Authors of Greece
T. W. Lumb

Part 3 out of 4

latter in shameless impudence pleads that she has saved Greece from
invasion and that Love who came with Paris to Sparta was the cause of
her fault. Hecuba ridicules the idea that Hera and Artemis could
desire any prize of beauty. It was lust of Trojan gold that tempted
Helen; never once was she known to bewail her sin in Troy, rather she
always tried to attract men's eyes. Such a woman's death would be a
crown of glory to Greece. Menelaus says her fate will be decided in
Argos. Talthybius brings in the body of Astyanax, over which Hecuba
bursts into a lament of exceptional beauty and then passes out to

In this drama Euripides draws upon all his resources of pathos. It is
a succession of brilliantly conceived sorrows. Cassandra's exulting
prophecy of the revenge she is to bring is one of the great things in
Euripides. In this play we have a most vivid picture of the
destructive effects of evil, an inevitable consequence of which it is
that the woman, however innocent she may be, always pays. Hecuba drank
the cup of bereavement to the very last drop.

The _Electra_, acted about 418, is characteristic. Electra has been
compelled to marry a Mycenean labourer, a man of noble instincts who
respects the princess and treats her as such. Both enter the scene;
the man goes to labour for Electra, "for no lazy man by merely having
God's name on his lips can make a livelihood without toil". Orestes
and Pylades at first imagine Electra to be a servant; learning the
truth they come forward and question her. She tells the story of her
mother's shame and Aegisthus' insolence which Orestes promises to
recount to her brother, "for in ignorant men there is no spark of pity
anywhere, only in the learned." The labourer returns and by his speech
moves Orestes to declare that birth is no test of nobility. Electra
sends him to fetch an old Tutor of her father to make ready for her
two guests; he departs remarking that there is just enough food in the
house for one day.

The old Tutor arrives in tears; he has found a lock of hair on
Agamemnon's tomb. Gazing intently on the two strangers, he recognises
Orestes by a scar on the eyebrow. They then proceed to plot the death
of their enemies. Orestes goes to meet Aegisthus is close by
sacrificing, and presently returns with the corpse, at which Electra
hurls back the taunts and jeers he had heaped on her in his lifetime.
She had sent to her mother saying she had given birth to a boy and
asking her to come immediately.

Orestes quails before the coming murder, but Electra bids him be loyal
to his father. Clytemnestra on her arrival querulously defends her
past, alleging as her pretext not the death of Iphigeneia but the
presence of a rival, Cassandra. Electra after refuting her invites her
inside the wretched hut to offer sacrifice for her newly born child,
where she is slain by Orestes. At the end of the play the Dioscuri,
Castor and Pollux, bid Pylades marry Electra, tell Orestes he will be
purified in Athens and prophesy that Menelaus and Helen, just arrived
from Egypt, will bury Agisthus real Helen never went to Troy, a wraith
of her being sent there with Paris.

The startling realism of this drama is apparent. The poverty of
Electra, the more certain identification of Orestes by a scar than by
a lock of hair, the mention of Cassandra as the real motive for the
murder of Agamemnon all indicate that Euripides was not content with
the accepted legend. His Clytemnestra is a feeble creation even by the
side of that of Sophocles.

Stesichorus in a famous poem tells how Helen blinded him for maligning
her; she never went to Troy; it was a wraith which accompanied Paris.
Such is the central idea of a very strange play, the _Helen_. The
scene is in Egypt. Teucer, banished by his father, meets the real
Helen; to her amazement he tells of her evil reputation and of the
great war before Troy, adding that Menelaus is sailing home with
another Helen. The latter enters, to learn that he is in Egypt, where
the real Helen has lived for the last seventeen years. Warned by a
prophetess Theonoe that her husband is not far off, Helen comes to be
reunited to him. A messenger from the coast announces that the wraith
has faded into nothingness.

Helen then warns Menelaus of her difficult position. She is wooed by
Theoclymenus, king of the land, brother of Theonoe. Menelaus in
despair thinks of killing himself and Helen to escape the tyrant.
Theonoe holds their fate in her hands; Helen pleads with her; "It is
shameful that thou shouldest know things divine, and not
righteousness." Menelaus declares his intention of living and dying
with his wife. The prophetess leaves them to discover some means of
escape which Helen devises. Pretending that Menelaus is a messenger
bringing news of her husband's death at sea, she persuades the tyrant
to provide a ship and rowers that Helen may perform the last rites to
the dead on the element where he died. At the right moment the Greek
sailors overpowered the rowers and sailed home with the united pair.

Very commonly real drama suffers the fate which has overtaken it in
this piece; it declines into melodrama. Here are to be found all the
stock melodramatic features--a bold hero, a scheming beauty, a
confidante, a dupe, the murder of a ship's crew. Massinger piloted
Elizabethan drama to a similar end. Given an uncritical audience
melodrama is the surest means of filling the house. Reality matters
little in such work; the facts of life are like Helen's wraith, when
they become unmanageable they vanish into thin air.

About 412 the _Iphigeneia in Tauris_ appeared. South Russia was the
seat of a cult of Artemis; the goddess spirited Iphigeneia to the
place when her father sacrificed her at Aulis. Orestes, bidden by
Apollo to steal an image of the goddess to get his final purification,
comes on the stage with Pylades; on seeing the temple they are
convinced of the impossibility of burgling it. A shepherd describes to
Iphigeneia their capture, for strangers were taken and offered to the
goddess without exception. One of the two was seized with a vision of
the avenging deities; attacked by a band of peasants both were
overpowered after a stubborn resistance. Formerly Iphigeneia had
pitied the Greeks who landed there; now, warned of Orestes' death by a
dream, she determines to kill without mercy. One of them shall die,
the other taking back to Greece a letter. Orestes insists on dying
himself, reminding Pylades of his duty to Electra. When the letter is
brought Pylades swears to fulfil his word, but asks what is to happen
if the ship is wrecked. Iphigeneia reads the letter to him; it is
addressed to Orestes and tells of his sister's weary exile. After the
recognition is completed, Orestes relates the horrors of his life and
begs his sister to help him to steal the all-important image.

Thoas, the King of the land, learns from her that the two Greeks are
guilty of kindred murder; their presence has defiled the holy image
which needs purification in the sea as well as the criminals. The
priestess obtains permission to bind the captives and take the image
to be cleansed with private mystic rites. The plot succeeds; Orestes'
ship puts in; after a struggle the three board it, carrying the image
with them. Thoas is prevented from pursuit by an intervention of

Goethe used this play for his drama of the same name; he made Thoas
the lover of Iphigeneia, whom he represents as the real image whom
Orestes is to remove. Her departure is not compassed by a stratagem,
but is permitted by the King, a man of singular nobility and

The _Phaenissae_ has been much admired in all ages. Jocasta tells how
after the discovery of his identity Oedipus blinded himself but was
shut up by his two sons whom he cursed for their impiety. Eteocles
then usurped the rule while Polyneices called an Argive host to attack
Thebes. A Choral description of this army is succeeded by an
unexpected entry into the city of Polyneices who meets his mother and
tells her of his life in exile. She sends for Eteocles in the hope of
reconciling her two sons. Polyneices promises to disband his forces if
he is restored to his rights, but Eteocles, enamoured of power,
refuses to surrender it. Jocasta vainly points out to him the burden
of rule, nor can she persuade Polyneices not to attack his own land.

When the champions have taken up their position at the gates,
Teiresias tells Creon that Thebes can be saved by the sacrifice of his
own son Menoeceus. Creon refuses to comply and urges his son to
escape. Pretending to obey Menoeceus threw himself from the city
walls. The struggle at the gates is followed by a challenge to
Polyneices issued by Eteocles to settle the dispute in single combat.
Jocasta and Antigone rush out to intervene, too late. They find the
two lying side by side at death's door. Eteocles is past speech, but
Polyneices bids farewell to his mother and sister, pitying his brother
"who turned friendship into enmity, yet still was dear". In agony,
Jocasta slays herself over her sons' bodies.

Led in by Antigone, Oedipus is banished by Creon, who forbids the
burial of Polyneices. After touching the dead Jocasta and his two
sons, he passes to exile and rest at Colonus.

The harsh story favoured by Sophocles has been greatly humanised by
Euripides, who could not accept all the savagery of the received
legend. Apart from the unexplained presence of Polyneices in the city,
the plot is excellent. The speeches are vigorous and natural, the
characters thoroughly human. The criticising and refining influence of
Euripides is manifest throughout, together with a simple and noble

An ancient critic says of the _Orestes_, written in 408, "the drama is
popular but of the lowest morality; except Pylades, all are villains".
Electra meets Helen, unexpectedly returned from Egypt to Argos with
Menelaus, who sends her daughter Hermione with offerings to the tomb
of Agamemnon. Electra's opinion of her is vividly expressed.

"See how she has tricked out her hair, preserving her beauty; she
is old Helen still. Heaven abhor thee, the bane of me and my
brother and Greece."

The Chorus accidentally awakens Orestes who is visited by a wild
vision of haunting Furies. When he regains sanity he begs the
assistance of Menelaus, his last refuge. His uncle, a broken reed, is
saved from committing himself by the entry of Tyndareus, father of
Clytemnestra and Helen. He righteously rebukes the bloodthirsty
Orestes, though he is aware of the evil in his two daughters. Orestes
breaks out into an insulting speech which alienates completely his
grandfather. Menelaus, when appealed to again, hurries out to try to
win him back.

Pylades suggests that he and Orestes should plead their case before
the Argive Assembly, which was to try them for murder of Clytemnestra.
A very brilliant and exciting account of the debate tells how the case
was lost by Orestes himself, who presumed to lecture the audience on
the majesty of the law he himself had broken. He and Electra are
condemned to be stoned that very day. Determined to ruin Menelaus
before they die, they agree to kill Helen, the cause of all their
troubles, and to fire the fortified house in which they live. Electra
adds that they should also seize Hermione and hold her as a check on
Menelaus' fury for the death of Helen. The girl is easily trapped as
she rushes into the house hearing her mother's cries for help. Soon
after a Trojan menial drops from the first story. He tells how Helen
and Hermione have so far escaped death, but the rest is unknown to
him. In a ghastly scene Orestes hunts the wretch over the stage, but
finally lets him go as he is not a fit victim for a free man's sword.
Almost immediately the house is seen to be ablaze; Menelaus rushes up
in a frenzy, but is checked by the sight of Orestes with Hermione in
his arms. When Menelaus calls for help, Orestes bids Pylades and
Electra light more fires to consume them all. A timely appearance of
Apollo with Helen deified by his side saves the situation.

It is plain that Euripides has here completely rejected the old
legend. He never makes Orestes even think of pleading Apollo's command
to him to slay his mother. He is concerned with the defence which a
contemporary matricide might make before a modern Athenian assembly
and with the fitting doom of self-destruction which would overtake
him. Like _Vanity Fair_, the play shows us the life of people who try
to do without God.

The _Bacchae_ is one of Euripides' best plays. In the absence of
Pentheus the King, Cadmus and Teiresias join in the worship of the new
god Dionysus at Thebes. Pentheus returns to find that noble women,
including Agave, his own mother, have joined the strange cult brought
to the place by a mysterious Lydian stranger "whose hair is neatly
arranged in curls, his face like wine, his eyes as full of grace as

Teiresias advises him to welcome the god, Cadmus to pretend that he is
divine, even if he is only a mortal; this new religion is the natural
outlet of the desire for innocent revelry born in both sexes. The
Lydian is arrested and brought before Pentheus, whom he warns that the
god will save him from insult, but Pentheus hurries him away into a

The Chorus of Bacchae are alarmed on hearing a tumult. The stranger
appears to tell how Pentheus was made mad by Dionysus in the act of
imprisoning him. The King in amazement sees his prisoner standing free
before him and becomes furiously angry on hearing that his mother has
joined a new revel on Mount Cithaeron. The stranger suggests that he
should go disguised as a Bacchante to see the new worship. When he
appears transformed, the Lydian comments with exquisite and deadly
irony on his appearance. His fate is vividly and terribly painted.
Placing him in a pine, the stranger suddenly disappeared, while the
voice of Dionysus summoned the rout to punish the spy. Rushing to the
tree, the woman tore it up by the roots and then rent Pentheus
piecemeal, Agave herself leading them on.

She comes in holding what she imagines to be a trophy. Cadmus slowly
reveals to her the horror of her deed, the proof of which is her son's
head in her grasp. Dionysus himself comes in to point out that this
tragedy is the result of the indignity which Thebes put upon him and
his mother Semele. Broken with grief, Agave passes out slowly to her
banishment. The Bacchae was composed in Macedonia; it contains all the
mystery of the supernatural. Dionysus' character is admirably drawn,
while the infatuation of Pentheus is a fitting prelude to his ruin.
The cult of Dionysus was essentially democratic, intended for those
who could claim no share in aristocratic ritual: hence its popularity
and prevalence. We may regard the Bacchae as the poet's declaration of
faith in the worship which gave Europe the Drama; it is altogether
fitting that he who has left us the greatest number of tragedies
should have been chosen by destiny to bequeath us the one drama which
tells of one of the adventures of its patron deity.

The _Iphigeneia in Aulis_ was written in the last year of the poet's
life. Agamemnon sends a private letter to his wife countermanding an
official dispatch summoning her and Iphigeneia. This letter is
intercepted by Menelaus, who upbraids his brother; later, seeing his
distress, he advises him to send the women home again. But public
opinion forces the leader to obey Artemis and sacrifice his daughter.
When he meets his wife and child, he tries to temporise but fails.
Achilles meets Clytemnestra and is surprised to hear that he is to
marry Iphigeneia, such being the bait which brought Clytemnestra to
Aulis. Learning the real truth, she faces her husband, pleading for
their daughter's life. Iphigeneia at first shrinks from death; the
army demands her sacrifice, while Achilles is ready to defend her. The
knot is untied by Iphigeneia herself, who willingly at last consents
to die to save her country.

This excellent play shows no falling in dramatic power; it was
imitated by Racine and Schiller. The figures are intensely human, the
conflict of duties firmly outlined, the pathos sincere and true, there
is no divine appearance to straighten out a tangled plot. Thus
Euripides' career ends as it began, with a story of a woman's noble

The poet's popularity is indicated by the number of his extant dramas
and fragments, both of which exceed in bulk the combined work of
Aeschylus and Sophocles. All classes of writers quoted him,
philosophers, orators, bishops. In his own lifetime Socrates made a
point of witnessing his plays; the very violence of Aristophanes'
attack proves Euripides' potent influence; his lost drama _Melanippe_
turned the heads of the Athenians, the whole town singing its odes.
Survivors of the Sicilian disaster won their freedom by singing his
songs to their captors, returning to thank their liberator in person;
the fragments of Menander discovered in 1906 contain many
reminiscences of him, even slaves quoting passages of him to their
masters. For it was the very width of his appeal that made him
universally loved; women and slaves in his view were every whit as
good as free-born men, sometimes they were far nobler. If drama is the
voice of a democracy, the Athenians had found a more democratic
mouthpiece than they had bargained for.

With the educated men it was different. They suspected a poet who was
upsetting their tradition. Besides, they were asked to crown a person
who told them in play after play that they were really like Jason,
Menelaus, Polymestor, poor creatures if not quite odious. He made them
see with painful clearness that the better sex was the one which they
despised, yet which was sure one day to find the utterance to which it
had a right in virtue of its greater nobility. The feminism of
Euripides is evident through his whole career; it is an insult to our
powers of reading to imagine that he was a woman-hater. It is then not
to be wondered at that he won the prize only five times, and it can
hardly be an accident that he gained it once with the Hippolytus,
which on a surface view condemns the female sex.

For the officials could not see that Euripides was not a man only, he
was a spirit of development. Privilege and narrowness in every form he
hated; he demanded unlimited freedom for the intelligence. The narrow
circle of legends, the conventional unified drama, state religion, a
pseudo-democracy based on slavery he fearlessly criticised.
Rationalism, humanism, free speculation were his watchwords; he was
always trying new experiments in his art, introducing politics,
philosophy, melodrama and trying to get rid of the chorus wherever he
could. He was a living and a contemporary Proteus, pleading like an
advocate in a lawsuit, discussing political theory, restating unsolved
problems in modern form and seasoning his work with his own peculiar
and often elevating pathos. Such a man was anathema to conservative

But to us he is one of ourselves. He exactly hits off our modern
taste, with its somewhat sentimental tendency, its scepticism, love of
excitement, and its great complexity. We know we have many moods and
passions which strangely blend and thwart each other; these we treat
in our novels, and Euripides' plays are a sort of novel, but for the
divine appearances in the last scenes. He shows us the inevitable end
of actions of beings exactly like ourselves, acting from merely human
motives, neither higher nor lower than we, though perhaps disguised
under heroic names. He is in a word the first modern poet.


A. S. Way, Loeb Series. This verse translation is the most successful;
it renders the choric odes with skill.

Professor Gilbert Murray has published verse translations of various
plays. He is an authority on the text. His volume on Euripides in the
Home University Library is admirable.

_Euripides the Rationalist_ and _Four Plays of Euripides_ by A. W.
Verrall are well known; the latter is particularly stimulating. The
views it expounds are original but not traditional.

See Symonds' _Greek Poets_ as above.


At the end of the _Symposium_ Plato represents Socrates as convincing
both Agathon, a tragedian, and Aristophanes that the writer of tragedy
will be able to write comedy also. That the two forms are not wholly
divorced is clear from the history of ancient drama itself: Each
dramatist competed with four plays, three tragedies and a Satyric
drama. What this last is can be plainly seen in the _Cyclops_ of
Euripides, which relates in comic form the adventures of Odysseus and
Silenus in the monster's company. Further, the tendency of tragedy was
inevitably towards comedy. The extant work of Aeschylus and Sophocles
is not without comic touches; but the trend is clearer in Euripides
who was an innovator in this as in many other matters. Laughter and
tears are neighbours; a happy ending is not tragic; loosely connected
scenes are the essence of Old Comedy, and loosely written tragic
dialogue (common in Euripides' later work) closely resembles the
language of comedy, which is practically prose in verse form. The debt
which later comedy owed to Euripides is great; reminiscences of him
abound; he is quoted directly and indirectly; his stage tricks are
adopted and his realistic characters are the very population of the
Comic stage.

The logically developed plot is the characteristic of serious drama.
Old Comedy, its antithesis, is often a succession of scenes in which
the connection is loose without being impossible. In it the unexpected
is common, for it is an escape from the conventions of ordinary life,
a thing of causes and effects. It might be more accurate to say that
farce is a better description of the work which is associated with the
name of Aristophanes.

This writer was born about 448, was a member of the best Athenian
society of the day, quickly took the first place as the writer of
comedy and died about 385. He saw the whole of the Peloponnesian war
and has given us a most vivid account of the passions it aroused and
its effect on Athenian life. He first won the prize in 425, when he
produced the _Acharnians_ under an assumed name. Pericles had died in
429; the horrors of war were beginning to make themselves felt; the
Spartans were invading Attica, cutting down the fruit-trees and
compelling the country folk to stream into the city. One of these,
Dicaeopolis enters the stage. It is early morning; he is surprised
that there is no popular meeting on the appointed day. He loathes the
town and longs for his village; he had intended to heckle the speakers
if they discussed anything but peace. Ambassadors from foreign nations
are announced; seeing them he conceives the daring project of making a
separate peace with the Spartan for eight drachmae. His servant
returns with three peaces of five, ten and thirty years; he chooses
the last.

A chorus of angry Acharnians rush in to catch the traitor; they are
charcoal burners ruined by the invasion. Dicaeopolis seizes a charcoal
basket, threatening to destroy it if they touch him. Anxious to spare
their townsman, the basket, they consent to hear his defence, which he
offers to make with his neck on an executioner's block. He is afraid
of the noisy patriotism appealed to by mob-orators and of the lust for
condemning the accused which is the weakness of older men. Choosing
from Euripides' wardrobe the rags in which Telephus was arrayed to
rouse the audience to pity, he boldly ventures to plead the cause of
the Spartans, though he hates them for destroying his trees. He
asserts that "Olympian Pericles who thundered and lightened and
confounded Greece" caused the war by putting an embargo on the food of
their neighbour Megara, his pretext being a mere private quarrel.

The Chorus are divided; his opponents send for Lamachus, the
swashbuckling general; the latter is discomfited and Dicaeopolis
immediately opens a market with the Peloponnesians, Megarians and
Boeotians, but not with Lamachus. In an important choral ode the poet
justifies his existence. By his criticism he puts a stop to the
foreign embassies which dupe the Athenians; he checks flattery and
folly; he never bribes nor hoodwinks them, but exposes their harsh
treatment of their subjects and their love of condemning on groundless
charges the older generation which had fought at Marathon.

The play ends with a trading scene; a Boeotian in exchange for Copaic
eels takes an Athenian informer, an article unknown in Boeotia.
Lamachus returns wounded while Dicaeopolis departs in happy contrast
to celebrate a feast of rustic jollity.

Aristophanes' chief butts were Cleon, Socrates and Euripides; the last
is treated with good nature in this play. To modern readers the comedy
is important for two reasons; first, it attacks the strange belief
that a democracy must necessarily love peace; Aristophanes found it as
full of the lust for battle as any other form of government; all it
needed was a Lamachus to rattle a sword. Again, the unfailing source
of war is plainly indicated, trade rivalry. War will continue as long
as there are markets to capture and rivals to exclude from them.

In the next year, 424, Aristophanes produced the _Knights_, the most
violent political lampoon in literature. The victim was Cleon who had
succeeded Pericles as popular leader. He was at the height of his
glory, having captured the Spartan contingent at Pylos, prisoners who
were of great importance for diplomatic purposes. The comedy is a
scathing criticism of democracy; the subject is so controversial that
it will be best to give some extracts without comment.

Two servants of Demos (the People) steal the oracles of the
Paphlagonian (the babbler, Cleon) while he is asleep. To their joy
they find that he will govern Demos' house only until a more
abominable than he shall appear, namely a sausage-seller. That person
immediately presenting himself is informed of his high calling. At
first he is amazed. "I know nothing of refinement except letters, and
them, bad as they are, badly." The answer is:

"Your only fault is that you know them badly; mob-leadership has
nothing to do with a man refined or of good character, rather with
an ignoramus and a vile fellow."

To his objection that he cannot look after a democracy the reply is,

"it is easy enough; only go on doing what you are doing now. Mix
and chop up everything; always bring the mob over by sweetening it
with a few cook-shop terms. You have all the other qualifications,
a nasty voice, a low origin, familiarity with the street."

The Paphlagonian Cleon runs in bawling that they are conspiring
against the democracy. They call loudly for the Knights, who enter as
the Chorus to assist them against Cleon, encouraging the
sausage-seller to show the brazen effrontery which is the mob-orator's
sole protection, and to prove that a decent upbringing is meaningless.
Nothing loth, he redoubles Cleon's vulgarity on his head. Cleon rushes
out intending to inform the Upper House of their treasons; the
sausage-seller hurries after him, his neck being well oiled with his
own lard to make Cleon's slanders slip off. A splendid ode is sung in
the meantime; it contains a half-comic account of Aristophanes'
training in his art and a panegyric on the old spirit which made
Athens great. The sausage-seller returns to tell of Cleon's utter
defeat; he is quickly followed by Cleon, who appeals to Demos himself,
pointing out his own services.

"At the first, when I was a member of the Council, I got in vast
sums for the Treasury, partly by torture, partly by throttling,
partly by begging. I never studied any private person's interest
if I could only curry favour with you, to make you master of all

The sausage-seller refutes him.

"Your object was to steal and take bribes from the cities, to blind
Demos to your villainies by the dust of war, and to make him gape
after you in need and necessity for war-pensions. If Demos can only
get into the country in peace and taste the barley-cakes again, he
will soon find out of what blessings you have rid him by your
briberies; he will come back as a dour farmer and will hunt up a
vote which will condemn you."

Cleon, the new Themistocles, is deposed from his stewardship.

He appeals to some oracles of Bacis, but the sausage-seller has better
ones of Bacis' elder brother Glanis. The Chorus rebuke Demos, whom all
men fear as absolute, for being easily led, for listening to the
newest comer and for a perpetual banishment of his intelligence. In a
second contest for Demos' favours Cleon is finally beaten when it
appears that he has kept some dainties in his box while the
sausage-seller has given his all. An appeal to an oracle prophesying
his supplanter--one who can steal, commit perjury and face it out--so
clearly applies to the sausage-seller that Cleon retires.

After a brief absence Demos appears with his new friend--but it is a
different Demos, rid of his false evidence and jury system, the Demos
of fifty years before. He is ashamed of his recent history, of his
preferring doles to battleships. He promises a speedy reform, full pay
to his sailors, strict revision of the army service rolls, an embargo
on Bills of Parliament. To his joy he recovers the Thirty Years' peace
which Cleon had hidden away, and realises at last his longing to
escape from the city into the country.

This violent attack on Cleon was vigorously met; Aristophanes was
prosecuted and seems to have made a compromise. In his next comedy,
the _Clouds_ (which was presented in 423) he changes his victim.
Strepsiades, an old Athenian, married a high-born wife of expensive
tastes; their son Pheidippides developed a liking for horses and soon
brought his father to the edge of ruin. The latter requests the son to
save him by joining the academy conducted by Socrates, where he can
learn the worse argument which enables its possessor to win his case.
Aided by it he can rid his father of debt. As the son flatly refuses,
the old man decides to learn it himself. Entering the school he sees
maps and drawings of all kinds and finally descries Socrates himself,
far above his head in a basket, high among the clouds, studying the
sun. Strepsiades begs him to teach him the Worse Argument at his own
price. After initiating him, Socrates summons his deities the Clouds,
who enter as the Chorus. These are the guardian deities of modern
professors, seers, doctors, lazy long-haired long-nailed fellows,
musicians who cultivate trills and tremolos, transcendental quacks who
sing their praises. The old gods are dethroned, a vortex governing the
universe. The Chorus tells Socrates to take the old man and teach him

The ode which follows contains the poet's claim to be original.

"I never seek to dupe you by hashing up the same old theme two or
three times, but show my cleverness by introducing ever-new ideas,
none alike and all smart."

Socrates returns with Strepsiades, whom he can teach nothing. The
Chorus suggest he should bring his son to learn from Socrates how to
get rid of debts. At first Pheidippides refuses but finally agrees,
though he warns his father that he will rue his act. The Just and
Unjust arguments come out of the academy to plead before the Chorus.
The former draws a picture of the old-fashioned times when a sturdy
race of men was reared on discipline, obedience and morality--a
broad-chested vigorous type. In utter contempt the latter brands such
teaching as prehistoric. Pleasure, self-indulgence, a lax code of
morality and easy tolerance of little weaknesses are the ideal. The
power of his words is such that the Just Argument deserts to him.

Strepsiades, coached by his son, easily circumvents two money-lenders
and retires to his house. He is soon chased out by his son, who when
asked to sing the old songs of Simonides and Aeschylus scorned the
idea, humming instead an immoral modern tune of Euripides' making. A
quarrel inevitably followed; Strepsiades was beaten by his son who
easily proved that he had a right to beat his mother also. Stung to
the quick the old man burns the academy; when Socrates and his pupils
protest, he tells them they have but a just reward for their

The Socrates here pilloried is certainly not the Socrates of history;
his teaching was not immoral. But Aristophanes is drawing attention to
the evil effects produced by the Sophists, who to the ordinary man
certainly included Socrates. The importance of this play to us is
clear. We are a nation of half-trained intelligences. Our national
schools are frankly irreligious, our teachers people of weak
credentials. Parental discipline is openly flouted, pleasure is our
modern cult. Jazz bands, long-haired novelists and poets, misty
philosophers, anti-national instructors are the idols of many a
pale-faced and stunted son of Britain. The reverence which made us
great is decadent and openly scoffed at. What is the remedy?
Aristophanes burnt out the pestilent teachers. We had better not copy
him till we are satisfied that the demand for them has ceased. A
nation gets the instruction for which it is morally fitted. There is
but one hope; we must follow the genuine Socratic method, which
consisted of quiet individual instruction. Only thus will we slowly
and patiently seize this modern spirit of unrest; our object should be
not to suppress it--it is too sturdy, but to direct its energies to a
better and a more noble end.

Finding that the _Clouds_ had been too wholesome to be popular,
Aristophanes in 422 returned to attack Cleon in the _Wasps_. Early in
the morning Bdelycleon (Cleon-hater) with his two servants is
preventing his father Philocleon from leaving the house to go to the
jury-courts. The old man's amusing attempts to evade their vigilance
are frustrated, whereupon he calls for assistance. Very slowly a body
of old men dressed as wasps, led by boys carrying lanterns, finds its
way to the house to act as Chorus. They make many suggestions to the
father to escape; just as he is gnawing through the net over him his
son rushes in. The wasps threaten him with their formidable stings.
After a furious conflict truce is declared. Bdelycleon complains of
the inveterate juryman's habit of accusing everybody who opposes them
of aiming at establishing a tyranny. Father and son consent to state
their case for the Chorus to decide between them.

Philocleon glories in the absolute power he exercises over all
classes; his rule is equal to that of a king. To him the greatest men
in Athens bow as suppliants, begging acquittal. Some of these appeal
to pity, others tell him Aesop's fables, others try to make him laugh.
Most of all, he controls foreign policy through his privilege of
trying statesmen who fail. In return for his duties he receives his
pay, goes home and is petted by his wife and family. Bdelycleon opens

"it is a hard task, calling for a clever wit and more than comic
genius to cure an ancient disease that has been breeding in the

After giving a rough estimate of the total revenue of Athens, he
subtracts from it the miserable sum of three obols which the jurymen
receive as pay. Where does the remainder go? It is evident that the
jurymen are the mere catspaw of the big unscrupulous politicians who
get all the profit and incur none of the odium. This argument
convinces both the Chorus and Philocleon, old heroes of Marathon who
created the Empire.

The latter asks what he is to do. His son promises to look after him,
allowing him to gratify at home his itch for trying disputes. Two dogs
are brought in; by a trick the son makes his father acquit instead of
condemn. He then dresses him up decently and instructs him in the
etiquette of a dinner-party, whither they proceed. But the old man
behaves himself disgracefully, beating everyone in his cups. He
appears with a flute-girl and is summoned for assault by a
vegetable-woman, whose goods he has spoiled, and by a professional
accuser. His insolence to his victims is checked by his son who
thrusts him into the house before more accusers can appear.

It is sometimes believed that democracy is a less corrupt form of
polity than any other. Aristophanes in this play exposes one of its
greatest weaknesses.

Flattered by the sense of power which the possession of the vote
brings with it, the enfranchised classes cannot always see that they
easily become the tools of the clever rogues who get themselves
elected to office by playing on the fears of the electors. The
Athenian voter was as easily scared by the word "tyranny" as the
modern elector is by "capital". The result is the same. Not only do
the so-called lower orders sink into an ignorant slavery; they use
their power so brainlessly and so mercilessly that they are a perfect
bugbear to the rest.

Literary men's prophecies rarely come true. In 421 the _Peace_,
produced in March, was followed almost immediately by a compact
between Athens and Sparta for fifty years. An old farmer, Trygaeus,
sails up to heaven on the back of a huge beetle, bidding his family
farewell for three days. He meets Hermes, who tells him that Zeus in
disgust has surrendered men to the war they love. War himself has
hidden Peace in a deep pit, and has made a great mortar in which he
intends to grind civilisation to powder. He looks for the Athenian
pestle, Cleon, but cannot find him--the Spartan pestle Brasidas has
also been mislaid; both were lost in Thrace. Before he can find
another pestle Trygaeus summons all men to pull Peace out of her
prison. Hermes at first objects, but is won over by offers of
presents. At length the goddess is discovered with her two handmaids,
Harvest and Mayfair.

A change immediately comes over the faces of men. In pure joy they
laugh through their bruises. Hermes explains to the farmers who form
the Chorus why Peace left the earth. It was the trade rivalry which
first drove her away; at Athens the subject cities fomented strife
with Sparta, then the country population flocked to the city, where
they fell easy victims to the public war-mongers, who found it
profitable to continue the struggle. The god then offers to Trygaeus
Harvest as a bride to make his vineyards fruitful. In the ode which
follows the poet claims that he first made comedy dignified

"with great thoughts and words and refined jests, not lampooning
individuals but attacking the Tanner war-god."

Returning to earth Trygaeus sends Harvest to the Council, while the
marriage sacrifice is made ready. A soothsayer endeavours to impose on
the rustics with prophecies that the Peace will be a failure. Trygaeus
refutes him with a quotation from Homer. "Without kin or law or home
is a man who loveth harsh strife between peoples." The makers of
agricultural implements quickly sell all their stock, while the makers
of helmets, crests and breastplates find their market gone. A glad
wedding song forms the epilogue.

Aristophanes believed that the war meant an extinction of civilisation
and loathed it because it was useless. What would he have thought of
the barbarous and bloodthirsty Great War of our own day? The causes
which produced both struggles were identical--trade rivalry and a set
of jingoes who found that war paid. But he was mistaken in believing
that peace was the normal condition of Greek life. He was born just
before the great period began during which Pericles gave Greece a long
respite from quarrels, and seems to have been quite nonplussed by what
to him was an abnormal upheaval. His bright hopes soon faded and he
seems to have given up thinking about peace or war during a period of
eight years. In the meanwhile Athens had attacked Sicily; perhaps a
change had come over comedy itself owing to legal action. At any rate,
the old and virulent type of political abuse was becoming a thing of
the past; the next play, the _Birds_, produced in 414, abandons Athens
altogether for a new and charming world in which there was a rest from

Two Athenians, Peithetairus (Persuasive) and Euelpides (Sanguine)
reach the home of the Hoopoe bird, once a mortal, to find a happier
place than their native city. Suddenly, as the bird describes the
happy careless life of his kind, Peithetairus conceives the idea of
founding a new bird city between earth and heaven. The Hoopoe summons
his friends to hear their opinion; as they come in he names them to
the wondering Athenians. At first the Birds threaten to attack the
mortals, their natural enemies. They listen, however, to Peithetairus'
words of wisdom.

"Nay, wise men learn much from their foes, for good counsel saves
everything. We cannot learn from a friend, but an enemy quickly
forces the truth upon us. For example, cities learn from their
enemies, not their friends, to create high walls and battleships,
and such are the salvation of children, home and substance."

A truce is made. Peithetairus tells them the Birds once ruled the
world but have been deposed, becoming the prey of those who once
worshipped them. They should ring round the air, like Babylon, with
mighty baked bricks and send an ultimatum to the gods, demanding their
lost kingdom and forbidding a passage to earth; another messenger
should descend to men to require from them due sacrifices. The Birds
agree; the two companions retire to Hoopoe's house to eat the magic
root which will turn them into winged things. After a choral panegyric
on the bird species Peithetairus returns to name the new city
Cloudcuckootown, whose erection is taken in hand. Impostors make their
appearance, a priest to sacrifice, a poet to eulogise, an
oracle-dealer to promise success, a mathematician to plan out the
buildings, an overseer and a seller of decrees to enact by-laws; all
are summarily ejected by Peithetairus.

News comes that the city is already completed. Suddenly Iris darts in,
on her way to earth to demand the accustomed sacrifices from men which
the new city has interrupted; she is sent back to heaven to warn the
gods of their coming overthrow. A herald from earth brings tidings
that more than a myriad human beings are on their way to settle in the
city. A parent-beater first appears, then a poet, then an informer
--all being firmly dealt with. Prometheus slips in under a parasol,
to advise Peithetairus to demand from Zeus his sceptre and with it
the lady Royalty as his bride. Poseidon, Heracles and an outlandish
Triballian god after a long discussion make terms with the new monarch,
who goes with them to fetch his bride. A triumphant wedding forms the

The purpose of this comedy has been the subject of much discussion. As
a piece of literature it is exquisite. It lifts us out of a world of
hard unpleasant fact into a region where life is a care-free thing,
bores or impostors are banished and the reign of the usurper ends. The
play is not of or for any one particular period; it is really
timeless, appealing to the ineradicable desire we all have for an
existence of joy and light, where dreams always come true and hope
ends only in fulfilment. It is therefore one of man's deathless
achievements; the power of its appeal is evident from the frequency
with which it has been revived--it was staged at Cambridge this very
year. Staged it will be as long as men are what they are.

Having learned that men are a naturally combative race, lusting for
blood, the poet saw it was hopeless to bring them to terms. Nor could
he for ever live in Cloudcuckootowns; he therefore bethought him of
another expedient for obtaining peace. In 411 he imagines the women of
Athens, Peloponnese and Boeotia combining to force terms on the men by
deserting their homes, under the leadership of _Lysistrata_. She calls
a council of war, explaining her plot to capture the Acropolis. A
Chorus of men rush in to smoke them out, armed with firebrands, but
are met by a Chorus of women bearing pitchers to quench the flames. An
officer of the Council comes to argue with Lysistrata, who points out
that in the first part of the war (down to 421) the women had kept
quiet, though aware of men's incompetence; now they have determined to
control matters. They are possessed of the Treasury, their experience
of household economy gives them a good claim to organise State
finance; they grow old in the absence of their husbands; a man can
marry a girl however old he is. A woman's prime soon comes; if she
misses it, she sits at home looking for omens of a husband; women make
the most valuable of all contributions to the State, namely sons. The
officer retires to report to the Council.

Lysistrata, seeing a weakness in the women's resolution, encourages
them with an oracle which promises victory if they will only persist.
A herald speedily arrives from Sparta announcing a similar defection
in that city. Ambassadors of both sides are brought to Lysistrata who
makes a splendid speech.

"I am a woman, but wit is in me and I have no small conceit of
myself. Having heard many speeches from my father and elder men
I am not ill-informed. Now that I have caught you I will administer
to you the rebuke you richly deserve. You sprinkle altars from the
same lustral-bowl, like relatives, at Olympia, Pylae, Delphi and
many other places. Though the barbarian enemy is on you in armed
force, you destroy Greek men and cities."

She points out that both sides have been guilty of injustice; both
should make surrenders and agree to a peace which is duly ratified.
The Chorus of men believe that Athenian ambassadors should go to
Sparta in their cups:--

"As it is, whenever we go there sober, we immediately see what
mischief we can make. We never hear what they say; what they do
not say we conjecture and never bring back the same tale about
the same facts."

Odes of thanksgiving wind up the piece.

Exactly twenty years earlier Euripides in the _Medea_ had written the
first protest against women's subjection to an unfair social lot. By a
strange irony of fortune his most severe critic Aristophanes was the
first man in Europe to give utterance to their claim to a political
equality. True, he does so in a comedy, but he was speaking perhaps
more seriously than he would have us think. Women do contribute sons
to the State; they do believe that they are as capable as men of
judging political questions--with justice, in a system where no
qualifications but twilight opinions are necessary. On this ground
they have won the franchise. Nor has the feminist movement really
begun as yet. We may see women in control of our political Acropolis,
forcing the world to make peace to save our chances of becoming
ultimately civilised.

The _Thesmophoriazousae_, staged in 411, is a lampoon on Euripides.
That poet with his kinsman Mnesilochus calls at the house of Agathon,
a brother tragedian whose style is amusingly parodied. Euripides
informs him that the women intend to hold a meeting to destroy him for
libel; they are celebrating the feast of the Thesmophoria. As Agathon
refuses an invitation to go disguised and defend Euripides,
Mnesilochus undertakes the dangerous duty; his disguise is effected on
the stage with comic gusto. At the meeting the case against the poet
is first stated; he has not only lampooned women, he has taught their
husbands how to counter their knaveries and is an atheist. Mnesilochus
defends him; women are capable of far more villainies than even
Euripides has exposed. The statement of these raises the suspicions of
the ladies who soon unmask the intruder, inquiring of him the secret
ritual of the Thesmophoria.

One of them goes to the Town Council to find out what punishment they
are to inflict.

Mnesilochus meanwhile snatches a child from the arms of one of them,
holding it as a hostage. To his amazement it turns out to be a
wine-stoup. He vainly tries some of the dodges practised in Euripides'
plays to bring him to the rescue. The Chorus meantime expose the folly
of calling women evil.

"If we are a bane, why do you marry us? Why do you forbid us to
walk abroad or to be caught peeping out? Why use such pains to
preserve this evil thing? If we do peep out, everybody wants this
bane to be seen; if we draw back in modesty, every man is much
more anxious to see this pest peep out again. At any rate, no
woman comes into the city after stealing public money fifty
talents at a time."

A better plan would be

"to give the mothers of famous sons the right of place in festivals;
those whose sons are evil should take a lower place."

In an amusing series of scenes Euripides enters dressed up as some of
his own characters to save Mnesilochus. A borough officer enters with
a policeman whom he orders to bind the prisoner and guard him. More
disguises are adopted by Euripides who succeeds at last in freeing his
kinsman by pretending to be an old woman with a marriageable daughter
whom the policeman can have at a price. When the latter goes to fetch
the money Euripides and his relative disappear.

The poet has in this play very skilfully palmed off on Euripides his
own attack on women. We have already seen what Euripides' attitude was
to the neglected sex. Feminine deceit has been a stock theme in all
ages; it had already been treated in Greek literature and was to be
passed through Roman literature to the Middle Ages, in which period it
received more than its due share of attention. In itself it is a poor
theme, good enough perhaps as a stand-by, for it is sure to be
popular. Those who pose as woman-haters might consider the words of
the Chorus in this play.

The most violent attack on Euripides was delivered after his death by
Aristophanes in the _Frogs_, written in 405. This famous comedy is so
well-known that a brief outline will suffice. It falls into two parts.
The first describes the adventures of Dionysus who with his servant
Xanthias descends to the lower world to bring back Euripides. The god
and his servant exchange parts according as the persons they meet are
friendly or hostile. In the second part the three great tragedians are
brought on the scene. Euripides, who has just died, tries to claim
sovereignty in Hades; Sophocles, "gentle on earth and gentle in death"
withdraws his claim, leaving Aeschylus to the contest. The two rivals
appoint Dionysus, the patron of drama, to act as umpire. In a series
of admirable criticisms the weaknesses of both are plainly indicated.
Finally Dionysus decides to take back Aeschylus.

This play is as popular as the Birds. It contains one or two touches
of low comedy, but these are redeemed by the spirit of inexhaustible
jollity which sets the whole thing rocking with life and gaiety. It is
an original in Greek literature, being the first piece of definitely
literary criticism. A long experience had made the sense of the stage
a second nature to Aristophanes who here criticises two rival schools
of poetry as a dramatist possessed of inside professional knowledge.
So far his work is of the same class as Cicero's _De Oratore_ and
Reynolds' _Discourses_. His object, however, was not to preserve a
balance of impartiality but to condemn Euripides as a traitor to the
whole tradition of Attic tragedy. He does so, but not without giving
his reasons--and these are good and true. No person is qualified to
judge the development of Greek tragedy who has not weighed long and
carefully the second portion of the _Frogs_.

In 393 Aristophanes broke entirely new ground in the _Ecclesiazousae_
(women in Parliament), a discussion of social and economic problems.
Praxagora assembles the women of Athens to gain control of the city.
They meet early in the morning, disguise themselves with beards and
open the question.

"The decisions of men in Parliament are to reflecting people like
the derangements of drunken men. I am disgusted with our policy,
we always employ unscrupulous leaders. If one of them is honest
for one day, he is a villain for ten. Doling out public money, men
have eyes only for what they can make out of the State. Let women
govern; they are the best at providing money and are not likely to
be deceived in office, for they are well versed in trickery."

They proceed to the Assembly to execute their plot.

On the opening of the discussion one Euaeon proposed a scheme of
wholesale spoliation of the property owners to support the poor. Then
a white-faced citizen arose and proposed flatly that women should
rule, that being the one thing which had never yet been tried. The
motion was carried with great enthusiasm, the men declaring that "an
old proverb says all our senseless and foolish decisions turn out for
good". When Praxagora returns to the stage, she declares she intends
to introduce a system of absolute communism. All citizens are to live
and dine in common and possess wives in common, existing on the work
of slaves. Any person who refuses to declare his wealth is to be
punished by losing his rations, "the punishment of a man through his
belly being the worst insult he can suffer". A vivid description of
the workings of the new system ends the play.

Aristophanes is no doubt criticising Plato's _Republic_, but allowing
for altered circumstances we cannot go far wrong if we see here a
picture of the suggested remedy for the social distress which is
inseparable from a great war. At Athens, beaten and impoverished,
there must have been widespread discontent; the foundation upon which
society was built must have been criticised, its inequalities being
emphasised by idealists and intriguers alike. Our own generation has
to face a similar situation. We have seen women in Parliament and we
are deluged by a flood of communistic idealism emanating from Russia.
Its one commendation is that it has never yet been tried among us and
many simple folk will applaud the philosophy which persuades itself
that all our mistakes will somehow come right in the end. The problem
of finding somebody to do the work was easily solved in ancient Athens
where the slaves were three times as numerous as the free. England,
possessing no slaves, would under communism be unable to feed herself
and would die of starvation.

The _Plutus_, written in 388 is a singular work. An honest old man
Chremylus enters with Carion "his most faithful and most thievish
servant". They are holding fast a blind old man, in obedience to an
oracle of Apollo. After a little questioning the stranger admits that
he is Plutus, the god of wealth. Wild with joy they invite him to
their house. He does not like houses, for they have never brought him
to any good.

"If I enter a stingy man's abode, he immediately digs me deep in
the earth and denies he has ever seen me. If I enter a crazy
man's home, given to dicing and fast living, I am soon ejected

Learning that Chremylus is honest and poor he consents to try once

The rumour gets abroad that Chremylus has suddenly grown rich; his
acquaintance reveal their true characters as they come to question him
about his luck. The goddess Poverty enters, to be cross-examined by
Chremylus who has suggested that Plutus should recover his sight under
the healing care of Asclepius. Before the care is effected, she points
out the dangers of his project. He is well-meaning, but foolish;
Poverty is not Mendicancy, it means a life of thrift, with nothing
left over but with no real want; it is the source of the existence of
all the handicrafts, nor can the slaves be counted on to do the work
if everybody becomes rich, for nobody will sell slaves if he has money
already. Riches on the other hand are the curse of many; wealth rots
men, causing gout, dropsy and bloated insolence; the gods themselves
are poor, otherwise they would not need human sacrifice.

The cure is successful; Plutus recovers his eyes and can see to whom
he gives his blessings; the good and the rascals alike receive their
due reward. The change which wealth produces in men's natures is most
admirably depicted in the Epilogue.

This is an Allegory dramatised with no little skill. The piece is full
of the shrewdest hits at our human failings, aimed, however, with no
ill-nature. Aristophanes' power of characterisation here shows no
falling-off. Fortune's fickleness is proverbial and has received
frequent literary treatment. Men's first prayer is for wealth;
poverty, according to Dr. Johnson, is evidently a great evil because
it needs such a long defence. Yet it is only the well-meaning but
utterly unpractical idealists who desire to make us all prosperous--

"How that may change our nature, that's the question."

Some are not fit for riches, being ignorant of their true function;
self-indulgence and moral rottenness follow wealth; because of the
abuse of the power which wealth brings, we are taught that it is hard
for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is difficult to convey an adequate impression of Aristophanes to
the English reader. Long excerpts are impossible and undesirable.
Comedy is essentially a mirror of contemporary life; it contains all
kinds of references to passing political events and transient forms of
social life; its turns of language are peculiar to its own age. We who
are familiar with Shakespeare know that one of our chief difficulties
in reading him is the constant reference to what was obvious to the
Elizabethan public but is dark to us. Yet the plays of Aristophanes in
an English translation such as that of Frere read far more like modern
work than the comedies of Ben Jonson, for the society in which
Aristophanes moved was far more akin to ours. It was democratic, was
superficially educated, was troubled by socialistic and communistic
unrest exactly as we are. Some of our modern thinkers would be
surprised to find how many of their dreamings were discussed
twenty-three centuries ago by men quite as intelligent and certainly
as honest.

Aristophanes' greatest fault is excessive conservatism. He gives us a
most vivid description of the evils and abuses of his own time, yet
has no remedy except that of putting back the hands of the clock some
fifty years. Marathon, Aeschylus, the nascent democracy were his ideal
and he was evidently put out by the ending of the period of "Periclean
calm." He then has no solution for the problems in front of him. But
it might be asked whether a dramatist's business is not rather to
leave solutions to the thinker, concerning himself only with mirroring
men's natures. With singular courage and at no small personal risk
this man attacked the great ones of his day, scourging their
hypocrisies and exposing the real tendencies of their principles. If
he has opened our eyes to the objections to popular government and
popular poetry and has made us aware of the significance of the
feminist movement, let us be thankful; we shall be more on our guard
and be less easily persuaded that problems are new or that they are
capable of a final solution.

On the other hand, we shall find in him qualities of a most original
type. His spirits are inexhaustible, he laughs heartily and often
without malice at the follies of the mass of men; Cleon and Euripides
were anathema to him, but the rest he treats as Fluellen did Pistol:
"You beggarly knave, God bless you". His lyrics must be classed with
the best in Greek poetry. Like Rabelais this rollicking jolly spirit
disguises his wisdom under the mask of folly, turning aside with some
whimsical twist just when he is beginning to be too serious. He will
repay the most careful reading, for his best things are constantly
turning up when least expected. His political satire ceasing with the
death of Cleon, he turned to the land of pure fancy among the winged
careless things; he then raised the woman's question, started literary
criticism and ended with Allegory. To few has such a noble cycle of
work been vouchsafed; we owe him at least a debt of remembrance, for
he loved us as our brother.


Frere (verse). This spirited version of five plays is justly famous.
Various plays have been rendered into verse by Rogers (Bell). The
translation is on the whole rather free. The volumes contain excellent
introductions and notes.

No prose translation of outstanding merit has appeared.

The Greek tragedians have not received their due from translators and
admirers. There is nothing in English drama inspired by Greece to
compare with the French imitations of Seneca, Plautus and Terence.


Greek historical literature follows the same course of development as
Greek poetry; it begins in epic form in Ionia and ends in dramatic
type at Athens.

Herodotus, "the father of History", was born at Halicarnassus in Asia
Minor about 484 B.C. He travelled widely over the East, Egypt, North
Africa and Greece. He was acquainted with the Sophoclean circle,
joined the Athenian colony at Thurii in South Italy and died there
before the end of the century. His subject was the defeat of the
Persian attack on Greece and falls into three main divisions. In the
first three books he tells how Persian power was consolidated: in the
next three he shows how it flooded Russia, Thrace and Greece, being
stemmed at Marathon in 490; the last three contain the story of its
final shattering at Salamis and Plataea in 480 and of the Greek recoil
on Asia in 479. It is thus a "triple wave of woes" familiar to Greek
thought. His dialect is Ionic, which he adopted because it was the
language of narrative poetry and prose.

His introduction leads at once into Romance; he intends to preserve
the memory of the wonderful deeds of Greeks and Barbarians, the cause
of their quarrel being the abductions of women, Io, Europe, Medea,
Helen. A more recent aggressor was Croesus, King of Lydia, who
attacked the Greek seaboard. The earlier reigns of Lydian kings are
recounted in a series of striking narratives. Gyges was the owner of
the famous magic ring which made its possessor invisible. His policy
of expansion was continued by his son and grandson. But Croesus, his
great-grandson, was the wealthiest of all, extending his realm from as
far as the Halys, the boundary of Cyrus' Persian Empire. Solon's
famous but fictitious warning to him to "wait till the end comes
before deciding whether he had been happy" left him unmoved. Soon
clouds began to gather. A pathetic misadventure robbed him of his son;
the growing power of Persia alarmed him and he applied to Delphi for
advice. The oracle informed him that if he crossed the Halys he would
ruin a mighty Empire and suggested alliance with the strongest state
in Greece. Finding that Athens was still torn by political struggles
consequent upon the romantic banishments and restorations of
Peisistratus, he joined with Sparta which had just overcome a powerful
rival, Tegea in Arcadia.

Croesus crossed the Halys in 554. After fighting an indecisive battle
he retired to his capital Sardis. Cyrus unexpectedly pursued him. The
Lydian cavalry stampeded, the horses being terrified by the sight and
odour of the Persian camel corps. Croesus shut himself up in Sardis
which he thought impregnable. An excellent story tells how the
Persians scaled the most inaccessible part of the fortress. Croesus
was put on a pyre and there remembered the words of Solon. Cyrus,
dreading a similar revolution of fortune, tried in vain to save him
from the burning faggots; the fire was too fierce for his men to
quench, but Apollo heard Croesus' prayer and sent a rainstorm which
saved him. Being reproached by the fallen monarch who had poured
treasure into his temple, Apollo replied that he had staved off ruin
for three full years, but could not prevail against Fate; besides,
Croesus should have asked whose Empire he was to destroy; at least
Apollo had delivered him from death. The Lydian portion ends with a
graphic description of laws, customs and monuments.

The rise of Persia is next described. Assyria, whose capital was
Nineveh, was destroyed by Cyaxares of Media, whose capital was
Ecbatana. His son Astyages in consequence of a dream married his
daughter Mandane to a Persian named Cambyses. A second dream made him
resolve to destroy her child Cyrus who, like Oedipus, was saved from
exposure by a herdsman. Later, on learning Cyrus' identity, Astyages
punished Harpagus whom he had bidden to remove the child. Harpagus
sowed mutiny in the Median army, giving the victory to the Persians in
558. Cyrus proceeded to attack the Asiatic Greeks, of whom the
Phocaeans left their home to found new states in Corsica and Southern
Gaul; the other cities surrendered. Babylon was soon the only city in
Asia not subject to Persia. Cyrus diverted the course of the Euphrates
and entered the town in 538. In an attack on Tomyris, queen of a
Scythian race, Cyrus was defeated and slain in 529.

His son Cambyses determined to invade Egypt, the eternal rival of the
Mesopotamian kings. Herodotus devotes his second book to a description
of the marvels of Egypt, through which he travelled as far as
Elephantine on the border of Ethiopia. He opens with a plain proof
that Egypt is not the most ancient people, for some children were kept
apart during their first two years, nobody being allowed to speak with
them. They were then heard to say distinctly the word "bekos" which
was Phrygian for "bread". This evidence of Phrygian antiquity
satisfied even the Egyptians.

In this second book there is hardly a single leading feature of
Egyptian civilisation which is not discussed. The Nile is the life of
the land; being anxious to solve the riddle of its annual rise,
Herodotus dismisses as unreasonable the theory that the water is
produced by the melting snow, for the earth becomes hotter as we
proceed further south, and there cannot be snow where there is intense
heat. The sun is deflected from its course in winter, which
derangement causes the river to run shallow in that season. The
religious practice of the land are well described, including the
process of embalming; oracles, animals, medicine, writing, dress are
all treated. He notes that in Egyptian records the sun has twice risen
in the west and twice set in the east.

A long list of dynasties is relieved with many an excellent story,
notably the very famous account of how Rhampsonitis lost his treasures
and failed to find the robber until he offered him a free pardon;
having found him he said the Egyptians excelled all the world in
wisdom, and the robber all the Egyptians. The Pyramids are described;
transmigration is discussed and emphasis is laid upon the growing
popularity of Greek mercenaries. The book closes with the brilliant
reign of Amasis, who made overtures to the Greek oracles, allied
himself with Samos and permitted the foundation of an important Greek
colony at Naucratis.

The third book opens with the invasion of Egypt by Cambyses in 525 on
account of an insult offered him by Amasis. A Greek mercenary named
Phanes gave the Persians information of the one means of attacking
through the desert. After a fierce battle at Pelusium Egypt was
beaten; for years afterwards skulls of both armies lay around, the
Persian heads being easily broken by a pebble, the Egyptian scarcely
breakable by stones. In victory Cambyses outraged Psammenitus, the
defeated King; a fruitless expedition against Ethiopia and the
Ammonians followed. The Egyptians were stirred by the arrival of their
calf-god Apis; Cambyses mockingly wounded him and was punished with
madness, slaying his own kindred and committing deeds of impiety.

At that time Egypt was leagued with the powerful island of Samos,
ruled by Polycrates, a tyrant of marvellous good fortune. Suspecting
some coming disaster to balance it, Amasis urged him to sacrifice his
dearest possession to avert the evil eye. Polycrates threw his ring
into the sea; it was retrieved by a fisherman. On hearing this, Amasis
severed his alliance.

In the absence of Cambyses two Magi brothers stirred up revolt in
Susa, one pretending to be Smerdis, the murdered brother of Cambyses.
That monarch wounded himself in the thigh as he mounted his horse. The
wound festered and caused speedy death. Meanwhile the false Smerdis
held the sovereignty. He was suspected by Otanes, a noble whose
daughter Phaedyme was married to him. At great personal risk she
discovered that the King was without ears, a manifest proof that he
was a Magian. Otane thens joined with six other conspirators to put
the usurper down. Darius, son of Hystaspes, warned them that their
numbers were too large for secrecy, advising immediate action. The two
pretenders had meanwhile persuaded Prexaspes, a confidant of Cambyses,
to assure the Persians that Smerdis really ruled. Prexaspes told the
truth and then threw himself to death from the city walls. This news
forced the conspirators' hands; rushing into the palace, they were
luckily able to slay the usurpers.

The next question was, who should reign? Herodotus turned these
Persians into Greeks, making them discuss the comparative merits of
monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. They decided that their horses
should choose the next king; he whose steed should first neigh should
rule. Darius had a cunning groom named Oebares; that evening he took
the horse and his mare into the market-place; next morning on reaching
the same spot the horse did not fail to seat his master on the throne
in 521. A review of the Persian Empire follows, with a description of
India and Arabia.

Polycrates did not long survive. He was the first Greek to conceive
the idea of a maritime empire. He was foully murdered by the Persian
Oroetes, who decoyed him to the mainland by an offer of treasure and
then crucified him. In the retinue of Polycrates was a physician,
Democedes of Croton, who was captured by Oroetes. His fame spread to
Susa at a time when no court doctor could treat Darius' sprained foot.
Democedes was sent for and effected the cure; later he healed the
Queen Atossa of a boil. Instructed by him she advised Darius to send a
commission of fifteen Persians to spy out the Greek mainland under
Democedes' guidance. After an exciting series of adventures the
physician succeeded in returning to his native city. But the idea of
an invasion of Greece had settled on Darius' mind. First, however, he
took Samos, giving it to Syloson, Polycrates' brother who years before
in Egypt had made him a present of a scarlet cloak while he was a mere
guardsman. Darius consolidated his power in Asia by the capture of the
revolted province of Babylon through the self-sacrifice of Zopyrus,
son of one of the seven conspirators. The vivid story of his devotion
is one of the very greatest things in Herodotus.

Persia being thus mistress of all Asia, of Samos and the seaboard,
began to dream of subduing Greece itself. But first Darius determined
to conquer his non-Greek neighbours. The fourth book describes the
attack which Darius himself led against the Scythians in revenge for
the twenty-eight years' slavery they inflicted on the Medes. A
description of Scythia is relieved by an account of the
circumnavigation of Africa by the Phoenicians and the voyage of Scylax
down the Indus and along the coast of Africa to Egypt.

The war on the Scyths was dramatic and exciting, both sides acting in
the spirit of chivalry. Crossing the Bosporus, Darius advanced through
Thrace to the Danube which he spanned with a bridge. The Scyths
adopted the favourite Russian plan of retreating into the interior,
destroying the crops and hovering round the foe; they further led the
Persians into the territories of their own enemies. This process at
last wearied Darius; he sent a herald to challenge them to a straight
contest or to become his vassals. The reply came that if Darius wished
a conflict he had better outrage their ancestral tombs; as for
slavery, they acknowledged only Zeus as their master. But the threat
of slavery did its work. A detachment was sent to the Danube to induce
the Ionian Greeks to strike for freedom by breaking down the bridge
they were guarding, thus cutting off Darius' retreat. To the King
himself a Scythian herald brought a present of a bird, a mouse, a frog
and five arrows, implying that unless his army became one of the
creatures it would perish by the arrows. The Scyths adopted guerilla
tactics, leaving the Persians no rest by night and offering no battle
by day. At last Darius began his retreat. One division of the Scythian
horsemen reached the bridge before their foes, again asking the
Ionians to destroy it. The Greeks pretended to consent, breaking down
the Scythian end of it. Darius at last came to the place; to his
dismay he found the bridge demolished. He bade an Egyptian Stentor
summon Histiaeus, the Greek commandant, who brought up the fleet and
saved the Persian host which retired into Asia.

In 509 a second expedition was dispatched against Barca, a colony of
Cyrene. The history of the latter is graphically described, the first
king being Battus, the Stammerer, who founded it in obedience to the
directions of Apollo. Cyrene was brought under Cambyses' sway by
Arcesilaus who had been banished. He misinterpreted an oracle and
cruelly killed his enemies in Barca. When he was assassinated in that
town his mother Pheretima fled from the metropolis Cyrene to Aryandes,
the Persian governor in Egypt. Backed by armed force she besieged
Barca which resisted bravely for nine months; at the end of that term
an agreement was made that Barca should pay tribute and remain
unassailed as long as the ground remained firm on which the treaty was
made. But the Persians had undermined the spot, covering planks of
wood with a loose layer of earth. Breaking down the planks they rushed
in and took the town, Pheretima exacting a horrible vengeance. Yet she
herself died soon after, eaten of worms. "Thus," remarks the
historian, "do men, by too severe vengeances, draw upon their own
heads the divine wrath."

The fifth book begins the concentration on purely Greek history.
Darius had left Megabazus in command in Europe, retiring himself to
Sardis. In that city he was much struck by the appearance of a
Paeonian woman and ordered Megabazus to invade the country. He subdued
it and Macedonia in 506-4, but in the process some of his commanders
were punished for an insult to Macedonian women, revenge being taken
by Alexander, son of King Amyntas; a bride shut the lips of a party
sent to discover their fate. In Thrace, Megabazus began to suspect
Histiaeus, the Ionian who had saved Darius and in return had been
given a strong town, Myrcinus on the River Strymon. The King by a
trick drew Histiaeus to Sardis and took him to the Capital, leaving
his brother Artaphernes as governor in Sardis. But Histiaeus had been
succeeded in Miletus by his nephew Aristagoras; to him in 502 came
certain nobles from Naxos, one of the Cyclades isles, begging
restoration from banishment. He decided to apply to Artaphernes for
Persian help; this the viceroy willingly gave as it would further the
Persian progress to the objective, the Greek mainland, across the
Aegean in a direct line. The Persian admiral Megabates soon quarrelled
with Aristagoras about the command and informed the Naxians of the
coming attack. The expedition thus failed. Aristagoras, afraid to face
Artaphemes whose treasure he had wasted, decided on raising a revolt
of the whole of Ionia; at that very moment a slave came to him from
his uncle in Susa with a message tattooed on his head, bidding him

Aristagoras first applied to Sparta for aid. When arguments failed, he
tried to bribe the king Cleomenes. In the room was the King's little
daughter Gorgo. Hearing Aristagoras gradually raise his offer from ten
to fifty talents, the child said, "Father, depart, or the stranger
will corrupt thee". Aristagoras received a better welcome at Athens.
That city in 510 had expelled Hippias, the tyrant son of Peisistratus,
who appealed to Artaphernes for aid. Hearing this, the Athenians sent
an embassy asking the satrap not to assist the exile, but the answer
was that if they wished to survive, they must receive their ruler
back. Aristagoras therefore found the Athenians in a fit frame of mind
to listen. They lent him a fleet of twenty sail and marched with him
to Sardis which they captured and burned in 501. The revolt speedily
spread over all the Asiatic sea-coast. On hearing of the Athenians for
the first time, Darius directed a slave to say to him thrice a day,
"Sire, remember the Athenians". He summoned Histiaeus and accused him
of complicity in the revolt, but Histiaeus assured him of his loyalty
and obtained permission to go to the coast. Meanwhile the Persians
took strong action against the rebels, subduing many towns and
districts. The book ends with the flight of Aristagoras to Myrcinus
and his death in battle against the Thracians in 496.

The next book opens with the famous accusation of Histiaeus by
Artaphernes: "Thou hast stitched this boot and Aristagoras hath put it
on." Histiaeus in fear fled to his own city Miletus; being disowned
there, he for a time maintained a life of privateering, but was
eventually captured and crucified by Artaphernes. The Ionian revolt
had been narrowed down to Miletus and one or two less important towns.
The Greeks assembled a fleet, but a spirit of insubordination
manifesting itself they were defeated at sea in the battle of Lade in
495. Next year Miletus fell but was treated with mercy. At Athens the
news caused the greatest consternation; a dramatic poet named
Phrynichus ventured to stage the disaster; the people wept and fined
him a thousand talents, forbidding any similar presentation in future.
Stamping out the last embers of revolt in Asia the Persians coasted
along Thrace; before their advance the great Athenian Miltiades was
compelled to fly from the Dardanelles to his native city. In 492
Mardonius was appointed viceroy of Asia Minor. He reorganised the
provincial system and then attempted to double the perilous promontory
of Athos, but only a remnant of his forces returned to Asia.

Next year Darius sent to all the Greek cities demanding earth and
water, the tokens of submission. The islanders obeyed including
Aegina, the deadly foe of Athens. A protest made by the latter led to
a war between the two states in which Athens was worsted. Sparta
itself had just been torn by an internal dissension between two
claimants of the throne, one of whom named Demaratus had been ejected
and later fled to the Persian court. The great expedition of 490
sailed straight across the Aegean, commanded by Datis and Artaphernes.
Their primary objective was Eretria in Euboea, a city which had
assisted the Ionians in their revolt. The town was speedily betrayed,
the inhabitants being carried aboard the Persian fleet. Guided by
Hippias the armament landed at the bay of Marathon, twenty-five miles
from Athens. A vain appeal was sent to Sparta for succours; Athens,
supported by the little Boeotian city of Plataea, was left to cope
with the might of Persia.

It was fortunate that the Athenians could command the services of
Miltiades who had already had some experience of the Persian methods
of attack. The details of the great battle that followed depend upon
the sole authority of Herodotus among the Greek writers. Many
difficulties are caused by his narrative, but it seems certain that
Miltiades was in command on the day on which the battle was actually
fought. He apparently clung to the hills overlooking the plain and bay
of Marathon until the Persian cavalry were unable to act. Seizing the
opportunity, he led his men down swiftly to the combat; his centre
which had been purposely weakened was thrust back but the two wings
speedily proved victorious, then converged to assist the centre,
finally driving the foe to the sea where a desperate conflict took
place. The Persians succeeded in embarking and promptly sailed round
the coast to Athens, but seeing the victors in arms before the town
they sailed back to Asia. The Spartan reinforcements which arrived too
late for the battle viewed the Persian dead and returned after
praising the Athenians.

A slight digression tells the amusing story how the Athenian
Hippocleides in his cups lost the hand of the princess of Sicyon
because he danced on his head and waved his legs about, shouting that
he didn't care. The great victor Miltiades did not long survive his
glory. His attempt to reduce the island of Paros, which had sided with
Persia, completely failed. Returning to Athens he was condemned and
fined, shortly after dying of a mortified thigh.

In the third portion Herodotus gradually rises to his greatest height
of descriptive power. Darius resolved on a larger expedition to reduce
Greece. He made preparations for three years, then a revolt in Egypt
delayed his plans and his career was cut short by death in 485. His
successor Xerxes was disinclined to invade Europe, but was overborne
by Mardonius his cousin. A canal was dug across the peninsula of
Athos, a bridge was built over the Hellespont, and provisions were
collected. A detailed account of the component forces is given,
special mention being made of Artemisia, Queen of Herodotus' own city,
who was to win great glory in the campaign. The army marched over the
Hellespont and along the coast, the fleet supporting it; advancing
through Thessaly, it reached the pass of Thermopylae, opposite Euboea,
in 480.

On the Greek side was division; the Spartans imagined that their duty
was to save the Peloponnese only; they were eager to build a wall
across the isthmus of Corinth, leaving the rest of Greece to its fate.
But Athens had produced another genius named Themistocles. Shortly
before the invasion the silver mines at Laureium in Attica had yielded
a surplus; he persuaded the city to use it for building a fleet of two
hundred sail to be directed against Aegina. When the Athenians got an
oracle from Delphi which stated that they would lose their land but be
saved by their wooden walls, he interpreted the oracle as referring to
the fleet. Under his management the city built more ships. The Council
of Greece held at the Isthmus of Corinth decided that an army should
defend Thermopylae while the fleet supported it close by at
Artemisium. The Persian fleet had been badly battered in a storm as it
sailed along the coast of Magnesia, nearly four hundred sail
foundering; the remainder reached safe anchorage in the Malian gulf,
further progress being impossible till the Greek navy was beaten or

At Thermopylae the advance-guard was composed of Spartans led by
Leonidas who determined to defend the narrow pass. A Persian spy
brought the news to Xerxes that this small body of warriors were
combing their hair. The King sent for Demaratus, the ex-Spartan
monarch, who assured him that this was proof that the Spartans
intended to fight to the death. After a delay of four days the fight
began. The Spartans routed all their opponents including the famous
Immortals, the Persian bodyguard. At length a traitor Ephialtes told
Xerxes of a path across the mountains by which Leonidas could be taken
in the rear. Learning from deserters and fugitives that he had been
betrayed, Leonidas dismissed the main body, himself advancing into the
open. After winning immortal glory he and his men were destroyed and
the way to Greece lay open to the invader.

In three naval engagements off Artemisium the Greek fleet showed its
superiority; a detachment of two hundred sail had been sent round the
island of Euboea to block up the exit of the channel through which the
Greek navy had to retreat, but a storm totally destroyed this force.
When the army retreated from Thermopylae the Greek ships were obliged
to retire to the Isthmus; in spite of much opposition the Athenians
compelled Eurybiades the Spartan admiral to take up his station at
Salamis, whither the Persian navy followed. Their army had advanced
through Boeotia, attacking Delphi on the way. The story was told how
Apollo himself defended his shrine, hurling down rocks on the invaders
and sending supernatural figures to discomfit them. Entering Attica
the barbarian host captured a deserted Athens, Xerxes sending the glad
news to his subjects in the Persian capital.

The Greeks were with difficulty persuaded not to abandon the sea
altogether. Themistocles was bitterly opposed in his naval policy by
Adeimantus, the Corinthian; it was only by threatening to leave Greece
with their fleet that the Athenians were able to bring the allies to
reason. By a stroke of cunning Themistocles forced their hands; a
messenger went to Xerxes with news of the Greek intention to retreat;
on hearing this the Persians during the night blocked up the passages
round Salamis and landed some of their best troops on a little island
called Psyttaleia. The news of this encircling movement was brought to
the allies by Aristides, a celebrated Athenian who was in exile, and
was confirmed by a Tenian ship which deserted from the Persians. Next
morning the Greeks sailed down the strait to escape the blockade and
soon the famous battle began. Among the brave deeds singled out for
special mention none was bolder than that of Artemisia who sank a
friend to escape capture. The remainder of the Persian captains had no
chance of resisting, being huddled up in a narrow channel. Seeing
Artemisia's courage Xerxes remarked that his men had become women, his
women men. The rout of the invaders was quickly completed, the chief
glory being won by Aegina and Athens; the victory was consummated by
the slaughter of the troops on Psyttaleia. The Persian monarch sent
tidings of this defeat to his capital and in terror of a revolt in
Ionia decided to retreat, leaving Mardonius in command of picked
troops. He hurriedly passed along the way he had come, almost
disappearing from Herodotus' story.

Mardonius accompanied him to Thessaly and Macedonia; he sent
Alexander, King of the latter country, as an envoy to Athens, offering
to rebuild the temples and restore all property in exchange for an
alliance. Hearing the news the Spartans in fear for themselves sent a
counter-embassy. The Athenian reply is one of the great things in
historical literature. "It was a base surmise in men like the Spartans
who know our mettle. Not all the gold in the world would tempt us to
enslave our own countrymen. We have a common brotherhood with all
Greeks, a common language, common altars and sacrifices, common
nationality; it would be unseemly to betray these. We thank you for
your offer to support our ruined families, but we will bear our
calamities as we may and will not burden you. Lead out your troops;
face the enemy in Boeotia and there give him battle."

The last book relates the consequences of the Athenian reply to
Alexander. Mardonius advanced rapidly to Athens, which he captured a
second time. The Spartans were busy keeping the feast of Hyacinthia;
only an Athenian threat to come to terms with the foe prevailed on
them to move. Mardonius soon evacuated Attica, the ground being too
stony for cavalry, and encamped near Plataea. The Greeks followed,
taking the high ground on Mount Cithaeron. A brave exploit of the
Athenian infantry in defeating cavalry heartened the whole army. After
eleven days' inaction, Mardonius determined to attack, news of his
plan being brought secretly at night to the Athenians by Alexander.
The Spartans, afraid of facing the Persians, exchanged places with the
Athenians; when this movement was discovered by Mardonius, he sent a
challenge to the Spartans to decide the battle by a single conflict
between them and his Persian division. Receiving no reply, he let his
cavalry loose on the Greeks who began to retire to a place called the
Island, where horse could not operate. This action took place during
the night. When morning broke the battle began. The Persian wicker
shields could not resist their enemies' weapons; the host fled and
after Mardonius fell was slaughtered in heaps. The Greek took
vengeance on the Thebans who had acted with the Persians, of whom a
mere remnant reached Asia under the command of Artabazus.

The victorious Greek fleet had advanced as far as Delos, commanded by
Leotychides, a Spartan of royal blood. To them came an embassy from
Samos, urging an attack on the Persians encamped on Mycale. It is said
that the battle was fought on the same day as that of Plataea and that
a divine rumour ran through the Greek army that their brothers had
gained the day. In the action at Mycale the Athenians took the palm of
valour, bursting the enemy's line and storming his entrenchments. This
victory freed Ionia; it remained only to open the Dardanelles. The
Spartans returned home, but the Athenians crossed from Abydos in Asia
to Sestos, the strongest fortress in the district. The place was
starved into surrender; with its capture ends the story of Persia's
attempt to destroy European civilisation.

In this great Epic nothing is more obvious than the terror the Greeks
felt when they first faced the Persians. The numbers arrayed against
them were overwhelming, their despondency was justifiable. It required
no little courage from a historian to tell the awkward truth--that
Herodotus did tell it is no small testimony to his veracity. Yet only
a little experience was needed to convince the Greeks that they were
superior on both land and sea. Once the lesson was learned, they never
forgot it. Mycale is the proof that they remembered it well. This same
consciousness of superiority animated two other Greek armies, one
deserted in the middle of Asia Minor, yet led unmolested by Xenophon
through a hostile country to the shores of the Black Sea--the other
commanded by Alexander the Great who planted Greek civilisation over
every part of his conquests, from the coast to the very gates of
Persia itself.

Modern history seems to have lost all powers of interesting its
readers. It is as dull as political economy; it suspects a stylist,
questions the accuracy of its authorities, tends to minimise personal
influence on events, specialises on a narrow period, emphasises
constitutional development, insists on the "economic interpretation"
of an age and at times seems quite unable to manage with skill the
vast stores of knowledge on which it draws. To it Herodotus is often a
butt for ridicule; his credulity, inability to distinguish true
causes, belief in divine influences, love of anecdote and
chronological vagueness are serious blemishes. But to us Herodotus is
literature; we believe that he himself laughs slyly at some of the
anecdotes he has rendered more piquant by a pretended credulity; this
quick-witted Greek would find it paid him to assume innocence in order
to get his informers (like his critics) to go on talking. Like
Froissart, Joinville, de Comines and perhaps even like Macaulay he
wishes to write what will charm as well as what will instruct.

Yet as a historian Herodotus is great; he sifts evidence, some of
which he mentions only to reject it; the substantial accuracy of his
statements has been borne out by inscriptions; in fact, his value
to-day is greater than it was last century. If a man's literary bulk
is measured by the greatness of his subject, Herodotus cannot be a
mean writer. His theme is nothing less than the history of
civilisation itself as far as he could record it; his broad sweep of
narrative may be taken to represent the wide speculation of a
philosophic historian as opposed to the narrower and more intense
examination of a short period which is characteristic of the
scientific historian. He tells us of the first actual armed conflict
between East and West, the never-ending eternally romantic story. As
Persia fought Greece, so Rome subdued Carthage, Crusader attacked
Saladin, Turkey submerged half Europe, Russia contended with Japan.
The atmosphere of Herodotus is the unchanging East of the Bible,
inscrutable Egypt, prehistoric Russia, barbarous Thrace, as well as
civilised Greece, Africa, India; had he never written, much
information would have been irretrievably lost, for example, the
account of one of the "Fifteen decisive battles" in history. Let him
be judged not as a candidate for some Chair of Ancient History in some
modern University, but as the greatest writer of the greatest
prose-epic in the greatest literature of antiquity.

Of his inimitable short stories it is difficult to speak with measured
praise; it is dangerous to quote them, they are so perfect that a word
added or omitted might spoil them. His so-called digressions have
always some cogent reason in them; they are his means of including in
the panorama a scene essential to its completeness. The narrow type of
history writing has been tried for some centuries; all that it seems
able to accomplish is to go on narrowing itself until it cannot enjoy
for recording or remembering. It is a refreshing experience to move in
the broad open regions of history in which Herodotus trod. If it is
impossible to combine accurate research with the ecstasy of pure
literature, be it so. Herodotus will be read with joy and laughter and
sometimes with tears when some of our modern historians have been
superseded by persons even duller than themselves.


Rawlinson's edition with a version contains essays of the greatest
value. It has been the standard for two generations and is not likely
to be superseded.

The Loeb Series contains a version by A. D. Godley.

The great annotated edition of the text by R. W. Macan (Oxford) is the
result of a lifetime's work. It contains everything necessary to
confirm the claims of the historian.

_The Great Persian War,_ by Grundy (London), is valuable.

See Bury, _Ancient Greek Historians_ (Macmillan).


History, like an individual's life, is a succession of well-defined
periods. Herodotus took as his subject a long cycle of events; the
shorter period was first treated by Thucydides who introduced methods
which entitle him to be regarded as the first modern historian. Born
in Attica in 471 he was a victim of the great plague, was exiled for
his failure to check Brasidas at Eion in 424 and spent the rest of his
life in collecting materials for his great work. His death took place
about 402.

His preface is remarkable as outlining his creed. First he states his
subject, the Peloponnesian war of 431-404; he then tests by an appeal
to reason the statements in old legends and in Homer, arguing from
analogy or from historical survivals in his own time to prove that
various important movements were caused or checked by economic
influence. He uses his imagination to prove that the importance of an
event cannot be decided from the extant remains of its place of
origin, for if only the ruins of both Sparta and Athens were left,
Sparta would be thought to be insignificant and Athens would appear
twice as powerful as she really is. Poetical exaggeration is easy and
misleading, and ancient history is difficult to determine by absolute

"Men accept statements about their own national past from one
another without testing them."

"To most men the search for truth implies no effort; they prefer to
turn to the first accounts available."

"It was difficult for me to write an exact narrative of the speeches
actually made; I have therefore given the words that might have been
expected of each speaker, adhering to the broad meaning of what was
really uttered. The facts I have not taken from any chance person,
nor have I given my own impressions, but have as accurately as
possible written a detailed account of what I witnessed myself or
heard from others. The discovery of these facts was laborious owing
to conflicting statements and confused memories and party favour.
Perhaps the unromantic nature of my record will make it uninteresting;
but if any person will judge it useful because he desires to consider
a clear account of actual facts and of what is likely to recur at some
future time, I shall be content. As a compilation it is rather an
eternal possession than a prize-essay for a moment."

The essentially modern idea of history writing is here perfectly

Having pointed out the significance of the war, not only to Greece but
to the whole of the world, he gives its causes. To him the real root
of the trouble was Sparta's fear of Athenian power: the alleged
pretexts were different. The rise of Athens is rapidly described, her
building of the walls broken down by the Persians, her control of the
island-states in a Delian league which eventually became the nucleus
of her Empire, her alliance with Megara, a buffer-state between
herself and Corinth. This last saved her from fears of a land
invasion; when she built for Megara long walls to the sea she incurred
the intense anger of Corinth which smouldered for years and at last
caused the Peloponnesian conflagration. The reduction of Aegina in 451
compensated for the loss of Boeotia and Egypt. Eventually the Thirty
Years' Peace was concluded in 445; Athens gave up Megara, but retained
Euboea; her definite policy for the future was concentration on a
maritime empire; she controlled nearly all the islands of the Aegean
and was mistress of the Saronic gulf, Aegina, "the eyesore of the
Peiraeus", having fallen.

But if she was to confine her energies to the sea, it was essential
that she should be mistress of all the trade-routes which in ancient
history usually ran along the coast. On both east and west she found
Corinth in possession; a couple of quarrels with this city ruptured
the peace. In the west, Corinth had founded Corcyra (Corfu); this
daughter colony quarrelled with her mother and prevailed. In itself
Corcyra was of little importance in purely Greek politics, but it
happened to possess a large navy and commanded the trade-route to
Sicily, whence came the corn supply. When threatened with vengeance by
Corinth, she appealed to Athens, where ambassadors from Corinth also
appeared. Their arguments are stated in the speeches which are so
characteristic of Thucydides. The Athenians after careful
consideration decided to conclude a defensive alliance with Corcyra,
for they dreaded the acquisition of her navy by Corinth. But
circumstances turned this into an offensive alliance, for Corinth
attacked and would have won a complete victory at sea but for timely
Athenian succour. In the east Athens was even more vitally concerned
in trade with the Hellespont, through which her own corn passed. On
this route was the powerful Corinthian city Potidaea, situate on the
western prong of Chalcidice. It had joined the Athenian confederacy
but had secured independence by building strong walls. When the
Athenians demanded their destruction and hostages as a guarantee, the
town revolted and appealed to the mother-city Corinth. A long and
costly siege drained Athens of much revenue and distracted her
attention; but worst of all was the final estrangement of the great
trade rival whom she had thwarted in Greece itself by occupying
Megara, in the west by joining Corcyra, and in the east by attacking

The final and open pretext for war was the exclusion of Megara from
all Athenian markets; this step meant the extinction of the town as a
trading-centre and was a definite set-back to the economic development
of the Peloponnese, of which Corinth and Megara were the natural
avenues to northern Greece. The cup was full; Athenian ambition had
run its course. The aggrieved states of the Peloponnese were invited
to put their case at Sparta; Corinth drew a famous picture of the
Athenian character, its restlessness, energy, adaptability and
inventiveness. "In the face of such a rival," they added,

"Sparta hesitates; in comparison Spartan methods are antiquated,
but modern principles cannot help prevailing; in a stagnant state
conservative institutions are the best, but when men are faced with
various difficulties great ingenuity is essential; for that reason
Athens through her wide experience has made more innovations."

An Athenian reply failed to convince the allies of her innocence; one
of the Spartan Ephors forced the congress to declare that Athens had
violated the peace. A second assembly was summoned, at which the
Corinthians in an estimate of the Athenian power gave reasons for
believing it would eventually be reduced. They further appealed to
what has never yet failed to decide in favour of war--race antagonism;
the Athenians and her subjects were Ionians, whereas the
Peloponnesians were mainly Dorians. The necessary vote for opening
hostilities was secured; but first an ultimatum was presented. If
Athens desired peace she must rescind the exclusion acts aimed at
Megara. At the debate in the Athenian assembly Pericles, the virtual
ruler, gave his reason for believing Athens would win; he urged a
demand for the withdrawal of Spartan Alien Acts aimed at Athens and
her allies and offered arbitration on the alleged grievances.

It is well to repeat the causes of this war: trade rivalry, naval
competition, race animosity and desire for predominance. Till these
are removed it is useless to expect permanent peace in spite of
Leagues or Tribunals or Arbitration Courts. Further, it should be
noted that Thucydides takes the utmost care to point out the excellent
reasons the most enlightened statesmen had for arriving at
contradictory conclusions; the event proved them all wrong without
exception. The future had in store at least two events which no human
foresight could discover, and these proved the deciding factors in the

The war began in 431 by a Theban attack on Plataea, the little town
just over the Attic frontier which had been allied with Athens for
nearly a century and protected her against invasion from the north.
This city had long been hated by Thebes as a deserter from her own
league; it alone of Boeotian towns had not joined the Persians.
Burning with the desire to capture it, a body of Thebans entered the
place by night, seizing the chief positions. But in the morning their
scanty numbers were apparent; recovering from panic the Plataeans
overwhelmed the invaders and massacred them. This open violation of
the treaty kindled the war-spirit. Both sides armed, Sparta being more
popular as pretending to free Greece from a tyrant. Their last
ambassador on leaving Athenian territory said: "This day will be the
beginning of mighty woes for Greece".

The Spartans invaded Attica, cutting down the fruit trees and forcing
the country folk into the city; the Athenians replied by ravaging
parts of Peloponnese and Megara. The funeral of the first Athenian
victims of the war was the occasion of a remarkable speech. Pericles
in delivering it expounds the Athenian ideal of life.

"We do not compete with other constitutions, we are rather a pattern
for the rest. In our democracy all are equal before the law; each man
is promoted to public office not by favour but by merit, according as
he can do the State some service. We love beauty in its simplicity, we
love knowledge without losing manliness. Our citizens can administer
affairs both private and public; our working classes have an adequate
knowledge of politics. To us the most fatal error is the lack of
theoretical instruction before we attempt any duty. In a word, I say
that Athens is an education for all Greece; individually we can prove
ourselves competent to face the most varied forms of human activity
with the maximum of grace and adaptability.... We have forced the
whole sea and every land to open to our enterprise. Look daily at the
material power of the city and love her passionately. Her glory was
won by men who did their duty and sacrificed themselves for her. The
whole world is the sepulchre of famous men; their memory is not only
inscribed on pillars in their own country, it lives unwritten in the
hearts of men in alien lands."

At the beginning of the next year a calamity which no statesman could
have foreseen overtook Athens. A mysterious plague of the greatest
malignity scourged the city, the mortality being multiplied among the
crowds of refugees. The city's strength was seriously impaired, public
and private morality were undermined, inasmuch as none knew how long
he had to live. Discouraged by it and by the invasions the Athenians
sent a fruitless embassy to Sparta and tinned in fury on Pericles. He
made a splendid defence of his policy and gave them heart to continue
the struggle; he pointed out that it was better to lose their property
and save the State than save their property and lose the State; their
fleet opened to them the world of waters over which they could range
as absolute masters. Soon afterwards he died, surviving the opening of
the war only two years and a half; his character and abilities
received due acknowledgment from Thucydides.

At this point Sparta decided to destroy Plataea, the Athenian outpost
in Boeotia. A very brilliant description of the siege and
counter-operations reveals very clearly the Spartan inability to
attack walled towns and explains their objection to fortified friends.
Leaving the town guarded they retired for a time, to complete the work
later. The war began to spread beyond the Peloponnese to the north of
the Corinthian gulf, the control of which was important to both sides.
The Acarnanians were attacked by Sparta and appealed to the Athenian
admiral Phormio. Two naval actions in the gulf revealed the
astonishing superiority of the Athenian navy on the high seas.
Threatened in her corn supply in the west, Sparta began to intrigue
with the outlying kingdoms on the north-east, the "Thraceward parts"
on the trade-route being the objective.

A spirit of revolt against Athenian rule appeared in Lesbos, which
seceded in 428. The chief town in this non-Ionic island was Mytilene,
which sent ambassadors to Sparta. Their speech clearly explains how
the Athenians were able to keep their hold on their policy; her policy
(like that of Rome) was to divide the allies by carefully grading
their privileges, playing off the weak against the stronger. The
Spartans proved unable to help and the Athenians easily blockaded the
city, capturing it early in 427. In their anger they at first decided
to slay all the inhabitants, but a better feeling led to a
reconsideration next day. In the Assembly two great speeches were
delivered. Pericles had been succeeded by Cleon, to whom Thucydides
seems to have been a little unjust. He opened his speech with the
famous remark that a democracy cannot govern an Empire; it is liable
to sudden fits of passion which make a consistent policy impossible.
He himself never changed his plans, but his audience were different.

"You are all eyes for speeches, all ears for deeds; you judge of
the possibility of a project from good speeches; accomplished facts
you believe not because you see them but because you hear them from
smart critics. You are easily duped by some novel plan, but you
refuse to adhere to what has been proved sound. You are slaves to
every new oddity and have nothing but contempt for what is familiar.
Every one of you would like to be a good speaker, failing that, to
rival your orators in cleverness. You are as quick to guess what is
coming in a speech as you are slow at foreseeing its consequences.
In a word, you live in some non-real world."

He pleaded for the rigorous application of the extreme penalty already

He was opposed by Diodotus, who appealed to the same principle as
Cleon did expediency.

"No penalty will deter men, not even the death penalty. Men have
run through the whole catalogue of deterrents in the hope of
securing themselves against outrage, yet offences still are common.
Human nature is driven by some uncontrollable master passion which
tempts it to danger. Hope and Desire are everywhere and are most
mischievous, for they are invisible. Fortune too is as powerful a
means of exciting men. At tunes she stands unexpectedly at their
side and leads them to take risks with too slender resources. Most
of all she tempts cities, for they are contending for the greatest
prizes, liberty or domination. It is absolutely childish then to
imagine that when human nature is bent on performing a thing it will
be deterred by law or any other force. If revolting cities are quite
sure that no mercy will be shown, they will fight to the last,
bequeathing the victors only smoking ruins. It would be more expedient
to be merciful and thus save the expenses of a long siege."

This saner view prevailed. The doctrine of a "ruling passion" is a
remarkable contribution to Greek political thought, the abstract
personifications reading like the work of a poet or philosopher. An
exciting race against time is most graphically described. After great
exertions the ship bearing the reprieve arrived just in time to save
Mytilene. This act of mercy stands in sinister contrast with the
treatment the unhappy Plataeans received from the liberators of
Greece. The citizens were captured, Athens having strangely abandoned
them in spite of her promise to help. They were allowed to commemorate
their services to Greece, appealing in a most moving speech to the
sacred ground of their city, the scene of the immortal battle. All was
in vain. The Thebans accused them of flat treachery to Boeotia,
securing their condemnation. Corcyra similarly proved unprofitable; it
was afflicted by fratricidal dissensions which coloured one of
Thucydides' darkest pictures. As the war went on it became clearer
that it was a struggle between two rival political creeds, democracy
and oligarchy. To the partisans all other ties were of little value,
whether of blood or race or religion; only frenzied boldness and
unquestioning obedience to a party organisation were of any
consequence. This wretched spirit of feud was destined in the long run
to spell the doom of the Greek cities. In 427 the first mention was
made of the will-of-the-wisp which in time led Athens to her ruin. In
her anxiety to intercept the Peloponnesian corn she supported Leontini
against Syracuse, the leading Sicilian state. In Acarnania the capable
general Demosthenes after a series of movements not quite fruitless
succeeded in bringing peace to the jarring mountain tribes.

In 425 a most important event took place. As an Athenian squadron was
proceeding to Sicily it was forced to put in at Pylos, where many
centuries later Greece won a famous victory over the Turks.
Demosthenes, though he had no official command, persuaded his comrades
to fortify the place as a base from which to harry Spartan territory.
It was situated in the country which had once belonged to the
Messenians who for generations had been held down by the Spartan
oligarchs. Deserters soon began to stream in; the gravity of the
situation was recognised by the Spartan government who landed more
than four hundred of their best troops on the island of Sphacteria at
the entrance to the bay. These were speedily isolated by the Athenian
navy; and news of the event filled all Greece with excitement. A
heated discussion took place at Athens, where Cleon accused Nicias,
the commander-in-chief, of slackness in not capturing the blockaded
force. Spartan overtures for a peace on condition of the return of the
isolated men proved vain; after a lively altercation with Nicias Cleon
made a promise to capture the Spartans within thirty days, a feat
which he accomplished with the aid of Demosthenes. Nearly three
hundred were found to prefer surrender to death; these were conveyed
to Athens and were an invaluable asset for bargaining a future peace.

A further success was the capture of Nisaea, the port of Megara, in
424, but an attempt to propagate democracy in Boeotia ended in a
severe defeat at Delium; the fate of Plataea was a bad advertisement
in an oligarchically governed district. Worse was to follow. Brasidas,
a Spartan who had greatly distinguished himself at Pylos, passed
through Thessaly with a volunteer force, reaching Thrace and capturing
some important towns; the loss of one of these, Eion, caused the exile
of the historian, who was too late to save it. In 423 a truce for one
year was arranged between the combatants, but Brasidas ignored it,
sowing disaffection among the Athenian allies. His personal charm gave
them a good impression of the Spartan character and his offer of
liberty was too attractive to be resisted. His success was partly due
to a deliberate misrepresentation of the Athenian power which proved
greater than it seemed to be. The two real obstacles to peace were
Brasidas and Cleon; at Amphipolis they met in battle; a rash movement
gave the Spartan an opportunity for an attack. He fell in action, but
the town was saved. Cleon was killed in the same battle and the path
to peace was clear. The truce for one year developed into a regular
settlement in 421, Nicias being responsible for its negotiation in
Athens. The chief clause provided that Athens should recover
Amphipolis in exchange for the Spartan captives.

The members of the Peloponnesian league considered themselves betrayed
by this treaty, for their hated rival Athens had not been humbled.
Corinth was the ringleader in raising disaffection. She determined to
create a new league, including Argos, the inveterate foe of Sparta.
This state had stood aloof from the war, nursing her strength and
biding her time for revenge. When Sparta failed to restore Amphipolis,
the war party at Athens, led by Alcibiades, formed an alliance with
Argos to reduce Sparta; but this policy alienated Corinth, who refused
to act with her trade rival. An Argive attack on Arcadia ended in the
fierce battle of Mantinea in 418, in which Sparta won a complete
victory. Argos was forced to come to terms, the new league was
dissolved and Athens was once more confronted by her combined enemies,
her diplomacy a failure and her trump-card, the Sphacterian prisoners,

Next year she was guilty of an act of sheer outrage. Her fleet
descended on the island of Melos, which had remained neutral, though
its inhabitants were colonists from the Spartan mainland close by.
Nowhere does the dramatic nature of Thucydides' work stand more
clearly revealed than in his account of this incident. He represents
the Athenian and Melian leaders as arguing the merits of the case in a
regular dialogue, essentially a dramatic device. The Athenian doctrine
of Might and Expediency is unblushingly preached and acted upon, in
spite of Melian protests; the island was captured, its population
being slain or enslaved. Such an act is a fitting prelude to the great
disaster which forms the next act of Thucydides' drama.

In 416 Athens proceeded to develop her design of subjugating Sicily.
Segesta was at feud with Selinus; as the latter city applied to
Syracuse for aid, the former bethought her of her ancient alliance
with Athens. Next year the Sicilian ambassadors arrived with tales of
unlimited wealth to finance an expedition. Nicias, the leader of the
peace party, vainly counselled the Assembly to refrain; he was
overborne by Alcibiades, whose ambition it was to reduce not only
Sicily but Carthage also. When the expedition was about to sail most
of the statues of Hermes in the city were desecrated in one night.
Alcibiades, appointed to the command with Nicias and Lamachus, was
suspected of the outrage, but was allowed to sail. The fleet left the
city with all the pomp and ceremony of prayer and ritual, after which
it showed its high spirits in racing as far as Aegina.

In Sicily itself Hermocrates, the great Syracusan patriot, repeatedly
warned his countrymen of the coming storm, advising them to sink all
feuds in resistance to the common enemy. He was opposed by
Athenagoras, a democrat who, true to his principles, suspected the
story as part of a militarist plot to overthrow the constitution. His
speech is the most violent in Thucydides, but contains a passage of
much value.

"The name of the whole is People, that of a part is Oligarchy;
the rich are the best guardians of wealth, the educated class can
make the wisest decisions, the majority are the best judges of
speeches. All these classes in a democracy have equal power both


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