Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Authors of Greece by T. W. Lumb

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

individually and collectively. But oligarchy shares the dangers
with the many, while it does not merely usurp the material benefits,
rather it appropriates and keeps them all."

The Athenians received a cold welcome wherever they went. At Catana
they found their state vessel waiting to convey Alcibiades home to
stand his trial; he effected his escape on the homeward voyage,
crossing to the Peloponnese. The great armament instead of thrusting
at Syracuse wasted its time and efficiency on side-issues, mainly
owing to the cold leadership of Nicias. This valuable respite was used
to the full by Hermocrates, who at a congress held at Camarina was
insistent on the racial character of the struggle between themselves
who were Dorians and the Ionians from Athens. This national antipathy
contributed greatly to the final decision of the conflict.

Passing to Sparta, Alcibiades deliberately betrayed his country. His
speech is of the utmost importance.

His view of democracy is contemptuous. "Nothing new can be said of
what is an admitted folly." He then outlined the Athenian ambition; it
was to subdue Carthage and Sicily, bring over hosts of warlike
barbarians, surround and reduce the Peloponnese and then rule the
whole Greek-speaking world. He advised his hearers to aid Sicilian
incapacity by sending a Spartan commander; above all, he counselled
the occupation of Deceleia, a town in Attica just short of the border,
through which the corn supply was conveyed to the capital; this would
lead to the capture of the silver-mines at Laureium and to the
decrease of the Athenian revenues. He concluded with an attempt to
justify his own treachery, remarking that when a man was exiled, he
must use all means to secure a return.

The Spartans had for some time been anxious to open hostilities; an
act of Athenian aggression gave them an opportunity. Meanwhile in
Sicily Lamachus had perished in attacking a Syracusan cross-wall. Left
in sole command, Nicias remained inactive, while Gylippus, despatched
from Sparta, arrived in Syracuse just in time to prevent it from
capitulating. The seventh book is the record of continued Athenian
disasters. Little by little Gylippus developed the Syracusan
resources. First he made it impossible for the Athenians to
circumvallate the city; then he captured the naval stores of the
enemy, forcing them to encamp in unhealthy ground. Nicias had begged
the home government to relieve him of command owing to illness.
Believing in the lucky star of the man who had taken Nissea they
retained him, sending out a second great fleet under Demosthenes. The
latter at once saw the key to the whole situation. The Syracusan
cross-wall which Nicias had failed to render impassable must be
captured at all costs. A night attack nearly succeeded, but ended in
total defeat. Demosthenes immediately advised retreat; but Nicias
obstinately refused to leave. In the meantime the Syracusans closed
the mouth of their harbour with a strong boom, penning up the Athenian
fleet. The famous story of the attempt to destroy it calls out all the
author's powers of description. He draws attention to the narrow space
in which the action was fought. As long as the Athenians could operate
in open water they were invincible; but the Syracusans not only forced
them to fight in a confined harbour, they strengthened the prows of
their vessels, enabling them to smash the thinner Athenian craft in a
direct charge. The whole Athenian army went down to the edge of the
water to watch the engagement which was to settle their fate. Their
excitement was pitiable, for they swayed to and fro in mental agony,
calling to their friends to break the boom and save them. After a
brave struggle, the invaders were routed and driven to the land by the
victorious Syracusans.

Retreat by land was the only escape. A strategem planned by
Hermocrates and Nicias' superstitious terrors delayed the departure
long enough to enable the Syracusans to secure the passes in the
interior. When the army moved away the scene was one of shame and
agony; the sick vainly pleaded with their comrades to save them; the
whole force contrasted the proud hopes of their coming with their
humiliating end and refused to be comforted by Nicias, whose courage
shone brightest in this hour of defeat. Demosthenes' force was
isolated and was quickly captured; Nicias' men with great difficulty
reached the River Assinarus, parched with thirst. Forgetting all about
their foes, they rushed to the water and fought among themselves for
it though it ran red with their own blood. At last the army
capitulated and was carried back to Syracuse. Thrown into the public
quarries, the poor wretches remained there for ten weeks, scorched by
day, frost-bitten by night. The survivors were sold into slavery.

"This was the greatest achievement in the war and, I think, in
Greek history the most creditable to the victors, the most
lamentable to the vanquished. In every way they were utterly
defeated; their sufferings were mighty; they were destroyed
hopelessly; ships, men, everything perished, few only returning
from the great host."

So ends the most heartrending story in Greek history, told with
absolute fidelity by a son of Athens and a former general of her army.

The last book is remarkable for the absence of speeches; it is a
record of the continued intrigues which followed the Sicilian
disaster. Upheavals in Asia Minor brought into the swirl of plots
Tissaphernes, the Persian satrap, anxious to recover control of Ionia
hitherto saved by Athenian power. In 412 the Athenian subjects began
to revolt, seventeen defections being recorded in all. At Samos a most
important movement began; the democrats rose against their nobles,
being guaranteed independence by Athens. Soon they made overtures to
Alcibiades who was acting with the Spartan fleet; he promised to
detach Tissaphernes from Sparta if Samos eschewed democracy, a creed
odious to the Persian monarchy. The Samians sent a delegation to
Athens headed by Pisander, who boldly proposed Alcibiades' return, the
dissolution of the democracy in Samos and alliance with Tissaphernes.
These proposals were rejected, but the democracy at Athens was not
destined to last much longer, power being usurped by the famous Four
Hundred in 411. The Samian democracy eventually appointed Alcibiades
general, while in Athens the extremists were anxious to come to terms
with Sparta. This movement split the Four Hundred, the constitution
being changed to that of the Five Thousand, a blend of democracy and
oligarchy which won Thucydides' admiration; the history concludes with
the victory of the Athenians in the naval action at Cynossema in 410.

The defects of Thucydides are evident; his style is harsh, obscure and
crabbed; it is sometimes said that he seems wiser than he really is
mainly because his language is difficult; that if his thoughts were
translated into easier prose our impressions of his greatness would be
much modified. Yet it is to be remembered that he, like Lucretius, had
to create his own vocabulary. It is a remarkable fact that prose has
been far more difficult to invent than poetry, for precision is
essential to it as the language of reasoning rather than of feeling.
Instead of finding fault with a medium which was necessarily imperfect
because it was an innovation we should be thankful for what it has
actually accomplished. It is not always obscure; at times, when "the
lion laughed" as an old commentator says, he is almost unmatched in
pure narrative, notably in his rapid summary of the Athenian rise to
power in the first book and in the immortal Syracusan tragedy of the

His merits are many and great; his conciseness, repression of personal
feeling, love of accuracy, careful research, unwillingness to praise
overmuch and his total absence of preconceived opinion testify to an
honesty of outlook rare in classical historians. Because he feels
certain of his detachment of view, he quite confidently undertakes
what few would have faced, the writing of contemporary history.
Nowadays historians do not trust themselves; we may expect a faithful
account of our Great War some fifty years hence, if ever. Not so
Thucydides; he claims that his work will be a treasure for all time;
had any other written these words we should have dismissed them as an
idle boast.

For he is the first man to respect history. It was not a plaything; it
was worthy of being elevated to the rank of a science. As such, its
events must have some deep causes behind them, worth discovering not
only in themselves as keys to one particular period, but as possible
explanations of similar events in distant ages. Accordingly, he deemed
it necessary to study first of all our human nature, its varied
motives, mostly of questionable morality, next he studied
international ethics, based frankly on expediency. The results of
these researches he has embodied (with one or two exceptions) in his
famous speeches. He surveyed the ground on which battles were fought;
he examined inscriptions, copying them with scrupulous care; he
criticised ancient history and contemporary versions of famous events,
many of which he found to be untrue. Further, his anxiety to discover
the real sources of certain policies made it necessary for him to
write an account of seemingly purposeless action in wilder or even
barbarous regions such as Arcadia, Ambracia, Macedonia; in consequence
his work embraces the whole of the Greek world, as he said it would in
his famous preface.

As an artist, he is not without his merits. The dramatic nature of his
plan has been frequently pointed out; to him the main plot is the
destruction not of Athens, but of the Periclean democracy, the
overthrow thereof being due to a conflict with another like it; hence
the marked change in the last book, in which the main dramatic
interest has waned. This dramatic form has, however, defeated its own
objects sometimes, for all the Thucydidean fishes talk like
Thucydidean whales.

To us he is indispensable. We are a maritime power, ruling a maritime
empire, our potential enemies being military nations. He has warned us
that democracy cannot govern an empire. Perhaps our type of this creed
is not so full of the lust for domination and aggrandisement as was
that of Athens; it may be suspected that we are virtuous mainly
because we have all we need and are not likely to be tempted overmuch.
But there is the other and more subtle danger. The enemies within the
state betrayed Deceleia which safeguarded the food-supply. We have
many Deceleias, situate along the great trade-routes and needing
protection. Once these are betrayed we shall not hold out as Athens
did for nearly ten years; ten weeks at the outside ought to see our
people starving and beaten, fit for nothing but the payment of
indemnities to the power which relieves us of our inheritance.


The earliest is by Hobbes, the best is by Jowett, Oxford. Though
somewhat free, it renders with vigour the ideas of the original text.

The Loeb Series has a version by Smith.

_Thucydides Mythistoricus,_ Cornford (Arnold), is an adverse criticism
of the historian; it points out the inaccuracies which may be detected
in his work.

_Clio Enthroned_ by W. R. M. Lamb, Cambridge, should be read in
conjunction with the above. The author adopts the traditional estimate
of Thucydides.

See also Bury, _Ancient Greek Historians_, as above.


Shortly after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war Plato was born,
probably in 427. During the eighty years of his life he travelled to
Sicily at least twice, founded the Academy at Athens and saw the
beginning of the end of the Greek freedom. He represents the
reflective spirit in a nation which seems to appear when its
development is well advanced. After the madness of a long war the
Athenians, stripped of their Empire for a time, sought a new outlet
for their restless energies and started to conquer a more permanent
kingdom, that of scientific speculation about the highest faculties of
the human mind.

The death of Socrates in 399 disgusted Plato; democracy apparently was
as intolerant as any other form of political creed. His writings are
in a sense a vindication of the honesty of his master, although the
picture he draws of him is not so true to life as that of Xenophon.
The dialogues fall into two well-marked classes; in the earlier the
method and inspiration is definitely Socratic, but in the later
Socrates is a mere peg on which Plato hung his own system. In itself
the dialogue form was no new thing; Plato adopted it and made it a
thing of life and dramatic power, his style being the most finished
example of exalted prose in Greek literature. The order in which the
dialogues were written is a thorny problem; there is good reason for
believing that Plato constantly revised some of them, removing the
inconsistencies which were inevitable while he was feeling his way to
the final form which his speculations assumed. It is perhaps best to
give an outline of a series which exhibits some regular order of

It is sometimes thought that Philosophy has no direct bearing on
practical questions. A review of the _Crito_ may dispel this illusion.
In it Socrates refuses to be tempted by his young friend Crito who
offers to secure his escape from prison and provide him a home among
his own friends. The question is whether one ought to follow the
opinions of the majority on matters of justice or injustice, or those
of the one man who has expert knowledge, and of Truth. The laws of
Athens have put Socrates in prison; they would say;

"by this act you intend to perpetrate your purpose to destroy us
and the city as far as one man can do so. Can any city survive and
not be overturned in which legal decisions have no force, but are
rendered null by private persons and destroyed?"

Socrates had by his long residence of seventy years declared his
satisfaction with the Athenian legal system. The laws had enabled him
to live in security; more, he could have taken advantage of legal
protection in his trial, and if he had been dissatisfied could have
gone away to some other city. What sort of a figure would he make if
he escaped? Wherever he went he would be considered a destroyer of
law; his practice would belie his creed; finally, the Laws say,

"if you wish to live in disgrace, after going back on your contract
and agreement with us, we will be angry with you while you are alive
and in death our Brother Laws will give you a cold welcome; they
will know that you have done your best to destroy our authority."

Sound and concrete teaching like this is always necessary, but is
hardly likely to be popular. The doctrine of disobedience is everywhere
preached in a democracy; violation of contracts is a normal practice
and law-breakers have been known to be publicly feasted by the very
members of our legislative body.

A different lesson is found in the _Euthyphro_. After wishing Socrates
success in his coming trial, Euthyphro informs him that he is going to
prosecute his father for manslaughter, assuring him that it would be
piety to do so. Socrates asks for a definition of piety. Euthyphro
attempts five--"to act as Zeus did to his father"; "what the gods
love"; "what all the gods love"; "a part of righteousness, relating to
the care of the gods"; "the saying and doing of what the gods approve
in prayer and sacrifice". Each of these proves inadequate; Euthyphro
complains of the disconcerting Socratic method as follows:

"Well, I do not know how to express my thoughts. Every one of
our suggestions always seem to have legs, refusing to stand still
where we may fix it down. Nor have I put into them this spirit of
moving and shifting, but you, a second Daedalus."

It is noticeable that no definite result comes from this dialogue;
Plato was within his rights in refusing to answer the main question.
Philosophy does not pretend to settle every inquiry; her business is
to see that a question is raised. Even when an answer is available,
she cannot always give it, for she demands an utter abandonment of all
prepossessions in those to whom she talks--otherwise there will be no
free passage for her teaching. Though refuted, Euthyphro still
retained his first opinions, for his first and last definitions are
similar in idea. To such a person argument is mere waste of time.

An admirable illustration of Plato's lightness of touch is found in
the _Laches_. The dialogue begins with a discussion about the
education of the young sons of Lysimachus and Melesias. Soon the
question is raised "What is courage?" Nicias warns Laches about
Socrates; the latter has a trick of making men review their lives; his
practice is good, for it teaches men their faults in time; old age
does not always bring wisdom automatically. Laches first defines
courage as the faculty which makes men keep the ranks in war; when
this proves inadequate, he defines it as a stoutness of spirit. Nicias
is called in; he defines it as "knowledge of terrors and confidence in
war"; he is soon compelled to add "and knowledge of all good and evil
in every form"--in a word, courage is all virtue combined. The
dialogue concludes that it is not young boys but grown men of all ages
who need a careful education. This spirited little piece is full of
dramatic vigour--the remarks of Laches and Nicias about each other as
they are repeatedly confuted are most human and diverting.

Literary criticism is the subject of the _Ion_. Coming from Ephesus,
Ion claimed to be the best professional reciter of Homer in all
Greece. Acknowledging that Homer made him all fire, while other poets
left him cold, he is made to admit that his knowledge of poetry is not
scientific; otherwise he would have been able to discuss all poetry,
for it is one. Socrates then makes the famous comparison between a
poet and a magnet; both attract an endless chain, and both contain
some divine power which masters them. Ecstasy, enthusiasm, madness are
the best descriptions of poetic power. Even as a professional reciter
Ion admits the necessity of the power of working on men.

"When I am on the platform I look on my audience weeping and
looking warlike and dazed at my words. I must pay attention to
them; if I let them sit down weeping, I myself shall laugh when
I receive my fee, but if they laugh I myself shall weep when I get

Homer is the subject of the _Hippias Minor_. At Olympia Hippias once
said that every single thing that he was wearing was his own
handiwork. He was a most inventive person--one of his triumphs being
an art of memory. In this dialogue he prefers the Iliad to the Odyssey
because Achilles was called "excellent" and Odysseus "versatile".
Socrates soon proves to him that Achilles was false too, as he did not
always keep his word. He reminds Hippias that he never wastes time
over the brainless, though he listens carefully to every man. In fact,
his cross-examination is a compliment. He never thinks the knowledge
he gains is his own discovery, but is grateful to any who can teach
him. He believes that unwitting deceivers are more culpable than
deliberate tricksters. Hippias finds it impossible to agree with him,
whereupon Socrates says that things are for ever baffling him by their
changeability; it is pardonable that unlearned men like himself should
err; when really wise people like Hippias wander in thought, it is
monstrous that they are unable to settle the doubts of all who appeal
to them.

_Channides_, the young boy after whom the dialogue was named, was the
cousin and ward of Critias, the infamous leader of the Thirty Tyrants.
On being introduced to him Socrates starts the discussion "What is
self-control?" The lad makes three attempts to answer; seeing his
confusion, Critias steps in, "angry with the boy, like a poet angry
with an actor who has murdered his poems". But he is not more
successful; his three definitions are proved wanting.

"Like men who, seeing others yawn, themselves yawn, he too was in
perplexity. But because he had a great reputation, he was put to
shame before the audience and refused to admit his inability to
define the word."

The dialogue gives no definite answer to the discussion. It is a vivid
piece of writing; the contrast between the young lad and the elder
cousin whose pet phrases he copies is very striking.

In the _Lysis_ the characters and the conclusion are similar. Lysis is
a young lad admired by Hippothales. The first portion of the dialogue
consists of a conversation between Lysis and Socrates; the latter
recommends the admirer to avoid foolish converse. On the entry of
Lysis' friend Menexenus, Socrates starts the question "What is
friendship?" It appears that friendship cannot exist between two good
or two evil persons, but only between a good man and one who is
neither good nor bad, exactly as the philosopher is neither wise nor
ignorant, yet he loves knowledge. Still this is not satisfactory; up
conclusion being reached, Socrates winds up with a characteristic
remark; they think they are friends, yet cannot say what friendship
is. This dialogue was carefully read by Aristotle before he gave his
famous description in the Ethics: "A friend is a second self". Perhaps
Socrates avoided a definite answer because he did not wish to be too
serious with these sunny children.

The _Euthydemus_ is an amusing study of the danger which follows upon
the use of keen instruments by the unscrupulous. Euthydemus and his
brother Dionysodorus are two sophists by trade to whom words mean
nothing at all; truth and falsehood are identical, contradiction being
an impossibility. As language is meaningless, Socrates himself is
quickly reduced to impotence, recovering with difficulty. Plato was no
doubt satirising the misuse of the new philosophy which was becoming
so popular with young men. When nothing means anything, laughter is
the only human language left. The _Cratylus_ is a similarly conceived
diversion. Most of it is occupied with fanciful derivations and
linguistic discussions of all kinds. It is difficult to say how far
Plato is serious. Perhaps the feats of Euthydemus in stripping words
of all meaning urged him to some constructive work--for Plato's system
is essentially destructive first, then constructive. At any rate, he
does insist on the necessity for determining a word's meaning by its
derivation, and points out that a language is the possession of a
whole people.

In the _Protagoras_ Socrates while a young man is represented as
meeting a friend Hippocrates, who was on his way to Protagoras, a
sophist from Abdera who had just arrived at Athens. Socrates shows
first that his friend has no idea of the seriousness of his action in
applying for instruction to a sophist whose definition he is unable to

"If your body had been in a critical condition you would have
asked the advice of your friends and deliberated many days before
choosing your doctor. But about your mind, on which depends your
weal or woe according as it is evil or good, you never asked the
advice of father or friend whether you ought to apply to this
newly-arrived stranger. Hearing last night that he was here, you
go to him to-day, ready to spend your own and your friends' money,
convinced that you ought to become a disciple of a man you neither
know nor have talked with."

They proceed to the house of Callias, where they find Protagoras
surrounded by strangers from every city who listened spell-bound to
his voice.

Protagoras readily promises that Hippocrates would be taught his
system which offers "good counsel about his private affairs and power
to transact and discuss political matters". Socrates' belief that
politics cannot be taught provokes one of the long speeches to which
Plato strongly objected because a fundamental fallacy could not be
refuted at the outset, vitiating the whole of the subsequent argument.
Protagoras recounted a myth, proving that shame and justice were given
to every man; these are the basis of politics. Further, cities punish
criminals, implying that men can learn politics, while virtue is
taught by parents and tutors and the State. Socrates asks whether
virtue is one or many. Protagoras replies that there are five main
virtues, knowledge, justice, courage, temperance and piety, all
distinct. A long rambling speech causes Socrates to protest; his
method is the short one of question and answer. By using some very
questionable reasoning he proves that all these five virtues are
identical. Accordingly, if virtue is one it can be taught, not
however, by a sophist or the State, but by a philosopher, for virtue
is knowledge.

This conclusion is thoroughly in harmony with Socrates' system. Yet it
is probably false. Virtue is not mere knowledge, nor vice ignorance.
If they were, they would be intellectual qualities. They are rather
moral attributes; experience soon proves that many enlightened persons
are vicious and many ignorant people virtuous. The value of this
dialogue is its insistence upon the unity of virtue. A good man is not
a bundle of separate excellences; he is a whole. Possessing one virtue
he potentially has them all.

The _Gorgias_ is a refutation of three distinct and popular notions.
Gorgias of Leontini used to invite young men to ask him questions,
none of whom ever put to him a query absolutely new. It soon appears
that he is quite unable to define Rhetoric, the art by which he lived.
Socrates said it was a minister of persuasion, that it in the long run
concerned itself with mere Opinion, which might be true or false, and
could not claim scientific Knowledge. Further, it implied some
morality in its devotees, for it dealt with what was just or unjust.
Polus, a young and ardent sophist, was compelled to assent to two very
famous doctrines, first that it is worse to do evil than to experience
it, second, that to avoid punishment was the worst thing for an
offender. But a more formidable adversary remained, one Callicles, the
most shameless and unscrupulous figure perhaps in Plato's work. His
creed is a flat denial of all authority, moral or intellectual. It
teaches that Law is not natural, but conventional; that only a slave
puts up with a wrong, and only weak men seek legal protection.
Philosophy is fit only for youths, for philosophers are not men of the
world. Natural life is unlimited self-indulgence and public opinion is
the creation of those who are too poor to give rein to their
appetites; the good is pleasure and infinite self-satisfaction is the
ideal. Socrates in reply points out the difference between the kinds
of pleasures, insists on the importance of Scientific knowledge of
everything, and proves that order is requisite everywhere--its visible
effects in the soul being Justice and Wisdom, not Riot. To prevent
injustice some art is needed to make the subject as like as possible
to the ruler; the type of life a man leads is far more important than
length of days. The demagogue who like Callicles has no credentials
makes the people morally worse, especially as they are unable to
distinguish quacks from wise men. Nor need philosophers trouble much
about men's opinions, for a mob always blames the physician who wishes
to save it. A delightful piece of irony follows, in which Socrates
twits Callicles for accusing his pupils of acting with injustice, the
very quality he instils into them. Callicles, though refuted, advises
Socrates to fawn on the city, for he is certain to be condemned sooner
or later; the latter, however, does not fear death after living

Most men have held doctrines similar to those refuted here. There is
an idea abroad that what is "natural" must be intrinsically good, if
not godlike. But it is quite clear that "Nature" is a vague term
meaning little or nothing--it is higher or lower and natural in both
forms. Those who wish to know the lengths of impudence to which belief
in the sacredness of "Nature" can bring human beings might do worse
than read the _Gorgias_.

Plato's dramatic power and fertility of invention are displayed fully
in the _Symposium_. Agathon had won the tragic prize and invited many
friends to a wine-party. After a slight introduction a proposition was
carried that all should speak in praise of Love. First a youth
Phaedrus describes the antiquity of love and gives instances of the
attachments between the sexes. Pausanias draws the famous distinction
between the Heavenly and the Vulgar Aphrodite; the true test of love
is its permanence. A doctor, Eryximachus, raises the tone of the
discussion still further. To him Love is the foundation of Medicine,
Music, Astronomy and Augury. Aristophanes tells a fable of the sexes
in true comic style, making each of them run about seeking its other
half. Agathon colours his account with a touch of tragic diction. At
last it is Socrates' turn. He tells what he heard from a priestess
called Diotima. Love is the son of Fulness and Want; he is the
intermediary between gods and men, is active, not passive; he is
desire for continuous possession of excellent things and for beautiful
creation which means immortality, for all men desire perpetual fame
which can come only through the science of the Beautiful. In
contemplation and mystical union with the Divine the soul finds its
true destiny, satisfying itself in perfect love.

At this moment Alcibiades arrives from another feast in a state of
high intoxication. He gives a most marvellous account of Socrates'
influence over him and likens him in a famous passage to an ugly
little statue which when opened is all gold within. At the end of the
dialogue one of the company tells how Socrates compelled Aristophanes
and Agathon to admit that it was one and the same man's business to
understand and write both tragedy and comedy--a doctrine which has
been practised only in modern drama.

In this dialogue we first seem to catch the voice of Plato himself as
distinct from that of Socrates. The latter was undoubtedly most keenly
interested in the more human process of questioning and refuting, his
object being the workmanlike creation of exact definitions. But Plato
was of a different mould; his was the soaring spirit which felt its
true home to be the supra-sensible world of Divine Beauty,
Immortality, Absolute Truth and Existence. Starting with the fleshly
conception of Love natural to a young man, he leads us step by step
towards the great conclusion that Love is nothing less than an
identification of the self with the thing loved. No man can do his
work if he is not interested in it; he will hate it as his taskmaster.
But when an object of pursuit enthrals him it will intoxicate him,
will not leave him at peace till he joins his very soul with it in
union indissoluble. This direct communication of Mind with the object
of worship is Mysticism. It is the very core of the highest form of
religious life; it purifies, ennobles, and above all it inspires. To
the mystic the great prophet is the Athenian Plato, whose doctrine is
that of the Christian "God is love" converted into "Love is God". It
is not entirely fanciful to suggest that Plato, in saying farewell to
the definitely Socratic type of philosophy, gave his master as his
parting gift the greatest of ail tributes, a dialogue which is really
the "praise of Socrates".

The intoxication of Plato's thought is evident in the _Phaedrus_. This
splendid dialogue marks even more clearly the character of the new
wine which was to be poured into the Socratic bottles. Phaedrus and
Socrates recline in a spot of romantic beauty along the bank of the
Ilissus. Phaedrus reads a paradoxical speech supposed to be written by
Lysias, the famous orator, on Love; Socrates replies in a speech quite
as unreal, praising as Lysias did him who does not love. But soon he
recants--his real creed being the opposite. Frenzy is his subject--the
ecstasy of prophecy, mysticism, poetry and the soul. This last is like
a charioteer driving a pair of horses, one white, the other black. It
soars upwards to the region of pure beauty, wisdom and goodness; but
sometimes the white horse, the spirited quality of human nature, is
pulled down by the black, which is sensual desire, so that the
charioteer, Reason, cannot get a full vision of the ideal world beyond
all heavens. Those souls which have partially seen the truth but have
been dragged down by the black steed become, according to the amount
of Beauty they have seen, philosophers, kings, economists, gymnasts,
mystics, poets, journeymen, sophists or tyrants. The vision once seen
is never quite forgotten, for it can be recovered by reminiscence, so
that by exercise each man can recall some of its glories.

The dialogue then passes to a discussion of good and bad writing and
speaking. The truth is the sole criterion of value, and this can be
obtained only by definition; next there must be orderly arrangement, a
beginning, a middle and an end. In rhetoric it is absolutely essential
for a man to study human nature first; he cannot hope to persuade an
audience if he is unaware of the laws of its psychology; not all
speeches suit all audiences. Further, writing is inferior to speaking,
for the written word is lifeless, the spoken is living and its author
can be interrogated. It follows then that orators are of all men the
most important because of the power they wield; they will be potent
for destruction unless they love the truth and understand human
nature; in short, they must be philosophers.

The like of this had nowhere been said before. It opened a new world
to human speculation. First, the teaching about oratory is of the
highest value. Plato's quarrel with the sophists was based on their
total ignorance of the enormous power they exercised for evil, because
they knew not what they were doing. They professed to teach men how to
speak well, but had no conception of the science upon which the art of
oratory rests. In short, they were sheer impostors. Even Aristotle had
nothing to add to this doctrine in his treatise on _Rhetoric_, which
contains a study of the effects which certain oratorical devices could
be prophesied to produce, and provides the requisite scientific
foundation. Again, the indifference to or the ridicule of truth shown
by some sophists made them odious to Plato. He would have none of
their doctrines of relativity or flux. Nothing short of the Absolute
would satisfy his soaring spirit. He was sick of the change in
phenomena, the tangible and material objects of sense. He found
permanence in a world of eternal ideas. These ideas are the essence of
Platonism. They are his term for universal concepts, classes; there
are single tangible trees innumerable, but one Ideal Tree only in the
Ideal world beyond the heavens. Nothing can possibly satisfy the soul
but these unchanging and permanent concepts; it is among them that it
finds its true home. Lastly, the tripartite division of the nature of
the soul here first indicated is a permanent contribution to
philosophy. Thus Plato's system is definitely launched in the
_Phaedrus_. His subsequent dialogues show how he fitted out the hulk
to sail on his voyages of discovery.

The _Meno_ is a rediscussion on Platonic principles of the problem of
the _Protagoras_: can virtue be taught? Meno, a general in the army of
the famous Ten Thousand, attempts a definition of virtue itself, the
principle that underlies specific kinds of virtues such as justice.
After a cross-examination he confesses his helplessness in a famous
simile: Socrates is like the torpedo-fish which benumbs all who touch
it. Then the real business begins. How do we learn anything at all?
Socrates says by Reminiscence, for the soul lived once in the presence
of the ideal world; when it enters the flesh it loses its knowledge,
but gradually regains it. This theory he dramatically illustrates by
calling in a slave whom he proves by means of a diagram to know
something of geometry, though he never learned it. Thus the great
lesson of life is to practise the search for knowledge--and if virtue
is knowledge it will be teachable.

But the puzzle is, who are the teachers? Not the sophists, a
discredited class, nor the statesmen, who cannot teach their sons to
follow them. Virtue then, not being teachable, is probably not the
result of knowledge, but is imparted to men by a Divine Dispensation,
just as poetry is. But the origin of virtue will always be mysterious
till its nature is discovered beyond doubt. So Plato once more
declares his dissatisfaction with a Socratic tenet which identified
virtue with knowledge.

The _Phaedo_ describes Socrates' discussion of the immortality of the
soul on his last day on earth. Reminiscence of Ideas proves
pre-existence, as in the _Meno_; the Ideas are similarly used to prove
a continued existence after death, for the soul has in it an immortal
principle which is the exact contrary of mortality; the Idea of Death
cannot exist in a thing whose central Idea is life. Such in brief is
Socrates' proof. To us it is singularly unconvincing, as it looks like
a begging of the whole question. Yet Plato argues in his technical
language as most men do concerning this all-important and difficult
question. That which contains within itself the notion of immortality
would seem to be too noble to have been created merely to die. The
very presence of a desire to realise eternal truth is a strong
presumption that there must be something to correspond with it. The
most interesting portion of this well-known dialogue is that which
teaches that life is really an exercise for death. All the base and
low desires which haunt us should be gradually eliminated and replaced
by a longing for better things. The true philosopher at any rate so
trains himself that when his hour comes he greets death with a smile,
the life on earth having lost its attractions.

Such is the connection between the _Meno_ and the _Phaedo_; the life
that was before and the life that shall be hereafter depend upon the
Ideal world. That salvation is in this life and in the practical
sphere of human government is possible only through a knowledge of
these Ideas is the doctrine of the immortal _Republic_. This great
work in ten books is well known, but its unique value is not always
recognised. It starts with a discussion of Justice. Thrasymachus, a
brazen fellow like Callicles in the _Gorgias_, argues that Justice is
the interest of the stronger and that law and morality are mere
conventions. The implications of this doctrine are of supreme
importance. If Justice is frank despotism, then the Eastern type of
civilisation is the best, wherein custom has once for all fixed the
right of the despot to grind down the population, while the sole duty
of the latter is to pay taxes. The moral reformation of law becomes
impossible; no adjustment of an unchanging decree to the changing and
advancing standard of public morality can be contemplated;
constitutional development, legal reformation and the great process by
which Western peoples have tried gradually to make positive law
correspond with Ethical ideals are mere dreams.

But the verbal refutation of Thrasymachus does not satisfy Glaucus and
Adeimantus who are among Socrates' audience. In order to explain the
real nature of Justice, Socrates is compelled to trace from the very
beginning the process by which states have come into existence.
Economic and military needs are thoroughly discussed. The State cannot
continue unless there is created in it a class whose sole business it
is to govern. This class is to be produced by communistic methods; the
best men and women are to be tested and chosen as parents, their
children being taken and carefully trained apart for their high
office. This training will be administered to the three component
parts of the soul, the rational, the spirited and the appetitive,
while the educational curriculum will be divided into two sections,
Gymnastic for the body and Artistic for the mind--the latter including
all scientific, mathematical and literary subjects. After a careful
search, in this ideal state Justice, the principle of harmony which
keeps all classes of the community coherent, will show itself in
"doing one's own business".

Yet even this method of describing Justice is not satisfactory to
Plato, who was not content unless he started from the universal
concepts of the Ideal world. The second portion of the dialogue
describes how knowledge is gained. The mind discards the sensible and
material world, advancing to the Ideas themselves. Yet even these are
insufficient, for they all are interconnected and united to one great
and architectonic Idea, that of the Good; to this the soul must
advance before its knowledge can be called perfect. This is the scheme
of education for the Guardians; the philosophic contemplation of
Ideas, however, should be deferred till they are of mature age, for
philosophy is dangerous in young men. Having performed their warlike
functions of defending the State, the Guardians are to be sifted,
those most capable of philosophic speculation being employed as
instructors of the others. Seen from the height of the Ideal world,
Justice again turns out to be the performance of one's own particular

This ideal society Plato admits to be a difficult aim for our weak
human nature; he stoutly maintains, however, that "a pattern of it is
laid up in heaven", man's true home. He mournfully grants that a
declension from excellence is often possible and describes how this
rule of philosophers, if established, would be expected to pass
through oligarchy to democracy, the worst form of all government,
peopled by the democratic man whose soul is at war with itself because
it claims to do as it likes. The whole dialogue ends in an admirable
vision in which he teaches that man chose his lot on earth in a
preexisting state.

Such is a fragmentary description of this masterpiece. What is it all
about? First it is necessary to point out a serious misconception.
Plato is not here advocating universal communism; his state postulates
a money-making class and a labouring class also. Apart from the fact
that he explicitly mentions these and allows them private property, it
would be difficult to imagine that they are not rendered necessary by
his very description of Justice. Not all men are fit for
government--and therefore those who are governed must "do their
particular business" for which they are fitted; in some cases it is
the rather mean business of piling up fortunes. Communism is advocated
as the only means of creating first and then propagating the small
Guardian caste. Nor again is the caste rigid, for some of the children
born of communistic intercourse will be unfit for their position and
will be degraded into the money-making or property owning section.
Communism to Plato is a high creed, too high for everybody, fit only
for the select and enlightened or teachable few.

Nor is the _Republic_ an instance of Utopian theorising. It is a
criticism of contemporary Greek civilisation, intended to remove the
greatest practical difficulty in life. Man has tried all kinds of
governments and found none satisfactory. All have proved selfish and
faithless, governing for their own interests only. Kings, oligarchs,
democrats and mob-leaders have without exception regarded power as the
object to be attained because of the spoils of office. Political
leadership is thus a direct means of self-advancement, a temptation
too strong for weak human nature. As a well-known Labour leader
hinted, five thousand a year does not often come in men's way. There
is only one way of securing honest government and that is Plato's. A
definite class must be created who will exercise political power only,
economic inclinations of any sort disqualifying any of its members
from taking office. The ruling class should rule only, the
money-making class make money only. In this way no single section will
tax the rest to fill its own pockets. The one requisite is that these
Guardians should be recognised as the fittest to rule and receive the
willing obedience of the rest. If any other sane plan is available for
preserving the governed from the incessant and rapacious demands of
tax-collectors, no record of it exists in literature. Practical
statesmanship of a high and original order is manifest in the
_Republic_; in England, where the official qualifications for
governing are believed to be equally existent in everybody whether
trained or untrained in the art of ruling, the _Republic_, if read at
all, may be admired but is sure to be misunderstood.

It seems that Plato's teaching at the Academy raised formidable
criticism. The next group of dialogues is marked by metaphysical
teaching. The _Parmenides_ is a searching examination of the Ideas. If
these are in a world apart, they cannot easily be brought into
connection with our world; a big thing on earth and the Idea of Big
will need another Idea to comprehend both. Besides, Ideas in an
independent existence will be beyond our ken and their study will be
impossible. Socrates' system betrays lack of metaphysical practice; at
most the Ideas should have been regarded as part of a theory whose
value should have been tested by results. This process is exemplified
by a discussion of the fundamental opposition between the One and the
infinite Many which are instances of it.

This criticism shows the advantage Plato enjoyed in making Socrates
the mouthpiece of his own speculations; he could criticise himself as
it were from without. He has put his finger on his own weak spot, the
question whether the Ideas are immanent or transcendent. The results
of this examination were adopted by the Aristotelian school, who
suggested another theory of Knowledge.

The _Philebus_ discusses the question whether Pleasure or Knowledge is
the chief good. A metaphysical argument which follows that of the
_Parmenides_ ends in the characteristic Greek distinction between the
Finite and the Infinite. Pleasure is infinite, because it can exist in
greater or less degree; there is a mixed life compounded of finite and
infinite and there is a creative faculty to which mind belongs.
Pleasure is of two kinds; it is sometimes mixed with pain, sometimes
it is pure; the latter type alone is worth cultivating and includes
the pleasures of knowledge. Yet pleasure is not an end, but only a
means to it. It cannot therefore be the Good, which is an end.
Knowledge is at its best when it is dealing with the eternal and
immutable, but even then it is not self-sufficient--it exists for the
sake of something else, the good. This latter is characterised by
symmetry, proportion and truth. Knowledge resembles it far more than
even pure pleasure.

The _Theaetetus_ discusses more fully the theory of knowledge. It
opens with a comparison of the Socratic method to midwifery; it
delivers the mind of the thoughts with which it is in travail. The
first tentative definition of knowledge is that it is sensation. This
is in agreement with the Protagorean doctrine that man is the measure
of all things. Yet sensation implies change, whereas we cannot help
thinking that objects retain their identity; if knowledge is sensation
a pig has as good a claim to be called the measure of all things as a
man. Again, Protagoras has no right to teach others if each man's
sensations are a law unto him. Nor is the Heracleitean doctrine much
better which taught that all things are in a state of flux. If nothing
retains the same quality for two consecutive moments it is impossible
to have predication, and knowledge must be hopeless. In fact,
sensation is not man's function as a reasoning being, but rather
comparison. Neither is knowledge true opinion, for this at once
demands the demarcation of false opinion or error; the latter is
negative, and will be understood only when positive knowledge is
determined. Perhaps knowledge is true opinion plus reason; but it is
difficult to decide what is gained by adding "with reason", words
which may mean either true opinion or knowledge itself, thus involving
either tautology or a begging of the question. The dialogue at least
has shown what knowledge is not.

Locke, Berkeley and Hume, the eighteenth century sensation
philosophers, were similarly refuted by Kant. The mind by its mere
ability to compare two things proves that it can have two concepts at
least before it at the same time, and can retain them for a longer
period than a mere passing sensation implies. Yet the problem of
knowledge still remains as difficult as Plato knew it to be.

"Is the Sophist the same as the Statesman and the Philosopher?" Such
is the question raised in the _Sophist_. Six definitions are
suggested, all unsatisfactory. The fixed characteristic of the Sophist
is his seeming to know everything without doing so; this definition
leads straight to the concept of false opinion, a thing whose object
both is and is not. "That which is not" provokes an inquiry into what
is, Being. Dualism, Monism, Materialism and Idealism are all
discussed, the conclusion being that the Sophist is a counterfeit of
the Philosopher, a wilful impostor who makes people contradict
themselves by quibbling.

The _Politicus_ carries on the discussion. In this dialogue we may see
the dying glories of Plato's genius. In his search for the true pastor
or king he separates the divine from the human leader; the true king
alone has scientific knowledge superior to law and written enactments
which men use when they fail to discover the real monarch. This
scientific knowledge of fixed and definite principles can come only
from Education. A most remarkable myth follows, which is practically
the Greek version of the Fall. The state of innocence is described as
preceding a decline into barbarism; a restoration can be effected only
by a divine interposition and by the growth of a study of art or by
the influence of society. The arts themselves are the children of a
supernatural revelation.

The _Timaeus_ and the long treatise the _Laws_ criticise the theories
of the Republic. The former is full of world-speculations of a most
difficult kind, the latter admits the weakness of the Ideal State,
making concessions to inevitable human failings.

Though written in an early period, the _Apology_ may form a fitting
end to these dialogues. Socrates was condemned on the charge of
corrupting the Athenian youth and for impiety. To most Athenians he
must have been not only not different from the Sophists he was never
weary of exposing, but the greatest Sophist of them all. He was
unfortunate in his friends, among whom were Critias the infamous
tyrant and Alcibiades who sold the great secret. The older men must
have regarded with suspicion his influence over the youth in a city
which seemed to be losing all its national virtues; many of them were
personally aggrieved by his annoying habit of exposing their ignorance.
He was given a chance of escape by acknowledging his fault and
consenting to pay a small fine. Instead, he proposed for himself the
greatest honour his city could give any of her benefactors, public
maintenance in the town-hall.

His defence contains many superb passages and is a masterpiece of
gentle irony and subtle exposure of error. Its conclusion is masterly.

"At point of death men often prophesy. My prophecy to you, my
slayers, is that when I am gone you will have to face a far more
serious penalty than mine. You have killed me because you wish
to avoid giving an account of your lives. After me will come more
accusers of you and more severe. You cannot stop criticism except
by reforming yourselves. If death is a sleep, then to me it is
gain; if in the next world a man is delivered from unjust judges
and there meets with true judges, the journey is worth while.
There will be found all the heroes of old, slain by wicked
sentences; them I shall meet and compare my agonies with theirs.
Best of all, I shall be able to carry out my search into true and
false knowledge and shall find out the wise and the unwise. No
evil can happen to a virtuous man in life or in death. If my sons
when they grow up care about riches more than virtue, rebuke them
for thinking they are something when they are naught. My time has
come; we must separate. I go to death, you to life; which of the
two is better only God knows."

Two lessons of supreme importance are to be learned from Plato. In the
first place he insists on credentials from the accepted teachers of a
nation. On examination most of them, like Gorgias, would be found
incapable of defining the subjects for the teaching of which they
receive money. The sole hope of a country is Education, for it alone
can deliver from ignorance, a slavery worse than death; the uneducated
person is the dupe of his own passions or prejudices and is the
plaything of the horde of impostors who beg for his vote at elections
or stampede him into strikes.

Again, the possibility of knowledge depends upon accurate definition
and the scientific comparisons of instances. These involve long and
fatiguing thought and very often the reward is scanty enough; no
conclusion is possible sometimes except that it is clear what a thing
cannot be. The human intelligence has learned a most valuable lesson
when it has recognised its own impotence at the outset of an inquiry
and its own limitations at the end thereof. Knowledge, Good, Justice,
Immortality are conceptions so mighty that our tiny minds have no
compasses to set upon them. Better far a distrust in ourselves than
the somewhat impudent and undoubtedly insistent claim to certitude
advanced by the materialistic apostles of modern non-humanitarianism.
When questioned about the ultimates all human knowledge must admit
that it hangs upon the slender thread of a theory or postulate. The
student of philosophy is more honest than others; he has the candour
to confess the assumptions he makes before he tries to think at all.

At times it must be admitted that Plato sounds very unreal. His faults
are clear enough. The dialogue form makes it very easy for him to
invent questions of such a nature that the answer he wants is the only
one possible. Again, his conclusions are often arrived at by methods
or arguments which are frankly inadmissible; in the earlier dialogues
are some very glaring instances of sheer logical worthlessness.
Frequently the whole theme of discussion is such that no modern
philosopher could be expected to approve of it. A supposed explanation
of a difficulty is sometimes afforded by a myth, splendid and poetical
but not logically valid. Inconsistencies can easily be pointed out in
the vast compass of his speculations. It remained for Aristotle to
invent a genuine method of sorting out a licit from an illicit type of

These faults are serious. Against them must be placed some positive
excellences. Plato was one of the first to point out that there is a
problem; a question should be asked and an answer found if possible,
for we have no right to take things for granted. More than this, he
was everywhere searching for knowledge, ridding himself of prejudice,
doing in perfect honesty the most difficult of all things, the duty of
thinking clearly. These thoughts he has expressed in the greatest of
all types of Greek prose, a blend of poetic beauty with the precision
of prose.

But Plato's praise is not that he is a philosopher so much as
Philosophy itself in poetic form. His great visions of the Eternal
whence we spring, his awe for the real King, the real Virtue, the real
State "laid up in Heaven" fill him with an inspired exaltation which
lifts his readers to the Heaven whence Platonism has descended. There
are two main types of men. One is content with the things of sense;
using his powers of observation and performing experiments he will
become a Scientist; using his powers of speculation he will become an
Aristotelian philosopher; putting his thoughts into simple and logical
order, he will write good prose. The other soars to the eternal
principles behind this world, the deathless forms or the general
concepts which give concrete things their existence. These perfect
forms are the main study of the Artist, Poet, Sculptor, whose work it
is to give us comfort and pleasure unspeakable. So long as man lives,
he must have the perfection of beauty to gladden him, especially if
Science is going to test everything by the ruler or balance or
crucible. This love of Beauty is exactly Platonism. It has never died
yet. From Athens it spread to Alexandria, there to start up into fresh
life in the School of which Plotinus is the chief; its doctrines are
described for the English reader in Kingsley's _Hypatia_. It planted
its seed of mysticism in Christianity, with which it has most strange
affinities. At the Renaissance this mystic element caught the
imagination of northern Europe, notably Germany. Passing to England,
it created at Cambridge a School of Platonists, the issue of whose
thought is evident in the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Its last
outburst has been the Transcendental teaching of the nineteenth
century, so curiously Greek and non-Greek in its essence.

For there is in our nature that undying longing for communion with the
Divine which the mere thought of God stirs within us. Our true home is
in the great world where Truth is everything, that Truth which one day
we, like Plato, shall see face to face without any quailing.


The version in 4 volumes by Jowett (Oxford) is the standard. It
contains good introductions.

The _Republic_ has been translated by Davies and Vaughan.

Two volumes in the Loeb Series have appeared.

A new method of translation of Plato is needed. The text should be
clearly divided into sections; the steps of the argument should be
indicated in a skeleton outline. Until this is done study of Plato is
likely to cause much bewilderment.

_Plato and Platonism_, by Pater, is still the best interpretation of
the whole system.


One of the most disquieting facts that history teaches is the
inability of the most enlightened and patriotic men to "discern the
signs of the times". To us the collapse of the Greek city-states seems
natural and inevitable. Their constant bickerings and petty jealousies
justly drew down upon them the armed might of the ambitious and
capable power which destroyed them. Their fate may fill us with pity
and our admiration for those who fought in a losing cause may
prejudice us against their enslavers. But just as the Norman Conquest
in the long run brought more blessing than misery, so the downfall of
the Greek commonwealths was the first step to the conquering progress
of the Greek type of civilisation through the whole world. Our Harold,
fighting manfully yet vainly against an irresistible tendency, has his
counterpart in the last defender of the ancient liberties of Greece.

Demosthenes was born in 384 of a well-to-do business man who died
eight years later. The guardians whom he appointed appropriated the
estate, leaving Demosthenes and his sister in straitened
circumstances. On coming of age the young man brought a suit against
his trustees in 363, of whom Aphobus was the most fraudulent. Though
he won the case, much of his property was irretrievably lost. Nor were
his first efforts at public speaking prophetic of future greatness.
His voice was thin, his demeanour awkward, his speech indistinct; his
style was laboured, being an obvious blend of Thucydides with Isaeus,
an old and practised pleader. Yet he was ambitious and determined; he
longed to copy the career of Pericles, the noblest of Athenian
statesmen. The stories of his self-imposed exercises and their happy
issue are well known; his days he spent in declaiming on the sea-shore
with pebbles in his mouth, his nights in copying and recopying
Thucydides; the speeches which have come down to us show clearly the
gradual evolution of the great style well worthy of the greatest of
all themes, national salvation.

It will be necessary to explain a convention of the Athenian law
courts. A litigant was obliged to plead his own case; if he was unable
to compose his own speech, he applied to some professional retailer of
orations who would write it for him. The art of these speech-writers
was of varying excellence. A first-class practitioner would not only
discover the real or the supposed facts of the dispute, he would
divine the real character of his client, and write the particular type
of speech which would seem most natural on such a person's lips.
Considerable knowledge of human nature was required in such an
exciting and delicate profession, although the author did not always
succeed in concealing his identity. Demosthenes had his share of this
experience; he wrote for various customers speeches on various
subjects; one concerns a dowry dispute, another a claim for
compensation for damage caused by a water-course, another deals with
an adoption, another was written for a wealthy banker. Assault and
battery, ship-scuttling, undue influence of attractive females on the
weaker sex, maritime trickery of all kinds, citizen rights, are all
treated in the so-called private speeches, of which some are of
considerable value as illustrating legal or mercantile or social

Public suits were of the same nature; the speeches were composed by
one person and delivered by another. Such are the speech against
_Androtion_ for illegal practices, against _Timocrates_ for
embezzlement and the important speech against _Aristocrates_, in which
for the first time Demosthenes seems to have become aware of the real
designs of Macedonia. The speech against the law of _Leptines_,
delivered in 354 by Demosthenes himself, is of value as displaying the
gradual development of his characteristic style; in it we have the
voice and the words of the same man, who is talking with a sense of
responsibility about a constitutional anomaly.

But for us the real Demosthenes is he who spoke on questions of State
policy. This subject alone can call out the best qualities in an
orator as distinct from a rhetorician; the tricks and bad arguments
which are so often employed to secure condemnation or acquittal in a
law court are inapplicable or undignified in a matter of vital
national import. But before the great enemy arose to threaten Greek
liberty, it happened that Fortune was kind enough to afford
Demosthenes excellent practice in a parliamentary discussion of two if
not three questions of importance.

In 354 there was much talk of a possible war with Persia. Demosthenes
first addresses the sword-rattlers. "To the braggarts and jingoes I
say that it is not difficult--not even when we need sound advice--to
win a reputation for courage and to appear a clever speaker when
danger is very near. The really difficult duty is to show courage in
danger and in the council-chamber to give sounder advice than anybody
else." His belief was that war was not a certainty, but it would be
better to revise the whole naval system. A detailed scheme to assure
the requisite number of ships in fighting-trim follows, so sensible
that it commands immediate respect. The speaker estimates the wealth
of Attica, maps it out into divisions, each able to bear the expense
of the warships assigned to it. To a possible objection that it would
be better to raise the money by increased taxation he answers with the
grim irony natural to him (he seems to be utterly devoid of humour).

"What you could raise at present is more ridiculous than if you
raised nothing at all. A hundred and twenty talents? What are they
to the twelve hundred camels which they say carry Persia's revenues?"

He refuses to believe that a Greek mercenary army would fight against
its country, while the Thebans, who notoriously sided with Persia in
480, would give much for an opportunity of redeeming this old sin
against Greece.

"The rest of the Greeks, as long as they considered the Persian
their common enemy, had numerous blessings; but when they began to
regard him as their friend they experienced such woes as no man could
have invented for them even in his curses. Whom then Providence and
Destiny have shown useless as a friend and most advantageous as a foe,
shall we fear? Rather let us commit no injustice for our own sakes and
save the rest from commotion and strife."

Such is the outline of the speech on the _Navy-boards_. Two years
later he displayed qualities of no mean order. Sparta and Thebes were
quarrelling for the leadership. Arcadia had revolted from Sparta, the
centre of the disaffection being _Megalopolis_; ambassadors from the
latter city and from Sparta begged Athenian aid. In the heat of the
excitement men's judgments were not to be trusted. "The difficulty of
giving sound advice is well known," says the orator.

"If a man tries to take a middle course and you have not the
patience to hear, he will win the approval of neither party but
will be maligned by both. If such a fate awaits me, I would rather
appear to be talking nonsense than allow any party to deceive you
into what I know is not your wisest policy."

The question was, should Athens join Thebes or Sparta, both ancient

"I would like to ask those who say they hate either, whether they
hate the one for the sake of the other or for your sake. If for the
sake of the other party, then you can trust neither, for both are mad;
if for your sake, why do they try to strengthen one of these two
cities unduly? You can with perfect ease keep Thebes weak without
making Sparta strong, as I will prove. You will find that the main
cause of woe and ruin is unwillingness to act with simple honesty."

After a rapid calculation of possibilities he suggests the following

"War between Thebes and Sparta is certain. If Thebes is beaten to
the ground, as she deserves to be, Sparta will not be unduly powerful,
for these Arcadian neighbours will restore the balance; if Thebes
recovers and saves herself, she will still be weak if you ally
yourselves with Arcadia and protect her. It is expedient then in
every way neither to sacrifice Arcadia nor let that country imagine
that it survives through its own power or through any other power than

The calm voice of the cool-headed statesman is everywhere audible in
this admirable little speech.

The power of discounting personal resentment and thinking soberly is
apparent in the speech for the _Freedom of Rhodes_, delivered about
this time. Rhodes had offended Athens by revolting in the Social war
of 357-5 with the help of the well-known Carian king Mausolus. For a
time that monarch had treated Rhodes well; later he overthrew the
democracy and placed the power in the hands of the oligarchs. When
Queen Artemisia succeeded to the throne of Caria the democrats begged
Athens to aid them in recovering their liberty. Deprecating passion of
any kind, Demosthenes points out the real question at issue. The
record of the oligarchs is a bad one; to overthrow the democracy they
had won over some of the leading citizens whom they banished when they
had attained their object. Their faithless conduct promised no hope of
a firm alliance with Athens. The Rhodian question was to be the acid
test of her political creed.

"Look at this fact, gentlemen. You have fought many a war against
both democracies and oligarchies, as you well know. But the real
object of these wars perhaps none of you considers. Against
democracies you fight for private grievances which cannot be settled
in public, or for territory or boundaries or for domination. Against
oligarchies you fight for none of these things, but for your
constitution and freedom. I would not hesitate to say that I consider
it more to your advantage should become democratic and fight you than
turn oligarchic and be your friends. I am certain that it would not
be difficult for you to make peace with freeconstitutions; with
oligarchies your friendship would not even be secure, for it is
impossible that they in their lust for power could cherish kindness
for a State whose policy is based on freedom of speech."

"Even if we were to say that Rhodes richly deserves her sufferings,
this is the wrong time to gloat. Prosperous cities ought always to
show that they desire every good for the unfortunate, for the future
is dark to us all."

His conclusion is this.

"Any person who abandons the post assigned to him by his commander
you disfranchise and exclude from public life. Even so all who desert
the political tradition bequeathed you by your ancestors and turn
oligarchs you ought to banish from your Council. As it is you trust
politicians who you know for certain side with your country's enemies."

These three speeches indicate plainly enough the kind of man who was
soon to make himself heard in a more important question. Instead of a
frothy and excitable harangue that might have been looked for in a
warm-blooded Southern orator we find a dignified and apparently
cool-headed type of speech based on sound sense, full of practical
proposals, fearless, manly and above all noble because it relies on
righteousness. An intelligence of no mean order has in each case
discarded personal feeling and has pointed out the one bed-rock fact
which ought to be the foundation of a sound policy. More than this;
for the first time an Attic orator has deliberately set to work to
create a new type of prose, based on a cadence and rhythm. This new
language at times runs away with its inventor; experience was to show
him that in this matter as in all others the consummate artist hides
the art whereof he is master.

By 352 Greece had become aware that her liberties were to be
threatened not from the East, but from Macedonia. Trained in the Greek
practice of arms and diplomacy, her king Philip within seven years had
created a powerful military system. His first object was to obtain
control of a seaboard. In carrying out this policy he had to reduce
Amphipolis on the Strymon in Thrace, Olynthus in Chalcidice, and
Athenian power centralised in Potidaea, a little south of Olynthus,
and on the other side of the Gulf of Therma in Pydna and Methone.
Pydna he secured in 357 by trickery; Amphipolis had passed under his
control through inexcusable Athenian slackness earlier in the same
year. Potidaea fell in 356 and Methone, the last Athenian stronghold,
in 353. Pagasae succumbed in 352; with it Philip obtained absolute
command of the sea-coast.

In the same year a Macedonian attempt to pass Thermopylae was met by
vigorous Athenian action; a strong force held the defile, preventing a
further advance southward. In the next year the Athenian pacifist
party was desirous of dropping further resistance. This policy caused
the delivery of the _First Philippic_. It is a stirring appeal to the
country to shake off its lethargy. Nothing but personal service would
enable her to recover the lost strongholds. "In my opinion," it says,
"the greatest compelling power that can move men is the disgrace of
their condition. Do you desire to stroll about asking one another for
news? What newer news do you want than that a Macedonian is warring
down Athens? Philip sick or Philip dead makes no difference to you.
If he died you would soon raise up for yourselves another Philip if
you continue your present policy."

With statesmanlike care Demosthenes makes concrete proposals for the
creation of a standing force of citizens ready to serve in the ranks;
at present their generals and captains are puppets for the pretty
march-past in the public square. He estimates the cost of upkeep and
shows that it is possible to maintain a force in perfect efficiency;
he lays particular stress on creating a base of operations in
Macedonia itself, otherwise fleets sailing north might be checked by
trade winds. "Too late" is the curse of Athenian action; a vacillating
policy ruins every expedition.

"Such a system was possible earlier, but now we are on the razor's
edge. In my opinion some god in utter shame at our history has
inspired Philip with his restlessness. If he had been content with
his conquests and annexations, some of you would be quite satisfied
with a position which would have branded our name with infamy and
cowardice; as it is, perhaps his unceasing aggressions and lust for
extension might spur you--unless you are utterly past redemption."

He grimly refutes all those well-informed persons who "happen to know"
Philip's object--we had scores of them in our own late war.

"Why, of course he is intoxicated at the magnitude of his successes
and builds castles in the air; but I am quite sure that he will
never choose a policy such that the most hopeless fools here are
likely to know what it is, for gossipers are hopeless fools."

It should be remembered that these are the words of a young man of
thirty-four, unconnected with any party, yet capable of forming a sane
policy. That they are great words will be obvious to anyone who
replaces the name of Philip by that of his country's enemy; the result
is startling indeed.

The last and most formidable problem Philip had yet to solve, the
destruction of Olynthus, the centre of a great confederation of
thirty-two towns. Military work against it was begun in 349 and led at
once to an appeal to Athens for assistance. The pacifists and traitors
were busy intriguing for Philip; Demosthenes delivered three speeches
for Olynthus. The _First Olynthiac_ sounds the right note.

"The present crisis all but cries aloud saying that you must tackle
the problem your own selves if you have any concern for salvation.
The great privilege of a military autocrat, that he is his own
Cabinet, Commander-in-Chief, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, that
he is everywhere personally in service with his army, gives him an
enormous advantage for the speedy and timely performance of military
duties, but it makes him incapable of obtaining from Olynthus the
truce he longs for. Olynthus now knows she is fighting not for glory
or territory but to avoid ejection and slavery. She has before her
eyes his treatment of Amphipolis and Pydna. In a word, despotism is
a thing no free country can trust, especially if it is its neighbour."

He warns his hearers that once Olynthus falls, there is nothing to
hinder Philip from marching straight on Athens.

A definite policy is then suggested.

"Carping criticism is easy; any person can indulge in it; but only
a statesman can show what is to be done to meet a pressing difficulty.
I know well enough that if anything goes wrong you lose your tempers
not with the guilty persons, but with the last speaker. Yet for all
that, no thought of private safety will make me conceal what I believe
to be our soundest course of action."

By a perfectly scandalous abuse, the surplus funds of the State
Treasury had been doled out to the poor to enable them to witness
plays in the theatre, on the understanding that the doles should cease
if war expenses had to be met. In time the lower orders came to
consider the dole as their right, backed by the demagogues refused to
surrender it. This theatre-fund Demosthenes did not yet venture to
attack, for it was dangerous to do so. He had no alternative but to
propose additional taxes on the rich. He concludes with an admirable

"You must all take a comprehensive view of these questions and
bear a hand in staving off the war into Macedonia. The rich must
spend a little of their possessions to enjoy the residue without
fear; the men of military age must gain their experience of war
in Philip's country and make themselves formidable defenders of
their own soil; the speakers must facilitate an enquiry into their
own conduct, that the citizen body may criticise their policy
according to the political situation at the moment. May the result
be good on every ground."

The _Second Olynthiac_ strikes a higher note, that of indignant
protest against the perfidy of Macedonian diplomacy.

"When a State is built on unanimity, when allies in a war find
their interests identical, men gladly labour together, bearing
their troubles and sticking to their task. But when a power like
Philip's is strong through greed and villainy, on the first pretext
or the slightest set-back the whole system is upset and dismembered.
Injustice and perjury and lies cannot win a solid power; they
survive for a brief and fleeting period and show many a blossom of
promise perhaps, but time finds them out; their leaves soon wither
away. Houses or ships need foundations of great strength; policies
require truth and righteousness as their origin and first principles.
Such are not to be found in Philip's career."

A history of Macedonian progress shows the weak places in the system.

"Success throws a veil over these at present, for prosperity shrouds
many a scandal. If he makes one false step, all his vices will come
into the clearest relief; this will soon become obvious under
Heaven's guidance, if you will only show some energy. As long as a
man is in health, he is unaware of his weaknesses, but when sickness
overtakes him, his whole constitution is upset. Cities and despots
are the same; while they are invading their neighbours their secret
evils are invisible, but when they are in the grip of an internal war
these weaknesses all become quite evident."

An exhortation to personal service is succeeded by a protest against a
parochial view of politics which causes petty jealousies and paralyses
joint action. The whole State should take its turn at doing some war

In the _Third Olynthiac_ Demosthenes takes the bull by the horns. The
insane theatre-doles were sapping the revenues badly needed for
financing the fight for existence. Olynthus at last was aware of her
danger; she could be aided not by passing decrees, but by annulling

"I will tell you quite plainly I mean the laws about the
theatre-fund. When you have done that and when you make it safe
for your speakers to give you the best advice, then you may expect
somebody to propose what you all know is to your interest. The men
to repeal these laws are those who proposed them. It is unfair that
they who passed them should be popular for damaging the State while
a statesman who proposes a measure which would benefit us all should
be rewarded with public hatred. Before you have set this matter right
you cannot expect to find among you a superman who will violate these
laws with impunity or a fool who will run his head into a manifest

With the same superb courage he tackles the demagogues who are the
cause of all the mischief.

"Ever since the present type of orator has appeared who asks
anxiously, 'What do you want? What can I propose? What can I give
you?' the city's prestige has melted in compliment; the net result
is that these men have made their fortunes while the city is

A bitter contrast shows how the earlier popular leaders made Athens
wealthy, dominant and respected; the modern sort had lost territory,
spent a mint of money on nothing, alienated good allies and raised up
a trained enemy. But there is one thing to their credit, they had
whitewashed the city walls, had repaired roads and fountains. And the
trade of public speaking is profitable. Some of the demagogues' houses
are more splendid than the public buildings; as individuals they have
prospered in exact proportion as the State is reduced to impotence. In
fact, they have secured control of the constitution; their system of
bribery and spoon-feeding has tamed the democracy and made it obedient
to the hand. "I should not be surprised," he continues,

"if my words bring me into greater trouble than the men who have
started these abuses. Freedom of speech on every subject before you
is not possible--I am surprised that you have not already howled me

The doles he compares to the snacks prescribed by doctors; they cannot
help keep a patient properly alive and will not allow him to die.
Personal service and an end of gratuities is insisted upon.

"Without adding or taking away, only slightly altering our present
chaos, I have suggested a uniform scheme whereby each man can do
the duties fitted to his years and his opportunities. I have nowhere
proposed that you should divide the earnings of the workers among
the unemployable, nor that you should slack and amuse yourselves and
be reduced to beggary while somebody else is fighting for you--for
that is what is happening now."

What a speech is here! Doles, interruptions of men who tell the truth,
organised democratic corruption, waste of public money on whitewash
are familiar to the unhappy British tax-payer. Where is our
Demosthenes who dare appeal to the electorate to sweep the system and
its prospering advocates back into the darkness?

Having captured Olynthus in 348 and razed it to the ground, Philip
attacked Euboea. A further advance was checked by a disgraceful peace
engineered by Philocrates and Aeschines in 346. The embassy which
obtained it was dodged by Philip until he had made the maximum of
conquest; he had excluded the Phocians from its scope, a people of
primary importance because they controlled Thermopylae, but a week
after signing the peace he had destroyed Phocian unity and usurped
their place on the great Council which met at Delphi. This evident
attack on the liberty of southern Greece raised a fever of excitement
at Athens. The war-party clamoured for instant action; strangely
enough Demosthenes advised his city to observe the peace. In contrast
with his fiery audience he speaks with perfect coolness and calm. He
reviews the immediate past, explains the shameful part played by an
actor Neoptolemus who persuaded Athens to make the peace, then
realised all his property and went to live in Macedon; he describes
the good advice he gave them which they did not follow, and bases his
claim to speak not on any cleverness but on his incorruptibility.

"Our true interest reveals itself to me in its real outlines as I
judge the existing situation. But whenever a man throws a bribe
into the opposite scale it drags the reason after it; the corrupt
person will never afterwards have any true or sane judgment about

In the present case the real point at issue is clear enough. It is a
question of fighting not Philip but the whole body of states who were
represented at the Delphic Council, for they would fly to arms at once
if Athens renounced _the Peace_; against such a combination she could
not survive, just as the Phocians could not cope with the combined
attack of Macedonia, Thessaly and Thebes, natural enemies united for a
brief moment to achieve a common end. After all, a seat on the Delphic
Council was a small matter; only fools would go to war for an
unsubstantial shadow.

Firmly planted in Greece itself, Philip started intriguing in
Peloponnesus, supporting Argos, Megalopolis and Messene against
Sparta. An embassy to these three cities headed by Demosthenes warned
them of the treacherous friendship. Returning to Athens in 344 he
delivered his _Second Philippi_, which contains an account of the
speeches of the recent tour. Philip acted while Athens talked.

"The result is inevitable and perhaps reasonable; each of you
excels in that wherein you are most diligent--he in deeds, you
in words."

Hence comes the intrigue against Sparta. He can dupe stupid people
like the Thebans, or the Peloponnesians; warning therefore is
necessary. To the latter he said:--

"You now stare at Philip offering and promising things; if you
have any sense, pray you may never see him practising his tricks
and evasions. Cities have invented all kinds of protections and
safeguards such as stockades, walls, trenches--all of which are
made by hand and expensive. But men of sense have inherited from
Nature one defence, good and salutary--especially democrats against
despots--namely, mistrust. If you hold fast to this, you will never
come to serious harm. You hanker after liberty, I suppose. Cannot
you see that Philip's very title is the exact negation of it? Every
king or despot is a foe to freedom and an adversary of law. Beware
lest while seeking to be quit of a war you find a master."

He then mentions the silly promises of advantages to come which
induced Athens to make the infamous Peace, and quotes the famous
remark whereby the traitor gang raised a laugh while in the act of
selling their country. "Demosthenes is naturally a sour and peevish
fellow, for he drinks water." Drawing their attention to this origin
of all their trouble, he asks them to remember their names--at the
same time remarking that even if a man deserved to die, punishment
should be suspended if it meant loss and ruin to the State.

The next three years saw various Macedonian aggressions, especially in
Thrace. That country on its eastern extremity formed the northern
coast of the Dardanelles, named the Chersonese, important as
safeguarding the corn supplies which passed through the Straits. It
had been in the possession of Miltiades, was lost in the Peloponnesian
war and was partly recovered by Timotheus in 863. Diopeithes had been
sent there with a body of colonists in 346. Establishing himself in
possession, he took toll of passing traders to safeguard them against
pirates and had collided with the Macedonian troops as they slowly
advanced to the Narrows. Philip sent a protest to Athens; in a lively
debate _on the Chersonese_ early in 341 Demosthenes delivered a great

First of all he shows that Diopeithes is really the one guarantee that
Philip will not attack Attica itself. In Thrace is a force which can
do great damage to Macedonian territory.

"But if it is once disbanded, what shall we do if Philip attacks the
Chersonese? Arraign Diopeithes, of course--but that will not improve
matters. Well then, send reinforcements from here--if the winds allow
us. Well, Philip will not attack--but there is nobody to guarantee

He suggests that Diopeithes should not be cast off but supported. Such
a plan will cost money, but it will be well spent for the sake of
future benefits.

"If some god were to guarantee that if Athens observes strict
neutrality, abandoning all her possessions, Philip would not attack
her, it would be a scandal, unworthy of you and your city's power
and past history to sacrifice the rest of Greece. I would rather die
than suggest such action."

He then turns to the pacifists, pointing out that it is useless to
expect a peace if the enemy is bent on a war of extermination. None
but fools would wait till a foe admits he is actually fighting if his
actions are clearly hostile. The traitors who sell the city should be
beaten to death, for no State can overcome the foe outside till it has
chastised the enemy within. The record of Macedonian duplicity
follows; the hectoring insolence of Philip is easily explained; Athens
is the only place in the world in which freedom of speech exists; so
prevalent is it that even slaves and aliens possess it. Accordingly
Philip has to stop the mouths of other cities by giving them territory
for a brief period, but Athens he can rob of her colonies and be sure
of getting praise from the anti-national bribe-takers. He concludes
with a striking and elevated passage describing the genuine statesman.

"Any man who to secure your real interests opposes your wishes and
never speaks to get applause but deliberately chooses politics as
his profession (a business in which chance exercises greater
influence than human reason), being perfectly ready to answer for
the caprices is a really brave and useful citizen. I have never had
recourse to the popular arts of winning favour; I have never used
low abuse or stooped to humour you or made rich men's money public;
I continue to tell you what is bound to make me unpopular among you
and yet advance your strength if only you will listen-so unenviable
is the counsellor's lot."

A deep and splendid courage in hopelessness is here manifest.

A little later in the same year was delivered the last and greatest of
all the patriotic speeches, the _Third Philippic_. Early in the speech
the whole object of the Macedonian threat is made apparent--the
jugular veins of Athens, her trade-routes.

"Any man who plots and intrigues to secure the means of my capture is
at war with me, even if he has not fired a shot. In the last event,
what are the danger-spots of Athens? The Hellespont, Megara and Euboea,
the Peloponnese. Am I to say then that a man who has fired this train
against Athens is at peace with her?"

Then the plot against all Greek liberty is explained.

"We all recognise the common danger, but we never send embassies to
one another. We are in such a sorry plight, so great a gulf has been
fixed between cities by intrigue that we are incapable of doing what
is our duty and our interest; we cannot combine; we can make no
confederation of mutual friendship and assistance; we stare at the
man as he grows greater; each of us is determined to take advantage
of the time during which another is being ruined, never considering
or planning the salvation of Greece. Every one knows that Philip is
like a recurring plague or a fit of some malevolent disease which
attacks even those who seem to be out of his reach. Remember this;
all the indignities put on Greece by Sparta or ourselves were at least
the work of genuine sons of the land; they may be likened to the wild
oats of some heir to a great estate--if they were the excesses of some
slave or changeling we all would have considered them monstrous and
scandalous. But that is not our attitude to Philip and his diplomacy,
though he is not a Greek or a relation; rather he is not born even of
decent barbarian parents--he is a cursed wretch from Macedonia which
till recently could not supply even a respectable servant."

The bitterness of this is intense in a man who generally refrains from
anything undignified in a public speech.

The cause of this disunion is bribery. In former times

"it was impossible to buy from orators or generals knowledge of the
critical moment which fortune often gives to the careless against the
industrious. But now all our national virtues have been sold out of
the market; we have imported in their place the goods which have
tainted Greek life to the very death. These are--envy for every
bribe-taker, ridicule for any who confesses his guilt, hatred for
every one who exposes him. We have far more warships and soldiers and
revenue to-day, but they are all useless, unavailing and unprofitable
owing to treason."

To punish these seems quite hopeless.

"You have sunk to the very depth of folly or craziness or I know not
what. Often I cannot help dreading that some evil angel is persecuting
us. For some ribaldry or petty spite or silly jest--in fact, for any
reason whatsoever you invite hirelings to address you, and laugh at
their scurrilities."

He points to the fate of all the cities whom Philip flattered.

"In all of them the patriots advised increased taxation--the traitors
said it was not necessary. They advised war and distrust--the traitors
preached peace, till they were caught in the trap. The traitors made
speeches to get votes, the others spoke for national existence. In
many cases the masses listened to the pro-Macedonians not through
ignorance, but because their hearts failed them when they thought they
were beaten to their knees."

The doom of these cities it was not worth while to describe overmuch.

"As long as the ship is safe, that is the time for every sailor and
their captain to be keen on his duties and to take precautions against
wilful or thoughtless upsetting of the craft. But once the sea is over
the decks, all zeal is vain. We then who are Athenians, while we are
safe with our great city, our enormous resources, our splendid
reputation--what shall we do?"

The universal appeal of this white-hot speech is its most noteworthy
feature. The next year the disgraceful peace was ended, the free
theatre-tickets withdrawn. All was vain. In 338 Athens and Thebes were
defeated at Chaeroneia; the Cassandra prophecies of the great patriot
came true. In 330 one more triumph was allowed him. He was attacked by
the traitor Aeschines and answered him so effectively in his speech
_on the Crown_ that his adversary was banished. A cloud settled over
the orator's later life; he outlived Alexander by little more than a
year, but when Antipater hopelessly defeated the allies at Crannon in
322 he poisoned himself rather than live in slavery.

Of all the orators of the ancient world none is more suitable for
modern use than Demosthenes. It is true that he is guilty of gross bad
taste in some of his speeches--but rarely in a parliamentary oration.
Cicero is too verbose and often insincere. Demosthenes is as a rule
short, terse and forcible. It is the undoubted justice of his cause
which gives him his lofty and noble style. He lacks the gentler touch
of humour--but a man cannot jest when he sees servitude before the
country he loves. With a few necessary alterations a speech of
Demosthenes could easily be delivered to-day, and it would be
successful. Even Philip is said to have admitted that he would have
voted for him after hearing him, and Aeschines after winning applause
for declaiming part of Demosthenes' speech told his audience that they
ought to have heard the beast.

Yet all this splendid eloquence seems to have been wasted. The orator
could see much that was dark to his contemporaries, and spoke
prophecies true though vain. But the greatest thing of all was
concealed from his view. The inevitable day had dawned for the
genuinely Greek type of city. It was brilliant but it was a source of
eternal divisions in a world which had to be unified to be of any
service. Its absurd factions and petty leagues were really a hindrance
to political stability. Further, the essential vices of democracy
cried aloud for a stern master, and found him. Treason, bribery,
appeals to an unqualified voting class, theft of rich men's property
under legal forms, free seats in the theatre, belittlement of a great
empire, pacifism, love of every state but the right one--these are the
open sores of popular control. For such a society only one choice is
possible; it needs discipline either of national service or national
extinction. Its crazy cranks will not disappear otherwise. Modern
political life is democratic; those who imagine that the voice of the
majority is the voice of Heaven should produce reasons for their
belief. They will find it difficult to hold such a view if they will
patiently consider the hard facts of history and the unceasing
warnings of Demosthenes.

* * * * *

No account of Greek literature would be complete without a mention of
the influence which has revolutionised human thought. It is a strange
coincidence that Aristotle was born and died in the same years as
Demosthenes. His native town was Stagira; he trained Alexander the
Great, presided over the very famous Peripatetic School at Athens for
thirteen years and found time to investigate practically every subject
of which an ancient Greek could be expected to have any knowledge.

His method was the slow and very patient observation of individual
facts. He is the complement of Plato, who tended to neglect the fact
for the "idea" or general law or type behind it and logically prior to
it. Deductive reasoning was Plato's method--that of the poet or great
artist, who worships not what he sees but the unseen perfect form
behind; inductive reasoning was Aristotle's method--that of the
ordinary man, who respects what he sees that he may by patience find
out what is the unseen class to which it belongs. This latter has been
the foundation-stone of all modern science; in the main the
resemblance between Aristotle's system of procedure and that of the
greatest liberators of the human mind, Bacon and Descartes, are more
valuable than the differences.

It would be difficult to mention any really great subject on which
Aristotle has not left some work which is not to be lightly
disregarded. His works are in the form of disjointed notes, taken down
at his lectures by his disciples. As a rule they are dry and precise,
though here and there rays of glory appear which prove that the master
was capable of poetic expression even in prose. A rather fine hymn has
been ascribed to him. As we might expect, he is weakest in scientific
research, mainly because he could not command the use of instruments
familiar to us. That a human being who possessed no microscope should
have left such a detailed account of the most minute marks on the
bodies of fish and animals is an absolute marvel; so perfect is his
description that it cannot be bettered to-day. Cuvier and Linnaeus are
great names in Botany; Darwin said that they were mere schoolboys
compared with Aristotle--in other words, botanical research had
progressed thewrong way.

Many works have appeared on Ethics and Philosophy; few of them are
likely to survive as long as Aristotle's _Ethics_ and _Metaphysics_
Sometimes our modern philosophers seem to forget their obligation to
resemble human beings in their writings. We hear so much of mist and
transcendentalism, problems, theories, essays, critiques that a book
of Aristotle's dry but exact definition seems like the words of
soberness after some nightmare. The man is not assaulting the air; his
feet are on firm ground. This is how he proceeds. "Virtue is a mean
between excess and defect." In fact, his object appears to have been
to teach something, not to mystify everybody and to cover the
honourable name of philosophy with ridicule.

It is the same story everywhere. Do we want the best book on
_Rhetoric_ or _Politics_? Aristotle may supply it, mainly because he
took the trouble to classify his instances and show the reason why
things not only are of such a kind, but must inevitably be so. A
course of Aristotelian study might profitably be prescribed to every
person who thinks of talking in public; he would at least learn how to
respect himself and his audience, however ignorant and powerful it may
be; he would tend to use words in an exact sense instead of indulging
in the wild vagueness of speech which is so common and so dangerous.
This dry-as-dust philosopher who cut up animals and plants and wrote
about public speeches and constitutions found time to give the world a
book on Poetry. Modern scientists sometimes deny their belief in the
existence of such a thing as poetry, or scoff at its value; no poetic
treatise has yet appeared from them, for it seems difficult for modern
science to keep alive in its devotees the weakest glimmerings of a
sense of beauty. Herein their great founder and father shows himself
to be more humane than his so-called progressive children. His
_Poetics_ was the foundation of literary criticism and shows no sign
of being superseded.

Turning his eyes upwards, he gave the world a series of notes on what
he saw there. Not possessing a telescope, he could but do his best
with the methods available. Let us not jeer at his results; rather let
us remember that this same astronomer found time to observe the
heavens in addition to revolutionising thought in the brief compass of
sixty-two years.

For the miracle of miracles is this man's universality of outlook. It
makes us ashamed of our own pretentiousness and swollen-headed pride
when we reflect what this great architectonic genius has performed.
Just as our bodies have decreased in size with the progress of
history, so our intelligences seem to have narrowed themselves since
Aristotle's day. Great as our modern scientists are, there is not one
of them who would be capable of writing an acknowledged masterpiece on
Ethics, Politics, Rhetoric, Poetry, Metaphysics as well as on his own

Nor have we yet mentioned this stupendous thinker's full claim to
absolute predominance in intellectual effort. His works on Medicine
were known to and appreciated by the Arabs, who translated them and
brought them to Spain and Sicily when they conquered those countries.
Averroes commented on them and added notes of his own which
contributed not a little to the development of the healing art. More
than this, and greatest of all, during the later Middle Ages
Aristotle's system alone was recognised as possessing universal value;
it was taken as the foundation on which the most famous and important
Schoolmen erected their philosophies--Chaucer mentions a clerk who
possessed twenty books, a treasure indeed in those days; it provided a
European Church with a Theology and the cosmopolitan European
Universities with a curriculum. Greater honour than this no man ever
had or ever can have. Thus, although the Greek city-state seemed to
perish in mockery with Demosthenes, yet the Greek spirit of free
discussion which died in the great orator was set free in another form
in that same year; leaving Aristotle's body, it ranged through the
world conquering and civilising. If in our ignorance and bigotry we
try to kill Greek literature, we shall find that, like the hero of the
_Bacchae_, we are turning our blows against our own selves, to the
delight of all who relish exhibitions of perfect folly.


Kennedy's edition is the best. It is vigorous and reads almost like an
English work.

Butcher's _Demosthenes_ is the standard introduction to the speeches.

Many reminiscences of Demosthenes are to be found in the speeches of
Lord Brougham.


_Politics_. Jowett (Oxford).
Welldon (Macmillan).

_Poetics_. Butcher (Macmillan).
Bywater (Oxford).

Both contain excellent commentaries and notes.

_Ethics_. Welldon.

_Rhetoric_. Welldon. (Contains valuable analysis and notes.)

The article on Greek Science in the _Legacy of Greece_ (Oxford) should
not be omitted.

Book of the day: