The imposture by which a few individuals, who had become acquainted with some of the more remarkable phenomena of nature, and the operations of chemistry, managed to enslave the minds and bodies of their ignorant fellow-creatures. An acquaintance with the motions of the heavenly bodies, and the variations in the state of the atmosphere, enabled its possessor to predict astronomical and meteorological phenomena, with a frequency and accuracy which could not fail to invest him with a divine character. The power of bringing down fire from heaven, even at times when the electric influence was itself in a state of repose, could be regarded only as a gift from heaven. The power of rendering the human body insensible to fire, was an irresistible instrument of imposture; and in the combinations of chemistry, and the influence of drugs and soporific embrocations on the human frame, the ancient magicians found their most available resources. The secret use which was thus made of scientific discoveries, and of remarkable inventions, has no doubt prevented many of them from reaching the present times; but though we are very ill informed respecting the progress of the ancients in various departments of the physical sciences, yet we have sufficient evidence that almost every branch of knowledge had communicated its wonders to the magician's budget; and we may even obtain 3ome insight into the scientific acquirements of former ages, by diligent study of their fables and their miracles.
The science of acoustics furnished the ancient sorcerers with some of their best deceptions. The imitation of thunder in their subterranean temples, could not fail to indicate the presence of a supernatural agent. The golden virgins, whose ravishing voices resounded through the temple of Delphos; the stone from the river Pactolus, whose trumpet notes scared the robber from the treasure which it guarded; the speaking head, which uttered its oracular responses at Lesbos; and the vocal statue of Memnon, which began at break of day to accost the rising sun, - were all deceptions derived from science, and from a diligent observation of the phenomena of nature.
The principles of hydrostatics were equally available in the work of deception. The marvellous fountain which Pliny describes in the island of Andro3 as discharging wine for seven days, and water for the rest of the year; the spring of oil which broke out in Rome to welcome the return of Augustus from the Sicilian war; the three empty urns which filled themselves with wine at the annual feast of Bacchus in the city of Elis; the glass tomb of Belus, which was full of oil, and which, when once emptied by Xerxes, could not again be filled, the weeping statues, and the perpetual lamps of the ancients; - were all the obvious effects of the equilibrium and pressure of fluids.
Although we have no direct evidence that the philosophers of antiquity were skilled in mechanics, yet there are indications of their knowledge, by no means equivocal, in the erection of the Egyptian obelisks, and in the transportation of huge masses of stone, and their subsequent elevation to great heights in their temples. The powers which they employed, and the mechanism by which they operated, have been studiously concealed; but their existence may be inferred from the results otherwise inexplicable, and the inference derives additional confirmation from the mechanical arrangements which seem to have formed a part of their religious impostures. When in some of the infamous mysteries of ancient Rome, the unfortunate victims were carried off by the gods, there is reason to believe that they were hurried away by the power of machinery; and when Apollonius, conducted by the Indian sages to the temple of their gods, felt the earth rising and falling benesth' bis feet like the agitated sea,he was no doubt placed upon a moving floor, capable of imitating the heavings of the waves.
The rapid descent of those who consulted the oracle in the cave of Trophonius - the moving tripods which Apollonius saw in the Indian temples of the walking statues of Antium, and in the temple of Hierapolis - and the wooden pigeon of Archytas, are specimens of the mechanical resources of ancient magic.
But of all the sciences, optics is the most fertile in marvellous expedients. The power of bringing the remotest objects within the very grasp of the observer, and of swelling into gigantic magnitude the almost invisible bodies of the material world, never fails to inspire with astonishment even those who understand the means by which these prodigies are accomplished. The ancients, indeed, were not acquainted with those combinations of lenses and mirrors which constitute the telescope and the microscope; but they must have been familiar with the property of lenses and mirrors to form erect and inverted images of the objects. There is reason to think that they employed them to effect the apparition of their gods; and in some of the descriptions of the optical displays which hallowed their ancient temples, we recognise the transformations of the modern phantasmagoria.