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89 From this it may be gathered that the Egyptian religion did Ceremo
nies, creeds, not remain a mere speculative subject, but was enforced on oracles, the people by the most solemn ceremonies. Moreover, in the prophecy. great temples, grand processional services were celebrated, the precursors of some that still endure. There were sacrifices of meat-offerings, libations, incense. The national double creed, adapted in one branch to the vulgar, in the other to the learned, necessarily implied mysteries : some of these were avowedly transported to Greece. The machinery of oracles was resorted to: the Greek oracles were of Egyptian origin. So profound was the respect paid to their commands that even the sovereigns were obliged to obey them. It was thus that a warning from the oracle of Amun caused Necho to stop the construction of his canal. For the determination of future events, omens were studied, entrails inspected, and nativities were cast.
Origin of Greek phi. losophy.
N Chapter II. I have described the origin and decline of
Greek Mythology; in this, I am to relate the first European attempt at philosophizing. The Ionian systems spring directly out of the contemporary religious opinions, and appear as a phase in Greek comparative theology.
Contrasted with the psychical condition of India, we cannot but be struck with the feebleness of these first European efforts. They correspond to that moment in which the mind has shaken off its ideas of sorcery, but has not advanced beyond geocentral and anthropocentral conceptions. As is uniformly observed, as soon as a man has collected what he considers to be reliable data, he forthwith applies them to a cosmogony, and developes pseudo-scientific systems. It is not until a later period that he awakens to the suspicion that we have no absolute knowledge of truth.
The reader, who might perhaps be repelled by the apparent worthlessness of the succession of Greek opinions now to be described, will find them assume an interest, if considered in the aggregate, or viewed as a series of steps or stages of European approach to conclusions long before arrived at in Egypt and India. Far in advance of anything that Greece can offer, the intellectual history of India furnishes systems at once consistent and imposing,-systems not remaining useless speculations, but becoming inwoven in social life.
Greek philosophy is considered as having originated with
ces in Asia
The Philosophy of Thales.
91 Thales, who, though of Phænician descent, was born at Mile- Commen: tus, a Greek colony in Asia Minor, about 1.c. 640. At that Minor. time, as related in the last Chapter, the Egyptian ports had been opened to foreigners by Psammetichus. In the civil war which that monarch had been waging with his colleagues, he owed his success to the Ionian and other Greek mercenaries whom he had employed; but though proving victor in the contest, his political position was such as to compel him to depart from the maxims followed in his country
years, and to permit foreigners to have access to it. Hitherto the Europeans had been only known to the Egyptians as pirates and cannibals.
From the doctrine of Thales, it may be inferred that, though Doctrine of he had visited Egypt, he had never been in communication with its sources of learning, but had merely mingled among the vulgar, from whom he had gathered the popular notion that the first principle is water. The state of things in Egypt suggests that this primitive dogma of European philosophy was a is derived
from Egypt. popular notion in that country. With but little care on the part of men, the fertilizing Nile-water yielded those abundant crops which made Egypt the granary of the Old World. It might therefore be said, both philosophically and facetiously, that the first principle of all things is water. The harvests Importance depended on it, and, through them, animals and man. government of the country was supported by it, for the financial system was founded on a tax paid by the proprietors of the land for the use of the public sluices and aqueducts. There was not a peasant to whom it was not apparent that water is the first principle of all things, even of taxation; and, since it was not only necessary to survey lands to ascertain the surface that had been irrigated, but to redetermine their boundaries after the subsidence of the flood, even the scribes and surveyors might concede that geometry itself was indebted for its origin to water.
If, therefore, in any part of the Old World, this doctrine had both a vulgar and a philosophical significance, that country was Egypt. We may picture to ourselves the inquisitive but ill-instructed Thales carried in some pirate-ship or trading
of water in
bark to the mysterious Nile, respecting which Ionia was full of legends and myths. He saw the aqueducts, canals, flood-gates, the great Lake Mæris, dug by the hand of man as many ages before his day as have elapsed from his day to ours; he saw on all sides the adoration paid to the river, for it had actually
become deified; he learned from the vulgar, with whom alone Thales as. he came in contact, their universal belief that all things water is the arise from water,-- from the vulgar alone, for, had he ever been first principle.
taught by the priests, we should have found traces in his system of the doctrines of emanation, transmigration, and absorption, imported into Greece in later times. We may interpret the story of Thales on the principles which would apply in the case of some intelligent Indian who should find his way to the outposts of a civilized country. Imperfectly acquainted with the language, and coming in contact with the lower classes alone, he might learn their vulgar philosophy, and carry back the fancied treasure to his home.
As to the profound meaning some have been disposed to extract from the dogma of Thales, we shall perhaps be warranted in rejecting it altogether. It has been affirmed that he attempted to concentrate all supernatural powers in one; to reduce all possible agents to unity ; in short, out of polytheism to bring forth monotheism ; to determine the invariable in the variable; and to ascertain the beginning of things : that be observed how infinite is the sea; how necessary moisture is to growth; nay, even how essential it was to the well-being of himself; "that without moisture his own body would not have been what it was, but a dry husk falling to pieces.” Nor can we adopt the opinion that the intention of Thales was to establish a coincidence between philosophy and the popular theology as delivered by Hesiod, who affirms that Oceanus is one of the parent-gods of Nature. The imputation of irreligion made against him shows at what an early period the antagonism of polytheism and scientific inquiry was recognized. But it is possible to believe that all things are formed out of one primordial substance, without denying the existence of a creative power: or, to use the Indian illustration, the clay is not the potter.
Thales is said to have predicted the solar eclipse which ter- Other docminated a battle between the Medes and Lydians; but it has Thales. been suggestively remarked that it is not stated that he predicted the day on which it should occur. He had an idea that warmth originates from, or is nourished by humidity, and that even the sun and stars derived their aliment out of the sea at the time of their rising and setting. Indeed, he regarded them as living beings; obtaining an argument from the phenomena of amber and the magnet, supposed by him to possess a living soul, because they have a moving force. Moreover, he taught that the whole world is an insouled thing, and that it is full of demons. Thales had, therefore, not completely passed out of the stage of sorcery.
His system obtained importance not only from its own plausibility but because it was introduced under favourable auspices and at a favourable time. It came into Asia Minor as a portion of the wisdom of Egypt, and therefore with a prestige sufficient to assure for it an attentive reception. But this would have been of little avail had not the mental culture of Ionia been advanced to a degree suitable for offering to it conditions of developement. Under such circumstances the Egyptian dogma formed the starting-point for a special method of philosophizing. The manner in which that developement took place illus. They con.
stitute the trates the vigour of the Grecian mind. In Egypt a doctrine startingmight exist for thousands of years, protected by its mere anti- point philoquity from controversy or even examination, and hence sink sophy. with the lapse of time into an ineffectual and lifeless state; but the same doctrine brought into a young community full of activity would quickly be made productive and yield new results. As seeds taken from the coffins of mummies, wherein they have been shut up for thousands of years, when placed under circumstances favourable for developement in a rich soil, and supplied with moisture, have forthwith, even in our own times, germinated, borne flowers, and matured new seeds, so the rude philosophy of Thales passed through a like developement. Its tendency is shown in the attempt it had once made to describe the universe, even before the parts thereof had been determined.