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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Governments in Greece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring Of woes unnumbered.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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