Skip to main content

Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

See other formats

Egypt and the Byzantine Empire             339
'our common master', and in another papyrus of A.D. 587 a mere
tenant of the great Apion family describes himself as a deputy
The decay of civic life was helped and accompanied by other
social changes. In the Roman period the metropolis, though
not possessing municipal status and containing a very mixed
population, were by no means negligible centres of Hellenic
culture. The education of the gymnasium, enjoyed by the
. privileged class, followed, at whatever interval, the old Hellenic
ideal, with its twin pillars of athletics and 'music'. The ephebes
practised the exercises of the palaestra; and the education of the
mind, if the methods employed were by modern standards some-
what crude, was far from ineffective. Egypt, apart from Alex-
andria, was not, in the Roman period, very productive of literary
talent, but finds of papyri show that there was a considerable
and active reading public not only for such popular favourites
as Euripides, Menander, and Callimachus but for authors as
remote from the taste of the age as Aeschylus, Corinna, or the
writers of the Old Comedy.
The basis of this urban culture was undermined by the
economic decay of the third century, which impoverished the
bourgeoisie-, and it is likely that the grant of full municipal status
carried with it new burdens, which still further weakened the
middle class. It synchronized with the emergence of a new
factor even more inimical to the Hellenic tradition. The
ascetic tendency of fourth-century Christianity, with its dis-
trust of the body, was not easily reconcilable with the gymnastic
exercises of the palaestra, and absorption in theological con-
troversy weakened the interest in Greek literature. In another
way too the new faith threatened Hellenic ideals. It is one of
the most striking features of oriental Christianity that it awoke
the national feeling of classes and races hitherto drowned by the
flood of Hellenism which swept over the East in the wake of
Alexander's conquests. In Egypt the native culture, dormant