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CHAPTER XI.

ON

BY

INCUBATION, OR THE ART OF HEALING

VISIONARY DIVINATION.

MEDICINE unquestionably ranks among the most ancient of all human sciences. In the infant state of . society, when simplicity of manners characterised the pursuits of mankind, medical assistance was little wanted; but when the nature of man degenerated, and vice and luxury corrupted his habits of innocence and temperance, diseases sprung up

which those aids alone could check or eradicate. The knowledge of them at first could not fail to be empirical and precarious. The sick were placed in the high ways, that travellers and passers by might assist them with their counsel ; and at length the priesthood appropriated this privilege exclusively to themselves.

It was not merely the sacerdotal dignity which rendered them objects of awe and reverence to the illiterate multitude ; the priests were regarded as the depositaries of science and learning; and proved themselves as skilful as they were successful, in cementing their influence by those arts which were

best calculated to inflame the prejudices of the vulgar in their favour.

It is the work of ages to wean men and nations from popular illusions, and the deep-rooted opinions transmitted from sire to son: it cannot therefore surprise us, that even when the intellectual energy of Greece was signalizing itself by efforts which have commanded the admiration of after ages, it should still remain a popular dogma in medicine “ that persons labouring under bodily infirmity, might be thrown into a state of charmed torpor, in which, though destitute of any previous medical knowledge, they would be enabled to ascertain the nature of their malady, as well as of the diseases of others, and devise the means of their cure.” Upon this dogma was founded the mystery of incubations, or the art of healing by visionary divination.

It is not our object here to discuss whether a man can be capable of divination : such a power, however, was assigned to him, not only by the vulgar, but by the greater number of the philosophical sects of antiquity; and it does appear to savour a little of temerity, that Epicurus and the cynics should have ventured to reject a belief su universally and strenuously maintained, and resting on an infinity of traditions and accounts of prophets, in whom Greece had abounded from her earliest times, and of whose divine gift of prophecy the firmest conviction was currently entertained. Æschylus, Plutarch, Apuleius, and other Greek authors, bear ample testimony of this persuasion, and tell us that by uncommon and

motions of the body intoxicating vapours, or certain holy ejaculations, men might be thrown into an enchanted trance; in which, being in a state between sleeping and waking, they were unsusceptible of external impressions and obtaining a glimpse of futurity, were gifted with the power of prophecy. · Here their allusion, however, only concerns the celebrated divinations of the Pythia.* We must therefore, probe somewhat deeper, in order to illustrate that species of divination which was the result of dreams, and a source of divination on the nature of diseases and their remedies.

This kind of superstition was in no less acceptation than the former among the ancients, whose temples were constantly crowded with the sick, and reverberated with their supplications for divinatory dreams, which were regarded as an immediate gift from the gods. Indeed, the celestial origin of dreams was universally admitted by the nations of antiquity, and thence also their efficacy as oracles. Nothing could be more natural than such an idea. From the crude and imperfect notions which long prevailed with respect to the soul, it was scarcely possible for them to ascribe the impressions, which their memory

retained of the creation of their fancy

* The Priestess of Apollo, by whom he delivered oracles. She was called Pythia from the god himself, who was styled Apollo Pythius, from his slaying the serpent Python. The Priestess was to be a pure virgin. She sat on the covercle or lid of a brazen vessel, mounted on a tripod, and thence, after a violent enthusiasm, she delivered his oracles ; i. e. she rehearsed a few ambiguous and obscure verses, which were taken for oracles.

during their slumbers, to the instrumentality of their own conceits; they could not fail therefore to impute them to the interposition of some foreign agent, and to whom more naturally could they refer them than to a divinity? When awake, they imagined themselves always attended by the gods in person, and ascribed every thought, and resolved every appearance or accident, which deviated from the common course of nature, to the immediate influence of a superintending deity. It was under such impressions that so many nations originally rested their belief in divinatory dreams. The records of antiquity therefore abound in instances (for the greater part of an early date) where the actions of men have been the result of a dream, whose conceit was entirely at variance with the real state of their affairs. It was not long before the diversity of dreams awakened their attention : some were connected and simple, others were obscure, and made up of curious fancies, though not incapable of being resolved by the windings and turnings of allegory.

It was no unnatural transition from the received belief in dreams, to the idea that they might become the medium of seeking instruction from the gods : hence the institution of oracles,

whose responses were given in dreams ; and the addition of sleeping chambers to many temples, such as those in Epidaurus and at Oropos. Here it was, that after pious ceremonies and prayers, men laid themselves down in expectation of dreams ; when the expectation was realized, though the dream proved ever so confused or intricate, the dreamer always succeeded in recon

ciling it to his circumstances : his own belief and priestly wiles, readily effected the solution. The conceit of dreams, according to the votary's wishes, was so powerfully promoted by the preparatory initiation he had undergone, that it would have been somewhat extraordinary had he been altogether disappointed. He was generally anxious to increase the fame of his divinity by his dream, and possessed a high veneration and deep impression of the miracles which that divinity had wrought. With these predispositions he resorted to the temple, where he had a whole day before him to ponder on his malady, and on every sort of remedy that might have been suggested to him ; how natural was it, therefore, for his busy imagination to fix, in his sleep, upon one particular remedy more forcibly than upon another? Add to this, the solemn lonely hour of night was the appointed hour for his sleep, which was preceded by prayer and other inspiring ceremonies, that would naturally elevate his devotion to the highest pitch. He had also previously perambulated the temple, and with a full heart surveyed the offerings of those whose sickness had departed from them.

If all these preparations were unavailing, the officiants of the temple had still means in reserve, by which the credulous should be thrown into that bodily state which was indispensable to the divinatory sleep : of these, succeeding instances will be hereafter produced. In those days, there were however, some men from whom the somniferous faculty was withheld : they were, therefore, admonished to repeat

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