Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/782

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Till very recent times the people of Ispahan celebrated what they called the festival of the camel, or of the sacrifice of Abraham The high priest of Mecca sent his adopted son, mounted on a blessed camel, which was led through the city with great pomp. At a given moment the king shot an arrow into its Hanks; in a wink the poor animal was thrown down, hacked to pieces, carried off, and distributed widely. Every one wished for some of it, if it were only the smallest fragment, to be put into a kettle of rice. The Ghilicks and the Ainos adopted a bear, and fed it freely till the day of the public festival, when the people struggled for pieces of it.

Sometimes, in these criminal festivals, the public only plays the part of a spectator. It does not itself kill the victims, but only witnesses the slaughter, the bloodshed, which executioners are commissioned to perform. In Etruscan funerals the relatives of the deceased caused a convict to be publicly tormented: sometimes they blindfolded him and gave him a stick; then the executioners excited dogs against him, and the unfortunate victim had to defend himself with his stick. Such spectacles, which seem to have been amusing to the populace, are represented in many Etruscan paintings. The shows of gladiators at Rome, fights of gladiators with one another, and of gladiators with wild beasts, were simply transformations of the funeral sacrifices of the Etruscans, but more ferocious, for they generally ended in the death of a large number of men. The passive Roman people had such a passion for these games that they became a means of political domination; parties sought to secure the votes of the populace by giving them spectacles in which large numbers of men and beasts were killed.

In ancient Mexico, where crime was punished very severely, and was pursued with much energy, an immense throng came together every year to witness the numerous and terrible human sacrifices in honor of the god Huitzilopochtli. The spectacle, with its atrocious cruelties, was a source of delight to a people among whom intoxication, theft, and murder were punished with death, and who possessed a remarkable political organization and civilization. This transformation of the populace into spectators was, without doubt, an advance; but it is nevertheless surprising that such ceremonies should have been tolerated among peoples so civilized.

We see, therefore, that collective crime has opposed a greater resistance than individual crime to the progress of civilization. But why have these criminal festivals endured so long, while individual customs have been undergoing transformation? "The axiom, the whole is the sum of its parts, does not apply to multitudes," writes M. Reclus. M. Sighele has brought a large number of proofs to the demonstration of this precept—that is, that the