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Of Picture-writing and of its Influence in the Formation of the Primitive Languages.
In the early ages, after men had acquired any branch of useful knowledge, either by research or by observation, they naturally wished to communicate that knowledge to their contemporaries, and even to transmit it to posterity. But this they could not do effectually, till they contrived a method of making speech the object of sight. When this was accomplished, the knowledge which they conveyed to the ears of a few by pronounced speech, it was in their power to convey to multitudes, even in the most distant countries, by the eye.
The first method of rendering speech visible, was that which history informs us was practised by all the ancient nations we have any knowledge of, from the Chinese in the east to the Mexicans in the west, and from the Egyptians in the South to the Scythians in the north. All these, taught by nature, formed images or pictures on wood, or stone, or clay, of the sensible objects for which they had invented names, and of which they had occasion to discourse. By these pictures they represented not only the things themselves, but the articulate sounds or names also by which they were called. Thus to express, in that kind of writing, a man, or a horse, that is, to express both the name and the thing, they drew its picture on some permanent substance, whereby, not only the thing itself, but its name was immediately suggested to those who looked on its picture. But this method being tedious, the Egyptians, who it is supposed were the inventors of picture writing, shortened it by converting the picture into a symbol, which, as Warburton, to whom I am indebted for many particulars in this section, observes in his Divine Legation, they did in three ways. 1. By making the principal part of the symbol stand for the whole of it, and by agreeing that that part should express the character of the thing represented by the symbol. Thus, they expressed a fuller by two feet standing in water; and a charioteer by an arm holding a whip. This is what is called the Curiologic Hieroglyphic.-From this, the Egyptians proceeded to a more artful method of rendering specch visible and permanent; namely, by putting the instru ments, whether real or metaphorical, by which a thing was done, for the thing done. Thus, they expressed a battle by two hands, the one holding a shield, the other a bow: a siege by a scaling ladder :
the divine omniscience, by an eye eminently placed: a monarch by an eye and a sceptre. Sometimes they represented the agent without the instrument, to shew the quality of the action. Thus a judge was expressed by a man without hands looking downwards, to shew that a judge ought not to be moved either by interest or pity. This method was called The Tropologic Hieroglyphic. › 3. Their third, and most artificial method of abridging picture writing, was to make one thing stand for another, where any resemblance or analogy, however far fetched, could be observed between the thing represented and the thing by which it was represented, whether that resemblance was founded in nature, or in popular opinion only. Thus a serpent, on account of its vigour and spirit, its longevity and revirescence, was made the symbol of the divine nature: a mouse was used to represent destruction: a wildgoat, uncleanness: a fly, impudence: an ant, knowledge: a serpent in a circle, the universe: and the variegated spots of the serpent's skin, the stars. This method of writing was called, The allegorical, analogical, or symbolical Hieroglyphic. And being formed on their knowledge of physics, the marks of which it was composed increased in number, as the Egyptians, the inventors of picture writing, increased in science.
But, in regard there are many qualities and relations of things which are not objects of sense, and many complex moral modes and other mental conceptions, which cannot be likened to any object of sense, consequently, which cannot be expressed by any picture natural or symbolical, it became necessary, in all kinds of picture writing, to introduce arbitrary marks for expressing these qualities, relations, and modes. Yet, even with this aid, picture writing was still very defective and obscure. The Chinese, therefore, to improve the method of rendering speech visible and permanent by writing, threw away the images or pictures altogether, and substituted in their place new marks, formed, it is said, from the images. However, as in this way of writing every word required a distinct character or mark, and as the greatest part of these characters were arbitrary, the difficulty of acquiring the knowledge of the meaning of such a multitude of characters, was so great, that very few could attain to it. Meanwhile, the Chinese method of denoting the separate words of which speech consisteth, by separate marks, is supposed by some to have suggested to the ingenious in other nations, the idea of expressing, by separate marks, the distinct articulate sounds of which words are composed. Hence, the alphabetical or
literal method of writing arose, which, on account of its great facility and utility, hath come into general use among all civilized nations, except the Chinese themselves.
The literal method of writing, is generally said to have been first practised by the Phenicians. But whether they, or whoever else first used that method of rendering speech visible, were the inventers of the art; or, whether, as Plato and Tully thought, De Leg. lib. iv. sect. 4. they were supernaturally assisted in the invention, is hard to determine. This however is certain, that the books of Moses were written in the literal method. And some learned men have thought, the first specimen of literal writing was that which God himself engraved on the two tables of stone, and gave to Moses on the Mount; who being taught the meaning of the characters by inspiration, communicated the knowledge of the same to the Israelites, from whom it passed to the Phenicians. Perhaps it may be some confirmation of this conjecture to observe, that the Chinese, though they have long possessed the art of writing by characters, have never been able to attain the method of writing by letters.
I have given the above account of the art of rendering speech visible and permanent by picture writing, not as a matter of curiosity, but to shew the influence which the hieroglyphical manner of writing had on the ancient languages. For the symbols used in that kind of writing, denoting the names of things, as well as the things themselves, in speaking, men would naturaly give to the things represented, both the name and the qualities of the symbol by which it was represented. Hence arose a new species of metaphor, altogether unknown in the speech of modern nations, and forming a kind of language which, though it may appear to us fanciful and dark, was well understood, and made a strong impression on those who were accustomed to it. -This higher kind of metaphorical language claims particular attention, because it is that in which the divine revelations, especially those concerning future events, were communicated to mankind, and in which they still remain recorded in scripture. Wherefore, to shew the influence which picture writing, particularly of the symbolical kind, had to introduce into the ancient languages the boldest, and in the opinion of modern nations, the most extravagant metaphors, the following examples are proposed to the reader's consideration.
1. A supreme ruler being represented in symbolical writing by a man with four wings, and his lieutenants or princes by one with
Sect. 2. two wings; and the stretching out of wings signifying action or design, (Divine Leg. b. iv. sect. 4.) the names of these symbols were naturally used in the ancient languages for the things signified by them. Hence Isaiah predicting the invasion of Judea by the king of Assyria, hath termed it the stretching out of his wings so as to cover and desolate the whole land, Isai. viii. 8. "The stretching out of his wings, shall fill the breadth of thy "land, O Immanuel."-By the like metaphor, Jeremiah predicted the desolation of Moab, chap. xlviii. 40. "He shall fly "as an eagle, and shall spread his wings over Moab."-In the same highly figurative language, Isaiah denounced destruction to a kingdom which oppressed other countries by the greatness of its power, chap. xviii. 1. "Woe to the land shadowing with wings."-This use of the symbol shews the propriety of giving the wings of a fowl to two of the four beasts, which in Daniel's vision represented the four great monarchies. By that symbol, the devastation which these monarchies were to bring on other nations, and the speed and force with which they would act, were strongly and beautifully represented to those who understood symbolical picture writing.—It shews us likewise how the power of God in protecting his people, came to be termed his feathers and his wings; and the confidence of his people in his power to protect them, by their trusting in the covert of his wings.
2. A crocodile was one of the symbols, by which in the ancient picture writing the kingdom of Egypt was represented, Div. Leg. b. iv. sect. 4. Hence the Egyptians are called, Psal. Ixxiv. 13. Dragons in the waters; and, ver. 14. their king is called leviathan. And, "The great dragon that lieth in the midst of his "rivers, Ezek. xxix. 3."--So also, Isa. xxvii. 1. "In that day "the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword, shall "punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that "crooked serpent, and he shall slay the dragon.”
The king of Ethiopia was termed a fly, and the king of Assyria a bee, probably because in picture writing they were represented by these symbols, Isa. vii, 18. "The Lord shall hiss for "the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and "for the bee that is in the land of Assyria," that is, the Lord shall call the Ethiopian and Assyrian kings to avenge his quarrel.
3. In the picture writing, a sword and a bow being symbols of war, the prophets use the names of these warlike instruments to denote great warriors; and arms in general, to denote a pow
erful warlike nation, such as the Romans, Dan. xi. 31,-And gigantic stature, for a mighty leader of an army;—and balances, weights, and measures, for a judge, or a magistrate.-In like manner, because in picture writing a sceptre denoted the administration of government, the word is used in that signification by Jacob in his prophecy, Gen. xlix. 10. "The sceptre shall not depart," &c. and the annihilation of the power of Moab, by the breaking of his sceptre, Jerem. xlviii. 17. "All ye that are about "him, bemoan him, and all ye that know his name say, How is "the strong staff broken, and the beautiful rod !”
4. The figure of a star being used in picture writing as a symbol of the Deity, that word was used by Balaam to denote the Jewish Messiah, of whose divine nature and government he seems to have ha some obscure conception, Numb. xxiv. 17. "There "shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out of “Israel.”—Also, a star, in picture writing, denoted the image of a god. Thus, Amos v. 26. “The star of your god, which ye "made to yourselves," means the material image of your God.— Lastly, the sun, moon, and stars, were used in picture writing, as symbols of the founders of nations, and of the fathers of tribes, and as the symbols also of mighty kings. Thus the king of Babylon is called, Isa. xiv. 12. "Lucifer, son of the morning." Thus also in ordinary discourse, the sun, moon, and stars were used to denote patriarchs and princes. Accordingly, when Joseph, Gen. xxxviii. 9. " said I have dreamed a dream, and behold the ❝sun and the moon, and the eleven stars made obeisance to me," his father understanding his words in their symbolical and true meaning," rebuked him, and said to him,-Shall I and thy "mother and brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee, to the earth?"-But as the heavenly bodies mentioned by Joseph, could not appear, even in a dream, as making obeisance to him, we may believe that he saw in his dream, not the heavenly bodies, but a visionary representation of his parents and brethren making obeisance to him; and that in relating this to his father, he chose from modesty to express it, in symbolical rather than in plain language. Besides, as there never was any collection of stars called the eleven stars, the application which Jacob made of that appellation to Joseph's eleven brethren, shews clearly that the word star, in common speech, was used to signify the father of a tribe.
5. That the use of ensigns, for distinguishing tribes and nations, was very ancient, we learn from Moses's command, Numb. ii. 2.