The Library of History

Page 87

Page 87 Kite, Crocodile or Serpent, sometimes the Members of a Man's Body, as the Eye, the Hand, the Face, and such like. The Kite signifies all things that are quickly dispatcht; because this Bird flies the swistest almost of any other. For Reason presently applies it by a suitable Interpretation to every thing that is suddain and quick, or of such nature, as perfectly as if they had been spoken. The Crocodile is the Emblem of Malice: The Eye the preserver of Justice, and the Guard of the Body. Amongst the Members of the Body, the Right Hand, with open Fingers signifies Plenty, the Left with the Fingers close Preservation, and custody of Men's Goods and Estates.

The same way of reasoning extends to all other Parts of the Body, and the forms of Tools and all other things; for being that they diligently pry into the hidden signification of every thing, and have their Minds and Memories daily imploy'd with continual Exercise, they exactly read and understand every thing coucht within the Hieroglyphicks.

A great part of the Ethiopian Laws differ very much from other Nations, especially those which concern the Election of their Kings: For they pick out the best of their Priests out of every Rank and Order, and whomsoever of those so chosen, their Revelling God (which they carry about according to Custom) does first lay hold on, the People they make King, and forthwith fall down upon their Knees, and worship as a God, and render him other Honours, as he to whom the Authority of the chief Magistrate is committed by Divine Providence.

Being so elected, he orders the Course of his Life according as the Law has prescrib'd; and governing in all other respects according to the Customs of the Country; he neither confers Rewards, nor inflicts Punishments upon any, but according to the ancient Laws ratify'd and approv'd by his Ancestors from the beginning.

It is a Law among them, That no Subject shall be put to Death, nor Condemn'd to Dye, though he be never so guilty: But one of the Lictors is sent to the Criminal, bearing before him the Badge or Sign of Death; upon sight of which, the Party goes Home, and kills himself. It is not lawful to change his Punishment by wilful Banishment, and flying into other Countries, as it is the Custom of the Greeks. And therefore they report, that one once preparing to fly out of Ethiopia, after the Sign of Death was sent to him by the King, that his Mother discerning his Design, fastned her Garter about his Neck, and he never in the least lifted up his Hands to hinder her, but underwent all till he was strangl'd to Death, lest he should leave behind him a Blot and Stain upon his Kindred and Family. And above all, that Custom is most strange, which relates to the Death of the Kings; for those Priests that are imploy'd in the Service of the Gods at Meroe, who are here of greatest Authority, whensoever they please, they send a Messenger to the King, commanding him to put himself to death; for that such is the pleasure of the Gods, and that it is not lawful for any to despise the Commands of the Gods; adding also other Reasons, which a plain and honest Mind, inur'd to an ancient and constant Custom (and not being furnish'd with sufficient Arguments to evince the unreasonableness of the Commands) is easily induc'd to believe.

And so in former Ages, the Kings without force or compulsion of Arms, but meerly bewitcht by a fond Superstition, observ'd the Custom; till Ergamenes a King of Ethiopia, who reign'd in the time of Ptolomy the Second (bred up in the Grecian Discipline and Philosophy) was the first that was so bold as to reject and despise such Commands. For this Prince assuming the Spirit and Courage becoming a King, marcht with a considerable Body of Men to the Place (very difficult of access) where stood the Golden Temple of the Ethiopians, and there cut the Throats of all the Priests; and having abolish'd that ancient barbarous Custom, reform'd what appertain'd to the Service of the Gods, in such manner as he thought fit. There is moreover a strange and wonderful Law amongst the great Officers of the King's Houshold, which continues, they say, to this very day. For it's a Custom amongst the Ethiopians, that if the King be maim'd or debilitated upon any occasion in any Member of his Body, all his Houshold-Servants do the same thing to themselves. For they hold it a base and unworthy thing, that if the King be lame, for his Servants to attend upon him with whole and sound Limbs, and not all to be lame as well as he. And that it's a thing most unworthy of true and firm Friendship, not to sympathize and bear

Bibliotheca Historica

The first five books