and physics. The abbé Terasson said, “I translate the text of Diodorus in all its coarseness." He sometimes read us part of it at the house of M. de la Faye, and when we laughed, he said, “ You are resolved to misconstrue; it was quite the contrary with Dacier.”

The finest part of Diodorus is the charming description of the island of Panchaica--" Panchaica Tellus," celebrated by Virgil :) “ There were groves of odoriferous trees as far as the eye could see; myrrh and frankincense to furnish the whole world, without exhausting it; fountains, which formed an infinity of canals, bordered with flowers; besides unknown birds, which sang under the eternal shades; a temple of marble, four thousand feet long, ornamented with columns, colossal statues," &c.

This puts one in mind of the duke de la Ferté, who, to flatter the taste of the abbé Servien, said to him one day, “Ah, if you had seen my son, who died at fifteen years of age!-_What eyes! what freshness of complexion! what an admirable stature !—the Antinous of Belvidere, compared to him, was only like a Chinese baboon; and as to sweetness of manners, he had the most engaging I ever met with.” The abbé Servien melted; the duke of Ferté, warmed by his own words, melted also; both began to weep; after which he acknowledged that he never had a son.

A certain abbé Bazin, with his simple common sense, doubts another tale of Diodorus. It is of a king of Egypt, Sesostris, who probably existed no more than the island of Panchaica. The father of Sesostris, who is not named, determined on the day that he was born that he would make him the conqueror of all the earth as

to have made a stranger believe that the first ladies of the city prostituted themselves to the sailors who returned from the Indies, to recompense them for their labours. The most pleasant part of this story is, that the pedants have found the custom of Babylon very decent and probable.

soon as he was of age. It was a notable project. For
purpose, he brought up

with him all the boys who were born on the same day in Egypt; and to make them conquerors, he did not suffer them to have their breakfasts until after they had run a hundred and eighty stadia, which is about eight of our long leagues.

When Sesostris was of age, he departed with his racers to conquer the world. They were then about seventeen hundred, and probably half were dead according to the ordinary course of nature; and above all, of the nature of Egypt, which was desolated by a destructive plague at least once in ten years.

There must have been three thousand four hundred boys born in Egypt on the same day as Sesostris; and as nature produces almost as many girls as boys, there must have been six thousand persons at least born on that day. But women were confined every day; and six thousand births a day produce, at the end of the year, two millions one hundred and ninety thousand children. If you multiply by thirty-four, according to the rule of Kerseboom, you would have in Egypt more than seventy-four millions of inhabitants in a country which is not so large as Spain or France.

All this appeared monstrous to the abbé Bazin, who had seen a little of the world, and who judged only by what he had seen.

But one Larcher, who was never outside of the college of Mazarine, arrayed himself with great animation on the side of Sesostris and his runners. He pretends that Herodotus, in speaking of the Greeks, does not reckon by the stadia of Greece, and that the heroes of Sesostris only ran four leagues before breakfast. He overwhelms poor abbé Bazin with injurious names, such as no scholar in us or es had ever before employed. He does not hold with the seventeen hundred boys; but endeavours to prove, by the prophets, that the wives, daughters, and nieces, of the kings of Babylon, of the satraps, and the magi, resorted, out of pure devotion, to sleep for money in the aisles of the temple of Babyłon with all the camel-drivers and muleteers of Asia. He treats all those who defend the honour of


« PreviousContinue »