"Grecian Metamorphoses" and "Mysteries of the Egyptians"
The following is the complete text of
Voltaire's Philosophic Criticisms: "Grecian Metamorphoses"
and "Mysteries of the Egyptians."
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Philosophic Criticism: "Grecian Metamorphoses"
The opinion of the transmigration of souls naturally
leads to metamorphoses, as we have already seen.
Every idea that strikes the imagination, and amuses
it, presently spreads throughout the world. As soon
as you have persuaded me that my soul can enter
into the body of a horse, it will not be difficult
for you to make me believe that my body may be also
changed into a beast.
The compilation of Metamorphoses by Ovid, of which
we have already spoken, would not in the least
astonish a Pythagorian, a Brahman, a Chaldean, or an
Egyptian. The gods were transformed into animals
in ancient Egypt. Dorceto, or Dercetis was changed
into a fish in Syria; and Semiramis into a dove,
at Babylon. The Jewish records, in earlier times,
claim that Nabucodonosor was changed into an ox,
while Lot's unfortunate wife was transformed into
a pillar of salt. Are not the apparitions of gods
and genii in human shape real, if transitory,
A god cannot well commune with us unless he appears
in a human form. It is true that Jupiter took upon
himself the figure of a beautiful swan, to entice
Leda. But instances of this kind are now extremely
rare; and in every religion, the divinity has always
assumed the human form when he came to give orders.
It would be difficult to understand the voice of
the gods, if they appeared in the shape of bears
In fine, the gods metamorphosed themselves almost
everywhere; and as soon as we became acquainted
with the secrets of magic, we, also, metamorphosed
ourselves. Several persons, worthy of credit, changed
themselves into wolves. The word were-wolf is still
a proof to us of this metamorphosis.
What gives weight to the belief in all these
prodigies and transmutations is, that no formal
proof can be given of their impossibility. There
is no argument to be opposed, if a person should
aver that a god came yesterday to my house in the
figure of a handsome young man, who wooed and wed
my daughter, who will in time become the mother
of a beautiful child that the god had deigned to
confer upon her. My brother who was so daring as
to doubt the divinity of this pretender, was, it
it said, turned into a wolf. It is certain that
he went into the woods and howled. The only
recourse is to summon before a judge the young
man who counterfeited a god, and married the
young lady -- to watch the uncle, the werewolf,
and get evidence of the imposture.
But the family will not expose themselves to this
examination. They will maintain with the priests
of the Canton that you are a profane, ignorant
man -- they will show you that since a caterpiller
can be changed into a butterfly, a man with equal
facility may be changed into a beast; and, if you
dispute, you will be impeached at the Inquisition
of the country, as an impious wretch, who neither
believes in were-wolves nor in gods endowed with
the passions and frailties of the human race.
Philosophic Criticism: "Mysteries of the Egyptians"
MYSTERIES OF THE EGYPTIANS
I am far from knowing what nation first invented
these mysteries, which have gained so much credit
from the Euphrates to the Tiber. Egyptians make
no mention of the author of the mysteries of Isis.
Those established in Persia are attributed to
Zoroaster, those of Greece to Cadmus and Inachus,
those of Thrace to Orpheus, and those of Crete to
It is certain that all these mysteries intimate
a future state; for Celsus says to the Christians,
"You boast of believing in eternal punishments,
and do not all the ministers of mysteries declare
them to the initiated?"
The Greeks, who borrowed so many things from the
Egyptians; their Tartharoth, of which they made
Tartarus: the lake, of which they made their
Acheron; the boatman Charon, of whom they made
the ferryman of the dead, framed their famous
mysteries of Eleusinia only upon those of Isis.
But no one can affirm that the mysteries of
Zoroaster did not precede those of the Egyptians.
They are both of the greatest antiquity, and all
the Greek and Latin authors, who have made mention
of them, agree that the unity of God, the immortality
of the soul, rewards and punishments after death,
were announced in these sacred ceremonies.
It is very probable that the Egyptians, having
once established these mysteries, preserved their
rites; for notwithstanding their extreme levity,
they were invariable in their superstitions. The
prayer, which we meet with in Apuleius, when
Lucius is initiated into the mysteries of Isis,
must have been the ancient form of prayer:
"The celestial powers serve thee, the infernal
regions are in submission to thee, the universe
turns beneath thy hand, thy feet bear down Tartarus,
the stars harken to thy voice, the seasons return
at thy command, the elements obey thee," &c.
Can we possibly have stronger evidence than this,
that the ancient Egyptians, in the midst of all
their contemptible superstitions, yet acknowledge
both the existence and the unity of one only God?
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