Introduction xix Greco-Roman or one of the other pagan cultures of pre-Christian Europe, such as Celtic or Germanic paganism. The idea that Jewish observance of the law, necessary before the coming of Christ but not neces- sary after (according to Christians), was “superstitious” was also an important aspect of both the Christian concept of superstition and mainstream Christianity’s growing hostility to Judaism. Superstition in Ancient China Greece and Rome’s contemporary at the other end of Eurasia also had a concept of superstition. Magical, divinatory, and superstitious prac- tices have a long history in China, stretching to the “oracle bones” of the near-legendary Shang Dynasty, some of the earliest evidence for Chinese writing. Although classical Chi- nese thinkers did not have the association of Theophrastus on the Superstitious Man “Superstition would seem to be simply cowardice in regard to the supernatural. The Superstitious man is one who will wash his hands at a fountain, sprinkle him- self from a temple-font, put a bit of laurel-leaf into his mouth, and so go about the day. If a weasel run across his path, he will not pursue his walk until someone else has traversed the road, or until he has thrown three stones across it. When he sees a serpent in his house, if it be the red snake, he will invoke Sabazius—if the sacred snake, he will straightway place a shrine on the spot. He will pour oil from his flask on the smooth stones at the cross-roads, as he goes by, and will fall on his knees and worship them before he departs. If a mouse gnaws through a meal-bag, he will go to the expounder of sacred law and ask what is to be done and, if the answer is, ‘give it to a cobbler to stitch up,’ he will disregard the counsel, and go his way, and expiate the omen by sacrifice. He is apt, also, to purify his house frequently, alleging that Hec- ate has been brought into it by spells and, if an owl is startled by him in his walk, he will exclaim ‘Glory be to Athene!’ before he proceeds. He will not tread upon a tombstone, or come near a dead body or a woman defiled by childbirth, saying that it is expedient for him not to be polluted. Also on the fourth and seventh days of each month he will order his servants to mull wine, and go out and buy myrtle- wreaths, frankincense, and smilax and, on coming in, will spend the day in crowning the Hermaphrodites. When he has seen a vision, he will go to the interpreters of dreams, the seers, the augurs, to ask them to what god or goddess he ought to pray. Every month he will repair to the priests of the Orphic Mysteries, to partake in their rites, accompanied by his wife, or (if she is too busy) by his children and their nurse. He would seem, too, to be of those who are scrupulous in sprinkling themselves with sea-water and, if ever he observes anyone feasting on the garlic at the cross-roads, he will go away, pour water over his head, and, summoning the priestesses, bid them carry a squill or a puppy around him for purification. And, if he sees a maniac or an epileptic man, he will shudder and spit into his bosom.” Source: Theophrastus. 1870. The Characters of Theophrastus: An English Translation from a Revised Text. London: Macmillan. Pp. 163–165.
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