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In the formation of this school of skepticism at Rome the doctrines of Epicurus

were all-powerful. According to his teachings, the pious traditions of the past

were so much folly which an enlightened age might well reject with profit. The

spirits of men should be emancipated from fear. The belief in a hierarchy of gods

controlling the affairs of human life, rewarding here and punishing there as

often in caprice as in justice, was the beginning of a reign of terror in the

kingdom of mind. Until this terror could be dismissed, happiness was impossible.

Happiness demanded mental quietude. Happiness demanded exemption from passion,

and that the spirit should be freed from the menace of fear and the thralldom of

prejudice. Instead of all this, the Epicurean system would institute a religion

of humanity, patriotism, benevolence, love of home, and a generous but not

intemperate gratification of every appetite. Such was the system which in the

minds of the great Romans of the later Republic supplanted the childlike pietism

and credulity of the preceding ages. The man of fashion in the Imperial City

affected this type of skepticism as an evidence of his culture and his claim to

be called a thinker.

By these counter-currents in the religious beliefs of the Romans the people were

borne away to different quarters of the horizon. Culture and faith parted


The enlightened men of Rome came to look upon the offices of the old-time

religion as mere vestiges of an extinct world. They mocked at sacrifices and

turned their wit upon the augurs. They characterized the doctrines of the past as

imposition and falsehood, and were tolerant of any form of religious belief only

to the extent of regarding it as a political necessity for the control of a

vulgar populace. For this reason the Roman skeptics confined their resistance to

the established belief to private animadversions and satire, while publicly

assenting to the existing order.

It was one of the strange phenomena of the times that in proportion as the old

faith of Rome thus yielded to the influence of skepticism among the higher

classes, the philosophers themselves generally sought refuge in some new form of

belief. It became almost as common to institute a foreign god as to dethrone a

native one. In this way the lands abroad were pillaged of their deities to fill

the vacant niches of the Roman pantheon. Thus was imported Cybele, "the Phrygian

mother of the gods," who brought with her those passionate orgies with which her

worship was celebrated. In like manner came from the East the deities Astarte and

Mithras, and from Egypt Isis and Serapis. In the new forms of worship there was

much of that sensuous display and ceremony in which the pampered philosophers of

Rome could find comfort even when the austere gods were abolished.

In the second century of the Christian era occurred a great reaction against the

abuses of the system just described. It was in the nature of a revival of that

ancient paganism to which the common people had always been attached. The

philosophers and statesmen wearied at last of Eastern voluptuousness and African

mysticism in their religion; and the gods of the Greek pantheon came again into

favor with thinkers and scholars. There was a renaissance in classical temple-

building, and the Emperors and nobles vied with each other in patronizing the

revival of ancient religious fervor. During the time of Hadrian the artists of

the Empire contributed hosts of statues to fill the niches, old and new, in the

sacred places of Rome.

The general effect of this movement was the restitution of the pantheon of the

primitive Romans. The deities which were restored in the second century were not

quite identical with those of ancient Latium. By their transition through the

philosophical epoch, they had lost many of the myths and legends peculiar to the

godhood of olden times. This revolution in the religious belief of the Roman

world was largely the work of the Stoics. They came to reconcile theology with

philosophy, to strike from the one what was repulsive to the other, and to blend

the two in a common