CHAP. 56. (55.)—THE MANES, OR DEPARTED SPIRITS OF THE SOUL.
After burial come the different quiddities as to the existence of
the Manes. All men, after their last day,1
return to what they
were before the first; and after death there is no more sensation left in the body or in the soul than there was before birth.
But this same vanity of ours extends even to the future, and
lyingly fashions to itself an existence even in the very moments which belong to death itself: at one time it has conferred upon us the immortality of the soul; at another transmigration; and at another it has given sensation to the shades
below, and paid divine honours to the departed spirit, thus
making a kind of deity of him who has but just ceased to be a
man. As if, indeed, the mode of breathing with man was
in any way different from that of other animals, and as if there
were not many other animals to be found whose life is longer
than that of man, and yet for whom no one ever presaged anything of a like immortality. For what is the actual substance
of the soul, when taken by itself? Of what material does it
consist? Where is the seat of its thoughts? How is it to
see, or hear, or how to touch? And then, of what use is it,
or what can it avail, if it has not these faculties? Where,
too, is its residence, and what vast multitudes of these souls
must there be after the lapse of so many ages?
But all these are the mere figments of childish ravings, and of
that mortality which is so anxious never to cease to exist. It
is a similar piece of vanity, too, to preserve the dead bodies of
men; just like the promise that he shall come to life again,
which was made by Democritus;3
who, however, never has come
to life again himself. Out upon it! What downright madness is it to suppose that life is to recommence after death! or
indeed, what repose are we ever to enjoy when we have been
once born, if the soul is to retain its consciousness in heaven,
and the shades of the dead in the infernal regions? This
pleasing delusion, and this credulity, quite cancel that chief
good of human nature, death, and, as it were, double the
misery of him who is about to die, by anxiety as to what is
to happen to him after it. And, indeed, if life really is a
good, to whom can it be so to have once lived?
How much more easy, then, and how much more devoid of
all doubts, is it for each of us to put his trust in himself, and
guided by our knowledge of what our state has been before
birth, to assume that that after death will be the same.