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Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book I. by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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food, in house or in field, by stealth;--if undiscovered, he was
applauded; if detected, punished. Two main-springs of action were
constructed within him--the dread of shame and the love of country.
These were motives, it is true, common to all the Grecian states, but
they seem to have been especially powerful in Sparta. But the last
produced its abuse in one of the worst vices of the national
character. The absorbing love for his native Sparta rendered the
citizen singularly selfish towards other states, even kindred to that
which he belonged to. Fearless as a Spartan,--when Sparta was
unmenaced he was lukewarm as a Greek. And this exaggerated yet
sectarian patriotism, almost peculiar to Sparta, was centred, not only
in the safety and greatness of the state, but in the inalienable
preservation of its institutions;--a feeling carefully sustained by a
policy exceedingly jealous of strangers [139]. Spartans were not
permitted to travel. Foreigners were but rarely permitted a residence
within the city: and the Spartan dislike to Athens arose rather from
fear of the contamination of her principles than from envy at the
lustre of her fame. When we find (as our history proceeds) the
Spartans dismissing their Athenian ally from the siege of Ithome, we
recognise their jealousy of the innovating character of their
brilliant neighbour;--they feared the infection of the democracy of
the Agora. This attachment to one exclusive system of government
characterized all the foreign policy of Sparta, and crippled the
national sense by the narrowest bigotry and the obtusest prejudice.
Wherever she conquered, she enforced her own constitution, no matter
how inimical to the habits of the people, never dreaming that what was
good for Sparta might be bad for any other state. Thus, when she
imposed the Thirty Tyrants on Athens, she sought, in fact, to
establish her own gerusia; and, no doubt, she imagined it would
become, not a curse, but a blessing to a people accustomed to the
wildest freedom of a popular assembly. Though herself, through the
tyranny of the ephors, the unconscious puppet of the democratic
action, she recoiled from all other and more open forms of democracy
as from a pestilence. The simple habits of the Spartan life assisted
to confirm the Spartan prejudices. A dinner, a fine house, these
sturdy Dorians regarded as a pitiable sign of folly. They had no
respect for any other cultivation of the mind than that which produced
bold men and short sentences. Them, nor the science of Aristotle, nor
the dreams of Plato were fitted to delight. Music and dancing were
indeed cultivated among them, and with success and skill; but the
music and the dance were always of one kind--it was a crime to vary an
air [140] or invent a measure. A martial, haughty, and superstitious
tribe can scarcely fail to be attached to poetry,--war is ever the
inspiration of song,--and the eve of battle to a Spartan was the
season of sacrifice to the Muses. The poetical temperament seems to
have been common among this singular people. But the dread of
innovation, when carried to excess, has even worse effect upon
literary genius than legislative science; and though Sparta produced a
few poets gifted, doubtless, with the skill to charm the audience they
addressed, not a single one of the number has bequeathed to us any
other memorial than his name. Greece, which preserved, as in a common
treasury, whatever was approved by her unerring taste, her wonderful
appreciation of the beautiful, regarded the Spartan poetry with an
indifference which convinces us of its want of value. Thebes, and not
Sparta, has transmitted to us the Dorian spirit in its noblest shape:
and in Pindar we find how lofty the verse that was inspired by its
pride, its daring, and its sublime reverence for glory and the gods.
As for commerce, manufactures, agriculture,--the manual arts--such
peaceful occupations were beneath the dignity of a Spartan--they were
strictly prohibited by law as by pride, and were left to the Perioeci
or the Helots.

VIII. It was evidently necessary to this little colony to be united.
Nothing unites men more than living together in common. The syssitia,
or public tables, an institution which was common in Crete, in Corinth
[141], and in Megara, effected this object in a mode agreeable to the
Dorian manners. The society at each table was composed of men
belonging to the same tribe or clan. New members could only be
elected by consent of the rest. Each head of a family in Sparta paid
for his own admission and that of the other members of his house. Men
only belonged to them. The youths and boys had their own separate
table. The young children, however, sat with their parents on low
stools, and received a half share. Women were excluded. Despite the
celebrated black broth, the table seems to have been sufficiently, if
not elegantly, furnished. And the second course, consisting of
voluntary gifts, which was supplied by the poorer members from the
produce of the chase--by the wealthier from their flocks, orchards,
poultry, etc., furnished what by Spartans were considered dainties.
Conversation was familiar, and even jocose, and relieved by songs.
Thus the public tables (which even the kings were ordinarily obliged
to attend) were rendered agreeable and inviting by the attractions of
intimate friendship and unrestrained intercourse.

IX. The obscurest question relative to the Spartan system is that
connected with property. It was evidently the intention of Lycurgus
or the earlier legislators to render all the divisions of land and
wealth as equal as possible. But no law can effect what society
forbids. The equality of one generation cannot be transmitted to
another. It may be easy to prevent a great accumulation of wealth,
but what can prevent poverty? While the acquisition of lands by
purchase was forbidden, no check was imposed on its acquisition by
gift or testament; and in the time of Aristotle land had become the
monopoly of the few. Sparta, like other states, had consequently her
inequalities--her comparative rich and her positive poor--from an
early period in her known history. As land descended to women, so
marriages alone established great disparities of property. "Were the
whole territory," says Aristotle, "divided into five portions, two
would belong to the women." The regulation by which the man who could
not pay his quota to the syssitia was excluded from the public tables,
proves that it was not an uncommon occurrence to be so excluded; and
indeed that exclusion grew at last so common, that the public tables
became an aristocratic instead of a democratic institution.
Aristotle, in later times, makes it an objection to the ephoral
government that poor men were chosen ephors, and that their venality
arose from their indigence--a moral proof that poverty in Sparta must
have been more common than has generally been supposed [142];--men of
property would not have chosen their judges and dictators in paupers.
Land was held and cultivated by the Helots, who paid a certain fixed
proportion of the produce to their masters. It is said that Lycurgus
forbade the use of gold and silver, and ordained an iron coinage; but
gold and silver were at that time unknown as coins in Sparta, and iron
was a common medium of exchange throughout Greece. The interdiction
of the precious metals was therefore of later origin. It seems to
have only related to private Spartans. For those who, not being
Spartans of the city--that is to say, for the Laconians or Perioeci--
engaged in commerce, the interdiction could not have existed. A more
pernicious regulation it is impossible to conceive. While it
effectually served to cramp the effects of emulation--to stint the
arts--to limit industry and enterprise--it produced the direct object
it was intended to prevent;--it infected the whole state with the
desire of gold--it forbade wealth to be spent, in order that wealth
might be hoarded; every man seems to have desired gold precisely
because he could make very little use of it! From the king to the
Helot [143], the spirit of covetousness spread like a disease. No
state in Greece was so open to bribery--no magistracy so corrupt as
the ephors. Sparta became a nation of misers precisely because it
could not become a nation of spendthrifts. Such are the results which
man produces when his legislation deposes nature!

X. In their domestic life the Spartans, like the rest of the Greeks,
had but little pleasure in the society of their wives. At first the
young husband only visited his bride by stealth--to be seen in company
with her was a disgrace. But the women enjoyed a much greater freedom
and received a higher respect in Sparta than elsewhere; the soft
Asiatic distinctions in dignity between the respective sexes did not
reach the hardy mountaineers of Lacedaemon; the wife was the mother of
men! Brought up in robust habits, accustomed to athletic exercises,
her person exposed in public processions and dances, which, but for
the custom that made decorous even indecency itself, would have been
indeed licentious, the Spartan maiden, strong, hardy, and half a
partaker in the ceremonies of public life, shared the habits, aided
the emulation, imbibed the patriotism, of her future consort. And, by
her sympathy with his habits and pursuits, she obtained an influence
and ascendency over him which was unknown in the rest of Greece.
Dignified on public occasions, the Spartan matron was deemed, however,
a virago in private life; and she who had no sorrow for a slaughtered
son, had very little deference for a living husband. Her obedience to
her spouse appears to have been the most cheerfully rendered upon
those delicate emergencies when the service of the state required her
submission to the embraces of another! [144]

XI. We now come to the most melancholy and gloomy part of the Spartan
system--the condition of the Helots.

The whole fabric of the Spartan character rested upon slavery. If it
were beneath a Spartan to labour--to maintain himself--to cultivate
land--to build a house--to exercise an art;--to do aught else than to
fight an enemy--to choose an ephor--to pass from the chase or the
palaestra to the public tables--to live a hero in war--an aristocrat
in peace,--it was clearly a supreme necessity to his very existence as
a citizen, and even as a human being, that there should be a
subordinate class of persons employed in the occupations rejected by
himself, and engaged in providing for the wants of this privileged
citizen. Without Helots the Spartan was the most helpless of human
beings. Slavery taken from the Spartan state, the state would fall at
once! It is no wonder, therefore, that this institution should have
been guarded with an extraordinary jealousy--nor that extraordinary
jealousy should have produced extraordinary harshness. It is exactly
in proportion to the fear of losing power that men are generally
tyrannical in the exercise of it. Nor is it from cruelty of
disposition, but from the anxious curse of living among men whom
social circumstances make his enemies because his slaves, that a
despot usually grows ferocious, and that the urgings of suspicion
create the reign of terror. Besides the political necessity of a
strict and unrelaxed slavery, a Spartan would also be callous to the
sufferings, from his contempt for the degradation, of the slave; as he
despised the employments abandoned to the Helot, even so would he
despise the wretch that exercised them. Thus the motives that render
power most intolerant combined in the Spartan in his relations to the
Helot--viz., 1st, necessity for his services, lost perhaps if the curb
were ever relaxed--2dly, consummate contempt for the individual he
debased. The habit of tyranny makes tyranny necessary. When the
slave has been long maddened by your yoke, if you lighten it for a
moment he rebels. He has become your deadliest foe, and self-
preservation renders it necessary that him whom you provoke to
vengeance you should crush to impotence. The longer, therefore, the
Spartan government endured, the more cruel became the condition of the
Helots. Not in Sparta were those fine distinctions of rank which
exist where slavery is unknown, binding class with class by ties of
mutual sympathy and dependance--so that Poverty itself may be a
benefactor to Destitution. Even among the poor the Helot had no
brotherhood! he was as necessary to the meanest as to the highest
Spartan--his wrongs gave its very existence to the commonwealth. We
cannot, then, wonder at the extreme barbarity with which the Spartans
treated this miserable race; and we can even find something of excuse
for a cruelty which became at last the instinct of self-preservation.
Revolt and massacre were perpetually before a Spartan's eyes; and what
man will be gentle and unsuspecting to those who wait only the moment
to murder him?

XII. The origin of the Helot race is not clearly ascertained: the
popular notion that they were the descendants of the inhabitants of
Helos, a maritime town subdued by the Spartans, and that they were
degraded to servitude after a revolt, is by no means a conclusive
account. Whether, as Mueller suggests, they were the original slave
population of the Achaeans, or whether, as the ancient authorities
held, they were such of the Achaeans themselves as had most
obstinately resisted the Spartan sword, and had at last surrendered
without conditions, is a matter it is now impossible to determine.
For my own part, I incline to the former supposition, partly because
of the wide distinction between the enslaved Helots and the (merely)
inferior Perioeci, who were certainly Achaeans; a distinction which I
do not think the different manner in which the two classes were
originally subdued would suffice to account for; partly because I
doubt whether the handful of Dorians who first fixed their dangerous
settlement in Laconia could have effectually subjugated the Helots, if
the latter had not previously been inured to slavery. The objection
to this hypothesis--that the Helots could scarcely have so hated the
Spartans if they had merely changed masters, does not appear to me
very cogent. Under the mild and paternal chiefs of the Homeric age
[145], they might have been subjected to a much gentler servitude.
Accustomed to the manners and habits of their Achaean lords, they
might have half forgotten their condition; and though governed by
Spartans in the same external relations, it was in a very different
spirit. The sovereign contempt with which the Spartans regarded the
Helots, they would scarcely have felt for a tribe distinguished from
the more honoured Perioeci only by a sterner valour and a greater
regard for freedom; while that contempt is easily accounted for, if
its objects were the previously subdued population of a country the
Spartans themselves subdued.

The Helots were considered the property of the state--but they were
intrusted and leased, as it were, to individuals; they were bound to
the soil; even the state did not arrogate the power of selling them
out of the country; they paid to their masters a rent in corn--the
surplus profits were their own. It was easier for a Helot than for a
Spartan to acquire riches--but riches were yet more useless to him.
Some of the Helots attended their masters at the public tables, and
others were employed in all public works: they served in the field as
light-armed troops: they were occasionally emancipated, but there were
several intermediate grades between the Helot and the freeman; their
nominal duties were gentle indeed when compared with the spirit in
which they were regarded and the treatment they received. That much
exaggeration respecting the barbarity of their masters existed is
probable enough; but the exaggeration itself, among writers accustomed
to the institution of slavery elsewhere, and by no means addicted to
an overstrained humanity, is a proof of the manner in which the
treatment of the Helots was viewed by the more gentle slave-masters of
the rest of Greece. They were branded with ineffaceable dishonour: no
Helot might sing a Spartan song; if he but touched what belonged to a
Spartan it was profaned--he was the Pariah of Greece. The ephors--the
popular magistrates--the guardians of freedom--are reported by
Aristotle to have entered office in making a formal declaration of war
against the Helots--probably but an idle ceremony of disdain and
insult. We cannot believe with Plutarch, that the infamous cryptia
was instituted for the purpose he assigns--viz., that it was an
ambuscade of the Spartan youths, who dispersed themselves through the
country, and by night murdered whomsoever of the Helots they could
meet. But it is certain that a select portion of the younger Spartans
ranged the country yearly, armed with daggers, and that with the
object of attaining familiarity with military hardships was associated
that of strict, stern, and secret surveillance over the Helot
population. No Helot, perhaps, was murdered from mere wantonness; but
who does not see how many would necessarily have been butchered at the
slightest suspicion of disaffection, or for the faintest utility of
example? These miserable men were the objects of compassion to all
Greece. "It was the common opinion," says Aelian, "that the
earthquake in Sparta was a judgment from the gods upon the Spartan
inhumanity to the Helots." And perhaps in all history (not even
excepting that awful calmness with which the Italian historians
narrate the cruelties of a Paduan tyrant or a Venetian oligarchy)
there is no record of crime more thrilling than that dark and terrible
passage in Thucydides which relates how two thousand Helots, the best
and bravest of their tribe, were selected as for reward and freedom,
how they were led to the temples in thanksgiving to the gods--and how
they disappeared, their fate notorious--the manner of it a mystery!

XIII. Besides the Helots, the Spartans exercised an authority over
the intermediate class called the Perioeci. These were indubitably
the old Achaean race, who had been reduced, not to slavery, but to
dependance. They retained possession of their own towns, estimated in
number, after the entire conquest of Messenia, at one hundred. They
had their own different grades and classes, as the Saxons retained
theirs after the conquest of the Normans. Among these were the
traders and manufacturers of Laconia; and thus whatever art attained
of excellence in the dominions of Sparta was not Spartan but Achaean.
They served in the army, sometimes as heavy-armed, sometimes as light-
armed soldiery, according to their rank or callings; and one of the
Perioeci obtained the command at sea. They appear, indeed, to have
been universally acknowledged throughout Greece as free citizens, yet
dependant subjects. But the Spartans jealously and sternly maintained
the distinction between exemption from the servitude of a Helot, and
participation in the rights of a Dorian: the Helot lost his personal
liberty--the Perioecus his political.

XIV. The free or purely Spartan population (as not improbably with
every Doric state) was divided into three generic tribes--the Hyllean,
the Dymanatan, and the Pamphylian: of these the Hyllean (the reputed
descendants of the son of Hercules) gave to Sparta both her kings.
Besides these tribes of blood or race, there were also five local
tribes, which formed the constituency of the ephors, and thirty
subdivisions called obes--according to which the more aristocratic
offices appear to have been elected. There were also recognised in
the Spartan constitution two distinct classes--the Equals and the
Inferiors. Though these were hereditary divisions, merit might
promote a member of the last--demerit degrade a member of the first.
The Inferiors, though not boasting the nobility of the Equals, often
possessed men equally honoured and powerful: as among the commoners of
England are sometimes found persons of higher birth and more important
station than among the peers--(a term somewhat synonymous with that
of Equal.) But the higher class enjoyed certain privileges which we
can but obscurely trace [146]. Forming an assembly among themselves,
it may be that they alone elected to the senate; and perhaps they were
also distinguished by some peculiarities of education--an assertion
made by Mr. Mueller, but not to my mind sufficiently established.
With respect to the origin of this distinction between the Inferiors
and the Equals, my own belief is, that it took place at some period
(possibly during the Messenian wars) when the necessities of a failing
population induced the Spartans to increase their number by the
admixture either of strangers, but (as that hypothesis is scarce
agreeable to Spartan manners) more probably of the Perioeci; the new
citizens would thus be the Inferiors. Among the Greek settlements in
Italy, it was by no means uncommon for a colony, once sufficiently
established, only to admit new settlers even from the parent state
upon inferior terms; and in like manner in Venice arose the
distinction between the gentlemen and the citizens; for when to that
sea-girt state many flocked for security and refuge, it seemed but
just to give to the prior inhabitants the distinction of hosts, and to
consider the immigrators as guests;--to the first a share in the
administration and a superior dignity--to the last only shelter and
repose.

XV. Such are the general outlines of the state and constitution of
Sparta--the firmest aristocracy that perhaps ever existed, for it was
an aristocracy on the widest base. If some Spartans were noble, every
Spartan boasted himself gentle. His birth forbade him to work, and
his only profession was the sword. The difference between the meanest
Spartan and his king was not so great as that between a Spartan and a
Perioecus. Not only the servitude of the Helots, but the subjection
of the Perioeci, perpetually nourished the pride of the superior race;
and to be born a Spartan was to be born to power. The sense of
superiority and the habit of command impart a certain elevation to the
manner and the bearing. There was probably more of dignity in the
poorest Spartan citizen than in the wealthiest noble of Corinth--the
most voluptuous courtier of Syracuse. And thus the reserve, the
decorum, the stately simplicity of the Spartan mien could not but
impose upon the imagination of the other Greeks, and obtain the credit
for correspondent qualities which did not always exist beneath that
lofty exterior. To lively nations, affected by externals, there was
much in that sedate majesty of demeanour; to gallant nations, much in
that heroic valour; to superstitious nations, much in that proverbial
regard to religious rites, which characterized the Spartan race.
Declaimers on luxury admired their simplicity--the sufferers from
innovation, their adherence to ancient manners. Many a victim of the
turbulence of party in Athens sighed for the repose of the
Lacedaemonian city; and as we always exaggerate the particular evils
we endure, and admire most blindly the circumstances most opposite to
those by which we are affected, so it was often the fashion of more
intellectual states to extol the institutions of which they saw only
from afar and through a glass the apparent benefits, without examining
the concomitant defects. An Athenian might laud the Spartan
austerity, as Tacitus might laud the German barbarism; it was the
panegyric of rhetoric and satire, of wounded patriotism or
disappointed ambition. Although the ephors made the government really
and latently democratic, yet the concentration of its action made it
seemingly oligarchic; and in its secrecy, caution, vigilance, and
energy, it exhibited the best of the oligarchic features. Whatever
was democratic by law was counteracted in its results by all that was
aristocratic in custom. It was a state of political freedom, but of
social despotism. This rigidity of ancient usages was binding long
after its utility was past. For what was admirable at one time became
pernicious at another; what protected the infant state from
dissension, stinted all luxuriance of intellect in the more matured
community. It is in vain that modern writers have attempted to deny
this fact--the proof is before us. By her valour Sparta was long the
most eminent state of the most intellectual of all countries; and when
we ask what she has bequeathed to mankind--what she has left us in
rivalry to that Athens, whose poetry yet animates, whose philosophy
yet guides, whose arts yet inspire the world--we find only the names
of two or three minor poets, whose works have perished, and some half
a dozen pages of pithy aphorisms and pointed repartees!

XVI. My object in the above sketch has been to give a general outline
of the Spartan character and the Spartan system during the earlier and
more brilliant era of Athenian history, without entering into
unnecessary conjectures as to the precise period of each law and each
change. The social and political state of Sparta became fixed by her
conquest of Messenia. It is not within the plan of my undertaking to
retail at length the legendary and for the most part fabulous accounts
of the first and second Messenian wars. The first was dignified by
the fate of the Messenian hero Aristodemus, and the fall of the rocky
fortress of Ithome; its result was the conquest of Messenia (probably
begun 743 B. C., ended 723); the inhabitants were compelled to an oath
of submission, and to surrender to Sparta half their agricultural
produce. After the first Messenian war, Tarentum was founded by a
Spartan colony, composed, it is said, of youths [147], the offspring
of Spartan women and Laconian men, who were dissatisfied with their
exclusion from citizenship, and by whom the state was menaced with a
formidable conspiracy shared by the Helots. Meanwhile, the
Messenians, if conquered, were not subdued. Years rolled away, and
time had effaced the remembrance of the past sufferings, but not of
the ancient [148] liberties.

It was among the youth of Messenia that the hope of the national
deliverance was the most intensely cherished. At length, in Andania,
the revolt broke forth. A young man, pre-eminent above the rest for
birth, for valour, and for genius, was the head and the soul of the
enterprise (probably B. C. 679). His name was Aristomenes. Forming
secret alliances with the Argives and Arcadians, he at length ventured
to raise his standard, and encountered at Dera, on their own domains,
the Spartan force. The issue of the battle was indecisive; still,
however, it seems to have seriously aroused the fears of Sparta: no
further hostilities took place till the following year; the oracle at
Delphi was solemnly consulted, and the god ordained the Spartans to
seek their adviser in an Athenian. They sent to Athens and obtained
Tyrtaeus. A popular but fabulous account [149] describes him as a
lame teacher of grammar, and of no previous repute. His songs and his
exhortations are said to have produced almost miraculous effects. I
omit the romantic adventures of the hero Aristomenes, though it may be
doubted whether all Grecian history can furnish passages that surpass
the poetry of his reputed life. I leave the reader to learn elsewhere
how he hung at night a shield in the temple of Chalcioecus, in the
very city of the foe, with the inscription, that Aristomenes dedicated
to the goddess that shield from the spoils of the Spartans--how he
penetrated the secret recesses of Trophonius--how he was deterred from
entering Sparta by the spectres of Helen and the Dioscuri--how, taken
prisoner in an attempt to seize the women of Aegila, he was released
by the love of the priestess of Ceres--how, again made captive, and
cast into a deep pit with fifty of his men, he escaped by seizing hold
of a fox (attracted thither by the dead bodies), and suffering himself
to be drawn by her through dark and scarce pervious places to a hole
that led to the upper air. These adventures, and others equally
romantic, I must leave to the genius of more credulous historians.

All that seems to me worthy of belief is, that after stern but
unavailing struggles, the Messenians abandoned Andania, and took their
last desperate station at Ira, a mountain at whose feet flows the
river Neda, separating Messenia from Triphylia. Here, fortified alike
by art and nature, they sustained a siege of eleven years. But with
the eleventh the term of their resistance was completed. The slave of
a Spartan of rank had succeeded in engaging the affections of a
Messenian woman who dwelt without the walls of the mountain fortress.
One night the guilty pair were at the house of the adulteress--the
husband abruptly returned--the slave was concealed, and overheard
that, in consequence of a violent and sudden storm, the Messenian
guard had deserted the citadel, not fearing attack from the foe on so
tempestuous a night, and not anticipating the inspection of
Aristomenes, who at that time was suffering from a wound. The slave
overheard--escaped--reached the Spartan camp--apprized his master
Emperamus (who, in the absence of the kings, headed the troops) of the
desertion of the guard:--an assault was agreed on: despite the
darkness of the night, despite the violence of the rain, the Spartans
marched on:--scaled the fortifications:--were within the walls. The
fulfilment of dark prophecies had already portended the fate of the
besieged; and now the very howling of the dogs in a strange and
unwonted manner was deemed a prodigy. Alarmed, aroused, the
Messenians betook themselves to the nearest weapons within their
reach. Aristomenes, his son Gorgus, Theoclus, the guardian prophet of
his tribe (whose valour was equal to his science), were among the
first to perceive the danger. Night passed in tumult and disorder.
Day dawned, but rather to terrify than encourage--the storm increased
--the thunder burst--the lightning glared. What dismayed the besieged
encouraged the besiegers. Still, with all the fury of despair, the
Messenians fought on: the very women took part in the contest; death
was preferable, even in their eyes, to slavery and dishonour. But the
Spartans were far superior in number, and, by continual reliefs, the
fresh succeeded to the weary. In arms for three days and three nights
without respite, worn out with watching, with the rage of the
elements, with cold, with hunger, and with thirst, no hope remained
for the Messenians: the bold prophet declared to Aristomenes that the
gods had decreed the fall of Messene, that the warning oracles were
fulfilled. "Preserve," he cried, "what remain of your forces--save
yourselves. Me the gods impel to fall with my country!" Thus saying,
the soothsayer rushed on the enemy, and fell at last covered with
wounds and satiated with the slaughter himself had made. Aristomenes
called the Messenians round him; the women and the children were
placed in the centre of the band, guarded by his own son and that of
the prophet. Heading the troop himself, he rushed on the foe, and by
his gestures and the shaking of his spear announced his intention to
force a passage, and effect escape. Unwilling yet more to exasperate
men urged to despair, the Spartans made way for the rest of the
besieged. So fell Ira! (probably B. C. 662). [150] The brave
Messenians escaped to Mount Lyceum in Arcadia, and afterward the
greater part, invited by Anaxilaus, their own countryman, prince of
the Dorian colony at Rhegium in Italy, conquered with him the
Zanclaeans of Sicily, and named the conquered town Messene. It still
preserves the name [151]. But Aristomenes, retaining indomitable
hatred to Sparta, refused to join the colony. Yet hoping a day of
retribution, he went to Delphi. What counsel he there received is
unrecorded. But the deity ordained to Damagetes, prince of Jalysus in
Rhodes, to marry the daughter of the best man of Greece. Such a man
the prince esteemed the hero of the Messenians, and wedded the third
daughter of Aristomenes. Still bent on designs against the destroyers
of his country, the patriot warrior repaired to Rhodes, where death
delivered the Spartans from the terror of his revenge. A monument was
raised to his memory, and that memory, distinguished by public
honours, long made the boast of the Messenians, whether those in
distant exile, or those subjected to the Spartan yoke. Thus ended the
second Messenian war. Such of the Messenians as had not abandoned
their country were reduced to Helotism. The Spartan territory
extended, and the Spartan power secured, that haughty state rose
slowly to pre-eminence over the rest of Greece; and preserved, amid
the advancing civilization and refinement of her neighbours, the stern
and awing likeness of the heroic age:--In the mountains of the
Peloponnesus, the polished and luxurious Greeks beheld, retained from
change as by a spell, the iron images of their Homeric ancestry!

CHAPTER VII.

Governments in Greece.

I. The return of the Heraclidae occasioned consequences of which the
most important were the least immediate. Whenever the Dorians forced
a settlement, they dislodged such of the previous inhabitants as
refused to succumb. Driven elsewhere to seek a home, the exiles found
it often in yet fairer climes, and along more fertile soils. The
example of these involuntary migrators became imitated wherever
discontent prevailed or population was redundant: and hence, as I have
already recorded, first arose those numerous colonies, which along the
Asiatic shores, in the Grecian isles, on the plains of Italy, and even
in Libya and in Egypt, were destined to give, as it were, a second
youth to the parent states.

II. The ancient Greek constitution was that of an aristocracy, with a
prince at the head. Suppose a certain number of men, thus governed,
to be expelled their native soil, united by a common danger and common
suffering, to land on a foreign shore, to fix themselves with pain and
labour in a new settlement--it is quite clear that a popular principle
would insensibly have entered the forms of the constitution they
transplanted. In the first place, the power of the prince would be
more circumscribed--in the next place, the free spirit of the
aristocracy would be more diffused: the first, because the authority
of the chief would rarely be derived from royal ancestry, or hallowed
by prescriptive privilege; in most cases he was but a noble, selected
from the ranks, and crippled by the jealousies, of his order: the
second, because all who shared in the enterprise would in one respect
rise at once to an aristocracy--they would be distinguished from the
population of the state they colonized. Misfortune, sympathy, and
change would also contribute to sweep away many demarcations; and
authority was transmuted from a birthright into a trust, the moment it
was withdrawn from the shelter of ancient custom, and made the gift of
the living rather than a heritage from the dead. It was probable,
too, that many of such colonies were founded by men, among whom was
but little disparity of rank: this would be especially the case with
those which were the overflow of a redundant population; the great and
the wealthy are never redundant!--the mass would thus ordinarily be
composed of the discontented and the poor, and even where the
aristocratic leaven was most strong, it was still the aristocracy of
some defeated and humbled faction. So that in the average equality of
the emigrators were the seeds of a new constitution; and if they
transplanted the form of monarchy, it already contained the genius of
republicanism. Hence, colonies in the ancient, as in the modern
world, advanced by giant strides towards popular principles.
Maintaining a constant intercourse with their father-land, their own
constitutions became familiar and tempting to the population of the
countries they had abandoned; and much of whatsoever advantages were
derived from the soil they selected, and the commerce they found
within their reach, was readily attributed only to their more popular
constitutions; as, at this day, we find American prosperity held out
to our example, not as the result of local circumstances, but as the
creature of political institutions.

One principal cause of the republican forms of government that began
(as, after the Dorian migration, the different tribes became settled
in those seats by which they are historically known) to spread
throughout Greece, was, therefore, the establishment of colonies
retaining constant intercourse with the parent states. A second cause
is to be found in the elements of the previous constitutions of the
Grecian states themselves, and the political principles which existed
universally, even in the heroic ages: so that, in fact, the change
from monarchy to republicanism was much less violent than at the first
glance it would seem to our modern notions. The ancient kings, as
described by Homer, possessed but a limited authority, like that of
the Spartan kings--extensive in war, narrow in peace. It was
evidently considered that the source of their authority was in the
people. No notion seems to have been more universal among the Greeks
than that it was for the community that all power was to be exercised.
In Homer's time popular assemblies existed, and claimed the right of
conferring privileges on rank. The nobles were ever jealous of the
prerogative of the prince, and ever encroaching on his accidental
weakness. In his sickness, his age, or his absence, the power of the
state seems to have been wrested from his hands--the prey of the
chiefs, or the dispute of contending factions. Nor was there in
Greece that chivalric fealty to a person which characterizes the
North. From the earliest times it was not the MONARCH, that called
forth the virtue of devotion, and inspired the enthusiasm of loyalty.
Thus, in the limited prerogative of royalty, in the jealousy of the
chiefs, in the right of popular assemblies, and, above all, in the
silent and unconscious spirit of political theory, we may recognise in
the early monarchies of Greece the germes of their inevitable
dissolution. Another cause was in that singular separation of tribes,
speaking a common language, and belonging to a common race, which
characterized the Greeks. Instead of overrunning a territory in one
vast irruption, each section seized a small district, built a city,
and formed an independent people. Thus, in fact, the Hellenic
governments were not those of a country, but of a town; and the words
"state" and "city" were synonymous [152]. Municipal constitutions, in
their very nature, are ever more or less republican; and, as in the
Italian states, the corporation had only to shake off some power
unconnected with, or hostile to it, to rise into a republic. To this
it may be added, that the true republican spirit is more easily
established among mountain tribes imperfectly civilized, and yet fresh
from the wildness of the natural life, than among old states, where
luxury leaves indeed the desire, but has enervated the power of
liberty, "as the marble from the quarry may be more readily wrought
into the statue, than that on which the hand of the workman has
already been employed." [153]

III. If the change from monarchy to republicanism was not very
violent in itself, it appears to have been yet more smoothed away by
gradual preparations. Monarchy was not abolished, it declined. The
direct line was broken, or some other excuse occurred for exchanging
an hereditary for an elective monarchy; then the period of power
became shortened, and from monarchy for life it was monarchy only for
a certain number of years: in most cases the name too (and how much is
there in names!) was changed, and the title of ruler or magistrate
substituted for that of king.

Thus, by no sudden leap of mind, by no vehement and short-lived
revolutions, but gradually, insensibly, and permanently, monarchy
ceased--a fashion, as it were, worn out and obsolete--and
republicanism succeeded. But this republicanism at first was probably
in no instance purely democratic. It was the chiefs who were the
visible agents in the encroachments on the monarchic power--it was an
aristocracy that succeeded monarchy. Sometimes this aristocracy was
exceedingly limited in number, or the governing power was usurped by a
particular faction or pre-eminent families; then it was called an
OLIGARCHY. And this form of aristocracy appears generally to have
been the most immediate successor to royalty. "The first polity,"
says Aristotle [154], "that was established in Greece after the lapse
of monarchies, was that of the members of the military class, and
those wholly horsemen," . . . . . "such republics, though called
democracies, had a strong tendency to oligarchy, and even to royalty."
[155] But the spirit of change still progressed: whether they were
few or many, the aristocratic governors could not fail to open the
door to further innovations. For, if many, they were subjected to
dissensions among themselves--if few, they created odium in all who
were excluded from power. Thus fell the oligarchies of Marseilles,
Ister, and Heraclea. In the one case they were weakened by their own
jealousies, in the other by the jealousies of their rivals. The
progress of civilization and the growing habits of commerce gradually
introduced a medium between the populace and the chiefs. The MIDDLE
CLASS slowly rose, and with it rose the desire of extended liberties
and equal laws. [156]

IV. Now then appeared the class of DEMAGOGUES. The people had been
accustomed to change. They had been led against monarchy, and found
they had only resigned the one master to obtain the many:--A demagogue
arose, sometimes one of their own order, more often a dissatisfied,
ambitious, or empoverished noble. For they who have wasted their
patrimony, as the Stagirite shrewdly observes, are great promoters of
innovation! Party ran high--the state became divided--passions were
aroused--and the popular leader became the popular idol. His life was
probably often in danger from the resentment of the nobles, and it was
always easy to assert that it was so endangered.--He obtained a guard
to protect him, conciliated the soldiers, seized the citadel, and rose
at once from the head of the populace to the ruler of the state. Such
was the common history of the tyrants of Greece, who never supplanted
the kingly sway (unless in the earlier ages, when, born to a limited
monarchy, they extended their privileges beyond the law, as Pheidon of
Argos), but nearly always aristocracies or oligarchies [157]. I need
scarcely observe that the word "tyrant" was of very different
signification in ancient times from that which it bears at present.
It more nearly corresponded to our word "usurper," and denoted one
who, by illegitimate means, whether of art or force, had usurped the
supreme authority. A tyrant might be mild or cruel, the father of the
people, or their oppressor; he still preserved the name, and it was
transmitted to his children. The merits of this race of rulers, and
the unconscious benefits they produced, have not been justly
appreciated, either by ancient or modern historians. Without her
tyrants, Greece might never have established her democracies. As may
be readily supposed, the man who, against powerful enemies, often from
a low origin and with empoverished fortunes, had succeeded in
ascending a throne, was usually possessed of no ordinary abilities.
It was almost vitally necessary for him to devote those abilities to
the cause and interests of the people. Their favour had alone raised
him--numerous foes still surrounded him--it was on the people alone
that he could depend.

The wiser and more celebrated tyrants were characterized by an extreme
modesty of deportment--they assumed no extraordinary pomp, no lofty
titles--they left untouched, or rendered yet more popular, the outward
forms and institutions of the government--they were not exacting in
taxation--they affected to link themselves with the lowest orders, and
their ascendency was usually productive of immediate benefit to the
working classes, whom they employed in new fortifications or new
public buildings; dazzling the citizens by a splendour that seemed
less the ostentation of an individual than the prosperity of a state.
But the aristocracy still remained their enemies, and it was against
them, not against the people, that they directed their acute
sagacities and unsparing energies. Every more politic tyrant was a
Louis the Eleventh, weakening the nobles, creating a middle class. He
effected his former object by violent and unscrupulous means. He
swept away by death or banishment all who opposed his authority or
excited his fears. He thus left nothing between the state and a
democracy but himself; himself removed, democracy ensued naturally and
of course. There are times in the history of all nations when liberty
is best promoted--when civilization is most rapidly expedited--when
the arts are most luxuriantly nourished by a strict concentration of
power in the hands of an individual--and when the despot is but the
representative of the popular will [158]. At such times did the
tyrannies in Greece mostly flourish, and they may almost be said to
cease with the necessity which called them forth. The energy of these
masters of a revolution opened the intercourse with other states;
their interests extended commerce; their policy broke up the sullen
barriers of oligarchical prejudice and custom; their fears found
perpetual vent for the industry of a population whom they dreaded to
leave in indolence; their genius appreciated the arts--their vanity
fostered them. Thus they interrupted the course of liberty only to
improve, to concentre, to advance its results. Their dynasty never
lasted long; the oldest tyranny in Greece endured but a hundred years
[159]--so enduring only from its mildness. The son of the tyrant
rarely inherited his father's sagacity and talents: he sought to
strengthen his power by severity; discontent ensued, and his fall was
sudden and complete. Usually, then, such of the aristocracy as had
been banished were recalled, but not invested with their former
privileges. The constitution became more or less democratic. It is
true that Sparta, who lent her powerful aid in destroying tyrannies,
aimed at replacing them by oligarchies--but the effort seldom produced
a permanent result: the more the aristocracy was narrowed, the more
certain was its fall. If the middle class were powerful--if commerce
thrived in the state--the former aristocracy of birth was soon
succeeded by an aristocracy of property (called a timocracy), and this
was in its nature certain of democratic advances. The moment you
widen the suffrage, you may date the commencement of universal
suffrage. He who enjoys certain advantages from the possession of ten
acres, will excite a party against him in those who have nine; and the
arguments that had been used for the franchise of the one are equally
valid for the franchise of the other. Limitations of power by
property are barriers against a tide which perpetually advances.
Timocracy, therefore, almost invariably paved the way to democracy.
But still the old aristocratic faction, constantly invaded, remained
powerful, stubborn, and resisting, and there was scarcely a state in
Greece that did not contain the two parties which we find to-day in
England, and in all free states--the party of the movement to the
future, and the party of recurrence to the past; I say the past, for
in politics there is no present! Wherever party exists, if the one
desire fresh innovations, so the other secretly wishes not to preserve
what remains, but to restore what has been. This fact it is necessary
always to bear in mind in examining the political contests of the
Athenians. For in most of their domestic convulsions we find the
cause in the efforts of the anti-popular party less to resist new
encroachments than to revive departed institutions. But though in
most of the Grecian states were two distinct orders, and the
Eupatrids, or "Well-born," were a class distinct from, and superior
to, that of the commonalty, we should err in supposing that the
separate orders made the great political divisions. As in England the
more ancient of the nobles are often found in the popular ranks, so in
the Grecian states many of the Eupatrids headed the democratic party.
And this division among themselves, while it weakened the power of the
well-born, contributed to prevent any deadly or ferocious revolutions:
for it served greatly to soften the excesses of the predominant
faction, and every collision found mediators between the contending
parties in some who were at once friends of the people and members of
the nobility. Nor should it be forgotten that the triumph of the
popular party was always more moderate than that of the antagonist
faction--as the history of Athens will hereafter prove.

V. The legal constitutions of Greece were four--Monarchy, Oligarchy,
Aristocracy, and Democracy; the illegal, was Tyranny in a twofold
shape, viz., whether it consisted in an usurped monarchy or an usurped
oligarchy. Thus the oligarchy of the Thirty in Athens was no less a
tyranny than the single government of Pisistratus. Even democracy had
its illegal or corrupt form--in OCHLOCRACY or mob rule; for democracy
did not signify the rule of the lower orders alone, but of all the
people--the highest as the lowest. If the highest became by law
excluded--if the populace confined the legislative and executive
authorities to their own order--then democracy, or the government of a
whole people, virtually ceased, and became the government of a part of
the people--a form equally unjust and illegitimate--equally an abuse
in itself, whether the dominant and exclusive portion were the nobles
or the mechanics. Thus in modern yet analogous history, when the
middle class of Florence expelled the nobles from any share of the
government, they established a monopoly under the name of liberty; and
the resistance of the nobles was the lawful struggle of patriots and
of freemen for an inalienable privilege and a natural right.

VI. We should remove some very important prejudices from our minds,
if we could once subscribe to a fact plain in itself, but which the
contests of modern party have utterly obscured--that in the mere forms
of their government, the Greek republics cannot fairly be pressed into
the service of those who in existing times would attest the evils, or
proclaim the benefits, of constitutions purely democratic. In the
first place, they were not democracies, even in their most democratic
shape:--the vast majority of the working classes were the enslaved
population. And, therefore, to increase the popular tendencies of the
republic was, in fact, only to increase the liberties of the few. We
may fairly doubt whether the worst evils of the ancient republics, in
the separation of ranks, and the war between rich and poor, were not
the necessary results of slavery. We may doubt, with equal
probability, whether much of the lofty spirit, and the universal
passion for public affairs, whence emanated the enterprise, the
competition, the patriotism, and the glory of the ancient cities,
could have existed without a subordinate race to carry on the
drudgeries of daily life. It is clear, also, that much of the
intellectual greatness of the several states arose from the exceeding
smallness of their territories--the concentration of internal power,
and the perpetual emulation with neighbouring and kindred states
nearly equal in civilization; it is clear, too, that much of the
vicious parts of their character, and yet much of their more
brilliant, arose from the absence of the PRESS. Their intellectual
state was that of men talked to, not written to. Their imagination
was perpetually called forth--their deliberative reason rarely;--they
were the fitting audience for an orator, whose art is effective in
proportion to the impulse and the passion of those he addresses. Nor
must it be forgotten that the representative system, which is the
proper conductor of the democratic action, if not wholly unknown to
the Greeks [160], and if unconsciously practised in the Spartan
ephoralty, was at least never existent in the more democratic states.
And assemblies of the whole people are compatible only with those
small nations of which the city is the country. Thus, it would be
impossible for us to propose the abstract constitution of any ancient
state as a warning or an example to modern countries which possess
territories large in extent--which subsist without a slave population
--which substitute representative councils for popular assemblies--and
which direct the intellectual tastes and political habits of a people,
not by oratory and conversation, but through the more calm and
dispassionate medium of the press. This principle settled, it may
perhaps be generally conceded, that on comparing the democracies of
Greece with all other contemporary forms of government, we find them
the most favourable to mental cultivation--not more exposed than
others to internal revolutions--usually, in fact, more durable,--more
mild and civilized in their laws--and that the worst tyranny of the
Demus, whether at home or abroad, never equalled that of an oligarchy
or a single ruler. That in which the ancient republics are properly
models to us, consists not in the form, but the spirit of their
legislation. They teach us that patriotism is most promoted by
bringing all classes into public and constant intercourse--that
intellect is most luxuriant wherever the competition is widest and
most unfettered--and that legislators can create no rewards and invent
no penalties equal to those which are silently engendered by society
itself--while it maintains, elaborated into a system, the desire of
glory and the dread of shame.

CHAPTER VIII.

Brief Survey of Arts, Letters, and Philosophy in Greece, prior to the
Legislation of Solon.

I. Before concluding this introductory portion of my work, it will be
necessary to take a brief survey of the intellectual state of Greece
prior to that wonderful era of Athenian greatness which commenced with
the laws of Solon. At this period the continental states of Greece
had produced little in that literature which is now the heirloom of
the world. Whether under her monarchy, or the oligarchical
constitution that succeeded it, the depressed and languid genius of
Athens had given no earnest of the triumphs she was afterward destined
to accomplish. Her literature began, though it cannot be said to have
ceased, with her democracy. The solitary and doubtful claim of the
birth--but not the song--of Tyrtaeus (fl. B. C. 683), is the highest
literary honour to which the earlier age of Attica can pretend; and
many of the Dorian states--even Sparta itself--appear to have been
more prolific in poets than the city of Aeschylus and Sophocles. But
throughout all Greece, from the earliest time, was a general passion
for poetry, however fugitive the poets. The poems of Homer are the
most ancient of profane writings--but the poems of Homer themselves
attest that they had many, nor ignoble, precursors. Not only do they
attest it in their very excellence--not only in their reference to
other poets--but in the general manner of life attributed to chiefs
and heroes. The lyre and the song afford the favourite entertainment
at the banquet [161]. And Achilles, in the interval of his indignant
repose, exchanges the deadly sword for the "silver harp,"

"And sings
The immortal deeds of heroes and of kings." [162]

II. Ample tradition and the internal evidence of the Homeric poems
prove the Iliad at least to have been the composition of an Asiatic
Greek; and though the time in which he flourished is yet warmly
debated, the most plausible chronology places him about the time of
the Ionic migration, or somewhat less than two hundred years after the
Trojan war. The following lines in the speech of Juno in the fourth
book of the Iliad are supposed by some [163] to allude to the return
of the Heraclidae and the Dorian conquests in the Peloponnesus:--

"Three towns are Juno's on the Grecian plains,
More dear than all th' extended earth contains--
Mycenae, Argos, and the Spartan Wall--
These mayst thou raze, nor I forbid their fall;
'Tis not in me the vengeance to remove;
The crime's sufficient that they share my love." [164]

And it certainly does seem to me that in a reference so distinct to
the three great Peloponnesian cities which the Dorians invaded and
possessed, Homer makes as broad an allusion to the conquests of the
Heraclidae, not only as would be consistent with the pride of an Ionic
Greek in attesting the triumphs of the national Dorian foe, but as the
nature of a theme cast in a distant period, and remarkably removed, in
its general conduct, from the historical detail of subsequent events,
would warrant to the poet [165]. And here I may observe, that if the
date thus assigned to Homer be correct, the very subject of the Iliad
might have been suggested by the consequences of the Dorian irruption.
Homer relates,

"Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered."

But Achilles is the native hero of that Thessalian district, which was
the earliest settlement of the Dorian family. Agamemnon, whose
injuries he resents, is the monarch of the great Achaean race, whose
dynasty and dominion the Dorians are destined to overthrow. It is
true that at the time of the Trojan war the Dorians had migrated from
Phthiotis to Phocis--it is true that Achilles was not of Dorian
extraction; still there would be an interest attached to the singular
coincidence of place; as, though the English are no descendants from
the Britons, we yet associate the British history with our own: hence
it seems to me, though I believe the conjecture is new, that it is not
the whole Trojan war, but that episode in the Trojan war (otherwise
unimportant) illustrated by the wrath of Achilles, which awakens the
inspiration of the poet. In fact, if under the exordium of the Iliad
there lurk no typical signification, the exordium is scarce
appropriate to the subject. For the wrath of Achilles did not bring
upon the Greeks woes more mighty than the ordinary course of war would
have destined them to endure. But if the Grecian audience (exiles,
and the posterity of exiles), to whom, on Asiatic shores, Homer
recited his poem, associated the hereditary feud of Achilles and
Agamemnon with the strife between the ancient warriors of Phthiotis
and Achaia; then, indeed, the opening lines assume a solemn and
prophetic significance, and their effect must have been electrical
upon a people ever disposed to trace in the mythi of their ancestry
the legacies of a dark and ominous fatality, by which each present
suffering was made the inevitable result of an immemorial cause. [166]

III. The ancients unanimously believed the Iliad the production of a
single poet; in recent times a contrary opinion has been started; and
in Germany, at this moment, the most fashionable belief is, that that
wonderful poem was but a collection of rhapsodies by various poets,
arranged and organized by Pisistratus and the poets of his day; a
theory a scholar may support, but which no poet could ever have
invented! For this proposition the principal reasons alleged are
these:--It is asserted as an "indisputable fact," "that the art of
writing, and the use of manageable writing materials, were entirely,
or all but entirely, unknown in Greece and its islands at the supposed
date of the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey; that, if so, these
poems could not have been committed to writing during the time of such
their composition; that, in a question of comparative probabilities
like this, it is a much grosser improbability that even the single
Iliad, amounting, after all curtailments and expungings, to upwards of
15,000 hexameter lines, should have been actually conceived and
perfected in the brain of one man, with no other help but his own or
others' memory, than that it should in fact be the result of the
labours of several distinct authors; that if the Odyssey be counted,
the improbability is doubled; that if we add, upon the authority of
Thucydides and Aristotle, the Hymns and Margites, not to say the
Batrachomyomachia, that which was improbable becomes morally
impossible! that all that has been so often said as to the fact of as
many verses or more having been committed to memory, is beside the
point in question, which is not whether 15,000 or 30,000 lines may not
be learned by heart from print or manuscript, but whether one man can
originally compose a poem of that length, which, rightly or not, shall
be thought to be a perfect model of symmetry and consistency of parts,
without the aid of writing materials;--that, admitting the superior
probability of such an achievement in a primitive age, we know nothing
actually similar or analogous to it; and that it so transcends the
common limits of intellectual power, as at the least to merit, with as
much justice as the opposite opinion, the character of improbability."
[167]

And upon such arguments the identity of Homer is to be destroyed! Let
us pursue them seriatim.

1st. "The art and the use of manageable writing materials were
entirely, or all but entirely, unknown in Greece and its islands at
the supposed date of the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey."

The whole argument against the unity of Homer rests upon this
assertion; and yet this assertion it is impossible to prove! It is
allowed, on the contrary, that alphabetical characters were introduced
in Greece by Cadmus--nay, inscriptions believed by the best
antiquaries to bear date before the Trojan war are found even among
the Pelasgi of Italy. Dionysius informs us that the Pelasgi first
introduced letters into Italy. But in answer to this, it is said that
letters were used only for inscriptions on stone or wood, and not for
the preservation of writings so voluminous. If this were the case, I
scarcely see why the Greeks should have professed so grateful a
reminiscence of the gift of Cadmus, the mere inscription of a few
words on stone would not be so very popular or beneficial an
invention! But the Phoenicians had constant intercourse with the
Egyptians and Hebrews; among both those nations the art and materials
of writing were known. The Phoenicians, far more enterprising than
either, must have been fully acquainted with their means of written
communication--and indeed we are assured that they were so. Now, if a
Phoenician had imparted so much of the art to Greece as the knowledge
of a written alphabet, is it probable that he would have suffered the
communication to cease there! The Phoenicians were a commercial
people--their colonies in Greece were for commercial purposes,--would
they have wilfully and voluntarily neglected the most convenient mode
of commercial correspondence?--importing just enough of the art to
suffice for inscriptions of no use but to the natives, would they have
stopped short precisely at that point when the art became useful to
themselves? And in vindicating that most able people from so wilful a
folly, have we no authority in history as well as common sense? We
have the authority of Herodotus! When he informs us that the
Phoenicians communicated letters to the Ionians, he adds, that by a
very ancient custom the Ionians called their books diptherae, or
skins, because, at a time when the plant of the bibles or papyrus was
scarce [168], they used instead of it the skins of goats and sheep--a
custom he himself witnessed among barbarous nations. Were such
materials used only for inscriptions relative to a religious
dedication, or a political compact? NO; for then, wood or stone--the
temple or the pillar--would have been the material for the
inscription,--they must, then, have been used for a more literary
purpose; and verse was the first form of literature. I grant that
prior, and indeed long subsequent to the time of Homer, the art of
writing (as with us in the dark ages) would be very partially known--
that in many parts of Greece, especially European Greece, it might
scarcely ever be used but for brief inscriptions. But that is nothing
to the purpose;--if known at all--to any Ionian trader--even to any
neighbouring Asiatic--even to any Phoenician settler--there is every
reason to suppose that Homer himself, or a contemporary disciple and
reciter of his verses, would have learned both the art and the use of
the materials which could best have ensured the fame of the poet, or
assisted the memory of the reciter. And, though Plutarch in himself
alone is no authority, he is not to be rejected as a corroborative
testimony when he informs us that Lycurgus collected and transcribed
the poems of Homer; and that writing was then known in Greece is
evident by the very ordinance of Lycurgus that his laws should not be
written. But Lycurgus is made by Apollodorus contemporary with Homer
himself; and this belief appears, to receive the sanction of the most
laborious and profound of modern chronologers [169]. I might adduce
various other arguments in support of those I have already advanced;
but I have said enough already to show that it is not an "indisputable
fact" that Homer could not have been acquainted with writing
materials; and that the whole battery erected to demolish the fame of
the greatest of human geniuses has been built upon a most uncertain
and unsteady foundation. It may be impossible to prove that Homer's
poems were written, but it is equally impossible to prove that they
were not--and if it were necessary for the identity of Homer that his
poems should have been written, that necessity would have been one of
the strongest proofs, not that Homer did not exist, but that writing
did!

But let us now suppose it proved that writing materials for a literary
purpose were unknown, and examine the assertions built upon that
hypothesis.

2d. "That if these poems could not have been committed to writing
during the time of their composition, it is a much grosser
improbability that even the single Iliad, amounting, after all
curtailments and expungings, to upwards of 15,000 hexameter lines,
should have been actually conceived and perfected in the brain of one
man, with no other help but his own or others' memory, than that it
should, in fact, be the result of the labours of several distinct
authors."

I deny this altogether. "The improbability" might be "grosser" if the
Iliad had been composed in a day! But if, as any man of common sense
would acknowledge, it was composed in parts or "fyttes" of moderate
length at a time, no extraordinary power of memory, or tension of
thought, would have been required by the poet. Such parts, once
recited and admired, became known and learned by a hundred
professional bards, and were thus orally published, as it were, in
detached sections, years perhaps before the work was completed. All
that is said, therefore, about the difficulty of composing so long a
poem without writing materials is but a jargon of words. Suppose no
writing materials existed, yet, as soon as portions of a few hundred
lines at a time were committed to the memory of other minstrels, the
author would, in those minstrels, have living books whereby to refresh
his memory, and could even, by their help, polish and amend what was
already composed. It would not then have been necessary for the poet
himself perfectly and verbally to remember the whole work. He had his
tablets of reference in the hearts and lips of others, and even, if it
were necessary that he himself should retain the entire composition,
the constant habit of recital, the constant exercise of memory, would
render such a task by no means impracticable or unprecedented. As for
the unity of the poem, thus composed, it would have been, as it is,
the unity, not of technical rules and pedantic criticism, but the
unity of interest, character, imagery, and thought--a unity which
required no written references to maintain it, but which was the
essential quality of one master-mind, and ought to be, to all plain
men, an irrefragable proof that one mind alone conceived and executed
the work.

IV. So much for the alleged improbability of one author for the
Iliad. But with what face can these critics talk of "probability,"
when, in order to get rid of one Homer, they ask us to believe in
twenty! Can our wildest imagination form more monstrous hypotheses
than these, viz.--that several poets, all possessed of the very
highest order of genius (never before or since surpassed), lived in
the same age--that that genius was so exactly similar in each, that we
cannot detect in the thoughts, the imagery, the conception and
treatment of character, human and divine, as manifest in each, the
least variety in these wonderful minds--that out of the immense store
of their national legends, they all agreed in selecting one subject,
the war of Troy--that of that subject they all agreed in selecting
only one portion of time, from the insult of Achilles to the
redemption of the body of Hector--that their different mosaics so
nicely fitted one into the other, that by the mere skill of an able
editor they were joined into a whole, so symmetrical that the acutest
ingenuity of ancient Greece could never discover the imposture [170]--
and that, of all these poets, so miraculous in their genius, no single
name, save that of Homer, was recorded by the general people to whom
they sung, or claimed by the peculiar tribe whose literature they
ought to have immortalized? If everything else were wanting to prove
the unity of Homer, this prodigious extravagance of assumption, into
which a denial of that unity has driven men of no common learning and
intellect, would be sufficient to establish it.

3d. "That if the Odyssey be counted, the improbability is doubled;
that if we add, upon the authority of Thucydides and Aristotle, the
Hymns and Margites, not to say the Batrachomyomachia, that which was
improbable becomes morally impossible."

Were these last-mentioned poems Homer's, there would yet be nothing
improbable in the invention and composition of minor poems without
writing materials; and the fact of his having composed one long poem,
throws no difficulty in the way of his composing short ones. We have
already seen that the author need not himself have remembered them all
his life. But this argument is not honest, for the critics who have
produced it agree in the same breath, when it suits their purpose,
that the Hymns, etc., are not Homer's--and in this I concur with
their, and the almost universal, opinion.

The remaining part of the analysis of the hostile argument has already
been disposed of in connexion with the first proposition.

It now remains to say a few words upon the authorship of the Odyssey.

V. The question, whether or not the two epics of the Iliad and
Odyssey were the works of the same poet, is a very different one from
that which we have just discussed. Distinct and separate, indeed, are
the inquiries whether Greece might produce, at certain intervals of
time, two great epic poets, selecting opposite subjects--and whether
Greece produced a score or two of great poets, from whose desultory
remains the mighty whole of the Iliad was arranged. Even the ancients
of the Alexandrine school did not attribute the Odyssey to the author
of the Iliad. The theme selected--the manners described--the
mythological spirit--are all widely different in the two works, and
one is evidently of more recent composition than the other. But, for
my own part, I do not think it has been yet clearly established that
all these acknowledged differences are incompatible with the same
authorship. If the Iliad were written in youth, the travels of the
poet, the change of mind produced by years and experience, the
facility with which an ancient Greek changed or remodelled his pliant
mythology, the rapidity with which (in the quick development of
civilization in Greece) important changes in society and manners were
wrought, might all concur in producing, from the mature age of the
poet, a poem very different to that which he composed in youth. And
the various undetected interpolations and alterations supposed to be
foisted into the Odyssey may have originated such detailed points of
difference as present the graver obstacles to this conjecture.
Regarding the Iliad and Odyssey as wholes, they are so analogous in
all the highest and rarest attributes of genius, that it is almost as
impossible to imagine two Homers as it is two Shakspeares. Nor is
there such a contrast between the Iliad and the Odyssey as there is
between any one play of Shakspeare's and another [171]. Still, I
should warn the general reader, that the utmost opposition that can
reasonably and effectually be made to those who assign to different
authors these several epics, limits itself rather to doubt than to
denial.

VI. It is needless to criticise these immortal masterpieces; not that
criticism upon them is yet exhausted--not that a most useful, and even
novel analysis of their merits and character may not yet be performed,
nor that the most striking and brilliant proofs of the unity of each
poem, separately considered, may not be established by one who shall,
with fitting powers, undertake the delightful task of deducing the
individuality of the poet from the individualizing character of his
creations, and the peculiar attributes of his genius. With human
works, as with the divine, the main proof of the unity of the author
is in his fidelity to himself:--Not then as a superfluous, but as far
too lengthened and episodical a labour, if worthily performed, do I
forego at present a critical survey of the two poems popularly
ascribed to Homer.

The early genius of Greece devoted itself largely to subjects similar
to those which employed the Homeric muse. At a later period--probably
dating at the Alexandrian age--a vast collection of ancient poems was
arranged into what is termed the "Epic Cycle;" these commenced at the
Theogony, and concluded with the adventures of Telemachus. Though no
longer extant, the Cyclic poems enjoyed considerable longevity. The
greater part were composed between the years 775 B. C. and 566 B. C.
They were extant in the time of Proclus, A. D. 450; the eldest,
therefore, endured at least twelve, the most recent ten centuries;--
save a few scattered lines, their titles alone remain, solitary
tokens, yet floating above the dark oblivion which has swept over the
epics of thirty bards! But, by the common assent, alike of the
critics and the multitude, none of these approached the remote age,
still less the transcendent merits, of the Homeric poems.

VII. But, of earlier date than these disciples of Homer, is a poetry
of a class fundamentally distinct from the Homeric, viz., the
collection attributed to Hesiod. Of one of these only, a rustic and
homely poem called "Works and Days," was Hesiod considered the author
by his immediate countrymen (the Boeotians of Helicon); but the more
general belief assigned to the fertility of his genius a variety of
other works, some of which, if we may judge by the titles, aimed at a
loftier vein [172]. And were he only the author of the "Works and
Days"--a poem of very insignificant merit [173]--it would be scarcely
possible to account for the high estimation in which Hesiod was held
by the Greeks, often compared, and sometimes preferred, to the mighty
and majestic Homer. We must either, then, consider Hesiod as the
author of many writings superior perhaps to what we now possess, or,
as is more plausibly and popularly supposed by modern critics, the
representative and type, as it were, of a great school of national
poetry. And it has been acutely suggested that, viewing the pastoral
and lowly occupation he declares himself to pursue [174], combined
with the subjects of his muse, and the place of his birth, we may
believe the name of Hesiod to have been the representative of the
poetry, not of the victor lords, but of the conquered people,
expressive of their pursuits, and illustrative of their religion.
This will account for the marked and marvellous difference between the
martial and aristocratic strain of Homer and the peaceful and rustic
verse of Hesiod [175], as well as for the distinction no less visible
between the stirring mythology of the one and the thoughtful theogony
of the other. If this hypothesis be accepted, the Hesiodic era might
very probably have commenced before the Homeric (although what is now
ascribed to Hesiod is evidently of later date than the Iliad and the
Odyssey). And Hesiod is to Homer what the Pelasgic genius was to the
Hellenic. [176]

VIII. It will be obvious to all who study what I may call the natural
history of poetry, that short hymns or songs must long have preceded
the gigantic compositions of Homer. Linus and Thamyris, and, more
disputably, Orpheus, are recorded to have been the precursors of
Homer, though the poems ascribed to them (some of which still remain)
were of much later date. Almost coeval with the Grecian gods were
doubtless religious hymns in their honour. And the germe of the great
lyrical poetry that we now possess was, in the rude chants of the
warlike Dorians, to that Apollo who was no less the Inspirer than the
Protector. The religion of the Greeks preserved and dignified the
poetry it created; and the bard, "beloved by gods as men," became
invested, as well with a sacred character as a popular fame. Beneath
that cheerful and familiar mythology, even the comic genius sheltered
its license, and found its subjects. Not only do the earliest of the
comic dramatists seem to have sought in mythic fables their characters
and plots, but, far before the DRAMA itself arose in any of the
Grecian states, comic recital prepared the way for comic
representation. In the eighth book of the Odyssey, the splendid
Alcinous and the pious Ulysses listen with delight to the story, even
broadly ludicrous, how Vulcan nets and exposes Venus and her war-god
lover--

"All heaven beholds imprisoned as they lie,
And unextinguished laughter shakes the sky."

And this singular and well-known effusion shows, not only how grave
and reverent an example Epicharmus had for his own audacious
portraiture of the infirmities of the Olympian family, but how
immemorially and how deeply fixed in the popular spirit was the
disposition to draw from the same source the elements of humour and of
awe.

But, however ancient the lyrical poetry of Greece, its masterpieces of
art were composed long subsequent to the Homeric poems; and, no doubt,
greatly influenced by acquaintance with those fountains of universal
inspiration. I think it might be shown that lyrical poetry developed
itself, in its more elaborate form, earliest in those places where the
poems of Homer are most likely to have been familiarly known.

The peculiar character of the Greek lyrical poetry can only be
understood by remembering its inseparable connexion with music; and
the general application of both, not only to religious but political
purposes. The Dorian states regarded the lyre and the song as
powerful instruments upon the education, the manners, and the national
character of their citizens. With them these arts were watched and
regulated by the law, and the poet acquired something of the social
rank, and aimed at much of the moral design, of a statesman and a
legislator: while, in the Ionian states, the wonderful stir and
agitation, the changes and experiments in government, the rapid growth
of luxury, commerce, and civilization, afforded to a poetry which was
not, as with us, considered a detached, unsocial, and solitary art,
but which was associated with every event of actual life--occasions of
vast variety--themes of universal animation. The eloquence of poetry
will always be more exciting in its appeals--the love for poetry
always more diffused throughout a people, in proportion as it is less
written than recited. How few, even at this day, will read a poem!--
what crowds will listen to a song! Recitation transfers the stage of
effect from the closet to the multitude--the public becomes an
audience, the poet an orator. And when we remember that the poetry,
thus created, imbodying the most vivid, popular, animated subjects of
interest, was united with all the pomp of festival and show--all the
grandest, the most elaborate, and artful effects of music--we may
understand why the true genius of lyrical composition has passed for
ever away from the modern world.

As early as between 708 and 665 B. C., Archilochus brought to
perfection a poetry worthy of loftier passions than those which mostly
animated his headstrong and angry genius. In 625 (thirty-one years
before the legislation of Solon) flourished Arion, the Lesbian, who,
at Corinth, carried, to extraordinary perfection the heroic adaptation
of song to choral music. In 611 flourished the Sicilian, Stersichorus
--no unworthy rival of Arion; while simultaneously, in strains less
national and Grecian, and more resembling the inspiration of modern
minstrels, Alcaeus vented his burning and bitter spirit;--and Sappho
(whose chaste and tender muse it was reserved for the chivalry of a
northern student, five-and-twenty centuries after the hand was cold
and the tongue was mute, to vindicate from the longest-continued
calumny that genius ever endured) [177] gave to the most ardent of
human passions the most delicate colouring of female sentiment.
Perhaps, of all that Greece has bequeathed to us, nothing is so
perfect in its concentration of real feeling as the fragments of
Sappho. In one poem of a few lines--nor that, alas! transmitted to us
complete--she has given a picture of the effect of love upon one who
loves, to which volumes of the most eloquent description could
scarcely add a single new touch of natural pathos--so subtle is it,
yet so simple. I cannot pass over in silence the fragments of
Mimnermus (fl. B. C. 630)--they seem of an order so little akin to the
usual character of Grecian poetry; there is in them a thoughtful
though gloomy sadness, that belongs rather to the deep northern
imagination than the brilliant fancies of the west; their melancholy
is mixed with something half intellectual--half voluptuous--indicative
of the mournful but interesting wisdom of satiety. Mimnermus is a
principal model of the Latin elegiac writers--and Propertius compares
his love verses with those of Homer. Mimnermus did not invent the
elegiac form (for it was first applied to warlike inspiration by
another Ionian poet, Callinus); but he seems the founder of what we
now call the elegiac spirit in its association of the sentiment of
melancholy with the passion of love.

IX. While such was the state of POETRY in Greece--torpid in the
Ionian Athens, but already prodigal in her kindred states of Asia and
the Isles; gravely honoured, rather than produced, in Sparta;--
splendidly welcomed, rather than home-born, in Corinth;--the Asiatic
colonies must also claim the honour of the advance of the sister arts.
But in architecture the Dorian states of European Greece, Sicyon,
Aegina, and the luxurious Corinth, were no unworthy competitors with
Ionia.

In the heroic times, the Homeric poems, especially the Odyssey, attest
the refinement and skill to which many of the imitative arts of
Grecian civilization had attained. In embroidery, the high-born
occupation of Helen ad Penelope, were attempted the most complex and
difficult designs; and it is hard to suppose that these subjects could
have been wrought upon garments with sufficient fidelity to warrant
the praise of a poet who evidently wrote from experience of what he
had seen, if the art of DRAWING had not been also carried to some
excellence--although to PAINTING itself the poet makes none but
dubious and obscure allusions. Still, if, on the one hand [178], in
embroidery, and upon arms (as the shield of Achilles), delineation in
its more complex and minute form was attempted,--and if, on the other
hand, the use of colours was known (which it was, as applied not only
to garments but to ivory), it could not have been long before two such
kindred elements of the same art were united. Although it is
contended by many that rude stones or beams were the earliest objects
of Grecian worship, and though it is certain that in several places
such emblems of the Deity preceded the worship of images, yet to the
superstitious art of the rude Pelasgi in their earliest age, uncouth
and half-formed statues of Hermes are attributed, and the idol is
commemorated by traditions almost as antique as those which attest the
sanctity of the fetiche [179]. In the Homeric age, SCULPTURE in
metals, and on a large scale, was certainly known. By the door of
Alcinous, the king of an island in the Ionian Sea, stand rows of dogs
in gold and silver--in his hall, upon pedestals, are golden statues of
boys holding torches; and that such sculpture was even then dedicated
to the gods is apparent by a well-known passage in the earlier poem of
the Iliad; which represents Theano, the Trojan priestess of Minerva,
placing the offering of Hecuba upon the knees of the statue of the
goddess. How far, however, such statues could be called works of art,
or how far they were wrought by native Greeks, it is impossible to
determine [180]. Certain it is that the memorable and gigantic
advance in the art of SCULPTURE was not made till about the 50th
Olympiad (B. C. 580), when Dipaenus and Scyllis first obtained
celebrity in works in marble (wood and metals were the earliest
materials of sculpture). The great improvements in the art seem to
have been coeval with the substitution of the naked for the draped
figure. Beauty, and ease, and grace, and power, were the result of
the anatomical study of the human form. ARCHITECTURE has bequeathed
to us, in the Pelasgic and Cyclopean remains, sufficient to indicate
the massive strength it early acquired in parts of Greece. In the
Homeric times, the intercourse with Asia had already given something
of lightness to the elder forms. Columns are constantly introduced
into the palaces of the chiefs, profuse metallic ornaments decorate
the walls; and the Homeric palaces, with their cornices gayly
inwrought with blue--their pillars of silver on bases of brass, rising
amid vines and fruit-trees,--even allowing for all the exaggerations
of the poet,--dazzle the imagination with much of the gaudiness and
glitter of an oriental city [181]. At this period Athens receives
from Homer the epithet of "broad-streeted:" and it is by no means
improbable that the city of the Attic king might have presented to a
traveller, in the time of Homer, a more pleasing general appearance
than in its age of fame, when, after the Persian devastations, its
stately temples rose above narrow and irregular streets, and the
jealous effects of democracy forbade to the mansions of individual
nobles that striking pre-eminence over the houses of the commonalty
which would naturally mark the distinction of wealth and rank, in a
monarchical, or even an oligarchical government.

X. About the time on which we now enter, the extensive commerce and
free institutions of the Ionian colonies had carried all the arts just
referred to far beyond the Homeric time. And, in addition to the
activity and development of the intellect in all its faculties which
progressed with the extensive trade and colonization of Miletus
(operating upon the sensitive, inquiring, and poetical temperament of
the Ionian population), a singular event, which suddenly opened to
Greece familiar intercourse with the arts and lore of Egypt, gave
considerable impetus to the whole Grecian MIND.

In our previous brief survey of the state of the Oriental world, we
have seen that Egypt, having been rent into twelve principalities, had
been again united under a single monarch. The ambitious and fortunate
Psammetichus was enabled, by the swords of some Ionian and Carian
adventurers (who, bound on a voyage of plunder, had been driven upon
the Egyptian shores), not only to regain his own dominion, from which
he had been expelled by the jealousy of his comrades, but to acquire
the sole sovereignty of Egypt (B. C. 670). In gratitude for their
services, Psammetichus conferred upon his wild allies certain lands at
the Pelusian mouth of the Nile, and obliged some Egyptian children to
learn the Grecian language;--from these children descended a class of
interpreters, that long afterward established the facilities of
familiar intercourse between Greece and Egypt. Whatever, before that
time, might have been the migrations of Egyptians into Greece, these
were the first Greeks whom the Egyptians received among themselves.
Thence poured into Greece, in one full and continuous stream, the
Egyptian influences, hitherto partial and unfrequent. [182]

In the same reign, according to Strabo, the Asiatic Greeks obtained a
settlement at Naucratis, the ancient emporium of Egypt; and the
communication, once begun, rapidly increased, until in the subsequent
time of Amasis (B. C. 569) we find the Ionians, the Dorians, the
Aeolians of Asia, and even the people of Aegina and Samos [183],
building temples and offering worship amid the jealous and mystic
priestcrafts of the Nile. This familiar and advantageous intercourse
with a people whom the Greeks themselves considered the wisest on the
earth, exercised speedy and powerful effect upon their religion and
their art. In the first it operated immediately upon their modes of
divination and their mystic rites--in the last, the influence was less
direct. It is true that they probably learned from the Egyptians many
technical rules in painting and in sculpture; they learned how to cut
the marble and to blend the colours, but their own genius taught them
how to animate the block and vivify the image. We have seen already,
that before this event, art had attained to a certain eminence among
the Greeks--fortunately, therefore, what they now acquired was not the
foundation of their lore. Grafted on a Grecian stock, every shoot
bore Grecian fruit: and what was borrowed from mechanism was
reproduced in beauty [184]. As with the arts, so with the SCIENCES;
we have reason to doubt whether the Egyptian sages, whose minds were
swathed and bandaged in the cerements of hereditary rules, never to
swell out of the slavery of castes, had any very sound and enlightened
philosophy to communicate: their wisdom was probably exaggerated by
the lively and credulous Greeks, awed by the mysticism of the priests,
the grandeur of the cities, the very rigidity, so novel to them, of
imposing and antique custom. What, then, was the real benefit of the
intercourse? Not so much in satisfying as in arousing and stimulating
the curiosity of knowledge. Egypt, to the Greeks, was as America to
Europe--the Egyptians taught them little, but Egypt much. And that
what the Egyptians did directly communicate was rather the material
for improvement than the improvement itself, this one gift is an
individual example and a general type;--the Egyptians imparted to the
Greeks the use of the papyrus--the most easy and popular material for
writing; we are thus indebted to Egypt for a contrivance that has done
much to preserve to us--much, perhaps, to create for us--a Plato and
an Aristotle; but for the thoughts of Aristotle and Plato we are
indebted to Greece alone:--the material Egyptian--the manufacture
Greek.

XI. The use of the papyrus had undoubtedly much effect upon the
formation of prose composition in Greece, but it was by no means an
instantaneous one. At the period on which we now enter (about B. C.
600), the first recorded prose Grecian writer had not composed his
works. The wide interval between prose in its commencement and poetry
in its perfection is peculiarly Grecian; many causes conspired to
produce it, but the principal one was, that works, if written, being
not the less composed to be recited, not read--were composed to
interest and delight, rather than formally to instruct. Poetry was,
therefore, so obviously the best means to secure the end of the
author, that we cannot wonder to find that channel of appeal
universally chosen; the facility with which the language formed itself
into verse, and the license that appears to have been granted to the
gravest to assume a poetical diction without attempting the poetical
spirit, allowed even legislators and moralists to promulgate precepts
and sentences in the rhythm of a Homer and a Hesiod. And since laws
were not written before the time of Draco, it was doubly necessary
that they should he cast in that fashion by which words are most
durably impressed on the memory of the multitude. Even on Solon's
first appearance in public life, when he inspires the Athenians to
prosecute the war with Megara, he addresses the passions of the crowd,
not by an oration, but a poem; and in a subsequent period, when prose
composition had become familiar, it was still in verse that Hipparchus
communicated his moral apothegms. The origin of prose in Greece is,
therefore, doubly interesting as an epoch, not only in the
intellectual, but also in the social state. It is clear that it would
not commence until a reading public was created; and until, amid the
poetical many, had sprung up the grave and studious few. Accordingly,
philosophy, orally delivered, preceded prose composition--and Thales
taught before Pherecydes wrote [185]. To the superficial it may seem
surprising that literature, as distinct from poetry, should commence
with the most subtle and laborious direction of the human intellect:
yet so it was, not only in Greece, but almost universally. In nearly
all countries, speculative conjecture or inquiry is the first
successor to poetry. In India, in China, in the East, some dim
philosophy is the characteristic of the earliest works--sometimes
inculcating maxims of morality--sometimes allegorically shadowing
forth, sometimes even plainly expressing, the opinions of the author
on the mysteries of life--of nature--of the creation. Even with the
moderns, the dawn of letters broke on the torpor of the dark ages of
the North in speculative disquisition; the Arabian and the
Aristotelian subtleties engaged the attention of the earliest
cultivators of modern prose (as separated from poetic fiction), and
the first instinct of the awakened reason was to grope through the
misty twilight after TRUTH. Philosophy precedes even history; men
were desirous of solving the enigmas of the world, before they
disentangled from tradition the chronicles of its former habitants.

If we examine the ways of an infant we shall cease to wonder at those
of an infant civilization. Long before we can engage the curiosity of
the child in the History of England--long before we can induce him to
listen with pleasure to our stories even of Poictiers and Cressy--and
(a fortiori) long before he can be taught an interest in Magna Charta
and the Bill of Rights, he will of his own accord question us of the
phenomena of nature--inquire how he himself came into the world--
delight to learn something of the God we tell him to adore--and find
in the rainbow and the thunder, in the meteor and the star, a thousand
subjects of eager curiosity and reverent wonder. The why perpetually
torments him;--every child is born a philosopher!--the child is the
analogy of a people yet in childhood. [186]

XII. It may follow as a corollary from this problem, that the Greeks
of themselves arrived at the stage of philosophical inquiry without
any very important and direct assistance from the lore of Egypt and
the East. That lore, indeed, awakened the desire, but it did not
guide the spirit of speculative research. And the main cause why
philosophy at once assumed with the Greeks a character distinct from
that of the Oriental world, I have already intimated [187], in the
absence of a segregated and privileged religious caste. Philosophy
thus fell into the hands of sages, not of priests. And whatever the
Ionian states (the cradle of Grecian wisdom) received from Egypt or
the East, they received to reproduce in new and luxuriant prodigality.
The Ionian sages took from an elder wisdom not dogmas never to be
questioned, but suggestions carefully to be examined. It thus
fortunately happened that the deeper and maturer philosophy of Greece
proper had a kind of intermedium between the systems of other nations
and its own. The Eastern knowledge was borne to Europe through the
Greek channels of Asiatic colonies, and became Hellenized as it
passed. Thus, what was a certainty in the East, became a proposition
in Ionia, and ultimately a doubt, at Athens. In Greece, indeed, as
everywhere, religion was connected with the first researches of
philosophy. From the fear of the gods, to question of the nature of
the gods, is an easy transition. The abundance and variety of popular
superstitions served but to stimulate curiosity as to their origin;
and since in Egypt the sole philosophers were the priests, a Greek
could scarcely converse with an Egyptian on the articles of his
religion without discussing also the principles of his philosophy.
Whatever opinions the Greek might then form and promulge, being
sheltered beneath no jealous and prescriptive priestcraft, all had
unfettered right to canvass and dispute them, till by little and
little discussion ripened into science.

The distinction, in fine, between the Greeks and their contemporaries
was this: if they were not the only people that philosophized, they
were the only people that said whatever they pleased about philosophy.
Their very plagiarism from the philosophy of other creeds was
fortunate, inasmuch as it presented nothing hostile to the national
superstition. Had they disputed about the nature of Jupiter, or the
existence of Apollo, they might have been persecuted, but they could
start at once into disquisitions upon the eternity of matter, or the
providence of a pervading mind.

XIII. This spirit of innovation and discussion, which made the
characteristic of the Greeks, is noted by Diodorus. "Unlike the
Chaldaeans," he observes, "with whom philosophy is delivered from sire
to son, and all other employment rejected by its cultivators, the
Greeks come late to the science--take it up for a short time--desert
it for a more active means of subsistence--and the few who surrender
themselves wholly to it practise for gain, innovate the most important
doctrines, pay no reverence to those that went before, create new
sects, establish new theorems, and, by perpetual contradictions,
entail perpetual doubts." Those contradictions and those doubts made
precisely the reason why the Greeks became the tutors of the world!

There is another characteristic of the Greeks indicated by this remark
of Diodorus. Their early philosophers, not being exempted from other
employments, were not the mere dreamers of the closet and the cell.
They were active, practical, stirring men of the world. They were
politicians and moralists as well as philosophers. The practical
pervaded the ideal, and was, in fact, the salt that preserved it from
decay. Thus legislation and science sprung simultaneously into life,
and the age of Solon is the age of Thales.

XIV. Of the seven wise men (if we accept that number) who flourished
about the same period, six were rulers and statesmen. They were
eminent, not as physical, but as moral, philosophers; and their wisdom
was in their maxims and apothegms. They resembled in much the wary
and sagacious tyrants of Italy in the middle ages--masters of men's
actions by becoming readers of their minds. Of these seven, Periander
of Corinth (began to reign B. C. 625, died B. C. 585) and Cleobulus of
Lindus (fl. B. C. 586), tyrants in their lives, and cruel in their
actions, were, it is said, disowned by the remaining five [188]. But
goodness is not the necessary consequence of intellect, and, despite
their vices, these princes deserved the epithet of wise. Of Cleobulus
we know less than of Periander; but both governed with prosperity, and
died in old age. If we except Pisistratus, Periander was the greatest
artist of all that able and profound fraternity, who, under the name
of tyrants, concentred the energies of their several states, and
prepared the democracies by which they were succeeded. Periander's
reputed maxims are at variance with his practice; they breathe a
spirit of freedom and a love of virtue which may render us suspicious
of their authenticity--the more so as they are also attributed to
others. Nevertheless, the inconsistency would be natural, for reason
makes our opinions, and circumstance shapes our actions. "A democracy
is better than a tyranny," is an aphorism imputed to Periander: but
when asked why he continued tyrant, he answered, "Because it is
dangerous willingly to resist, or unwillingly to be deposed." His
principles were republican, his position made him a tyrant. He is
said to have fallen into extreme dejection in his old age; perhaps
because his tastes and his intellect were at war with his life.
Chilo, the Lacedaemonian ephor, is placed also among the seven. His
maxims are singularly Dorian--they breathe reverence of the dead and
suspicion of the living. "Love," he said (if we may take the
authority of Aulus Gellius, fl. B. C. 586), "as if you might hereafter
hate, and hate as if you might hereafter love." Another favourite
sentence of his was, "to a surety loss is at hand." [189] A third,
"we try gold by the touchstone. Gold is the touchstone of the mind."
Bias, of Priene in Ionia, is quoted, in Herodotus, as the author of an
advice to the Ionians to quit their country, and found a common city
in Sardinia (B. C. 586). He seems to have taken an active part in all
civil affairs. His reputed maxims are plain and homely--the
elementary principles of morals. Mitylene in Lesbos boasted the
celebrated Pittacus (began to govern B. C. 589, resigned 579, died
569). He rose to the tyranny of the government by the free voice of
the people; enjoyed it ten years, and voluntarily resigned it, as
having only borne the dignity while the state required the direction
of a single leader. It was a maxim with him, for which he is reproved
by Plato, "That to be good is hard." His favourite precept was, "Know
occasion:" and this he amplified in another (if rightly attributed to
him), "To foresee and prevent dangers is the province of the wise--to
direct them when they come, of the brave."

XV. Of Solon, the greatest of the seven, I shall hereafter speak at
length. I pass now to Thales (born B. C. 639);--the founder of
philosophy, in its scientific sense--the speculative in
contradistinction to the moral: Although an ardent republican, Thales
alone, of the seven sages, appears to have led a private and studious
life. He travelled, into Crete, Asia, and at a later period into
Egypt. According to Laertius, Egypt taught him geometry. He is
supposed to have derived his astrological notions from Phoenicia. But
this he might easily have done without visiting the Phoenician states.
Returning to Miletus, he obtained his title of Wise [190]. Much
learning has been exhausted upon his doctrines to very little purpose.
They were of small value, save as they led to the most valuable of all
philosophies--that of experiment. They were not new probably even in
Greece [191], and of their utility the following brief sketch will
enable the reader to judge for himself.

He maintained that water, or rather humidity, was the origin of all
things, though he allowed mind or intellect (nous) to be the impelling
principle. And one of his arguments in favour of humidity, as
rendered to us by Plutarch and Stobaeus, is pretty nearly as follows:
--"Because fire, even in the sun and the stars, is nourished by
vapours proceeding from humidity,--and therefore the whole world
consists of the same." Of the world, he supposed the whole to be
animated by, and full of, the Divinity--its Creator--that in it was no
vacuum--that matter was fluid and variable. [192]

He maintained the stars and sun to be earthly, and the moon of the
same nature as the sun, but illumined by it. Somewhat more valuable
would appear to have been his geometrical science, could we with
accuracy attribute to Thales many problems claimed also, and more
probably, by Pythagoras and later reasoners. He is asserted to have
measured the pyramids by their shadows. He cultivated astronomy and
astrology; and Laertius declares him to have been the first Greek that
foretold eclipses. The yet higher distinction has been claimed for
Thales of having introduced among his countrymen the doctrine of the
immortality of the soul. But this sublime truth, though connected
with no theory of future rewards and punishments, was received in
Greece long before his time. Perhaps, however, as the expressions of
Cicero indicate, Thales might be the first who attempted to give
reasons for what was believed. His reasons were, nevertheless,
sufficiently crude and puerile; and having declared it the property of
the soul to move itself, and other things, he was forced to give a
soul to the loadstone, because it moved iron!

These fantastic doctrines examined, and his geometrical or
astronomical discoveries dubious, it may be asked, what did Thales
effect for philosophy? Chiefly this: he gave reasons for opinions--he
aroused the dormant spirit of inquiry--he did for truths what the
legislators of his age did for the people--left them active and
stirring to free and vigorous competition. He took Wisdom out of
despotism, and placed her in a republic--he was in harmony with the
great principle of his age, which was investigation, and not
tradition; and thus he became the first example of that great truth--
that to think freely is the first step to thinking well. It
fortunately happened, too, that his moral theories, however
inadequately argued upon, were noble and exalting. He contended for
the providence of a God, as well as for the immortality of man. He
asserted vice to be the most hateful, virtue the most profitable of
all things [193]. He waged war on that vulgar tenacity of life which
is the enemy to all that is most spiritual and most enterprising in
our natures, and maintained that between life and death there is no
difference--the fitting deduction from a belief in the continuous
existence of the soul [194]. His especial maxim was the celebrated
precept, "Know thyself." His influence was vigorous and immediate.
How far he created philosophy may be doubtful, but he created
philosophers. From the prolific intelligence which his fame and
researches called into being, sprang a new race of thoughts, which
continued in unbroken succession until they begat descendants
illustrious and immortal. Without the hardy errors of Thales,
Socrates might have spent his life in spoiling marble, Plato might
have been only a tenth-rate poet, and Aristotle an intriguing
pedagogue.

XVI. With this I close my introductory chapters, and proceed from
dissertation into history;--pleased that our general survey of Greece
should conclude with an acknowledgment of our obligations to the
Ionian colonies. Soon, from the contemplation of those enchanting
climes; of the extended commerce and the brilliant genius of the
people--the birthplace of the epic and the lyric muse, the first home
of history, of philosophy, of art;--soon, from our survey of the rise
and splendour of the Asiatic Ionians, we turn to the agony of their
struggles--the catastrophe of their fall. Those wonderful children of
Greece had something kindred with the precocious intellect that is
often the hectic symptom of premature decline. Originating, advancing
nearly all which the imagination or the reason can produce, while yet
in that social youth which promised a long and a yet more glorious
existence--while even their great parent herself had scarcely emerged
from the long pupilage of nations, they fell into the feebleness of
age! Amid the vital struggles, followed by the palsied and prostrate
exhaustion of her Ionian children, the majestic Athens suddenly arose
from the obscurity of the past to an empire that can never perish,
until heroism shall cease to warm, poetry to delight, and wisdom to
instruct the future.

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