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The Romans And Greeks

One unfamiliar with the subject would naturally expect to find the

Ancient Romans well advanced along the lines of philosophy, religion,

and spiritual speculation, judging from the all-powerful influence

exerted by them over the affairs of the whole known world. Particularly

when one considers the relationship with and connection of Rome with

ancient Greece, it would seem that the two peoples must have had much in

n in the world of thought. But such is not the case. Although the

exoteric religions of the Romans resembled that of the Greeks, from whom

it was borrowed or inherited, there was little or no original thought

along metaphysics, religion or philosophy among the Romans. This was

probably due to the fact that the whole tendency of Rome was toward

material advancement and attainment, little or no attention being given

to matters concerning the soul, future life, etc. Some few of the

philosophers of Rome advanced theories regarding the future state, but

beyond a vague sort of ancestor worship the masses of the people took

but little interest in the subject. Cicero, it is true, uttered words

which indicate a belief in immortality, when he said in "Scipio's

Dream": "Know that it is not thou, but thy body alone, which is mortal.

The individual in his entirety resides in the soul, and not in the

outward form. Learn, then, that thou art a god; thou, the immortal

intelligence which gives movements to a perishable body, just as the

eternal God animates an incorruptible body." Pliny the younger left

writings which seem to indicate his belief in the reality of phantoms,

and Ovid has written verses which would indicate his recognition of a

part of man which survived the death of the body. But, on the whole,

Roman philosophy treated immortality as a thing perchance existing, but

not proven, and to be viewed rather as a poetical expression of a

longing, rather than as an established, or at least a well grounded,

principle of philosophical thought. But Lucretius and others of his time

and country protested against the folly of belief in the survival of the

soul held by the other nations. He said that: "The fear of eternal life

should be banished from the universe; it disturbs the peace of mankind,

for it prevents the enjoyment of any security or pleasure." And Virgil

praised and commended the philosophical attitude which was able to see

the real cause of things, and was therefore able to reject the unworthy

fear of a world beyond and all fears arising from such belief. But even

many of the Roman philosophers, while denying immortality, believed in

supernatural powers and beings, and were very superstitious and

childlike in many respects, so that their philosophy of non-survival was

evidently rather the result of temperament and pursuit of material

things than a height of philosophical reasoning or metaphysical thought.

And so, the Romans stand apart from the majority of the ancient

peoples, in so far as the belief in Reincarnation is concerned. While

there were individual mystics and occultists among them, it still

remains a fact that the majority of the people held no such belief, and

in fact the masses had no clearly defined ideas regarding the survival

of the soul. It is a strange exception to the general rule, and one that

has occasioned much comment and attention among thinkers along these

lines. There was a vague form of ancestor worship among the Romans, but

even this was along the lines of collective survival of the ancestors,

and was free from the ordinary metaphysical speculations and religious

dogmas. Roughly stated, the Roman belief may be expressed by an idea of

a less material, or more subtle, part of man which escaped

disintegration after death, and which in some mysterious way passed on

to combine with the ancestral soul which composed the collective

ancestral deity of the family, the peace and pleasure of which were held

as sacred duties on the part of the descendants, sacrifices and

offerings being made toward this end. Nevertheless, here and there,

among the Romans, were eminent thinkers who seemingly held a vague,

tentative belief in some form of Reincarnation, as, for instance, Ovid,

who says: "Nothing perishes, although everything changes here on earth;

the souls come and go unendingly in visible forms; the animals which

have acquired goodness will take upon them human form"; and Virgil says:

"After death, the souls come to the Elysian fields, or to Tartarus, and

there meet with the reward or punishment of their deeds during life.

Later, on drinking of the waters of Lethe, which takes away all memory

of the past, they return to earth." But it must be admitted that Rome

was deficient in spiritual insight and beliefs, on the whole, her

material successes having diverted her attention from the problems which

had so engrossed the mind of her neighbor Greece, and her older sisters

Persia, Chaldea, and Egypt.

Among the Greeks, on the contrary, we find a marked degree of interest

and speculation regarding the immortality of the soul, and much

interest in the doctrines of Metempsychosis or Reincarnation. Although

the great masses of the Grecian people were satisfied with their popular

mythology and not disposed to question further, or to indulge in keen

speculation on metaphysical subjects, still the intellectual portion of

the race were most active in their search after truth, and their schools

of philosophy, with their many followers and adherents, have left an

indelible mark upon the thought of man unto this day. Next to the

Hindus, the Greeks were the great philosophers of the human race. And

the occultists and mystics among them were equal to those of Persia,

India, Chaldea or Egypt. While the various theories regarding the soul

were as the sands of the sea, so many were the teachers, schools and

divisions of thought among these people--still the doctrine of

Reincarnation played a very important part in their philosophy. The

prevailing idea was that the worthy souls pass on to a state of bliss,

without rebirth, while the less worthy pass the waters of the river of

Lethe, quaffing of its waters of forgetfulness, and thus having the

recollection of their earth-life, and of the period of punishment that

they had undergone by reason of the same, obliterated and cleansed from

their memories, when they pass on to re-birth. One of the old Orphic

hymns reads as follows: "The wise love light and not darkness. When you

travel the journey of Life, remember, always, the end of the journey.

When souls return to the light, after their sojourn on earth, they wear

upon their more subtle bodies, like searing, hideous scars, the marks of

their earthly sins--these must be obliterated, and they go back to earth

to be cleansed. But the pure, virtuous and strong proceed direct to the

Sun of Dionysus." The teachings of the Egyptians left a deep impression

upon the Grecian mind, and not only the common form of belief, but also

the esoteric doctrines, were passed along to the newer people by the


Pythagoras was the great occult teacher of Greece, and his school and

that of his followers accepted and taught the great doctrine of

Reincarnation. Much of his teaching was reserved for the initiates of

the mystic orders founded by himself and his followers, but still much

of the doctrine was made public. Both Orpheus and Pythagoras, although

several centuries separated them, were students at the fount of

knowledge in Egypt, having traveled to that country in order to be

initiated in the mystic orders of the ancient land, and returning they

taught anew the old doctrine of Rebirth. The Pythagorean teaching

resembles that of the Hindus and Egyptians, in so far as is concerned

the nature of man--his several bodies or sheaths--and the survival of

the higher part of his nature, while the lower part perishes. It was

taught that after death this higher part of the soul passed on to a

region of bliss, where it received knowledge and felt the beneficent

influence of developed and advanced souls, thus becoming equipped for a

new life, with incentives toward higher things. But, not having as yet

reached the stage of development which will entitle it to dwell in the

blissful regions for all eternity, it sooner or later reaches the limit

of its term of probation, and then passes down toward another

incarnation on earth--another step on the Path of Attainment.

The teaching was, further, that the conditions, circumstances and

environments of the new earth-life were determined by the actions,

thoughts, and mental tendencies of the former life, and by the degree of

development which the several previous earth-lives had manifested. In

this respect the teaching agrees materially with the universal doctrine

regarding Reincarnation and Karma. Pythagoras taught that the doctrine

of Reincarnation accounted for the inequality observable in the lives of

men on earth, giving a logical reason for the same, and establishing the

fact of universal and ultimate justice, accountable for on no other

grounds. He taught that although the material world was subject to the

laws of destiny and fatality, yet there was another and higher state of

being in which the soul would rise above the laws of the lower world.

This higher state, he taught, had laws of its own, as yet unknown to

man, which tended to work out the imperfect laws of the material world,

establishing harmony, justice, and equality, to supply the apparent

deficiencies manifested in the earth life.

Following Pythagoras, Plato, the great Grecian philosopher, taught the

old-new doctrine of Rebirth. He taught that the souls of the dead must

return to earth, where, in new lives, they must wear out the old earth

deeds, receiving benefits for the worthy ones, and penalties for the

unworthy ones, the soul profiting by these repeated experiences, and

rising step by step toward the divine. Plato taught that the

reincarnated soul has flashes of remembrance of its former lives, and

also instincts and intuitions gained by former experiences. He classed

innate ideas among these inherited experiences of former lives. It has

been well said that "everything can be found in Plato," and therefore

one who seeks for the ancient Grecian ideas concerning Reincarnation,

and the problems of the soul, may find that which he seeks in the

writings of the old sage and philosopher. Plato was the past master of

the inner teachings concerning the soul, and all who have followed him

have drawn freely from his great store of wisdom. His influence on the

early Christian church was enormous, and in many forms it continues even

unto this day. Many of the early Christian fathers taught that Plato was

really one of the many forerunners of Christ, who had prepared the pagan

world for the coming of the Master.

In "Phaedo," Plato describes the soul, and explains its immortality. He

teaches that man has a material body which is subject to constant

change, and subject to death and disintegration; and also an immaterial

soul, unchangeable and indestructible, and akin to the divine. At death

this soul was severed from its physical companion, and rose, purified,

to the higher regions, where it rendered an account of itself, and had

its future allotted to it. If it was found sufficiently untainted and

unsullied by the mire of material life, it was considered fit to be

admitted to the State of Bliss, which was described as Union with the

Supreme Being, which latter is described as Spirit, eternal and

omniscient. The base and very guilty souls undergo a period of

punishment, or purgation, to the end that they may be purged and

purified of the guilt, before being allowed to make another trial for

perfection. The souls which were not sufficiently pure for the State of

Bliss, nor yet so impure that they need the purging process, were

returned to earth-life, there to take up new bodies, and endeavor to

work out their salvation anew, to the end that they might in the future

attain the Blissful State. Plato taught that in the Rebirth, the soul

was generally unconscious of its previous lives, although it may have

flashes of recollection. Besides this it has a form of intuition, and

innate ideas, which was believed to be the result of the experiences

gained in the past lives, and which knowledge had been stored up so as

to benefit the soul in its reincarnated existence.

Plato taught that the immaterial part of man--the soul--was a complex

thing, being composed of a number of differing, though related,

elements. Highest in the hierarchy of the soul elements he placed the

Spirit, which, he taught, comprised consciousness, intelligence, will,

choice between good and evil, etc., and which was absolutely

indestructible and immortal, and which had its seat in the head. Then

came two other parts of the soul, which survived the dissolution of the

body, but which were only comparatively immortal, that is, they were

subject to later dissolution and disintegration. Of these semi-material

elements, one was the seat of the affections, passions, etc., and was

located in the heart; while the other, which was the seat of the sensual

and lower desires, passions, etc., was located in the liver. These two

mentioned lower elements were regarded as not possessed of reason, but

still having certain powers of sensation, perception, and will.

The Neo-Platonists, who followed Plato, and who adapted his teachings to

their many conflicting ideas, held firmly to the doctrine of

Reincarnation. The writings of Plotinus, Porphyry, and the other

Mystics, had much to say on this subject, and the teaching was much

refined under their influence. The Jewish philosophers were affected by

the influence of the Platonic thought, and the school of the Essenes,

which held firmly to the idea of Rebirth, was a source from which

Christianity received much of its early influence.