We shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians - That is, The animals which they hold sacred, and will not permit to be slain, are those which our customs require us to sacrifice to our God; and should we do this in Egypt the people would rise in a mass, and stone us to death. Perhaps few people were more superstitious than the Egyptians. Almost every production of nature was an object of their religious worship: the sun, moon, planets, stars, the river Nile, animals of all sorts, from the human being to the monkey, dog, cat, and ibis, and even the onions and leeks which grew in their gardens. Jupiter was adored by them under the form of a ram, Apollo under the form of a crow, Bacchus under that of a goat, and Juno under that of a heifer. The reason why the Egyptians worshipped those animals is given by Eusebius, viz., that when the giants made war on the gods, they were obliged to take refuge in Egypt, and assume the shapes or disguise themselves under different kinds of animals in order to escape. Jupiter hid himself in the body of a ram, Apollo in that of a crow, Bacchus in a goat, Diana in a cat, Juno in a white heifer, Venus in a fish, and Mercury in the bird ibis; all which are summoned up by Ovid in the following lines: -
Duxque gregis fit Jupiter -
Delius in corvo, proles Semeleia capro,
Fele soror Phoebi, nivea Saturnia vacca,
Pisce Venus latuit, Cyllenius ibidis alis.
Metam., l. v., fab. v., 1. 326.
How the gods fled to Egypt's slimy soil,
And hid their heads beneath the banks of Nile;
How Typhon from the conquer'd skies pursued
Their routed godheads to the seven-mouth'd flood;
Forced every god, his fury to escape,
Some beastly form to take, or earthly shape.
Jove, so she sung, was changed into a ram,
From whence the horns of Libyan Ammon came;
Bacchus a goat, Apollo was a crow,
Phoebe a cat, the wife of Jove a cow,
Whose hue was whiter than the falling snow;
Mercury, to a nasty ibis turn'd,
The change obscene, afraid of Typhon mourn'd,
While Venus from a fish protection craves,
And once more plunges in her native waves
These animals therefore became sacred to them on account of the deities, who, as the fable reports, had taken refuge in them. Others suppose that the reason why the Egyptians would not sacrifice or kill those creatures was their belief in the doctrine of the metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls; for they feared lest in killing an animal they should kill a relative or a friend. This doctrine is still held by the Hindoos.