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The cause probably was a great drought uncommonly prólonged, and it is well known that Egypt very often suffers from this cause.
I am yours, &c. 1755, June.
XX. Biblical Difficulty obviated.
MR. URBAN, THE annotation of Genesis xlv. in your Magazine of June last, has led me to take notice of another passage of scripture, which depe
same event, to wit, the inundation of the Nile, and may seem to want a word of explanation. The sacred historian, a writer cotemporary with the fact, and actually residing in the country at the time, after speaking of the plague of hail, and the terrible devastations committed by it, Exodus ix, observes at verse 31, 32, “And the flax and the barley were smitten; for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled. But the wheat and the rye were not smitten; for they were not grown up.” That the barley should be forwarder than the wheat and rye, is so contrary to the ideas we now have of agriculture, especially in this country, where we yearly see the reverse, that this text is a great block in the way of the honest husbandman, and, I presume, of many others. But let it be considered, that our hard corn, as it is called, is sown here before Christmas; this necessarily gives it the start of our common barley, which is seldom thrown into the ground till April or May. But the case in Egypt, of which the author is here speaking, was very different; for there the grain of wheat and barley and rye were all sown at one time, to wit, as soon as the lands were ready after the retreat of the river. Barley then being a corn of a much quicker growth than either wheat or rye, it would of course be forwarder than them, and might be in the ear before they were grown up; or as it is in the Hebrew, (see the margin of our translation ) whilst they were hidden; by which we are not to understand hidden in the ground, but within the stem or stalk, and consequently were near upon shooting, but not shot. See Bishop Patrick
upon That the barley harvest was the first in other warın climates, as well as Egypt, appears from 2 Samuel, xxi. 9.'
where it is said, “And they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest,” which at verse 10. is expressed more generally, the beginning of harvest.
Yours, &c. 1755, July.
XXI. Ancient and fabulous History not always allegorical.
MR. URBAN, THE mythologists, in explaining the fabulous histories of the ancient Greeks and Romans, are very apt to run into physicalities and moralities. This is the case of Natalis Comes, the French authors, and indeed of most others, except Jac. Tollius, who chose to resolve them into the art of chemistry. I cannot but say, it is natural enough to fall into this way of interpretation, for besides the labours of Porphyry in this kind, and that the Roman poet points it out to us so very plainly, where speaking of Orpheus, he says,
Silvestres homines sacer interpresque deorum
Hor. A. P. 391, seg.
I say, besides this, you can hardly relate any fact, in the way of narrative, that is not capable of having some plausible turn, either physical or moral, given to it, and, in some cases, perhaps both. And yet I think it would be wrong to be always harping upon these strings, because, as I apprehend, there is one branch of mythology, to wit, that of the frequent metamorphoses to be met with in Ovid and other writers, which in a great measure took its original from another cause, namely, from the mere wanton and luxuriant genius of the Greeks, without any regard had either to morality or natural causes and effects. This nation, being endowed with a great fertility of invention, being naturally fond of the marvellous, and by no means incommoded by: any strictness of attachment unto truth, devised a fable very easily, either for the origin of a flower, or a bird, or a beast; in the doing of which they seem to have had no other;
view, but to please and to amuse the fancy, by imagining a hero or a nymph of the name of those flowers and animals, and then equipping them with some entertaining and well
To this observation, Sir, I was led by reflecting, that the names of these heroes and nymphs are no other than the appellative or common names of those plants and animals, and consequently were assumed, feigned, and invented from them. This, Sir, is the ground of my assertion, which at this time may be made good in many instances, and perhaps at the first might have been proved in all and every
After the flood, the stones which Deucalion threw over his head became men, and those that Pyrrha cast became women, all because nãs in the Greek signifies a stone, and rads a people, as is observed by Hyginus, whose words are, eam rem laos dictus; las enim Græce lapis dicitur.” Hyginus, p. 224. edit. Munkeri, where see the annotation.
Lycaon was turned for his barbarity into a wolf; the word aúxos signifies a wolf, and so did the word lycaon, for though we do not find it in our lexicons now, yet there is reason to think it an ancient Greek word; for Pliny, who wrote chiefly from the Greeks, tells us in his Nat. Hist. lib. viii. c. 34. that the Lycaon, or Indian wolf, changed his colours,
Daphne, beloved by Apollo, was changed into a laurel; the case is, Akorn is the Greek word for the laurus; and I do not find that they had any other word for this tree.
The like observation I make as to the Narcissus, into which, according to Ovid, a certain young man, who was a great admirer of himself, was turned. The Greeks had no other name for this flower but Napxuosos.
The same may be said of the Hyacinth.
Philomela was changed into a nightingale; now Philomela, in Greek Ornojeýan, is one of the names of that bird, as is plain from Virgil, Georg. iv. 5. 11, and is clearly an appellative adapted to the known property of the bird; for it signifies a lover of melody. This shews, that the name of the lady was borrowed from the bird, and her story invented for the sake of countenancing the change.
But as strong a case as any is that of the nymph Syrinx : Pan was the inventor of the Syrinx, an instrument of music consisting of a variety of reeds.
Pan primus calamos cera conjungere plures
He was also very expert in playing on this instrument.
Virg. Ecl. ii. Now how did the Grecian fancy dress up all this? Why, Syrinx, according to them, was a beautiful nymph, Pan became enamoured of her, she ran away to avoid so disagreeable a lover, and coming to a river, she prayed the Naiades to change her into a bundle of reeds just as the god was going to lay hold of her, who thereupon caught the reeds in his arms instead of her. These reeds being moved backward and forward by his sighs, afforded a musical, though a mournful sound, whereupon Pan cut them down and made them into pipes. A very pretty tale this, all imagined from the name given by the ancients to this instrument, and that it was originally composed of reeds.
Yours, &c. 1755, Sept.
MR. URBAN, ANOTHER branch of the ancient mythology, which it would be absurd to decypher, either by a physical or moral interpretation, is the frequent allusions to very remote history: such as the important events which have really happened in the old time to the body or bulk of this terraqueous globe. The name of Phaeton in Greek, Quétwv, which signifies lucidus, is plainly given to the son of Clymene from the event. It is also an epithet of Apollo, considered as the
There is no metamorphosis indeed in the case of Phaeton, but his story is nevertheless observable on account of the event it may be supposed to allude to, and which, I think, wants pointing out.
Now it is very certain that Ovid, who had been so conversant with the Greek writers, had either seen the Greek version of the Bible himself, or had made use of authors that had extracted much from it. This last is perhaps the most probable. The account he gives in his first book of the chaos, the formation of man, the golden age, the giants, their attempt against heaven, the wickedness of man, and the deluge consequent upon it, are evidently adumbrated from the Jewish scriptures. Now, the story of Phaeton implies an event as general as that of the food, from whence one would incline to imagine it to have been taken
by somebody from the History of the Bible; but quære, from what part of that book? Perhaps from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or, as I rather think, from the sun's standing still in the time of Joshua. What induces me to fix upon this fact, preferable to the other, is, that the effect, though not so violent, yet was of far more universal extent. And if this astonishing miracle happened about mid-day, and in the month of June, according to Lyra, an intense heat of the sun for twenty-four hours (which is what I understand by a whole day) superadded to what would be naturally produced on a common day at that time of the year, might very well, in the warm regions of the east, bę attended with some very singular circumstances, and enough, if transmitted, as the like events usually were, with a traditional aggravation, to give rise to a fable. However, either of these portions of sacred history afford a better ground for the story of Phaeton than that suggested in the Pantheon, to wit, a great fire that happened in Italy near the Po, in the time of King Phaeton.
XXII. Virgil illustrated.
MR. URBAN, I HAVE always been of opinion, that there is no such thing as understanding our ancient authors, whether sacred or profane, without a competent knowledge of antiquity; without an almost exact acquaintance with the manners and customs, the funeral and religious ceremonies, the habits, &c. of the several ancients, whose writings we are daily perusing; as likewise of the attributes and representations of their deities. They who make the tour of Italy have a noble opportunity of laying in a rich stock of this most useful branch of knowledge, from those excellent originals of gems and statues they are so often favoured with the sight of; and when I consider what a multitude of passages in Virgil, and Horace, and Juvenal, were illustrated by the late Mr. Addison, (who set out with an immense fund of classical learning) both in his Travels and his Treatise on Medals, I cannot but envy those who are repairing into the same climate, at a time when it has been enriched with the recent discoveries at Herculaneum. What led me to these reflections