Mosaics of Grecian History
Marcius Willson and Robert Pierpont Willson
Part 4 out of 11
and discipline--they possessed little or no efficacy as a bond
of political union--what Greece so much needed. It was probably
a recognition of this need that led, at an early period, to the
formation of national councils, the primary object of which was
the regulation of mutual intercourse between the several states.
Of these early councils we have an example in the several
associations known as the Amphicty'o-nes, of which the only one
that approached a national senate received the distinctive title
of the "Amphictyon'ic Council." This is said to have been
instituted by Amphic'tyon, a son of Deucalion, King of Thessaly;
but he was probably a fictitious personage, invented to account
for the origin of the institution attributed to him. The council
is said to have been composed, originally, of deputies from
twelve tribes or nations--two from each tribe. But, as independent
states or cities grew up, each of these also was entitled to the
same representation; and no state, however powerful, was entitled
to more. The council met twice every year; in the spring at Delphi,
and in the autumn at Anthe'la, a village near Thermopylæ.
While the objects of this council, so far as they can be learned,
were praiseworthy, and its action tended to produce the happiest
political effects, it was, after all, more especially a religious
association. It had no right of interference in ordinary wars
between the communities represented in it, and could not turn
aside schemes of ambition and conquest, or subdue the jealousies
of rival states. The oath taken by its members ran thus: "We will
not destroy any Amphictyonic town, nor cut it off from running
water in war or peace; if anyone shall do so, we will march
against him and destroy his city. If anyone shall plunder the
property of the god, or shall take treacherous counsel against
the things in his temple at Delphi, we will punish him with foot,
and hand, and voice, and by every means in our power." Its chief
functions, as we see, were to guard the temple of Delphi and the
interests of religion; and it was only in cases of a violation
of these, or under that pretence, that it could call for the
cooperation of all its members. Inefficient as it had proved
to be in many instances, yet Philip of Macedon, by placing himself
at its head, overturned the independence of Greece; but its use
ceased altogether when the Delphic oracle lost its influence, a
considerable time before the reign of Constantine the Great.
Aside from the causes already assigned, the want of political
union among the Greeks may be ascribed to a natural and mutual
jealousy, which, in the language of Mr. Thirlwall, "stifled even
the thought of a confederacy" that might have prevented internal
wars and saved Greece from foreign dominion. This jealousy the
institutions to which we have referred could not remove; and it
was heightened by the great diversity of the forms of government
that existed in the Grecian states. As another writer has well
observed, "The independent sovereignty of each city was a
fundamental notion in the Greek mind. The patriotism of a Greek
was confined to his city, and rarely kindled into any general
love for the welfare of Hellas. So complete was the political
division between the Greek cities, that the citizen of one was
an alien and a stranger in the territory of another. He was not
merely debarred from all share in the government, but he could
not acquire property in land or houses, nor contract a marriage
with a native woman, nor sue in the courts except through the
medium of a friendly citizen. The cities thus repelling each
other, the sympathies and feelings of a Greek became more central
in his own."
In view of these conditions it is not surprising that Greece
never enjoyed political unity; and just here was her great and
suicidal weakness. The Romans reduced various races, in habitual
war with one another and marked by variations of dialect and
customs, into a single government, and kept them there; but the
Greeks, though possessing a common inheritance, a common language,
a common religion, and a common type of character, of manners,
and of aspirations, allowed all these common interests, that
might have created an indissoluble political union, to be
subordinated to mutual jealousies--to an "exclusive patriotism"
that rendered it difficult for them to unite even under
circumstances of common and terrible danger. "It was this
political disunion that always led them to turn their arms
against one another, and eventually subjected them to the power
of Macedon and of Rome."
SPARTA, AND THE LEGISLATION OF LYCURGUS.
Spread on Eurotas' bank,
Amid a circle of soft rising hills,
The patient Sparta stood; the sober, hard,
And man-subduing city; which no shape
Of pain could conquer, nor of pleasure charm.
Lycurgus there built, on the solid base
Of equal life, so well a tempered state,
That firm for ages, and unmoved, it stood
The fort of Greece!
Returning to the Dorians of Peloponnesus, we find, in early
historical times, that Sparta was gradually acquiring an
ascendancy over the other Dorian states, and extending her
dominions throughout the southern portion of the peninsula. This
result was greatly aided by her geographical position. On a
table-land environed by hills, and with arduous descents to the
sea, her natural state was one of great strength, while her sterile
soil promoted frugality, hardihood, and simplicity among her citizens.
Some time in the ninth century Polydec'tes, one of the Spartan
kings, died without children, and the reins of government fell
into the hands of his brother Lycurgus, who became celebrated
as the "Spartan law-giver." But Lycurgus soon resigned the crown
to the posthumous son of Polydectes, and went into voluntary
exile. He is said to have visited many foreign lands, observing
their institutions and manners, conversing with their sages, and
employing his time in maturing a plan for remedying the many
disorders which afflicted his native country. On his return he
applied himself to the work of framing a new Constitution, having
first consulted the Delphic oracle, which assured him that "the
Constitution he should establish would be the most excellent in
* * * * *
I. THE CONSTITUTION OF LYCURGUS.
Having enlisted the aid of most of the prominent citizens, who
took up arms to support him, Lycurgus procured the enactment of
a code of laws founded on the institutions of the Cretan Minos,
by which the form of government, the military discipline of the
people, the distribution of property, the education of the
citizens, and the rules of domestic life were to be established
on a new and immutable basis. The account which Plutarch gives
of these regulations asserts that Lycurgus first established a
senate of thirty members, chosen for life, the two kings being
of the number, and that the former shared the power of the latter.
There were also to be assemblies of the people, who were to have
no right to propose any subject of debate, but were only authorized
to ratify or reject what might be proposed to them by the senate
and the kings. Lycurgus next made a division of the lands, for
here he found great inequality existing, as there were many indigent
persons who had no lands, and the wealth was centered in the
hands of a few.
In order farther to remove inequalities among the citizens,
Lycurgus next attempted to divide the movable property; but as
this measure met with great opposition, he had recourse to another
method for accomplishing the same object. He stopped the currency
of gold and silver coin, and permitted iron money only to be used;
and to a great quantity and weight of this he assigned but a small
value, so that to remove one or two hundred dollars of this money
would require a yoke of oxen. This regulation is said to have put
an end to many kinds of injustice; for "who," says Plutarch, "would
steal or take a bribe; who would defraud or rob when he could not
conceal the booty--when he could neither be dignified by the
possession of it nor be served by its use?" Unprofitable and
superfluous arts were also excluded, trade with foreign states
was abandoned, and luxury, losing its sources of support, died
away of itself.
Through the efforts of Lycurgus, Sparta was delivered from the
evils of anarchy and misrule, and began a long period of
tranquillity and order. Its progress was mainly due, however,
to that part of the legislation of Lycurgus which related to
the military discipline and education of its citizens. The position
of Sparta, an unfortified city surrounded by numerous enemies,
compelled the Spartans to be a nation of soldiers. From his birth
every Spartan belonged to the state; sickly and deformed children
were destroyed, those only being thought worthy to live who promised
to become useful members of society. The principal object of
Spartan education, therefore, was to render the Spartan youth
expert in manly exercises, hardy, and courageous; and at seven
years of age he began a course of physical training of great
hardship and even torture. Manhood was not reached until the
thirtieth year, and thenceforth, until his sixtieth year, the
Spartan remained under public discipline and in the service of
the state. The women, also, were subjected to a course of training
almost as rigorous as that of the men, and they took as great
an interest in the welfare of their country and in the success
of its arms. "Return, either with your shield or upon it," was
their exhortation to their sons when the latter were going to
battle. The following lines, supposed to be addressed by a Spartan
mother to the dead body of her son, whom she had slain because
he had ingloriously fled from the battle-field, will illustrate
the Spartan idea of patriotic virtue which was so sedulously
instilled into every Spartan:
Deme'trius, when he basely fled the field,
A Spartan born, his Spartan mother killed;
Then, stretching forth his bloody sword, she cried
(Her teeth fierce gnashing with disdainful pride),
"Fly, cursed offspring, to the shades below,
Where proud Euro'tas shall no longer flow
For timid hinds like thee! Fly, trembling slave,
Abandoned wretch, to Pluto's darkest cave!
For I so vile a monster never bore:
Disowned by Sparta, thou'rt my son no more."
There were three classes among the population of Laconia--the
Dorians, of Sparta; their serfs, the He'lots; and the people of
the provincial districts. The former, properly called Spartans,
were the ruling caste, who neither employed themselves in
agriculture nor practiced any mechanical art. The Helots were
slaves, who, as is generally believed, on account of their
obstinate resistance in some early wars, and subsequent conquest,
had been reduced to the most degrading servitude. The people of
the provincial districts were a mixed race, composed partly of
strangers who had accompanied the Dorians and aided them in their
conquest, and partly of the old inhabitants of the country who
had submitted to the conquerors. The provincials were under the
control of the Spartan government, in the administration of which
they had no share, and the lands which they held were tributary to
the state; they formed an important part of the military force of
the country, and had little to complain of but the want of
* * * * *
II. SPARTAN POETRY AND MUSIC.
With all her devotion to the pursuit of arms, the bard, the
sculptor, and the architect found profitable employment in Sparta.
While the Spartans never exhibited many of those qualities of
mind and heart which were cultivated at Athens with such wonderful
success, they were not strangers to the influences of poetry and
music. Says the poet CAMPBELL, "The Spartans used not the trumpet
in their march into battle, because they wished not to excite
the rage of their warriors. Their charging step was made to the
'Dorian mood of flute and soft recorder.' The valor of a Spartan
was too highly tempered to require a stunning or rousing impulse.
His spirit was like a steed too proud for the spur."
They marched not with the trumpet's blast,
Nor bade the horn peal out,
And the laurel-groves, as on they passed,
Rung with no battle-shout!
They asked no clarion's voice to fire
Their souls with an impulse high;
But the Dorian reed and the Spartan lyre
For the sons of liberty!
And still sweet flutes, their path around,
Sent forth Eolian breath;
They needed not a sterner sound
To marshal them for death!
"The songs of the Spartans," says PLUTARCH, "had a spirit which
could rouse the soul, and impel it in an enthusiastic manner to
action. They consisted chiefly of the praises of heroes that had
died for Sparta, or else of expressions of detestation for such
wretches as had declined the glorious opportunity. Nor did they
forget to express an ambition for glory suitable to their respective
ages. Of this it may not be amiss to give an instance. There
were three choirs in their festivals, corresponding with the
three ages of man. The old men began,
'Once in battle bold we shone;'
the young men answered,
'Try us; our vigor is not gone;'
and the boys concluded,
'The palm remains for us alone.'
Indeed, if we consider with some attention such of the
Lacedæmonian poems as are still extant, and enter into the spirit
of those airs which were played upon the flute when marching to
battle, we must agree that Terpan'der and Pindar have very fitly
joined valor and music together. The former thus speaks of
Then gleams the youth's bright falchion; then the Muse
Lifts her sweet voice; then awful Justice opes
Her wide pavilion.
And Pindar sings,
Then in grave council sits the sage:
Then burns the youth's resistless rage
To hurl the quiv'ring lance;
The Muse with glory crowns their arms,
And Melody exerts her charms,
And Pleasure leads the dance.
Thus we are informed not only of their warlike turn, but of their
skill in music."
The poet ION, of Chios, gives us the following elegant description
of the power of Sparta:
The town of Sparta is not walled with words;
But when young A'res falls upon her men,
Then reason rules, and the hand does the deed.
* * * * *
III. SPARTA'S CONQUESTS.
Under the constitution of Lycurgus Sparta began her career of
conquest. Of the death of the great law-giver we have no reliable
account; but it is stated that, having bound the Spartans to make
no change in the laws until his return, he voluntarily banished
himself forever from his country and died in a foreign land.
During a century or more subsequent to the time of Lycurgus, the
Spartans remained at peace with their neighbors; but jealousies
arose between them and the Messe'nians, a people west of Laconia,
which, stimulated by insults and injuries on both sides, gave
rise to the FIRST MESSENIAN WAR, 743 years before the Christian
era. For the first four years the Spartans made little progress;
but in the fifth year of the war a great battle was fought, and,
although its result was indecisive, the Messenians deemed it
prudent to retire to the strongly fortified mountain of Itho'me.
In the eighteenth year of the conflict the Spartans suffered a
severe defeat, and were driven back into their own territory;
but at the close of the twentieth year the Messenians were obliged
to abandon their fortress of Ithome, and leave their rich fields
in the undisturbed possession of their conquerors. Many of the
inhabitants fled into Arcadia and other friendly territories,
while those who remained were treated with great severity, and
reduced to the condition of the Helots.
The war thus closed developed the warlike spirit that the
institutions of Lycurgus were so well calculated to encourage;
and the Spartans were so stern and unyielding in their exactions,
that they drove the Messenians to revolt thirty-nine years later,
685 B.C. The Messenians found an able leader in Aristom'enes,
whose valor in the first battle struck fear into his enemies,
and inspired his countrymen with confidence. In this struggle
the Argives, Arcadians, Si-çy-o'nians, and Pisa'tans aided
Messenia, while the Corinthians assisted Sparta. In alarm the
Spartans sought the advice of the Delphic oracle, and received
the mortifying response that they must seek a leader from the
Athenians, between whose country and Laconia there had been no
intercourse for several centuries. Fearing to disobey the oracle,
but reluctant to further the cause of the Spartans, the Athenians
sent to the latter the poet TYRTÆ'US, who had no distinction as a
warrior. His patriotic and martial odes, however, roused the spirit
of the Spartans, and animated them to new efforts against the
foe. He appears as the great hero of Sparta during the SECOND
MESSENIAN WAR, and of his songs that have come down to us we give
the following as a specimen:
To the field, to the field, gallant Spartan band,
Worthy sons, like your sires, of our warlike land!
Let each arm be prepared for its part in the fight,
Fix the shield on the left, poise the spear with the right;
Let no care for your lives in your bosoms find place,
No such care knew the heroes of old Spartan race.
[Footnote: Mure's "History of Greek Literature,"
vol. iii., p. 195.]
But the Spartans were not immediately successful. In the first
battle that ensued they were defeated with severe loss; but in
the third year of the war the Messenians suffered a signal defeat,
owing to the treachery of Aristoc'rates, the king of their Arcadian
allies, who deserted them in the heat of battle, and Aristomenes
retired to the mountain fortress of Ira. The war continued, with
varying success, seventeen years in all; throughout the whole of
which period Aristomenes distinguished himself by many noble
exploits; but all his efforts to save his country were ineffectual.
A second time Sparta conquered (668 B.C.), and the yoke appeared
to be fixed on Messenia forever. Thenceforward the growing power
of Sparta seemed destined to undisputed pre-eminence, not only
in the Peloponnesus, but throughout all Greece. Before 600 B.C.
Sparta had conquered the upper valley of the Eurotas from the
Arcadians, and, forty years later, compelled Te'gea, the capital
of Arcadia, to acknowledge her supremacy. Still later, in 524
B.C., a long struggle with the Argives was terminated in favor
of Sparta, and she was now the most powerful of the Grecian states.
FORMS OF GOVERNMENT, AND CHANGES IN GRECIAN POLITICS.
Although Greek political writers taught that there were, primarily,
but three forms of government--monarchy, or the rule of one;
aristocracy, that of the few; and democracy, that of the many
--the latter always limited by the Greeks to the freemen--yet
it appears that when anyone of these degenerated from its supposed
legitimate object, the welfare of the state, it was marked by a
peculiar name. Thus a monarchy in which selfish aims predominated
became a tyranny; and in later Grecian history, such was the
prevailing sentiment in opposition to kingly rule that all kings
were called tyrants: an aristocracy which directed its measures
chiefly to the preservation of its power became an oligarchy; and
a democracy that departed from the civil and political equality
which was its supposed basis, and gave ascendancy to a faction,
was sometimes designated by the term ochlocracy, or the dominion
of the rabble. "A democracy thus corrupted," says THIRLWALL,
"exhibited many features of a tyranny. It was jealous of all
who were eminently distinguished by birth, fortune, or reputation;
it encouraged flatterers and sycophants; was insatiable in its
demands on the property of the rich, and readily listened to
charges which exposed them to death or confiscation. The class
which suffered such oppression, commonly ill satisfied with the
principle of the Constitution itself, was inflamed with the most
furious animosity by the mode in which it was applied, and it
regarded the great mass of its fellow-citizens as its mortal
As in all the Greek states there was a large class of people not
entitled to the full rights of citizenship, including, among
others, persons reduced to slavery as prisoners of war, and
foreign settlers and their descendants, so there was no such
form of government as that which the moderns understand by a
complete democracy. Of a republic also, in the modern acceptation
of the term--that is, a representative democracy--the Greeks
knew nothing. As an American statesman remarks, "Certain it is
that the greatest philosophers among them would have regarded as
something monstrous a republic spreading over half a continent
and embracing twenty-six states, each of which would have itself
been an empire, and not a commonwealth, in their sense of the
word."[Footnote: Hugh S. Legaré's Writings, vol. i., p.440.]
* * * * *
I. CHANGES FROM ARISTOCRACIES TO OLIGARCHIES.
During several centuries succeeding the period of the supposed
Trojan war, a gradual change occurred in the political history
of the Grecian states, the results of which were an abandonment
of much of the kingly authority that prevailed through the Heroic
Age. At a still later period this change was followed by the
introduction and establishment, at first, of aristocracies, and,
finally, of democratic forms of government; which latter decided
the whole future character of the public life of the Grecians.
The three causes, more prominent than the rest, that are assigned
by most writers for these changes, and the final adoption of
democratic forms, are, first, the more enlarged views occasioned
by the Trojan war, and the dissensions which followed the return
of those engaged in it; second, the great convulsions that attended
the Thessalian, Boeotian, and Dorian migrations; and, third, the
free principles which intercourse and trade with the Grecian
colonies naturally engendered.
But of these causes the third tended, more than any other one,
to change the political condition of the Grecians. Whether the
migrations of the Greek colonists were occasioned, as they
generally were, by conquests that drove so many from their homes
to seek an asylum in foreign lands, or were undertaken, as was
the case in some instances, with the consent and encouragement
of the parent states, there was seldom any feeling of dependence
on the one side, and little or no claim of authority on the other.
This was especially the case with the Ionians, who had scarcely
established themselves in Asia Minor when they shook off the
authority of the princes who conducted them to their new settlements,
and established a form of government more democratic than any
which then existed in Greece.
With the rapid progress of mercantile industry and maritime
discovery, on which the prosperity of the colonies depended, a
spirit of independence grew up, which erelong exerted an influence
on the parent states of Greece, and encouraged the growth of free
principles there. "Freedom," says an eloquent author,[Footnote:
Heeren, "Polities of Ancient Greece," p. 103.] "ripens in colonies.
Ancient usage cannot be preserved, cannot altogether be renewed,
as at home. The former bonds of attachment to the soil, and ancient
customs, are broken by the voyage; the spirit feels itself to be
more free in the new country; new strength is required for the
necessary exertions; and those exertions are animated by success.
When every man lives by the labor of his hands, equality arises,
even if it did not exist before. Each day is fraught with new
experience; the necessity of common defence is more felt in lands
where the new settlers find ancient inhabitants desirous of being
free from them. Need we wonder, then, if the authority of the
founders of the Grecian colonies, even where it had originally
existed, soon gave way to liberty?"
But the changes in the political principles of the Grecian states
were necessarily slow, and were usually attended with domestic
quarrels and convulsions. Monarchy, in most instances, was
abolished by first taking away its title, and substituting that
of archon, or chief magistrate, a term less offensive than that
of king; next, by making the office of chief ruler elective,
first in one family, then in more--first for life, then for a
term of years; and, finally, by dividing the power among several
of the nobility, thus forming an aristocracy or oligarchy. At
the time in Grecian history to which we have come democracy was
as yet unknown; but the principal Grecian states, with the
exception of Sparta, which always retained the kingly form of
government, had abolished royalty and substituted oligarchy. This
change did not better the condition of the people, who, increasing
in numbers and intelligence, while the ruling class declined in
numbers and wealth, became conscious of their resources, and put
forward their claims to a representation in the government.
* * * * *
II. FROM OLIGARCHIES TO DESPOTISMS.
The fall of the oligarchies was not accomplished, however, by
the people. "The commonalty," says THIRLWALL, "even when really
superior in strength, could not all at once shake off the awe
with which it was impressed by years of subjection. It needed a
leader to animate, unite, and direct it; and it was seldom that
one capable of inspiring it with confidence could be found in
its own ranks," Hence this leader was generally found in an
ambitions citizen, perhaps a noble or a member of the oligarchy,
who, by artifice and violence, would make himself the supreme
ruler of the state. Under such circumstances the overthrow of
an oligarchy was not a triumph of the people, but only the
triumph of a then popular leader. To such a one was given the
name of tyrant, but not in the sense that we use the term. HEEREN
says, "The Grecians connected with this word the idea of an
illegitimate, but not necessarily of a cruel, government." As
the word therefore signifies simply the irresponsible rule of a
single person, such person may be more correctly designated by
the term despot, or usurper; although, in point of fact, the
government was frequently of the most cruel and tyrannical
"The merits of this race of rulers," says BULWER, "and the
unconscious benefits they produced, have not been justly
appreciated, either by ancient or modern historians. Without her
tyrants Greece might never have established her democracies. The
wiser and more celebrated tyrants were characterized by an extreme
modesty of deportment: they assumed no extraordinary pomp, no
lofty titles--they left untouched, or rendered yet more popular,
the outward forms and institutions of the government--they were
not exacting in taxation--they affected to link themselves with
the lowest orders and their ascendancy was usually productive of
immediate benefit to the working-classes, whom they employed in
new fortifications or new public buildings--dazzling the citizens
by a splendor that seemed less the ostentation of an individual
than the prosperity of a state. It was against the aristocracy,
not against the people, that they directed their acute sagacities
and unsparing energies. Every politic tyrant was a Louis the
Eleventh, weakening the nobles, creating a middle class. He
effected his former object by violent and unscrupulous means. He
swept away by death or banishment all who opposed his authority
or excited his fears. He thus left nothing between the state and
a democracy but himself; and, himself removed, democracy naturally
and of course ensued."[Footnote: "Athens: Its Rise and Fall,"
vol. i., pp. 148, 149.]
From the middle of the seventh century B.C., and during a period
of over one hundred and fifty years, there were few Grecian cities
that escaped a despotic government. While the history of Athens
affords, perhaps, the most striking example of it, the longest
tyranny in Greece was that in the city of Si'çyon, which lasted
a hundred years under Orthag'orus and his sons. Their dynasty was
founded about 676 B.C., and its long duration is ascribed to its
mildness and moderation. The last of this dynasty was Clis'thenes,
whose daughter became the mother of the Athenian Clisthenes, the
founder of democracy at Athens on the expulsion of the Pisistrat'idæ.
The despots of Corinth were more celebrated. Their dynasty endured
seventy-four years, having been founded in the year 655. Under
Perian'der, who succeeded to power in 625, and whose government
was cruel and oppressive, Corinth reached her highest prosperity.
His reign lasted upward of forty years, and soon after his death
the dynasty ended, being overpowered by Sparta.
Across the isthmus from Corinth was the city of Meg'ara, of which,
in 630 B.C., Theag'enes, a bold and ambitious man, made himself
despot. Like many other usurpers of his time, he adorned the
city with splendid and useful buildings. But he was overthrown
after a rule of thirty years, and a violent struggle then ensued
between the oligarchy and the people. At first the latter were
successful; they banished many of the nobles, and confiscated
their property, but the exiles returned, and by force of arms
recovered their power. Still the struggle continued, and it was
not until after many years that an oligarchical government was
firmly established. Much interest is added to these revolutions
in Megara by the writings of THEOG'NIS, a contemporary poet, and
a member of the oligarchical party. "His writings," says THIRLWALL,
"are interesting, not so much for the historical facts contained
in them as for the light they throw on the character and feelings
of the parties which divided his native city and so many others."
In the poems of THEOGNIS "his keen sense of his personal sufferings
is almost absorbed in the vehement grief and indignation with
which he contemplates the state of Megara, the triumph of the
bad [his usual term for the people], and the degradation of the
good [the members of the old aristocracy]." Some of the social
changes which the popular revolution had effected are thus described:
Our commonwealth preserves its former fame:
Our common people are no more the same.
They that in skins and hides were rudely dressed,
Nor dreamed of law, nor sought to be redressed
By rules of right, but in the days of old
Lived on the land like cattle in the fold,
Are now the Brave and Good; and we, the rest,
Are now the Mean and Bad, though once the best.
It appears, also, that some of the aristocracy by birth had so
far forgotten their leading position as to inter-marry with those
who had become possessed of much wealth; and of this condition of
things the poet complains as follows:
But in the daily matches that we make
The price is everything; for money's sake
Men marry--women are in marriage given;
The Bad or Coward, that in wealth has thriven,
May match his offspring with the proudest race:
Thus everything is mixed, noble and base.
The usurpations in Sicyon, Corinth, and Megara furnish illustrations
of what occurred in nearly all of the Grecian states during the
seventh and sixth centuries before the Christian era. Some of
those of a later period will be noticed in a subsequent chapter.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF ATHENS.
I. THE LEGISLATION OF DRACO.
As we have already stated, the successive encroachments on the
royal prerogatives that followed the death of Co'drus, and that
finally resulted in the establishment of an oligarchy, are almost
the only events that fill the meager annals of Athens for several
centuries, or down to 683 B.C. "Here, as elsewhere," says a
distinguished historian, "a wonderful stillness suddenly follows
the varied stir of enterprise and adventure, and the throng of
interesting characters that present themselves to our view in the
Heroic Age. Life seems no longer to offer anything for poetry to
celebrate, or for history to record." The history of Athens,
therefore, may be said to begin with the institution of the nine
annual archons in 683 B.C. These possessed all authority, religious,
civil, and military. The Athenian populace not only enjoyed no
political rights, but were reduced to a condition only a little
above servitude; and it appears to have been owing to the anarchy
that arose from the ruinous extortions of the nobles on the one
hand, and the resistance of the people on the other, that Dra'co,
the most eminent of the nobility, was chosen to prepare the first
written code of laws for the government of the state (624 B.C.).
Draco prepared his code in conformity to the spirit and the interest
of the ruling class, and the severity of his laws has made his
name proverbial. It has been said of them that they were written,
not in ink, but in blood. He attached the same penalty to petty
thefts as to sacrilege and murder, saying that the former offences
deserved death, and he had no greater punishment for the latter.
Of course, the legislation of Draco failed to calm the prevailing
discontent, and human nature soon revolted against such legalized
butchery. Says an English author, "The first symptoms in Athens of
the political crisis which, as in other of the Grecian states,
marked the transition of power from the oligarchic to the popular
party, now showed itself." Cy'lon, an Athenian of wealth and
good, family, had married the daughter of Theagenes, the despot
of Megara. Encouraged by his father-in-law's success, he conceived
the design of seizing the Acropolis at the next Olympic festival
and making himself master of Athens. Accordingly, at that time
he seized the Acropolis with a considerable force; but not having
the support of the mass of the people the conspiracy failed, and
most of those engaged in it were put to death.
* * * * *
II. LEGISLATION OF SOLON.
The Commonwealth was finally reduced to complete anarchy, without
law, or order, or system in the administration of justice, when
Solon, who was descended from Codrus, was raised to the office
of first magistrate (594 B.C.). Solon was born in Salamis, about
638 B.C., and his first appearance in public life at Athens occurred
in this wise: A few years prior to the year 600 the Island of
Salamis had revolted from Athens to Megara. The Athenians had
repeatedly failed in their attempts to recover it, and, finally,
the odium of defeat was such that a law was passed forbidding,
upon pain of death, any proposition for the renewal of the
enterprise. Indignant at this pusillanimous policy, Solon devised
a plan for rousing his countrymen to action. Having some poetical
talent, he composed a poem on the loss of Salamis, and, feigning
madness in order to evade the penalty of the law, he rushed into
the market-place. PLUTARCH says, "A great number of people flocking
about him there, he got up on the herald's stone, and sang the
elegy which begins thus:
'Hear and attend; from Salamis I came
To show your error.'"
The stratagem was successful: the law was repealed, an expedition
against Salamis was intrusted to the command of Solon, and in
one campaign he drove the Megarians from the island.
Solon the poet, orator, and soldier, became the judicious law-giver,
whose fame reached the remotest parts of the then known world,
and whose laws became the basis of those of the Twelve Tables of
Rome. Says an English poet,
Who knows not Solon, last, and wisest far,
Of those whom Greece, triumphant in the height
Of glory, styled her father? him whose voice
Through Athens hushed the storm of civil wrath;
Taught envious Want and cruel Wealth to join
In friendship, and with sweet compulsion tamed
Minerva's eager people to his laws,
Which their own goddess in his breast inspired?
Having been raised, as stated, to the office of first archon,
Solon was chosen, by the consent or an parties, as the arbiter
of their differences, and invested with full authority to frame
a new Constitution and a new code of laws. He might easily have
perverted this almost unlimited power to dangerous uses, and his
friends urged him to make himself supreme ruler of Athens. But
he told them, "Tyranny is a fair field, but it has no outlet;"
and his stern integrity was proof against all temptations to
swerve from the path of honor and betray the trust reposed in him.
The ridicule to which he was exposed for rejecting a usurper's
power he has described as follows:
Nor wisdom's palm, nor deep-laid policy
Can Solon boast. For when its noblest blessings
Heaven poured into his lap, he spurned them from him;
Where was his sense and spirit when enclosed
He found the choicest prey, nor deigned to draw it?
Who, to command fair Athens but one day,
Would not himself, with all his race, have fallen
Contented on the morrow?
The grievous exactions of the ruling orders had already reduced
the laboring classes to poverty and abject dependence; and all
whom bad times or casual disasters had compelled to borrow had
been impoverished by the high rates of interest; while thousands
of insolvent debtors had been sold into slavery, to satisfy the
demands of relentless creditors. In this situation of affairs the
most violent or needy demanded a new distribution of property;
while the rich would have held on to all the fruits of their
extortion and tyranny. Pursuing a middle course between these
extremes, Solon relieved the debtor by reducing the rate of
interest and enhancing the value of the currency: he also relieved
the lands of the poor from all encumbrances; he abolished
imprisonment for debt; he restored to liberty those whom poverty
had placed in bondage; and he repealed all the laws of Draco
except those against murder. He next arranged all the citizens
in four classes, according to their landed property; the first
class alone being eligible to the highest civil offices and the
highest commands in the army, while only a few of the lower
offices were open to the second and third classes. The latter
classes, however, were partially relieved from taxation; but in
war they were required to do duty, the one as cavalry, and the
other as heavy-armed infantry.
Individuals of the fourth class were excluded from all offices,
but in return they were wholly exempt from taxation; and yet they
had a share in the government, for they were permitted to take
part in the popular assemblies, which had the right of confirming
or rejecting new laws, and of electing the magistrates; and here
their votes counted the same as those of the wealthiest of the
nobles. In war they served only as light troops or manned the
fleets. Thus the system of Solon, being based primarily on property
qualifications, provided for all the freemen; and its aim was to
bestow upon the commonalty such a share in the government as would
enable it to protect itself, and to give to the wealthy what was
necessary for retaining their dignity--throwing the burdens of
government on the latter, and not excluding the former from its
Solon retained the magistracy of the nine archons, but with
abridged powers; and, as a guard against democratical
extravagance on the one hand, and a check to undue assumptions
of power on the other, he instituted a Senate of Four Hundred,
and founded or remodeled the court of the Areop'agus. The Senate
consisted of members selected by lot from the first three classes;
but none could be appointed to this honor until they had undergone
a strict examination into their past lives, characters, and
qualifications. The Senate was to be consulted by the archons
in all important matters, and was to prepare all new laws and
regulations, which were to be submitted to the votes of the
assembly of the people. The court of the Areopagus, which held
its sittings on an eminence on the western side of the Athenian
Acropolis, was composed of persons who had held the office of
archon, and was the supreme tribunal in all capital cases. It
exercised, also, a general superintendence over education, morals,
and religion; and it could suspend a resolution of the public
assembly, which it deemed foolish or unjust, until it had undergone
a reconsideration. It was this court that condemned the
philosopher Socrates to death; and before this same venerable
tribunal the apostle Paul, six hundred years later, made his
memorable defence of Christianity.
Such is a brief outline of the institutions of Solon, which exhibit
a mingling of aristocracy and democracy well adapted to the
character of the age and the circumstances of the people. They
evidently exercised much less control over the pursuits and
domestic habits of individuals than the Spartan code, but at the
same time they show a far greater regard for the public morals.
The success of Solon is well summed up in the following brief
tribute to his virtues and genius, by the poet THOMSON:
He built his commonweal
On equity's wide base: by tender laws
A lively people curbing, yet undamped;
Preserving still that quick, peculiar fire,
Whence in the laurelled field of finer arts
And of bold freedom they unequalled shone,
The pride of smiling Greece, and of mankind.
Solon is said to have declared that his laws were not the best
which he could devise, but were the best that the Athenians could
receive. In the following lines we have his own estimate of the
services he rendered in behalf of his distracted state:
"The force of snow and furious hail is sent
From swelling clouds that load the firmament.
Thence the loud thunders roar, and lightnings glare
Along the darkness of the troubled air.
Unmoved by storms, old Ocean peaceful sleeps
Till the loud tempest swells the angry deeps.
And thus the State, in full distraction toss'd,
Oft by its noblest citizen is lost;
And oft a people once secure and free,
Their own imprudence dooms to tyranny.
My laws have armed the crowd with useful might,
Have banished honors and unequal right,
Have taught the proud in wealth, and high in place,
To reverence justice and abhor disgrace;
And given to both a shield, their guardian tower,
Against ambition's aims and lawless power."
* * * * *
III. THE USURPATION OF PISIS'TRATUS.
The legislation of Solon was not followed by the total extinction
of party-spirit, and, while he was absent from Athens on a visit
to Egypt and other Eastern countries, the three prominent factions
in the state renewed their ancient feuds. Pisistratus, a wealthy
kinsman of Solon, who had supported the measures of the latter
by his eloquence and military talents, had the art to gain the
favor of the mass of the people and constitute himself their
leader. AKENSIDE thus happily describes him as--
The great Pisistratus! that chief renowned,
Whom Hermes and the Ida'lian queen had trained,
Even from his birth, to every powerful art
Of pleasing and persuading; from whose lips
Flowed eloquence which, like the vows of love,
Could steal away suspicion from the hearts
Of all who listened. Thus, from day to day
He won the general suffrage, and beheld
Each rival overshadowed and depressed
Beneath his ampler state; yet oft complained
As one less kindly treated, who had hoped
To merit favor, but submits perforce
To find another's services preferred,
Nor yet relaxeth aught of faith or zeal.
Then tales were scattered of his envious foes,
Of snares that watched his fame, of daggers aimed
Against his life.
When his schemes were ripe for execution, Pisistratus one day
drove into the public square of Athens, his mules and himself
disfigured with recent wounds inflicted by his own hands, but
which he induced the multitude to believe had been received from
a band of assassins, whom his enemies, the nobility, had hired to
murder "the friend of the people." Of this scene the same poet says:
At last, with trembling limbs,
His hair diffused and wild, his garments loose,
And stained with blood from self-inflicted wounds,
He burst into the public place, as there,
There only were his refuge; and declared
In broken words, with sighs of deep regret,
The mortal danger he had scarce repelled.
The ruse was successful. An assembly was at once convoked by his
partisans, and the indignant crowd immediately voted him a guard
of fifty citizens to protect his person, although Solon, who had
returned to Athens and was present, warned them of the pernicious
consequences of such a measure.
Pisistratus soon took advantage of the favor he had gained, and,
arming a large body of his adherents, he threw off the mask and
seized the Acropolis. Solon alone, firm and undaunted, publicly
presented himself in the market-place, and called upon the people
to resist the usurpation.
Solon, with swift indignant strides
The assembled people seeks; proclaims aloud
It was no time for counsel; in their spears
Lay all their prudence now: the tyrant yet
Was not so firmly seated on his throne,
But that one shock of their united force
Would dash him from the summit of his pride
Headlong and grovelling in the dust.
But his appeal was in vain, and Pisistratus, without opposition,
made himself master of Athens. The usurper made no change in
the Constitution, and suffered the laws to take their course.
He left Solon undisturbed; and it is said that the aged patriot,
rejecting all offers of favor, went into voluntary exile, and
soon after died at Salamis. Twice was Pisistratus driven from
Athens by a coalition of the opposing factions, but he regained
the sovereignty and succeeded in holding it until his death
(527 B.C.). Although he tightened the reins of government, he
ruled with equity and mildness, and adorned Athens with many
magnificent and useful works, among them the Lyceum, that
subsequently became the famous resort of philosophers and poets.
He is also said to have been the first person in Greece who
collected a library, which he threw open to the public; and to
him posterity is indebted for the collection of Homer's poems.
THIRLWALL says: "On the whole, though we cannot approve of the
steps by which Pisistratus mounted to power, we must own that he
made a princely use of it; and may believe that, though under his
dynasty Athens could never have risen to the greatness she afterward
attained, she was indebted to his rule for a season of repose,
during which she gained much of that strength which she finally
THE TYRANNY AND THE DEATH OF HIP'PIAS.
On the death of Pisistratus his sons Hippias, Hippar'chus, and
Thes'salus succeeded to his power, and for some years trod in
his steps and carried out his plans, only taking care to fill
the most important offices with their friends, and keeping a
standing force of foreign mercenaries to secure themselves from
hostile factions and popular outbreaks. After a joint reign of
fourteen years, a conspiracy was formed to free Attica from their
rule, at the head of which were two young Athenians, Harmo'dius
and Aristogi'ton, whose personal resentment had been provoked by
an atrocious insult to the family of the former. One of the
brothers was killed, but the two young Athenians also lost their
lives in the struggle. Hippias, the elder of the rulers, now
became a cruel tyrant, and soon alienated the affections of the
people, who obtained the aid of the Spartans, and the family of
the Pisistratids was driven from Athens, never to regain its
former ascendancy (510 B.C.). Hippias fled to the court of
Artapher'nes, governor of Lydia, then a part of the Persian
dominion of Dari'us, where his intrigues largely contributed to
the opening of a war between Persia and Greece.
The names of Harmodius and Aristogiton have been immortalized
by what some writers term "the ignorant or prejudiced gratitude
of the Athenians." DR. ANTHON considers them cowardly conspirators,
entitled to no heroic honors. But, as he says, statues were erected
to them at the public expense; and when an orator wished to suggest
the idea of the highest merit and of the noblest services to the
cause of liberty, he never failed to remind his hearers of Harmodius
and Aristogiton. Their names never ceased to be repeated with
affectionate admiration in the convivial songs of Athens, which
assigned them a place in the islands of the "blessed," by the
side of Achilles and Tydi'des. From one of the most famous and
popular of these songs, by CALLIS'TRATUS, we give the following
Harmodius, hail! Though 'reft of breath,
Thou ne'er shalt feel the stroke of death;
The heroes' happy isles shall be
The bright abode allotted thee.
* * * * *
While freedom's name is understood
You shall delight the wise and good;
You dared to set your country free,
And gave her laws equality.
* * * * *
IV. THE BIRTH OF DEMOCRACY.
On the expulsion of Hippias, Clis'thenes, to whom Athens was
mainly indebted for its liberation from the Pisistratids, aspired
to the political leadership of the state. But he was opposed by
Isag'oras, who was supported by the nobility. In order to make
his cause popular, Clisthenes planned, and succeeded in executing,
a change in the Constitution of Solon, which gave to the people
a greater share in the government. He divided the people into ten
tribes, instead of the old Ionic four tribes, and these in turn
were subdivided into districts or townships called de'mes. He
increased the powers and duties of the Senate, giving to it five
hundred members, with fifty from each tribe; and he placed the
administration of the military service in the hands of ten
generals, one being taken from each tribe. The reforms of
Clisthenes gave birth to the Athenian democracy. As THIRLWALL
observes, "They had the effect of transforming the commonalty
into a new body, furnished with new organs, and breathing a new
spirit, which was no longer subject to the slightest control
from any influence, save that of wealth and personal qualities,
in the old nobility. The whole frame of the state was reorganized
to correspond with the new division of the country."
On the application of Isagoras and his party, Sparta, jealous
of the growing strength of Athens, made three unsuccessful attempts
to overthrow the Athenian democracy, and reinstate Hippias in
supreme command. She finally abandoned the project, as she could
find no allies to assist in the enterprise. "Athens had now entered
upon her glorious career. The institutions of Clisthenes had given
her citizens a personal interest in the welfare and the grandeur
of their country, and a spirit of the warmest patriotism rapidly
sprung up among them. The Persian wars, which followed almost
immediately, exhibit a striking proof of the heroic sacrifices
which they were prepared to make for the liberty and the
independence of their state."
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GREEK COLONIES.
An important part of the history of Greece is that which embraces
the age of Grecian colonization, and the extension of the commerce
of the Greeks to nearly all the coasts of the Mediterranean. Of
the various circumstances that led to the planting of the Greek
colonies, and especially of the Ionic, Æolian, and Dorian colonies
on the coast of Asia Minor and the islands of the Ægean Sea, we
have already spoken. These latter were ever intimately connected
with Greece proper, in whose general history theirs is embraced;
but the cities of Italy, Sicily, and Cyrena'ica were too far
removed from the drama that was enacted around the shores of the
Ægean to be more than occasionally and temporarily affected by
the changing fortunes of the parent states. A brief notice,
therefore, of some of those distant settlements, that eventually
rivaled even Athens and Sparta in power and resources, cannot be
uninteresting, while it will serve to give more accurate views of
the extent and importance of the field of Grecian history.
At an early period the shores of Southern Italy and Sicily were
peopled by Greeks; and so numerous and powerful did the Grecian
cities become that the whole were comprised by Strabo and others
under the appellation Magna Græcia, or Great Greece. The earliest
of these distant settlements appear to have been made at Cu'mæ
and Neap'olis, on the western coast of Italy, about the middle
of the eleventh century. Cumæ was built on a rocky hill washed
by the sea; and the same name is still applied to the ruins that
lie scattered around its base. Some of the most splendid fictions
of Virgil's Æneid relate to the Cumæan Sibyl, whose supposed cave,
hewn out of the solid rock, actually existed under the city:
A spacious cave, within its farmost part,
Was hewed and fashioned by laborious art,
Through the hill's hollow sides; before the place
A hundred doors a hundred entries grace;
As many voices issue, and the sound
Of Sibyl's words as many times rebound.
--Æneid B. VI.
GROTE says: "The myth of the Sibyl passed from the Cymæ'ans in
Æ'olis, along with the other circumstances of the tale of Æne'as,
to their brethren, the inhabitants of Cumæ in Italy. In the hollow
rock under the very walls of the town was situated the cavern of
the Sibyl; and in the immediate neighborhood stood the wild woods
and dark lake of Avernus, consecrated to the subterranean gods,
and offering an establishment of priests, with ceremonies evoking
the dead, for purposes of prophecy or for solving doubts and
mysteries. It was here that Grecian imagination localized the
Cimme'rians and the fable of O-dys'seus."[Footnote: The voyage of
Ulysses (Odysseus) to the infernal regions. Odyssey, B. XI.]
The extraordinary fertility of Sicily was a great attraction
to the Greek colonists. Naxos, on the eastern coast of the island,
was founded about the year 735 B.C.; and in the following year
some Corinthians laid the foundations of Syracuse. Ge'la, on
the western coast of the island, and Messa'na, now Messï'na, on
the strait between Italy and Sicily, were founded soon after.
Agrigen'tum, on the south-western coast, was founded about a
century later, and became celebrated for the magnificence of its
public buildings. Pindar called it "the fairest of mortal cities,"
and to The'ron, its ruler from 488 to 472, the poet thus refers
in the second Olympic ode:
Come, now, my soul! now draw the string;
Bend at the mark the bow:
To whom shall now the glorious arrow wing
The praise of mild benignity?
To Agrigentum fly,
Arrow of song, and there thy praise bestow;
For I shall swear an oath: a hundred years are flown,
But the city ne'er has known
A hand more liberal, a more loving heart,
Than, Theron, thine! for such thou art.
Yet wrong hath risen to blast his praise;
Breath of injustice, breathed from men insane,
Who seek in brawling strain
The echo of his virtues mild to drown,
And with their violent deeds eclipse the days
Of his serene renown.
Unnumbered are the sands of th' ocean shore;
And who shall number o'er
Those joys in others' breasts which Theron's hand hath sown?
--Trans. by ELTON.
In the mean time the Greek cities Syb'aris, Croto'na, and Taren'tum
had been planted on the south-eastern coast of Italy, and had
rapidly grown to power and opulence. The territorial dominions
of Sybaris and Crotona extended across the peninsula from sea
to sea. The former possessed twenty-five dependent towns, and
ruled over four distinct tribes or nations. The territories of
Crotona were still more extensive. These two Grecian states were
at the maximum of their power about the year 560 B.C.--the time
of the accession of Pisistratus at Athens--but they quarreled
with each other, and the result of the contest was the ruin of
Sybaris, in 510 B.C. Tarentum was settled by a colony of Spartans
about the year 707 B.C., soon after the first Messenian war. No
details of its history during the first two hundred and thirty
years of its existence are known to us; but in the fourth century
B.C. the Tar'entines stood foremost among the Italian Greeks, and
they maintained their power down to the time of Roman supremacy.
During the first two centuries after the founding of Naxos, in
Sicily, Grecian settlements were extended over the eastern,
southern, and western sides of the island, while Him'era was the
only Grecian town on the northern coast. These two hundred years
were a period of prosperity among the Sicilian Greeks, who dwelt
chiefly in fortified towns, and exercised authority over the
surrounding native population, which gradually became assimilated
in manners, language, and religion to the higher civilization of
the Greeks. "It cannot be doubted," says GROTE, "that these first
two centuries were periods of steady increase among the Sicilian
Greeks, undisturbed by those distractions and calamities which
supervened afterward, and which led indeed to the extraordinary
aggrandizement of some of their communities, but also to the ruin
of several others; moreover, it seems that the Carthaginians in
Sicily gave them no trouble until the time of Ge'lon. Their position
will seem singularly advantageous, if we consider the extraordinary
fertility of the soil in this fine island, especially near the
sea; its capacity for corn, wine, and oil, the species of
cultivation to which the Greek husbandman had been accustomed
under less favorable circumstances; its abundant fisheries on
the coast, so important in Grecian diet, and continuing
undiminished even at the present day--together with sheep, cattle,
hides, wool, and timber from the native population in the
interior."[Footnote: "History of Greece," vol. iii., p. 367.]
During the sixth century before the Christian era the Greek cities
in Sicily and Southern Italy were among the most powerful and
flourishing that bore the Hellenic name. Ge'la and Agrigentum,
on the south side of Sicily, had then become the most prominent
of the Sicilian governments; and at the beginning of the fifth
century we find Gelon, a despot of the former city, subjecting
other towns to his authority. Finally obtaining possession of
Syracuse, he made it the seat of his empire (485 B.C.), leaving
Gela to be governed by his brother Hi'ero, the first Sicilian
ruler of that name.
Gelon strengthened the fortifications and greatly enlarged the
limits of Syracuse, while to occupy the enlarged space he
dismantled many of the surrounding towns and transported their
inhabitants to his new capital, which now became not only the
first city in Sicily, but, according to Herodotus, superior to
any other Hellenic power. When, in 480 B.C., a formidable
Carthaginian force under Hamil'-car invaded Sicily at the
instigation of Xerxes, King of Persia, who had overrun Greece
proper and captured Athens, Gelon, at the head of fifty-five
thousand men, engaged the Carthaginians in battle at Himera, and
defeated them with terrible slaughter, Hamilcar himself being
numbered among the slain. The victory at Himera procured for
Sicily immunity from foreign war, while the defeat of Xerxes at
Salamis, on the very same day, dispelled the terrific cloud that
overhung the Greeks in that quarter.
Syracuse continued a flourishing city for several centuries later;
but the subsequent events of interest in her history will be
related in a later chapter. Another Greek colony of importance
was that of Cyre'ne, on the northern coast of Africa, between
the territories of Egypt and Carthage. It was founded about 630
B.C., and, having the advantages of a fertile soil and fine
climate, it rapidly grew in wealth and power. For eight generations
it was governed by kings; but about 460 B.C. royalty was abolished
and a democratic government was established: Cyrene finally fell
under the power of the Carthaginians, and thus remained until
Carthage was destroyed by the Romans. We have mentioned only the
most important of the Grecian colonies, and even the history that
we have of these, the best known, is unconnected and fragmentary.
PROGRESS OF LITERATURE AND THE ARTS.
I. THE POEMS OF HE'SIOD.
The rapid development of literature and the arts is one of the
most pleasing and striking features of Grecian history. As one
writer has well said, "There was an uninterrupted progress in
the development of the Grecian mind from the earliest dawn of
the history of the people to the downfall of their political
independence; and each succeeding age saw the production of some
of those master-works of genius which have been the models and
the admiration of all subsequent time." The first period of Grecian
literature, ending about 776 B.C., may be termed the period of epic
poetry. Its chief monuments are the epics of Homer and of Hesiod.
The former are essentially heroic, concerning the deeds of warriors
and demi-gods; while the latter present to us the different phases
of domestic life, and are more of an ethical and religious
character. Homer represents the poetry, or school of poetry,
belonging chiefly to Ionia, in Asia Minor. Of his poems we have
already given some account, and, passing over the minor intervening
poets, called Cyclic, of whose works we have scarcely any knowledge,
we will here give a brief sketch of the poems ascribed to Hesiod.
Hesiod is the representative of a school of bards which first
developed in Boeotia, and then spread over Phocis and Euboea.
The works purporting to be his, that have come down to us, are
three in number--the Works and Days, the Theogony, and the
Shield of Hercules. The latter, however, is now generally
considered the production of some other poet. From DR. FELTON
we have the following general characterization of these poems:
"Aside from their intrinsic merit as poetical compositions, these
poems are of high value for the light they throw on the mythological
conceptions of those early times, and for the vivid pictures
presented, by the "Works and Days", of the hardships and pleasures
of daily life, the superstitious observances, the homely wisdom
of common experience, and the proverbial philosophy into which
that experience had been wrought. For the truthfulness of the
delineation generally all antiquity vouched; and there is in
the style of expression and tone of thought a racy freshness
redolent of the native soil." Of the poet himself we learn, from
his writings, that he was a native of As'cra, a village at the
foot of Mount Hel'icon, in Boeotia. Of the time of his birth
we have no account, but it is probable that he flourished from
half a century to a century later than Homer. But few incidents
of his life are related, and these he gives us in his works, from
which we learn that be was engaged in pastoral pursuits, and that
he was deprived of the greater part of his inheritance by the
decision of judges whom his brother Per'ses had bribed. This
brother subsequently became much reduced in circumstances, and
applied to Hesiod for relief. The poet assisted him, and then
addressed to him the "Works and Days", in which he lays down
certain rules for the regulation and conduct of his life.
The design of Hesiod, as a prominent writer observes, was "to
communicate to his brother in emphatic language, and in the order,
or it might be the disorder, which his excited feelings suggested,
his opinions or counsels on a variety of matters of deep interest
to both, and to the social circle in which they moved. The Works
and Days may be more appropriately entitled 'A Letter of
Remonstrance or Advice' to a brother; of remonstrance on the
folly of his past conduct, of advice as to the future. Upon these
two fundamental data every fact, doctrine, and illustration of
the poem depends, as essentially as the plot of the Iliad on
the anger of Achilles." [Footnote: Mure's "Language and Literature
of Ancient Greece," vol. ii., p.384.] The whole work has been
well characterized by another writer as "the most ancient specimen
of didactic poetry, consisting of ethical, political, and minute
economical precepts. It is in a homely and unimaginative style,
but is impressed throughout with a lofty and solemn feeling,
founded on the idea that the gods have ordained justice among
men, have made labor the only road to prosperity, and have so
ordered the year that every work has its appointed season, the
sign of which may be discerned."
There are three remarkable episodes in the Works and Days. The
first is the tale of Prome'theus, which is continued in the
Theogony; and the second is that of the Four Ages of Man. Both
of these are types of certain stages or vicissitudes of human
destiny. The third episode is a description of Winter, a poem
not so much in keeping with the spirit of the work, but "one in
which there is much fine and vigorous painting." The following
extract from it furnishes a specimen of the poet's descriptive
Beware the January month, beware
Those hurtful days, that keenly-piercing air
Which flays the herds; when icicles are cast
O'er frozen earth, and sheathe the nipping blast.
From courser-breeding Thrace comes rushing forth
O'er the broad sea the whirlwind of the north,
And moves it with his breath: the ocean floods
Heave, and earth bellows through her wild of woods.
Full many an oak of lofty leaf he fells,
And strews with thick-branch'd pines the mountain dells:
He stoops to earth; the crash is heard around;
The depth of forest rolls the roar of sound.
The beasts their cowering tails with trembling fold,
And shrink and shudder at the gusty cold;
Thick is the hairy coat, the shaggy skin,
But that all-chilling breath shall pierce within.
Not his rough hide can then the ox avail;
The long-hair'd goat, defenceless, feels the gale:
Yet vain the north wind's rushing strength to wound
The flock with sheltering fleeces fenced around.
He bows the old man crook'd beneath the storm,
But spares the soft-skinn'd virgin's tender form.
Screened by her mother's roof on wintry nights,
And strange to golden Venus' mystic rites,
The suppling waters of the bath she swims,
With shiny ointment sleeks her dainty limbs;
Within her chamber laid on downy bed,
While winter howls in tempest o'er her head.
Now gnaws the boneless polypus his feet,
Starved 'midst bleak rocks, his desolate retreat;
For now no more the sun, with gleaming ray,
Through seas transparent lights him to his prey.
And now the hornéd and unhornéd kind,
Whose lair is in the wood, sore-famished, grind
Their sounding jaws, and, chilled and quaking, fly
Where oaks the mountain dells embranch on high:
They seek to conch in thickets of the glen,
Or lurk, deep sheltered, in some rocky den.
Like aged men, who, propp'd on crutches, tread
Tottering, with broken strength and stooping head,
So move the beasts of earth, and, creeping low,
Shun the white flakes and dread the drifting snow.
--Trans. by ELTON.
The Theogony embraces subjects of a higher order than the Works
and Days. "It ascends," says THIRLWALL, "to the birth of the gods
and the origin of nature, and unfolds the whole order of the
world in a series of genealogies, which personify the beings of
every kind contained in it." A late writer of prominence says
that "it was of greater value to the Greeks than the Works and
Days, as it contained an authorized version of the genealogy of
their gods and heroes--an inspired dictionary of mythology--from
which to deviate was hazardous." [Footnote: "The Greek Poets,"
by John Addington Symonds.] This work, however, has not the
poetical merit of the other, although there are some passages in
it of fascinating power and beauty. "The famous passage describing
the Styx," says PROFESSOR MAHAFFY, "shows the poet to have known
and appreciated the wild scenery of the river Styx in Arcadia;
and the description of Sleep and Death, which immediately precedes
it, is likewise of great beauty. The conflict of the gods and
Titans has a splendid crash and thunder about it, and is far
superior in conception, though inferior in execution, to the
battle of the gods in the Iliad." [Footnote: Mahaffy's "History
of Classical Greek Literature," vol. i., p. 111.] The poems of
Hesiod early became popular with the country population of Greece;
but in the cities, and especially in Sparta, where war was
considered the only worthy pursuit, they were long cast aside
for the more heroic lines of Homer.
* * * * *
II. LYRIC POETRY.
From the time of Homer, down to about 560 B.C., many kinds of
composition for which the Greeks were subsequently distinguished
were practically unknown. We are told that the drama was in its
infancy, and that prose writing, although more or less practiced
during this period for purposes of utility or necessity, was not
cultivated as a branch of popular literature. There was another
kind of composition, however, which was carried to its highest
perfection in the last stage of the epic period, and that was
lyric poetry. But of the masterpieces of lyric poetry only a few
The first representative of this school that we may mention was
Callinus, an Ephesian of the latter part of the eighth century
B.C., to whom the invention of the elegiac distich, the
characteristic form of the Ionian poetry, is attributed. Among
the few fragments from this poet is the following fine war
elegy, occasioned, probably, by a Persian invasion of Asia Minor:
How long will ye slumber! when will ye take heart,
And fear the reproach of your neighbors at hand?
Fie! comrades, to think ye have peace for your part,
While the sword and the arrow are wasting our land!
Shame! Grasp the shield close! cover well the bold breast!
Aloft raise the spear as ye march on the foe!
With no thought of retreat, with no terror confessed,
Hurl your last dart in dying, or strike your last blow.
Oh, 'tis noble and glorious to fight for our all--
For our country, our children, the wife of our love!
Death comes not the sooner; no soldier shall fall
Ere his thread is spun out by the sisters above.
Once to die is man's doom: rush, rush to the fight!
He cannot escape though his blood were Jove's own.
For a while let him cheat the shrill arrow by flight;
Fate will catch him at last in his chamber alone.
Unlamented he dies--unregretted? Not so
When, the tower of his country, in death falls the brave;
Thrice hallowed his name among all, high or low,
As with blessings alive, so with tears in the grave.
--Trans. by H. N. COLERIDGE.
[Footnote: The "sisters" here alluded to were the
Par'coe, or Fates--three goddesses who presided over
the destinies of mortals: 1st, Clo'tho, who held the
distaff; 2d, Lach'esis, who spun each one's portion
of the thread of life; and, 3d, At'ropos, who cut off
the thread with her scissors.
Clotho and Lachesis, whose boundless sway,
With Atropos, both men and gods obey. --HESIOD.]
Next in point of time comes Archilochus of Pa'ros, a satirist
who flourished between 714 and 676 B.C. He is generally considered
to be the first Greek poet who wrote in the Iambic measure; but
there are evidences that this measure existed before his time.
This poet was betrothed to the daughter of a noble of Paros; but
the father, probably tempted by the alluring offers of a richer
suitor, forbade the nuptials. Archilochus thereupon composed so
bitter a lampoon upon the family that the daughters of the nobleman
are said to have hanged themselves. Says SYMONDS, "He made Iambic
metre his own, and sharpened it into a terrible weapon of attack.
Each verse he wrote was polished, and pointed like an arrow-head.
Each line was steeped in the poison of hideous charges against
his sweetheart, her sisters, and her father." [Footnote: "The
Greek Poets;" First Series, p. 108.]
Thenceforth Archilochus led a wandering life, full of vicissitudes,
but replete with evidences of his merit. "While Hesiod was in
the poor and backward parts of central Greece, modifying with
timid hand the tone and style of epic poetry, without abandoning
its form, Archilochus, storm-tossed amid wealth and poverty,
amid commerce and war, amid love and hate, ever in exile and
yet everywhere at home--Archilochus broke altogether with the
traditions of literature, and colonized new territories with his
genius." [Footnote: "Classical Greek Literature," vol. i., p.157.]
He is said to have returned to Paros a short time before his
death, where, on account of a victory he had won at the Olympic
festival, the resentment and hatred formerly entertained against
him were turned into gratitude and admiration. His death, which
occurred on the field of battle, could not extinguish his fame,
and his memory was celebrated by a festival established by his
countrymen, during which his verses were sung alternately with
the poems of Homer. "Thus," says an old historian, "by a fatality
frequently attending men of genius, he spent a life of misery,
and acquired honor after death. Reproach, ignominy, contempt,
poverty, and persecution were the ordinary companions of his
person; admiration, glory, respect, splendor, and magnificence
were the attendants of his shade." With the exception of Homer,
no poet of classical antiquity acquired so high a celebrity.
Among the Greeks and Romans he was equally esteemed. Cicero
classed him with Sophocles, Pindar, and even Homer; Plato called
him the "wisest of poets;" and Longinus "speaks with rapture of
the torrent of his divine inspiration."
Passing over Simonides of Amorgos, who is chiefly celebrated for
a very ungallant but ingenious and smooth satire on women, and
over Tyrtæ'us, whose animating and patriotic odes, as we have
seen, proved the safety of Sparta in one of the Messenian wars,
we come to the first truly lyric poet of Greece--Alcman--
originally a Lydian slave in a Spartan family, but emancipated
by his master on account of his genius. He flourished after the
second Messenian war, and his poems partake of the character of
this period, which was one of pleasure and peace. They are chiefly
erotic, or amatory, or in celebration of the enjoyments of social
life. He successfully cultivated choral poetry, and his Parthenia,
made up of a variety of subjects, was composed to be sung by the
maidens of Tayge'tus. "His excellence," says MURE, "appears to
have lain in his descriptive powers. The best, and one of the
longest extant passages of his works is a description of sleep,
or rather of night; a description unsurpassed, perhaps unrivalled,
by any similar passage in the Greek or any other language, and
which has been imitated or paraphrased by many distinguished
poets." [Footnote: "History of Greek Literature," vol. iii., p.
205.] The following is this author's translation of it:
Now o'er the drowsy earth still night prevails.
Calm sleep the mountain tops and shady vales,
The rugged cliffs and hollow glens;
The wild beasts slumber in their dens,
The cattle on the hill. Deep in the sea
The countless finny race and monster brood
Tranquil repose. Even the busy bee
Forgets her daily toil. The silent wood
No more with noisy hum of insect rings;
And all the feathered tribes, by gentle sleep subdued,
Roost in the glade and hang their drooping wings.
ARI'ON AND STESICH'ORUS.
Arion, the greater part of whose life was spent at the court of
Periander, despot of Corinth, and Stesichorus, of Himera, in
Sicily, who flourished about 608 B.C., were two Greek poets
especially noted for the improvements they made in choral poetry.
The former invented the wild, irregular, and impetuous
dithyramb, [Footnote: From Dithyrambus, one of the appellations
of Bacchus.] originally a species of lyric poetry in honor of
Bacchus; but of his works there is not a single fragment extant.
The latter's original name was Tis'ias, and he was called
Stesichorus, which signifies a "leader of choruses." A late
historian characterizes him as "the first to break the monotony
of the choral song, which had consisted previously of nothing
more than one uniform stanza, by dividing it into the Strophe,
the Antistrophe, and the Epodus--the turn, the return, and the
rest." PROFESSOR MAHAFFY observes of him as follows: "Finding
the taste for epic recitation decaying, he undertook to reproduce
epic stories in lyric dress, and present the substance of the old
epics in rich and varied metres, and with the measured movements
of a trained chorus. This was a direct step to the drama, for
when anyone member of the chorus came to stand apart and address
the rest of the choir, we have already the essence of Greek tragedy
before us." [Footnote: "Classical Greek Literature," vol. i., p.
203.] The works of Stesichorus comprised hymns in honor of the
gods and in praise of heroes, love-songs, and songs of revelry.
Among the lyric poets of Greece some writers assign the very
first place to Alcæus, a native of Lesbos, who flourished about
610 B.C., and who has been styled the ardent friend and defender
of liberty, more because he talked so well of patriotism than
because of his deeds in its behalf. The poet AKENSIDE, however,
calls him "the Lesbian patriot," and thus contrasts his style
with that of Anac'reon:
Broke from the fetters of his native land,
Devoting shame and vengeance to her lords,
With louder impulse and a threat'ning hand
The Lesbian patriot smites the sounding chords:
"Ye wretches, ye perfidious train!
Ye cursed of gods and free-born men!
Ye murderers of the laws!
Though now ye glory in your lust,
Though now ye tread the feeble neck in dust,
Yet Time and righteous Jove will judge your dreadful cause."
The poems of Alcæus were principally war and drinking songs of
great beauty, and it is said that they furnished to the Latin
poet Horace "not only a metrical model, but also the subject-matter
of some of his most beautiful odes." The poet fought in the war
between Athens and Mityle'ne (606 B.C.), and enjoyed the reputation
of being a brave and skilful warrior, although on one occasion
he is said to have fled from the field of battle leaving his
arms behind him. Of his warlike odes we have a specimen in the
following description of the martial embellishment of his own house:
The Spoils of War.
Glitters with brass my mansion wide;
The roof is decked on every side,
In martial pride,
With helmets ranged in order bright,
And plumes of horse-hair nodding white,
A gallant sight!
Fit ornament for warrior's brow--
And round the walls in goodly row
Stout greaves of brass, like burnished gold,
And corselets there in many a fold
Of linen foiled;
And shields that, in the battle fray,
The routed losers of the day
Have cast away.
Euboean falchions too are seen,
With rich-embroidered belts between
Of dazzling sheen:
And gaudy surcoats piled around,
The spoils of chiefs in war renowned,
May there be found:
These, and all else that here you see,
Are fruits of glorious victory
Achieved by me.
--Trans. By MERIVALE.
Contemporary with Alcæus was the poetess Sappho, the only female
of Greece who ever ranked with the illustrious poets of the other
sex, and whom Alcæus called "the dark-haired, spotless, sweetly
smiling Sappho." Lesbos was the center of Æolian culture, and
Sappho was the center of a society of Lesbian ladies who applied
themselves successfully to literature. Says SYMONDS: "They formed
clubs for the cultivation of poetry and music. They studied the
arts of beauty, and sought to refine metrical forms and diction.
Nor did they confine themselves to the scientific side of art.
Unrestrained by public opinion, and passionate for the beautiful,
they cultivated their senses and emotions, and indulged their
wildest passions." Sappho devoted her whole genius to the subject
of Love, and her poems express her feelings with great freedom.
Hence arose the charges of a later age, that were made against
her character. But whatever difference of view may exist on this
point, there is only one opinion as to her poetic genius. She was
undoubtedly the greatest erotic poet of antiquity. Plato called
her the tenth Muse, and Solon, hearing one of her poems, prayed
that he might not die until he had committed it to memory. We cannot
forbear introducing the following eloquent characterization of her
"Nowhere is a hint whispered that the poetry of Sappho is aught
but perfect. Of all the poets of the world, of all the illustrious
artists of all literatures, Sappho is the one whose every word
has a peculiar and unmistakable perfume, a seal of absolute
perfection and inimitable grace. In her art she was unerring.
Even Archilochus seems commonplace when compared with her
exquisite rarity of phrase. Whether addressing the maidens whom,
even in Elysium, as Horace says, Sappho could not forget, or
embodying the profounder yearnings of an intense soul after beauty
which has never on earth existed, but which inflames the hearts of
noblest poets, robbing the eyes of sleep and giving them the
bitterness of tears to drink--these dazzling fragments,
'Which still, like sparkles of Greek fire,
Burn on through time and ne'er expire,'
are the ultimate and finished forms of passionate utterance
--diamonds, topazes, and blazing rubies--in which the fire of
the soul is crystallized forever." [Footnote: Symond's "Greek
Poets," First Series, p. 189.]
It is related that an associate of Sappho once derided her talents,
or stigmatized her poetical labors as unsuited to her sex and
condition. The poetess, burning with indignation, thus replied
to her traducer:
Whenever Death shall seize thy mortal frame,
Oblivion's pen shall blot thy worthless name;
For thy rude hand ne'er plucked the beauteous rose
That on Pie'ria's sky-clad summit blows:
[Symond's "Greek Poets," First Series, p. 139.]
Thy paltry soul with vilest souls shall go
To Pluto's kingdom--scenes of endless woe;
While I on golden wings ascend to fame,
And leave behind a muse-enamored, deathless name.
The memory of this poetess of Love rouses the following strain
of celebration in ANTIP'ATER of Sidon:
Does Sappho, then, beneath thy bosom rest,
Æolian earth? that mortal Muse confessed
Inferior only to the choir above,
That foster-child of Venus and of Love;
Warm from whose lips divine Persuasion came,
Greece to delight, and raise the Lesbian name?
O ye, who ever twine the threefold thread,
Ye Fates, why number with the silent dead
That mighty songstress, whose unrivalled powers
Weave for the Muse a crown of deathless flowers?
--Trans. by FRANCIS HODGSON.
The last lyric poet of this period that we shall notice was
Anacreon, a native of Teos, in Ionia, who flourished about 530
B.C. He was a voluptuary, who sang beautifully of love, and wine,
and nature, and who has been called the courtier and laureate of
tyrants, in whose society, and especially in that of Polyc'rates
and Hippar'chus, his days were spent. The poet AKENSIDE thus
I see Anacreon smile and sing,
His silver tresses breathe perfume;
His cheeks display a second spring,
Of roses taught by wine to bloom.
Away, deceitful cares, away,
And let me listen to his lay;
Let me the wanton pomp enjoy,
While in smooth dance the light-winged hours
Lead round his lyre its patron powers,
Kind laughter and convivial joy.
The following is Cowper's translation of a pretty little poem
by Anacreon on the grasshopper:
Happy songster, perched above,
On the summit of the grove,
Whom a dew-drop cheers to sing
With the freedom of a king,
From thy perch survey the fields,
Where prolific Nature yields
Naught that, willingly as she,
Man surrenders not to thee.
For hostility or hate,
None thy pleasures can create.
Thee it satisfies to sing
Sweetly the return of spring,
Herald of the genial hours,
Harming neither herbs nor flowers.
Therefore man thy voice attends,
Gladly; thou and he are friends.
Nor thy never-ceasing strains
Phoebus and the Muse disdains
As too simple or too long,
For themselves inspire the song.
Earth-born, bloodless; undecaying,
Ever singing, sporting, playing,
What has Nature else to show
Godlike in its kind as thou?
* * * * *
III. EARLY GRECIAN PHILOSOPHY.
We now enter upon a new phase of Greek literature. While the
first use of prose in writing may be assigned to a date earlier
than 700 B.C., it was not until the early part of the sixth
century B.C. that use was made of prose for literary purposes;
and even then prose compositions were either mythological, or
collections of local legends, whether sacred or profane. The
importance and the practical uses of genuine history were neither
known nor suspected until after the Persian wars. But Grecian
philosophy had an earlier dawn, and was coeval with the poetical
compositions of Hesiod, although it was in the sixth century that
it began to be separated from poetry and religion, and to be
cultivated by men who were neither bards, priests, nor seers.
This is the era when the practical maxims and precepts of the
Seven Grecian sages began to be collected by the chroniclers,
and disseminated among the people.
THE SEVEN SAGES.
Concerning these sages, otherwise called the "Seven Wise Men
of Greece," the accounts are confused and contradictory, and
their names are variously given; but those most generally admitted
to the honor are Solon (the Athenian legislator); Bias, of Ionia;
Chi'lo (Ephor of Sparta); Cleobu'lus (despot of Lindos, in the
Island of Rhodes); Perian'der (despot of Corinth); Pit'tacus
(ruler of Mityle'ne); and Tha'les, of Mile'tus, in accordance
with the following enumeration:
"First Solon, who made the Athenian laws;
While Chilo, in Sparta, was famed for his saws;
In Miletus did Thales astronomy teach;
Bias used in Prie'ne his morals to preach;
Cleobulus of Lindus was handsome and wise;
Mitylene 'gainst thraldom saw Pittacus rise;
Periander is said to have gained, through his court,
The title that Myson, the Chenian, ought."
[Footnote: It is Plato who says that Periander,
tyrant of Corinth; should give place to Myson.]
The seven wise men were distinguished for their witty sayings,
many of which have grown into maxims that are in current use
even at the present day. Out of the number the following seven
were inscribed as mottoes, in later days, in the temple at Delphi:
"Know thyself," Solon; "Consider the end," Chilo; "Suretyship is
the forerunner of ruin" (He that hateth suretyship is sure; Prov.
xi. 15), Thales; "Most men are bad" (There is none that doeth
good, no, not one, Psalm xiv. 3), Bias; "Avoid extremes" (the
golden mean), Cleobulus; "Know thy opportunity" (Seize time by
the forelock), Pittacus; "Nothing is impossible to industry"
(Patience and perseverance overcome mountains), Periander. GROTE
says of the seven sages: "Their appearance forms an epoch in
Grecian history, inasmuch as they are the first persons who ever
acquired an Hellenic reputation grounded on mental competency
apart from poetical genius or effect--a proof that political
and social prudence was beginning to be appreciated and admired
on its own account."
The eldest school of Greek philosophy, called the Ionian, was
founded by Thales of Miletus, about the middle of the sixth
century B.C. In the investigation of natural causes and effects
he taught, as a distinguishing tenet of his philosophy, that
water, or some other fluid, is the primary element of all things
--a theory which probably arose from observations on the uses of
moisture in the nourishment of animal and vegetable life. A
similar process of reasoning led Anaxim'enes, of Miletus, half
a century later, to substitute air for water; and by analogous
reasoning Heracli'tus, of Ephesus, surnamed "the naturalist,"
was led to regard the basis of fire or flame as the fundamental
principle of all things, both spiritual and material. Diog'enes,
the Cretan, was led to regard the universe as issuing from an
intelligent principle--a rational as well as sensitive soul--but
without recognizing any distinction between mind and matter;
while Anaximan'der conceived the primitive state of the universe
to have been a vast chaos or infinity, containing the elements
from which the world was constructed by inherent or self-moving
processes of separation and combination. This doctrine was revived
by Anaxag'oras, an Ionian, a century later, who combined it with
the philosophy of Diogenes, and taught the existence of one supreme
XENOPH'ANES AND PYTHAG'ORAS.
Two widely different schools of philosophy now arose in the western
Greek colonies of lower Italy. Xenophanes, a native of Ionia, who
had fled to E'lea, was the founder of one, and Pythagoras, of
Samos, of the other. The former, known as the Eleat'ic philosophy,
admitted a supreme intelligence, eternal and incorporeal, pervading
all things, and, like the universe itself, spherical in form. This
system was developed in the following century by Parmen'ides and
Zeno, who exercised a great influence upon the Greek mind.
Pythagoras was the first Grecian to assume the title of philosopher,
although he was more of a religious teacher. Having traveled
extensively in the East, he returned to Samos about 540 B.C.;
but, finding the condition of his country, which was then ruled
by the despot Polycrates, unfavorable to the progress of his
doctrines, he moved to Croto'na, in Italy, and established his
school of philosophy there.
Vexed with the Samian despot's lawless sway
(For tyrants ne'er loved wisdom), crossed the seas,
And found a home on the Hesperian shore,
Time when the Tarquin arched the infant Rome
With vaults, the germ of Cæsar's golden hall.
There, in Crotona's state, he held a school
Of wisdom and of virtue, teaching men
The harmony of aptly portioned powers,
And of well-numbered days: whence, as a god,
Men honored him; and, from his wells refreshed,
The master-builder of pure intellect,
Imperial Plato, piled the palace where
All great, true thoughts have found a home forever.
--J. STUART BLACKIE.
Pythagoras made some important discoveries in geometry, music,
and astronomy. The demonstration of the forty-seventh proposition
of Euclid is attributed to him. He also discovered the chords in
music, which led him to conceive that the planets, striking upon
the ether through which they move in their celestial orbits;
produce harmonious sounds, varying according to the differences
of the magnitudes, velocities, and relative distances of the
planets, in a manner corresponding to the proportion of the notes
in a musical scale. Hence the "music of the spheres." From what
can be gathered of the astronomical doctrine of Pythagoras, it
has been inferred that he was possessed of the true idea of the
solar system, which was revived by Coper'nicus and fully
established by Newton. With respect to God, Pythagoras appears
to have taught that he is the universal, ever-existent mind,
the first principle of the universe, the source and cause of all
animal life and motion, in substance similar to light, in nature
like truth, incapable of pain, invisible, incorruptible, and only
to be comprehended by the mind. His philosophy and teachings are
thus pictured by the poet THOMSON:
Here dwelt the Samian sage; to him belongs
The brightest witness of recording fame.
He sought Crotona's pure, salubrious air,
And through great Greece his gentle wisdom taught.
His mental eye first launched into the deeps
Of boundless ether; where unnumbered orbs,
Myriads on myriads, through the pathless sky
Unerring roll, and wind their steady way.
There he the full consenting choir beheld;
There first discerned the secret band of love,
The kind attraction, that to central suns
Binds circling earths, and world with world unites.
Instructed thence, he great ideas formed
Of the whole-moving, all-informing God,
The Sun of Beings! beaming unconfined--
Light, life, and love, and ever active power:
Whom naught can image, and who best approves
The silent worship of the moral heart,
That joys in bounteous Heaven and spreads the joy.
Pythagoras also taught the doctrine of the transmigration of
souls, which he probably derived from the Egyptians; and he
professed to preserve a distinct remembrance of several states
of existence through which his soul had passed. It is related
of him that on one occasion, seeing a dog beaten, he interceded
in its behalf, saying, "It is the soul of a friend of mine, whom
I recognize by its voice." It would seem as if the poet COLERIDGE
had at times been dimly conscious of the reality of this
Pythagorean doctrine, for he says:
Oft o'er my brain does that strange fancy roll
Which makes the present (while the flash doth last)
Seem a mere semblance of some unknown past,
Mixed with such feelings as perplex the soul
Self-questioned in her sleep: and some have said
We lived ere yet this robe of flesh we wore.
One of our favorite American poets; LOWELL, indulges in a like
fancy in the following lines from that dream, like, exquisite
fantasy, "In the Twilight," found in the Biglow Papers:
Sometimes a breath floats by me,
An odor from Dream-land sent,
That makes the ghost seem nigh me
Of a splendor that came and went,
Of a life lived somewhere, I know not
In what diviner sphere--
Of memories that stay not and go not,
Like music once heard by an ear
That cannot forget or reclaim it--
A something so shy, it would shame it
To make it a show--
A something too vague, could I name it,
For others to know,
As if I had lived it or dreamed it,
As if I had acted or schemed it,
And yet, could I live it over,
This life that stirs in my brain--
Could I be both maiden and lover,
Moon and tide, bee and clover,
As I seem to have been, once again--
Could I but speak and show it,
This pleasure, more sharp than pain,
That baffles and lures me so,
The world should not lack a poet,
Such as it had
In the ages glad
On the whole, the system of Pythagoras, with many excellencies,
contained some gross absurdities and superstitions, which were
dignified with the name of philosophy, and which exerted a
pernicious influence over the opinions of many succeeding
THE ELEUSIN'IAN MYSTERIES,
Closely connected with the public and private instruction that
the philosophers gave in their various systems, were certain
national institutions of a secret character, which combined the
mysteries of both philosophy and religion. The most celebrated
of these, the great festival of Eleusinia, sacred to Ce'res and
Pros'erpine, was observed every fourth year in different parts
of Greece, but more particularly by the people of Athens every
fifth year, at Eleu'sis, in Attica.
What is known of the rites performed at Eleusis has been gathered
from occasional incidental allusions found in the pages of nearly
all the classical authorities; and although the penalty of a
sudden and ignominious death impended over anyone who divulged
these symbolic ceremonies, yet enough is now known to describe
them with much minuteness of detail. We have not the space to
give that detailed description here, but the ceremonies occupied
nine days, from the 15th to the 23d of September, inclusive. The
first day was that on which the worshippers merely assembled; the
second, that on which they purified themselves by bathing in the
sea; the third, the day of sacrifices; the fourth, the day of
offerings to the goddess; the fifth, the day of torches, when
the multitude roamed over the meadows at nightfall carrying
flambeaus, in imitation of Ceres searching for her daughter;
the sixth, the day of Bacchus, the god of Vintage; the seventh,
the day of athletic pastimes; the eighth, the day devoted to
the lesser mysteries and celestial revelations; and the ninth,
the day of libations.
The language that Virgil puts into the mouth of Anchi'ses, in
the Sixth Book of the Æneid, is regarded as a condensed definition
of the secrets of Eleusis and the creed of Pythagoras. The same
book, moreover, is believed to represent several of the scenes
of the mysteries. In the following words the shade of Anchises
answers the inquiries of "his godlike son:"
"Know, first, that heav'n, and earth's contracted frame,
And flowing waters, and the starry flame,
And both the radiant lights, one common soul
Inspires and feeds--and animates the whole.
This active mind, infused through all the space,
Unites and mingles with the mighty mass.
Hence men and beasts the breath of life obtain,
And birds of air, and monsters of the main.
Th' ethereal vigor is in all the same;
And ev'ry soul is fill'd with equal flame--
As much as earthy limbs, and gross allay
Of mortal members subject to decay,
Blunt not the beams of heav'n and edge of day.
From this coarse mixture of terrestrial parts,
Desire and fear by turns possess their hearts,
And grief and joy: nor can the grovelling mind,
In the dark dungeon of the limbs confined,
Assert the native skies, or own its heav'nly kind:
Nor death itself can wholly wash their stains;
But long-contracted filth ev'n in the soul remains.
"The relics of invet'rate vice they wear
And spots of sin obscene in ev'ry face appear.
For this are various penances enjoin'd;
And some are hung to bleach upon the wind,
Some plunged in waters, others purged in fires,
Till all the dregs are drain'd, and all the rust expires.
All have their ma'nes, and those manes bear:
The few, so cleansed, to these abodes repair,
And breathe, in ample fields, the soft Elysian air.
Then are they happy, when by length of time
The scurf is worn away of each committed crime;
No speck is left of their habitual stains,
But the pure ether of the soul remains.
But, when a thousand rolling years are past
(So long their punishments and penance last),
Whole droves of minds are, by the driving god,
Compell'd to drink the deep Lethe'an flood,
In large forgetful draughts to steep the cares
Of their past labors and their irksome years,
That, unrememb'ring of its former pain,
The soul may suffer mortal flesh again."
--Trans. by DRYDEN.
* * * * *
In architecture and sculpture Greece stands pre-eminently above
all other nations. The first evidences of the former art that
we discover are in the gigantic walls of Tiryns, Mycenæ, and
other Greek cities, constructed for purposes of defence in the
very earliest periods of Greek history, and generally known by
the name of Cyclo'pean, because supposed by the early Greeks to
have been built by those fabled giants, the Cyclo'pes.
Ye cliffs of masonry, enormous piles,
Which no rude censure of familiar time
Nor record of our puny race defiles,
In dateless mystery ye stand sublime,
Memorials of an age of which we see
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