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Of the Third Seal.
The third animated being is the index of the third seal, in a human form, his station being towards the south, and consequently shows that this seal begins with an emperor proceeding from 79that cardinal point of the compass; probably with Septimius Severus, the African, an emperor from the south, of whom Eutropius writes in the following manner: “Deriving his origin from Africa, from the province of Tripolis, from the town of Leptis, the only emperor from Africa within all remembrance, before or since.”
Many will have famine or dearness of provisions the subject of this seal, deducing their proof rather from the black colour of the horse, and from the mention of grain, a measure1010Chœnix, the measure by which masters measured their servants’ victuals for a day. of wheat for a penny, to which likewise they think the balance in the hands of the rider refers; as if the allowance of corn was not only to be measured, but weighed, in consequence of very great penury. And, in truth, I should never have called this interpretation in question, (which appears so suitable at first sight,) if the event had corresponded with it. But I find nothing particular in this age, and in this course of the seals concerning famine, and deserving the adoption of such a character: For what is reported from Tertullian, according to Scapula, is, I think, by no means to be considered as of much importance; for if, as he relates, the harvest failed once in Africa, when Hilarion was prefect, it was 80not on that account general through the Roman world, nor was it in the age of Severus. Hence, it comes to pass, that while I examine the meaning of the symbol a little more closely, I seem to myself to collect, and not altogether from uncertain signs, that it is to be regarded in a different light. For it does not appear, as that interpretation requires, that the balance can be aptly compared with the chœnix, since the libra or scale is used in weighing, but chœnix is the name of a measure. Besides, when the condition of the animal indicated agrees so well with the signification of the other seals,—that of the lion with victory, that of the ox with slaughter, that of the eagle with the carcases of the following seal,—here there would be no ground for the association. For what agreement is there between man and famine? The colour of black, neither in its nature nor in the use of the ancient prophets, is coupled with famine only, but serves equally to describe sorrow, misery, and terror.
The subject of this seal, therefore, may be not famine, nor the dearness of provisions, but an administration of justice throughout the Roman world, and a severity more illustrious and more remarkable than in any of the former or subsequent periods of the seals. For as relates to the figure, the colour of the horse agrees with the severity of justice. That the scales are the 81symbol of Justice, is a fact handed down to us, as at this day no one is ignorant that Justice is painted with a balance. But what is subjoined by way of explanation, will appear, if attention is paid to it, to imply the same. “Take not away wheat or barley from any without a just price being paid for it. Observe a similar rule of justice also with regard to the oil and the wine;” as if he wished to caution them against plunderers, and had said, Do not steal. A denary, or penny, was the ordinary wages for a day’s work, which is obvious from the Gospel; it was also the daily stipend of the soldiers. The chœnix signifies the diurnal allowance, the ἡμεροτροφιδα, the food for the day, but of a very uncertain measure, for it varied according to the custom of nations, places, and men. The military chœnix (to omit the minor chœnices of shepherds, husbandmen, and vintagers) was four quarts; but in an ancient lexicographer in Greek and Latin, χοῖνιξ is half a bushel, i. e. double the military: And in the Septuagint, Ezek. xlv. 10, 11, χοῖνιξ is a bath, the largest measure of the Hebrews. From so uncertain a measure as the chænix, how is it possible that any thing should be extorted concerning famine and the dearness of provisions? A chcenix, therefore, I take here for any diurnal allowance, and a denary for any price of such allowance. 82In this manner the mode of interpretation which I have adopted will be established.
Now it is wonderful how much the event favours the interpretation, while Severus and Alexander were in power, those very distinguished riders on the black horse. Of Severus, what you may read at large in Aurelius, I will collect together, retaining the author’s words, and I will do the same afterwards from Lamprideus concerning Alexander. “No one was more illustrious in the republic,” says Aurelius, “than Severus, the founder of very equitable laws. Implacable to faults, he exalted every active person by rewards. He permitted honours to be sold to no one within his dominions. Nor did he suffer the smallest theft to go unpunished; animadverting more particularly on his own dependants, because, though difficult of proof, he understood that they took place through the fault of his generals, or even of his prefects.” Spartianus agrees with Aurelius when he calls him “both implacable to faults and the enemy to thieves, whenever they were found.” But these assertions were in no respect inferior to those which Lampridius relates of Alexander, the son of Mammea, on which, therefore, the chief part of the character of the seal appears to be founded. “He enacted,” says he, “moderate 83and innumerable laws on the right of the people and the revenue, nor did he ever sanction any constitution without twenty lawyers. He was a most severe judge against thieves, accusing them as guilty of daily crimes, and condemning them with the greatest acrimony, and calling them the only foes and enemies of the republic, (hut he speaks, if I mistake not, of judges who were thieves,) he commanded them never to appear in the cities, and if they were seen, to be banished by the governors of provinces. “Eucolpius,” says he, “relates, (with whom he was on the most familiar terms,) that if ever he saw a judge who was a thief; he had his finger ready to pluck out his eye. Septimius adds, who was no stranger to his mode of life, that Alexander had so much animosity against those judges, who had a bad reputation from their successors, that if he saw them by any accident from the penetration of his mind, he blurted out the fervour of his indignation, his whole countenance glowing with wrath, so that he could not articulate. Nay, he caused it to be proclaimed by a herald, that no one should salute the prince who knew himself to be a thief, but if he should ever be detected, he should become liable to capital punishment. He proceeds: “If any of the soldiers turned out of their way into the property of any one, according to the nature of the place, he was subjected 84in his presence, either to be beaten with clubs or rods, or to be condemned; or if the dignity of the person secured him from these punishments, he was visited with the severest reproaches, since he addressed him thus: `Will you have that done on your own land which you do on another’s?’ and he very often exclaimed what he had heard and remembered, either from certain Jews or Christians, ‘What you would not wish to have done to yourself, do not to another:’ With which sentence he was so much in love, that he ordered it to be inscribed on his palace and on public buildings.”
Behold, O Reader, the rider on the black horse, magnificently holding that golden heaven-descended balance of justice on the theatre of the world! Which was so remarkable a circumstance in a Pagan emperor, that it ought not to be deemed wonderful that the Holy Spirit should have made an allusion to it in this place.
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