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340 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-- THE ANCIENT WORLD.

to be mere idle fancies of the Persian masons and architects. Professor Witte, of Rostock,

thought that they were the work of worms! Some decided that the cuneiform characters were

talismanic signs, or perhaps a kind of symbolism understood by the priests. Others, in

turn, admitting that the work was actual writing, pronounced it Chinese, Cufic, Hebrew,

Samaritan, and even Greek.

Meanwhile, the more expert and patient scholars were steadily pursuing the line of

investigation marked out at the first by Figueroa and afterwards by Niebuhr. It was not,

however, until September of 1802 that Professor Grotefend, then but twenty-seven years of

age, presented before the Academy of Sciences in Gottingen the first actual translation of

the cuneiform inscriptions. The accuracy of his work was demonstrated both then and

afterwards, and a branch of university learning was founded on the great discovery. A

review of the patient and ingenious steps in the process by which at last Grotefend

succeeded in unraveling the mystery is here forbidden for want of space. His work will be

commemorated as long as the Achaemenian kings are known in history.

As it respects the religious system of the Persians, much said in the history of Media

might here be repeated. The two peoples were of close relationship in race, and almost

identical in language and religion. As already said, the original faith of the country was

the nature worship of India, but this did not extend into the period of nationality. When

the Medes rose to the ascendancy of Western Asia, the doctrine of Magism, long

acknowledged by the tribes whom they subjugated, gradually supplanted the purer beliefs of

the people until, as we have seen, a chief cause of that struggle which substituted the

Persian for the Median ascendancy was the hostility of Cyrus and his people against the

apostasy of the Medes from the faith of their fathers. That faith was the system of

reformed religion taught and established by the great apostle of the Medo-Persic race.

ZOROASTER, the founder of this reformed faith, was a native of Bactria. Concerning his

career there is much that is still obscure. He was the son of Pourushaspa, who lived in

the time of King Vistaspa, in whom the young Zoroaster and his doc- trines found a patron

and friend. Until recently the King Vistaspa, or Hystaspes, has been identified with

Darius Hystaspes, which identification would place the birth of the Bactrian prophet in

the sixth century B. C. An examination of the Zend avesta, however, proves beyond a doubt

that the epoch of Zoroaster must be referred to a period much more remote. The archaic

language of the bible just referred to could never have belonged to the times of the

Achaemenian kings. So the supposed identity of Vistaspa and Hystaspes had to be

abandoned.1

Meanwhile, closer historical investigations have shown that Vistaspa was the last of the

line of native princes ruling in Bactria before the conquest of that country by the

Assyrians in B. C. 1200. So the latter date may be taken as a minimum for the epoch of

Zoroaster. Careful critics have placed him at a period considerably more remote. It is

safe to say that he flourished under the Kaianian princes of Bactria, before the Assyrian

conquest.

Zoroaster came without supernatural claims, but his ministry was such as soon to give him

the reputation of being a super- natural personage. His life was above reproach, devoted

to the great work of introducing a truer and purer faith among his countrymen. His reform

was in the nature of a protest against the sensuous doctrines and idolatrous ceremonial of

the prevailing system. His teachings are contained in the Zend avesta-the bible of the

Iranian nations. The general effect of his work was to substitute the essence for the

outer shell of religion and to elevate spirit in the place of form. Ahura-Mazdao was a

spirit, and they who worshiped him must do so in spirit and in truth. So taught the

prophet of Bactria.

It was among the hills of Persia that the doctrines of Zoroaster found their safest

1 This for the same reason that the works of Chaucer are sufficient proof that their

author did not flourish in the age of Queen Anne.