Mosaics of Grecian History
Marcius Willson and Robert Pierpont Willson
Part 7 out of 11
in Aristophanes which, however disguised, as they intentionally
are, by coarseness and buffoonery, entitle him to the highest
respect from every reader of antiquity." Yet, while the purposes
of Aristophanes were in the main praiseworthy, and the persons
and things he attacked generally deserving of censure, he spared
the vices of his own party and associates; and, like all satirists,
for effect he often traduced character, as in the case of the
virtuous Socrates. In an attack on the Sophists, in his play
of the Clouds, he gives to Socrates the character of a vulgar
Sophist, and holds him up to the derision of the Athenian people.
But, as another has said, "Time has set all even; and 'poor
Socrates,' as Aristophanes called him--as a far loftier bard
By what he taught, and suffered for so doing,
For truth's sake suffering death unjust, lives now,
Equal in fame to proudest conquerors.'"
The Comedy of the "Clouds."
It is curious to observe in the Clouds of Aristophanes that while
the main object of the poet is to ridicule Socrates, and through
him to expose what he considers the corrupt state of education
in Athens, he does not disdain to mingle with his low buffoonery
the loftiest flights of the imagination--reminding us of the
not unlike anomaly of Shakspeare's sublime simile of the
"cloud-capp'd towers," in the Tempest. In one part of the play,
Strepsi'ades, who has been nearly ruined in fortune by his
spendthrift son, goes to Socrates to learn from him the logic
that will enable him "to talk unjustly and--prevail," so that
he may shirk his debts! He finds the master teacher suspended
in air, in a basket, that he may be above earthly influences,
and there "contemplating the sun," and endeavoring to search
out "celestial matters." To the appeal of Strepsiades, Socrates,
interrupted in his reveries, thus answers:
Socrates. Old man, sit you still, and attend to my will, and
hearken in peace to my prayer. (He then addresses the Air.)
O master and king, holding earth in your swing, O measureless
And thou, glowing Ether, and Clouds who enwreathe her with
thunder and lightning and storms,
Arise ye and shine, bright ladies divine, to your student, in
Then we have the farther prayer of Socrates to the Clouds, in
which is pictured a series of the most sublime images, colored
with all the rainbow hues of the poet's fancy. We are led, in
imagination, to behold the dread Clouds, at first sitting, in
glorious majesty, upon the time-honored crest of snowy Olympus
--then in the soft dance beguiling the nymphs "'mid the stately
advance of old Ocean"--then bearing away, in their pitchers
of sunlight and gold, "the mystical waves of the Nile," to refresh
and fertilize other lands; at one time sporting on the foam of
Lake Męo'tis, and at another playing around the wintry summits
of Mi'mas, a mountain range of Ionia, The farther invocation
of the Clouds is thus continued:
Socrates. Come forth, come forth, ye dread Clouds, and to
earth your glorious majesty show;
Whether lightly ye rest on the time-honored crest of Olympus,
environed in snow,
Or tread the soft dance 'mid the stately advance of old Ocean,
the nymphs to beguile,
Or stoop to enfold, with your pitchers of gold, the mystical
waves of the Nile,
Or around the white foam of Męotis ye roam, or Mimas all
wintry and bare,
O hear while we pray, and turn not away from the rites which
your servants prepare.
Then the chorus comes forward and answers, as if the Clouds were
Chorus. Clouds of all hue,
Now rise we aloft with our garments of dew,
We come from old Ocean's unchangeable bed,
We come till the mountains' green summits we tread,
We come to the peaks with their landscapes untold,
We gaze on the earth with her harvests of gold,
We gaze on the rivers in majesty streaming,
We gaze on the lordly, invisible sea;
We come, for the eye of the Ether is beaming,
We come, for all Nature is flashing and free.
Let us shake off this close-clinging dew
From our members eternally new,
And sail upward the wide world to view,
Come away! Come away!
Socr. O goddesses mine, great Clouds and divine, ye have
heeded and answered my prayer.
Heard ye their sound, and the thunder around, as it thrilled
through the petrified air?
Streps. Yes, by Zeus! and I shake, and I'm all of a quake,
and I fear I must sound a reply,
Their thunders have made my soul so afraid, and those terrible
voices so nigh--
Socr. Don't act in our schools like those comedy-fools, with
their scurrilous, scandalous ways.
Deep silence be thine, while these Clusters divine their
soul-stirring melody raise.
To which the chorus again responds. But we have not room for
farther extracts. The description of the floating-cloud character
of the scene is acknowledged by critics to be inimitable. There
is one passage, in particular, in which Socrates, pointing to
the clouds that have taken a sudden slanting downward motion, says:
"They are drifting, an infinite throng,
And their long shadows quake over valley and brake"--
which, MR. RUSKIN declares, "could have been written by none
but an ardent lover of the hill scenery--one who had watched
hour after hour the peculiar, oblique, sidelong action of
descending clouds, as they form along the hollows and ravines
of the hills. [Footnote: The line in Greek, which is so vividly
descriptive of this peculiar appearance and motion of the clouds--
dia toy koiloy kai toy daseoy autai plagiai--
loses so much in the rendering, that the beauty of the passage
can be fully appreciated only by the Greek scholar.] There are
no lumpish solidities, no billowy protuberances here. All is
melting, drifting, evanescent, full of air, and light as dew."
Choral Song from "The Birds."
In the following extract from the comedy of The Birds, Aristophanes
ridicules the popular belief of the Greeks in signs and omens
drawn from the birds of the air. Though undoubtedly an exaggeration,
it may nevertheless be taken as a fair exposition of the
superstitious notions of an age that had its world-renowned
"oracles," and as a good example of the poet's comic style. The
extract is from the Choral Song in the comedy, and is a true
Ye children of man! whose life is a span,
Protracted with sorrow from day to day;
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly, calamitous creatures of clay!
Attend to the words of the sovereign birds,
Immortal, illustrious lords of the air,
Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
Your struggles of misery, labor, and care.
Whence you may learn and clearly discern
Such truths as attract your inquisitive turn--
Which is busied of late with a mighty debate,
A profound speculation about the creation,
And organical life and chaotical strife--
With various notions of heavenly motions,
And rivers and oceans, and valleys and mountains,
And sources of fountains, and meteors on high,
And stars in the sky.... We propose by-and-by
(If you'll listen and hear) to make it all clear.
All lessons of primary daily concern
You have learned from the birds (and continue to learn),
Your best benefactors and early instructors.
We give you the warnings of seasons returning:
When the cranes are arranged, and muster afloat
In the middle air, with a creaking note,
Steering away to the Libyan sand,
Then careful farmers sow their lands;
The craggy vessel is hauled ashore;
The sail, the ropes, the rudder, and oar
Are all unshipped and housed in store.
The shepherd is warned, by the kite re-appearing,
To muster his flock and be ready for shearing.
You quit your old cloak at the swallow's behest,
In assurance of summer, and purchase a vest.
For Delphi, for Ammon, Dodo'na--in fine,
For every oracular temple and shrine--
The birds are a substitute, equal and fair;
For on us you depend, and to us you repair
For counsel and aid when a marriage is made--
A purchase, a bargain, or venture in trade:
Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye--
A voice in the street, or a slave that you meet,
A name or a word by chance overheard--
If you deem it an omen you call it a bird;
And if birds are your omens, it clearly will follow
That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.
--Trans. by FRERE.
* * * * *
As we have stated in a former chapter, literary compositions
in prose first appeared among the Greeks in the sixth century
B.C., and were either mythological, or collections of local legends,
whether sacred or profane, of particular districts. It was not
until a still later period that the Grecian prose writers, becoming
more positive in their habits of thought, broke away from
speculative and mystical tendencies, and began to record their
observations of the events daily occurring about them. In the
writings of Hecatę'us of Mile'tus, who flourished about 500 B.C.,
we find the first elements of history; and yet some modern writers
think he can lay no claim whatever to the title of historian,
while others regard him as the first historical writer of any
importance. He visited Greece proper and many of the surrounding
countries, and recorded his observations and experiences in a
work of a geographical character, entitled Periodus. He also wrote
another work relating to the mythical history of Greece, and died
about 467 B.C.
MAHAFFY considers Hecatę'us "the forerunner of Herodotus in his
mode of life and his conception of setting down his experiences;"
while NIE'BUHR, the great German historian, absolutely denies
the existence of any Grecian histories before Herodotus gave
to the world the first of those illustrious productions that
form another bright link in the literary chain of Grecian glory.
Born in Halicarnas'sus about the year 484, of an illustrious
family, Herodotus was driven from his native land at an early
age by a revolution, after which he traveled extensively over
the then known world, collecting much of the material that he
subsequently used in his writings. After a short residence at
Samos he removed to Athens, leaving there, however, about the
year 440 to take up his abode at Thu'rii, a new Athenian colony
near the site of the former Syb'aris. Here he lived the rest
of his life, dying about the year 420. Lucian relates that, on
completing his work, Herodotus went to Olympia during the
celebration of the Olympic games, and there recited to his
countrymen the nine books of which his history was composed.
His hearers were delighted, and immediately honored the books
with the title of the Nine Muses. A later account of this scene
says that Thucydides, then a young man, stood at the side of
Herodotus, and was affected to tears by his recitations.
Herodotus modestly states the object of his history in the
following paragraph, which is all the introduction that he makes
to his great work: "These are the researches of Herodotus of
Halicarnassus, which he publishes in the hope of thereby preserving
from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing
the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the barbarians
from losing their due meed of glory; and, withal, to put on record
what were their grounds of feud." [Footnote: Rawlinson's
translation.] But while he portrays the military ambition of
the Persian rulers, the struggles of the Greeks for liberty,
and their final triumph over the Persian power, he also gives
us a history of almost all the then known world. "His work begins,"
says MR. LAWRENCE, "with the causes of the hostility between
Persia and Greece, describes the power of Croe'sus, the wonders
of Egypt, the expedition of Darius into Scythia, and closes with
the immortal war between the allied Greeks and the Persian hosts.
To his countrymen the story must have had the intense interest
of a national ode or epic. Athens, particularly, must have read
with touching ardor the graceful narrative of its early glory;
for when Herodotus finished his work the brief period had already
passed away. What Ęschylus and the other dramatists painted in
brief and striking pictures on the stage, Herodotus described
with laborious but never tedious minuteness. His pure Ionic diction
never wearies, his easy and simple narrative has never lost its
interest, and all succeeding ages have united in calling him 'the
Father of History.' His fame has advanced with the progress of
letters, and has spread over mankind."
The following admirable description of Herodotus and of his writings
is from an essay on "History," by LORD MACAULAY:
Herodotus and his Writings.
"Of the romantic historians, Herodotus is the earliest and the
best. His animation, his simple-hearted tenderness, his wonderful
talent for description and dialogue, and the pure, sweet flow
of his language, place him at the head of narrators. He reminds
us of a delightful child. There is a grace beyond the reach of
affectation in his awkwardness, a malice in his innocence, an
intelligence in his nonsense, and an insinuating eloquence in
his lisp. We know of no other writer who makes such interest
for himself and his book in the heart of the reader. He has written
an incomparable book. He has written something better, perhaps,
than the best history; but he has not written a really good history;
for he is, from the first to the last chapter, an inventor. We
do not here refer merely to those gross fictions with which he
has been reproached by the critics of later times, but we speak
of that coloring which is equally diffused over his whole narrative,
and which perpetually leaves the most sagacious reader in doubt
what to reject and what to receive. The great events are, no
doubt, faithfully related; so, probably, are many of the slighter
circumstances, but which of them it is impossible to ascertain.
We know there is truth, but we cannot exactly decide where it lies.
"If we may trust to a report not sanctioned, indeed, by writers
of high authority, but in itself not improbable, the work of
Herodotus was composed not to be read, but to be heard. It was
not to the slow circulation of a few copies, which the rich only
could possess, that the aspiring author looked for his reward.
The great Olympian festival was to witness his triumph. The interest
of the narrative and the beauty of the style were aided by the
imposing effect of recitation--by the splendor of the spectacle,
by the powerful influence of sympathy. A critic who could have
asked for authorities in the midst of such a scene must have
been of a cold and skeptical nature, and few such critics were
there. As was the historian, such were the auditors--inquisitive,
credulous, easily moved by the religious awe of patriotic
enthusiasm. They were the very men to hear with delight of strange
beasts, and birds, and trees; of dwarfs, and giants, and cannibals;
of gods whose very names it was impiety to utter; of ancient
dynasties which had left behind them monuments surpassing all
the works of later times; of towns like provinces; of rivers
like seas; of stupendous walls, and temples, and pyramids; of
the rites which the Magi performed at daybreak on the tops of
the mountains; of the secrets inscribed on the eternal obelisks
of Memphis. With equal delight they would have listened to the
graceful romances of their own country. They now heard of the
exact accomplishment of obscure predictions; of the punishment
of climes over which the justice of Heaven had seemed to slumber;
of dreams, omens, warnings from the dead; of princesses for whom
noble suitors contended in every generous exercise of strength
and skill; and of infants strangely preserved from the dagger
of the assassin to fulfil high destinies.
"As the narrative approached their own times the interest became
still more absorbing. The chronicler had now to tell the story
of that great conflict from which Europe dates its intellectual
and political supremacy--a story which, even at this distance
of time, is the most marvelous and the most touching in the annals
of the human race--a story abounding with all that is wild and
wonderful; with all that is pathetic and animating; with the
gigantic caprices of infinite wealth and despotic power; with
the mightier miracles of wisdom, of virtue, and of courage. He
told them of rivers dried up in a day, of provinces famished for
a meal; of a passage for ships hewn through the mountains; of
a road for armies spread upon the waves; of monarchies and
commonwealths swept away; of anxiety, of terror, of confusion,
of despair! and then of proud and stubborn hearts tried in that
extremity of evil and not found wanting; of resistance long
maintained against desperate odds; of lives dearly sold when
resistance could be maintained no more; of signal deliverance,
and of unsparing revenge. Whatever gave a stronger air of reality
to a narrative so well calculated to inflame the passions and
to flatter national pride, was certain to be favorably received."
Greater even than Herodotus, in some respects, but entirely
different in his style of composition, was the historian Thucydides,
who was born in Athens about 471 B.C. In early life he studied
in the rhetorical and sophistical schools of his native city;
and he seems to have taken some part in the political agitations
of the period. In his forty-seventh year he commanded an Athenian
fleet that was sent to the relief of Amphip'olis, then besieged
by Bras'idas the Spartan. But Thucydides was too late; on his
arrival the city had surrendered. His failure to reach there
sooner appears to have been caused by circumstances entirely
beyond his control, although some English scholars, including
GROTE, declare that he was remiss and dilatory, and therefore
Deserving of the punishment he received--banishment from Athens.
He retired to Scaptes'y-le, a small town in Thrace; and in this
secluded spot, removed from the shifting scenes of Grecian life,
he devoted himself to the composition of his great work. Tradition
asserts that he was assassinated when about eighty years of age,
either at Athens or in Thrace.
The history of Thucydides, unfinished at his death, gives an
account of nearly twenty-one years of the Peloponnesian war.
The author's style is polished, vigorous, philosophical, and
sometimes so concise as to be obscure. We are told that even
Cicero found some of his sentences almost unintelligible. But,
as MAHAFFY says: "Whatever faults of style, whatever transient
fashion of involving his thoughts, may be due to a Sophistic
education and to the desire of exhibiting depth and acuteness,
there cannot be the smallest doubt that in the hands of Thucydides
the art of writing history made an extraordinary stride, and
attained a degree of perfection which no subsequent Hellenic
(and few modern) writers have equaled. If the subject which he
selected was really a narrow one, and many of the details trivial,
it was nevertheless compassed with extreme difficulty, for it
is at all times a hard task to write contemporary history, and
more especially so in an age when published documents were scarce,
and the art of printing unknown. Moreover, however trivial may
be the details of petty military raids, of which an account was
yet necessary to the completeness of his record, we cannot but
wonder at the lofty dignity with which he has handled every part
of the subject. There is not a touch of comedy, not a point
of satire, not a word of familiarity throughout the whole book,
and we stand face to face with a man who strikes us as strangely
un-Attic in his solemn and severe temper." [Footnote: "History
of Greek Literature," vol. ii., p. 117.]
The following comparison, evidently a just one, has been made
between Thucydides and Herodotus:
Thucydides and Herodotus.
"In comparing the two great historians, it is plain that the
mind and talents of each were admirably suited to the work which
he took in hand. The extensive field in which Herodotus labored
afforded an opportunity for embellishing and illustrating his
history with the marvels of foreign lands; while the glorious
exploits of a great and free people stemming a tide of barbarian
invaders and finally triumphing over them, and the customs and
histories of the barbarians with whom they had been at war, and
of all other nations whose names were connected with Persia,
either by lineage or conquest, were subjects which required the
talents of a simple narrator who had such love of truth as not
willfully to exaggerate, and such judgment as to select what
was best worthy of attention. But Thucydides had a narrower field.
The mind of Greece was the subject of his study, as displayed
in a single war which was, in its rise, progress, and consequences,
the most important which Greece had ever seen. It did not in
itself possess that heart-stirring interest which characterizes
the Persian war. In it united Greece was not struggling for her
liberties against a foreign foe, animated by one common patriotism,
inspired by an enthusiastic Jove of liberty; but it presented
the sad spectacle of Greece divided against herself, torn by
the jealousies of race, and distracted by the animosities of
"The task of Thucydides, therefore, was that of studying the
warring passions and antagonistic workings of one mind; and it
was one which, in order to become interesting and profitable,
demanded that there should be brought to bear upon it the powers
of a keen, analytical intellect. To separate history from the
traditions and falsehoods with which it had been overlaid, and
to give the early history of Greece in its most truthful form;
to trace Athenian supremacy from its rise to its ruin, and the
growing jealousy of other states, whether inferiors or rivals,
to which that supremacy gave rise; to show its connection with
the enmities of race and the opposition of politics; to point
out what causes led to such wide results; how the insatiable
ambitions of Athens, gratifying itself in direct disobedience
to the advice of her wise statesman, Pericles, led step by step
to her ultimate ruin,--required not a mere narrator of events,
however brilliant, but a moral philosopher and a statesman. Such
was Thucydides. Although his work shows an advance, in the science
of historical composition, over that of Herodotus, and his mind
is of a higher, because of a more thoughtful order, yet his fame
by no means obscures the glory which belongs to the Father of
History. Their walks are different; they can never be considered
as rivals, and therefore neither can claim superiority." [Footnote:
"Greek and Roman Classical Literature," by Professor R. W. Browne,
King's College, London.]
* * * * *
The most illustrious of the Ionic philosophers, and the first
distinguished philosopher of this period of Grecian history,
was Anaxagoras, who was born at Clazom'enę in the year 499 B.C.
At the age of twenty he went to Athens, where he remained thirty
years, teaching philosophy, and having for his hearers Pericles,
Socrates, Euripides, and other celebrated characters. While the
pantheistic systems of Tha'les, Heracli'tus, and other early
philosophers admitted, in accordance with the fictions of the
received mythology, that the universe is full of gods, the doctrine
of Anaxagoras led to the belief of but one supreme mind or
intelligence, distinct from the chaos to which it imparts motion,
form, and order. Hence he also taught that the sun is an inanimate,
fiery mass, and therefore not a proper object of worship. He
asserted that the moon shines by reflected light, and he rightly
explained solar and lunar eclipses. He gave allegorical explanations
of the names of the Grecian gods, and struck a blow at the popular
religion by attributing the miraculous appearances at sacrifices
to natural causes. For these innovations he was stoned by the
populace, and, as a penalty for what was considered his impiety,
he was condemned to death; but through the influence of Pericles
his sentence was commuted to banishment. He retired to Lamp'sacus,
on the Hellespont, where he died at the age of seventy-two.
A short time before his death the senate of Lampsacus sent to
Anaxagoras to ask what commemoration of his life and character
would be most acceptable to him. He answered, "Let all the boys
and girls have a play-day on the anniversary of my death." The
suggestion was observed, and his memory was honored by the people
of Lampsacus for many centuries with a yearly festival. The amiable
disposition of Anaxagoras, and the general character of his
teachings, are pleasantly and very correctly set forth in the
following poem, which is a supposed letter from the poet Cleon,
of Lampsacus, to Pericles, giving an account of the philosopher's
The Death of Anaxagoras.
Cleon of Lampsacus, to Pericles:
Of him she banished now let Athens boast;
Let now th' Athenian raise to him they stoned
A statue. Anaxagoras is dead!
To you who mourn the master, called him friend,
Beat back th' Athenian wolves who fanged his throat,
And risked your own to save him--Pericles--
I now unfold the manner of his end:
The aged man, who found in sixty years
Scant cause for laughter, laughed before he died,
And died still smiling: Athens vexed him not!
Not he, but your Athenians, he would say,
Were banished in his exile!
When the dawn
First glimmers white o'er Lesser Asia,
And little birds are twittering in the grass,
And all the sea lies hollow and gray with mist,
And in the streets the ancient watchmen doze,
The master woke with cold. His feet were chill,
And reft of sense; and we who watched him knew
The fever had not wholly left his brain,
For he was wandering, seeking nests of birds,
An urchin from the green Ionian town
Where he was born. We chafed his clay-cold limbs;
And so he dozed, nor dreamed, until the sun
Laughed out--broad day--and flushed the garden gods
Who bless our fruits and vines in Lampsacus.
Feeble, but sane and cheerful, he awoke,
And took our hands and asked to feel the sun;
And where the ilex spreads a gracious shade
We placed him, wrapped and pillowed; and he heard
The charm of birds, the whisper of the vines,
The ripple of the blue Propontic sea.
Placid and pleased he lay; but we were sad
To see the snowy hair and silver beard
Like withering mosses on a fallen oak,
And feel that he, whose vast philosophy
Had cast such sacred branches o'er the fields
Where Athens pastures her dull sheep, lay fallen,
And never more should know the spring! Confess
You too had grieved to see it, Pericles!
But Anaxagoras owned no sense of wrong;
And when we called the plagues of all your gods
On your ungrateful city, he but smiled:
"Be patient, children! Where would be the gain
Of wisdom and divine astronomy,
Could we not school our fretful minds to bear
The ills all life inherits? I can smile
To think of Athens! Were they much to blame?
Had I not slain Apollo? plucked the beard
Of Jove himself? Poor rabble, who have yet
Outgrown so little the green grasshoppers
From whom they boast descent, are they to blame?
[Footnote: The Athenians claimed to be of indigenous origin--
Autoch'tho-nes, that is, Aborigines, sprung from the earth
itself. As emblematic of this origin they wore in their hair
the golden forms of the cicada, or locust, often improperly
called grasshopper, which was believed to spring from the
earth. So it was said that the Athenians boasted descent
"How could they dream--or how believe when taught--
The sun a red-hot iron ball, in bulk
Not less than Peloponnesus? How believe
The moon no silver goddess girt for chase,
But earth and stones, with caverns, hills, and vales?
Poor grasshoppers! who deem the gods absorbed
In all their babble, shrilling in the grass!
What wonder if they rage, should one but hint
That thunder and lightning, born of clashing clouds,
Might happen even with Jove in pleasant mood,
Not thinking of Athenians at all!"
He paused; and, blowing softly from the sea,
The fresh wind stirred the ilex, shaking down
Through chinks of sunny leaves blue gems of sky;
And lying in the shadow, all his mind
O'ershadowed by our grief, once more he spoke:
"Let not your hearts be troubled! All my days
Hath all my care been fixed on this vast blue,
So still above us; now my days are done,
Let it have care of me! Be patient, meek,
Not puffed with doctrine! Nothing can be known;
Naught grasped for certain: sense is circumscribed;
The intellect is weak, and life is short!"
He ceased, and mused a little while we wept.
"And yet be nowise downcast; seek, pursue!
The lover's rapture and the sage's gain
Less in attainment lie than in approach.
Look forward to the time which is to come!
All things are mutable, and change alone
Unchangeable. But knowledge grows! The gods
Are drifting from the earth like morning mist;
The days are surely at the doors when men
Shall see but human actions in the world!
Yea, even these hills of Lampsacus shall be
The isles of some new sea, if time fail not!"
And now the reverend fathers of our town
Had heard the master's end was very near,
And come to do him homage at the close,
And ask what wish of his they might fulfil.
But he, divining that they thought his heart
Might yearn to Athens for a resting-place,
Said gently, "Nay; from everywhere the way
To that dark land you wot of is the same.
I feel no care; I have no wish. The Greeks
Will never quite forget my Pericles,
And when they think of him will say of me,
'Twas Anaxagoras taught him!"
Loath to go,
No kindly office done, yet once again
The reverend fathers pressed him for a wish.
Then laughed the master: "Nay, if still you urge,
And since 'twere churlish to reject good-will,
I pray you, every year, when time brings back
The day on which I left you, let the boys--
All boys and girls in this your happy town--
Be free of task and school for that one day."
He lay back smiling, and the reverend men
Departed, heavy at heart. He spoke no more,
But, haply musing on his truant days,
Passed from us, and was smiling when he died.
--WILLIAM CANTON, in The Contemporary Review.
The teachings of Anaxagoras were destined to attain to wide-spread
power over the Grecian mind. As auguries, omens, and prodigies
exercised a great influence on the public affairs of Greece, a
philosophical explanation of natural phenomena had a tendency
to diminish respect for the popular religion in the eyes of the
multitude, and to leave the minds of rulers and statesmen open
to the influences of reason, and to the rejection of the follies
of superstition. The doctrines taught by Anaxagoras were the
commencement of the contest between the old philosophy and the
new; and the varying phases of the struggle appear throughout
all subsequent Grecian history.
In the fifth century there sprang up in Greece a set of teachers
who traveled about from city to city, giving instruction (for
money) in philosophy and rhetoric; under which heads were included
political and moral education. These men were called "Sophists"
(a term early applied to wise men, such as the seven sages),
and though they did not form a sect or school, they resembled
one another in many respects, exerting an important, and, barring
their skeptical tendencies, a healthful influence in the formation
of character. Among the most eminent of these teachers were
Protag'oras of Abde'ra, Gor'gias of Leontini, and Prod'icus of
Ce'os. That great philosopher of a later age, Plato, while
condemning the superficiality of their philosophy, characterized
these men as important and respectable thinkers; but their
successors, by their ignorance, brought reproach upon their calling,
and, in the time of Socrates, the Sophists--so-called--had lost
their influence and had fallen into contempt. "Before Plato had
composed his later Dialogues," says MAHAFFY, "they had become
too insignificant to merit refutation; and in the following
generation they completely disappear as a class." This author
thus proceeds to give the causes of their fall:
"It is, of course, to be attributed not only to the opposition
of Socrates at Athens, but to the subdivision of the profession
of education. Its most popular and prominent branch--that of
Rhetoric--was taken up by special men, like the orator An'tiphon,
and developed into a strictly defined science. The Philosophy
which they had touched without sounding its depths was taken
up by the Socratic schools, and made the rule and practice of
a life. The Politics which they had taught were found too general;
nor were these wandering men, without fixed home, or familiarity
with the intricacies of special constitutions, likely to give
practical lessons to Greece citizens in the art of state-craft.
Thus they disappear almost as rapidly as they rose--a sudden
phase of spiritual awakening in Greece, like the Encyclopędists
of the French." [Footnote: "History of Classical Greek literature,"
vol. ii., p. 63.]
The greatest teacher of this age was Socrates, who was born near
Athens in 469 B.C. His father was a sculptor, and the son for
some time practiced the same profession at Athens, meanwhile
aspiring toward higher things, and pursuing the study of philosophy
under Anaxagoras and others. He served his country in the field
in the severe struggle between Sparta and Athens, where he was
distinguished for his bravery and endurance; and when upward
of sixty years of age he was chosen to represent his district
in the Senate of Five Hundred. Here, and under the subsequent
tyranny, his integrity remained unshaken; and his boldness in
denouncing the cruelties of the Thirty Tyrants nearly cost him
his life. As a teacher, Socrates assumed the character of a moral
philosopher, and he seized every occasion to communicate moral
wisdom to his fellow-citizens. Although often classed with the
Sophists, and unjustly selected by Aristophanes as their
representative, the whole spirit of his teachings was directly
opposed to that class. Says MAHAFFY, "The Sophists were brilliant
and superficial, he was homely and thorough; they rested in
skepticism, he advanced through it to deeper and sounder faith;
they were wandering and irresponsible, he was fixed at Athens,
and showed forth by his life the doctrines he preached." GROTE,
however, while denying that the Sophists were intellectual and
moral corrupters, as generally charged, also denies that the
reputation of Socrates properly rests upon his having rescued
the Athenian mind from their influences. He admires Socrates for
"combining with the qualities of a good man a force of character
and an originality of speculation as well as of method, and a
power of intellectually working on others, generically different
from that of any professional teacher, without parallel either
among contemporaries or successors." [Footnote: "History of Greece,"
Socrates taught without fee or reward, and communicated his
instructions freely to high and low, rich and poor. His chief
method of instruction was derived from the style of Zeno, of
the Eleatic school, and consisted of attacking the opinions of
his opponents and pulling them to pieces by a series of questions
and answers. [Footnote: A fine example of the Socratic mode of
disputation may be seen In "Alciphron; or, the Minute Philosopher,"
by George Berkeley, D.D., Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. It is a
defence of the Christian religion, and an exposé of the weakness
of infidelity and skepticism, and is considered one of the most
ingenious and excellent performances of the kind in the English
tongue.] He made this system "the most powerful instrument of
philosophic teaching ever known in the history of the human
intellect." The philosopher was an enthusiastic lover of Athens,
and he looked upon the whole city as his school. There alone
he found instruction and occupation, and through its streets
he would wander, standing motionless for hours in deep meditation,
or charming all classes and ages by his conversation. Alcibiades
declared of him that, "as he talks, the hearts of all who hear
leap up, and their tears are poured out." The poet THOMSON, musing
over the sages of ancient time, thus describes him:
O'er all shone out the great Athenian sage,
And father of Philosophy!
Tutor of Athens! he, in every street,
Dealt priceless treasure; goodness his delight,
Wisdom his wealth, and glory his reward.
Deep through the human heart, with playful art,
His simple question stole, as into truth
And serious deeds he led the laughing race;
Taught moral life; and what he taught he was.
Of the unjust attack made upon Socrates by the poet Aristophanes
we have already spoken. That occurred in 423 B.C., and, as a
writer has well said, "evaporated with the laugh"--having nothing
to do with the sad fate of the guiltless philosopher twenty-four
years after. Soon after the restoration of the democracy in Athens
(403 B.C.) Socrates was tried for his life on the absurd charges
of impiety and of corrupting the morals of the young. His accusers
appear to have been instigated by personal resentment, which
he had innocently provoked, and by envy of his many virtues;
and the result shows not only the instability but the moral
obliquity of the Athenian character. He approached his trial
with no special preparation for defence, as he had no expectation
of an acquittal; but he maintained a calm, brave, and haughty
bearing, and addressed the court in a bold and uncompromising
tone, demanding rewards instead of punishment. It was the strong
religious persuasion (or belief) of Socrates that he was acting
under a divine mission. This consciousness had been the controlling
principle of his life; and in the following extracts which we
have taken from his Apology, or Defence, in which he explains
his conduct, we see plain evidences of this striking characteristic
of the great philosopher:
The Defence of Socrates.
[Footnote: From the translation by Professor Jowett, of Oxford
"Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if now,
when, as I conceive and imagine, God orders me to fulfil the
philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other men,
I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other
fear: that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned
in court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed
the oracle because I was afraid of death: then I should be fancying
I was wise when I was not wise. For this fear of death is indeed
the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance
of knowing the unknown; since no one knows whether death, which
he in his fear apprehends to be the greatest evil, may not be
the greatest good. Is there not here conceit of knowledge which
is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is the point in
which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which
I might, perhaps, fancy myself wiser than other men--that whereas
I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I
know; but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better,
whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never
fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil. And
therefore should you say to me, 'Socrates, this time we will
not mind An'ytus, and will let you off, but upon one condition,
that you are not to inquire and speculate in this way any more,
and that if you are caught doing this again you shall die'--if
this were the condition on which you let me go, I should reply,
'Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather
than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease
from the practice and teaching of philosophy, and exhorting,
after my manner, any one whom I meet.' I do nothing but go about
persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought
for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to
care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that
virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money
and every other good of man, public as well as private. This
is my teaching; and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the
youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. But if anyone says that
this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth. Wherefore,
O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus
bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know
that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many
Socrates next refers to the indignation that he may have occasioned
because he has not wept, begged, and entreated for his life,
and has not brought forward his children and relatives to plead
for him, as others would have done on so serious an occasion.
He says that he has relatives, and three children; but he declares
that not one of them shall appear in court for any such purpose
--not from any insolent disposition on his part, but because he
believes that such a course would be degrading to the reputation
which he enjoys, as well as a disgrace to the state. He then
closes his defence as follows:
"But, setting aside the question of dishonor, there seems to
be something wrong in petitioning a judge, and thus procuring
an acquittal, instead of informing and convincing him. For his
duty is not to make a present of justice, but to give judgment;
and he has Sworn that he will adjudge according to the law, and
not according to his own good pleasure; and neither he nor we
should get into the habit of perjuring ourselves--there can be
no piety in that. Do not, then, require me to do what I consider
dishonorable, and impious, and wrong, especially now, when I
am being tried for impiety. For if, O men of Athens, by force
of persuasion and entreaty, I could overpower your oaths, then
I should be teaching you to believe that there are no gods, and
convict myself, in my own defence, of not believing in them.
But that is not the case; for I do believe that there are gods,
and in a far higher sense than that in which any of my accusers
believe in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to
be determined by you as is best for you and me."
As he had expected, and as the tenor of his speech had assured
his friends would be the case, Socrates was found guilty--but by
a majority of only five or six in a body of over five hundred.
He would make no proposition, as was his right, for a mitigation
of punishment; and after sentence of death had been passed upon
him he spent the remaining thirty days of his life in impressing
on the minds of his friends the most sublime lessons in philosophy
and virtue. Many of these lessons have been preserved to us in
the works of Plato, in whose Phoe'do, which pictures the last
hours of the prison life of Socrates, we find a sublime conversation
on the immortality of the soul. The following is an extract from
Socrates' Views of a Future State.
"When the dead arrive at the place to which their demon leads
them severally, first of all they are judged, as well those who
have lived well and piously as those who have not. And those
who appear to have passed a middle kind of life, proceeding to
Ach'eron, and embarking in the vessels they have, on these arrive
at the lake, and there dwell; and when they are purified, and
have suffered punishment for the iniquities they may have committed,
they are set free, and each receives the reward of his good deeds
according to his deserts; but those who appear to be incurable,
through the magnitude of their offences, either from having
committed many and great sacrileges, or many unjust and lawless
murders, or other similar crimes, these a suitable destiny hurls
into Tartarus, whence they never come forth. But those who appear
to have been guilty of curable yet great offences, such as those
who through anger have committed any violence against father
or mother, and have lived the remainder of their life in a state
of penitence, or they who have become homicides in a similar
manner--these must, of necessity, fall into Tartarus; but after
they have fallen, and have been there a year, the wave casts
them forth, the homicide into Cocy'tus, [Footnote: Co-cy'tus]
but the parricides and matricides into Pyriphleg'ethon; [Footnote:
Pyr-i-phlege-thon, "fire-blazing;" one of the rivers of hell]
but when, being borne along, they arrive at the Acheru'sian
lake, [Footnote: Ach'e-ron. Cocytus signifies the river of wailing;
Pyriphlegethon, the river that burns with fire; Acheron, the
river of woe; and the Styx, another river of the lower world,
the river of hatred. Thus Homer, in describing "Pluto's murky
There, into Acheron runs not alone
Dread Pyriphlegethon, but Cocytus loud,
From Styx derived; there also stands a rock,
At whose broad base the roaring rivers meet.
Odyssey. B. X.]
there they cry out to and invoke, some, those whom they slew,
others, those whom they injured; and, invoking them, they entreat
and implore them to suffer them to go out into the lake and to
receive them; and if they persuade them, they go out, and are
freed from their sufferings; but if not, they are borne back
to Tartarus, and thence again to the rivers, and they do not
cease from suffering this until they have persuaded those whom
they have injured--for this sentence was imposed on them by the
judges. But those who are found to have lived an eminently holy
life--these are they who, being freed and set at large from these
regions in the earth as from a prison--arrive at the pure abode
above, and dwell on the upper parts of the earth. And among these,
those who have sufficiently purified themselves by philosophy
shall live without bodies throughout all future time, and shall
arrive at habitations yet more beautiful than these, which it
is neither easy to describe, nor at present is there sufficient
time for the purpose.
"For the sake of these things which we have described we should
use every endeavor to acquire virtue and wisdom in this life,
for the reward is noble and the hope great. To affirm positively,
however, that these things are exactly as I have described them,
does not become a man of sense; but that either this, or something
of the kind, takes place with respect to our souls and their
habitations--since our soul is certainly immortal--appears to
me most fitting to be believed, and worthy the hazard for one
who trusts in its reality; for the hazard is noble, and it is
right to allure ourselves with such things, as with enchantments;
for which reason I have prolonged my story to such length. On
account of these things, then, a man ought to be confident about
his soul, who during this life has disregarded all the pleasures
and ornaments of the body as foreign from his nature, and who,
having thought that they do more harm than good, has zealously
applied himself to the acquirement of knowledge, and who, having
adorned his soul not with a foreign but with its own proper
ornaments--temperance, justice, fortitude, freedom, and truth--
thus waits for his passage to Hades as one who is ready to depart
whenever destiny shall summon him."
After some farther conversation with his friends respecting the
disposition to be made of his body, and having said farewell
to his family, Socrates drank the fatal hemlock with as much
composure as if it had been the last draught at a cheerful banquet,
and quietly laid himself down and died. "Thus perished," says
DR. SMITH, "the greatest and most original of Grecian philosophers,
whose uninspired wisdom made the nearest approach to the divine
morality of the Gospel." As observed by PROFESSOR TYLER of Amherst
College, "The consciousness of a divine mission was the leading
trait in his character and the main secret of his power. This
directed his conversations, shaped his philosophy, imbued his
very person, and controlled his life. This was the power that
sustained him in view of approaching death, inspired him with
more that human fortitude in his last days, and invested his
dying words with a moral grandeur that 'has less of earth in
it than heaven.'" [Footnote: Preface to "Plato's Apology and Crito."]
There was a more special and personal influence, however, to
which Socrates deemed himself subject through life, and which
probably moved him to view death with such calmness.
With all his practical wisdom, the great philosopher was not
free from the control of superstitious fancies. He not only always
gave careful heed to divinations, dreams, and oracular intimations,
but he believed that he was warned and restrained, from childhood,
by a familiar spirit, or demon, which he was accustomed to speak
of familiarly and to obey implicitly. A writer, in alluding to
this subject, says: "There is no more curious chapter in Grecian
biography than the story of Socrates and his familiar demon,
which, sometimes unseen, and at other times, as he asserted,
assuming human shape, acted as his mentor; which preserved his
life after the disastrous battle of De'lium, by pointing out
to him the only secure line of retreat, while the lives of his
friends, who disregarded his entreaties to accompany him, were
sacrificed; and which, again, when the crisis of his fate
approached, twice dissuaded him from defending himself before
his accusers, and in the end encouraged him to quaff the poisoned
cup presented to his lips by an ungrateful people."
Having briefly traced the history of Grecian literature in its
best period, it remains to notice some of the monuments of art,
"with which," as ALISON says, "the Athenians have overspread
the world, and which still form the standard of taste in every
civilized nation on earth."
* * * * *
I. SCULPTURE AND PAINTING.
Grecian sculpture, as we have seen, had attained nearly the summit
of its perfection at the commencement of the Persian wars. Among
those who now gave to it a wider range may be mentioned Pythagoras,
of Rhegium, and Myron, a native of Eleu'therę. The former executed
works in bronze representing contests of heroes and athletes;
but he was excelled in this field by Myron, who was also
distinguished for his representations of animals. The energies
of sculpture, however, were to be still more directly concentrated
and perfected in a new school. That school was at Athens, and
its master was Phid'ias, an Athenian painter, sculptor, and
architect, who flourished about 460 B.C. "At this point," observes
LÜBKE, [Footnote: "Outlines of the History of Art," by Wilhelm
Lübke; Clarence Cook's edition.] "begins the period of that
wonderful elevation of Hellenic life which was ushered in by
the glorious victory over the Persians. Now, for the first time,
the national Hellenic mind rose to the highest consciousness
of noble independence and dignity. Athens concentrated within
herself, as in a focus, the whole exuberance and many-sidedness
of Greek life, and glorified it into beautiful unity. Now, for
the first time, the deepest thoughts of the Hellenic mind were
embodied in sculpture, and the figures of the gods rose to that
solemn sublimity in which art embodied the idea of divinity in
purely human form. This victory of the new time over the old
was effected by the power of Phidias, one of the most wonderful
artist-minds of all time."
Phidias was intrusted by Pericles with the superintendence of
the public works erected or adorned by that lavish ruler, and
his own hands added to them their most valuable ornaments. But
before he was called to this employment his statues had adorned
the most celebrated temples of Greece. "These inimitable works,"
says GILLIES, [Footnote: Gillies's "History of Ancient Greece,"
p. 178.] "silenced the voice of envy; and the most distinguished
artists of Greece--sculptors, painters, and architects--were
ambitious to receive the directions, and to second the labors
of Phidias, which were uninterruptedly employed, during fifteen
years, in the embellishment of his native city." The chief
characteristic of Phidias was ideal beauty of the sublimest order
in the representation of divinities and their worship; and he
substituted ivory for marble in those parts of statues that were
uncovered, such as the face, hands, and feet, while for the covered
portion he substituted solid gold in place of wood concealed
with real drapery. The style and character of his work are well
described by LÜBKE, as follows:
"That Phidias especially excelled in creating images of the gods,
and that he preferred, as subjects for his art, those among the
divinities the essence of whose nature was spiritual majesty,
marks the fundamental characteristic of his art, and explains
its superiority, not only to all that had been produced before
his time, but to all that was contemporary with him, and to all
that came after him. Possessed of that unsurpassable masterly
power in the representation of the physical form to which Greek
art, shortly before his time, had attained by unceasing endeavor,
his lofty genius was called upon to apply these results to the
embodiment of the highest ideas, and thus to invest art with
the character of sublimity, as well as with the attributes of
perfect beauty. Hence it is said of him, that he alone had seen
images of the gods, and he alone had made them visible to others.
Even in the story that, in emulation with other masters, he made
an Amazon, and was defeated in the contest by his great
contemporary Polycle'tus, we see a confirmation of the ideal
tendency of his art. But that his works realized the highest
conceptions of the people, and embodied the ideal of the Hellenic
conception of the divinity, is proved by the universal admiration
of the ancient world. This sublimity of conception was combined
in him with an inexhaustible exuberance of creative fancy, an
incomparable care in the completion of his work, and a masterly
power in overcoming every difficulty, both in the technical
execution and in the material."
Probably the first important work executed by Phidias at Athens
was the colossal bronze image of Minerva, which stood on the
Acropolis. It was nearly seventy feet in height, and was visible
twenty miles out at sea. It was erected by the Athenians, in
memory of their victory over the Persians, with the spoils of
Marathon. A smaller bronze statue, on the same model, was also
erected on the Acropolis. But the greatest of the works of Phidias
at Athens was the ivory and gold statue of Minerva in the Parthenon,
erected with the booty taken at Salamis. It was forty feet high,
representing the goddess, "not with her shield raised as the
vigorous champion of her people, but as a peaceful, protecting,
and victory-giving divinity." Phidias was now called to Elis,
and there he executed his crowning work, the gold and ivory statue
of Jupiter at Olympia. "The father of the gods and of men was
seated on a splendid throne in the cella of his Olympic temple,
his head encircled with a golden olive-wreath; in his right hand
he held Nikč, who bore a fillet of victory in her hands and a
golden wreath on her head; in his left hand rested the
richly-decorated sceptre." The throne was adorned with gold and
precious stones, and on it were represented many celebrated scenes.
"From this immeasurable exuberance of figures," says LÜBKE, "rose
the form of the highest Hellenic divinity, grand and solemn and
wonderful in majesty. Phidias had represented him as the kindly
father of gods and men, and also as the mighty ruler in Olympus.
As he conceived his subject he must have had in his mind those
lines of Homer, in which Jupiter graciously grants the request
'As thus he spake, the son of Saturn gave
The nod with his dark brows. The ambrosial curls
Upon the sovereign one's immortal head
Were shaken, and with them the mighty Mount
Olympus trembled.'" [Footnote: Iliad, I., 528-580.
While the art of painting was early developed in Greece, certainly
as far back as 718 B.C., the first painter of renown was
Polygno'tus, of Tha'sos, who went to Athens about 463 B.C., and
established there what was called "the Athenian school" of painting.
Aristotle called him "the painter of character," as he was the
first to give variety to the expression of the countenance, and
ease and grace to the outlines of figures or the flow of drapery.
He painted many battle scenes, and with his contemporaries,
Diony'sius of Col'oplon, Mi'con, and others, he embellished many
of the public buildings in Athens, and notably the Temple of
Theseus, with representations of figures similar to those of
the sculptor. About 404 B.C. painting reached a farther degree
of excellence in the hands of Apollodo'rus, a native of Athens,
who developed the principles of light and shade and gave to the
art a more dramatic range. Of this school Zeux'is, Parrha'sius,
and Timan'thes became the chief masters.
Of the artists of this period it has been asserted by some
authorities that Parrhasius was the most celebrated, as he is
said to have "raised the art of painting to perfection in all
that is exalted and essential;" uniting in his works "the classic
invention of Polygnotus, the magic tone of Apollodorus, and the
exquisite design of Zeuxis." He was a native of Ephesus, but
became a citizen of Athens, where he won many victories over
his contemporaries. One of these is recorded by Pliny as having
been achieved in a public contest with Zeuxis. The latter displayed
a painting of some grapes, which were so natural as to deceive
the birds, that came and pecked at them. Zeuxis then requested
that the curtain which was supposed to screen the picture of
Parrhasius be withdrawn, when it was found that the painting
of Parrhasius was merely the representation of a curtain thrown
over a picture-frame. The award of merit was therefore given
to Parrhasius, on the ground that while Zeuxis had deceived the
birds, Parrhasius had deceived Zeuxis himself.
The Roman philosopher Seneca also tells a story of Parrhasius
as follows: While engaged in making a painting of "Prometheus
Bound," he took an old Olynthian captive and put him to the torture,
that he might catch, and transfer to canvas, the natural expression
of the most terrible of mortal sufferings. This story, we may
hope, is a fiction; but the incident is often alluded to by the
poets, and the American poet WILLIS has painted the alleged scene
in lines scarcely less terrible in their coloring than those
pallid hues of death-like agony which we may suppose the
painter-artist to have employed.
Parrhasius and his Captive.
Parrhasius stood gazing forgetfully
Upon his canvas. There Prometheus lay,
Chained to the cold rocks of Mount Cau'casus--
The vulture at his vitals, and the links
Of the lame Lemnian festering in his flesh;
[Footnote: Vulcan; the Olympian artist, who,
when hurled from heaven, fell upon the Island
of Lemnos, in the Ęgean. He forged the chain
with which Prometheus was bound.]
And, as the painter's mind felt through the dim,
Rapt mystery, and plucked the shadows forth
With its far-reaching fancy, and with form
And color clad them, his fine, earnest eye
Flashed with a passionate fire; and the quick curl
Of his thin nostril, and his quivering lip,
Were like the wing'd god's, breathing from his flight.
[Footnote: The winged god Mercury.]
"Bring me the captive now!
My bands feel skilful, and the shadows lift
From my waked spirit airily and swift,
And I could paint the bow.
Upon the bended heavens, around me play
Colors of such divinity to-day.
"Ha! bind him on his back!
Look! as Prometheus in my picture here!
Quick, or he faints! stand with the cordial near!
Now--bend him to the rack!
Press down the poisoned links into his flesh,
And tear agape that healing wound afresh!
"So, let him writhe! How long
Will he live thus? Quick, my good pencil, now!
What a fine agony works upon his brow!
Ha! gray-haired, and so strong!
How fearfully he stifles that short moan!
Gods! if I could but paint a dying groan!
"'Pity' thee! So I do.
I pity the dumb victim at the altar;
But does the robed priest for his pity falter?
I'd rack thee though I knew
A thousand lives were perishing in thine!
What were ten thousand to a fame like mine?
"Yet there's a deathless name!
A spirit that the smothering vault shall spurn,
And like a steadfast planet mount and burn;
And, though its crown of flame
Consumed my brain to ashes as it shone,
By all the fiery stars I'd bind it on!
"Ay, though it bid me rifle
My heart's last fount for its insatiate thirst;
Though every life-strung nerve be maddened first;
Though it should bid me stifle
The yearning in my throat for my sweet child,
And taunt its mother till my brain went wild--
"All--I would do it all
Sooner than die, like a dull worm, to rot--
Thrust foully into earth to be forgot!
O heavens! but I appall
Your heart, old man! Forgive--ha! on your lives
Let him not faint!--rack him till he revives!
"Vain--vain--give o'er. His eye
Glazes apace. He does not feel you now;
Stand back! I'll paint the death-dew on his brow.
Gods I if he do not die
But for one moment--one--till I eclipse
Conception with the scorn of those calm lips!
"Shivering! Hark! he mutters
Brokenly now: that was a difficult breath--
Another? Wilt thou never come, O Death?
Look how his temple flutters!
Is his heart still? Aha! lift up his head!
He shudders--gasps--Jove help him! So--he's dead!"
* * * * *
How like a mounting devil in the heart
Rules the unreined ambition! Let it once
But play the monarch, and its haughty brow
Glows with a beauty that bewilders thought,
And unthrones peace forever. Putting on
The very pomp of Lucifer, it turns
The heart to ashes, and with not a spring
Left in the bosom for the spirit's lip,
We look upon our splendor and forget
The thirst of which we perish!
* * * * *
In Architecture, too, thy rank supreme!
That art where most magnificent appears
The little builder, man; by thee refined,
And smiling high, to full perfection brought.
We have already referred, in general terms, to the monuments
of art for which the era of Athenian greatness was distinguished,
and have stated that it was more particularly in the "Age of
Pericles" that Athenian genius and enthusiasm found their full
development, in the erection or adornment of those miracles of
architecture that crowned the Athenian Acropolis or surrounded
its base. The following eloquent description, from the pen of
BULWER, will convey a vivid idea of the magnitude and the
brilliancy of the labors performed for
The Adornment of Athens.
"Then rapidly progressed those glorious fabrics which seemed,
as Plutarch gracefully express it, endowed with the bloom of a
perennial youth. Still the houses of private citizens remained
simple and unadorned; still were the streets narrow and irregular;
and, even centuries afterward, a stranger entering Athens would
not at first have recognized the claims of the mistress of Grecian
art. But to the homeliness of her common thoroughfares and private
mansions the magnificence of her public edifices now made a
dazzling contrast. The Acropolis, that towered above the homes
and thoroughfares of men--a spot too sacred for human habitation--
became, to use a proverbial phrase, 'a city of the gods.' The
citizen was everywhere to be reminded of the majesty of the state
--his patriotism was to be increased by the pride in her beauty--
his taste to be elevated by the spectacle of her splendor.
"Thus flocked to Athens all who throughout Greece were eminent
in art. Sculptors and architects vied with one another in adorning
the young empress of the seas: then rose the masterpieces of
Phidias, of Callic'rates, of Mnesicles, which, either in their
broken remains, or in the feeble copies of imitators less inspired,
still command so intense a wonder, and furnish models so immortal.
And if, so to speak, their bones and relics excite our awe and
envy, as testifying of a lovelier and grander race, which the
deluge of time has swept away, what, in that day, must have been
their brilliant effect, unmutilated in their fair proportions--
fresh in all their lineaments and hues? For their beauty was
not limited to the symmetry of arch and column, nor their materials
confined to the marbles of Pentel'icus and Pa'ros. Even the exterior
of the temples glowed with the richest harmony of colors, and
was decorated with the purest gold: an atmosphere peculiarly
favorable to the display and the preservation of art, permitted
to external pediments and friezes all the minuteness of ornament
--the brilliancy of colors, such as in the interior of Italian
churches may yet be seen--vitiated, in the last, by a gaudy and
barbarous taste. Nor did the Athenians spare any cost upon the
works that were, like the tombs and tripods of their heroes, to
be the monuments of a nation to distant ages, and to transmit
the most irrefragable proof 'that the power of ancient Greece
was not an idle legend.'" [Footnote: "Athens: Its Rise and Fall,"
pp. 256, 257.]
1. THE ACROPOLIS AND ITS SPLENDORS.
The Acropolis, the fortress of Athens, was the center of its
architectural splendor. It is a rocky height rising abruptly
out of the Attic plain, and was accessible only on the western
side, where stood the Propylę'a, a magnificent structure of the
Doric order, constructed under the direction of Pericles by the
architect Mnesicles, and which served as the gate as well as
the defence of the Acropolis. But the latter's chief glory was
the Parthenon, or Temple of Minerva, built in the time of Pericles
by Icti'nus and Callic'rates, and which stood on the highest
point, near the center. It was constructed entirely of the most
beautiful white marble from Mount Pentelicus, and its dimensions
were two hundred and twenty-eight feet by one hundred and two
--having eight Doric columns in each of the two fronts, and
seventeen in each of the sides, and also an interior range of
six columns in each end. The ceiling of the western part of the
main building was supported by four interior columns, and of
the eastern end by sixteen. The entire height of the building
above its platform was sixty-five feet. The whole was enriched
within and without with matchless works of art by various artists
under the direction of Phidias--its chief wonder, however, being
the gold and ivory statue of the Virgin Goddess, the work of
Phidias himself, elsewhere described.
This magnificent structure remained entire until the year 1687,
when, during a siege of Athens by the Venetians, a bomb fell
on the devoted Parthenon, and, setting fire to the powder that
the Turks had stored there, entirely destroyed the roof and reduced
the whole building almost to ruins. The eight columns of the
eastern front, however, and several of the lateral colonnades,
are still standing; and the whole, dilapidated as it is, retains
an air of inexpressible grandeur and sublimity.
Fair Parthenon! yet still must fancy weep
For thee, thou work of nobler spirits flown.
Bright as of old the sunbeams o'er thee sleep
In all their beauty still--and thine is gone!
Empires have sunk since thou wast first revered,
And varying rites have sanctified thy shrine.
The dust is round thee of the race that reared
Thy walls, and thou--their fate must still be thine!
But when shall earth again exult to see
Visions divine like theirs renewed in aught like thee?
Lone are thy pillars now--each passing gale
Sighs o'er them as a spirit's voice, which moaned
That loneliness, and told the plaintive tale
Of the bright synod once above them throned.
Mourn, graceful ruin! on thy sacred hill
Thy gods, thy rites, a kindred fate have shared:
Yet art thou honored in each fragment still
That wasting years and barbarous hands have spared;
Each hallowed stone, from rapine's fury borne,
Shall wake bright dreams of thee in ages yet unborn.
Yes; in those fragments, though by time defaced,
And rude, insensate conquerors, yet remains
All that may charm th' enlightened eye of taste,
On shores where still inspiring freedom reigns.
As vital fragrance breathes from every part
Of the crushed myrtle, or the bruised rose,
E'en thus th' essential energy of art
There in each wreck imperishably glows!
The soul of Athens lives in every line,
Pervading brightly still the ruins of her shrine.
North of the Parthenon stood the Erechthe'um, an irregular but
beautiful structure of the Ionic order, dedicated to the worship
of Neptune and Minerva. Considerable remains of it are still
standing. In addition to the great edifices of the Acropolis
referred to, which were adorned with the most finished paintings
and sculptures, the entire platform of the hill appears to have
been covered with a vast composition of architecture and sculpture,
consisting of temples, monuments, and statues of gods and heroes.
The whole Acropolis was at once the fortress, the sacred enclosure,
and the treasury of the Athenian people--forming the noblest museum
of sculpture, the richest gallery of painting, and the best school
of architecture in the world.
2. OTHER ARCHITECTURAL MONUMENTS OF ATHENS.
Beneath the southern wall of the Acropolis was the Theatre of
Bacchus, capable of seating thirty thousand persons, and the
seats of which, rising one above another, were cut out of the
sloping rock. Adjoining this on the east was the Ode'um, a smaller
covered theatre, built by Pericles, and so constructed as to
imitate the form of Xerxes's tent. On the north-east side was
the Prytane'um, where were many statues, and where citizens who
had rendered service to the state were maintained at the public
expense. A short distance to the north-west of the Acropolis,
and separated from it only by some hollow ground, was the small
eminence called Areop'agus, or Hill of Mars, at the eastern
extremity of which was situated the celebrated court of Areopagus.
About a quarter of a mile south-west stood the Pnyx, the place
where the public assemblies of Athens were held in its palmy
days, and a spot that will ever be associated with the renown
of Demosthenes and other famed orators. The steps by which the
speaker mounted the rostrum, and a tier of three seats for the
audience, hewn in the solid rock, are still visible.
The only other monument of art to which we shall refer in this
connection is the celebrated Temple of Theseus, built of marble
by Cimon as a resting-place for the bones of the distinguished
hero. [Footnote: Cimon conquered the island of Scy'ros, the haunt
of pirates, and brought thence to Athens what were supposed to
be the bones of Theseus.] It is of the Doric order, one hundred
and four feet by forty-five, and surrounded by columns, of which
there are six at each front and thirteen at the sides. The roof,
friezes, and cornices of this temple have been but little impaired
by time, and the whole is one of the most noble remains of the
ancient magnificence of Athens, and the most nearly perfect,
if not the most beautiful, existing specimen of Grecian
The Temple of Theseus.
Here let us pause, e'en at the vestibule
Of Theseus' fame. With what stern majesty
It rears its ponderous and eternal strength,
Still perfect, still unchanged, as on the day
When the assembled throng of multitudes
With shouts proclaimed the accomplished work, and fell
Prostrate upon their faces to adore
Its marble splendor!
How the golden gleam
Of noonday floats upon its graceful form,
Tinging each grooved shaft, and storied frieze,
And Doric triglyph! How the rays amid
The opening columns, glanced from point to point,
Stream down the gloom of the long portico!
* * * * *
How the long pediment,
Embrowned with shadows, frowns above, and spreads
Solemnity and reverential awe!
Proud monument of old magnificence!
Still thou survivest; nor has envious Time
Impaired thy beauty, save that it has spread
A deeper tint, and dimmed the polished glare
Of thy refulgent whiteness.
So much for some of the architectural wonders of Athens. As BULWER
says, "It was the great characteristic of these works that they
were entirely the creation of the people. Without the people
Pericles could not have built a temple nor engaged a sculptor.
The miracles of that day resulted from the enthusiasm of a
population yet young--full of the first ardor for the beautiful--
dedicating to the state, as to a mistress, the trophies honorably
won, or the treasures injuriously extorted, and uniting the
resources of a nation with the energy of an individual, because
the toil, the cost, were borne by those who succeeded to the
enjoyment and arrogated the glory." TALFOURD, in his Athenian
Captive, calls all that went to make up Athens in the days of
An opening world,
Diviner than the soul of man hath yet
Been gifted to imagine--truths serene
Made visible in beauty, that shall glow
In everlasting freshness, unapproached
By mortal passion, pure amid the blood
And dust of conquests, never waxing old,
But on the stream of time, from age to age,
Casting bright images of heavenly youth
To make the world less mournful.
THE SPARTAN AND THEBAN SUPREMACIES.
I. THE EXPEDITION OF CYRUS, AND THE RETREAT OF THE TEN THOUSAND.
The aid given by Cyrus the Persian to Sparta in her contest with
Athens, as related in a preceding chapter, was bestowed with
the understanding that Sparta should give him her assistance
against his elder brother, Artaxerxes Mne'mon, should he ever
require it. Accordingly, when the latter succeeded to the Persian
throne, on the death of his father, Cyrus, still governor of
the maritime region of Asia Minor, prepared to usurp his brother's
regal power. For this purpose he raised an army of one hundred
thousand Persians, which he strengthened with an auxiliary force
of thirteen thousand Greeks, drawn principally from the cities
of Asia under the dominion of Sparta. On the Grecian force,
commanded by Cle-ar'chus, a Spartan, Cyrus placed his main reliance
With these forces Cyrus marched from Sardis, in the spring of
401, to within seventy miles of Babylon without the least
opposition. Here, however, he was met by Artaxerxes, it the head
of nine hundred thousand men. This immense force was at first
driven back; but in the conflict that ensued Cyrus rashly charged
the guards that surrounded his brother, and was slain. His Persian
troops immediately fled, leaving the Greeks almost alone, in
the presence of an immense hostile force, and more than a thousand
miles from any friendly territory. The victorious enemy proposed
to the Grecians terms of accommodation, but, having invited
Clearchus and other leaders to a conference, they treacherously
put them to death. No alternative now remained to the Greeks
but to submit to the Persians or fight their way back to their
own land. They bravely chose the latter course--and, selecting
Xenophon, a young Athenian, for their leader, after a four months'
march, attended with great suffering and almost constant battling
with brave and warlike tribes, ten thousand of their number
succeeded in reaching the Grecian settlements on the Black Sea.
Proclaiming their joy by loud shouts of "The sea! the sea!" The
Greek heroes gave vent to their exultation in tears and mutual
Hence, through the continent, ten thousand Greeks
Urged a retreat, whose glory not the prime
Of victories can reach. Deserts in vain
Opposed their course; and hostile lands, unknown;
And deep, rapacious floods, dire banked with death;
And mountains, in whose jaws destruction grinned;
Hunger and toil; Armenian snows and storms;
And circling myriads still of barbarous foes.
Greece in their view, and glory yet untouched,
Their steady column pierced the scattering herds
Which a whole empire poured; and held its way
Triumphant, by the sage, exalted chief
Fired and sustained.
O light, and force of mind,
Almost mighty in severe extremes!
The sea at last from Colchian mountains seen,
Kind-hearted transport round their captains threw
The soldiers' fond embrace; o'erflowed their eyes
With tender floods, and loosed the general voice
To cries resounding loud--"The sea! the sea!"
Xenophon, who afterward became an historian of his country, has
left an admirable narrative of this expedition, and "The Retreat
of the Ten Thousand," in his Anab'asis, written with great
clearness and singular modesty. Referring to the expedition, and
to the historian's account of it, DR. CURTIUS makes the following
"Although this military expedition possesses no immediate
significance for political history, yet it is of high importance,
not only for our knowledge of the East, but also for that of
the Greek character; and the accurate description which we owe
to Xenophon is, therefore, one of the most valuable documents
of antiquity. We see a band of Greeks of the most various origin,
torn out of all their ordinary spheres of life, in a strange
quarter of the globe, in a long complication of incessant
movements, and of situations ever-varying and full of peril, in
which the real nature of these men could not but display itself
with the most perfect truthfulness. This army is a typical chart,
in many colors, of the Greek population--a picture, on a small
scale, of the whole people, with all its virtues and faults,
its qualities of strength and of weakness--a wandering political
community, which, according to home usage, holds its assemblies
and passes its resolutions, and at the same time a wild and not
easily manageable band of free-lances. They are men in full measure
agitated by the unquiet spirit of the times, which had destroyed
in them their affection for their native land; and yet how closely
they cling to its most ancient traditions! Visions in dream and
omens, sent by the gods, decide the most important resolutions,
just as in the Homeric camp before Troy: most assiduously the
sacrifices are lit, the pęans sung, altars erected, and games
celebrated, in honor of the savior gods, when at last the aspect
of the longed-for sea animates afresh their vigor and their courage.
"This multitude has been brought together by love of lucre and
quest of adventure; and yet in the critical moment there manifest
themselves a lively sense of honor and duty, a lofty heroic spirit,
and a sure tact in perceiving what counsels are the best. Here,
too, is visible the mutual jealousy existing among the several
tribes of the nation; but the feeling of their belonging together,
the consciousness of national unity, prevail over all; and the
great mass is capable of sufficient good-sense and self-denial
to subordinate itself to those who, by experience, intelligence,
and moral courage, attest themselves as fitted for command. And
how very remarkable it is that in this mixed multitude of Greeks
it is an Athenian who by his qualities towers above all the rest,
and becomes the real preserver of the entire army! Xenophon had
only accompanied the army as a volunteer; yet it was he who,
obeying an inner call, re-awakened a higher, a Hellenic
consciousness, courage, and prudence among his comrades, and
who brought about the first salutary resolutions. Possessing
the Athenian superiority of culture which enabled him to serve
these warriors as spokesman, negotiator, and general, to him
it was essentially due that, in spite of unspeakable trials,
they finally reached the coast." [Footnote: "History of Greece,"
vol. iv., pp. 191, 192.]
* * * * *
II. THE SUPREMACY OF SPARTA.
On the fall of Athens, Sparta became the mistress of Greece.
Her power and his own wealth induced Lysander to appear again
in public life. He first attempted to overthrow the two regal
families of Sparta, and, by making the crown an elective office,
secure his own accession to it. But he failed in this, although,
on the death of A'gis, King of Sparta, he succeeded in setting
aside Leo-tych'i-des, the son and rightful successor of Agis,
and giving the office to Agesila'us, the late king's brother.
The government of Sparta now became far more oppressive than
that of Athens had been, and it was not long before some of the
Grecian states under her sway united in a league against her.
The part which the Greek cities of Asia took in the expedition
of Cyrus involved them in a war with Persia, in which they were
aided by the Spartans. Agesila'us entered Asia with a considerable
force (396 B.C.), and in the following year he defeated the Persians
in a great battle on the plains of Sardis, in Lydia. But in 394
the Spartan king was called home to avert the dangers which
threatened his country in a war that had been fomented by the
Persian king in order to save his dominions from the ravages
of the Spartans. The King of Persia had supplied Athens with
a fleet which defeated the Spartan navy at Cni'dus, and Persian
gold rebuilt the walls of Athens. A battle soon followed between
the Spartans on one side and the Thebans and Athenians on the
other, in which the former were defeated and Lysander was slain.
On the other hand, Athens and her allies were defeated, in the
same year, in the vicinity of Corinth, and on the plains of
Corone'a. Finally, after the war had continued eight years, and
Sparta had virtually lost her maritime power, the peace of
Antal'cidas, as it is called, was concluded with Persia, at the
instance of Sparta, and was ratified by all the states engaged
in the contest (387 B.C.).
By the treaty with Persia, Athens regained three of the islands
she had been obliged to relinquish to Sparta under Lysander;
but the Greek cities in Asia were given up to Persia, and both
Athens and Sparta lost their former allies. It was the unworthy
jealousy of the Grecians, which the Persian king knew how to
stimulate, that prompted them to give up to a barbarian the free
cities of Asia; and this is the darkest shade in the picture.
Though Sparta was the most strongly in favor of the terms of
the treaty, yet Athens was the greatest gainer, for she once
more became an independent and powerful state.
It was not long before ambition, and the resentment of past
injuries, involved Sparta in new wars. When her thirty years'
truce with Mantine'a had expired, she compelled that city, which
had formerly been an unwilling ally, to throw down her walls,
and dismember her territory into the four or five villages out
of which it had been formed. Each of these divisions was now
left unfortified, and placed under a separate oligarchical
government. Sparta did this under the pretext that the
Mantine'ans had supplied one of her enemies with provisions
during the preceding war, and had evaded their share of service
in the Spartan army. The jealousy of Sparta was next aroused
against the rising power of Olynthus, a powerful confederacy
in the south-eastern part of Macedonia, which had become engaged
in hostilities with some rival cities; and the Spartans readily
accepted an invitation of one of the latter to send an army to
The expedition against Olynthus led to an affair of much importance.
As one of the divisions of the Spartan army was marching through
the Theban territories it turned aside, and the Spartan general
treacherously seized upon the Cadme'a, or Theban citadel, although
a state of peace existed between Thebes and Sparta (382 B.C.).
The political morality of Sparta is clearly exhibited in the
arguments by which the Spartan king justified this palpable and
treacherous breach of the treaty of Antal'cidas. He declared
that the only question for the Spartan people to consider was,
whether they were gainers or losers by the transaction. The
assertion made by the Athenians on a prior occasion was confirmed
--that, "of all states, Sparta had most glaringly shown by her
conduct that in her political transactions she measured honor
by inclination, and justice by expediency."
On the seizure of the Theban citadel the most patriotic of the
citizens fled to Athens, while a faction upheld by a Spartan
garrison ruled the place. Thebes now became a member of the
Spartan alliance, and furnished a force for the war against
Olynthus. After a struggle of four years Olynthus capitulated,
the Olynthian Confederacy was thereby dissolved, and the cities
belonging to it were compelled to join the Spartan alliance.
As a modern historian observes, "Sparta thus inflicted a great
blow upon Hellas; for the Olynthian Confederacy might have served
as a counterpoise to the growing power of Macedon, destined soon
to overwhelm the rest of Greece." The power of Sparta had now
attained its greatest height, but, as she was leagued on all
sides with the enemies of Grecian freedom, her unpopularity was
great, and her supremacy was doomed to a rapid decline.
* * * * *
III. THE RISE AND FALL OF THEBES.
Thebes had been nearly four years in the hands of the Spartans
when a few determined residents of the city rose against their
tyrants, and, aided by the exiles who had taken refuge at Athens,
and by some Athenian volunteers, they compelled the Spartan
garrison to capitulate (379 B.C.). At the head of the revolution
were two Theban citizens, Pelop'idas and Epaminon'das, young
men of noble birth and fortune, already distinguished for their
patriotism and private virtues. They are characterized by the
poet THOMSON, as
Equal to the best; the Theban Pair
Whose virtues, in heroic concord joined,
Their country raised to freedom, empire, fame.
By their abilities they raised Thebes, hitherto of but little
political importance, to the first rank in power among the Grecian
states. They have been thus described by the historian CURTIUS:
"Pelopidas was the heroic champion and pioneer who, like Miltiades
and Cimon, with full energy accomplished the tasks immediately
at hand; while Epaminondas was a statesman whose glance took a
wider range, who organized the state at home, and established
its foreign relations upon a thoroughly thought-out plan. He
created the bases of the power of Thebes, as Themistocles and
Aristides had those of the power of Athens; and he maintained
them, so long as he lived, by the vigor of his mind, like another
Pericles. And, indeed, it would be difficult to find in the entire
course of Greek history any other two great statesmen who, in
spite of differences of character and of outward conditions of
life, resembled each other so greatly, and were, as men, so truly
the peers of each other, as Pericles and Epaminondas."
The successes of Thebes revived the jealousy and distrust of Athens,
which concluded a peace with Sparta, and subsequently formed
an alliance with her. But the Thebans continued to be successful,
and at Teg'yra Pelopidas defeated a greatly superior force and
killed the two Spartan generals; while at Leuc'tra Epaminondas,
with a force of six thousand Thebans, defeated the Lacedęmonian
army of more than double that number (371 B.C.). Leuctra has
been called "the Marathon of the Thebans," as their defensive
war was turned by it into a war of conquest. Aided now by the
Arca'dians, Ar'gives, and E'leans, Epaminondas invaded Laconia,
appearing before the gates of Sparta, where a hostile force had
not been seen in five hundred years; but he made no attempt upon
the city, and, after laying waste with fire and sword the valley
of the Euro'tas, he retraced his steps to the frontiers of Arcadia.
Another expedition was undertaken against the Peloponnesus in
367 B.C., and the cities of Achaia immediately submitted, becoming
the allies of Thebes. In 362 the Peloponnesus was invaded for
the last time, and at Mantinea Epaminondas defeated the Spartans
in the most sanguinary contest ever fought among Grecians; but he
fell in the moment of victory, and the glory of Thebes departed
with him. Before his death, having been told that those whom
he intended to be his successors in command had been slain, he
directed the Thebans to make peace. His advice was followed, and
a general peace was soon after established, on the condition
that each state should retain its respective possessions.
THE SICILIAN GREEKS.
Before proceeding to the history of the downfall of Greece, and
her subjugation by a foreign power--a result that soon followed
the events just narrated--we turn aside to notice the affairs of
the Sicilian Greeks, as more especially presented in the history
of Syracuse, in all respects the strongest and most prominent
of the Sicilian cities.
On the death of Ge'lon, despot of Syracuse, a year after the
battle of Him'era, the government fell into the hands of his
brother Hi'ero, a man of great energy and determination. He
founded the city of Ętna, of which PINDAR says:
That city, founded strong
In liberty divine,
Measured by the Spartan line,
Has Hiero 'stablish'd for his heritage;
To whose firm-planted colony belong
Their mother-country's laws,
From many a distant age.
He also added many cities to his government, and his power was
not inferior to that of Gelon. The city of Cu'mę, on the Italian
coast, being harassed by the Carthaginians, the aid of Hiero was
solicited by its citizens, and he sent a fleet which severely
defeated and almost destroyed the squadron of their enemies.
Says PINDAR of this event:
That leader of the Syracusan host,
With gallies swiftly-rushing, them pursued;
And they his onset rued,
When on the Cuman coast
He dashed their youth in gulfy waves below,
And rescued Greece from heavy servitude.
Hiero was likewise a liberal patron of literature and the arts,
inviting to his court many of the eminent poets and philosophers
of his time, including Pindar, Simon'ides, Epichar'mus, Ęs'chylus,
and others; but his many great and noble qualities were alloyed
by insatiable cupidity and ambition, and he became noted for
"his cruel and rapacious government, and as the organizer of
that systematic espionage which broke up all freedom of speech
among his subjects." Although the eminent men who visited his
court have much to say in praise of Hiero, Pindar, especially, was
too honest and independent to ignore his faults. As GROTE says,
"Pindar's indirect admonitions and hints sufficiently attest the
real character of Hiero." Of these, the following lines from the
Pythian ode may be taken as a sample:
The lightest word that falls from thee, O King!
Becomes a mighty and momentous thing:
O'er many placed as arbiter on high,
Many thy goings watchful see.
Thy ways on every side
A host of faithful witnesses descry;
Then let thy liberal temper be thy guide.
If ever to thine ear
Fame's softest whisper yet was dear,
Stint not thy bounty's flowing tide:
Stand at the helm of state; full to the gale
Spread thy wind-gathering sail.
Friend! let not plausive avarice spread
Its lures, to tempt thee from the path of fame:
For know, the glory of a name
Follows the mighty dead.
--Trans. by ELTON.
Hiero was succeeded on his death, in 467 B.C., by his brother
Thrasybu'lus; but the latter's tyranny caused a popular revolt,
and after being defeated in a battle with his subjects he was
expelled from the country. His expulsion was followed by the
extinction of the Gelonian dynasty at Syracuse, and the institution
of a popular government there and in other Sicilian cities. These
free governments, however, gave rise to internal revolts and
wars that continued many months; and finally a general congress
of the different cities was held, which succeeded in adjusting
the difficulties that had disturbed the peace of all Sicily.
The various cities now became independent--though it is probable
that the governments of all of them continued to be more or less
disturbed--and were soon distinguished for their material and
intellectual prosperity. Syracuse maintained herself as the first
city in power; and in this condition of prosperity the Sicilian
cities were found at the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war.
DIONYESIUS THE ELDER.
Of the Athenian league and expedition against Syracuse we have
already given some account. Soon after the termination of this
contest the Constitution of Syracuse was rendered still more
democratic by the adoption of a new code of laws, prepared by
Di'ocles, an eminent citizen, who became the director of the
government. But the Carthaginians now again invaded Sicily, and
established themselves over its entire western half. Taking
advantage of the popular alarm at these aggressions, and of the
ill success of Diocles and the Syracusan generals in opposing
them, Diony'sius the Elder, then a young man, of low birth, but
brave, determined, and talented, having been raised by popular
favor to the generalship of the Syracusan army, subsequently
made himself despot of the city (405 B.C.). Dionysius ruled
vigorously, but with extreme tyranny, for thirty-eight years.
By the year 384 he had extended his power over nearly all Sicily
and a part of Magna Grecia, and under his sway Syracuse became
one of the most powerful empires on earth. PLUTARCH relates that
Dionysius boasted that he bequeathed to his son an empire "fastened
by chains of adamant." Like Hiero, Dionysius was a lover of
literature, and sought to gain distinction by his poetical
compositions, some of which won prizes at Athens. He also invited
Plato to his court; but the philosopher's moral conversations
were distasteful to the tyrant, who finally sold him into slavery,
from which he was redeemed by a friend.
It was during the reign of Dionysius the Elder that occurred
that memorable incident in the lives of Damon and Pythias by
which Dionysius himself is best remembered, and which has passed
into history as illustrative of the truest and noblest friendship.
Damon and Pythias were distinguished Syracusans, and both were
Pythagore'ans. Pythias, a strong republican, having been seized
for calling Dionysius a tyrant, and being condemned to death
for attempting to stab him, requested a brief respite in order
to arrange his affairs, promising to procure a friend to take
his place and suffer death if he should not return. Damon gave
himself up as surety, and Pythias was allowed to depart. Just
as Damon was about to be led to execution, Pythias, who had been
detained by unforeseen circumstances, returned to accept his
fate and save his friend. Dionysius was so struck by these proofs
of virtue and magnanimity on the part of the two friends that
he set both of them free, and requested to be admitted into their
friendship. The subject has been repeatedly dramatized, and has
formed the theme of numerous separate poems. Schiller has a ballad
on the subject; but he amplifies the incidents of the original
story, and substitutes other names in place of Damon and Pythias.
The following are the first three and the last three verses from
The tyrant Di'onys to seek,
Stern Moe'rus with his poniard crept;
The watchful guards upon him swept;
The grim King marked his changeless cheek:
"What wouldst thou with thy poniard? Speak!"
"The city from the tyrant free!"
"The death-cross shall thy guerdon be."
"I am prepared for death, nor pray,"
Replied that haughty man, "to live;
Enough if thou one grace wilt give:
For three brief suns the death delay,
To wed my sister--leagues away;
I boast one friend whose life for mine,
If I should fail the cross, is thine."
The tyrant mused, and smiled, and said,
With gloomy craft, "So let it be;
Three days I will vouchsafe to thee.
But mark--if, when the time be sped,
Thou fail'st, thy surety dies instead.
His life shall buy thine own release;
Thy guilt atoned, my wrath shall cease."
* * * * *
The sun sinks down--the gate's in view,
The cross looms dismal on the ground--
The eager crowd gape murmuring round.
His friend is bound the cross unto.
Crowd--guards--all--bursts he through;
"Me! Doomsman, me," he shouts, "alone!
His life is rescued--lo, mine own!"
Amazement seized the circling ring!
Linked in each other's arms the pair--
Weeping for joy, yet anguish there!
Moist every eye that gazed: they bring
The wondrous tidings to the King--
His breast man's heart at last hath known,
And the Friends stand before his throne.
Long silent he, and wondering long,
Gazed on the pair. "In peace depart,
Victors, ye have subdued my heart!
Truth is no dream! its power is strong.
Give grace to him who owns his wrong!
'Tis mine your suppliant now to be:
Ah, let the band of Love--be THREE!"
--Trans. by BULWER.
Dionysius the Younger succeeded to the government of Syracuse
in 367, but he was incompetent to the task; and his tyranny and
debauchery brought about his temporary overthrow, ten years later,
by Dion, his father's brother-in-law. Dion had enjoyed unusual
favors under Dionysius the Elder, and was now a man of wealth
and high position, as well as of great energy and marked mental
capacities. For his talents he was largely indebted to Plato,
under whose teachings he became imbued "with that sense of
regulated polity, and submission of individual will to fixed
laws, which floated in the atmosphere of Grecian talk and
literature, and stood so high in Grecian morality." In one of
his letters Plato says, "When I explained the principles of
philosophy and humanity to Dion, I little thought that I was
insensibly opening a way to the subversion of tyranny!"
Long before the death of Dionysius the Elder, Dion had conceived
the idea of liberating Syracuse from despotism and establishing
an improved constitutional policy, originated by himself; and,
on becoming the chief adviser of the young Dionysius, he tried
to convince the latter of the necessity of reforming himself
and his government. Although at first favorably impressed with
the plans of Dion, the young monarch subsequently became jealous
of his adviser and expelled him from the country. Gathering a
few troops from various quarters, Dion returned to Sicily ten
years after, and, aided by a revolt in Syracuse, he soon made
himself master of the city. Dionysius had meanwhile retired to
Ortyg'ia, and soon left Sicily for Italy. But the success of
Dion was short-lived. "Too good for a despot, and yet unfit for
a popular leader, he could not remain long in the precarious
position he occupied." Both his dictatorship and his life came
to an end in 354. He became the victim of a conspiracy originating
with his most intimate friend, and was assassinated in his own
Dionysius soon after returned to Syracuse, from the government
of which he was finally expelled by Timo'leon, a Corinthian,
who had been sent from Corinth, at the request of some exiled
Syracusans, to the relief of their native city (343 B.C.). Timoleon
made himself master of the almost deserted Syracuse, restored it
to some degree of its former glory, checked the aspiring power
of Carthage by defeating one of its largest armies, crushed the
petty despots of Sicily, and restored nearly the whole island
to a state of liberty and order. The restoration of liberty to
Syracuse by Timoleon was followed by many years of unexampled
prosperity. Having achieved the purpose with which he left Corinth,
Timoleon at once resigned his command and became a private citizen
of Syracuse. But he became the adviser of the Syracusans in their
government, and the arbitrator of their differences, enjoying
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