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dinary appeal. Quando enim hoc non factum est ? Quando reprehensum ? Quando non permissum ? Quando denique fuit, ut quod licet not liceret? We may have occasion hereafter to animadvert upon
this sentiment, as showing how unqualified were the most enlightened among pagans to become guides to others, either in the science or practice of morality. But, at present, we consider it only, as indicating the licentiousness of the senate, before which the sentiment was uttered, and the licentiousness of the Roman nation, even in its better days. For, of any one, who should condemn the liberty of which he speaks, it is added, abhoret non modo ab hujus seculi licentia verum, etiam a majorum consuetudine atque concessis.
Even in that interesting and sacred relation, from which proceeds so much of the enjoyment and purity of domestic life, the Greeks and Romans were little acquainted with those better and finer feelings, which christianity inspires. The Spartans could hardly be said to have an individual existence. They were, in every thing, identified with the State. Marriage was little more, than an institution for keeping up their military establishment: and to this purpose, Lycurgus bimself, designed that it should be made grossly subservient.
At Athens, before the age of Pericles, wives were treated merely as a better kind of servants. From them they differed little in their education. With their female slaves they lived in a secluded part of the house, associating little with each other, and scarcely at all with men, even their nearest relations. Thus ignorant and degraded, the Athenian matrons gradually lost, first the respect of their husbands, and, by unavoidable consequence, their affection. Unhappily there existed at this time at Athens a set of profligate females, whose intellects and manners were more cultivated. To associate with these, became customary, not only for the thoughtless and dissipated, but even for statesmen and philosophers, whose example ought to have inflicted on vice the brand of infamy.
Set free from the restraints of shame, and emboldened by
such examples, licentiousness no'longer courted retirement, but openly asserted claims to general influence and dominion.
That little sanctity was attached to matrimonial contracts, and that conjugal infidelity had become general among the Romans, at the time, when christianity was introduced, appears both from Juvenal and Tacitus. We ought indeed to make great allowances for the liberty, used in poetical satires; but it is impossible to imagine, that any author could have written with the spirit of Juvenal, unless it had been roused by witnessing a general contempt not only of chastity, but decorum.
Tacitus was no poet. From his testimony no deductions are to be made on account of hyperbole or imagination. Yet he speaks of adultery, as a crime which had become common, (culpa inter viros et feminas vulgata.)Tac. Annal. 150.
Nothing gives us a more unfavorable opinion of Roman chastity, than the welcome reception, found by pantomimes and buffoons, both in private families, and on the stage. Of buffoons, Rosinus informs us, there were two kinds; one to give amusement in private circles, and the other on the the
He adds, that on account of the licentiousness of their language, and the indecency of their gestures, they became extremely acceptable to the people. (Rosini. Ant. Rom. 325. Salvian. 185.) This spectacle, new in the time of Augustus, was performed by action alone. It was exhibited, says Gifford, on a magnificent theatre raised for that purpose. It so astonished and delighted the people, that they forsook, in some measure, their tragic and comic poets, for the more expressive ballettes of Pylades and Bathyllus. (Gifford's Juv. 168.) We can form no idea, continues this author, of the attachment of the Romans to these exhibitions. It degenerated into a kind of passion, and occupied their whole souls.
When it is considered, that, by these pantomimes, were represented, before vast and promiscuous assemblies, some
of the worst actions of the heathen gods; and that the actors were held in admiration, not by the common people only, but by persons of high authority, and even by the emperors themselves, it is easily seen how extensively and rapidly the contagion would be communicated, and how insensibly, but inevitably would be dissolved those restraints, which it is the honor of our intellectual and moral natures to feel, to acknowledge, and obey.
It is well known, that a species of impurity, still more flagitious and hateful,was neither unknown or uncommon among the ancient heathen. Xenophen, as quoted by Leland, represents this to have been so common, that it was, in many places, established by the public laws. Aristotle informs us, that, among the Cretans, there was a law encouraging this crime. The law giver of Athens, it is reported, apparently on good evidence, neither passed any general law against this vice, nor was himself pure from its contamination. Cicero, from a passage, contained in his fifth book of Tusculan questions, appears to have considered the Greeks, as generally yielding to it. Nor did the Romans, in this particular, differ from them; as appears undeniably from the second Eclogue of Virgil, from several passages in the writings of Tully, but especially from the Satires of Juvenal. The same abominations are now practised both in China and Japan, where they are accounted neither a crime nor a singularity.
After what has been stated, no one will be surprised, at learning the prevalence of other vices. Those, which have been mentioned, show an entire prostration of moral principle. Open vice, must of course, have been exhibited, just in proportion as interest could be advanced, or passions gratified.
Accordingly we are told by Polybius, as quoted by Dr. Middleton, that the want of integrity, was general among the Greeks. “Those, who managed the public monies in Greece, ihough they have ever so many bonds and sureties for their
behavior, could not be induced to act honestly, or preserve their faith in the case even of a single talent.”
That the Greeks had nothing of those moral restraints, which result from a firm conviction of the divine existence, perfections, and government, and from an expectation of being answerable at a righteous tribunal, has been made sufficiently evident by the testimony of Thucydides, concerning the moral effects, which the plague produced among the Athenians. This testimony was exhibited in a preceding lecture.
As to the moral state of Rome, we may have full satisfaction, from the testimony of them, who were eye witnesses. No one can read Sallust's account of the Jurgurthine and Catalinean wars, without forming a very unfavourable opinion of that nation, both as to private morals and public virtue. He represents it, as sunk in voluptuousness and profligacy. The conspiracy which Cataline formed, was extensive. Men of all ranks were engaged in it. Yet the design was nefarious; and such were the characters, by whom it was supported.
Jugurtha, who well knew, declared, that all things were venal at Rome; and his own power and interest were preserved many years, by bribing the senate, and those generals, who were sent to subdue him.
The works of Horace and Juvenal go directly to evince Roman depravity. No one can read the works of the former, without being convinced, that those, among whom he lived, and of whom he wrote, were emphatically without God in the world. But his severity towards others is not the only evidence, by which we are to judge. As he himself wrote in character, of a moral instructer and without concealing his name; as, moreover he says much in favour of virtue, it is hardly to be supposed, that he thought his own character very far below what might reasonably be expected of a teacher of morals. Yet no one, in the least acquainted with his writings, can doubt, for a moment, of the great impurity and sensuali
ty of his life. His avowed course of living was that of an ingenious, polished, and well taught libertine, who, in expectation of no future state, was determined to get as much of mirth and sensual pleasure, as could be obtained in the short space of mortal existence. Now, if such was the avowed life of one, who wrote much against the dissoluteness of manners, then prevalent, we can have no doubt, that the tone of morals in general was extremely depressed.
The writings of the other Roman satirist are more remarkably to our purpose, than those of Horace. One can scarcely conceive, that vices, so various, so excessive, gross, and nauseating, should, among a people of high refinement,degrade the human character. Whatever of selfishness, cruelty, revenge, or lust, the boldest imagination is able to conceive, was practised among that people, whose power gave law to all nations, and whose literary productions still excite the admiration of the world. Whoever compares the descriptions of Juvenal, with those, contained in the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans, will be forcibly struck with the resemblance. After speaking of crimes, the most unnatural and detestable, the latter proceeds to say, that the Gentiles were filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness ; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity : whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventers of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.
This is no more, than their own poets acknowledge, mentioning, at the same time, the names of persons thus guilty : and using a grossness of language, which the inspired apostle is cautious to avoid.
We are next to consider, more particularly, the morality, prevailing among pagans of later times.
I. In regard to the Chinese, though their external manners, says a late writer, arc marked with the most ceremo nious politeness, and seem to indicate the greatest mildness