Lewis Richard Farnell.

Inaugural lecture of the Wilde lecturer in natural & comparative religion online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellInaugural lecture of the Wilde lecturer in natural & comparative religion → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





< >:;: ORJ

. ' i '. M 1

Price One Shilling net







L. R. FARNELL, D.Lirr.








THE newly-elected holder of a University professorship or
lectureship, before embarking on the course of special
discussion that he has selected, may be allowed or ex-
pected to present some outlined account of the whole
subject that he represents, and to state beforehand, if
possible, the line that he proposes to pursue in regard to
it. This is all the more incumbent on me, as I have the
honour to be the first Wilde Lecturer in Natural and
Comparative Religion the first, that is, who has been
officially charged by the University to give public teach-
ing in the most modern and one of the most difficult fields
of study, one that has already borne copious fruit, and
will bear more in the future. I appreciate highly the
honour of such a charge, and I take this opportunity of
expressing my deep sense of the indebtedness of our
University and of all students of this subject to Dr.
Wilde for his munificent endowment of this branch of
research, which as yet has only found encouragement in
a few Universities of Europe, America, and Japan. I
feel also the responsibility of my charge. Years of
study have shown me the magnitude of the subject, the
pitfalls that here more, perhaps, than in other fields
beset the unwary, and the multiplicity of aspects from


2( 15


which it may be studied. Having no predecessor, I
cannot follow, but may be called upon rather to set, a

One guidance, at least, I have namely, the expressed
wishes of the founder of this post, which I mean loyally
to respect. He has formulated them in such a way that
I feel precluded from what may be called the primitive
anthropology of religion. I shall not, therefore, deal
directly with the embryology of the subject, with merely
savage religious psychology, ritual, or institutions. It is
not that I do not myself feel the fascination of these sub-
jects of inquiry, and their inevitableness for one who
wishes wholly to understand the whole of any one of the
higher world-religions.

But we have already in the University two accom-
plished exponents of these themes Professor Tylor and
Mr. Marett and Dr. Wilde has made his wishes clear
that his lecturer should mainly devote himself to the
analysis, elucidation, and comparison of the higher forms
and ideas in the more advanced religions. And I can
cheerfully accept this limitation, as for years I have been
occupied with the minute study of the religion of Greece,
in which one finds much, indeed, that is primitive, even
savage, but much also of religious thought and religious
ethic, unsuspected by former generations of scholars, that
has become a rich inheritance of our higher culture. He
who wishes to succeed in this new field of arduous inquiry
that I am discussing to-night should have studied at
least one of the higher religions of the old civilization
au fond, and he must have studied it by the comparative
method. He may then make this religion the point of
departure for wide excursions into outlying tracts of the


more or less adjacent religious systems, and he will be
the less likely to lose himself in the maze and tangle of
facts if he can focus the varying light or doubtful glimmer
they afford upon the complex set of phenomena with
which he is already familiar.

And the Greek religion serves better than any other
than I know for such a point of departure, the influences
being so numerous that radiated upon it. It had its own
special inheritance which it fruitfully developed from the
North, from its proto-Aryan past, and which we shall be
able to define with greater clearness when comparative
religion has done its work upon the religious records of
the early Aryan peoples. Also, the Hellene had many
intimate points of contact with earlier and alien peoples
of the ancient Mediterranean culture whom he conquered
and partly absorbed, or with whom he entered into intel-
lectual or commercial relations. Therefore, the religions
^of the Minoan Age, of the Anatolian peoples, of Egypt,
and finally of Babylon and Persia, come inevitably to
attract the student of the Hellenic.

As far, then, as I can see at present, I may have to
limit my attention in the lecture-courses of these three
years during which I fill this post to the phenomena of
the Mediterranean area, and these are more than one
man can thoroughly elucidate in a lifetime, as the mani-
fold activity in various departments of this field attested
by the Transactions of our recent Congress of the History
of Religions will prove to those who read them. And I shall
endeavour in the future to follow out one main problem
through a short series of lectures, as this is the best method
for a reasoned statement of consecutive thought . But I pro-
pose in this lecture to sketch merely in outlines the salient


features of some of the religions of the Mediterranean area,
and hope thereby to indicate the main problems which the
student of comparative religion must try to solve, or the
leading questions he must ask, and thus, perhaps, to be
able to suggest to others as well as to myself special lines
of future research and discussion.

What, then, are the questions which naturally arise
when we approach the study of any religion that has
advanced beyond the primitive stage ? We wish to
discover with definiteness what is the idea of divinity
that it has evolved, in what forms and with what con-
cepts this idea is expressed whether, for instance, the
godhead is conceived as a vague ' numen,' or as a definite
personality with complex character and functions, and
whether it is imagined or presented to sense in anthropo-
morphic forms.

The question whether the religion is monotheistic or
polytheistic is usually answered at a glance, unless the
record is unusually defective ; but in the case of poly-
theism careful inquiry is often needed to answer the other
morphological questions that press themselves upon us,
whether the polytheism is an organized system of co-
ordinated and subordinated powers or a mere medley of
uncorrelated deities. If the former, whether the unifying
tendency has developed in the direction of monotheism
or pantheism.

Again, the study of the attributes and functions
ascribed and the titles attached to the deity will enable
us to answer the questions concerning his relation to the
world of Nature, to the social sphere of law, politics, and
morality ; and irfthis quest we may hope to gain fruitful


suggestions concerning the interaction of religion, social
institution, and ethics. We shall also wish to know
whether the religion is dogmatic or not that is to say,
whether it lays stress on precise theological definitions ;
whether it claims to possess sacred books or a revelation ;
whether it contains the idea of faith as a cardinal virtue.
Further, it is always interesting to consider whether it
has engendered a cosmogony, a theory of the cosmos,
its origin, maintenance, and possible dissolution ; and
whether it is instinctively favourable or antagonistic
to the growth of the scientific spirit, to the free
activity of the intellect ; and, finally, whether it gives
prominence to the belief in the immortality of the
soul and to the doctrine of posthumous rewards and

There are also certain special questions concerning the
nature and powers of the divinity that are found to be of
importance. The distinction of sex in the anthropo-
morphic religions, the paramountcy of the god or the
goddess, is observed to produce a singular effect in religious
psychology, and may be associated with fundamental
differences in social institutions, with the distinction, for
instance, between a patrilinear and a matrilinear society.
As regards the powers attributed to the divinity, we may
endeavour to discern certain laws of progress or evolution
in progressive societies an evolution, perhaps, from a
more material to a more spiritual conception, or, again,
from a belief in divinities finite and mortal to a dogma that
infinity, omniscience, and immortality are their necessary
attributes. On this line of inquiry we are often confronted
with the phenomenon of the death of the god or goddess,
and no single fact in the history of religions is of more
interest and of more weight. Also, we occasionally find


an antagonism between malevolent and benevolent powers,
whence may arise a philosophic conception of dualism in
Nature and the moral world.

There are, further, the questions concerning ritual,
often very minute, but of none the less significance.
What are the forms of worship, sacrifice, prayer, adora-
tion ? As regards sacrifice, is it deprecatory merely, a
bribe to avert wrath, or is it a gift to secure favour, or is
it a token of friendly trust and affection, or a mystic act
of communion which effects between the deity and the
worshipper a temporary union of body and soul ? In the
study of ritual we may consider the position of the priest-
hood, its power over the religion, and through the religion
over the State, and the sources of that power.

This enumeration of the problems is long, but I fear
by no means exhaustive. I have not yet mentioned the
question that may legitimately arise, and is the most
perplexing of all that which is asked concerning the
vital power and influence of a certain religion, its strength
of appeal, its real control of the people's thoughts and
acts. The question, as we know, is difficult enough when
we apply it to modern societies ; it may be quite hopeless
when applied to an ancient State. It is only worth raising
when the record is unusually ample and varied, and of
long continuity ; when we can believe that it enshrines
the thoughts of the people, not merely of the priest or
of the philosopher. We are more likely to believe this
when the record is rich not only in literature, but in

It may also be demanded that the history of religions
should include a history of their decay, and in his brilliant


address at the recent Congress, Professor Petrie has for-
mulated this demand as one that Egyptology might
fulfil. Certainly it belongs to the scientific treatment
of our subject to note the circumstances and operative
causes that induced a certain people to abandon their
ancestral beliefs and cults ; but whether from the careful
study of each special case certain general laws will
emerge by process of induction may be doubted. It will
depend partly on the completeness of our records and
our skill in their interpretation.

I will conclude this sketch of an ideal programme, which
I, at least, can never hope to make actual, with one last
query It is the main object of this comparative study
to answer the inquiry as to the reciprocal influences of
adjacent religions, to distinguish between the alien and
the native elements in any particular system to estimate,
for instance, what Greece owed to Babylon, to Egypt, to
.India ? Certainly the problem is proper to our province,
is attractive, and even hopeful, and I may even dare at
a later stage to approach it myself. But I should hesitate
to allow that it is the main one, and that the value of our
study is to be measured by our success in solving it ;
for, whatever answer we finally give to such questions,
or if we abandon in despair the attempt to answer them
precisely, it is none the less fruitful to compare the Baby-
lonian, Indo-Iranian, Egyptian, and Hellenic systems of
belief for instance, to consider the Orphic eschatology
in relation to the Buddhistic, even if we reject the theory
that Buddhistic influences could have penetrated into
early Orphism.

I will now sketch what I have perceived to be the
higher elements or more developed features in Hellenic



religion, and will consider in regard to each of these how
it contrasts with or resembles the cults of the other
leading peoples of this area. The Hellenic high divinity
is, in the first place, no mere shadowy ' numen,' no vague
spirit-power or semi-personal divine force, such as the
old Roman belief often seems to present us with, nor is
he usually conceived as a divine element perceived as
immanent in certain things ; but he appears as a concrete
personal individual of definite physical traits and com-
plex moral nature. Vaguer and cruder ideas no doubt
survived right through the historic period, and the primi-
tive Hellene may once have lived in the religious phase
of thought in which the personal god has not yet emerged
or not yet been detached from the phenomenon or the
world of living matter. But I believe that the Greek of
the historic, and even of the Homeric, period had left this
phase far more remotely behind him than certain modern
theorists have lightly supposed, and I am inclined to
affirm that the proto-Hellenic tribes had already before
the conquest of Greece developed the cult of certain per-
sonal deities, and that some, at least, of these were the
common heritage of several tribes. It is quite possible
that before they crossed the northern frontier of Greece
they found such divinities among their Aryan kinsfolk
of Thrace, and it is certain that this was the type of
religion that they would mainly find among the peoples
of the Minoan-Mycenaean culture.

We discern it also, where the record allows us to discern
anything, among the nearer and remoter stocks of the
Asiatic side of the Mediterranean area. In the Zend-
Avesta, the sacred books of the Persian religion, Ahura-
Mazda is presented as a noble ethical figure, a concrete
personal god, like Jahwe of Israel, whatever his original


physical significance may have been. Marduk of Baby-
lon, whom Hammurabi, the consolidator of the Babylonian
power, raised to the rank of the high god, may once have
been a sun-god, but he transcended his elemental nature,
and appears in the records of the third millennium as a
political deity, the war-god, and leader of the people, as
real a personality as Hammurabi himself. The same is
true of Asshur, once the local deity of the aboriginal
land of the Assyrians, but later raised by the imperial
expansion of this people almost to the position of a
universal god, the guardian of the land, the teacher and
the father of the kings ; nor can we discern that he was
ever an elemental god.

Speaking generally, in spite of many important differ-
ences, we may regard the religious structure to which the
cults of Anatolia and Egypt belonged as morphologically
the same as that which I am defining as Hellenic. Also,
among all these peoples, by the side of the few higher


deities who have developed moral personalities, we find
special elemental divinities, as, in Hellas, we find Helios
and the deities of the wind, Hephaistos the fire-god.

The distinction between the religions of the Hellenes
and ' the barbarians,' which Aristophanes defines as the
difference between the worship of ideal divine personages,
such as Zeus, Apollo, and Demeter, and the direct worship
of elementary powers, such as sun and moon, is not borne
out by modern research. Where we find sun-worship or
moon-worship in the East, it does not appear to have
been directed immediately to the thing itself regarded
as a living or animate body, but to a personal god of the
sun or the moon Bel, Schamash, or Sin. We can only
distinguish the Greek from the Oriental in respect of

2 2


Nature-religion by the lesser degree of devotion that the
Hellene showed to it. Only those of his divinities whose
names connoted nothing in the material or natural world
could develop into free moral personalities, and dominate
the religious imagination of the people. Nowhere, for
instance, had Helios any high position in the Greek world
except at Rhodes, where we must reckon with pre-
Hellenic, Minoan, and later with Semitic influences.
Therefore, when, shortly before and after the beginning
of the Grasco-Roman period, a wave of sun-worship welled
from the East over the West, it may have brought with
it religious ideas of high spirituality and ethical purity,
yet by the race-consciousness of the Hellenes it must
have been judged to be a regress towards a barbaric

The instinct of the Greek in his creation of divine forms
shows always a bias towards the personal and the indi-
vidual, an aversion to the amorphous and vague, and
herein we may contrast him with the Persian and Egyp-
tian. A certain minor phenomenon in these religions
will illustrate and attest this. All of them admitted by
the side of the high personal deities certain subordinate
personages less sharply conceived, divine emanations, as
we may sometimes call them, or personifications of moral
or abstract ideas. Plutarch specially mentions the
Persian worship of Truth, Good-will, Law-abidingness,
Wisdom, emanations of Ahura Mazda, which in the light
of the sacred books we may, perhaps, interpret as the
Fravashis or Soul-powers of the High God ; and in certain
Egyptian myths and religious records we hear of a per-
sonification of Truth, whose statue is described by the
same writer. But at least in the Persian system we may
suspect that such divine beings had little concrete per-


sonality, but, rather, were conceived vaguely as daimoniac
forces, special activities of divine force in the invisible
world. Now the Greek of the period when we really
know him seems to have been mentally unable to allow
his consciousness of these things or these forces to remain
just at that point. Once, no doubt, it was after this
fashion that his ancestors dimly imagined Eros, or the
half -personal Curse-power 'Apd ; but he himself could only
cherish Eros under the finished and concrete form of a
beautiful personal god, and the curse was only vitalized
for him when it took on the form of the personal Erinys.
This topic is a fruitful one, and I hope to develop it on a
later occasion.

It suggests what is now the next matter I wish to
touch on the comparison of the Mediterranean religions
in respect of their anthropomorphism. Philosophically,
the term might be censured as failing to distinguish any
special type of religion ; for we should all admit that
man can only envisage the unseen world in forms in-
telligible to his own mind and reflecting his own mental
structure. But, apart from this truism, we find that
religions differ essentially and vitally according as this
anthropomorphism is vague and indefinite or sharply
defined and dominating ; according as they picture the
divinity as the exact though idealized counterpart of man,
and construct the divine society purely on the lines of
the human, or refrain from doing this either through
weakness and obscurity of imagination or in deference
to a different and perhaps more elevated law of the
religious intellect. Now, of the Hellenic religion no feature
is so salient as its anthropomorphism, and throughout its
whole development and career the anthropomorphic
principle has been more dominating and imperious than


it has ever been found to be in other religions.* At
what remote period in the evolution of the Hellenic mind
this principle began in force, what were the influences
that fostered and strengthened it, in what various ways
it shaped the religious history of the Hellenic people, are
questions that I may be able to treat more in detail in
a future course. But there are two important pheno-
mena that I will indicate now, which we must associate
with it, and which afford us an illuminating point of view
from which we may contrast the Greek world and the
Oriental. In the first place, the anthropomorphic prin-
ciple, combining with an artistic faculty the highest that
the world has known, produced in Greece a unique form
of idolatry ; and, in the second place, in consequence
chiefly of this idolatry, the purely Hellenic religion re-
mained almost incapable of that which we call mysticism.

Now, much remains still to be thought out, especially
for those interested in Mediterranean culture, concerning
the influence of idolatry on religion ; and not only the
history, but the psychology of religion, must note and
estimate the influence of religious art. It may well be
that the primitive Greeks, like the primitive Roman, the
early Teuton, and Indo-Iranian stocks, were non-idola-
trous, and this appears to have been true to some extent
of the Minoan culture. Nevertheless, the Mediterranean
area has from time immemorial been the centre of the
fabric and the worship of the eikon and the idol. The
impulse may have come from the East or from Egypt to
the Hellene ; he in his turn imparted it to the Indian
Aryans, as we now know, and in great measure at least
to the Roman, just as the Assyrian-Babylonian temple-

* I am aware that there are exceptions to this principle, which I
propose to consider in a future course ; no single formula can ever
sum up all the phenomena of a complex religion.


worship imparted it to the Persian. Nowhere, we may
well believe, has the influence of idolatry been so strong
upon the religious temperament as it was upon that of
the Hellenes ; for to it they owed works of the type that
may be called the human-divine which surpass any other
art-achievement of man's.

I can here only indicate briefly its main effects. It
intensified the perception of the real personal god as a
material fact. It increased polytheism by multiplying
the separate figures of worship, often, perhaps, without
intention. It assisted the imagination to discard what
was uncouth and terrifying in the Hellenic religion, and
was at once the effect and the cause of the attachment
of the Hellenic mind towards mild and gracious types of
godhead. The aniconic emblem and uncouth fetich-
formed figures were here and there retained, because of
vague ideas about luck or for superstitious fetichistic
reasons ; but the beautiful idol was cherished because it


could arouse the enthusiastic affection of a sensitive
people, and could bring them to the very presence of a
friendly divine person. The saying that the Olympian
deities died of their own loveliness means a wrong inter-
pretation of the facts and the people. But for a beautiful
idolatry, Hellenic polytheism would have passed away
some centuries before it did, the deities fading into alien
types or becoming fused one with the other. Nor was
its force and influence exhausted by the introduction of
Christianity, for it shaped the destinies of the Greek
Church, and threw down a victorious challenge to the
iconoclastic Emperors.

If now we were to look across the Mediterranean, and
could survey the religious monuments of Persia, Assyria


and Babylonia, Phoenicia, and the Hittite people, we should
find a general acceptance of the anthropomorphic idea.
The high personal deities are represented mainly in
human form, but the art is not able to interpret the poly-
theistic beliefs with skilfully differentiated types. In
Chaldaic and Assyrian art one type of countenance is
used for various divinities, and this such as might inspire
terror rather than affection. And the anthropomorphism
is unstable. Often animal traits appear in parts of the
divine figure. The ineffable Ahura-Mazda is half-bird,
half-man ; Nergal has a lion's head ; even the warrior
Marduk is invoked in the mystic incantations as ' Black
Bull of the Deep, Lion of the dark house.'* In fact, over
a large part of anterior Asia, anthropomorphism and
theriomorphism exist side by side in religious concept
and religious art. We may say the same of Egypt, but
here theriomorphism is the dominating factor.

As regards the explanation of this phenomenon, many
questions are involved which are outside my present

1 3

Online LibraryLewis Richard FarnellInaugural lecture of the Wilde lecturer in natural & comparative religion → online text (page 1 of 3)