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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
common 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.

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