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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 25
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    Chapter XXV
    The Infernal Regions The Sibyl

    At the commencement of our series we have given the pagan account
    of the creation of the world, so as we approach its conclusion,
    we present a view of the regions of the dead, depicted by one of
    their most enlightened poets, who drew his doctrines from their
    most esteemed philosophers. The region where Virgil places the
    entrance into this abode, is perhaps the most strikingly adapted
    to excite ideas of the terrific and preternatural of any on the
    face of the earth. It is the volcanic region near Vesuvius,
    where the whole country is cleft with chasms from which
    sulphurous flames arise, while the ground is shaken with pent-up
    vapors, and mysterious sounds issue from the bowels of the earth.
    The lake Avernus is supposed to fill the crater of an extinct
    volcano. It is circular, half a mile wide, and very deep,
    surrounded by high banks, which in Virgil's time were covered
    with a gloomy forest. Mephitic vapors rise from its waters, so
    that no life is found on its banks, and no birds fly over it.
    Here, according to the poet, was the cave which afforded access
    to the infernal regions, and here AEneas offered sacrifices to
    the infernal deities, Proserpine, Hecate, and the Furies. Then a
    roaring was heard in the earth, the woods on the hill-tops were
    shaken, and the howling of dogs announced the approach of the
    deities. "Now," said the Sibyl, "summon up your courage, for you
    will need it." She descended into the cave, and AEneas followed.
    Before the threshold of Hades they passed through a group of
    beings who are Griefs and avenging Cares, pale Diseases and
    melancholy Age, Fear and Hunger that tempt to crime, Toil,
    Poverty, and Death, forms horrible to view. The Furies spread
    their couches there, and Discord, whose hair was of vipers tied
    up with a bloody fillet. Here also were the monsters, Briareus
    with his hundred arms, Hydras hissing, and Chimaeras breathing
    fire. AEneas shuddered at the sight, drew his sword and would
    have struck, had not the Sibyl restrained him. They then came to
    the black river Cocytus, where they found the ferryman, Charon,
    old and squalid, but strong and vigorous, who was receiving
    passengers of all kinds into his boat, high-souled heroes, boys
    and unmarried girls as numerous as the leaves that fall at
    autumn, or the flocks that fly southward at the approach of
    winter. They stood pressing for a passage, and longing to touch
    the opposite shore. But the stern ferryman took in only such as
    he chose, driving the rest back. AEneas, wondering at the sight,
    asked the Sibyl, "Why this discrimination?: She answered, "Those
    who are taken on board the bark are the souls of those who have
    received due burial rites; the host of others who have remained
    unburied, are not permitted to pass the flood, but wander a
    hundred years, and flit to and fro about the shore, till at last
    they are taken over." AEneas grieved at recollecting some of his
    own companions who had perished in the storm. At that moment he
    beheld Palinurus, his pilot, who fell overboard and was drowned.
    He addressed him and asked him the cause of his misfortune.
    Palinurus replied that the rudder was carried away, and he,
    clinging to it, was swept away with it. He besought Aeneas most
    urgently to extend to him his hand and take him in company to the
    opposite shore. But the Sibyl rebuked him for the wish thus to
    transgress the laws of Pluto, but consoled him by informing him
    that the people of the shore where his body had been wafted by
    the waves, should be stirred up by the prodigies to give it the
    burial, and that the promontory should bear the name of Cape
    Palinurus, which it does to this day. Leaving Palinurus consoled
    by these words, they approached the boat. Charon, fixing his
    eyes sternly upon the advancing warrior, demanded by what right
    he, living and armed, approached the shore. To which the Sibyl
    replied that they would commit no violence, that AEneas's only
    object was to see his father, and finally exhibited the golden
    branch, at sight of which Charon's wrath relaxed, and he made
    haste to turn his back to the shore, and receive them on board.
    The boat, adapted only to the light freight of bodiless spirits,
    groaned under the weight of the hero. They were soon conveyed to
    the opposite shore. There they were encountered by the three-
    headed dog Cerberus, with his necks bristling with snakes. He
    barked with all his three throats till the Sibyl threw him a
    medicated cake, which he eagerly devoured, and then stretched
    himself out in his den and fell asleep. AEneas and the Sibyl
    sprang to land. The first sound that struck their ears was the
    wailing of young children, who had died on the threshold of life,
    and near to these were they who had perished under false charges.
    Minos presides over them as judge, and examines the deeds of
    each. The next class was of those who had died by their own
    hand, hating life and seeking refuge in death. Oh, how willingly
    would they now endure poverty, labor, and any other infliction,
    if they might but return to life! Next were situated the regions
    of sadness, divided off into retired paths, leading through
    groves of myrtle. Here roamed those who had fallen victims to
    unrequited love, not freed from pain even by death itself. Among
    these, AEneas thought he descried the form of Dido, with a wound
    still recent. In the dim light he was for a moment uncertain,
    but approaching perceived it was indeed herself. Tears fell from
    his eyes, and he addressed her in the accents of love. "Unhappy
    Dido! Was then the rumor true that you had perished? And was I,
    alas! the cause! I call the gods to witness that my departure
    from you was reluctant, and in obedience to the commands of Jove;
    nor could I believe that my absence would have cost you so dear.
    Stop, I beseech you, and refuse me not a last farewell." She
    stood for a moment with averted countenance, and eyes fixed on
    the ground, and then silently passed on, as insensible to his
    pleadings as a rock. AEneas followed for some distance; then,
    with a heavy heart, rejoined his companion and resumed his route.

    They next entered the fields where roam the heroes who have
    fallen in battle. Here they saw many shades of Grecian and
    Trojan warriors. The Trojans thronged around him, and could not
    be satisfied with the sight. They asked the cause of his coming,
    and plied him with innumerable questions. But the Greeks, at the
    sight of his armor glittering through the murky atmosphere,
    recognized the hero, and filled with terror turned their backs
    and fled, as they used to flee on the plains of Troy.

    AEneas would have lingered long with his Trojan friends but the
    Sibyl hurried him away. They next came to a place where the road
    divided, the one leading to Elysium, the other to the regions of
    the condemned. AEneas beheld on one side the walls of a mighty
    city, around which Phlegethon rolled its fiery waters. Before
    him was the gate of adamant that neither gods nor men can break
    through. An iron tower stood by the gate, on which Tisiphone,
    the avenging Fury, kept guard. From the city were heard groans,
    and the sound of the scourge, the creaking of iron, and the
    clanking of chains. AEneas, horror-struck, inquired of his guide
    what crimes were those whose punishments produced the sounds he
    hear? The Sibyl answered, "Here is the judgment-hall of
    Rhadamanthus, who brings to light crimes done in life, which the
    perpetrator vainly thought impenetrably hid. Tisiphone applies
    her whip of scorpions, and delivers the offender over to her
    sister Furies. At this moment with horrid clang the brazen gates
    unfolded, and AEneas saw within, a Hydra with fifty heads,
    guarding the entrance. The Sibyl told him that the Gulf of
    Tartarus descended deep, so that its recesses were as far beneath
    their feet as heaven was high above their heads. In the bottom
    of this pit, the Titan race, who warred against the gods, lie
    prostrate; Salmoneus, also, who presumed to vie with Jupiter, and
    built a bridge of brass over which he drove his chariot that the
    sound might resemble thunder, launching flaming brands at his
    people in imitation of lightning, till Jupiter struck him with a
    real thunderbolt, and taught him the difference between mortal
    weapons and divine. Here, also, is Tityus, the giant, whose form
    is so immense that as he lies, he stretches over nine acres,
    while a vulture preys upon his liver, which as fast as it is
    devoured grows again, so that his punishment will have no end.

    AEneas saw groups seated at tables loaded with dainties, while
    near by stood a Fury who snatched away the viands from their
    lips, as fast as they prepared to taste them. Others beheld
    suspended over their heads huge rocks, threatening to fall,
    keeping them in a state of constant alarm. These were they who
    had hated their brothers, or struck their parents, or defrauded
    the friends who trusted them, or who having grown rich, kept
    their money to themselves, and gave no share to others; the last
    being the most numerous class. Here also were those who had
    violated the marriage vow, or fought in a bad cause, or failed in
    fidelity to their employers. Here was one who had sold his
    country for gold, another who perverted the laws, making them say
    one thing today and another tomorrow.

    Ixion was there fastened to the circumference of a wheel
    ceaselessly revolving; and Sisyphus, whose task was to roll a
    huge stone up to a hill-top, but when the steep was well-nigh
    gained, the rock, repulsed by some sudden force, rushed again
    headlong down to the plain. Again he toiled at it, while the
    sweat bathed all his weary limbs, but all to no effect. There
    was Tantalus, who stood in a pool, his chin level with the water,
    yet he was parched with thirst, and found nothing to assuage it;
    for when he bowed his hoary head, eager to quaff, the water fled
    away, leaving the ground at his feet all dry. Tall trees laden
    with fruit stooped their heads to him, pears, pomegranates,
    apples and luscious figs; but when with a sudden grasp he tried
    to seize them, winds whirled them high above his reach.

    The Sibyl now warned AEneas that it was time to turn from these
    melancholy regions and seek the city of the blessed. They passed
    through a middle tract of darkness, and came upon the Elysian
    fields, the groves where the happy reside. They breathed a freer
    air, and saw all objects clothed in a purple light. The region
    has a sun and stars of its own. The inhabitants were enjoying
    themselves in various ways, some in sports on the grassy turf, in
    games of strength or skill, others dancing or singing. Orpheus
    struck the chords of his lyre, and called forth ravishing sounds.
    Here AEneas saw the founders of the Trojan state, high-souled
    heroes who lived in happier times. He gazed with admiration on
    the war-chariots and glittering arms now reposing in disuse.
    Spears stood fixed in the ground, and the horses, unharnessed,
    roamed over the plain. The same pride in splendid armor and
    generous steeds which the old heroes felt in life, accompanied
    them here. He saw another group feasting, and listening to the
    strains of music. They were in a laurel grove, whence the great
    river Po has its origin, and flows out among men. Here dwelt
    those who fell by wounds received in their country's cause, holy
    priests, also, and poets who have uttered thoughts worthy of
    Apollo, and others who have contributed to cheer and adorn life
    by their discoveries in the useful arts, and have made their
    memory blessed by rendering service to mankind. They wore snow-
    white fillets about their brows. The Sibyl addressed a group of
    these, and inquired where Anchises was to be found. They were
    directed where to seek him, and soon found him in a verdant
    valley, where he was contemplating the ranks of his posterity,
    their destinies and worthy deeds to be achieved in coming times.
    When he recognized AEneas approaching, he stretched out both
    hands to him, while tears flowed freely. "Have you come at
    last," said he, "long expected and do I behold you after such
    perils past? O my son, how have I trembled for you as I have
    watched your career!" To which AEneas replied, O father! Your
    image was always before me to guide and guard me. Then he
    endeavored to enfold his father in his embrace, but his arms
    enclosed only an unsubstantial image.

    AEneas perceived before him a spacious valley, with trees gently
    waving to the wind, a tranquil landscape, through which the river
    Lethe flowed. Along the banks of the stream wandered a countless
    multitude, numerous as insects in the summer air. AEneas, with
    surprise, inquired who were these. Anchises answered, "They are
    souls to which bodies are to be given in due time. Meanwhile
    they dwell on Lethe's bank, and drink oblivion of their former
    lives." "Oh, father!" said AEneas, "is it possible that any can
    be so in love with life, as to wish to leave these tranquil seats
    for the upper world?" Anchises replied by explaining the plan of
    creation. The Creator, he told him, originally made the material
    of which souls are composed, of the four elements, fire, air,
    earth, and water, all which, when united, took the form of the
    most excellent part, fire, and became FLAME. This material was
    scattered like seed among the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and
    stars. Of this seed the inferior gods created man and all other
    animals, mingling it with various proportions of earth, by which
    its purity was alloyed and reduced. Thus the more earth
    predominates in the composition, the less pure is the individual;
    and we see men and women with their full-grown bodies have not
    the purity of childhood. So in proportion to the time which the
    union of body and soul has lasted, is the impurity contracted by
    the spiritual part. This impurity must be purged away after
    death, which is done by ventilating the souls in the current of
    winds, or merging them in water, or burning out their impurities
    by fire. Some few, of whom Anchises intimates that he is one,
    are admitted at once to Elysium, there to remain. But the rest,
    after the impurities of earth are purged away, are sent back to
    life endowed with new bodies, having had the remembrance of their
    former lives effectually washed away by the waters of Lethe.
    Some, however, there still are, so thoroughly corrupted, that
    they are not fit to be entrusted with human bodies, and these are
    made into brute animals, lions, tigers, cats, dogs, monkeys, etc.
    This is what the ancients called Metempsychosis, or the
    transmigration of souls; a doctrine which is still held by the
    natives of India, who scruple to destroy the life, even of the
    most insignificant animal, not knowing but it may be one of their
    relations in an altered form.

    Anchises, having explained so much, proceeded to point out to
    AEneas individuals of his race, who were hereafter to be born,
    and to relate to him the exploits they should perform in the
    world. After this he reverted to the present, and told his son
    of the events that remained to him to be accomplished before the
    complete establishment of himself and his followers in Italy.
    Wars were to be waged, battles fought, a bride to be won, and in
    the result a Trojan state founded, from which should rise the
    Roman power, to be in time the sovereign of the world.

    AEneas and the Sybil then took leave of Anchises, and returned by
    some short cut, which the poet does not explain, to the upper

    The Egyptian name of Hades was Amenti. In the Revision of the
    Scriptures the Revising Commission has substituted the word Hades
    where "hell" was used in the version of King James.


    Virgil, we have seen, places his Elysium under the earth, and
    assigns it for a residence to the spirits of the blessed. But in
    Homer Elysium forms no part of the realms of the dead. He places
    it on the west of the earth, near Ocean, and described it as a
    happy land, where there is neither snow, nor cold, nor rain, and
    always fanned by the delightful breezes of Zephyrus. Hither
    favored heroes pass without dying, and live happy under the rule
    of Rhadamanthus. The Elysium of Hesiod and Pindar is in the
    Isles of the Blessed, or Fortunate Islands, in the Western Ocean.
    >From these sprang the legend of the happy island Atlantis. This
    blissful region may have been wholly imaginary, but possibly may
    have sprung from the reports of some storm-driven mariners who
    had caught a glimpse of the coast of America.

    James Russell Lowell, in one of his shorter poems, claims for the
    present age some of the privileges of that happy realm.
    Addressing the Past, he says,

    "Whatever of true life there was in thee,
    Leaps in our age's veins.
    . . . . . .
    "Here, 'mid the bleak waves of our strife and care,
    Float the green 'Fortunate Isles,'
    Where all thy hero-spirits dwell and share
    Our martyrdoms and toils.
    The present moves attended
    With all of brave and excellent and fair
    That made the old time splendid."

    Milton alludes to the same fable in Paradise Lost, Book III.,

    "Like those Hesperian gardens famed of old,
    Fortunate fields and groves and flowery vales,
    Thrice happy isles."

    And in Book II. he characterizes the rivers of Erebus according
    to the meaning of their names in the Greek language:

    "Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate,
    Sad Acheron of sorrow black and deep;
    Cocytus named of lamentation loud
    Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegethon
    Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.
    Far off from these a slow and silent stream.
    Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls
    Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks
    Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
    Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain."


    As AEneas and the Sibyl pursued their way back to earth, he said
    to her, "Whether thou be a goddess or a mortal beloved by the
    gods, by me thou shalt always be held in reverence. When I reach
    the upper air, I will cause a temple to be built to thy honor,
    and will myself bring offerings." "I am no goddess," said the
    Sibyl; "I have no claim to sacrifice or offering. I am mortal;
    yet if I could have accepted the love of Apollo, I might have
    been immortal. He promised me the fulfilment of my wish, if I
    would consent to be his. I took a handful of sand, and holding
    it forth, said, 'Grant me to see as many birthdays as there are
    sand-grains in my hand.' Unluckily I forgot to ask for enduring
    youth. This also he would have granted, could I have accepted
    his love, but offended at my refusal, he allowed me to grow old.
    My youth and youthful strength fled long ago. I have lived seven
    hundred years, and to equal the number of the sand-grains, I have
    still to see three hundred springs and three hundred harvests.
    My body shrinks up as years increase, and in time, I shall be
    lost to sight, but my voice will remain, and future ages will
    respect my sayings."

    These concluding words of the Sibyl alluded to her prophetic
    power. In her cave she was accustomed to inscribe on leaves
    gathered from the trees the names and fates of individuals. The
    leaves thus inscribed were arranged in order within the cave, and
    might be consulted by her votaries. But if perchance at the
    opening of the door the wind rushed in and dispersed the leaves,
    the Sibyl gave no aid to restoring them again, and the oracle was
    irreparably lost.

    The following legend of the Sibyl is fixed at a later date. In
    the reign of one of the Tarquins there appeared before the king a
    woman who offered him nine books for sale. The king refused to
    purchase them, whereupon the woman went away and burned three of
    the books, and returning offered the remaining books for the same
    price she had asked for the nine. The king again rejected them;
    but when the woman, after burning three books more, returned and
    asked for the three remaining the same price which she had before
    asked for the nine, his curiosity was excited, and he purchased
    the books. They were found to contain the destinies of the Roman
    state. They were kept in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus,
    preserved in a stone chest, and allowed to be inspected only by
    especial officers appointed for that duty, who on great occasions
    consulted them and interpreted their oracles to the people.

    There were various Sibyls; but the Cumaean Sibyl, of whom Ovid
    and Virgil write, is the most celebrated of them. Ovid's story
    of her life protracted to one thousand years may be intended to
    represent the various Sibyls as being only reappearances of one
    and the same individual.

    It is now believed that some of the most distinguished Sibyls
    took the inspiration of their oracles from the Jewish scripture.
    Readers interested in this subject will consult, "Judaism," by
    Prof. F. Huidekoper.

    Young, in the Night Thoughts, alludes to the Sibyl. Speaking of
    worldly Wisdom, he says:

    "If future fate she plans 'tis all in leaves,
    Like Sibyl, unsubstantial, fleeting bliss;
    At the first blast it vanishes in air.
    . . . . .
    As worldly schemes resemble Sibyl's leaves,
    The good man's days to Sibyl's books compare,
    The price still rising as in number less."

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