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Christian era, according to the received chronology, or in the ninth, according to more recent investigations—to the estimation in which serpents were held in his time by the Phænicians and the Egyptians. He says:
“ Taautus attributed a certain divine nature to dragons and serpents, an opinion which was afterwards adopted both by the Phænicians and the Egyptians. He teaches that this genus of animals abounds in force and spirit more than any other reptiles; that there is something fiery in their nature; and, though possessing neither feet nor any external members for motion common to other ls, yet they are more rapid in their motion than any others. Not only has it the power of renewing its youth, but in doing so it receives an increase of size and strength, so that after having run through a certain term of years it is again absorbed within itself. For these reasons, this class of animals were admitted into temples, and used in sacred mysteries. By the Phænicians they were called “the good dæmon,” which was the term also applied by the Egyptians to Cneph, who added to him the head of a hawk to symbolize the vivacity of that bird.”
We quote this paragraph to prove the antiquity of serpentworship among the Canaanites (though there is evidence to carry it much very further back), but not as testimony to the object or the origin of that worship. It may well have been the case that the peculiar qualities of the reptile here alluded to may have procured for it additional honors, but the cause of the worship is more deeply rooted, as we shall see further on. We content ourselves, at present, with disputing the soundness of Sanchoniathon's deduction that "for these reasons this class of animals were admitted into temples.” The truth is, that the worship of the serpent had its origin in symbolism, and not in the reverencing of certain peculiarities of the reptile. It was common to human nature, and not to the perceptions or the imagination of any one nation or religious teacher. Thus, although Herodotus tells us that Hercules is said to have been the progenitor of the whole race of serpent-worshipping Scythians through his intercourse with the serpent-maiden, Echidna,* it is well known that the
* Herodotus, iv, 9.
ancient Turanian race, of whom a large substratum of the aboriginal population of Greece consisted, worshipped the serpent from the remotest antiquity. In fact, there was a period long anterior to the time of Hercules, when serpentworship was universal. Lucan refers to this in his lines, _*
“Nos quoque, qui cunctis innoxia Numina terris
Serpitis, aurato nitidi fulgore, Dracones.” Mr. Deane, whose work is disfigured by his persistent endeavors to force every fact which he has picked up to fit in with his theory respecting the fall of
ting the fall of man, has collected a great deal of evidence in corroboration of the universality of serpent-worship in the most ancient times; and, when we consider that it prevailed among the races from whom the different European nations are descended, it is no wonder that traces of it should be found in countries where we should least expect to find it; such as Sweden, Germany, and England. That the Pelasgic inhabitants of Greece and Asia Minor, the first inhabitants of these lands, were addicted to it, may be inferred from many of their myths. One of the oldest of these is that of the destruction of the serpent Python by the god Apollo. This Python is described as being a vast dragon, “a son of the earth,” which gave responses from the oracle in Mount Parnassus,t though Lucian says that a virgin delivered the oracle, and a dragon spoke from under the tripod. This speaking, on the part of the dragon or serpent, was, of course, a trick of the priests ; but it shows that the people believed in the serpent or dragon. There seems to be no real or scientific difference between the Greek words A páuwv and "Opis, except that the former is applied to the larger and the latter to the smaller kind of snakes. The Latins, however, appear to have distinguished them by the words anguis, serpens, and draco, according to the popular definition—" Anguis aquarum, Serpens ter
• Pharsalia, lib. ix, 727.
rarum, Draco templorum ;” or, as we should put it, when a water-snake was spoken of, it was called an eel; when a land-snake, it was called a serpent; and when a snake was employed in a temple, it was called a dragon ; but this word “ dragon," so applied, must not be understood to mean the flying-monster of mythology and of the early Christian legends.* The popular belief among the Greeks in the wisdom of serpents, and especially in reference to this oracular Python, is evidenced by the existence of a circular grove in Epirus, which was surrounded by a wall; in it serpents were kept, which, it was said, were descendants of the great Python of Delphi, and were dedicated to Apollo. On the great festival of the year, a virgin priestess entered the grove, naked, holding in her hand the sacred food. If the serpents took the food readily, a fruitful harvest and a plentiful year were sure to follow; if they refused, it was considered the gloomiest of auguries.t A similar custom prevailed at Lanuvium, a place situated sixteen miles south of Rome, where there was a large, dark grove, and near it a temple of Juno. In this grove was a deep cave, the abode of a great serpent, and the virgins of Latium were taken there annually to offer food to it. If the reptile accepted it, their purity was considered established, and a good season was expected. But the actual worship of the serpent was not formally established in Italy until the year 462 before Christ, when an embassy was sent from Rome to Epidaurus to obtain the sacred snake, and the reptile was received with divine honors by the populace of Rome, who believed it had power to stay the plague which was then desolating the city. This well-authenticated fact proves that the people were disposed to adopt the new deity, whence it may be inferred that the worship of it was known to them, and had probably been practised by them long previously.
* Fergusson, Introductory Essay, p. 13 n. + Elian. de Animal, xi, 2.
Propertius, Eleg. viii, 4. & Valerius Maximus, 1,8–2. A. Victor, xxii, 1.
The learned Bryant supposes that serpent-worship was first practised in Chaldæa, and that it was a variation of Sabæism, or the primitive worship of the sun, moon, and stars.* In proof of this he cites the fact, mentioned by Macrobius,t that the serpent was the sacred symbol of Sabeism. There is, however, very little evidence of its having been practised by the Babylonians ; both Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus are silent on the subject, except that the latter tells us that in the temple of Belus there was an image of the goddess Rhea, sitting on a golden throne, and near her were very large silver serpents, each thirty talents in weight; also an image of Juno, holding the head of a serpent in her right hand. In the absence of direct testimony, Mr. Deane has recourse to etymology, which, he contends, displays an intimate connection between serpent-worship and the names of gods, men, and places. Thus the name of the Babylonian deity Bel, which is supposed to mean “Lord,” is, he supposes, derived from the Hebrew or, rather, the Semitic, words Ob and El, the former signifying a serpent, and the latter god; hence the name means the serpent-god. We confess to believing that he has purposely strained a point here to suit his favorite hobby. The word is also, and more correctly, written Baal or Bal, and is found in numerous compounded names of places and men more or less connected with the worship of fire ; such as Balthazar, Balbec, Asdrubal, Hannibal, Ithobal; and in the Irish names Ballina, Ballyshannon, and the like; where it signifies lord of fire, or
the word Belzebub signifies " lord of flies;" Belshazzar, “ lord or master of treasure.” However, Bryant says the Greeks called Bel BEAAP and BEALAA, which Hesychius translates “a great serpent.” It appears to be a compound of the Hebrew words Bel and Aur, “the lord of light;” i. e., of the sun.
the sun ;
+ Saturnalia, lib. i, c. 20.
• Ant. Mythology, vol. ii, p. 458.
Lib. ii, s. 70.
The Hebrew or Chaldean terminal On is also significant in this context. It signifies "sorrow," "strength,” “ iniquity.” It is found in the word Abaddon, “the prince of iniquity,” which is, by Deane, said to mean “the serpent lord,"'* but it is probably derived from the Persian word Zon, the sun. The Greeks added it to their word Apollyon, “the destroyer,” (Apollo and Au, whence Anollwr). St. John says that the two names have the same meaning. “They had a king over them, who is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name, in the Hebrew tongue, is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.”+ Eusebius says that the Persians worshipped the first principles under the form of serpents, having dedicated to them temples in which they performed sacrifices, and held festivals and orgies, esteeming them the greatest of gods and governors of the universe. [ Ormaizd and Ahriman were represented as serpents standing on their tails, contending for the egg, which represents the world, into which they have fixed their teeth. In the Zendavesta, Ahriman, the principle of evil, is represented as having assumed a serpent's form to destroy the first of the human species, whom he accordingly poisoned.Ş The Persian god Mithra was represented encircled by a serpent; so was their god Azon, who was, perhaps, identical with Mithra ; and in some of the ruined temples of Persia may be traced the figures of men worshipping the sun, fire, and a serpent. ||
The serpent plays a conspicuous part in the Hindoo mythology. It was used in the religious festivals of the Hindoos. Religious honors were paid to it; and, in some parts of Hindustan, it was a capital crime to destroy snakes. The Hindoo god Sani is represented as encircled by two serpents, and the goddess Devi assumed the form of one when she carried Vishnu over the waters of the Deluge. Vishnu himself is sometimes seen sleeping on a coiled snake, and sometimes
* p. 45.
+ Revelation, ix, 11. & Faber, Hor. Mos., 1, 72.
| Præp. Evang., i, 42. | Bryant, Anal., i, 276.