Amidst all the sensuality of Greece, chastity was preeminently the attribute of sanctity accorded to Athene, and Artemis. "Chaste daughter of Zeus," prays the suppliant in iEschylus; and the Parthenon, or "virgin's temple," was the most sacred religious edifice in Athens. The very basis of Plato's moral system was the distinction between the sensual and the spiritual parts of our nature, the first being the sign of our degradation, the second, of our dignity; and the school of Pythagoras not only made chastity a prominent virtue, but advocated the creation of a monastic system in Greece similar to that of Romanism to-day.
Similarly, the conception of the celestial Aphrodite—the uniter of souls— unstained by any taint of earth, lingered for centuries beside that of an earthly Aphrodite, the patroness of lust, the hot-blooded goddess of passion. Strabo mentions societies of men in Thrace who aspire to perfection through celibacy and austere lives; and Plutarch highly praises certain philosophers who had sworn to abstain from wine and women, and " to honor God by their continence." 1
The story of the vestals, which Lecky calls "one of the most curious pages in the history of Rome," exhibits an instance where continence was not only voluntary, but guarded and surrounded by such fearful legal penalties as to almost make one shudder to read. But if living-burial was the punishment inflicted by the Lex Papia for violation of her vow of chastity, the vestal had privileges which, as in driving through the streets of Rome, preceded by the lictors, were sometimes refused even to an Empress.2 Vestals were believed to have a miraculous power of prayer, and were the custodians and priestesses of the Eternal Fire, the palladium, and all the holiest relics of Rome.3
* Encyclop. Brit., Art. "Vestals."
"At the Colline Gate has been builded the vault, with its bed, it3 table and its black bread and water. There, from time immemorial, that her cries may not reach the pure daughters of Rome, the offender against the laws of chastity, the desecrator of the altar of Vesta, has been entombed alive I
"The litter is without! The lictors are in attendance, with their fasces of authority! A Sentence! A Sentence! Death to the defiled! The law ordains it I The people demand it I"
J. R. Parke, Speech of Rutilius in "Tullia the Vestal: A Story of Ancient Rome," p. 22.