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The Romans, indeed, appear to have had fastdays appointed to propitiate their respective gods. That Jupiter had stated fasts at Rome, we learn from the following passage of Horace, where a mother is introduced praying to Jupiter for the recovery of her son from a quartan ague, and promising that the patient should purify himself in the Tiber on the morning of the fast-day sacred to that God:
"Frigida si puerum quartana reliquerit, illo
In Tiberi stabit."
HORACE, Lib. ii. Sat. 3.
"Sickness and health are thine, all powerful Jove,
Fasting was a practice not unknown to the Greeks. Homer distinctly refers to it in his representation of the conduct of Achilles at the funeral of Patroclus. Notwithstanding the urgent solicitations of his attendants, that chief persists in refusing to take any food.
"The leaders press'd the chief on every side;
POPE'S Hom. Il. B. xix.
It seems, too, as if the very manner of expressing grief among the Greeks corresponded with that of the Jews in more particulars than that of fasting. For instance, when Antilochus brings to Achilles the news of Patroclus' death, it is said,
"A sudden horror shot through all the chief,
His purple garments, and his golden hairs,
The Platonic Philosopher Apuleius informs us, that whoever had a mind to be initiated into the mysteries of Cybele, were obliged to prepare themselves by fasting ten days. And Aristotle says, that the Lacedemonians, having resolved to succour a city of the allies, ordained a fast throughout the whole extent of their dominions, without excepting even the domestic animals: and this they did for two ends; one, to spare provisions in favour of the besieged; the other, to draw down the blessing of heaven upon their enterprise.
The distinguished Dr. Hyde* remarks, that among the ancient Persians, fasting was prohibited. One would not willingly come into contact with the learned doctor; but it is worthy of remark, that the Gaures, who are descended from the ancient Persians, and who are now scattered among the Mahomedan population throughout Persia, observe "several stated fasts, and a sort of abstinence for five days successively after each of them, during which time they eat but once a day."
The Chinese, though in their habits and religious notions so diverse from other nations, have, in ancient and modern times, practised fasting: one instance shall suffice. A missionary Jesuit mentions the case of a female devotee, whom he laboured to proselyte to Christianity; and, among other things, says, that besides her long fasting, and strict observance of all the austerities of the sect to which she belonged, she had never tasted, for forty years successively, of any animal of what nature or kind
* Historia Religionis Veterum Persarum.
The Hindoos have been celebrated for the number and severity of their fasts, from time immemorial. Every caste is subject to a number of most painful ones.* Besides those which are common to all the castes, some have fasts peculiar to themselves. The Bramins fast" the eleventh day after the full moon, and the eleventh day after the new, and abstain during the hours of the day and night from all kinds of sustenance, even betel itself, and employ all that time either in prayer or reading. Such of the Bramins and Soudras as are of the sect of the Seivias, have a fast which is peculiar to themselves, viz. every Monday in November. They never eat a morsel of any thing till they see the stars in the sky, or that the hour for their rising is come."
Even among the rude inhabitants of the island of Madagascar, fasts are observed. On days appointed, a whole family meet together very early in the morning, and regale themselves with a small quantity of rice, after which they fast till midnight. In this interval they employ themselves principally in rehearsing and singing the heroic achievements of their ancestors.
Among the Mahomedans, in every part of the world, fasting is reckoned a duty of the greatest moment. Mahomet himself used to call it the gate of religion, and also said, that the odour of him who fasteth is more grateful to God than that of musk. Al Ghazâli, a celebrated Mahomedan doctor, reckons fasting to be one-fourth part of the faith.
The Mahomedans are obliged, by the express command of the Koran, to fast the whole month of Ramadân, from the time the new moon first appears, till the appearance of the next new moon; during which time they must abstain from eating and
See Note X.
drinking from day-break till night, or sun-set. And this injunction they observe so strictly, that while they fast they suffer nothing to enter their mouth, or other parts of the body; esteeming the fast null and broken if they smell perfumes, bathe, or even purposely swallow their spittle; some being so cautious they will not open their mouths to speak, lest they should breathe the air too freely. This fast is extremely rigorous and mortifying when the month of Ramadân happens to fall in summer, (for the Arabian year being lunar, each month runs through all the different seasons in the course of thirty-three years,) the length and heat of the days making the observance of it much more difficult and uneasy than in winter.
From the fast of Ramadân none are excused, except only travellers and sick persons, (under which last denomination the doctors comprehend all whose health would manifestly be injured by their keeping the fast; as women with child and giving suck, ancient people, and young children ;) but then they are obliged, so soon as the impediment is removed, to fast an equal number of other days and the breaking the fast is ordered to be expiated by giving alms to the poor. These severities, it is well known, are regularly endured.+
That Mahomet made up his system of religion from what he knew of Judaism, and spurious Christianity, with a mixture of heathenism, is evident to any person who will be at the pains to look into the Koran. His injunctions as to fasting are so plainly taken from the Jews, as fully to confirm the observation of Sale: "Mohamed seems to have followed the guidance of the Jews in his ordinances concerning fasting. That nation when they fast abstain not only from eating and drinking, but from anointing themselves, from day break until
* Sale, Prel. Diss. Sect. IV.
+ See Note XL.
sun-set, and the stars begin to appear. And they allow women with child and giving suck, old persons, and young children, to be exempted from keeping most of the public fasts." Rycaut also shows from Pocock's "Notæ de Arabum Moribus," that the institution of the Ramadan was originally founded upon a Jewish Fast. "The institutions of the Ramadán (he observes) proceeded from Mahomet himself in the second year of his prophetic office, which he did not assume until he had fully completed forty years; having before, in imitation of the JEWS' FAST of ASHURA, (Leviticus xxi. 29.) in memory of the overthrow of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, enjoined to the Arabians the same time of abstinence; but afterwards, apprehending it dishonourable to be beholding to the Jews for the invention of a fast, instituted the Ramadân."
Thus by referring to the most celebrated religions which prevail among men, it is found that the practice of fasting invariably obtains; and that this is not only the case at the present day, but has been from their very commencement. That men so generally opposed to each other, so differently circumstanced, and, in many instances, bearing such violent hostility to one another, as Jews, Christians, Pagans, and Mahommedans, should nevertheless substantially agree in this practice of fasting, is a remarkable fact, and deserving of mature consideration.
The number of these facts may be enlarged by the reader at his pleasure; for a reference to the histories of various countries will be amply sufficient to procure many such testimonies. Indeed, with those who deny the obligation to fast, it will be more easy to multiply facts than account for them. As to Jews and Christians it is easy enough to discover the reason of their observance of fasts,