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On The Scarabaeus

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

In every cabinet or museum of antiquities are to be seen numerous collections of stones, such as agate, cornelian, porphyry, basalt, etc., etc., which are worked into the shape of the scarabŠus or beetle, and have often some engraving or device on the flat surface. They have been found in great abundance in Egypt, and occasionally amongst the vestiges and ruins of the ancient Etruscan cities, and are of different sizes and great variety of execution. Why this insect should have been selected so generally for an object of sculpture is by no means a clear point, and it may be a matter of some interest to inquire for what reason any consideration should have been attached to a creature of such comparative insignificance, and how far it may have been connected with the philosophy and mythology of the earliest nations of the world.

Lanzi, in his "Saggio di Lingua Etrusca" (p. 135, vol. i.), has these observations on this subject :

" We will now say a few words on the ScarabŠus, which has served as a model for the form of a vast number of Etruscan sculptured stones.

"They are generally perforated with a hole lengthways, so that either they may be strung on a thread or small cord, and thus worn as amulets, or, by means of a rivet, they may be fixed or set, so as to serve the purpose of a ring or signet. This description of superstition is derived from Egypt, where the scarabŠus was held by many as an object of divine worship,* and was universally considered a symbol of the moon and the sun. It was likewise supposed to be emblematical of manly strength and vigour, from the received opinion that these insects were solely of the male species, and from thence were held as particularly adapted to form the subject of the ring or signet used by the military class. Thus, according to Plutarch, the scarabŠus amongst fighting men was engraved on their signets.

"The same custom seems to have passed over into Italy, either having been first adopted in Sicily, where the usages of Egypt prevailed from the earliest ages, or through the doctrines of Pythagoras, whose philosophy, being veiled in symbols, was copied from that of the Egyptians. There is every reason to suppose that the warriors of Italy held this same opinion respecting the scarabŠus, since the figure of some hero was generally engraved on the flat surface of the stone, and it was probably not only considered as an amulet, but, from the image representing some person connected with religious veneration, it was classed and deposited amongst the household gods. Hence it follows, that, as the style of engraving in many instances is exceedingly rude and unfinished, it is to be supposed that these scarabŠi were in use among the soldiery of the lower grades, since such as are more delicately executed are far less numerous."

The earliest mention in the Old Testament of religious worship rendered to any divinity connected with an insect occurs in the 1st chap. and Book of Kings, and and 3rd verses. "Ahaziah, King of Israel, having fallen through a lattice of his upper chamber, and having thus received some dangerous injury, sent to consult Beelzebub, the god of Ekron, to know whether he should recover of this disease." The name of this deity * is translated in the Septuagint as " The God-Fly of the Ekronites," t who were the inhabitants of a district belonging to the Philistines, situated near the Mediterranean, and originally allotted to the tribe of Judah. (Josh. chap. xv. ver. 45 and 46.)

Calmet says (and the same opinions are found in Buxtorf's Chaldee Dictionary, v. the word " Baal "), that

" This deity was called the god of the flies, either because he defended the people from the flies (which were attracted in great numbers by the sacrifices), or because the idol represented a fly or beetle, and the figure of this insect was according to Pliny an object of adoration. The Egyptians, with whom this worship originated, were at a short distance from the country of the Philistines, and it is observed that there are beetles in the pictures of Isis, on which Pignorius has a comment. The author of the Book of Wisdom fi (chap. xii. ver. 8, 23, and 24), having said that God sent flies and wasps to drive the Canaanites and Ammonites by degrees out of their country, adds, that God made those very things, to which they paid divine honours, the instruments of their punishment ; they therefore adored flies and wasps. There are said to be medals and old seals on which flies and beetles are represented. Some authors are of opinion that the name Achor (as quoted by Pliny) being the god invoked at Cyrene against flies, refers to Akron, the city where Beelzebub was worshipped."

According to this extract from Calmet it appears that winged insects, such as the fly, the wasp, and the beetle, were objects of worship amongst the Egyptians and the adjoining nations. It may further be observed, that one of the distinguishing marks on the calf, which was held to be the personification of the god Apis, was " the form of a beetle found under his tongue."* Both Isis and Osiris, themselves the symbols of the moon and the sun, were likewise connected with the worship rendered to the cow, ox, or bull, into which figure Osiris was said to have passed by the doctrine of Metempsychosis. As therefore the scarabŠus became thus identified with the mythology of Egypt, it may be supposed that it had some mystical allusion to the religious veneration so universally paid to an animal, whose authenticity, as a divine being, it essentially contributed to establish.

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