Mosaics of Grecian History
Marcius Willson and Robert Pierpont Willson
Part 3 out of 11
(How my heart trembles while my tongue relates!)
The day when thou, imperial Troy! must bend,
Must see thy warriors fall, thy glories end.
And yet no dire presage so wounds my mind,
My mother's death, the ruin of my kind,
Not Priam's hoary hairs defiled with gore,
Not all my brothel's gasping on the shore,
As thine, Andromache! thy griefs I dread.
"I see thee trembling, weeping, captive led!
In Argive looms our battles to design,
And woes, of which so large a part was thine!
To bear the victor's hard commands, or bring
The weight of waters from Hype'ria's spring.
There, while you groan beneath the load of life,
They cry: 'Behold the mighty Hector's wife!'
Some haughty Greek, who lives thy tears to see,
Embitters all thy woes by naming me.
The thoughts of glory past, and present shame,
A thousand griefs shall waken at the name!
May I lie cold before that dreadful day,
Pressed with a load of monumental clay!
Thy Hector, wrapt in everlasting sleep,
Shall neither hear thee sigh, nor see thee weep."
Thus having spoke, the illustrious chief of Troy
Stretched his fond arms to clasp the lovely boy.
The babe clung crying to his nurse's breast,
Scared at the dazzling helm and nodding crest.
With secret pleasure each fond parent smiled,
And Hector hasted to relieve his child;
The glittering terrors from his brows unbound,
And placed the beaming helmet on the ground.
Then kissed the child, and, lifting high in air,
Thus to the gods preferred a father's prayer:
"O thou! whose glory fills the ethereal throne,
And all ye deathless powers! protect my son!
Grant him, like me, to purchase just renown,
To guard the Trojans, to defend the crown,
Against his country's foes the war to wage,
And rise the Hector of the future age!
So when triumphant from successful toils,
Of heroes slain he bears the reeking spoils,
Whole hosts may hail him with deserved acclaim,
And say, 'This chief transcends his father's fame;'
While pleased, amidst the general shouts of Troy,
His mother's conscious heart o'erflows with joy."
He spoke, and fondly gazing on her charms,
Restored the pleasing burden to her arms;
Soft on her fragrant breast the babe he laid,
Hush'd to repose, and with a smile survey'd.
The troubled pleasure soon chastised by fear,
She mingled with the smile a tender tear.
The soften'd chief with kind compassion view'd,
And dried the falling drops, and thus pursued:
"Andromache, my soul's far better part,
Why with untimely sorrows heaves thy heart?
No hostile hand can antedate my doom,
Till fate condemns me to the silent tomb.
Fix'd is the term to all the race of earth;
And such the hard condition of our birth,
No force can then resist, no flight can save--
All sink alike, the fearful and the brave.
No more--but hasten to thy tasks at home,
There guide the spindle and direct the loom:
Me, glory summons to the martial scene--
The field of combat is the sphere of men;
Where heroes war, the foremost place I claim,
The first in danger, as the first in fame."
Thus having said, the glorious chief resumes
His towery helmet black with shading plumes.
His princess parts with a prophetic sigh,
Unwilling parts, and oft reverts her eye,
That stream'd at every look; then, moving slow,
Sought her own palace and indulged her woe.
There, while her tears deplored the godlike man,
Through all her train the soft infection ran:
The pious maids their mingled sorrows shed,
And mourn the living Hector as the dead.
--B. VI. POPE'S. Trans.
HECTOR'S EXPLOITS, AND DEATH OF PATRO'CLUS.
Hector hastened to the field, and there his exploits aroused the
enthusiasm and courage of his countrymen; who drove back the
Grecian hosts. Disheartened, the Greeks sent Ulysses and Ajax
to Achilles to plead with that warrior for his return with his
forces to the Grecian camp. But Achilles obstinately refused to
take part in the conflict, which was continued with varying
success, until the Trojans succeeded in breaking through the
Grecian wall, and attempted to fire the Greek ships, which were
saved by the valor of Ajax. In compliance with the request of
the aged Nestor, however, of whom the poet YOUNG tells us that--
When Nestor spoke, none asked if he prevailed;
That god of sweet persuasion never failed--
Achilles now placed his own armor on Patroclus, and, giving him
also his shield, sent him to the aid of the Greeks. The Trojans,
supposing Patroclus to be the famous Achilles, became panic-stricken,
and were pursued with great slaughter to the walls of Troy.
Apollo now goes to the aid of the Trojans, smites Patroclus,
whose armor is strewn on the plain, and then the hero is killed
by Hector, who proudly places the plume of Achilles on his own
His spear in shivers falls; his ample shield
Drops from his arm; his baldric strews the field;
The corslet his astonished breast forsakes;
Loose is each joint; each nerve with horror shakes;
Stupid he stares, and all assistless stands:
Such is the force of more than mortal hands.
Achilles' plume is stained with dust and gore:
That plume which never stooped to earth before,
Long used, untouched, in fighting fields to shine,
And shade the temples of the mad divine.
Jove dooms it now on Hector's helm to nod;
Not long--for fate pursues him, and the god.
Then ensued a most terrific conflict for the body of the slain
warrior, in which Ajax, Glaucus, Hector, Æneas, and Menelaus
participated, the latter finally succeeding in bearing it off
to the ships. The grief of Achilles over the body of his friend,
and at the loss of his wonderful armor, is represented as being
intense; and so great a blow to the Greeks was the loss of the
armor considered, that Vulcan formed for Achilles a new one, and
also a new shield. Homer's description of the latter piece of
marvelous workmanship--which is often referred to as a truthful
picture of the times, and especially of the advanced condition
of some of the arts and sciences in the Heroic, or post-Heroic,
age--is too long for insertion here entire; but we proceed to
give sufficient extracts from it to show at least the magnificent
conception of the poet.
How Vulcan Formed the Shield of Achilles.
He first a vast and massive buckler made;
There all the wonders of his work displayed,
With silver belt adorned, and triply wound,
Orb within orb, the border beaming round.
Five plates composed the shield; these Vulcan's art
Charged with his skilful mind each varied part.
There earth, there heaven appeared; there ocean flowed;
There the orbed moon and sun unwearied glowed;
There every star that gems the brow of night--
Ple'iads and Hy'ads, and O-ri'on's might;
The Bear, that, watchful in his ceaseless roll
Around the star whose light illumes the pole,
Still eyes Orion, nor e'er stoops to lave
His beams unconscious of the ocean wave.
There, by the god's creative power revealed,
Two stately cities filled with life the shield.
Here nuptials--solemn rites--and throngs of gay
Assembled guests; forth issuing filled the way.
Bright blazed the torches as they swept along
Through streets that rung with hymeneal song;
And while gay youths, swift circling round and round,
Danced to the pipe and harp's harmonious sound,
The women thronged, and wondering as they viewed,
Stood in each portal and the pomp pursued.
Next on the shield a forum met the view;
Two men, contending, there a concourse drew:
A citizen was slain; keen rose the strife--
'Twas compensation claim'd for loss of life.
This swore, the mulct for blood was strictly paid:
This, that the fine long due was yet delayed.
Both claim'd th' award and bade the laws decide;
And partial numbers, ranged on either side,
With eager clamors for decision call,
Till the feared heralds seat and silence all.
There the hoar elders, in their sacred place,
On seats of polished stone the circle grace;
Rise with a herald's sceptre, weigh the cause,
And speak in turn the sentence of the laws;
While, in the midst, for him to bear away
Who rightliest spoke, two golden talents lay.
The other city on the shield displayed
Two hosts that girt it, in bright mail arrayed;
Diverse their counsel: these to burn decide,
And those to seize, and all its wealth divide.
The town their summons scorned, resistance dared,
And secretly for ambush arms prepared.
Wife, grandsire, child, one soul alike in all,
Stand on the battlements and guard the wall.
Mars, Pallas, led their host: gold either god,
A golden radiance from their armor flowed.
Next, described as displayed on the shield, is a picture of spies
at a distance, an ambuscade, and a battle; the scene then changes
to ploughing and sowing, and the incidents connected with the
gathering of a bountiful harvest; then are introduced a vineyard,
the gathering of the grapes, and a merrymaking by the youths at
the close of the day; then we have a wild outlying scene of
herdsmen with their cattle, the latter attacked by two famished
lions, and the tumult that followed. The description closes as
Now the god's changeful artifice displayed
Fair flocks at pasture in a lovely glade;
And folds and sheltering stalls peeped up between,
And shepherd-huts diversified the scene.
Now on the shield a choir appear'd to move,
Whose flying feet the tuneful labyrinth wove;
Youths and fair girls there, hand in hand, advanced,
Timed to the song their steps, and gayly danced.
Round every maid light robes of linen flowed;
Round every youth a glossy tunic glowed;
Those wreathed with flowers, while from their partners hung
Swords that, all gold, from belts of silver swung.
Train'd by nice art each flexile limb to wind,
Their twinkling feet the measured maze entwined,
Fleet as the wheel whose use the potter tries,
When, twirl'd beneath his hand, its axle flies.
Now all at once their graceful ranks combine,
Each rang'd against the other, line with line.
The crowd flock'd round, and, wondering as they view'd,
Thro' every change the varying dance pursued;
The while two tumblers, as they led the song,
Turned in the midst and rolled themselves along.
Then, last, the god the force of Ocean bound,
And poured its waves the buckler's orb around.
--B. XVIII. SOTHEBY'S Trans.
Achilles Engages in the Fight.
Desire to avenge the death of Patroclus proves more powerful
in the breast of Achilles than anger against Agamemnon, and,
clad in his new armor, he is with difficulty restrained from
rushing alone into the fight while his comrades are resting.
Turning and addressing his horses, he reproaches them with the
death of Patroclus. One of them is represented as being
Miraculously endowed with voice, and, replying to Achilles,
prophesies his death in the near future; but, with unabated rage,
the intrepid chief replies:
"So let it be!
Portents and prodigies are lost on me.
I know my fate: to die, to see no more
My much-loved parents and my native shore.
Enough--when Heaven ordains I sink in night.
Now perish Troy!" he said, and rushed to fight.
Jupiter now assembles the gods in council, and permits them to
assist either party. The poet vividly describes the terrors of
the combat and the tumult that arose when "the powers descending
swelled the fight." Achilles first encounters Æne'as, who is
preserved by Neptune; he then meets Hector, whom he is on the
point of killing, when Apollo rescues him and carries him away
in a cloud. The Trojans, defeated with terrible slaughter, are
driven into the river Scamander, where Achilles receives the aid
of Neptune and Pallas.
This Death of Hector.
Vulcan having dried up the Scamander in aid of the Trojans, all
those who survive, save Hector, seek refuge in Troy. This hero
alone remains without the walls to oppose Achilles. At the
latter's advance, however, Hector's resolution and courage fail
him, and he flees, pursued by Achilles three times around the
city; At length he turns upon his pursuer, determined to meet
his fate; and the account of the meeting and contest with Achilles,
as translated by BRYANT, is as follows:
He spake, and drew the keen-edged sword that hung,
Massive and finely tempered, at his side,
And sprang--as when an eagle high in heaven
Through the thick cloud darts downward to the plain,
To clutch some tender lamb or timid hare.
So Hector, brandishing that keen-edged sword,
Sprang forward, while Achilles opposite
Leaped toward him, all on fire with savage hate,
And holding his bright buckler, nobly wrought,
Before him. As in the still hours of night
Hesper goes forth among the host of stars,
The fairest light of heaven, so brightly shone,
Brandished in the right hand of Pe'leus' son,
The spear's keen blade, as, confident to slay
The noble Hector, o'er his glorious form
His quick eye ran, exploring where to plant
The surest wound. The glittering mail of brass
Won from the slain Patroclus guarded well
Each part, save only where the collar-bones
Divide the shoulder from the neck, and there
Appeared the throat, the spot where life is most
In peril. Through that part the noble son
Of Peleus drave his spear; it went quite through
The tender neck, and yet the brazen blade
Cleft not the windpipe, and the power to speak
And then the crested Hector faintly said:
"I pray thee, by thy life, and by thy knees,
And by thy parents, suffer not the dogs
To tear me at the galleys of the Greeks.
Accept abundant store of brass and gold,
Which gladly will my father and the queen,
My mother, give in ransom. Send to them
My body, that the warriors and the dames
Of Troy may light for me the funeral pile."
The swift Achilles answered, with a frown:
"Nay, by my knees entreat me not, thou cur,
Nor by my parents. I could even wish
My fury prompted me to cut thy flesh
In fragments and devour it, such the wrong
That I have had from thee. There will be none
To drive away the dogs about thy head,
Not though thy Trojan friends should bring to me
Tenfold and twentyfold the offered gifts,
And promise others--not though Priam, sprung
From Dar'danus, should send thy weight in gold.
Thy mother shall not lay thee on thy bier,
To sorrow over thee whom she brought forth;
But dogs and birds of prey shall mangle thee."
And then the crested Hector, dying, said:
"I know thee, and too clearly I foresaw
I should not move thee, for thou hast a heart
Of iron. Yet reflect that for my sake
The anger of the gods may fall on thee
When Paris and Apollo strike thee down,
Strong as thou art, before the Scæ'an gates."
Thus Hector spake, and straightway o'er him closed
The light of death; the soul forsook his limbs,
And flew to Hades, grieving for its fate,
So soon divorced from youth and youthful might.
The great achievement of Achilles was followed by funeral games
in honor of Patroclus, and by the institution of various other
festivities. At their close Jupiter sends The'tis to Achilles to
influence him to restore the dead body of Hector to his family,
and sends Iris to Priam to encourage him to go in person to treat
for it. Priam thereupon sets out upon his journey, and, having
arrived at the camp of Achilles, thus appeals to his compassion:
Priam Begging for the Body of Hector.
"Think, O Achilles, semblance of the gods,
On thine own father, full of days like me,
And trembling on the gloomy verge of life.
Some neighbor chief, it may be, even now
Oppresses him, and there is none at hand,
No friend, to succor him in his distress.
Yet, doubtless, hearing that Achilles lives,
He still rejoices, hoping day by day
That one day he shall see the face again
Of his own son, from distant Troy returned.
But me no comfort cheers, whose bravest sons,
So late the flowers of Ilium, are all slain.
"When, Greece came hither I had fifty sons;
But fiery Mars hath thinned them. One I had--
One, more than all my sons, the strength of Troy,
Whom, standing for his country, thou hast slain--
Hector. His body to redeem I come
Into Achaia's fleet, bringing, myself,
Ransom inestimable to thy tent.
Rev'rence the gods, Achilles! recollect
Thy father; for his sake compassion show
To me, more pitiable still, who draw
Home to my lips (humiliation yet
Unseen on earth) his hand who slew my son!"
Achilles, moved with compassion, granted the request of the
grief-stricken father, and sent him home with the body of his
son. First to the corse the weeping Androm'ache flew, and thus
Lamentation of Andromache.
"And oh, my Hector! Oh, my lord! (she cries)
Snatched in thy bloom from these desiring eyes!
Thou to the dismal realms forever gone!
And I abandoned, desolate, alone!
An only son, once comfort of our pains,
Sad product now of hapless love, remains!
Never to manly age that son shall rise,
Or with increasing graces glad my eyes;
For Ilion now (her great defender slain)
Shall sink a smoking ruin on the plain.
"Who now protects her wives with guardian care?
Who saves her infants from the rage of war?
Now hostile fleets must waft those infants o'er
(Those wives must wait them) to a foreign shore:
Thou too, my son, to barbarous climes shalt go,
The sad companion of thy mother's woe;
Or else some Greek whose father pressed the plain,
Or son, or brother, by great Hector slain,
In Hector's blood his vengeance shall enjoy,
And hurl thee headlong from the towers of Troy."
[Footnote: Such was the fate of Astyanax, Hector's
son, when Troy was taken:
"Here, from the tower by stem Ulysses thrown,
Andromache bewailed her infant son."
The death of Hector was also lamented by Helen, and her
lamentation is thus spoken of by COLERIDGE: "I have always
thought the following speech, in which Helen laments Hector, and
hints at her own invidious and unprotected situation in Troy, as
almost the sweetest passage in the poem. It is another striking
instance of that refinement of feeling and softness of tone which
so generally distinguish the last book of the Iliad from the rest."
"Ah, dearest friend! in whom the gods had joined
The mildest manners with the bravest mind,
Now twice ten years (unhappy years) are o'er
Since Paris brought me to the Trojan shore;
(Oh, had I perished ere that form divine
Seduced this soft, this easy heart of mine!)
Yet was it ne'er my fate from thee to find
A deed ungentle, or a word unkind:
When others cursed the authoress of their woe,
Thy pity checked my sorrows in their flow:
If some proud brother eyed me with disdain,
Or scornful sister, with her sweeping train,
Thy gentle accents softened all my pain.
For thee I mourn; and mourn myself in thee,
The wretched source of all this misery.
The fate I caused forever I bemoan;
Sad Helen has no friend, now thou art gone!
Through Troy's wide streets abandoned shall I roam!
In Troy deserted, as abhorred at home!"
THE FATE OF TROY.
Homer's Iliad ends with the burial of Hector, and gives no
account of the result of the war and the fate of the chief actors
in the conflict. But in VIRGIL'S Æne'id, which gives an account
of the escape of Æne'as, from the flames of Troy, and of his
wanderings until he reaches the shores of Italy, the way in which
Troy is taken, soon after the death of Hector, is told by Æneas
to Dido, the Queen of Carthage. By the advice of Ulysses a huge
wooden horse was constructed in the Greek camp, in which he and
other Grecian warriors concealed themselves, while the remainder
burned their tents and sailed away to the island of Ten'edos,
behind which they secreted their vessels. Æneas begins his account
"By destiny compelled, and in despair,
The Greeks grew weary of the tedious war,
And by Minerva's aid a fabric reared
Which like a steed of monstrous height appeared.
The sides were planked with pine: they feigned it made
For their return, and this the vow they paid.
Thus they pretend, but in the hollow side
Selected numbers of their soldiers hide;
With inward arms the dire machine they load,
And iron bowels stuff the dark abode.
"In sight of Troy lies Tenedos, an isle
(While Fortune did on Priam's empire smile)
Renowned for wealth; but since, a faithless bay,
Where ships exposed to wind and weather lay.
There was their fleet concealed. We thought for Greece
Their sails were hoisted, and our fears release.
The Trojans, cooped within their walls so long,
Unbar their gates, and issue in a throng,
Like swarming bees, and with delight survey
The camp deserted where the Grecians lay.
The quarters of the sev'ral chiefs they showed--
Here Phoenix, here Achilles, made abode;
Here joined the battles; there the navy rode.
"Part on the pile their wond'ring eyes employ--
The pile by Pallas raised to ruin Troy.
Thymoe'tes first ('tis doubtful whether hired,
Or so the Trojan destiny required)
Moved that the ramparts might be broken down
To lodge the monster fabric in the town.
But Ca'pys, and the rest of sounder mind,
The fatal present to the flames designed,
Or to the wat'ry deep; at least to bore
The hollow sides, and hidden frauds explore.
"The giddy vulgar, as their fancies guide,
With noise say nothing, and in parts divide.
La-oc'o-on, followed by a num'rous crowd,
Ran from the fort, and cried, from far, aloud:
'O wretched countrymen! what fury reigns?
What more than madness has possessed your brains?
Think you the Grecians from your coasts are gone?
And are Ulysses' arts no better known?
This hollow fabric either must enclose,
Within its blind recess, our hidden foes;
Or 'tis an engine raised above the town
T' o'erlook the walls, and then to batter down.
Somewhat is sure designed by fraud or force--
Trust not their presents, nor admit the horse.'
"Thus having said, against the steed he threw
His forceful spear, which, hissing as it flew,
Pierced through the yielding planks of jointed wood,
And trembling in the hollow belly stood.
The sides, transpierced, return a rattling sound,
And groans of Greeks enclosed came issuing through the wound;
And, had not Heaven the fall of Troy designed,
Or had not men been fated to be blind,
Enough was said and done t' inspire a better mind.
Then had our lances pierced the treacherous wood,
And Ilion's towers and Priam's empire stood."
Deceived by the treachery of Sinon, a captive Greek, who represents
that the wooden horse was built and dedicated to Minerva to secure
the aid that the goddess had hitherto refused the Greeks, and
that, if it were admitted within the walls of Troy, the Grecian
hopes would be forever lost, the infatuated Trojans break down
a portion of the city's wall, and, drawing in the horse, give
themselves up to festivity and rejoicing. Æneas continues the
story as follows:
"With such deceits he gained their easy hearts,
Too prone to credit his perfidious arts.
What Di'omed, nor Thetis' greater son,
A thousand ships, nor ten years' siege, had done--
False tears and fawning words the city won.
* * * * *
"A spacious breach is made; the town lies bare;
Some hoisting levers, some the wheels prepare,
And fasten to the horse's feet; the rest
With cables haul along th' unwieldy beast:
Each on his fellow for assistance calls.
At length the fatal fabric mounts the walls,
Big with destruction. Boys with chaplets crowned,
And choirs of virgins, sing and dance around.
Thus raised aloft, and then descending down,
It enters o'er our heads, and threats the town.
O sacred city, built by hands divine!
O valiant heroes of the Trojan line!
Four times he struck; as oft the clashing sound
Of arms was heard, and inward groans rebound.
Yet, mad with zeal, and blinded with our fate,
We haul along the horse in solemn state,
Then place the dire portent within the tower.
Cassandra cried and cursed th' unhappy hour,
Foretold our fate; but, by the gods' decree,
All heard, and none believed the prophecy.
With branches we the fane adorn, and waste
In jollity the day ordained to be the last."
--The Æneid. Book II.--DRYDEN.
In the dead of night Sinon unlocked the horse, the Greeks rushed
out, opened the gates of the city, and raised torches as a signal
to those at Tenedos, who returned, and Troy was soon captured and
given over to fire and the sword. Then followed the rejoicings of
the victors, and the weeping and wailing of the Trojan women about
to be carried away captive into distant lands, according to the
usages of war.
The stately walls of Troy had sunken,
Her towers and temples strewed the soil;
The sons of Hellas, victory-drunken,
Richly laden with the spoil,
Are on their lofty barks reclined
Along the Hellespontine strand;
A gleesome freight the favoring wind
Shall bear to Greece's glorious land;
And gleesome chant the choral strain,
As toward the household altars now
Each bark inclines the painted prow--
For Home shall smile again!
And there the Trojan women, weeping,
Sit ranged in many a length'ning row;
Their heedless locks, dishevelled, sweeping
Adown the wan cheeks worn with woe.
No festive sounds that peal along,
Their mournful dirge can overwhelm;
Through hymns of joy one sorrowing song,
Commingled, wails the ruined realm.
"Farewell, beloved shores!" it said:
"From home afar behold us torn,
By foreign lords as captives borne--
Ah, happy are the dead!"
For ten long years the Greeks at Argos had watched nightly for
the beacon fires, lighted from point to point, that should announce
the doom of Troy. When, in the Agamemnon of ÆSCHYLUS, Clytemnes'tra
declares that Troy has fallen, and the chorus, half incredulous,
demands what messenger had brought the intelligence, she replies:
"A gleam--a gleam--from Ida's height
By the fire-god sent, it came;
From watch to watch it leaped, that light;
As a rider rode the flame!
It shot through the startled sky,
And the torch of that blazing glory
Old Lemnos caught on high
On its holy promontory,
And sent it on, the jocund sign,
To Athos, mount of Jove divine.
Wildly the while it rose from the isle,
So that the might of the journeying light
Skimmed over the back of the gleaming brine!
Farther and faster speeds it on,
Till the watch that keep Macis'tus steep
See it burst like a blazing sun!
Doth Macistus sleep
On his tower-clad steep?
No! rapid and red doth the wildfire sweep:
It flashes afar on the wayward stream
Of the wild Euri'pus, the rushing beam!
It rouses the light on Messa'pion's height,
And they feed its breath with the withered heath.
But it may not stay!
It bounds in its fresh'ning might.
"Silent and soon
Like a broadened moon
It passes in sheen Aso'pus green,
And bursts in Cithæ'ron gray.
The warden wakes to the signal rays,
And it swoops from the hills with a broader blaze:
On--on the fiery glory rode--
Thy lonely lake, Gorgo'pis, glowed--
To Meg'ara's mount it came;
They feed it again,
And it streams amain--
A giant beard of flame!
The headland cliffs that darkly down
O'er the Saron'ic waters frown,
Are passed with the swift one's lurid stride,
And the huge rock glares on the glaring tide.
With mightier march and fiercer power
It gained Arach'ne's neighboring tower--
Thence on our Ar'give roof its rest it won,
Of Ida's fire the long-descended son!
Bright harbinger of glory and of joy!
So first and last with equal honor crowned,
In solemn feasts the race-torch circles round.
And these my heralds, this my sign of Peace!
Lo! while we breathe, the victor lords of Greece
Stalk, in stern tumult through the halls of Troy."
--Trans. by BULWER.
Such, in brief, is the commonly received account of the Trojan
war, as we find it in Homer and other ancient writers. Concerning
it the historian THIRLWALL remarks: "We consider it necessary
to admit the reality of the Trojan war as a general fact, but
beyond this we scarcely venture to proceed a single step. We
find it impossible to adopt the poetical story of Helen, partly
on account of its inherent improbability, and partly because we
are convinced that Helen is a merely mythological person." GROTE
says:[Footnote: "History of Greece." Chap. XV.] "In the eyes of
modern inquiry the Trojan war is essentially a legend and nothing
more. If we are asked if it be not a legend embodying portions
of historical matter, and raised upon a basis of truth--whether
there may not really have occurred at the foot of the hill of
Ilium a war purely human and political, without gods, without
heroes, without Helen, without Amazons, without Ethiopians under
the beautiful son of Eos, without the wooden horse, without the
characteristic and expressive features of the old epic war--if
we are asked if there was not really some such historical Trojan
war as this, our answer must be, that as the possibility of it
cannot be denied, so neither can the reality of it be affirmed."
In this connection it is interesting to note that the discoveries
of the German explorer, Schliemann, upon the site of ancient Troy,
indicate that Homer "followed actual occurrences more closely
than an over-skeptical historical criticism was once willing to
FATE OF THE CHIEF ACTORS IN THE CONFLICT.
Of the fate of some of the principal actors in the Trojan war
it may be stated that, of the prominent Trojans, Æneas alone
escaped. After many years of wanderings he landed in Italy with
a small company of Trojans; and the Roman writers trace to him
the origin of their nation. Priam was killed by Pyrrhus, the
son of Achilles, during the burning of Troy; while Achilles
himself fell some time before, shot with an arrow in the heel
by Paris, as Hector had prophesied would be the manner of his
death. Ajax, after the death of Achilles, had a contest with
Ulysses for the armor of the dead hero, but was unsuccessful,
and died by his own hand. The poet EN'NIUS ascribes the following
declaration to Tel'amon, the father of Ajax, when he heard of his
I knew, when I begat him, he must die,
And trained him to no other destiny--
Knew, when I sent him to the Trojan shore,
'Twas not to halls of feast, but fields of gore.
--Trans. by PETERS.
Agamemnon, on his return to Greece, was barbarously murdered by
his unfaithful queen, Clytemnestra. Diomed was driven from Greece,
and barely escaped with his life. It is uncertain where or how
he died. Ulysses, after almost innumerable troubles and hardships
by sea and land, at last returned in safety to Ithaca. His
wanderings are the subject of Homer's Odyssey.
But it may be asked, what became of Helen, the primary cause
of the Trojan war, disastrous alike to victors and vanquished?
According to Virgil, [Footnote: Æneid, B. VI.] after the death
of Paris she married the Trojan hero, De-iph'o-bus, and on the
night after the city was taken betrayed him to Menela'us, to
whom she became reconciled, and whom she accompanied, as Homer
relates, [Footnote: Odyssey B. IV.] during the eight years of
his wandering, on his return to Greece. LANDOR, in one of his
Hellen'ics, represents Menelaus, after the fall of Troy, as
pursuing Helen up the steps of the palace, and threatening her
with death. He thus addresses her:
"Stand, traitress, on that stair--
Thou mountest not another, by the gods!
Now take the death thou meritest, the death,
Zeus, who presides over hospitality--
And every other god whom thou has left,
And every other who abandons thee
In this accursed city--sends at last.
Turn, vilest of vile slaves! turn, paramour
Of what all other women hate, of cowards;
Turn, lest this hand wrench back thy head, and toss
It and its odors to the dust and flames."
Helen penitently receives his reproaches, and welcomes the
threatened death; and when he speaks of their daughter, Hermi'o-ne,
whom, an infant, she had so cruelly deserted, she exclaims:
"O my child!
My only one! thou livest: 'tis enough;
Hate me, abhor me, curse me--these are duties--
Call me but mother in the shades of death!
She now is twelve years old, when the bud swells,
And the first colors of uncertain life
Begin to tinge it."
Menelaus turns aside to say,
"Can she think of home?
Hers once, mine yet, and sweet Hermione's!
Is there one spark that cheered my hearth, one left
For thee, my last of love?"
When she beseeches him to delay not her merited fate, her words
greatly move him, and he exclaims (aside),
"Her voice is musical
As the young maids who sing to Artemis:
How glossy is that yellow braid my grasp
Seized and let loose! Ah, can ten years have passed
Since--but the children of the gods, like them,
Suffer not age.[Footnote: Jupiter was fabled to be
the father of Helen.]
(Then turning to Helen.) Helen! speak honestly,
And thus escape my vengeance--was it force
That bore thee off?"
Her words and grief move him to pity, if not to love, and he
again turns aside to say,
"The true alone and loving sob like her.
Come, Helen!" (He takes her hand.)
(Helen.) Oh, let never Greek see this!
Hide me from Argos, from Amy'clæ [Footnote: A town
of Laconia, where was a temple of Apollo. It was a
short distance to the south-west of Sparta.] hide me,
Hide me from all.
(Menelaus.) Thy anguish is too strong
For me to strive with.
(Helen.) Leave it all to me.
(Menelaus.) Peace! peace! The wind, I hope, is fair for Sparta.
The intimation, by Landor and others who have sought to exculpate
Helen, that she was unwillingly borne away by Paris, has been
amplified, with much poetic skill and beauty, by a recent
poet,[Footnote: A. Lang, in his "Helen of Troy."] into the story
that the goddess Venus appeared to her, and, while Helen was
shrinking with apprehension and fear of her power, told her that
she should fall into a deep slumber, and on awaking should be
oblivious of her past life, "ignorant of shame, and blameless of
those evil deeds that the goddess should thrust upon her." Venus
declares to her:
"Thou art the toy of gods, an instrument
Wherewith all mortals shall be plagued or blest,
Even at my pleasure; yea, thou shalt be bent
This way and that, howe'er it like me best:
And following thee, as tides the moon, the West
Shall flood the Eastern coasts with waves of war,
And thy vexed soul shall scarcely be at rest,
Even in the havens where the deathless are.
"The instruments of men are blind and dumb,
And this one gift I give thee, to be blind
And heedless of the thing that is to come,
And ignorant of that which is behind;
Bearing an innocent, forgetful mind
In each new fortune till I visit thee
And stir thy heart, as lightning and the wind
Bear fire and tumult through a sleeping sea.
"Thou shalt forget Hermione! forget,
Forget thy lord, thy lofty palace, and thy kin;
Thy hand within a stranger's shalt thou set,
And follow him, nor deem it any sin;
And many a strange land wand'ring shalt thou win;
And thou shalt come to an unhappy town,
And twenty long years shalt thou dwell therein,
Before the Argives mar its towery crown.
"And of thine end I speak not, but thy name--
Thy name which thou lamentest--that shall be
A song in all men's speech, a tongue of flame
Between the burning lips of Poesy;
And the nine daughters of Mnemos'y-ne,
With Prince Apollo, leader of the nine,
Shall make thee deathless in their minstrelsy!
Yea, for thou shalt outlive the race divine."
As the goddess had declared, so it came to pass, for when Helen
awoke from her long slumber,
She had no memory of unhappy things,
She knew not of the evil days to come,
Forgotten were her ancient wanderings;
And as Lethæ'an waters wholly numb
The sense of spirits in Elysium,
That no remembrance may their bliss alloy,
Even so the rumor of her days was dumb,
And all her heart was ready for new joy.
The reconciliation of Menelaus with Helen is easily effected by
the same kind of artifice; for when, on the taking of Troy, he
meets her and draws his sword to slay her, the goddess, again
appearing, throws her witching spell over him also:
Then fell the ruthless sword that never fell
When spear bit harness in the battle din,
For Aphrodi'te spake, and like a spell
Wrought her sweet voice persuasive, till within
His heart there lived no memory of sin;
No thirst for vengeance more, but all grew plain,
And wrath was molten in desire to win
The golden heart of Helen once again.
It is said that after the death of Menelaus Helen was driven
from the Peloponnesus by the indignant Spartans.
* * * * *
IV. ARTS AND CIVILIZATION IN THE HEROIC AGE.
Although but little confidence can be placed in the reality of
the persons and events mentioned in the poems of Homer, yet there
is one kind of truth from which the poet can hardly have deviated,
or his writings would not have been so acceptable as they evidently
were to his contemporaries--and that is, a faithful portraiture
of the government, usages, institutions, manners, and general
condition of the Greeks during the age in which he lived, and
which undoubtedly differed little from the manners and customs
of the Heroic Age. The pictures of life and character that he
had drawn must have had a reality of existence, and they
unquestionably give us, to a considerable extent, a true insight
into the condition of Grecian society at that early period of
the world's history.
And yet we must bear in mind that epics such as those of Homer,
describing the manners and customs of a half-barbarous age, and
intended to honor chieftains by extolling the deeds and lives
of their ancestors, and to be recited in the courts of kings and
princes, would, very naturally, be accommodated to the wishes,
partialities, and prejudices of their noble hearers. And this
leads us to consider how far even the great epic of Homer is to
be relied on for a faithful picture of the political life of the
Greeks during the Heroic Age. We quote the following suggestive
remarks on this subject from a recent writer and able Greek critic:
THE POLITICAL LIFE OF THE GREEKS, AS REPRESENTED IN THEIR GREAT EPICS.
"Although, in the Greek epics, the rank and file of the army
are to be marshaled by the kings, and to raise the shout of battle,
they actually disappear from the action, and leave the field
perfectly clear for the chiefs to perform their deeds of valor.
There is not, perhaps, an example in all the Iliad of a chief
falling, or even being wounded, by an ignoble hand. Amid the
cloud of missiles that were flying on the plains of Troy, amid
the crowd of chiefs and kings that were marshaled on either side,
we never hear how a 'certain man drew a bow at a venture, and
smote a king between the joints of the harness.' Yet this must
necessarily have occurred in any prolonged combats such as those
about the walls of Troy.
"Here, then, is a plain departure from truth, and even from
reasonable probability. It is indeed a mere omission which does
not offend the reader; but such inaccuracies suggest serious
reflections. If the epic poets ignore the importance of the
masses on the battlefield, is it not likely that they underrate
it in the public assemblies? Is it not possible that here too,
to please their patrons, they describe the glorious ages of the
past as the days when the assembled people would not question
the superior wisdom of their betters, but merely assembled to be
taught and to applaud? I cannot, therefore, as Mr. Grote does,
accept the political condition of things in the Homeric poems,
especially in the Iliad, as a safe guide to the political life
of Greece in the poet's own day.
"The figure of Thersites seems drawn with special spite and venom,
as a satire upon the first critics that rose up among the assembled
people to question the divine right of kings to do wrong. We may
be sure the real Thersites, from whom the poet drew his picture,
was a very different and a far more serious power in debate than
the misshapen buffoon of the Iliad. But the king who had been
thwarted and exposed by him in the day would, over his cups in
the evening, enjoy the poet's travesty, and long for the good old
times when he could put down all impertinent criticism by the
stroke of his knotty sceptre. The Homeric Agora could hardly have
existed had it been so idle a form as the poets represent. But as
the lower classes were carefully marshaled on the battle-field,
from a full sense of the importance which the poet denies them, so
they were marshaled in the public assembly, where we may be sure
their weight told with equal effect, though the poet neglected it
for the greater glory of the counseling chiefs." [Footnote: "Social
Life in Greece, from Homer to Menander," by Rev. J. P. Mahaffy.]
Notwithstanding all this, as HEEREN says, "Homer is the best source
of information that we possess respecting the Heroic Age."
The form of government that prevailed among the early Greeks,
especially after the Pelasgic race had yielded to the more
warlike and adventurous Hellenes, was evidently that of the
kingly order, on a democratic basis, although it is difficult
to ascertain the precise extent of the royal prerogatives. In
all the Grecian states there appears to have been an hereditary
class of chiefs or nobles, distinguished from the common freemen
or people by titles of honor, superior wealth, dignity, valor,
and noble birth; which latter implied no less than a descent from
the gods themselves, to whom every princely house seems to have
traced its origin.
But the kings, although generally hereditary, were not always so,
nor were they absolute monarchs; they were rather the most eminent
of the nobility, having the command in war, and the chief seat
in the administration of justice; and their authority was more or
less extended in proportion to the noble qualities they possessed,
and particularly to their valor in battle. Unless distinguished
by courage and strength, kings could not even command in time of
war; and during peace they were bound to consult the people in all
important matters. Among their pecuniary advantages were the
profits of an extensive domain which seems to have been attached
to the royal office, and not to have been the private property of
the individual. Thus, Homer represents Telem'achus as in danger
not only of losing his throne by the adverse choice of the people,
but also, among the rights of the crown, the domains of Ulysses,
his father, should he not be permitted to succeed him.[Footnote:
See the Odyssey (Cowper's Trans.), xi., 207-223.]
During the Heroic Age the Greeks appear to have had no fixed laws
established by legislation. Public opinion and usage, confirmed
and expounded by judicial decisions, were the only sources to
which the weak and injured could look for protection and redress.
Private differences were most often settled by private means, and
in these cases the weak and deserving were generally plundered
and maltreated by the powerful and guilty; but in quarrels that
threatened to disturb the peace of the community the public
compelled the injured party to accept, and the aggressor to pay,
a stipulated compensation. As among the savage tribes of America,
and even among our early Saxon ancestors, the murderer was often
allowed to pay a stipulated compensation, which stayed the spirit
of revenge, and was received as a full expiation of his guilt. The
mutual dealings of the several independent Grecian states with one
another were regulated by no established principles, and
international law had no existence at this early period.
DOMESTIC LIFE AND CHARACTER.
In the domestic relations of life there was much in the conduct
of the Greeks that was meritorious. Children were treated with
affection, and much care was bestowed on their education; and,
on the other hand, the respect which they showed their parents,
even after the period of youth and dependence, approached almost
to veneration. As evidence of a rude age, however, the father
disposed of his daughter's hand in marriage with absolute
authority; and although we meet with many models of conjugal
affection, as in the noble characters of Andromache and Penelope,
yet the story of Helen, and other similar ones, suggest too
plainly that the faithlessness of the wife was not regarded as
a very great offence. The wife, however, occupied a station of
as much, if not more influence in the family than was the case
in the historical period; but she was not the equal of her
husband, and even Homer portrays none of those feelings of love
which result from a higher regard for the female sex.
We gather from Homer that there was a low sense of truth among
the Greeks of the Homeric Age, but that the people were better
than might be expected from the examples set them by the gods
in whom they professed to believe. Says MAHAFFY: "At no period
did the nation attain to that high standard which is the great
feature in Germanic civilization. Even the Romans, with all their
coarseness and vulgarity, stood higher in this respect. But
neither in the Iliad nor the Odyssey is there, except in phrases,
any reprobation of deceit as such. To deceive an enemy is
meritorious; to deceive a stranger, innocent; to deceive even a
friend, perfectly unobjectionable, if any object is to be gained.
So it is remarked of Menelaus--as it were, exceptionally--that
he will tell the truth if you press him, for he is very
considerate. But the really leading characters in the Odyssey
and Iliad (except Achilles) do not hesitate at all manner of
lying. Ulysses is perpetually inventing, and so is his patroness,
Pallas Athe'ne; and she actually mentions this quality of wily
deceit as her special ground of love and affection for him."
Thus, we read in the Odyssey that when Ulysses, in response to
what the goddess--then disguised and unknown to him--had said,
With unembarrassed readiness returned
Not truth, but figments to truth opposite,
For guile, in him, stood never at a pause--
the goddess, seemingly well pleased with his "tricks of speech
delusive," thus replied:
"Who passes thee in artifice well-framed;
And in impostures various, need shall find
Of all his policy, although a god.
Canst thou not cease, inventive as thou art
And subtle, from the wiles which thou hast loved
Since thou wast infant, and from tricks of speech
Delusive, even in thy native land?
But come; dismiss we these ingenious shifts
From our discourse, in which we both excel;
For thou of all men in expedients most
Abound'st and eloquence, and I throughout
All heaven have praise for wisdom and for art."
To the foregoing it may be added that "Zeus deceives both gods
and men; the other gods deceive Zeus; in fact, the whole Homeric
society is full of guile and falsehood. There is still, however,
an expectation that if the gods are called to witness a
transaction by means of an oath, they will punish deceit. The
poets clearly held that the gods, if they were under no restraint
or fear of punishment from Zeus, were at liberty to deceive as
they liked. One safeguard yet remained--the oath by the Styx,
[Footnote: see the index at the end of the volume.] the penalties
of violating which are enumerated in Hesiod's Theogony, and
consist of nine years' transportation, with solitary confinement
and hard labor. As for oaths, the Hymn to Hermes shows that in
succeeding generations their solemnity was openly ridiculed.
Among the Homeric gods, as well as among the heroes, there were,
indeed, old-fashioned characters who adhered to probity. The
character of Apollo is unstained by deceit. So is that of
The Greeks in the Heroic Age were divided into the three classes
--nobles, freemen, and slaves. Of the first we have already
spoken. The condition of the freemen it is difficult to fully
ascertain; but the majority possessed portions of land which
they cultivated. There was another class of freemen who possessed
no property, and who worked for hire on the property of others.
"Among the freemen," says one writer, "we find certain
professional persons whose acquirements and knowledge raised
them above their class, and procured for them the respect and
society of the nobles. Such were the seer, the bard, the herald,
and likewise the smith and the carpenter." The slaves were owned
by the nobles alone, and were treated with far more kindness and
consideration than were the slaves of republican Greece.
During this period the Greeks had but little knowledge of
geography beyond the confines of Greece and its islands and the
coasts of the Ægean Sea. The habitable world was supposed to be
surrounded by an ocean-like river, like that which Homer describes
as bordering the shield of Achilles, beyond which were realms of
darkness, dreams, and death. Legitimate commerce appears to have
been deemed of little importance. The largest ships were slender,
half-decked row-boats, capable of carrying, at most, only about
a hundred men, and having a movable mast, which was hoisted, and
a sail attached, only to take advantage of a favorable wind. Most
of the navigation at this early period was undertaken for the
purposes of plunder, and piracy was not deemed dishonorable. When
Mentor and Telemachus came to the court of Nestor, that prince,
after entertaining them kindly, asked them, as a matter of
curiosity, whether they were travelers or robbers!
But the Heroic Age was not one essentially rude and barbarous.
Greece was then a populous and well-cultivated country, with
numerous and large cities surrounded by walls and adorned with
palaces and temples. Homer describes the different branches of
agriculture, and the various labors of farming, the culture of
the grape, and the duties of the herdsmen. The weaving of woolen
and of linen fabrics was the chief occupation of the women, and
was carried to a high degree of perfection. While Homer may have
drawn largely upon his imagination for his brilliant pictures,
still their main features were undoubtedly taken from life, and
many ancient remains of Grecian art attest the general fidelity
of his representations: In the wonderful description of the shield
of Achilles we get some insight into the progress which the arts
of metallurgy and engraving had made, and in the following
description, in the Fifth Book of the Odyssey, of the raft of
Ulysses, on which this wandering hero floated after leaving
Calypso's isle, we learn to what degree the art of ship-building
had attained in the Heroic Age. Calypso furnishes him the
material for constructing his raft.
The Raft of Ulysses.
She gave him, fitted to the grasp, an axe
Of iron, ponderous, double-edged, with haft
Of olive-wood inserted firm, and wrought
With curious art. Then placing in his hand
A polished adze, she led herself the way
To her isle's utmost verge, where loftiest stood
The alder, poplar, and cloud-piercing fir,
Though sapless, sound, and fittest for his use,
As buoyant most. To that most verdant grove
His steps the beauteous nymph Calypso led,
And sought her home again. Then slept not he,
But, swinging with both hands the axe, his task
Soon finished; trees full twenty to the ground
He cast; which, dexterous, with his adze he smoothed,
The knotted surface chipping by a line.
Meantime the lovely goddess to his aid
Sharp augers brought, with which he bored the beams,
Then placed them side by side, adapting each
To other, and the seams with wadding closed.
Broad as an artist, skilled in naval works,
The bottom of a ship of burden spreads,
Such breadth Ulysses to his raft assigned.
He decked her over with long planks, upborne
On massy beams; he made the mast, to which
He added suitable the yard; he framed
Rudder and helm to regulate her course;
With wicker-work he bordered all her length
For safety, and much ballast stowed within.
Meantime Calypso brought him for a sail
Fittest materials, which he also shaped,
And to his sail due furniture annexed
Of cordage strong, foot-ropes and ropes aloft,
Then heaved her down with levers to the deep.
--Odyssey, B. V. COWPER'S Trans.
We notice in this description the use of the adze--of the
double-edged axe; of augers for boring the beams; the caulking
of the hull; the decking made of planks; the single mast; the
yard from which the sail was spread; the use of the rudder and
the helm; "foot-ropes and ropes aloft;" while, for safety, a
wicker-work of cordage surrounds the deck, and much "ballast"
is stowed within.
To what extent the higher orders of art--those which became in
later times the highest glory of Greece, and in which she will
always stand unrivalled--were cultivated before the time of
Homer, is a subject of much uncertainty. It is clear, however,
that poetry and music, which were almost inseparably united,
were early made prominent instruments of the religious, martial,
and political education of the people. The aid of poetical song
was called in to enliven and adorn the banquets of the great
public assemblies, the Olympic and other games, and scarcely a
social or public gathering can be mentioned that would not have
appeared to the ardent Grecians cold and spiritless without this
It is not equally clear, however, whether architecture, in Homer's
time, had arrived at such a stage as to deserve a place among
the fine arts. But it is probable that while the private dwellings
which the poet describes were strong and convenient rather than
ornamental and elegant in design, the public buildings--the
temples, palaces, etc.--were elegant in design and in architectural
decoration. Statuary was cultivated in this age, as appears from
the remains of many of the Greek cities; and, although no paintings
are spoken of in Homer, yet his descriptions prove that his
contemporaries must have been acquainted with the art of design.
Whether the Greeks were acquainted at this early period with the
art of writing is, perhaps, the most important of all the questions
connected with the progress of art and knowledge at this time, as
it has received the most attention. The prevalent opinion is that
the art of writing was then unknown, and that no written
compositions were extant until many years after the time of Homer.
* * * * *
V. THE CONQUEST OF THE PELOPONNESUS, AND COLONIES IN ASIA MINOR.
Although not yet fully out of the fabulous era of Grecian history,
we now enter upon a period when the crude fictions of more than
mortal heroes begin to give place to the realities of human
existence; but still the vague, disputed, and often contradictory
annals on which we are obliged to rely shed only an uncertain
light around us; and even what we can gather as the most reliable
cannot be taken wholly as undoubted historic truth.
The immediate consequences of the Trojan war, as represented
by Greek historians, were scarcely less disastrous to the victors
than to the vanquished. The return of the Grecian heroes to their
homes is represented, as we have seen, to have been full of tragic
adventures, and their long absence encouraged usurpers to seize
many of their thrones. Hence arose fierce wars and intestine
commotions, which greatly retarded the progress of Grecian
civilization. Among these petty revolutions, however, no events
of general interest occurred until about sixty years after the
fall of Troy, when a people from Epi'rus, passing over the
mountain-chain of Pindus, descended into the rich plains which
lie along the banks of the Pene'us, and finally conquered the
country, to which they gave the name of Thessaly. The fugitives
from Thessaly, driven from their own country, passed over into
Boeo'tia, which they subdued after a long struggle, in their
turn driving out the ancient inhabitants of the land. This event
is supposed to have occurred in 1124 B.C.
The unsettled state of society caused by the Thessalian and
Boeotian conquests occasioned what is known as the "Æo'lian
Migration," so-called from the race that took the principal
share in it. These people passed over into Asia Minor, and
established their settlements in the vicinity of the ruins of
Troy. This became known as the Æolian Confederacy.
RETURN OF THE HERACLI'DÆ
About twenty years after the Thessalian conquest, the Dorians,
who had frequently changed their homes, and had finally settled
in a mountainous region on the south of Thessaly, commenced a
migration to the Peloponnesus, accompanied by portions of other
tribes, and led, as was asserted, by descendants of Hercules,
who had been deprived of their dominions in the latter country,
and who had hitherto made several unsuccessful attempts to recover
them. This important event in Grecian history is therefore called
the "Return of the Heraclidæ." The Dorians could muster about
twenty thousand fighting men; and although they were greatly
inferior in numbers to the inhabitants of the country they invaded,
the whole of Peloponnesus, except a few districts, was subdued
and apportioned among the conquerors. Of the Heraclidæ, Tem'enus
received Argos, the sons of Aristode'mus obtained Sparta, and
Cresphon'tes was given Messe'nia. Some of the unconquered tribes
of the southern part of the peninsula seized upon the province
of Acha'ia, and expelled its Ionian inhabitants. The latter sought
a retreat on the western coast of Asia Minor, south of the Æolian
cities, and the settlements thus formed received the name of Ionia.
At a still later period, bands of the Dorians, not content with
their conquest of the Peloponnesus, thronged to Asia Minor, where
they peopled several cities south of Ionia; so that the Ægean Sea
was finally circled by Grecian settlements, and its islands
covered with them.
The Dorians did not become undisputed masters of the Peloponnesus
until they had conquered Corinth in the next generation. The
capture of Corinth was attended by another expedition which drew
the Dorians north of the Isthmus. They invaded Attica, and encamped
before the walls of Athens. Before proceeding to attack the city
they consulted the oracle at Delphi--the most remarkable oracle
of the ancient world, of which the poet LU'CAN thus writes:
The listening god, still ready with replies,
To none his aid or oracle denies;
Yet wise, and righteous ever, scorns to hear
The fool's fond wishes, or the guilty's prayer;
Though vainly in repeated vows they trust,
None e'er find grace before him but the just.
Oft to a banished, wandering, houseless race
The sacred dictates have assigned a place:
Oft from the strong he saves the weak in war,
And heals the barren land, and pestilential air.
The Dorians were told by the oracle that they would be successful
as long as the Athenian king, Co'drus, was uninjured. The latter,
being informed of the answer of the oracle, disguised himself
as a peasant, and, going forth from the city, was met and slain
by a Dorian soldier, thus sacrificing himself for his country's
good. The superstitious Dorians, now deeming the war hopeless,
withdrew from Attica; and the Athenians, out of respect for Codrus,
declared that no one was worthy to succeed him, and abolished the
form of royalty altogether. Magistrates called Archons were first
appointed for life from the family of Codrus, and these were
finally exchanged for others appointed for ten years. These and
other successive encroachments on the royal prerogatives resulted
in the establishment of an aristocratic government of the nobility,
and are almost the only events that fill the meager annals of
Athens for several centuries.
The foundation of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor may be said to
form the conclusion of the Mythical Period of Grecian history, and
likewise to furnish the basis for the earlier forms of authentic
Greek literature. Before proceeding, therefore, to the general
events that distinguish the authentic period of Greek history, we
will give, first, a brief sketch of this early literature as
embodied chiefly in the poems of Homer; and, second, will point
out some of the causes that tended to unite the Greeks as a
people, notwithstanding their separation into so many independent
communities or states.
EARLY GREEK LITERATURE, AND GREEK COMMUNITY OF INTERESTS.
The earliest written compositions of the Greeks, of which tradition
or history has preserved any record, were poetical; a circumstance
which, noticed in other nations also, has led to the assertion
that poetry is preeminently the language of Nature. But the first
poetical compositions of the Greeks were not written. The earliest
of them were undoubtedly the religious teachings of the priests
and seers; and these were soon followed by others founded on the
legends and genealogies of the Grecian heroes, which were addressed,
by their authors, to the ear and feelings of a sympathizing
audience, and were then taken up by professional reciters, called
Rhapsodists, who traveled from place to place, rehearsing them
before private companies or at the public festivals.
Of the Greek colonists of Asia the Ionians possessed the highest
culture, and with them we find the first development of Greek
poetry. Drawing from the common language a richer tone and a
clearness and graphic power that their neighbors never equaled,
they early unfolded the ancient legends and genealogies of the
race into new and enlarged forms of poetical beauty. Says DR.
C. C. FELTON,[Footnote: "Lectures on Ancient and Modern Greece,"
vol. i., p. 78.] "In Ionia the popular enthusiasm took a poetical
turn, and the genius of that richly gifted race responded nobly
to the call. The poets--singers as they were first called--found
in the Orally transmitted ballads the richest mines of legendary
lore, which they wrought into new forms of rhythmical beauty and
splendor. Instead of short ballads, pieces of great length, with
more fully developed characters and more of dramatic action, were
required by a beauty loving and pleasure seeking race; and the
leisure of peace and the demands of refined luxury furnished the
occasion and the impelling motive to this more extended species of
epic song." From the highly esteemed work of Dr. Felton we transcribe
some observations on the beauties of the Ionian dialect, and on
the poetical taste and ingenuity that finally developed the immortal
epics of Homer:
Ionian Language and Culture.
"The Ionian dialect, remoulded from the Asiatic forms and elements
which had traveled through the North and recrossed the Ægean Sea,
under the happy influences of a serene and beautiful heaven, amid
the most varied and lovely scenery in nature, by a people of manly
vigor and exquisite mental and physical organization--of the
keenest susceptibility to beauty of sound as well as of form, of
the most vivid and creative imagination, combined with a childlike
impulsiveness and simplicity--this Ionian language, so sprung and
so nurtured, attained a descriptive force, a copiousness and
harmony, which made it the most admirable instrument on which
poet ever played. For every mood of mind, every shade of passion,
every affection of the heart, every form and aspect of the outward
world, it had its graphic phrase, its clear, appropriate, and
rich expression. Its pictured words and sentences placed the
things described, and thoughts that breathe, in living form
before the reader's eye and mind. It was vivid, rich, melodious;
in its general character strikingly concrete and objective; a
charm to the ear, a delight to the imagination; copious and
infinitely flexible; free and graceful in movement and structure,
having at the beginning passed over the chords of the lyre, and
been modulated by the living voice of the singer; obeying the
impulse of thought and feeling, rather than the formal principles
"It expressed the passions of robust manhood with artless and
unconscious truth. Its freedom, its voluble minuteness of
delineation, its rapid changes of construction, its breaks, pauses,
significant and sudden transitions, its easy irregularities,
exhibit the intellectual play of national youth; while in boldness
and splendor it meets the demands of highest invention and the
most majestic sweep of the imagination, and bears the impress
of genius in the full strength of its maturity. Frederic Jacobs
says, fancifully yet truly, that 'the language of Ionia resembles
the smooth mirror of a broad and silent lake, from whose depth
a serene sky, with its soft and sunny vault, and the varied nature
along its smiling shores are reflected in transfigured beauty.'
In Ionia, to borrow the expressions of the same eloquent writer,
the mind of man 'enjoyed a life exempt from drudgery, among fair
festivals and solemn assemblies, full of sensibility and frolic
joy, innocent curiosity and childlike faith. Surrendered to the
outer world, and inclined to all that was attractive by novelty,
beauty, and greatness, it was here that the people listened, with
greatest eagerness, to the history of the men and heroes whose
deeds, adventures, and wanderings filled a former age with their
renown, and, when they were echoed in song, moved to ecstasy the
breasts of the hearers.
"The Ionians had from the beginning a superior natural endowment
for literature and art; and when this most gifted race came into
contact with the antique culture and boundless commercial wealth
of Asia and Africa, the loveliest and most fragrant flowers of
the intellect shot forth in every direction. Carrying with them
the traditions of their race and the war-songs of their bards
to the very scenes where the famous deeds of their forefathers
had been performed, these local circumstances awakened a fresh
interest in the old legends, and epic poetry took a new start,
a bolder character, a loftier sweep, a wider range. A general
expansion of the intellectual powers and the poetical spirit
suddenly took place in the midst of the new prosperity and the
unaccustomed luxuries of the East--in the midst of the gay and
festive life which succeeded the ages of wandering, toil,
hardship, and conflict, like the Sabbath repose following the
weary warfare of the week. The loveliness of nature on the Ionian
shores, and in the isles that crown the Ægean deep, was soon
embellished by the genius of art. Stately processions, hymns
chanted in honor of the gods, graceful dances before the altars,
statues, and shrines, assemblies for festal or solemn purposes
in the open air under the soft sky of Ionia, or within the halls
of princes and nobles--these fill up the moments of the new and
dazzling existence which the excitable Hellenic race are invited
here and now to enjoy.
"Their first and deepest want--that which, in the foregoing
periods of their existence, had been the first supplied--was
the longing of the heart, the demand of the imagination, for
poetry and song; and it would have been surprising if the bright
genius of Ionia, under all these favoring circumstances, had not
broken upon the world with a splendor which outshone all its
former achievements. Poets sprang up, obedient to the call, and
a new school of poetical composition rapidly developed itself,
embodying the Hellenic traditions of the Trojan story, and the
legends handed down by the Trojans themselves. Troops or companies
of these poets--singers, as they were called--were formed, and
their pieces were the delight of the listening multitudes that
thronged around them. At last, among these minstrels who
consecrated the flower of their lives to the service of the
Muses, appeared a man whose genius was to eclipse them all. This
man was Homer."
* * * * *
I. HOMER AND HIS POEMS.
Not only was Homer the greatest of the poets of antiquity, but
he is generally admitted to be distinguished before all
competitors by a clear and even a vast superiority. The
circumstances of his life are but little known, except that he
was a wandering poet, and, in his later years at least, was blind.
He is supposed to have lived nearly one thousand years before the
Christian era; but, strange as it may seem, nothing is known,
with certainty, of his parentage or his birthplace. Although he
was probably a native of the island of Chi'os, yet seven Grecian
cities contended for the honor of his birth. In view of this
controversy, and of the real doubt that hung over the subject,
the poet ANTIP'ATER, of Sidon, who flourished just before the
Christian era, as if he could not give to his great predecessor
too high an exaltation, attributes his birthplace to heaven, and
he ascribes to the goddess Calli'o-pe, one of the Muses, who
presided over epic poetry and eloquence, the distinction of being
From Col'ophon some deem thee sprung;
From Smyrna some, and some from Chios;
These noble Sal'amis have sung,
While those proclaim thee born in Ios;
And others cry up Thessaly,
The mother of the Lap'ithæ.
Thus each to Homer has assigned
The birthplace just which suits his mind.
But if I read the volume right,
By Phoebus to his followers given,
I'd say they're all mistaken quite,
And that his real country's heaven;
While, for his mother, she can be
No other than Calliope.
--Trans. by MERIVALE.
The principal works of Homer, and, in fact, the only ones that
have not been declared spurious, are the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The former, as we have seen, relates some of the circumstances
of the closing year of the Trojan war; and the latter tells the
story of the wanderings of the Grecian prince Ulysses after the
fall of Troy. The ancients, to whom the writings of Homer were
so familiar, fully believed that he was the author of the two
great epics attributed to him. It was left to modern critics to
maintain the contrary. In 1795 Professor F. A. Wolf, of Germany,
published his Prolegomena, or prefatory essay to the Iliad, in
which he advanced the hypothesis that both the Iliad and the
Odyssey were a collection of separate lays by different authors,
for the first time reduced to writing and formed into the two
great poems by the despot Pisis'tratus, of Athens, and his
friends. [Footnote: Nearly all the modern German writers follow
the views of Wolf against the Homeric authorship of this poem,
but among the English critics there is more diversity of opinion.
Colonel Mure, Mr. Gladstone, and others oppose the German view,
while Grote, Professor Geddes, Professor Mahaffy and others of
note adopt it, so far at least as to believe that Homer was not
the sole author of the poems.] We cannot here enter into the
details of the controversy to which this theory has given rise,
nor can we undertake to say on which side the weight of authority
is to be found. The following extracts well express the views
of those who adhere to the common theory on the subject. PROFESSOR
FELTON thus remarks, in the preface to his edition of the Iliad:
"For my own part I prefer to consider it, as we have received it
from ancient editors, as one poem--the work of one author, and
that author Homer, the first and greatest of minstrels. As I
understand the Iliad, there is a unity of plan, a harmony of
parts, a consistency among the different situations of the same
character, which mark it as the production of one mind; but of
a mind as versatile as the forms of nature, the aspects of life,
and the combinations of powers, propensities, and passions in
man are various."
On the same subject, the English author and critic, THOMAS NOON
TALFOURD, makes these interesting observations: "The hypothesis
to which the antagonists of Homer's personality must resort,
implies something far more wonderful than the theory which they
impugn. They profess to cherish the deepest veneration for the
genius displayed in the poems. They agree, also, in the antiquity
usually assigned to them, and they make this genius and this
antiquity the arguments to prove that one man could not have
composed them. They suppose, then, that in a barbarous age,
instead of one being marvelously gifted, there were many: a
mighty race of bards, such as the world has never since seen--a
number of miracles instead of one. All experience is against this
opinion. In various periods of the world great men have arisen,
under very different circumstances, to astonish and delight it;
but that the intuitive power should be so strangely diffused, at
any one period, among a great number, who should leave no
successors behind them, is unworthy of credit. And we are requested
to believe this to have occurred in an age which those who maintain
the theory regard as unfavorable to poetic art! The common theory,
independent of other proofs, is the most probable. Since the early
existence of the works cannot be doubted, it is easier to believe
in one than in twenty Homers."
Very numerous and varied are the characterizations of Homer and
the writings ascribed to him. POPE, in his "Temple of Fame", pays
this tribute to the ancient bard:
High on the list the mighty Homer shone;
Eternal adamant composed his throne;
Father of verse! in holy fillets dressed,
His silver beard waved gently o'er his breast;
Though blind, a boldness in his look appears;
In years he seemed, but not impaired by years.
The wars of Troy were round the pillars seen:
Here fierce Tydi'des wounds the Cyprian queen;
Here Hector, glorious from Patro'clus' fall;
Here, dragged in triumph round the Trojan wall.
Motion and life did every part inspire,
Bold was the work, and proud the master's fire:
A strong expression most he seemed to affect,
And here and there disclosed a brave neglect.
It is admitted by all that the Homeric characters are drawn,
each in its way, by a master's hand. "The most pervading merit
of the Iliad," says one, "is its fidelity and vividness as a
mirror of man, and of the visible sphere in which he lived, with
its infinitely varied imagery, both actual and ideal; and the
task which the great poet set for himself was perfectly
accomplished." "The mind of Homer," says another, "is like an
Æolian harp, so finely strung that it answers to the faintest
movement of the air by a proportionate vibration. With every
stronger current its music rises along an almost immeasurable
scale, which begins with the lowest and softest whisper, and
ends in the full swell of the organ."
The "lofty march" of the Iliad is also often spoken of as
characteristic of the style in which that great epic is written.
And yet, as has been said, "though its versification is always
appropriate, and therefore never mean, it only rises into
stateliness, or into a terrible sublimity, when Homer has occasion
to brace his energies for an effort. Thus he ushers in with true
grandeur the marshalling of the Greek army, in the Second Book,
partly by the invocation of the Muses, and partly by an assemblage
of no less than six consecutive similes, which describe,
respectively--1st, the flash of the Greek arms and the splendor
of the Grecian hosts; 2d, the swarming numbers; 3d, the resounding
tramp; 4th, the settling down of the ranks as they form the line;
5th, the busy marshalling by the commanders; 6th, the majesty of
the great chief Agamemnon, 'like Mars or Neptune, such as Jove
ordained him, eminent above all his fellow-chiefs.'"
These similes are brought in with great effect as introductory
to a catalogue of the ships and forces of the Greeks; thus pouring,
from a single point, a broad stream of splendor over the whole;
and although the enumeration which follows is only a plain matter
of business, it is not without its poetical embellishment, and
is occasionally relieved by short legends of the countries and
noted warriors of the different tribes. We introduce these striking
similes here as marked characteristics of the art of Homer, from
whom, it is little exaggeration to say, a very large proportion of
the similes of all subsequent writers have been, more or less
directly, either copied or paraphrased.
When it has been decided to lead the army to battle, the aged
Nestor thus addresses Agamemnon:
"Now bid thy heralds sound the loud alarms,
And call the squadrons sheathed in brazen arms;
Now seize the occasion, now the troops survey,
And lead to war when heaven directs the way."
He said: the monarch issued his commands;
Straight the loud heralds call the gathering bands:
The chiefs enclose their king; the hosts divide,
In tribes and nations ranked on either side.
The appearance of the gathering hosts is then described in the
(1.) As on some mountain, through the lofty grove,
The crackling flames ascend, and blaze above;
The fires expanding, as the winds arise,
Shoot their long beams, and kindle half the skies;
So from the polished arms and brazen shields
A gleamy splendor flashed along the fields.
(2.) Not less their number than the embodied cranes,
Or milk-white swans on A'sius' watery plains,
That, o'er the windings of Ca-ys'ter's springs,
Stretch their long necks, and clap their rustling wings;
Now tower aloft, and course in airy rounds,
Now light with noise; with noise the field resounds.
(3.) Thus numerous and confused, extending wide,
The legions crowd Scamander's flowery side;
With rushing troops the plains are covered o'er,
And thundering footsteps shake the sounding shore.'
(4.) Along the river's level meads they stand,
Thick as in spring the flowers adorn the land,
Or leaves the trees; or thick as insects play,
The wandering nation of a summer's day,
That, drawn by milky streams, at evening hours,
In gathered swarms surround the rural bowers;
From pail to pail with busy murmur run
The gilded legions, glittering in the sun.
So thronged, so close the Grecian squadrons stood
In radiant arms, athirst for Trojan blood.
(5.) Each leader now his scattered force conjoins
In close array, and forms the deepening lines.
Not with more ease the skilful shepherd swain
Collects his flocks from thousands on the plain.
(6.) The king of kings, majestically tall,
Towers o'er his armies, and outshines them all;
Like some proud bull, that round the pastures leads
His subject herds, the monarch of the meads,
Great as the gods, the exalted chief was seen,
His chest like Neptune, and like Mars his mien;
Jove o'er his eyes celestial glories spread,
And dawning conquest played around his head.
Similes abound on nearly every page of the Iliad, and they are
always appropriate to the subject. We select from them the
following additional specimen, in which the brightness and number
of the fires of the Trojans, in their encampment, are likened to
the moon and stars in their glory--when, as Cowper translates the
fourth line, "not a vapor streaks the boundless blue."
As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night,
O'er heaven's blue azure spreads her sacred light,
When not a breath disturbs the deep serene,
And not a cloud o'ercasts the solemn scene;
Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
And stars unnumbered gild the glowing pole,
O'er the dark trees a yellow verdure shed,
And tip with silver every mountain head;
Then shine the vales, the rocks in prospect rise,
A flood of glory bursts from all the skies;
The conscious swains, rejoicing in the sight,
Eye the blue vault, and bless the useful light;
So many fires before proud Ilion blaze,
And lighten glimmering Xanthus with their rays.
--Iliad, B. VIII. POPE'S Trans.
Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, is said to have declared of the
two great epics of Homer:
Read Homer once, and you can read no more,
For all books else appear so mean, so poor;
Verse will seem prose; but still persist to read,
And Homer will be all the books you need.
The following characterization, from the pen of HENRY NELSON
COLERIDGE, is both true and pleasing:
"There are many hearts and minds to which one of these matchless
poems will be more delightful than the other; there are many to
which both will give equal pleasure, though of different kinds;
but there can hardly be a person, not utterly averse to the Muses,
who will be quite insensible to the manifold charms of one or the
other. The dramatic action of the Iliad may command attention
where the diffused narrative of the Odyssey would fail to do so;
but how can anyone, who loves poetry under any shape, help
yielding up his soul to the virtuous siren-singing of Genius and
Truth, which is forever resounding from the pages of either of
These marvelous and truly immortal poems? In the Iliad will be
found the sterner lessons of public justice or public expedience,
and the examples are for statesmen and generals; in the Odyssey
we are taught the maxims of private prudence and individual virtue,
and the instances are applicable to all mankind: in both, Honesty,
Veracity, and Fortitude are commended, and set up for imitation;
in both, Treachery, Falsehood, and Cowardice are condemned, and
exposed for our scorn and avoidance.
"Born, like the river of Egypt, in secret light, these poems
yet roll on their great collateral streams, wherein a thousand
poets have bathed their sacred heads, and thence drunk beauty
and truth, and all sweet and noble harmonies. Known to no man
is the time or place of their gushing forth from the earth's
bosom, but their course has been among the fields and by the
dwellings of men, and our children now sport on their banks and
quaff their salutary waters. Of all the Greek poetry, I, for
one, have no hesitation in saying that the Iliad and the Odyssey
are the most delightful, and have been the most instructive works
to me; there is a freshness about them both which never fades, a
truth and sweetness which charmed me as a boy and a youth, and
on which, if I attain to it, I count largely for a soothing
recreation in my old age."
* * * * *
II. SOME CAUSES OF GREEK UNITY.
The natural causes which tended to unite the Greeks as a people
were a common descent, a common language, and a common religion.
Greek genius led the nation to trace its origin, where historical
memory failed, to fabulous persons sprung from the earth or the
gods; and under the legends of primitive and heroic ancestors lie
the actual migrations and conquests of rude bands sprung from
related or allied tribes. These poetical tales, accepted throughout
Hellas as historical, convinced the people of a common origin.
Thus the Greeks had a common share in the renown of their ancient
heroes, upon whose achievements or lineage the claims of families
to hereditary authority, and of states to the leadership of
confederacies, were grounded. The pride or the ambition of political
rivals led to the gradual embellishment of these traditions, and
ended in ancestral worship. Thus Attica had a temple to Theseus,
the Ionian hero; the shrine of Æsculapius at Epidau'rus was famous
throughout the classic world; and the exploits of Hercules were
commemorated by the Dorians at the tomb of a Ne'mean king. When
the bard and the playwright clothed these tales in verse, all
Greece hearkened; and when the painter or the sculptor took these
subjects for his skill, all Greece applauded. Thus was strengthened
the national sense of fraternal blood.
The possession of a common speech is so great a means of union,
that the Romans imposed the Latin tongue on all public business
and official records, even where Greek was the more familiar
language; and the Mediæval Church displayed her unity by the
use of Latin in every bishopric on all occasions of public worship.
A language not only makes the literature embodied in it the
heritage of all who speak it, but it diffuses among them the
subtle genius which has shaped its growth. The lofty regard in
which the Greeks held their own musical and flexible language is
illustrated by an anecdote of Themis'tocles, who put to death
the interpreter of a Persian embassy to Athens because he dared
"to use the Greek tongue to utter the demands of the barbarian
king." From Col'chis to Spain some Grecian dialect attested the
extent and the unity of the Hellenic race.
The Greek institutions of religion were still more powerful
instruments of unity. It was the genius of a race destitute of
an organized priesthood, and not the fancy of the poet, which
animated nature by personifying its forces. Zeus was the
all-embracing heavens, the father of gods and men; Neptune
presided over the seas; Deme'ter gave the harvest; Juno was the
goddess of reproduction, and Aphrodi'te the patroness of Jove;
while Apollo represented the joy-inspiring orb of day. The same
imagination raised the earth to sentient life by assigning Dryads
to the trees, Naiads to the fountains and brooks, O're-ads to
the hills, Ner'e-ids to the seas, and Satyrs to the fields; and
in this many-sided and devout sympathy with nature the imagination
and reverence of all Greece found expression. But Greek religion
in its temples, its oracles, its games, and its councils, provided
more tangible bonds of union than those of sentiment. Each city
had its tutelary deity, whose temple was usually the most beautiful
building in it, and to which any Greek might have access to make
his offering or prayer. The sacred precincts were not to be profaned
by those who were polluted with unexpiated crime, nor by blood,
nor by the presence of the dead: Hence the temples of Greece were
places of refuge for those who would escape from private or judicial
vengeance. The more famous oracles of Greece were at Dodo'na, at
Delphi, at Lebade'a in Boeotia, and at Epidaurus in Ar'golis.
They were consulted by those who wished to penetrate the future.
To this superstition the Greeks were greatly addicted, and they
allowed the gravest business to wait for the omens of the diviner.
A people thus disposed demanded and secured unmolested access to
the oracle. The city in whose custody it was must be inviolable,
and the roads thereto unobstructed. The oracle was a national
possession, and its keepers were national servants.
THE GRECIAN FESTIVALS.
The public games or festivals of the Greeks were probably of
greater efficacy in promoting a spirit of union than any other
outgrowth of the religions sentiment of Greece. The Greeks
exhibited a passionate fondness for festivals and games, which
were occasionally celebrated in every state for the amusement
of the people. These, however, were far less interesting than
the four great public games, sacred to the gods, which were--the
Pythian, at Delphos, sacred to Apollo; the Isth'mian, at Corinth,
to Neptune; the Nemean, at Nemea, to Hercules; and the Olympic,
at Olympia in E'lis, to Jupiter. To these cities flocked the
young and the aged, the private citizen and the statesman, the
trader and the artist, to witness or engage in the spectacles.
The games were open to all citizens who could prove their Hellenic
origin; and prizes were awarded for the best exhibitions of skill
in poetry--and in running, wrestling, boxing, leaping, pitching
the discus, or quoit, throwing the javelin, and chariot-racing.
The most important of these games was the Olympic, though it
involved many principles common to the others. Its origin is
obscure; and, though it appears that during the Heroic Age some
Grecian chiefs celebrated their victories in public games at
Olympia, yet it was not until the time of Lycurgus, in 776 B.C.,
that the games at Olympia were brought under certain rules, and
performed at certain periods. At that time they were revived,
so to speak, and were celebrated at the close of every fourth
year. From their quadrennial occurrence all Hellas computed its
chronology, the interval that elapsed between one celebration
and the next being called an Olympiad. During the month that the
games continued there was a complete suspension of all hostilities,
to enable every Greek to attend them without hindrance or danger.
One of the most popular and celebrated of all the matches held
at these games was chariot-racing, with four horses. The following
description of one of these races is taken from a tragedy of
SOPHOCLES--the Electra--translated by Bulwer. Orestes, son of
Agamemnon, had gained five victories on the first day of the
trial; and on the second, of which the account is here given,
he starts with nine competitors--an Achæan, a Spartan, two Libyans,
an Ætolian, a Magnesian; an Æ'ni-an, an Athenian, and a Boeotian
--and meets his death in the moment of triumph.
The Chariot-race, and the Death of Orestes.
They took their stand where the appointed judges
Had cast their lots and ranged the rival cars.
Rang out the brazen trump! Away they bound!
Cheer the hot steeds and shake the slackened reins;
As with a body the large space is filled
With the huge clangor of the rattling cars;
High whirl aloft the dust-clouds; blent together
Each presses each, and the lash rings, and loud
Snort the wild steeds, and from their fiery breath,
Along their manes, and down the circling wheels,
Scatter the flaking foam.
Aye, as he swept around the perilous pillar
Last in the course, wheeled in the rushing axle,
The left rein curbed--that on the outer hand
Flung loose. So on erect the chariots rolled!
Sudden the Ænian's fierce and headlong steeds
Broke from the bit, and, as the seventh time now
The course was circled, on the Libyan car
Dashed their wild fronts: then order changed to ruin;
Car dashed on car; the wide Crissæ'an plain
Was, sea-like, strewn with wrecks: the Athenian saw,
Slackened his speed, and, wheeling round the marge,
Unscathed and skilful, in the midmost space,
Left the wild tumult of that tossing storm.
Behind, Orestes, hitherto the last,
Had kept back his coursers for the close;
Now one sole rival left--on, on he flew,
And the sharp sound of the impelling scourge
Rang in the keen ears of the flying steeds.
He nears--he reaches--they are side by side;
Now one--now th' other--by a length the victor.
The courses all are past, the wheels erect--
All safe--when, as the hurrying coursers round
The fatal pillar dashed, the wretched boy
Slackened the left rein. On the column's edge
Crashed the frail axle--headlong from the car,
Caught and all mesh'd within the reins, he fell;
And! masterless, the mad steeds raged along!
Loud from that mighty multitude arose
A shriek--a shout! But yesterday such deeds--
To-day such doom! Now whirled upon the earth,
Now his limbs dashed aloft, they dragged him, those
Wild horses, till, all gory, from the wheels
Released--and no man, not his nearest friends,
Could in that mangled corpse have traced Orestes.
They laid the body on the funeral pyre,
And, while we speak, the Phocian strangers bear,
In a small, brazen, melancholy urn,
That handful of cold ashes to which all
The grandeur of the beautiful hath shrunk.
Within they bore him--in his father's land
To find that heritage, a tomb.
The Pythian games are said to have been established in honor
of the victory that Apollo gained at Delphi over the serpent
Py'thon, on setting out to erect his temple. This monster, said
to have sprung from the stagnant waters of the deluge of
Deucalion, may have been none other than the malaria which laid
waste the surrounding country, and which some early benefactor
of the race overcame by draining the marshes; or, perhaps, as
the English writer, Dodwell, suggests, the true explanation of
the allegorical fiction is that the serpent was the river
Cephis'sus, which, after the deluge had overflowed the plains,
surrounded Parnassus with its serpentine involutions, and was
at length reduced, by the rays of the sun-god, within its due
limits. The poet OVID gives the following relation of the fable:
Apollo's Conflict with Python.
From hence the surface of the ground, with mud
And slime besmeared (the refuse of the flood),
Received the rays of heaven, and sucking in
The seeds of heat, new creatures did begin.
Some were of several sorts produced before;
But, of new monsters, earth created more.
Unwillingly, but yet she brought to light
Thee, Python, too, the wondering world to fright,
And the new nations, with so dire a sight,
So monstrous was his bulk; so large a space
Did his vast body and long train embrace;
Whom Phoebus, basking on a bank, espied.
Ere now the god his arrows had not tried
But on the trembling deer or mountain-goat:
At this new quarry he prepares to shoot.
Though every shaft took place, he spent the store
Of his full quiver; and 'twas long before
The expiring serpent wallowed in his gore.
Then, to preserve the fame of such a deed,
For Python slain he Pythian games decreed,
Where noble youths for mastership should strive--
To quoit, to run, and steeds and chariots drive.
The prize was fame; in witness of renown,
An oaken garland did the victor crown.
The laurel was not yet for triumphs born,
But every green, alike by Phoebus worn,
Did, with promiscuous grace, his flowing locks adorn.
--Metamorphoses. Trans. by DRYDEN.
The victory of Apollo over the Python is represented by a statue
called Apollo Belvedere, perhaps the greatest existing work of
ancient art. It was found in 1503, among the ruins of ancient
Antium, and it derives its name from its position in the belvedere,
or open gallery, of the Vatican at Rome, where it was placed by
Pope Julius II. It shows the conception which the ancients had
of this benign deity, and also the high degree of perfection to
which they had attained in sculpture. A modern writer gives the
following account of it:
"The statue is of heroic size, and shows the very perfection
of manly beauty. The god stands with the left arm extended, still
holding the bow, while the right hand, which has just left the
string, is near his hip. This right hand and part of the right
arm, as well as the left hand, were wanting in the statue when
found, and were restored by Angelo da Montor'soli, a pupil of
Michael Angelo. The figure is nude; only a short cloak hangs over
the left shoulder. The breast is full and dilated; the muscles are
conspicuous, though not exaggerated; the body seems a little thin
about the hips, but is poised with such singular grace as to impart
to the whole a beauty hardly possessed by any other statue. The
sculptor is not known: many attribute the statue to He-ge'si-as,
the Ephesian, others to Praxit'e-les or Cal'amis; but its origin
and date must remain a matter of conjecture."
The following poetical description of this wonderful statue is
given us by THOMSON:
All conquest-flushed, from prostrate Python came
The quivered god. In graceful act he stands,
His arm extended with the slackened bow:
Light flows his easy robe, and fair displays
A manly, softened form. The bloom of gods
Seems youthful o'er the bearded cheek to wave;
His features yet heroic ardor warms;
And, sweet subsiding to a native smile,
Mixed with the joy elating conquest gives,
A scattered frown exalts his matchless air.
THE NATIONAL COUNCILS.
While the elements of union we have been considering produced
a decided effect in forming Greek national character--serving
to strengthen, in the mind of the Greek, the feelings which bound
him to his country by keeping alive his national love and pride,
and exerting an important influence over his physical education
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