A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels — Volume 12 eBook

Robert Kerr (writer)
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 760 pages of information about A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels — Volume 12.

What can have introduced among these people the custom of exposing their dead above ground, till the flesh is consumed by putrefaction, and then burying the bones, it is perhaps impossible to guess; but it is remarkable that AElian and Apollonius Rhodius impute a similar practice to the ancient inhabitants of Colchis, a country near Pontus in Asia, now called Mingrelia; except that among them this manner of disposing of the dead did not extend to both sexes:  The women they buried; but the men they wrapped in a hide; and hung up in the air by a chain.  This practice among the Colchians is referred to a religious cause.  The principal objects of their worship were the Earth and the Air; and it is supposed that, in consequence of some superstitious notion, they devoted their dead to both.[92] Whether the natives of Otaheite had any notion of the same kind, we were never able certainly to determine; but we soon discovered, that the repositories of their dead were also places of worship.  Upon this occasion it may be observed, that nothing can be more absurd than the notion that the happiness or misery of a future life depends, in any degree, upon the disposition of the body when the state of probation is past; yet that nothing is more general than a solicitude about it.  However cheap we may hold any funeral rites which custom has not familiarized, or superstition rendered sacred, most men gravely deliberate how to prevent their body from being broken by the mattock and devoured by the worm, when it is no longer capable of sensation; and purchase a place for it in holy ground, when they believe the lot of its future existence to be irrevocably determined.  So strong is the association of pleasing or painful ideas with certain opinions and actions which affect us while we live, that we involuntarily act as if it was equally certain that they would affect us in the same manner when we are dead, though this is an opinion that nobody will maintain.  Thus it happens, that the desire of preserving from reproach even the name that we leave behind us, or of procuring it honour, is one of the most powerful principles of action, among the inhabitants of the most speculative and enlightened nations.  Posthumous reputation, upon every principle, must be acknowledged to have no influence upon the dead; yet the desire or obtaining and securing it, no force of reason, no habits of thinking can subdue, except in those whom habitual baseness and guilt have rendered indifferent to honour and shame while they lived.  This indeed seems to be among the happy imperfections of our nature, upon which the general good of society in a certain measure depends; for as some crimes are supposed to be prevented by hanging the body of the criminal in chains after he is dead, so, in consequence of the same association of ideas, much good is procured to society, and much evil prevented, by a desire of preventing disgrace or procuring honour to a name, when nothing but a name remains.

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