Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/26

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16
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

The conquerors sometimes relentlessly stamped out the worship of the conquered. Often, out of policy or pity, they gave it a quasi-recognition; and then came about an amalgamation of beliefs.

These international religions tended to subdue the ethnic distinctions and local worships, and to give prominence to the higher and more universal deities. Thus, the great monarchies of antiquity, through their very tyranny and the absoluteness of the royal power in them, broke the path for the universal religions. The Roman Empire was the forerunner that made straight the way for Christianity. Sargon of Assyria is no more famous for his conquests than for his systematization of the Mesopotamian religion. And in Egypt we find its religion unified step by step with the government. The rival cycles of gods and goddesses, the varied triads of its different epochs, the confusing medley of divinities, great and small, of whom, now one, now another, is said to be the supreme, can never be comprehended until we recognize that the political unity of Egypt was not original or constant, but a growth, through the consolidation of the forty-two distinct nomes or districts which occupied the length of the valley.

Each of these little kingdoms, or duchies, as we may call them (resembling, in their relations to one another, the little duchies of Germany before Prussia swallowed them up so effectually), had its capital, its hereditary duke, its special deity or deities, and its shrine or great temple. We find the names of the Egyptian gods followed by the name of their special home, as Neith of Sais; Aman-Ra, chief in Aptu, i. e., Thebes. When gods of the same name or origin were worshiped in different places, they were regarded as more or less different deities, and often had different characteristics or symbols.

Thus we find four Sets mentioned in one inscription and six Anubises in another. Though originating from the same natural object, different aspects of the divine power were deified in each. When at length these independent districts were united in a single empire and a close social unity, the deities were naturally consolidated more or less.

Out of political comity and national sympathy, the people of each nome would admit the deities of other sections as also venerable and worshipful; but, in their own grading of the comparative dignity of the various gods, each would put its own local deities in the chief seats, and make the deities of other districts subordinate to them. Hence would arise distinctions among the gods, as, some of the first order, others of the second, others of the third. Those that in one nome, say, that of Thebes, were placed at the head, in another, such as that of Memphis, always jealous of its rival for the dignity of the metropolitanship of Egypt, would be likely to be put down into the second or third class, to make room for the ancient hereditary favorites of the worshipers of that locality.

As, in the political struggles of the country, one nome after another