Images de page
PDF
ePub

When a case was brought for trial, it was customary for the arch-judge to put a golden chain round his neck, to which was suspended a small figure of Truth, ornamented with precious

437.

stones.

The goddess of Truth and Justice.

Thebes.

This was, in fact, a representation of the goddess who was worshipped under the double character of Truth and Justice, and whose name, Thmei, appears to

have been the origin of the Hebrew Thummim-a word, according to the Septuagint translation, implying "truth," and bearing a further analogy in its plural termination. And what makes it more remarkable, is that the chief priest of the Jews, who, before the election of a king, was also the judge of the nation, was alone entitled to wear this honorary badge; and the Thummim, like the Egyptian figure, was studded with precious stones of various colours. The goddess was represented "having her eyes closed,"

438.

The goddess of Truth, "with her eyes closed." Thebes.

purporting that the duty of a judge was to weigh the question according to the evidence he had heard, and to trust rather to his mind than to what he saw, and was intended to warn him of that virtue which the Deity peculiarly enjoined: an emblematic idea, very similar to "those statues at Thebes of judges without hands, with their chief or president at their head having his eyes turned downwards," signifying, as Plutarch says, "that Justice ought neither to be accessible to bribes, nor guided by favour and affection."

66

It is not to be supposed that the president and the thirty judges above mentioned were the only house of judicature in the country; each city, or capital of a nome, had no doubt its own County court," for the trial of minor and local offences; and it is probable that the assembly returned by the three chief cities resided wherever the royal court was held, and performed many of the same duties as the senates of ancient times. And that this was really the case appears from Diodorus mentioning the thirty judges and their president, represented at Thebes in the sculptures of the tomb of Osymandyas.

The president, or arch-judge, having put on the emblem of Truth, the trial commenced; and the eight volumes which contained the laws of the Egyptians were placed close to him, in order to guide his decision, or to enable him to solve a difficult question, by reference to that code, to former precedents, or to the opinion of some learned predecessor. The complainant stated his case. This was done in writing; and every particular that bore upon the subject, the mode in which the alleged offence was committed, and an estimate of the damage, or the extent of the injury sustained, were inserted.

The defendant then, taking up the deposition of the opposite party, wrote his answer to each of the plaintiff's statements, either denying the charge, or endeavouring to prove that the offence was not of a serious nature; or, if obliged to admit his guilt, suggesting that the damages were too high, and incompatible with the nature of the crime. The complainant replied in writ ing; and the accused having brought forward all he had to say in his defence, the papers were given to the judges; and if no

witnesses could be produced on either side, they decided upon the question according to the deposition of the parties. Their opinion only required to be ratified by the president, who then proceeded, in virtue of his office, to pronounce judgment on the case; and this was done by touching the party who had gained the cause with the figure of Truth. They considered that this mode of proceeding was more likely to forward the ends of justice, than when the judges listened to the statements of pleaders; eloquence having frequently the effect of fascinating the mind, and tending to throw a veil over guilt, and to pervert truth. The persuasive arguments of oratory, or those artifices which move the passions and excite the sympathy of the judges, were avoided; and thus neither did an appeal to their feelings, nor the tears and dissimulation of an offender, soften the just rigour of the laws. And while ample time was afforded to each party to proffer or to disprove an accusation, no opportunity was given to the offender to take advantage of his opponent, but poor and rich, ignorant and learned, honest and dishonest, were placed on an equal footing; and it was the case, rather than the persons, upon which the judgment was passed.

The laws of the Egyptians were handed down from the earliest times, and looked upon with the greatest reverence. They had the credit of having been dictated by the gods themselves, and Thoth (Hermes, Mercury, or the Divine Intellect) was said to have framed them for the benefit of mankind.

The names of many of the earliest monarchs and sages, who had contributed to the completion of their code, were recorded and venerated by them; and whoever, at successive periods, made additions to it was mentioned with gratitude as a benefactor of his country.

Truth or justice was thought to be the main cardinal virtue among the Egyptians, inasmuch as it relates more particularly to others; prudence, temperance, and fortitude being relative qualities, and tending chiefly to the immediate benefit of the individual who possesses them. It was, therefore, with great earnestness that they inculcated the necessity of fully appreciating it; and falsehood was not only considered disgraceful,

but when it entailed an injury on any other person was punishable by law. A calumniator of the dead was condemned to a severe punishment; and a false accuser was doomed to the same sentence which would have been awarded to the accused, if the offence had been proved against him; but to maintain a falsehood by an oath was deemed the blackest crime, and one which, from its complicated nature, could be punished by nothing short of death. For they considered that it involved two distinct crimes—a contempt for the gods, and a violation of faith towards man; the former the direct promoter of every sin, the latter destructive of all those ties which are most essential for the welfare of society.

The wilful murder of a freeman, or even of a slave, was punished with death, from the conviction that men ought to be restrained from the commission of sin, not on account of any distinction of station in life, but from the light in which they viewed the crime itself; while at the same time it had the effect of showing, that if the murder of a slave was deemed an offence deserving of so severe a punishment, they ought still more to shrink from the murder of one who was a compatriot and a free-born citizen.

In this law we observe a scrupulous regard to justice and humanity, and have an unquestionable proof of the great advancement made by the Egyptians in the most essential points of civilisation. Indeed, the Egyptians considered it so heinous a crime to deprive a man of life, that to be the accidental witness of an attempt to murder, without endeavouring to prevent it, was a capital offence, which could only be palliated by bringing proofs of inability to act. With the same spirit they decided, that to be present when any one inflicted a personal injury on another, without interfering, was tantamount to being a party, and was punishable according to the extent of the assault; and every one who witnessed a robbery was bound either to arrest, or, if that was out of his power, to lay an information, and to prosecute the offenders: and any neglect on this score being proved against him, the delinquent was condemned to receive a stated number of stripes, and to be kept without food for three whole days.

Although, in the case of murder, the Egyptian law was inexorable and severe, the royal prerogative might be exerted in favour of a culprit, and the punishment was sometimes commuted by a mandate from the king. Sabaco, indeed, during the fifty years of his reign, "made it a rule not to punish his subjects with death," whether guilty of murder or any other capital offence, but, "according to the magnitude of their crimes, he condemned the culprits to raise the ground about the town to which they belonged. By these means the situation of the different cities became greatly elevated above the reach of the inundation, even more than in the time of Sesostris ;" and either on account of a greater proportion of criminals, or from some other cause, the mounds of Bubastis were raised considerably higher than those of any other city.

The same laws that forbade a master to punish a slave with death took from a father every right over the life of his offspring; and the Egyptians deemed the murder of a child an odious crime, that called for the direct interposition of justice. They did not, however, punish it as a capital offence, since it appeared inconsistent to take away life from one who had given it to the child, but preferred inflicting such a punishment as would induce grief and repentance. With this view they ordained that the corpse of the deceased should be fastened to the neck of its parent, and that he should be obliged to pass three whole days and nights in its embrace, under the surveillance of a public guard.

But parricide was visited with the most cruel of chastisements; and conceiving, as they did, that the murder of a parent was the most unnatural of crimes, they endeavoured to prevent its occurrence by the marked severity with which it was avenged. The criminal was therefore sentenced to be lacerated with sharpened reeds, and after being thrown on thorns he was burnt to death.

When a woman was guilty of a capital offence, and judgment had been passed upon her, they were particularly careful to ascertain if the condemned was in a state of pregnancy; in which case her punishment was deferred till after the birth of the child, in order that the innocent might not suffer with the guilty, and

VOL. II.

P

« PrécédentContinuer »