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Professor W.S. Milner 
















WHEN I began to teach Latin and Greek, a friend asked 
me what I supposed myself to have learnt from them, and 
what I was trying to teach others. This book was written 
as an attempt to answer the question, as far as Greek 
is concerned. It was written to inform, primarily myself, 
secondarily my pupils. It is therefore intentionally 
popular, and, like the poems of Lucilius, designed neque 
indoctissimis neque doctissimis : it uses modern illustrations, 
and tries, as far as possible, to put what it has to say in 
a readable form. I hope it may serve as a general intro- 
duction to the study of Greek literature, and for that 
purpose be acceptable, not only to such students or 
teachers of the classics as feel themselves to be in the 
class indicated above, but also to the considerable public 
who take a humane interest in what Greece has done for 
the world. For my intention has been to try and make 
the spirit of Greece alive for myself at the present day, to 
translate it, as far as I could, into modern language, and 
to trace its relationship to our own ways of thinking 
and feeling. 

If I do not apologize for the manner in which this 
ambitious task has been executed, it is not because I 
have no misgivings. Few people could write a book on 
this subject, and feel satisfied with it. Still, if I am not 
convincing, I shall at any rate be contentious, and 
educationally the second quality is perhaps more valuable 
than the first. On the same grounds I would excuse my- 
self for having raised many questions which are left half- 

A 2 


answered : the method may stimulate readers, if it does 
not satisfy them. 

4 The Greek Genius ' is an unsatisfactory title for a book 
which says nothing about Greek politics or Greek sculpture ; 
but ' the Genius of Greek Literature ' was too narrow for 
my purpose, and ' Some Aspects of the Greek Genius ', 
which I should have preferred, was already appropriated : 
so that the present name has been adopted, and the exact 
scope of the book indicated in the introductory chapter 
(see esp. pp. 13, 14). That chapter also explains who, for 
my purposes, ' the Greeks ' 'have been taken to be ; it is 
intended to safeguard the book against certain obvious 
criticisms, and may well be omitted by general readers 
who are not concerned with these points. 

As I am writing for a general audience, I have either 
quoted in English or else translated my quotations. For 
Thucydides and Plato I have generally made use of 
Jowett. Gaps in the quotations are not indicated unless 
they affect the general sense of the passage. For a book 
of this kind an index is of little value, and I have therefore 
substituted a full table of contents. 

The book owes much to my mother and sister, who 
have helped me with criticism and in other ways ; to 
Mr. P. E. Matheson, my former tutor, and to Mr. R. W. 
Chapman of the University Press, who have corrected 
the proofs and made suggestions ; and to Professor Gilbert 
Murray, to whom I should like to express especial grati- 
tude, not only for reading and criticizing most of the 
book in draft, but also for teaching me, as he has taught 
so many others, to look on Greek thought as a living 
thing. 1 

1 I have, however, no right to imply that Professor Murray 
agrees with what the book contains. 



1 . The achievement of Greece T .-. . . . . 1 1 

2. Questions suggested by it, and aim of this book . 13 

3. Some difficulties and the attitude taken up to them 

in it .-.'.. ... . . . 14 

(a) Is there a Greek genius ? 

(6) In which of the Greek races is it to be sought ? 

(c) In what epochs ? 

(d) Are we to consider the ordinary man or only 

the writers and thinkers ? 

4. Our aim is to form some idea of Hellenism. Con- 

clusions from this ... 21 



Various views of the Greeks . . . . . 23 

A. The idea that moral striving was their great mark . 24 

1. Objections to this : its absence in typical Greeks . 25 

2. Plato and S. Paul 26 

3. The Greeks . . . . . . . 27 - 

(a) Had no sense of sin. 

(b) Were not exclusively interested in the moral 

side of man. 

(c) Took up an attitude of reason not of passion in 

these matters. 

B. The idea that the Greeks were primarily lovers of 

beauty ....... 29 

1 . This view not borne out by Thucydides and others . 3 1 

2. But their sense of beauty was more general than ours . 34 

3. Testimony of Heine and Renan to it . . . 35 

4. It appears in ....... 35 

(a) Their names. 

(b) Their sayings. 



(c) The finish of their poetry Homer and Scott. 

(d) Their use of the word KoXd?. 

5. They were more than lovers of beauty . 39 

Note. A certain characteristic of Greek style . . 40 


1. The meaning of Greek truthfulness: Greek literature 

and Irish legend contrasted . . 43 

2. Primary cause of it the religious and political freedom 

of Greece ...... 45 

A. Religious freedom. 

1 . Few attacks on free thought in Athens : contrast with 

Inquisition ..... 47 

2. This freedom promoted by . . . . 51 

(a) Anthropomorphism of Greek religion tending to 


(b) Absence of a Bible. 

(c) Greek instinct for rationalism : stories of Job 

and of Jgrj2mfithus._ 

(d) Greek attitude to God : contrasted with Jewish 

and Christian attitude. 

B. Political freedom. 

1. Greek instinct for political individualism : instances . 62 

2. The old Comedy . . . . . .64 

3. Theory of liberty in the Funeral Speech ... 66 

4. Contrast with Rome : interferences with liberty 

there ....... 69 

5. Reasons for this difference . . . . . 72 


1 . There is a further cause of Greek truthfulness . . 74 

2. Directness in Greek descriptions of Nature : Alcman 

and Mrs. Browning ..... 76 



3. Similar quality generally in Greek view of life : Greek 

ideas on ....... 77 

(a) Love. 

(6) Children and friends. 

(c) Death. 

4. Meaning of this quality : it is neither an absence of 

convention, nor unerring truthfulness . 88 

5 . Due to the Greeks being a primitive people . . 90 

6. Consequent absence of mysticism, romanticism, senti- 

mentality . . . . . .go 

7. But they were not brutal realists .... 92 

8. Deviations from directness in Greek literature . . 94 

9. Why it persisted ....... 95 

10. Definition of it ; its effects ...".. 96 

11. Criticism of it and contrast with modern literature . 96 

12. Instances of poetry, Latin and English, which is not 

direct ....... 99 

13. Directness leads to increased pleasure in common 

things ....... 105 

14. It is hostile to sentimentality . . . .107 
Note. Further exceptions to it in Greek literature . . 108 



1 . The Greeks viewed the world from a human standpoint, 

and humanized . . . . . .no 

(a) God. 
(6) Nature. 
(c) Life. 

2. Greek humanism illustrated from . . . .113 

(a) Their views of a future world. 

(b) Three Greek definitions of happiness. 

3. Humanism in practice : pictures of Greek life from 

Xenophon . . . . . .116 

4. Humanism and Christianity . . . . .123 

5. Its significance for us . . . . . .123 



6. Humanism leads to 

(a) Stress on bodily excellence . . . .124 

(i) Greek feeling for beauty, 
(ii) Physical pleasures, 
(iii) Their festivals, 
(iv) Dread of old age. 

(b) Stress on intellectual excellence . . 133 

(i) Intellectual activity at Athens, 
(ii) Socrates. 

7. Athens and an English University . . . .137 



The difficulty of finding a typical Greek . . . 139^* 

A. Pindar ......... 140 

1. His ideals ........ 140 

2. Gloomy view of life combined with a power of enjoy- 

ing it . /. ... 142 

3. His philosophy ./ . 145 

B. Herodotus . '. 146 

1. Not a scientific historian . . . . .147 

2. Yet impartial ; Plutarch, De Malignitate Herodoti . 147 

3. Omnivorous intellectual interest . . . .150 

4. Not a religious nor a moral genius . . . 152 

5. How he is a representative Greek . . . 154 

6. Gloomy yet courageous view of life . . . .157 

7. Ideas of happiness . . . . . .158 



Some similarities and differences of Greek and modern 

ideals . ' . . . . . . 160 

A. In literature. 

1. Phenomena of modern literature which were mainly 

absent from Greek . . . . .162 

2. The Greeks attracted by broad human interests . 164 



3. Homer and Oscar Wilde . . . . .164 

4. The tragedians : absence of morbidity : the Oedipus 

Tyrannus ....... 166 

5. Greek sanity due to . . . . . .168 

(a) Their primitiveness. 

(6) Their keeping in touch with ordinary life. 

6. Hence no Art for Art's sake, nor Intellect for In- 

tellect's sake . . . . . .170 

7 . Traces of these in Euripides and elsewhere : Daphnis 

and Chloe . . . . . . .171 

B. In life. 

1. Modern divorce between thinking and acting un- 

Greek 174 

2. Greek manysidedness . . . . . 175 

3. Its dangers ........ 176 

4. Its advantages ....... 178 / 

Connexion of the various notes of Hellenism . . 179^ 



Exceptions to those notes of Hellenism . . . .180 

A. Plato. 

1. He is often ........ 183 

(a) Not direct : theories on poetry and love. 

(b) Hostile to liberty : political restrictions in the 

Republic and the Laws. 

(c) Hostile to humanism : dislike of the body ; of 

political life : gospel of another world. 

2. His kinship with Christianity . . . . -195 

3. This seen in his mistrust of human nature . . 196 

B. Other unhellenic elements in Greek literature. 

1. Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries opposed to 

humanism . . . . . .197 

2. Extent of their influence on Greek literature limited . 199 

3. Still Greece gives examples of the opposite of 

humanism . . 202 




1 . The fifth century and the Greek genius . ^r . . 203 

2. Commencement of the age of reason : Thales . . 204 

3. It reaches its acme in Athens .... 207 

4. The significance of the Sophists . . . .210 

5. Their teaching 211 

6. Its nature as seen in Thucydides their pupil . . 213 

7. Its results 216 

(a) Growth of Criticism. 

(6) Dawn of the spirit of Science. The Socratic 

method . 
(c) Interest in morality. The mission of Socrates. 

8. The Greek union of thought with morality . . 224 

9. Euripides typical of the fifth century . . . 226 

(a) Of its critical spirit. His treatment of legend 

(b) Of its moral interest. The Ion. 

10. In the fifth century the Greek genius enters on a new 

course ....... 236 

1 1 . Why its subsequent history is less attractive . . 238 

(a) Decay of Greek Life and Politics . 

(b) Spiritual degeneracy of the fourth century. 

Menander and Aristotle. 


1. The 'modernity ' of Greek literature . . .245 

2. Reasons for it ....... 247 


EUROPE has nearly four million square miles ; Lancashire 
has 1,700 ; Attica has 700. Yet this tiny country has 
given us an art which we, with it and all that the world 
has done since it for our models, have equalled perhaps, 
but not surpassed. It has given us the staple of our 
vocabulary in every domain of thought and knowledge. 
Politics, tyranny, democracy, anarchism, philosophy, 
physiology, geology, history these are all Greek words. 
It has seized and up to the present day kept hold of our 
higher education. It has exercised an unfailing fascina- 
tion, even on minds alien or hostile. Rome took her 
culture thence. Young Romans completed their education 
in the Greek schools. Roman orators learnt their trade 
from Greek rhetoricians. Roman proconsuls on their 
way to the East stopped to spend a few days talking to 
the successors of Plato and Aristotle in the Academy and 
Lyceum. Roman aristocrats imported Greek philosophers 
to live in their families. And so it was with natures 
less akin to Greece than the Roman. S. Paul, a Hebrew 
of the Hebrews, who called the wisdom of the Greeks 
foolishness, was drawn to their Areopagus, and found him- 
self accommodating his gospel to the style, and quoting 
verses from the poets, of this alien race. After him, the 
Church, which was born to protest against Hellenism, 
translated its dogmas into the language of Greek thought 
and finally crystallized them in the philosophy of Aristotle. 


Then for a time Greek influence on the West died down. 
An intellectual and political system repugnant to its genius 
mastered the world, and Hellenism, buried in Byzantine 
libraries and imprisoned in a language that Europe had 
forgotten, seemed to have finally passed away. A few 
centuries go by ; suddenly we find Italy intoxicated with 
the Greek spirit, as with new wine ; poring over it, 
interpreting it, hopelessly misunderstanding it ; leaving 
Pre-Raphaelite art in order to dig up its broken statues, 
forgetting the magnificent monuments of Gothic archi- 
tecture in order to imitate its Parthenon, deserting Dante 
in order to hunt for its crabbed manuscripts, at the expense 
of fortune and of life. Even then the revivifying power 
of Hellenism was not spent nor its work done. Two cen- 
turies later, a poor tradesman's son born among the ' ugly 
Brandenburg sand-hills ' and educated in the stagnant 
German universities of the day, catches a glimpse of the 
meaning of Greek Art, never forgets the vision through 
weary years as schoolmaster and librarian in provincial 
German towns, professes Romanism that he may follow the 
gleam to Italy, and there living in perpetual communion 
with Greek sculpture, ' opens a new sense for the study of 
art and initiates a new organ for the human spirit '. x With 
Winckelmann the race starts anew, and has run unbroken 
to our own day. He handed the torch of Hellenism to 
Goethe, and it became the law of life and the standard of 
beauty to the profoundest poet of the modern world. 
Goethe passed it on to Nietzsche, and the great rebel and 
prophet of our age found in pre-Socratic Greece the nearest 
c likenesses to his ideal humanity. Continually laid aside 
N it is too tremendous and fatiguing for the world to live 

1 Hegel, quoted in Pater's essay on Winckelmann (Renaissance 


up to ; continually rediscovered for the world cannot 
live without it : that is the history of the Greek genius. 
What is the nature of this genius 

a paupere terra 
missus in imperium magnum? 

What qualities made it great and give it permanence ? 
Why did it attract men so various as Cicero, S. Paul, Pico 
della Mirandola, Nietzsche ? Why does it attract us ? 
How does its literature stand to ours ? What were the 
secrets of its success ? Are they secrets of value to us, 
or have we far outstripped it ? What view of life, if 
any, does Greece represent ? Is Hellenism identical with, 
or antagonistic, or complementary to Christianity ? Are 
any of us Hellenists now, and what is Hellenism ? Has 
it a genuine message for us, or are its ideals as dead as 
its language ? What relation has it to modern thought, 
and in particular to that spirit of science which we regard 
as peculiarly the child of our own tunes ? What changes 
came over Greece, as the years passed ? How far are 
Homer and Herodotus, Herodotus and Thucydides, 
Thucydides and Aristotle, really akin ? What spiritual 
development transformed the sixth into the fifth century 
and the fifth into the fourth ? 

These are obvious questions which we might naturally 
expect every student of Greece to have answered, in some 
sort, by the time he leaves his public school : they are 
so obvious indeed, that if he has no answer to them he 
may reasonably be said to have hitherto studied in his 
sleep. Yet many persons survive to a far later stage 
than their schooldays, and gain a real acquaintance with 
Greek literature, and receive in examinations the official 
stamp of success, and yet remain in a comfortable vague- 
ness about both the questions and the answers to them. 


To such people the following book may be of use ; for 
it was written with the idea of helping its readers, by 
agreement or disagreement, to give some definiteness and 
coherency to the fleeting impressions, which are often 
all that is left after ten years' study of the Greeks. It 
does not deal directly with all the questions mentioned 
above, but it touches on most of them. For it is an attempt 
briefly to suggest what are the qualities that make Greece 
notable, to outline the main elements in its genius, so 
far as that genius is revealed in its literature. Of politics 
we shall not attempt to treat. 

The most obvious cavil against any attempt to define 
the genius of a race is that races have no genius, and least 
of all that race which we compendiously call The Greeks. 
Are we going to label with a chill and narrow formula 
that wide range of glowing activity ? Phidias and Cimon 
and Alcibiades and Aristotle, Hesiod on his Boeotian 
farm, Pindar celebrating athletic victories, Socrates 
questioning in the market-place, Archilochus blackening 
the characters of his enemies ; or again, the common 
Athenian following Xenophon from Cunaxa with the 
Ten Thousand, listening to the tragedies at the Great 
Dionysia, drinking himself drunk in honour of the god, 
walking in the mystic procession to Eleusis, voting for the 
Sicilian expedition or for the condemnation of Pericles ? 
Could any race be summed up in a few phrases ? And 
shall we attempt it in the case of the Greeks ? No doubt 
it is a rash attempt to make. Yet there is such a thing 
as the English character, though there are many English- 
men and though they behave in very different ways. It 
is true to say that Englishmen are lovers of law and 
custom, though Shelley was English ; that they are sober 


and unexcitable, though the story of the South Sea 
Bubble would not lead one to suppose it. So too there is 
a definite Greek character, which no one would confuse, for 
instance, with the Roman. 

If we agree to this, our next difficulty is to decide whom 
we mean by the Greeks : do we mean Dorians, lonians, 
Aeolians; or, narrowing the field to the larger communities, 
Athenians, Spartans, Thebans, Asiatic Greeks ? Again, are 
we thinking of the average citizen, or of the philosopher 
and poet and artist : in Athens, for example, do we take 
account of Cimon and Thrasybulus, and the ordinary 
man whom we meet in the private speeches of the orators, 
or only of Thucydides and Plato and their peers ? Again, 
from what ages are we taking our ideas of the Greek 
spirit : are we excluding everything before Homer and 
after Demosthenes ? If so, are not our conclusions 
valueless, for they ignore half the manifestations of that 
stupendous elan vital : and if not, how shall we bring 
into one fold Thucydides the historian and Aristides 
the rhetor, the audience of the Funeral Speech and the 
Graeculus esuriens of the Roman empire ? Here are three 
difficulties at the outset, which may be taken in turn. 

Firstly : by the Greek genius we shall mean a spirit 
which manifested itself in certain peoples inhabiting lands 
washed by the Aegean sea : it appears to have been only 
partly determined by race : Athens was its heart, and little 
or nothing of it is to be seen at Sparta : but Pindar 
possessed it though he was a Theban, Aristotle though he 
came from Stagira, Thales though he was born and lived 
in Asia, and Homer though his birthplace is not known. 
Perhaps this definition evades the difficulty : but it seems 
to suit the facts. 

Secondly : in defining this spirit we shall keep our 


eyes fixed on what is admitted to have been its most 
brilliant season of flower, the years between 600 and 400 
B. c. ; without forgetting that a hundred years passed 
before the most influential philosophies of Greece came 
to birth and its far-reaching permeation of the world 

This of course is an arbitrary limitation, and many books 
about the Greeks have stumbled and many criticisms on 
them blundered, because their makers have either tacitly 
stopped at Aristotle, and omitted developments subse- 
sequent to him, or have forgotten that there were move- 
ments in Greece which have left no literature behind, or 
at best only a literature of fragments. They deny that 
the Greeks were mystics, and Neoplatonist ghosts rise to 
confront them ; or that they were ascetics, and there are 
the Orphics with their fast-days and Pythagoras with 
his beans ; or that they were austere moralists, and the 
Stoics give them the lie ; or that they had a missionary 
spirit, and Cynic philosophers wander over the face of 
the earth preaching ; or that they cared for scenery, 
and the best poems of Theocritus deal with little else ; or 
that they practised Art for Art's sake, and the New 
Sophists have anticipated the freaks of symbolist litera- 
ture, and Aelius Aristides shows more than the literary 
austerity of Flaubert. For in fact the Greeks were 
parents alike of ribaldry and of high moral endeavour, of 
rationalism and of emotional worship, of Socrates and of 
Pythagoras, of Aristophanes and of Zeno. They are the 
epitome of human nature. Quemvis hominum secum attulit 
ad nos : the Greek has brought us all humanity wrapped 
up in himself. And any one who attempts a book on his 


genius will learn in the writing to beware of denying him 
any quality. 

But if the Greeks are so many-sided, if their genius 
expands over so many ages, why are we confining ourselves 
to a few particular manifestations of it ? Why are we 
saying so little of Alexandrian savant, of Stoic and 
Neoplatonist philosopher ? 

For several reasons ; under most of which lies the fact 
that we are writing not a history of the Greeks, not even 
a history of the Greek genius, but an account of its sig- 
nificance to us. Now certain achievements of Hellenism are 
legacies to the world for ever. But others are not ; either 
they are of no value, or they are of little value, or they are 
to be found elsewhere in a purer and better form. These 
we shall briefly notice or entirely omit among them 
are Neoplatonism, Orphism, the mysteries, Alexandrian 
science. Further, in every race some individuals embody 
the national genius, others stand aloof from it, and are 
by-products, ' sports,' rebels, aliens. In speaking of the 
genius of the race, we emphasize the former and pass 
over the latter. Thus in a history of the English genius 
we should say little of Crashaw, Pope, Blake, Keats, 
Shelley, Clough, Pater, but much of Chaucer, Milton, 
Johnson, Dickens, Borrow, Macaulay, Browning. We shall 
make analogous omissions in the case of Greece. We 
shall concentrate on a certain age, which did the greatest 
work and has not been called classical for nothing. The 
merchant of Xeres has a cask of choice nectar, which he 
uses to give body and flavour to his wine : he calls it the 
madre vino. The years between 600 and 400 B. c. are the 
madre vino of Hellenism. For all their greatness, Plutarch 
and Lucian, Zeno and Epicurus, are not the Greeks of the 
earlier age. They themselves are different ; and more, 

1358 B 


their circumstances are changed. Hellenism still flowers, 
but not in the same perfect soil. And other elements 
are crossed with it : the original strain is weakened, aged ; 
though, to paraphrase the words of Longinus, if old age, 
it is still the old age of Greece. 

Thirdly and finally, when we speak of Greeks, we 
shall have in mind primarily the thinkers and writers ; 
and the average Athenian only for certain purposes to 
be hereafter defined. If any one conies to these pages 
looking for a portrait of the ordinary Greek, he will be 
disappointed. He will find, for instance, that they treat 
of the Greek nation without a criticism of its practical 
capacity for politics ; without a hint of the Greek 
colonies, the Persian wars, the Corcyrean massacres, the 
Mytilenean debate ; without a mention of the honest Cimon, 
the patriotic Thrasybulus, the mercurial Alcibiades, the 
brilliant Themistocles, the coarse and unscrupulous 
Aeschines. Plato says that his citizens had ' an insatiable 
love of money ',* and that in their lawsuits half the 
people were perjured. 2 You would not guess it from 
the following pages : they ignore all the vices and 
frailties, and some of the virtues of the Greeks. 

A critic finding this to be so, might well clamour for 
more ' historical background ' ; and certainly such methods 
need justification. Perhaps the following analogy will 
give it. 

Suppose that, instead of Hellenism, I were ambitious 
enough to essay a book on the genius of Christianity. I 
might speak of it as a religion which put before all things 
the peremptory claims of the service of God, which 
found the principal obstacle to such service in individual 
selfishness, whether it took the form of lust for pleasure 
1 Laws, 831. * Ib., 948. 


or for great possessions, which hated mere rules and 
forms because it was the gospel of the spirit of life, and 
which therefore drew most of its disciples from the poor, 
the sinful, the rejected, and the despised ; and I might 
cite, as the completest expression of its nature, the Beati- 
tudes and the chapter on Love in the first epistle to the 
Corinthians. Then, for instances, I might range through 
the centuries, selecting from all ages persons in whom this 
spirit seemed to have been embodied, men, women, kings, 
slaves, anchorites, millionaires, philosophers, soldiers, 
bringing history and life under contribution, and coupling 
with famous names the more obscure virtues of unnoticed 
saints. In fact, I should omit the ' historical background ', 
or insert one that was arbitrary and (in a sense) untrue. 

Yet, if a writer did try to narrate the story of what 
Christianity had actually been through the centuries 
since its Founder's death, balancing the high lights by 
dark shadows from the histories of the various churches, 
would his revised version be a truer picture of the meaning 
of Christianity than the ideal and unreal sketch of which 
I first spoke ? Ceteris paribus, it would not. 

No, if we were trying to understand the genius of 
Christianity, we should not consider all those who 
professed it, and in their generation served God and 
Mammon, and before the eyes of a lenient world were 
entitled to claim its promises and share its Kingdom ; 
we should study the lives of its saints. It is the same 
with Hellenism. To understand its genius, we must 
look, not at the men in whom some faint tincture of 
it was mixed with alien or indifferent things, but at 
those in whom it was most fully realized, at its ' saints ' ; 
and in these, must fix our eyes, not on their weakness but 
on their strength : not on what they were but on what 


they were tending to be, in the expressive Greek phrase, 
8 t8vvavTo clvai, their meaning. 

The saints of Christianity have been drawn from all 
classes, yet the book of the Recording Angel would probably 
show that most of them were drawn from the ' fools of 
this world ' and had led poor, dull, illiterate lives. The 
saints of Hellenism were drawn from another class. 
They are Pindar and Pericles and Thucydides and 
Socrates, and those men before whose minds had passed 
visions of art or the conception of science, or the dream 
of a race of beings living a beautiful, complete, and 
human life. 

Greece and her foundations are 
Built below the tide of war, 
Based on the crystalline sea 
Of thought and its eternity. 

The men who built and based Hellenism were thinkers 
and artists : these are the people with whom we shall 
have to deal. In so far as the Greek was enterprising, 
dishonest, or superstitious, we are not interested in him : 
for these qualities are not part of the Greek gift to Europe. 
We shall not discuss his Orphism, nor his Chthonian 
worships, nor his anthropology, nor his political failures, 
nor his commercial morality, nor his military efficiency, 
nor his attitude to barbarians, slaves, and women. The 
ordinary Greek only interests us so far as he shared in 
the genius of his race and was a particle in that great 
wave which flung itself so high on the shores of the world : 
or in so far as he was capable of the life which the thinkers 
and artists of his race conceived : or in so far as he was 
the audience necessary to them, the milieu without which 
they could hardly have been, their e<roy \op-nyia, as 
Aristotle might have said. But otherwise he does not 


concern us. We are trying, not to write a history of the 
Greeks, but to form some idea of Hellenism. 

Even in the greatest Greeks there is much that we must 
ignore. Supposing Plato and Pindar to have a vein of 
Orphism, and Pythagoras queer ideas on numbers ; 
supposing Aeschylus to be touched with mysticism and 
Euripides with mysticism and morbidity, the student 
of the Greek genius has a right to disregard these pecu- 
liarities, if he feels that he has his hand on an essential 
quality in Hellenism and that they are inconsistent 
with it. For he is not concerned with the clothes that 
from time to time were assumed by Hellenism, but in 
the end were laid aside and wore to dust ; nor with the 
diseases that attacked it, disfigured it, and impaired its 
strength ; his business is to see it in the full health of 
its vital powers, and anything hostile or alien to these 
he may disregard. 

No doubt this leaves him a wide discretion and puts 
powers in his hands which he may misuse. But that is 
inevitable. There are no mechanical tests for ascertaining 
what the Greek spirit was ; there is no test except the one 
of which Aristotle speaks ; the Greeks are o>y 6 Qpovipos 
av opio-ftev, they are what the sensible man would decide 
them to be. And every man must be his own 0p6i/t/*oy. 
The only thing we can do is to give our views as clearly 
as possible, and leave the reader to assent or disagree. 
The following pages attempt that task, but in elucidation 
of the position there taken up, I may state the principle 
which I have followed. I seem to find the Greek spirit 
at its purest in Homer, the lyric poets before 450, 
Herodotus and Aristophanes ; in Sophocles and Thucy- 
dides, though otherwise unchanged, it has lost its first 
freshness ; in Aeschylus, Euripides, and Plato elements 


alien to it are present. In the fourth century a certain 
weariness, a sense of the complexity of life, impairs its 
energy in the thinkers, while the orators are dragged 
down by their audience to a conventional standard of 
thought, and have about them something of the political 
hack. After 336 B. c. free Athens is dead ; Hellenism 
itself is middle-aged, and both for pleasure and profit 
we turn the pages a century back. This is substantially 
the view taken by Nietzsche ; the Greeks have had no 
acuter critic. 



As to the Greek genius the critics have always been in 
the strangest disagreement. Goethe thought that it was 
placid, stately and in repose like its sculpture, and pictured 
the Greeks as an Olympian humanity living in an ideal 
world, whose very passions were tranquil and profound. 
Other writers see a world of Naiads and Bacchantes and 
wine and love, reeling in an ecstasy of drunken abandon- 
ment to every gusty desire and instinct of the flesh, 
nakedly animal. To Hobbes a classical education seemed 
to promote Rebellion against Monarchy, especially in 
' young men and all others that are unprovided of the 
Antidote of solid Reason, receiving a strong and delightful 
impression of the great exploits of warre, atchieved by 
the Conductors of their Armies ' ; Bentham, expressing 
much the same opinion in the language of a later age, 
thought that the study of Greek might lead men to 
imitate the legislation of Solon and Lycurgus, and so 
impair the security of property ; Johnson, in a petulant 
paradox, described the audience of Demosthenes as ' a 
barbarous people, an assembly of brutes ' ; an eighteenth- 
century translator of Herodotus fears that ' indolence was 
the characteristic feature of the Athenians ' ; that ' they 
were lovers of their ease and averse to labour ' : while 
to-day if you ask an undergraduate (who has probably 
been studying their language for some ten years) what 


are the peculiar characteristics of the Greeks, he is apt, 
after a moment of hesitation, to hazard the suggestion 
that the ancients were less sensitive to the beauties of 
scenery than ourselves. Quot homines. . . . 

None of these theories of Hellenism need engage our 
attention long. Some of them have been generally and 
justly abandoned ; others are clearly narrow and incom- 
plete ; with one we shall deal hereafter. But there is 
a view of the Greek genius which seems to be gaining 
ground at the present, and which is so important that we 
must not overlook it. To-day our attention is being 
called to the moral genius of the Greeks, to their 
deliberate, laborious and triumphant battle for virtue. 
We are asked to see in them a race of men who, emerging, 
like other nations, from their primitive state with a con- 
ventional code of morality and clinging shreds of barbarism 
became conscious of these, and quietly corrected or put 
them aside, and, using no art but what every one possesses, 
confessing no standard but what every one admits, felt 
after, found, and securely possessed themselves of, the 
rational principles of justice, mercy, humanity, and 
truth. The study of these men and their writings can 
give us, we are told, if not an eyayylAtoi/ in the Christian 
sense, yet a rule by which we can live ; and their admirers, 
prizing the Greek spirit in its graver and more serious 
aspects, turn to Greek literature as other men turn to 
the Bible. I am thinking here of certain expressions 
used by Professor von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff : but 
passages in Professor Murray's book on Homer seem 
to lend colour to this view. 

There is much to support this theory. The severest 
critic of Hellenism can hardly deny that a nation which 
produced the Aristotelian doctrine of the Mean and the 


Stoic ideal of virtue, which gave to the Roman Empire 
a philosophy of life, and to the Christian religion a frame- 
work of ethics, stands among the moral benefactors of 
mankind ; nor is it surprising that some persons are 
inclined to see the greatest achievement of Greece in its 
struggle out of barbarism to a rational virtue. Certainly 
it was a great achievement. Yet before it dazzles us into 
believing that the central quality in the Greek spirit was 
its moral genius, let us reflect. Is moral genius really the 
essential, exceptional, unique gift of the race ? Is it the 
character with which the whole nation is stamped, the 
quality we think of when we think of the Greeks, the gift 
which stares out at us from their literature and history, 
the power which inspired the imaginations of their 
philosophers and the thoughts of their politicians, which 
took form under the hands of their sculptors and on 
the lips of their writers, which embodied itself in the 
prose and poetry, the art and monuments of Greece ? 
Surely not. 

The essential qualities of a race should be found in its 
most eminent representatives. But a passion for morality 
is very subordinate (to say the least) in the genius of some 
of the greatest Greeks. To judge by their remaining 
fragments, there was none in Sappho and her peers. It 
is not conspicuous in Homer or Herodotus : we shall not 
learn mercy and righteousness from Achilles or Odysseus. 
Aristophanes, a Greek of Greeks, lends even less coun- 
tenance to the view which sees in Hellenism a superior type 
of Christianity, purged of dogma and adorned with all the 
graces and gifts of culture ; and it is at tunes chastening 
to remember, as it is in general better to forget, that many 
of the most graceful Greek vases are offerings dedicated 
to unnatural vice, and many of the most beautiful Greek 


statues are figures modelled from notorious courtesans. 
Unless we are prepared to ignore the Aphrodites, and to 
put Herodotus and Aristophanes on an index librorum 
prohibitomm, we must look for some wider generalization 
to include them. 

Even with men like Socrates and Plato, men very 
different from Aristophanes and Herodotus, it may be 
questioned how far moral striving was the centre of their 
souls. It is not that on certain points their standard is other 
than ours. But their whole moral atmosphere is different 
from that of a man like S. Paul. Turn to the close of one 
of his epistles, where with warning and encouragement, 
with argument and exhortation, the Apostle is urging 
on some infant community the practice of the Christian 
virtues. One on the heels of another, his precepts come 
tumbling out, breaking impetuously into questions, rein- 
forced by quotations, by adjurations, by appeals to his 
personal experience, by prayers, by tears. It is difficult 
to select single instances from S. Paul, for the whole of 
his epistles are instinct with a feeling which, except perhaps 
for certain passages in Plato and Euripides, is absent from 
Greek literature ; a passionate hunger for righteousness, 
a passionate indignation against those who frustrate it. 
He overflows in enthusiastic denunciations. Of sexual 
vice he writes ' let it not be once named among you '. 
Of avarice he says that the covetous man has no inheri- 
tance in the Kingdom of God. Of the chief Christian 
virtue he writes in a splendid paradox that though a man 
bestow his goods to feed the poor, and have all knowledge 
and all faith, yet if he has not charity ' it profiteth him 
nothing '. Everywhere he is instant in season and out 
of season, without regard of consequences to condemn 
evil. For him Christ can have no concord with Belial. 


He is exceedingly jealous for the Lord. Very different, 
surely, from this is the atmosphere of a Platonic dialogue ; 
in passing to it the thermometer seems to have fallen 
many degrees. Even if the same conclusions are there, 
they are urged with comparative coldness. After S. Paul 
there seems something opportunistic about the morality of 
Plato and his master. 

Partly it was that the Greeks had no real sense of sin. 
They regarded their offences as shortcomings and called 
them dfjiapriai, 'bad shots.' Such things were bound 
to happen, and when they happened were best forgotten. 
Useless to spend thought and remorse on bad shots : it 
is best to go forward and improve the aim for next time. 
But to S. Paul departures from the path of righteousness 
are not shortcomings or misses or frailties or failures, 
but sins; and sin is something haunting, irreparable 
(except for Divine intervention), and, once committed, 
standing as ' all eternity's offence '. ^ 

Partly it was that the Greek was not interested in 
the moral side of humanity so exclusively as S. Paul. 
He did not concentrate his energies on the virtues, 
without which man cannot know God ; nor would he 
have been content if he could have made the world j 
chaste, sober, charitable, truthful, full of loving kindness 
and mercy. He was not always particular about these 
qualities, and in any case he required much beside them. 
There were other things in life, he thought, as well as 
morality ; politics, art, knowledge, feast-days demanded 
his attention ; and S. Paul, always playing a single 
theme, would have seemed to him one-sided. 

Partly it was a difference in method between the Greek 
and the Jew. Even when a Greek was deeply interested 
in morality, his attitude to it was one of reason rather than 


of passion. Here is a passage not remarkable in itself 
which illustrates this. In a fit of jealousy a woman tries 
to poison a youth whom she supposes to be her stepson. 
The plot is discovered and he in his turn proposes to kill her. 
The priestess of Apollo checks him. ' Did you hear,' he 
says, ' that she planned to kill me ? ' ' Yes/ replies the 
priestess, ' yet your savage temper is wrong.' ' May I 
not kill those who try to kill me ? ' he objects. And how 
does the priestess answer him ? Not with indignation, 
not with protests against such impious talk, not with 
an appeal to feelings or sentiment, but simply with quiet 
reason ; ' women, you know, always do hate a stepson.' 
And the boy does homage to common sense and lays 
his cbpoTTjs aside. 1 That is very Greek. Not to be 
furious and indignant, but keeping the eye on reason to 
trust in that ; not to denounce and threaten, but to point 
out the irrationality of sin, knowing that human beings 
cannot rest in the irrational ; not to be Isaiah or S. Paul, 
but to be Socrates. 

But reasonableness, which makes the best moral 
thinkers, does not make the best moral reformers. Nor 
does the want of a sense of sin make them ; nor does 
manysidedness make them. These qualities are un- 
favourable to the concentration I had almost said the 
intolerance without which effective campaigns against 
the deeper weaknesses of human nature are hardly to 
be fought. So that in spite of their achievements as moral 
philosophers, we may well hesitate to place any Greeks 
as moralists by the side of the greatest Christians. And 
yet, as I write the words, the figures of Zeno and Panaetius 
and Poseidonius and the Stoic teachers, with their gospel 
of uncompromising and unconditioned virtue, rise to 
1 Eur. Ion, 13263. 


protest. So dangerous is it to deny any gift to this 
manysided people. 

Every one has his magnum secretum which will explain 
every riddle and unlock every door : and I am inclined to 
think that there is one elemental quality from which most 
things in the Greek genius may be derived : though it 
is not a love of beauty or a passion for righteousness. 
But of this more later. At present it will be safer to assume 
that the Greeks were as manysided as they seem. We 
will therefore pick out certain salient qualities in them, 
what in theological language may be called the Notes 
of Hellenism : we will define these and indicate the 
significance of each separately. That done, it will be 
time enough to see whether there is any common factor 
in them, whether they can be traced back to any single 
source. As the greater part of the book will be occupied 
in discussing these separate qualities, it will be well to 
plunge at once in medias res. My first Note is the Note 
of Beauty : which, if not the most important, is at least 
the most obvious characteristic of Hellenism. 

At the outset let us guard against a common mis- 
conception. The modern interest in Hellenism really dates 
from Winckelmann, and Winckelmann drew his ideas 
of the Greeks mainly from their art. Hence came a con- 
ception of them such as a man might form who had merely 
seen the Elgin Marbles and the Aphrodites, and had 
never corrected his view of their creators by the study 
of Greek history and literature. The Greeks, it appeared, 
were beyond all things beauty-lovers. They stripped at 
their sports ; they gave prizes for beauty ; Lais fascinated 
them ; they spent their days in games and festivals ; 


they studied to ' observe propriety both in feature and 
action ', so that ' even a quick walk was regarded as 
opposed to their sense of decorum '. x Winckelmann had 
looked on the tranquil beauty of Greek art, on Niobe and 
her daughters unmoved and beautiful in the anguish of 
death, on the placid and passionless features of the tur- 
bulent goddess of love ; till he was led almost to fancy 
that the serene figures of the Parthenon marbles were 
portraits of the ordinary Greek, and that the streets of 
Athens were full of well-draped statuesque men pacing 
reposefully through an august life. 

This view (Goethe himself at times encourages it) 
coloured the glasses through which Europe looked at 
Greece for many generations, and has been corrupted 
into a watery aestheticism, very different from what 
Winckelmann meant by it. Fifty years ago most people 
would have said that the remarkable thing about the 
Greeks was their sense of beauty. Towns composed of 
beautiful buildings, temples adorned with beautiful 
statuary, a population almost entirely consisting of 
beautiful young men, who spent their lives in admiring 
the beauty around them such was Athens to the eyes 
of the Mid- Victorians ; such it is probably still to most 
educated persons who have only a casual knowledge of 
Greek culture ; and some well-known paintings perpetuate 
the mistake by portraying young Athenians as limp forms, 
requiring only a slight change of dress to pass for women 
out of a picture by Burne- Jones. 

We may make up our minds at once that the Greeks 
were not like Jellaby Postlethwaite or the aesthetes in 
Patience or Sir William Richmond's young men. Gaping 
in wonder at the masterpieces of Phidias was not the daily 

1 Winckelmann, Hist, of Greek Art (tr. Lodge), pt. 2. c. 3. 5. 


occupation of Athenians. Indeed, if we could speak to 
one of them, there might be several preliminary misunder- 
standings to clear up. Imagine, for instance, Thucydides 
and Mr. Swinburne meeting in the lower world. We 
may suppose the Victorian turning the conversation to 
Aeschylus and the Parthenon, and explaining how he and 
his friends had looked back with infinite longing to Athens, 
out of a world from which beauty had vanished. Doubt- 
less Thucydides would receive his rhapsody with politeness, 
but he would also feel a touch of wonder at a civiliza- 
tion which set exclusive store on these things ; a little 
too airpdyp-oav, too indolent, he might call it. ' Yes,' one 
may fancy him saying, ' those temples we built with im- 
perial money were beautiful, and Aeschylus was a grand 
old fighter and poet I felt more drawn to Euripides my- 
self. But there were greater things in Athens than these. 
You have forgotten, I think, our empire and the spirit 
that made it ; the eternal glory of Athens rests on that. 
One day in the ecclesia, after the plague and the strain 
of war had begun to tell, Pericles declared the achieve- 
ments by which Athens expected to be remembered 
among men perhaps you have read the words in my 
history. He did not mention our poetry, our architecture, 
our statuary ; he said nothing of Aeschylus or Phidias ; 
but he wished our epitaph in the cemetery of the nations 
to be this : " Know that our city has the greatest name 
in all the world because she has never yielded to mis- 
fortunes, but has sacrificed more lives and endured 
more hardships in war than any other. Even if we 
should be compelled at last to abate something of 
our greatness, yet will the recollection live, that of all 
Hellenes we ruled over the greatest number of Hellenic 
subjects ; that we withstood our enemies, whether 


single or united, in the most terrible wars, and that we 
were the inhabitants of a city endowed with every sort 
of wealth and greatness. The indolent may criticize, 
but the enterprising will emulate, and the unsuccessful 
envy us." ' * 

The fifth-century Athenian was no more a Mid- Victorian 
aesthete than he was a Cobdenite Liberal. His real 
peculiarity was an overpowering energy, that was always 
busy at something. With a childish delight he threw 
himself on the world that opened before him, travelling, 
trading, prospecting, fighting, founding small settlements, 
sending out small armies, planning expansion abroad, 
executing reform at home, an elector, a voter, an 
administrator, a public servant, yet not too busy for 
recreation or religion when the calendar brought the feast- 
day round, and taking art and literature as two among the 


thousand occupations of his caleidoscopic life. In 458 B. c. 
this tiny town, whose total citizen population was not so 
large as that of Portsmouth, lost citizens fighting in Cyprus, 
Egypt, Phoenice, Halieis, Aegina, Megara. The Corinthian 
envoy summed up the Athenian character well when he 
said : ' They are revolutionary, equally quick in the con- 
ception and in the execution of every new plan. They 
are always abroad. For they hope to gain something by 
leaving their homes. To do their business (TO. StovTa) 
is theh" only holiday, and they deem the quiet of inaction 
to be as disagreeable as the most tiresome occupation. If 
a man should say of them that they were born neither 
to have peace themselves nor to allow peace to others 
he would simply speak the truth.' 2 And Xenophon 
gives the Athenians a similar character. After saying 
that in international singing contests no one could surpass 
1 Thuc. 2. 64. * Ib. i. 70. 


them, he adds : ' yet it is not in beauty of voice or in 
stature or strength that they are superior to other people, 
but in the ambition that fires them to noble and honour- 
able achievement.' * There is no ornamental aestheticism 
in these people. 

The aesthetic idea of the Athenian came from attri- 
buting to the fifth century what became common in the 
third. Later Hellenism is interested in Art for Art's 
sake, describes pictures, statues, objets de vertu at length. 
But the attitude of the classical age to these things is 
more nearly expressed in the words of the Socrates of 
Xenophon : ' It gives me far more pleasure to hear about 
the good qualities of a living woman than to see a beautiful 
one painted for me by Zeuxis.' 2 A striking sentiment 
from the fellow countryman of Phidias ! Even more 
definite is Plato. (If Xenophon's words should be 
inscribed over every picture gallery, Plato's should be 
at the entrance to every theatre.) He says that in the 
ideal state tragic poets are not required, ' for we also accord- 
ing to our ability are tragic poets, and our tragedy is the 
best and most beautiful ; our whole state, you know, is an 
imitation of the best and most beautiful life.' 3 The Greeks 
were lovers of literature and art ; but their ideal of exis- 
tence was not a round of literary and artistic small-talk. 
They went to their theatre ; but they knew that it was 
better themselves to enact the drama of life than to see it 
on the stage. They were more interested in life than in 

The Greeks then were not aesthetes, and they had many 
qualities besides a love of beauty. Yet they are the authors 
of the most beautiful statues, the most beautiful buildings, 

1 Xen. Mem. 3. 3. 13. * Xen. Oec. 10. i. 

* Laws, 817. 

1368 C 


and the most beautiful poems in the world. In mere 
beauty their art and literature has never been equalled. 
If so, it is worth considering what kind of feeling for beauty 
produced them. 

The modern man has a just and well- trained sense 
for beautiful things. Our millionaires, though they 
may make their money in unlovely ways, have a 
fine taste for Holbeins and old china: and the most 
impoverished of us are ambitious to fill villas with 
a mixture of Chippendale and old oak. We live in an 
atmosphere of sweetness and light. We are all lovers of 
beauty now. Only there is this weakness about our love. 
It is little more than a feeling for isolated bits and frag- 
ments of beauty. It is narrow and local. If we have our 
good picture, or our graceful furniture, or our occasional 
glimpse of fine scenery, we ask no more. We live cheer- 
fully in an ugly villa, we watch the local builder providing 
angular tenements for our poorer neighbours, we are 
content to read books cheaply bound and badly printed, 
we study the newspapers without a qualm at the style of 
their articles, we are called Hogg or Ramsbottom or Mudd 
or Peabody, and nobody minds. It is not merely that we 
endure these things as necessary evils ; they do not 
distress us. We have what I may call a picture-gallery 
sense of beauty ; a sense that can be turned on and off 
like a tap. We go into the National Gallery out of the roar 
of the motor omnibus ; and our sense of beauty is turned 
on and we enjoy the pictures. It is turned off again, and 
we go out through the motor omnibus arena, to a place 
called an Aerated Bread Shop. In fact we have (and 
considering the circumstances of our lives are happy to 
have) a beauty nerve which only is sensitive when we 
want it to be so. Now the Greeks were different. Their 


sense of beauty ran through their whole life, and like 
a ferment transformed it. 

This is easier to say than to prove, for the human beings 
that were the best evidence of it have long been mingled 
with the dust of the Cerameicus, and their life is easier 
to praise than to understand. Shall we invoke the witness 
of great men of letters ? Heine who with extraordinary 
bitterness contrasts what he calls the ' dismal, meagre, 
ascetic, overspiritual Judaism of the Nazarenes ', with 
* Hellenic joyousness, love of beauty, and fresh delight in 
life ' ; 1 Renan who avowed, ' The impression Athens 
made on me is far the strongest I have ever felt : there is 
one place where perfection exists : there is no other ; 
that place is Athens : ' and he goes on to speak of it as 
' a thing which has existed only once, which has never 
been seen or will be seen again, yet of which the effect 
will last eternally, a type of eternal beauty sans nulle 
tache locale ou nationale ' ? 2 

Judgements such as these carry weight : but it is better 
to go direct to the literature of the Greeks and there see 
for ourselves how all-pervasive their sense of beauty was. 
Consider their names : 3 and compare in respect of 
beauty Aristocrates (Noble Power), Cleomenes (Famous 
Might), Aristonoe (Noble Mind), Aspasia (Welcome), 
with Fabius (Beanman), Piso or Cicero (Peaman), Nae- 
vius (Warty), Capito (Greathead). Consider the casual 
unpremeditated expressions of the Greeks and see how 
an unconscious grace informs them. No doubt Mr. Roose- 
velt's emotions when he saw New York after his 

1 Goiter im Exit. 

* Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse, p. 59 f . 
8 See Weise, Language and Character of the Roman People 
(tr. Strong), p. 31 f. 


travels round the globe were much the same as those 
of Xenophon's soldiery, when after their wanderings 
in Anatolia they caught sight of the familiar sea ; yet 
there is all the difference in the world between their 
respective exclamations, ' Say, boys, that's bully/ and 
OdXarra, OdXarra. 1 

Thus the Greeks touched every incident of life, however 
f amiliar or unlikely, with beauty. It might be a nickname. 
It might be, as Pater has remarked, an event which takes 
place every hour of the day in a seaside village, without 
our noticing anything remarkable in it. ' Homer had said 

ol 8' ore 8r) At/ieVo? TroXvftfvOeos eWcy IKOVTO, 
IffTia fj.\v (TTtiXavTO, $o~av 8' kv vrjl peXaivrj, 
K 8e KOI avrol ftouvov ttrl pijyfjuvi 6aXd(ro-7)$. 

And how poetic the simple incident seemed, told just thus ! 
Homer was always telling things after this manner.' 2 
And Homer is not alone in this. It is the same with 
every Greek poet. Sappho describes an apple left un- 
gathered on its tree. 

olov TO yXvKvpaXov epevOfrai aicpw tif vo~8a> 
&Kpov eV' aKpOTdra' XeXdOovro 8k /taXo 
ov p.av fxXfXddovT , dXX' OVK k^vvavr e 

The subject is trifling, the language simple : yet these 
three lines are enough to make the fortune of a poet. 
Translate them into English, and they are faded and 

1 Vide the daily papers on Mr. Roosevelt's return home. Cf. 
Fitzgerald, Letters, ii. 49 (Eversley ed.) : ' The sea . . . likes to be 
called Bakao-a-a and TTOVTOS better than the wretched word 
" Sea ", I am sure.' 

* ' When they came within the deep harbour, they furled their 
sails, and laid them in the dark ship, and themselves disembarked 
on the beach of the sea.' Quoted in Marius the Epicurean, i. 100. 

' fr. 93, ' As the sweet-apple reddens on a bough's end, at its 
very end ; the gatherers have forgotten it ; nay they did not 
forget but could not reach it.' 


colourless, like the gold in the fairy story which turned to 
withered leaves. 

This touch of beauty explains a feature of Greek 
literature which we do not always adequately appreciate, 
its sustained perfection of style. In variety and range, 
in power of imagination, in play of fancy, our own is at 
least its equal : but unlike the Greek it does not keep at 
one high unsinking level of perfect style. How much 
ill-finished work have Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Tenny- 
son, Browning left ! Shakespeare himself is not blame- 
less ; of all our great poets perhaps only Milton and Pope 
can boast unfailing excellence of style. But the Greek 
poets are all like Pope and Milton it is only of style in 
the narrow sense that I am speaking. Even when the 
thought is trifling and the language undistinguished, the 
workmanship is nearly always good. The sawdust of the 
workshop has been brushed away from their verse, the 
edges have been trimmed and rounded, the whole has been 
painted and polished. And this artistic excellence holds 
almost throughout Greek literature. In general the 
Greeks' sense of beauty revolted against any kind of 
slovenliness : and we shall agree with Horace a good 
judge of such things when he pointed to them as the 
supreme masters of artistic eloquence, and said to his 
young pupils 

Vos exemplaria Graeca 
nocturna versate manu, versate diurna. 

Let me bring this point out more clearly by comparing 
an English with a Greek writer, Scott with Homer. 
If we had not been well brought up, it would be 
possible to argue that in a sense Scott was the greater 
of the two I am only thinking of Scott's prose. 


Wandering Willie's tale, the death of Elspeth in The 
Antiquary, the curse of Meg Merrilies, the meeting of 
Clara and Tyrrell in the wood, the parting of Diana Vernon 
and Frank Osbaldiston on the heath, the agonizing of 
Balfour of Burley in the cave above the linn, certain 
passages from The Heart of Midlothian, the hags of The 
Bride of Lammermoor, and indeed the whole of that most 
tragic of tales if it came to the weighing of passages 
things might go hard with Homer. But where the Greek 
stands so far above the Scottish writer, is in what Shelley 
calls his ' sustained grandeur ', in what I should like 
to call his sustained perfection. Great tracts of Homer 
are dull ; the action (at least in the Iliad] progresses very 
slowly ; and we tire of hearing in how many different 
ways an ancient warrior could be killed. But there is 
hardly a bad line in the whole, hardly a passage lacking 
distinction ; for with his unsleeping Greek instinct for 
beauty the writer could not be careless or slovenly in execu- 
tion. Sometimes ' bonus dormitat Homerus ' so thought 
Horace ; still it is a very rare failing in him, and Homer 
is beautiful even in sleep. No one can say as much for 
Scott : his hours of slumber are prolonged and unlovely. 
All this is testimony to the extraordinarily heightened 
power of beauty in the Greek. But there is one bit of 
evidence which we have left to the end ; I mean what is 
ordinarily known as the ' aesthetic morality ' of Hellenism. 
Practically we confine beauty to personal appearance, 
landscape, literature, and something called art. The 
Greek gave it a much wider scope. He extended it to 
morals. Where we speak of good, he was ready to say 
beautiful ; where we speak of evil, he was ready to say 
ugly. It was beautiful, icaXov, in his eyes, if a citizen 
died for his country, if a man showed respect for piety, 


if a government was excellent. Victory, temperance, 
eloquence, the punishment of vice, frankness, wisdom, 
and readiness to listen to wisdom, were not merely good, 
they were ' beautiful '. An Englishman would admire 
these qualities and praise them. A Greek spoke of them 
as if they gave him the same emotions as the sight of 
a beautiful human being. 

We must not push this argument too far. KaXoy in 
time almost lost its original significance, and the Greeks 
used it as an indefinite term of praise, just as we use the 
word ' fine '. But the mere fact that it was used in an 
extended sense shows a certain temperament, a certain way 
of feeling towards life, a tendency to find beauty in things 
in which we should not think of finding it, and to see it 
and expect it everywhere. Just as some people are more 
sensitive than others to atmospheric conditions, to a 
change of wind, to sunless weather, to an increase of 
electricity in the air, so the Greeks were more sensitive 
to beauty than we are, responding to its presence more 
readily, and more painfully conscious of its absence. 

With evidence like this before them, it is not surprising 
if our forefathers concluded that the Greeks were above 
all else aesthetes. It was a natural view to hold, and so 
far true, that one great difference between us and the 
Greeks lies in our inferior sense of beauty. But those who 
held it forgot three things : first, that in history the Greeks 
were obviously occupied with many things other than, and 
many things alien from, beauty ; second, that some of their 
greatest writers (Herodotus and Thucydides for instance), 
show no exceptional aesthetic sense ; third, that a nation, 
which was principally remarkable for its sense of beauty, 
would have little interest for the modern world. These 
three considerations are quite enough to dispose of the 


idea that the genius of Hellenism is a love and a power 
of beauty. 


Those who are more accustomed to English than to 
Greek literature, may feel a certain baldness in many 
passages of the latter which are held up to their admira- 
tion ; and as we have already quoted some such passages 
and shall later have occasion to quote more, a word on the 
point may not be out of place. The classic is apt simply 
to take us to a scene and leave us amid its beauty, the 
modern is determined that we shall be thrilled with the 
proper emotions. 1 Thus Sappho addresses the evening 
star simply : ' Hesperus, bringing all things that bright 
Dawn scattered, you bring the goat, you bring the sheep, 
you bring the child back to its mother.' 2 But Byron, 
taking the same idea, writes : 

O Hesperus, thou bringest all good things- 
Home to the weary, to the hungry cheer, 

To the young bird the parent's brooding wings, 
The welcome stall to the o'erlaboured steer ; 

Whate'er of peace about our hearthstone clings, 
Whate'er our household gods protect of dear, 

Are gathered round us by thy look of rest ; 

Thou bring'st the child too to its mother's breast. 

Byron has not added anything essential to his original. 
He has merely amplified it, commented on it, elicited the 
feelings which it should convey, and put them on paper 
so that we cannot miss them. Sappho simply stated the 
facts, and left them to diffuse of themselves their inner 
beauty and power. 

1 Of course there is some ' modern ' writing in classical, and 
much ' classical ' writing in modern literature. 

* fr. 95 Ft<rirep(, irdvra (ptpatv, otra (paivoXis fV*ce8ao-' u$a>s, 
(ptpfis olv } (pepts alya, (ptptts anv fiarepi TratSa. 


Perhaps this is not a fair illustration ; perhaps Byron 
is deliberately expanding a given sentiment. Still the 
difference between his lines and those of Sappho represent 
a real divergence of practice. The classic gives the text, 
the modern expounds it. The classic shows us the scene, 
the modern explains what feelings it should evoke. Indeed, 
the modern is sometimes so bent on this, that he fails to 
ensure that we shall actually see the scene itself. It is 
so, in this description of the declining year : 

In the mid-days of autumn, on their eves 
The breath of Winter comes from far away, 
And the sick west continually bereaves 
Of some gold tinge, and plays a roundelay 
Of death among the bushes and the leaves. 

Keats suggests to us the sighing winds, the faded colours, 
he melancholy atmosphere of autumnal decay, but he 
brings nothing definite before our senses : unlike Tennyson 
who, writing in the classical manner, makes us both see 
and hear 

Through the faded leaf 
The chestnut pattering to the ground. 

And so, to a lesser extent, with Shelley's lines on the 

moon : 

Pale for weariness 
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth, 

Wandering companionless 
Among the stars that have a different birth, 
And ever changing, like a joyless eye 
That finds no object worth its constancy. 

Shelley makes us feel the moon's weird isolation, but 
he does so, not by simply showing us the moon, but by 
saying repeatedly how desolate she is. Homer, on the 
other hand, makes no comments ; he simply speaks of 
' the stars appearing very clear around the bright moon, 


when the heaven is windless ' : x and Virgil simply describes 
the trembling path of her light on the sea : 

Splendet tremulo sub lumine pontus. 

So far the classic goes, but no further : he shows us the 
scene, generally without much detail, but leaves us to 
supply the appropriate emotions ; and because many 
readers have no emotions to supply, they are apt to find 
the classic unfeeling and cold. 

Another result of the ' classical ' method may be briefly 
indicated. It is partly answerable for the view that the 
Greeks did not care about the beauties of nature. They 
did care, but they did not rhapsodize about them. And 
Homer writes so quietly of 

Xeifjuoves aXbs noXioio nap' oj(6a,s 
vSpijXol [taXaKoi, 
or of 

km. Kparbs Xtpevos pfi ayXabv vStop, 
Kpijvr) VTTO (rrreiovs, 
or of 

Kvpara fiaKpa wXivSopfva Trporl \p<rov, z 

that we do not mark the words or observe how perfectly 
they suggest the charm of water-meadows, and clear 
springs, and long rollers on the Aegean beaches. 

1 //. 8. 555- 

2 Od.g. 132-3, 140-1, 147 : 

Meadows by the banks of the grey sea, soft water-meadows.' 
'At the harbour head flows bright water, a spring from under 

a cave.' 
'Long breakers rolling to the land.' 


GOETHE was as responsible as any one for the idea that 
the Greeks were before all things lovers of beauty. Yet he 
himself supplies a corrective for this view of Hellenism. 
He says somewhere that the distinguishing mark of the 
Greeks was the passion, not for beauty, but for truth. 
Goethe did not mean, of course, that the Greeks always 
spoke the truth : patently, few nations have a history 
so full of unblushing lies, and in later days Graeca levitas 
supplanted Punica fides as a byword with the honest 
Roman. Nor did he mean that the Greeks were always 
right : truthfulness in this sense is not given to man. 
He meant rather that the Greeks did on the whole look 
straight at life, and see it as in fact it is ; that they had 
what Matthew Arnold called ' an unclouded clearness of 
mind '. And taken in this sense Goethe's words are not 
difficult to justify. 

Certainly in reading Greek literature, we keep tasting 
in it, as a perpetually recurrent ingredient, some quality 
which we are tempted to call truthfulness, though the 
name hardly covers the thing. We are conscious of looking 
at a picture which is a faithful portrait : of gazing in a 
crystal that reveals life not cloudily or confusedly, but 
with the colour exact and the lines unblurred. Not 
many literatures are of this kind. In the Irish stories 
of Finn and Cuchulain there is a great deal of beauty 
and heroism and romance : but their world is palpably 
unreal and inhuman. Hills which emit white birds and 


unwoundable pigs, thistle-stalks and fuzzballs which take 
the appearance of armies, witches who shoot heroes through 
a hole in a leaf, dogs that turn men to ashes by their breath, 
or produce out of their mouths quantities of gold and 
silver, harps that spring to their owners and kill nine men 
on the way, shields that roar to each other and are 
answered by the Three Waves of Ireland ; themes like 
these may be found in Homer, but the Irish writer is 
utterly given over to them. The bizarre and the super- 
natural infinitely predominate in him over the natural 
and the human. His is no picture of the real world 
and the actual life men live in it : an illusive, unreal 
dream, a merely quaint and fanciful beauty, passes before 
our eyes. 

Greek literature is very different. No doubt the 
historic Greek had absurd and superstitious ideas ; we 
are beginning with difficulty to discover their nature 
from stray allusions to them. But the obscurity of the 
whole subject shows how little it affected Greek literature, 
and that literature is all which matters to us. In it the 
Greek appears as looking at life with much the same 
eyes as our own. We should be lost in the world of Irish 
legend : we should not know what to say to Finn or 
Cuchulain ; we might accommodate ourselves politely 
to their views, but we could never enter into them. But 
who would not be at home, and feel some community 
of soul, with Nestor or Achilles or Ulysses ? Still more 
so, when we pass from epic heroes and come to Alcaeus 
and Simonides and Sophocles and the rest. We feel that 
they saw the world truthfully, not as an arena for spells 
and witchcraft and conventional heroism, but as the 
world really is. 

And when we leave the rough and tumble view of life 


held by more or less ordinary men and come to the thinkers 
of Greece, it is just the same. We find their speculations 
about the nature of God and man reasonable, just and 
surprisingly modern. Euripides writes : 

Thou deep Base of the World, and thou high Throne, 
Above the World, whoe'er thou art, unknown 
And hard of surmise, Chain of Things that be 
Or Reason of our Reason : God, to thee 
I lift my praise, seeing the silent road 
That bringeth justice, ere the end be trod. 1 

And we observe that he is roughly summing up in the third 
and fourth of these lines the two modern philosophies 
of materialism and idealism, and in the whole himself 
expressing a modern creed of optimistic agnosticism. 
Plato writes : ' God is never in any way unrighteous 
he is perfect righteousness ; and he of us who is the most 
righteous is most like him.' 2 And we recognize an idea 
of Deity as sublime as that of Christianity. When we 
turn to the Republic we find the deepest questions of 
politics discussed with a freedom and profundity and 
acuteness which no subsequent age has surpassed. In 
fact, the Greeks take quite as reasonable a view of the 
world as we do ; and this is due to what Goethe called 
their truthfulness. 

When we analyse further, and ask why the speculations 
of Euripides and Plato had advanced as far as our own, 
we find two causes, two ingredients in this quality of 
truthfulness. The first of these is a practically unbounded 
licence to religious, moral, and political speculation. 
Our own age enjoys an equal liberty. But it is astonishing 
that a nation should have possessed it so early in the 

1 Troades, 884 f . (tr. Murray). 
1 Theaet. 176 c. 


history of mankind. We may call it the Note of Freedom ; 
a Greek would have called it Ilapprjoria. 

The life of some nations is largely determined by 
theological considerations. They exist to serve God. 
Certain actions, sometimes whole sides of life, are ex- 
cluded because they seem inconsistent with this purpose. 
The God they worship is a jealous God. The 
Mohammedan is forbidden to paint or carve the human 
form, because sculpture and painting lead to idolatry. 
The Jew must abstain from work and pleasure one day 
in the week, because the Sabbath is holy. The Christian 
of the Dark Ages was forbidden to believe in the ' anile 
fable ' of the Antipodes, and given a ' Christian Topo- 
graphy of the universe, established by considerations 
from Divine Scripture concerning which it is not lawful 
for a Christian to doubt ' ; 1 he was hampered in com- 
merce because the Law of Moses forbade usury ; and his 
late descendants 2 were discouraged from adopting the 
theatrical profession by the eternal damnation attached 
to the status of actor. 

The life of other nations is determined by political 
considerations. Art and literature are looked on with 
suspicion as dangerous to the welfare of the state. Inno- 
cent social amusements are forbidden. Family life takes 
a peculiar colour for political reasons;, the husband acquires 
a peculiar predominance ; the wife is turned into a machine, 
bearing children for the good of the state. The state 
which Plato sketched in his Republic is an extreme 
instance of this enslavement of the individual to the 

1 Cosmas, Topographia Christiana, quoted in Lecky, Hist, of 
Rationalism, i. 269 (1910 ed.). 

' As late as A.D.[i694 (ibid. ii. 318). 


interests of the community ; but the history of Sparta 
and Rome and, indeed, of most countries is full of such 
examples. From the various follies and sins and ruinous 
excesses to which he is so prone, man is in most cases 
guarded on the grounds that it is his duty to fear God and 
serve his country. Whole classes of actions are forbidden 
him. He moves in a narrow and carefully watched 
round of existence. He may not do this, he must do that. 
Maimed and mutilated, with one hand or one eye, he 
enters into the kingdom of heaven. This is true of nearly 
every nation except Greece. Here alone man was not 
sacrificed to his god or his country, but allowed to ' see 
life steadily and see it whole '. Elsewhere, reasons of 
state or reasons of religion perverted inquiry or narrowed 
its field ; men were forbidden to think at all on some 
subjects, or compelled to hold certain prescribed views 
on them. Whole provinces of life were withdrawn from 
discussion with many excellent consequences, but also 
with a restriction of the scope of truth, with a limitation 
of her chances of finding herself and coming by her own. 
But for the Greeks there were no barriers, no domains 
set apart where he might not trespass ; everywhere he 
was free to act and think, to find truth or fall into error, 
to do right or to sin. In Greece neither religion nor politics 
were forces preventing him from seeing things as they are. 
We are not, indeed, to suppose that free thought in 
religion went entirely unresented. Four notable prosecu- 
tions prove to us that the Athenians were jealous for 
their religion. Socrates was executed and Anaxagoras 
exiled for attacking traditional beliefs : Protagoras and 
Diagoras of Melos fled to avoid the consequences of a 
prosecution. But compare this record with the tale of 
the religious prosecutions of fifty years of the Italian 


Renaissance. Between 1566 and 1619 ' Carnesecchi was 
burned alive ; Paleario was burned alive ; Bruno was 
burned alive ; these three at Rome. Vanini was burned at 
Toulouse. Valentino Gentile was executed by Calvinists 
at Berne. Campanella was cruelly tortured and im- 
prisoned for twenty-seven years at Naples. Galileo was 
forced to humble himself before ignorant and arrogant 
monks, and to hide his head in a country villa. Sarpi 
felt the knife of an assassin. ... In this way did Italy 
. . . devour her sons of light '- 1 These, of course, are 
famous victims. Symonds estimates that in Spain alone, 
between 1481 and 1525, 234,526 persons were condemned 
for heresy by the Inquisition. 2 Compare with this 
assiduous and sterilizing tyranny the occasional infractions 
of liberty of thought in Greece, and you will feel that the 
position of a Greek thinker was not worse than the position 
of Hobbes in the seventeenth century, not worse than 
that of Marmontel, who, in the Age of Reason, was sent 
to the Bastille for a supposed pasquinade on a duke, and 
hardly worse than that of German philosophers, who 
a century ago were chased from their chairs for unortho- 
doxy, and who even to-day are forbidden to profess 
publicly the doctrines of Social Democracy. 
This Greek freedom of thought has several causes. For 

1 Symonds, The Catholic Reaction, ii. 138. 

* Ibid. i. 196. Aristotle was threatened with a prosecution, 
nominally for atheism, really because of his Macedonian sym- 
pathies. If the prosecution of Diagoras fell in 41 5 B. c., as Diodorus 
says, it may have had political grounds, for he was a Melian. 
The Athenian indignation with the mutilators of the Hermae is 
not an instance against the view in the text, for it is not a per- 
secution of free thought. If to-day some people denied the 
altars in all the churches of London, it would excite popular 
indignation ; but such indignation would not prove a general 
interference with liberty of speculation. 


one thing, Greek philosophy was unendowed, and free 
speech is less easy to repress when it does not come from 
the pulpits and lecture-rooms of the state. But there 
are more fundamental reasons than this, reasons that lie 
in the nature of Greek religion itself. 

Here we are on dangerous ground. The beliefs of 
sixth and fifth century Greece are not as yet fully ascer- 
tained. The country is but partially mapped out, and 
any one who sets foot in it risks losing his way. Once it 
was supposed that Greek religion was summed up in the 
worship of Zeus and Hera and the Olympian gods. Now 
we know of other worships ; of Orphic mysteries, with 
a highly spiritual teaching ; of a Dionysiac religion, 
emotional and enthusiastic, brought to Greece from the 
North. Even the Olympians are not quite what they 
seemed. Apollo, the seducer of Daphne and the patron 
of Troy, became through his prophets at Delphi a wide 
influence for good in Greek morals and politics. Finally 
we are told to-day that the most powerful religion in 
Athens was the propitiation of formidable Cthonian 
deities. Clearly we must define what we mean by Greek 

We are not trying to give a complete sketch of it. In 
fact, we shall have at present to ignore its noblest side 
altogether. We are simply asking why thought was free 
in Athens during the years when persecution might have 
been expected, that is during the fifth and fourth centuries. 
Hence we can ignore religions which were of later date. 
Further, we can ignore those which were held only by small 
sections of the community. If a religion is to persecute 
it must command a majority in the state. Quakers or 
Unitarians could never persecute. Nor (had they wished 
it) could Platonists, Peripatetics, or Stoics have done so. 

1358 D 


Hence we are not here concerned with religions or philo- 
sophies such as these. We are concerned with the state 
religion, which Athenians learnt to reverence as children, 
which permeated the national literature, which crowned the 
high places of the city with its temples, which consecrated 
peace and war and everything solemn and ceremonial 
in civic life, which by its intimate connexion with these 
things acquired that support of instinctive sentiment 
which is stronger than any moral or intellectual sanction. 
Orphism does not satisfy these conditions ; nor do the 
Chthonian deities. The religion we are looking for is 
the Olympian worship. 

The Olympians have of late fallen into undeserved 
discredit, because we are surprised that a fellow citizen 
of Aeschylus could still worship such queer divinities. 
But our surprise proves nothing. The religious beliefs 
of nations are always disappointing those who apply 
to them the tests of absolute reasonableness. One can 
only judge of them by seeing what members of the nation 
say and do. In any epoch different stages of belief 
coexist. Propositions which would not command intel- 
lectual assent are still supported by sentiment and 
habit. Dead beliefs, like dead men, never die, but by 
a law of heredity haunt the blood of late-descended 
generations. So it was in Athens. The devout Pindar, 
who rejects a story of divine cannibalism, represents 
Apollo as a dissembler and a seducer. 1 The devout 
Aeschylus, who created for himself so lofty a theism, in 
some passages speaks of God as deceitful and cruel. 2 The 
devout Sophocles, who wrote that magnificent hymn to 
the eternal laws, calls one member of the Pantheon ' the 

1 Pyth. 9. 

* Fragment quoted by Plato, Rep. 383 ; and P. V. passim. 


god whom gods dishonour ' and invites his fellow deities 
to annihilate him. 1 Such inconsistencies will not surprise 
us when we remember how men with the New Testament 
in their hands have allowed themselves to be inspired 
by the barbarities of the Old. Anyhow, the fact remains. 
The names of the Olympians fill the pages of Greek tragedy. 
They, and not any Chthonian worship, excite the attacks 
of Euripides. Plato, when he wishes to plan an ideal 
education, deals before anything with the active dangers 
to the morality of the young, which according to him 
the Olympian theology affords. Finally, the Olympians 
continue to be worshipped in Greece as long as paganism 
survives, and their frailties remain effective weapons 
in the hands of sceptics within the fold like Lucian, and 
of enemies, like Augustine, without it. 

And now, to return to our main question Why did this 
religion leave thought so free ? 

Firstly, it was anthropomorphic, and anthropomorphic 
religions are essentially plastic. They admit of criticism 
and remodelling. They almost invite it. A glance at 
the Greek gods will show us why. 

Homer and Hesiod, says Xenophanes, ' ascribed the 
vices of mankind to the gods.' They made deities in their 
own image, in the likeness of an image of corruptible man. 
Sua cuique deus fit dira cupido. ' Each man's fearful 
passion becomes his god.' Yes, and not passions only, 
but every impulse, every aspiration, every humour, 
every virtue, every whim. In each of his activities the 
Greek found something wonderful, and called it God : 
the hearth at which he warmed himself and cooked his 
food, the street in which his house stood, the horse he 
rode, the cattle he pastured, the wife he married, the 
1 O. T. ist chorus. 


child that was born to him, the plague of which he died 
or from which he recovered, each suggested a deity, and 
he made one to preside over each. So too with qualities 
and powers more abstract. Violence, Fear, Revolution, 
Sport, Drunkenness, Democracy, Madness, Envy, Revel- 
ling, Persuasion, Sleep, Hunger, are personified and in 
some cases worshipped. Everything has its worship, 
even ' the Unknown God '. (That is why, viewing his 
religion, it is possible to represent the Greek as a miracle 
of vice or of virtue.) A Greek wished to be drunk, Dionysus 
was his patron ; to be vicious, and he turned to Aphrodite 
Pandemos. He was a thief, and could rely on the help 
of Hermes ; he had a passion for purity, and there was the 
worship of Artemis. Gods enough ; but they are not 
original beings with independent powers. They are the 
shadows of the man who made them, called into existence 
to patronize the actions of their creator, to utter the words 
which he puts into their mouth, to smile to order on his 
faults and virtues with benignant and unfaltering com- 
plaisance. 1 

This is enough to explain why there was no religious 

) tyranny in Greece. Gods of this kind were unlikely to 

I have a drastic influence on men's lives. Their origin and 

character weakened, without actually destroying, their 

power over their devotees. They were after all only the 

work of men's hands, and the men instinctively took 

liberties with their creations. Aristophanes, who was a 

1 According to Mr. Bent (The Cyclades, p. 373), there is at the 
present day in Paros a convent dedicated to the Drunken S. George. 
' On November 3, the Pariotes usually tap their new-made wine, 
and get drunk ; they have a dance and a scene of revelry in 
front of this church, which is hallowed by the presence of the 
priests.' The spirit which created the Olympians is not dead 


supporter of the established religion, exhibits Dionysus 
on the stage before the assembled Athenian public in 
the mixed character of a blusterer, a coward, and a 
buffoon; 1 and Dionysus was, as Miss Harrison points 
out, the god of a genuinely spiritual worship. He treats 
Zeus with equal disrespect, connecting him in one place 
with an intolerably blasphemous theory of rain, in another 
arguing with admirable gravity that Heracles is sure to be 
disinherited as an illegitimate son of the King of Heaven. 2 
So with writers less reckless than Aristophanes, and on 
stages less light-hearted than that of Comedy. It is told 
of Agesipolis that ' after consulting the oracle at Olympia, 
he went on to ask the God at Delphi whether he was of 
the same mind as his father, implying that it would be dis- 
graceful to contradict him '. 3 And Theognis, in remarking 
on the inequalities of divine justice, addresses Zeus thus, 
ZeO <f>t\f, Oavpafa <re, ' Dear Zeus, I wonder at you.' 4 It 
is the tone in which a boy might speak of his elder 
brother Pindar thought the gods were our brothers and 
it suggests that, on occasions when heaven said one thing 
and the people wished another, the Greek gods would bow 
to public opinion. 

This was the penalty which the Greeks paid for seeing i 
divinity hi many forms. They gained in breadth but lost / 
in intensity. .Their God was too much the creation of his 
worshirjgers ever to.become. absolute. He was a constitu- 
tional monarch whose subjects never quite forgot that 
they had put him on his throne. In theory their king, 
he was in fact their representative, bound to carry out 
their desires. And among these was the desire to 
be free. 

1 Frogs. 2 Birds, 1649 f. 

3 Ar. Rhet. 2. 23 (tr. Welldon). 4 fr. 78. 



That is one influence which made Greek religion work 
loose. A second is akin to it. There was no Greek 

^fhis makes for liberty at the outset. A Bible has 
immense advantages for those who can use it, but for 
the world at large it has its dangers. Think how easily the 
written word, interpreted with the rigour of ignorance, 
can cramp truth. The Psalmist had said that the sun 
' runneth about from one end of heaven to the other ' 
and that ' the foundations of the round world are so 
firmly fixed that they cannot be moved '. How then 
could Galileo maintain that the earth moves about the 
sun ? Here was the plain warrant of Holy Writ for the 
contrary. S. Paul had told us that ' men are made to live 
on the face of the earth. It follows that they do not 
live on more faces than one or upon the back. With such 
a passage before his eyes, a Christian should not even 
speak of the Antipodes '- 1 So mediaeval theologians 
argued, using the Bible not to make alive but to petrify. 
And in countless ways less gross than these, casual 
remarks misunderstood, crude conceptions of a primitive 
age, moral precepts applicable to a primitive people, 
were invested with divine authority and forged into 
fetters for liberty of thought, simply because they were 
found in a sacred book. 

From such dangers the Greeks were free. They had no 
Bible. We often call Homer the Greek Bible ; but the 
phrase is misleading, for Homer had not the peremptory 
authority of a Law once ordained and for ever binding, 
but the subtle influence of a great book which is in 
every one's hands. The Delphic oracles come nearest to 
the Jewish Law, for they were the direct commands of 
1 Op. cit. quoted in Lecky, Hist, of Rationalism, i. 267 ft. 


Apollo. But they never became engines of tyranny, 
for they were delivered to meet special situations, and 
were strictly temporary in their application. The Orphic 
cult had, it is true, sacred writings. But there was no 
Book of the great Olympian gods, or of any other deities 
worshipped in Greece. Of Apollo and Zeus many legends 
were current, but no one had troubled to harmonize them, 
and their worshippers, without insisting on precise 
definition, were content with a general fva-tfitia. Hence 
Plato could invent an account of Creation to support 
a particular polity, because as he says, ' we do not know 
the truth about antiquity.' * His words may remind us 
how differently the Jew was situated, with his book 
of Genesis, and its hard-and-fast account of the origin of 
the world. And so generally ; thought in Greece could 
work unchecked, for there was no exact standard by 
which to check it. 

From this came an attitude to religion very unlike that 
of the Jews. The Jew accepted the God that was revealed -'. 

to him : the Greek thought his gods out. If the Jew 
was in doubt, it was easy for him to decide. His God 
had issued commands, and were they not written in the 
books of Moses ? But the Greek had no such authorities 
to appeal to. He was thrown back on his own reason, 
his own sense of what was right and true. This was the 
workshop in which his beliefs were hammered out. That 
is why we find Plato expurgating the heavenly records, 
giving them new turns and new interpretations, making 
and unmaking theology to his liking. If something in 
traditional theology offends his moral sense, he openly 
discards it. 2 And so with writers less rationalistic than 

1 Republic, 382, 414 f. 

* e.g. in Republic, books 2 and 3 passim. 


Plato. Pindar was orthodox and conservative. Yet coming 
across an ugly legend about the gods, he simply denies 
it. 'I will speak contrariwise to them that have gone 
before me. ... To me it is impossible to call one of the 
blessed gods cannibal ; I keep aloof.' 1 He will have 
nothing to do with a story that revolts his moral sense. 
Though it have all tradition on its side, still it must be 
false : Pindar trusts his own instincts and throws it over. 
Such an attitude may be matched in Hebrew literature, 
but it is not common there. On the whole the Jew sub- 
mitted to tradition, while the Greek trusted in himself 
and his reason. 

Let us take one famous example. Greek and Hebrew 
literature each contain a story of a just man who was 
visited by heaven with undeserved misfortune. Job, 
' a perfect and upright man that feared God and eschewed 
evil,' lost his goods, his family, and his health by a sudden 
decree of heaven. Prometheus, the great Titan, who saw 
the human race perishing unregarded, pitied it, risked 
the divine anger, gave fire to men, and in punishment 
was nailed by Zeus to a precipice on the Caucasus. The 
two sufferers are in much the same case : Prometheus 
suffers, because he followed the dictates of mercy ; Job 
suffers in spite of his purity of life. If either of them 
deserved his fate, it was Prometheus. And each story 
follows the same course. Both men lament their sufferings 
and proclaim their innocence. Friends visit them and 
counsel submission to the will of heaven. Prometheus 
replies that his offence was deliberate and that he will 
never yield to Zeus ; Job insists that he has done no 
wrong. So far the stories coincide. But observe how 
different are the morals which the Greek and the Hebrew 

1 Pyth. I. S3- 


writer draw respectively from their misfortunes. A whirl- 
wind comes up out of the desert, and a Voice out of it speaks 
to Job, ' convincing him,' as the chapter's heading quaintly 
says, ' of ignorance and imbecility.' What is he with his 
knowledge that he should question the dispensations of 
God ? Where was Job when God laid the foundations 
of the world ? Can he make snow or ice or rain : can he 
guide and order the constellations ? What does he know 
of the Almighty and His ways ? And Job meekly accepts 
the sentence. ' Behold, I am vile. ... I have uttered 
that I understood not, . . . things too wonderful 
for me, which I knew not . . . Wherefore I abhor 
myself, and repent in dust and ashes.' Observe that 
God has not justified his punishment nor Job admitted 
his guilt. The man has simply retracted and humbled 
himself. His sufferings remain mysterious and un- 
explained. But who is he that he should question God's 
ways ? 

This solution, we may safely prophesy, would have been 
unintelligible to the Greek ; Aeschylus does not adopt it. 
' God convinceth Job of ignorance and imbecility : ' 
there is no trace of such a finale in the case of Prometheus. 
When Zeus commands and threatens, Prometheus retorts 
with an insulting defiance : he does what Job will not 
do, he curses God. And he curses him with impunity or 
something more. Unlike the Jew, Aeschylus concluded 
his story, not with the unconditional surrender of the 
weaker party, but with his practical justification. Time 
and fate bring Hercules who kills the tormenting vulture ; 
Zeus is persuaded to strike the chains off Prometheus, 
and receives in return information of a secret danger 
that menaces his throne. But the Titan is not abased nor 
the god exalted : a treaty is struck between the two, and 


they come to terms. 1 From first to last it never occurs 
to Aeschylus that Prometheus may have had a narrow 
view of justice, and that when the accounts were summed 
Zeus might turn out to have been right after all. Without 
a suspicion that it might be fallible, he brings God and 
the Titan before the bar of human reason. He judges 
the two in that court without a presumption in favour 
of either, and when God appears unjust, unhesitatingly 
condemns him. 2 

How different in all this from the deities of Hellenism 
is Jehovah ! How different a position He occupies in the 
life of His people ! He is a jealous and arbitrary God : 
He dominates and dwarfs His worshippers. Jehovah IS 
before His people were, they know Him only by His 
revelation of Himself, and they are in the hollow of His 
hand. The Greek said of Apollo and Zeus, they are : 
Jehovah said to His people, I AM : Jewish writers show 
a self -submission and self-abasement to Him which is quite 
un-Greek. They are obsessed with the sense of Him. He 
is the inspiration of all that is great and memorable 
in their writings. There are thirty-nine books in the 
Old Testament. All but one are continually occupied 
with the relations of God to man ; nineteen the Book 
of Job, the Psalms, the prophetic books have no other 
subject. It is not so with Greek literature. There does 
not lie behind that as an unchanging background, a 
struggle between the will of man and the will of God. 

1 Perhaps it is rash to base an argument on the plot of the 
Prometheus Unbound which is lost. But no modern writer, so 
far as I know, has suggested that it justified the original conduct 
of Zeus. 

1 I have ventured to borrow the idea of this illustration from 
the late Professor Butcher's Harvard Lectures, giving it a different 


It has no repeated protests against a backsliding people, 
whose ears continually wax dull and their hearts gross. 
And this is not due to any exceptional righteousness of 
the Greeks. Rather it is because religion was not the 
same thing for Homer or Aeschylus as for Moses or Isaiah. 
In their scheme of the world God was not everything. He 
was a part of their life, an important part, but not more. 
He was there to lend His countenance to their occupations 
and interests, but not to direct, dominate, and override 
them. So it is even with the most religious Greeks. When 
Plato constructs his ideal city, the first word in his pages 
is not God, the first thought of the writer is not how he 
shall please Him. Much later in the treatise do we come 
to such considerations. Read the Republic by the side of 
one of the prophetic books, and the difference of temper 
is apparent. 

The two towns Athens and Jerusalem well reflect the 
respective character of their religions. Glorious are the 
temples that crown the Acropolis and give a consecration 
to the life that moved beneath them. But they are there 
only as elements in a harmonious whole, one beauty 
among many others. The view from the Mount of Olives 
suggests very different thoughts. Across the valley on 
its hill lies Jerusalem, a confused mass of domes and 
towers and flat roofs, so closely huddled that the eye 
sees no trace of open spaces or intersecting streets. For 
a moment the city looks like one of the less attractive 
Eastern towns, a city of burrows scraped out for a people 
without imagination or ideal or sense of beauty. So it 
looks, or would look but for certain open spaces, just 
within the city wall and before the houses begin, huge 
courtyards with domed buildings and a few cypresses 
rising from their pavement. They are the only great 


thing which the eye sees ; Jerusalem is dwarfed beside 
them ; and the huge mosques within them seem lost in 
their spaces. These are the Temple Courts. This is the 
spot which the Jew, while he kept his town mean and 
unlovely, consecrated to the worship of Jehovah ; these 
are the courts of the House of his God. 

It is difficult to speak in this way without giving the 
impression that the Greeks were irreligious. Of course, 
as a whole they were quite the reverse ; witness their 
consternation at the mutilation of the Hermae. But 
they were religious in the way in which the average 
churchgoer of to-day is religious. Perhaps they would 
not have gone so far as to agree with the late Rev. Mark 
Pattison that religion is a good servant but a bad master ; 1 
but there were many other interests in their life besides 
God. None of them were religious as Augustine or Pascal 
or Newman or Tolstoi understood the word. It is hard to 
parallel from Greek literature passages like the following : 
' there are two Gods. There is the God people generally 
believe in a God who has to serve them (sometimes in 
very refined ways, perhaps by merely giving them peace 
of mind). This God does not exist. But the God whom 
people forget the God whom we all have to serve does 
exist and is the prime cause of our existence and of all 
that we perceive ; ' 2 or, again, the Psalmist's words : 
' so foolish was I and ignorant, even as it were a beast 
before thee. . . . Whom have I in heaven but thee, and 
there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of 
thee. My flesh and my heart faileth ; but God is the 

1 Memoirs, p. 97. 

3 Tolstoi. I have been unable to re-identify the passage. 
Contrast Homer's argument for religion, ' all men have need 
of the gods.' Od. 3. 48. 


strength of my heart and my portion for ever.' What 
Greek ever thought of his religion as Pascal thinks of 
Conversion 1 : ' La veritable conversion consiste a s'aneantir 
devant cet etre universel, qu'on a irrite tant de fois, et 
qui peut vous perdre tegitimement a toute heure ; a 
reconnaitre qu'on ne peut rien sans lui, et qu'on a me'rite' 
rien de lui que sa disgrace ' ? or as Newman thinks of 
Catholicism : ' I speak of it as teaching the ruined nature 
of man ; his utter inability to gain heaven by any- 
thing he can do himself ; the moral certainty of his losing 
his soul if left to himself ; the simple absence of all rights 
and claims on the part of the creature in the presence 
of the Creator ; the illimitable claims of the Creator on 
the service of the creature ' ? 2 and so forth. 

These passages are conceived in the genuine temper of 
Isaiah and of S. Paul, but where shall we match them in 
Greek ? The nearest we can come is Plato's saying that 
men are the ' chattels of God ' ; 3 or the famous hymn of the 
Stoic Cleanthes. With Plato we shall deal later. As for the 
hymn, it must be remembered that Stoicism was a third- 
century growth, its founders and chief teachers of Asiatic 
origin, and the God of Cleanthes an impersonal power. 
And I think that most people who read the hymn will 
feel that, in spite of a surface resemblance, its words are 
infinitely removed from the intellectual self-abnegation 
of Newman or the intense passion of the Psalmist. 

Here, then, are three influences which fostered irapprjo-ia 
in Athens ; the absence of a Bible ; an instinct for ration- 
alism ; and the temper engendered by an anthropomorphic 

1 Pensges, 508 (ed. Brunschvigg). 
* Scope and Nature of University Education, c. 7. 
1 Phaedo, 62. 


religion. They pass into one another, and together they 
explain why, if anything prevented the Greek from seeing 
life as it is, it was not his gods. 

If religion left the Greeks free, so did politics. Though 
civic life and private life so nearly coincided, though the 
Greek state claimed from its citizens so much more than 
does our own, yet the individual never became a mere 
cipher on a census paper, but kept and asserted his own 

Political individualism is writ large across the history 
of Greece. At its worst it appears in the want of self- 
control, the inability to unite, the reckless selfishness, 
which were so disagreeably common. It was not rare 
for an expelled citizen to join his city's enemies and 
attempt to ruin her. Oligarchs and democrats assaulted 
the homes from which they had been banished ; Greek 
exiles instigated and accompanied both Persian invasions ; 
Alcibiades one day commanded an Athenian fleet, the 
next was pointing out at Sparta the weak places in his 
country's defences. As he pleasantly says, ' Having been 
once distinguished as a lover of my country, I now cast 
in my lot with her worst foes, and attack her with all my 
might.' l 

But Greek individualism took better forms than these. 
Once it brought 10,000 Greeks back from the Euphrates 
to their homes. Nothing is more instructive in that 
history of Xenophon which has introduced so many 
schoolboys to Greek, than the organization of the army ; 
nothing is more characteristically Greek. It is not an 
army on the march, but a parliament of 10,000 members. 
If a crisis arises, the soldiers meet in assembly, the generals 
1 Thuc. 6. 92. 


lay the situation before them, speakers argue pro and con, 
the army votes, and the march is resumed. Generals 
who are incompetent or suspect are publicly impeached ; 
the army acquits, fines, or puts them to death. It sounds 
like a dream of Gilbert and Sullivan. Yet the Ten 
Thousand marched and voted themselves in wintry 
weather over many miles of the most difficult country 
in the world. That was individualism too. 

This spirit, present doubtless from the beginning, 
became active in the seventh and following centuries, 
when the growth of tyrannies made Greece feel how much 
was lost with freedom. Herodotus, who recounts the rise 
and fall of many of these princedoms, tells why they 
were unpopular. They were oppressive. ' The tyrants 
upset ancestral customs, and do violence to women, and 
put men to death without a trial.' 1 But they were also 
alien to the temper of the Greeks. The Athenians, says 
Herodotus, while the Peisistratidae ruled them, were no 
better fighters than their neighbours, but when set free 
they immediately surpassed them : which ' shows that 
in their subjection they were purposely slack, because 
they were toiling for a master, but when they obtained 
liberty each man eagerly worked for himself '. 2 It is 
noticeable that the word he uses for liberty is la-qyoptr] 
' freedom of speech ' they were not content with mere 
freedom of action. The same craving is audible in the 
quaint reply of the Spartans to a Persian governor, who 
urged them to submit to Xerxes : ' you do not know what 
you are advising us to do, Hydarnes, for you know 
what it is to be a slave, but the sweetness of freedom you 
have never tasted. If you felt it, you would tell us to 
fight for it, not with spears only but with axes.' 3 
1 Hdt. 3. 80. 2 Id. 5. 78. 3 Id. 7. 135. 


But it was Pericles and the democracy which developed 
the conception of irapprja-ia, on which indeed any real 
democracy must depend. Under written laws, says 

Weak men cast back the lie 
On prosperous calumny ; the poorer sort, 
If justice back their plea, confound the strong ; 
And freedom in our parliament proclaims, 
' Who can depose wise counsel for the state ? ' 
Then he that will, sits silent ; he that will, 
Speaks, and wins glory. Can equality 
Go further ? * 

These words are put into the mouth of a king of Athens, 
and Euripides, who put them there, speaks elsewhere of 
free speech as the ' one great thing ', and shudders at 
the thought of a man whose tongue is tied. ' A slave is 
he that may not speak his thought.' 2 A few years before 
Euripides wrote these words, a defeated and dispirited 
Athenian fleet was trapped far away from home. As the 
sailors embarked for a last attempt to break through 
the enemy, their commander made a final appeal to the 
captains. His first words to them are significant. ' He 
reminded them that they were the inhabitants of the 
freest country in the world, and how in Athens there 
was no interference with the daily life of any man.' 3 

Certainly there was little interference with what any 
man said. Greek Comedy gives an idea of the lengths 
to which trapprja-ia might go unchecked. The criticisms 
of the late South African War which drew on the heads of 
Mr. Lloyd George and others the ready missiles of angry 
crowds, were mild in comparison with those which 
Aristophanes was permitted to make in the State Theatre 

1 Suppl. 433 f. * Phoen. 391. Cp. Ion, 672 ; Hipp. 422. 
* Thuc. 7. 69. 


on the struggle of his countrymen against the Peloponne- 
sians. Suppose that it was the custom in this country 
for plays to be presented to the public ' on Easter Monday, 
in the Albert Hall, under the patronage of the State, 
and before an audience comprising not merely ministers 
of all kinds and degrees, but students from the Universities 
and pupils from the Schools '. 1 Suppose that while 
England was engaged in a desperate war, some poet 
exhibiting at this festival advocated peace and denounced 
war in no measured terms, charged Mr. Chamberlain 
with peculation, displayed John Bull as a fat, greedy, 
credulous, ignorant old man, cheated and robbed by the 
government in power ; suppose that Lord Roberts was 
brought in person on the stage, caricatured as a dressy 
braggart, publicly flouted by an impertinent crowd, and 
finally carried off to hospital desperately wounded, while 
the peace-party, with derisive shouts at his misfortunes, 
retired to a luxurious dinner ; suppose that a modern 
author dared to write such a play, would an English 
public tolerate it for a moment? And yet during the 
Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes, presenting on the stage 
the Athenian public, its chief statesmen, and one of its 
most eminent generals, caricatured them in no less gross 
a way. 2 

No doubt Comedy had peculiar licence in Greece. But 
that does not alter the fact of the licence. The rule of 
rrapprjd-ta held always in Athens. Not in the tunes of 
worst disaster, not when Athens was fighting no longer 
for victory but for life, not when the timbers of her fleet 

1 Verrall, Four Plays of Euripides. 

* The criticisms on Cleon passim, on Demos in the Knights, 
and on Lamachus in iheAcharnians are the basis of the preceding 



were breaking up on the beach at Syracuse and her army 
rotting in its quarries, not after Aegospotami itself, was 
free speech restricted. The ecclesia still met, the herald 
still asked TIS dyopevfiv ftovXerai ; Who wishes to speak? l 

This was the practice of Athens. It followed a defi- 
nite, deliberate, and clearly-expounded theory. All the 
rx>litical thinkers of Greece, with the exception of Plato, 
speak of the state as existing for the individual. One 
of them, a friend and admirer of Pericles, who knew from 
within the politics on which he wrote, has left in writing 
the ideal of the Athenian democracy. It remains to us 
unaged as the charter of democracy, the New Testament 
of Liberalism. 

In the Funeral Speech which he puts in the lips of 
Pericles, Thucydides makes him declare his conception 
of what Athens is and what every state ought to be. The 
complete freedom of the Athenian citizen strikes us at 
once in reading the speech, the absence of any attempt to 
make-Jaim good by law, the absence of any safeguards 
against want of patriotism, and indeed of any fear of it. 
We are taken into an atmosphere very differenf from 
modern political thought. There is no talk of class 
jealousy and class selfishness, to be remedied by a system 
of checks and balances and counterbalances, no talk 
of compulsory military service necessary to inculcate 

1 Certain attempts were, however, made to restrict comic 
licence. A law was passed in 440 forbidding the treatment of 
cotemporary politics, but was repealed in 437. There was a 
similar enactment in 416, forbidding wopaarl Kw/iwSely, personal 
attacks : yet in 414 Aristophanes wrote the Birds. There was 
possibly another restricting law at the end of the fifth century : 
but in any case Comedy then abandons its licence. It is charac- 
teristic of the Thirty Tyrants that they made certain restrictions 
on intellectual freedom (Xen. M^w. i. 2. 31). 


patriotism and to discipline and direct the irregular 
energies of the mob, no talk of contributory pensions 
desirable to breed an idea of thrift, of a licensing bill 
designed to protect citizens from drunkenness, of Church 
schools and a religious education, without which man 
will relapse into the mud from which he came. Pericles^ ^ 
lives in an ideal, perhaps a too ideal, world. It has not' 
occurred to him to fear that amusements will distract 
the Athenian from his duty, and any suspicion of them is 
totally absent from his speech. He regards such things 
as an essential element in national life. ' We provide 
plenty of means for the mind to refresh itself from business ; 
we have regular games and sacrifices throughout the 
year.' 1 Nor is he afraid that culture and education will 
sap the roots of character, making men effeminate, 
better at thinking than deciding. ' We cultivate refine- 
ment without extravagance, and knowledge without 
effeminacy.' 2 

There was a state in Greece, where such things were 
thought dangerous. Sparta was organized on more than 
Roman principles, and its citizens were brought up by 
a series of drills, messes and petty regulations to be devoted 
servants of the state. Athens must have seemed a strange 
place to a Spartan visitor. To start with, it would be 
odd that he should be there so freely, for in his own 
country they were apt to have gevijXao-iai, periodical 
expulsions of foreigners. And then how different was the 
life of an Athenian from that to which he was accustomed 
at home ! At the age of seven he had been taken away 

1 Thuc. 2. 38. i. 

1 Ibid. 40. i. Newman (University Sketches) paraphrases the 
words thus : ' They cultivated the fine arts with too much taste 
to be expensive, and studied the sciences with too much point to __ 
become effeminate.' 


from his family to the Syssition, a kind of ancient public 
school, and thenceforward ' lived habitually in public, 
always under the fetters and observances of a rule partly 
military, partly monastic estranged from the indepen- 
dence of a separate home seeing his wife, during the first 
years after marriage, only by stealth, and maintaining little 
peculiar relation with his children. The supervision not 
only of his fellow-citizens, but also of authorized censors 
or captains nominated by the state, was perpetually 
acting on him ; his day was passed in public exercises 
and meals, his nights in the public barrack to which he 
belonged '^ Bare feet, a single coat summer and winter, 
floggings at a local shrine (he had seen boys die under 
them), stinted food, and for recreation hunting and 
dancing these had been his lot since a child. After all, 
thought the Spartans, you must make men patriotic, and 
what other way is there of doing it ? 

Pericles thought that there were other ways, and by 
name condemns this Spartan system. * In the matter 
of education, whereas they (the Spartans) from early 
youth are always undergoing laborious exercises which 
are to make them brave, we live at ease, and yet are 
equally ready to face the dangers which they face. If 
we prefer to meet danger with a light heart and without 
laborious training, with a courage which is gained by 
habit and not enforced by law, are we not greatly the 
gainers ? ' 2 ^Leave the individual to himself, and he can 
be trusted to do his duty, is the idea of Pericles ; coercion, 
restriction, prohibition are words not found in his political 
theory! Trust in the people tempered by caution, was 
Mr. Gladstone's definition of Liberalism. Leave out the 
last three words and you have the principles of Pericles. 

1 Grote, Hist, of Greece, ii. 298. * Thuc. 2. 39. 2. 3. 


That was the Greek ideal urtrfistrict.ed liberty. Is it 
wonderful that with such principles the Greek mind 
remained undistorted ? 

This freedom was a rare privilege in antiquity. Think 
for a moment of Rome. Plutarch said of its people that 
they ' were of that mind, that they would not have men 
marry, beget children, live privately by themselves, and 
make feasts and banquets at their pleasure, but that 
they should stand in fear to be reproved and inquired 
of by the magistrates ; and that it was not good to give 
every one liberty to do what they would, following his own 
lust and fancy '.* 

This was Plutarch's view of the Romans, and this, too, 
was the view of the consul who mounted the rostra one 
morning in the year 186 B. c. and announced to his hearers 
the measures which the senate proposed to take for the 
suppression of the Bacchanalia. It was a question of 
a religious society for the worship of Dionysus, which 
had used its meetings for gross indecency and, further, 
for a conspiracy against social order. A bad business, 
doubtless ; and the consul justly regarded it as a menace 
to morality and subversive of the state. But note the 
terms in which he rates his audience. ' Your ancestors 
were unwilling that even you should meet accidentally or 
at random ; unless it was the army led out for election 
purposes, or an assembly of the people summoned by 
tribunes, or a meeting called by a magistrate. Where 
a crowd was gathered, they were of opinion that there 
should be a regular officer to control them.' 2 We are very 
far away here from the ideals of Pericles. 

, l Vit. Catonis, 16 (tr. North). ! Livy, 39. 15. 



The consul's next words are also instructive. ' There 
is nothing more specious or more fallacious than a vicious 
piety. When divine authority is made an excuse for 
crime, we become afraid to punish human wickedness, 
lest in doing so we violate some law of heaven with which 
it is associated.' These sentiments tempt us to compare 
the Roman view of the Bacchanalia with the fortunes of 
Dionysus in Hellas, and to draw a moral from the contrast. 
In Greece, too, the god's worship was an advecta religio, 
which had thrust itself in among the primitive religions. 
There, too though free from the gross immorality and 
political Mafia of the Italian Bacchanalia it was cele- 
brated with revels on the hills, of which drunkenness was 
a general and immorality a not uncommon feature. Yet 
when Pentheus, taking the consul's point of view, forbade 
the women of his city to go roaming the hills, an Athenian 
dramatist represented him on the stage as rewarded for his 
ill-timed love of order by being torn in pieces at his 
mother's hands. Though they may not represent the 
poet's own view, the words are striking which Euripides 
gives to the speakers who oppose the action of Pentheus. 
They remind him that he is coming in conflict with a 
god, that, after all, wine makes man forget his sorrows, 
and that, if women want to be immoral, they will be so 
without going on the mountains : 

Receive this spirit, whosoe'er he be 
To Thebes in glory. Greatness manifold 
Is all about him ; and the tale is told 
That this is he who first to man did give 
The grief-assuaging vine. Oh, let him live ; 
For if he die, then Love herself is slain 
And nothing joyous in the world again. 1 

So, with a mixture of sensuous Epicureanism and the 
1 Bacchae, 769 f . (tr. Murray). 


time-honoured arguments of Liberalism, the Bacchanals 
are defended. Imagine the grim face of the Roman 
consul as he listened to such a plea. 

We must not press this parallel too closely. A wide 
gulf lay between the Greek and Italian worships of 
Bacchus, and Euripides was not a statesman, but a poet. 
But the different attitude of Romans and Greeks in these 
matters is incontestable. The Romans did not encourage 
novelties in thought or religion or applaud specious phrases 
about toleration. Pleas for freedom of inquiry, for an 
untrammelled Art, for the rights of Literature, fell unheard 
on their ears. Time and again foreign religions were sent 
packing from Italy to their homes across the sea. Cato 
would have done as much for Greek ambassadors, and 
begged the senate to dismiss them. ' He openly found 
fault in the senate, that the ambassadors were long there 
and had no despatch ; considering also they were cunning 
men and could easily persuade what they would. And 
if there were no other reason, this alone might persuade 
them to determine some answer for them, and so to send 
them home again to their schools, to teach their children 
of Greece, and to let alone the children of Rome, that 
they might learn to obey the laws and the senate, as they 
had done before. Now he spake this to the senate because 
he generally hated philosophy, and of ambition despised 
the muses and knowledge of the Greek tongue.' l 

Censorious interference with private liberty on grounds 
like these was common at Rome. In 161 B.C. the 
praetors were empowered to dismiss from Rome Greek 
philosophers and rhetoricians. Some Epicurean teachers 
were expelled probably in 184. As late as 92 B. c. 
the censors issued the following edict : ' We have 
1 Plutarch, Vit. Cat. 22 (tr. North). 


been informed that there are men who have insti^ 
tuted a new form of teaching, and that the young go 
to their schools : that these persons have described 
themselves as Latin rhetoricians : that young men waste 
whole days with them. Our fathers decided what their 
sons should learn and what schools they should frequent. 
These new schools, which are against the custom and 
tradition of our fathers, seem to us neither desirable 
nor right. We therefore think it proper to indicate our 
sentiments to the owners of these schools and their pupils.' 
The stiff sentiments and curt diction take us into a world 
where the state was first and the individual nowhere. 
His rights did not go further than the duty to obey. 

This contrast between Greece and Rome is easy of ex- 
planation. Many causes may have been at work, but chief 
among them is the different history of the two peoples. 
For 600 years, almost without a breathing-space, re- 
peatedly defeated and struggling each moment for 
existence, Rome fought her way through to victory. 
From their low town her early citizens could see the hills 
of their enemies and the fortresses which barred each 
pass. Etruscans, Latins, Aequians, Volscians, Hernicans, 
Veientines, Samnites, Gauls she had to meet and beat 
them all ; and after them greater antagonists, Pyrrhus, 
Hannibal, Philip, Antiochus, and the armies of Africa 
and the East. This age-long struggle did not mould 
a tolerant character. Constancy, energy, resolution, 
massive weight were the qualities required from Roman 
citizens. Their strength was not to be the strength of 
pliancy ; they were to be iron men. It was not for them 
to talk, still less to doubt. They were not to quibble 
about the existence of the gods whom they needed to 
give victory or about the rights of the individual against 


the state, when the city might be sacked in the next 
twenty-four hours ; or about the nature of the universe, 
while the Hernicans were burning the crops. Action was 
wanted, and not argument, which would only weaken 

Greece was more or less happy. Doubtless she had 
had her period of stress, but it had passed easily and briefly 
into the chequered peace, of historical times^No memories 
linger in fifth-century Athens of ages of fiery trial, for 
Greek history was not populi iam octingentesimum bellantis 
annum res, 1 ' the story of a people who had been 800 years 
at war.' And the character of the Greeks was the softer 
for it. They had not been obliged to practise restraint 
and self-suppression, till restraint and self-suppression 
became a second nature. They were more instinctive 
and natural, and therefore more free. On the face of 
Roman life, as on the grim features of Roman statesmen, 
is stamped the hardness, the instinct to control and forbid, 
which we observe in people to whom the world has been 
hard. But the face of Greece has something of the 
serenity which her sculptors loved to portray*) 

We have been betrayed into a comparison of Greece 
and Rome. But it is not a criticism. Our sympathies 
here will go according to our nature, and it does not con- 
cern us which was right. The important thing is that in 
theory and, on the whole, in practice the Greek state 
avoided interfering with its citizens. Here, too, the Greek 
was left free, free to see life steadily and see it whole. 
Neither priests nor politicians tyrannized over him. 

1 Livy's description of Rome, 9. 18. 



FREEDOM from political and religious restraint is almost 
necessary to the highest development of thought. Philo- 
sophy and science are impossible unless the human mind 
is free to go sounding on its perilous way : and literature 
as a whole is likely to gain by such liberty. But literature 
can thrive very well in an air where philosophy and 
science would sicken. Some of the greatest historical 
writing in the world was done under a strict theocracy 
and is coloured with the prejudices of a close priesthood. 
In Greece itself genius is found apart from freedom of 
thought. Pindar was a member of a priestly house ; any- 
thing but speculative in his outlook on life ; orthodox 
almost to narrowness in religion and politics ; a strong 
adherent of tradition ; a firm believer in the high preroga- 
tive of birth and wealth. Yet though he could never 
have made the hazardous speculations of Democritus or 
Anaxagoras, he is among the greatest poets of the world ; 
in spite of narrowness, his poems are a truthful ' criticism 
of life '. So when Matthew Arnold or Goethe tells us that 
the Greeks were singularly ' truthful ', we must not 
suppose that they were so, only because they enjoyed 
trapprja-ia : we must look further than we have done for 
the quality that enabled them to see life steadily and see 
it whole. 

In his chapter on ' Classical Landscape ' Ruskin has 
drawn attention to a certain quality in the Greeks which 
determined their view of nature. While the modern 
painter endeavours to ' express something which he, as 


a living creature, imagines in the lifeless object ', the 
Greeks were ' content with expressing the unimaginary 
and actual qualities ' of scenery. A wave to Homer 
' from the beginning to the end of it, do what it might, 
was still nothing else than salt water. . . . Black or 
clear, monstrous or violet-coloured, cold salt water it is 
always, and nothing but that '. And so it is at all times, 
when he speaks of nature. The Greek sees no more in 
a landscape than is obviously there. To him a mountain 
is a mountain, a tree a tree, a flower a flower. 

Ruskin has given some admirable illustrations of this, 
which may be read in Modern Painters. 1 Here I only 
propose to give one of my own ; it is an effective illustra- 
tion, because it allows a comparison between the practice 
of an ancient poet and a modern poetess. Mrs. Browning 
in one of her poems describes a seagull thus : 

Familiar with the waves and free 
As if their own white foam were he, 
His heart upon the heart of ocean 
Lay learning all its mystic motion, 
And throbbing to the throbbing sea. 

And such a brightness in his eye 
As if the ocean and the sky 
Within him had lit up and nurst 
A soul God gave him not at first, 
To comprehend their majesty. 

The bird is captured and taken to an inland garden, 
where it dies. 

But flowers of earth were pale to him 
Who had seen the rainbow fishes swim ; 
And when earth's dew around him lay 
He thought of ocean's wingd spray, 
And his eye wax6d sad and dim. 

1 See the chapters Of the Pathetic Fallacy, and Of Classical 


Then One her gladsome face did bring, 
Her gentle voice's murmuring, 
In ocean's stead his heart to move 
And teach him what was human love 
He thought it a strange, mournful thing. 

He lay down in his grief to die, 
(First looking to the sea-like sky 
That hath no waves !), because, alas ! 
Our human touch did on him pass, 
And with our touch, our agony. 

No one would deny that this poem has a certain grace 
and charm. But go down to the cliffs and watch the white 
birds hovering between you and the sea, filling the air 
with their hungry clamour, or skimming over the water 
near the rocks where they nest. Then read the italicized 
lines above and ask if these wild children of nature have 
really had or could ever have the emotions and experiences 
which the poetess attributes to her seamew. Down by 
the water, where we are in touch with the thing described, 
Alcman's lines would surely occur to us, not only as a 
more faithful picture of truth, but also as a far more sym- 
pathetic rendering of the seabird's charm. He, too, had 
watched the seabird off the rocks of his home, but saw in 
it only the bird ' that flies over the blossom of the swell 
in the halcyon's company, with a careless heart, the sea- 
purple bird of spring '. 1 

We need not discuss the difficult question how far 
Mrs. Browning's treatment of her subject is justified. All 
we have to notice is the Greek directness of Alcman. A 
bird is a bird to him and nothing more. These lines of his 
are literal descriptions of fact, except for two touches. But 
no one who has seen the foam breaking white on the crest 
of a green swell, will object that the poet likens it to the 

1 fr. 26. or T* <V Kvparos avdos ap d\Kv6vf(r(n irorarai 
vr)\tyis yTOp f^cov, &\iir6p<pvpos flapos opvis. 


blossoming of a plant among its leaves : and no one 
who has ever watched seagulls flying will complain that 
he allows them ' a careless heart '. For the rest, he sees 
the seagull as it looks we will not beg the question by 
saying ' as it is '. He takes it at its surface value, and 
sees what an unspoilt and happy child might see in it. 
In Ruskin's words, he is content with ' expressing the 
unimaginary and actual qualities of the object itself '. 
He looks at it with directness. 

Ruskin was satisfied with tracing the influence of this 
' directness ' on the Greek's view of nature. But we 
must trace it further than that. We shall find that it 
affects his attitude to more important things than scenery 
or seamews. It was a way of thought, a manner of looking 
at life. It guided the eyes of the Greeks and drew their 
attention to certain aspects of things. It afforded a focus, 
within which they saw everything in strong relief, outside 
which they saw only darkness and confusion. It deter- 
mined their whole idea of the world. For everywhere 
they took things at their obvious value, and saw them, 
so to speak, naked. 

Consider the Greek attitude to love. People are apt 
to complain that there is no love-poetry in Greek, and, 
if by this is meant that Greek has nothing like the Sonnets 
from the Portuguese, or the love-poetry of Browning, the 
statement is true. But love-poetry of a sort it has in 
plenty, and not a Greek play fails to mention Aphrodite 
and her works ; Sappho and Anacreon have a reputation 
as love-poets ; and few of the lyrists are without allusions 
to the subject, reputable or otherwise. Indeed, it would 
have been odd, if the greatest interest of humanity had 
escaped this very human people. Only, Greek love- 
poetry is not the love-poetry of the Brownings. 


There are several aspects under which we may think 
of love. Physical in its origin, in first resort it is a passion 
of the body. At the same time it is the most powerful 
of spiritual and intellectual tonics ; like wine it percolates 
through the body to the springs of thought and emotion, 
and becomes a stimulus to wit, imagination, feeling, 
courage, endurance, sympathy, self-sacrifice and all the 
activities of man. Again, looked at in a different light, it is 
the strongest of social bonds, the basis of the family. Again, 
it is the most intimate of human associations, a union 
for ' mutual society, help and comfort '. These aspects 
of love are not necessarily divorced from each other, but 
if for the purposes of argument we separate them, they 
may be described thus : the love of the animal, of the 
lover, of the father, of the husband. These are the most 
obvious ways in which we may think of love, and these 
are the ways in which the Greeks as a nation thought 
of it. 

But there is another way of viewing love, a favourite 
with modern poetry. Hitherto we have spoken of it as 
an emotion, which, if more than animal, is still natural, 
if idealized, is still earthly. But there is a conception of 
love in which it becomes unearthly, supernatural, the ex- 
clusive food of the soul, the ambrosia which only immortals 
taste ; it is no longer grown in the soil, or ground in the 
mills of earth. Once it was a bond in which man was 
on a level with any animal ; now its physical origins are so 
far forgotten that it becomes a symbol of the union of 
Christ with His Church. Once it was vain and frustrated 
without the satisfaction of desire ; now the rejected 
lover feels that he reaps the fruit of his passion as fully 
as his successful rival. Such is the attitude of many 
modern poets. They ignore the concrete and natural 


aspects of love ; their minds are filled with its spiritual 
satisfactions. Browning looks to his dead wife for ' all 
hope, all sustainment, all reward '- 1 He conceives a lover 
as mystically united to a dead girl, who hardly knew his 
name and was too young to have thought of love. 2 It is 
enough for him to ride with a woman who does not return 
his passion ; 3 with a serene contentment he calls his 
successful rivals blest. 4 

Now whereas modern poetry is largely absorbed in this 
last stage, Greek literature, except for one great writer, 
shows no trace of it. The Greeks took a direct view of 
love, and saw in it either a natural passion, or a social 
tie, or a union for mutual comfort. If any one wishes to 
satisfy himself of this, let him turn to a branch of poetry 
from which love is inseparable, to the Greek drama. Let 
him recall what passages he can bearing on the point, 
and let him supplement these by looking up any references 
to "EpQ>$ and 'A^poSirrj in the Indices in Tragicos Graecos. 
He may ignore Aeschylus, whom Aristophanes makes 
say that he never represented a woman in love ; 5 Sopho- 
cles and Euripides furnish enough material. He will find 
that these writers do not view love as Browning viewed 
it. They are never anything but direct. 

So it is always in Greek literature. Here are some 
typical passages taken partly from the drama, partly from 
elsewhere. The first is a famous love-poem of Sappho, 
which I quote in bald prose, because even the best verse 
translations conceal its simplicity. 

' He seems to me the peer of gods, who sits facing you, 
and hears close to him your sweet voice, your lovely 
laughter : it has made the heart shiver in my breast ; one 

1 Ring and the Book, bk. i . fin. * Evelyn Hope. 

8 Last Ride Together. * One W ay of Love. ' Frogs, 1044. 


glance at you, and my voice fails, my tongue is broken, 
subtle fire runs straightway through my frame, my eyes 
see nothing, there is a roaring in my ears, sweat pours 
down me, a tremor seizes every limb ; I am paler than 
grass in autumn and seem all but dead.' 1 

Translated into other language this means : ' the presence 
of my lover throws my senses off their balance.' The 
emotions described are those of white-hot physical passion 
felt with amazing intensity ; and no one could call it 
anything but earthly. 

Now take a passage which to outward view is more 
in the modern vein. 

Love is not love alone, 
But in her name lie many names concealed ; 
For she is Death, imperishable Force, 
Desire unmixed, wild Frenzy, Lamentation ; 
In her are summed all impulses that drive 
To Violence, Energy, Tranquillity. 
Deep in each living breast the Goddess sinks, 
And all become her prey ; the tribes that swim, 
The fourfoot tribes that pace upon the earth, 

1 fr. 2. KTJVOS iros 
a>VT)p, Sans fvavrtos roi 
KCU ir\arjiov a8v (atvev- 

Kal yfXaiaas ipepotv, TO fj.oi yta 

<as yap ctcrido) ^po^eus <rf, (fxavas 

ov8(v fr* eiKft* 
dXXa Kafj. fj.(v y\Sxrcra fiayf) \firrov 8* 

tWTlKll Xp(S TTV 

o7nrdT<r(ri if ov8ti> 

@ft<rt. 8* uKovut. 

a 8e pi8pas KaK\f(Tai t rp6fj,os fie 
irai<rav uypft, ^Xtopor/pa 8i Troias 

fflfJ.1, Tf6lHlKT)V 8* oXryw 'lTl8VT)S 



Harbour her ; and in birds her wing is sovereign, 

In beasts, in mortal men, in gods above. 

What god but wrestles with her and is thrown ? 

All thoughts of man and deity are shattered 
By Love, without a spear, without a sword. 1 

It may seem at first that this is nearer the modern con- 
ception of love. But read the passage carefully and you 
will see that what is in Sophocles' mind is still love in 
the first stage. Only whereas Sappho is in a white-hot 
passion, Sophocles is calmly reflective on it. But it is 
for him merely a natural thing, a desperate desire which 
makes men mad or contented or miserable or energetic 
or lazy, which kills or makes alive, which is always 
upsetting human calculations and plans. It is still love 
in its earthly stage. 

These two instances illustrate the Greek attitude to 
love in general ; the next is a passage on married love. 
Andromache is speaking of the life she is destined to lead 
as the concubine of Neoptolemus and protesting her 
loyalty to the dead Hector : 

How ? Shall I thrust aside 
Hector's beloved face, and open wide 
My heart to this new lord ? Oh, I should stand 
A traitor to the dead ! . . . 

One night, 

One night . . . aye men have said it ... maketh tame 
A woman in a man's arms . . . O shame, shame ! 
What woman's lips can so forswear her dead ? 
O my Hector ! best beloved, 
That being mine, wast all in all to me, 
My prince, my wise one, my majesty 
Of valiance ! No man's touch had ever come 
Near me, when thou from out my father's home 
Didst lead me and make me thine. 2 

1 Soph. fr. 678. * Eur. Troades 66 1 f. (tr. Murray). 

1358 F 


The words are a little colourless, for while modern love- 
poets proclaim their passion in ambitious language, the 
Greeks were content to feel the thing and leave the 
embroidery alone ; yet, unless we wish for a touch of 
mysticism, it is difficult to see that anything essential 
remains to be added to this conception of marriage. But 
it is absolutely direct. Indeed, the translation makes it 
less so than the Greek warrants. For the lines in italics, 
literally translated, run : ' I had in you a husband 
sufficient for me in wisdom and birth, and great in riches 
and courage.' Andromache regards marriage, not as 
a mystical, supersensual thing, not as a sacrament, but 
as the purely natural affection of a woman for her first 
husband, the husband of her girlhood (aKriparov Xafiav 
7r/oa>roy TO irapQtvtLov egevga) Aexoy), whom she had 
found ' sufficient ' for her, and prized for such sober and 
solid qualities as 'birth, wisdom, courage, and wealth'. 
This is marriage as a union for 'mutual society, help, 
and comfort '. 

Further than that the Greek in general never went. 
He would never have written The last Ride Together, 
Evelyn Hope, One Way of Love, the Epilogue to Fiftne at 
the Fair, and the lines beginning Lyric Love, with which 
the first book of The Ring and the Book closes. Read 
these last two poems ; they deal with the same situation 
as the lines of Euripides above, for they are spoken by 
a husband to a dead wife. But whereas Browning thinks 
of his wife and addresses her as if she were alive, feels 
their intimacy to be unbroken, and looks to her for 
inspiration and comfort, Andromache has no doubt that 
her severance from Hector is complete, and that of their 
bond nothing but the privilege of fidelity remains. The 
one union depends on, the other is independent of, space 


and time. Browning is mystical ; Euripides, though 
no one could call his sentiments unideal, keeps his feet 
firm on the earth. He sees no more in marriage than the 
obvious facts of it warrant. He sees it as Alcman saw 
the seagull, with directness. 

So the Greek saw everything. Here are three further 
instances, passages on the loss of children, on friendship, 
and on death. Subjects averse to directness of treatment ; 
subjects lending themselves to much false pathos and 
false sentiment ; subjects through which any writer 
treads warily. But the Greek is quite frank on them, r 
he calls a spade a spade, and even if his words in two 
of these cases may seem naive, in the third few will 
deny that they are heart-searching, whether we agree 
with them or not. 

The first instance is from the Supplices of Euripides. 
The mothers of the Argive chiefs who have fallen under 
the walls of Thebes are lamenting for their dead sons. This 
is what they say : ' Ah child, I nursed you to unhappiness ; 
I bore you in my womb and suffered the agony of travail. 
But to-day the grave holds that burden, and I have 
none to feed my old age, though I bore, alas, a son.' x 
Tripofioo-Kov OVK ex, ' I have none to feed my old age.' 
It will be found that most English translations practically 
expurgate this phrase. They instinctively tone it down. 
And indeed it is safe to say that any writer, except 
a Greek, would have omitted these words. He would 
have dwelt on the misery of bereavement, on the blight 
that fell on youth and promise ; but he would not 
have allowed his characters to put the prospect of a 
destitute old age so prominently forward in their grounds 
for grief. He would have been more conventional and 
1 Sup-pi. 923 f. 


more safe. Even in the ruder English poetry, where one 
might expect to find such things, I cannot remember 
any place where this particular disadvantage of losing 
a husband or a son is mentioned ; the balladist contents 
himself with saying simply 

Next morning many widows came 
Their husbands to bewail. 

But at least four of Euripides' plays have references of 
this kind to the yrjpopoa-Kos, 1 and the theme is a regular 
one in Greek tragedy. The Greek plunges directly for 
what certainly is a serious inconvenience to a human 
family the loss of the bread-winner. He shocks our 
sentimentality, for he has none of his own. He looks 
straight at life. 

Here is a second instance of Greek directness, taken from 
a philosopher. Aristotle is talking about friendship. The 
subject must have suggested many admirable common- 
places, and even had Aristotle refrained from them, he 
might have felt that on such a subject his motto 
should be eu^/m. But these are his words : ' a friend 
is a good thing ; for not only are friends intrinsically 
desirable, but they are productive in a number of ways.' 2 
Yet Aristotle was no cynic, as his account of friendship 
in the Ethics shows. Nor is he merely joking. For we 
find that Socrates, too, speaks of friends as trees worth 

1 Med. 1033 ; Ale. 663 ; Phoen. 1436 ; and this passage : 
perhaps Ion, 475. Xenophon, Oec. 7. 19, says that men and 
women marry, firstly that the race may not fail ; ' secondly by 
this pairing human beings provide themselves with yrjpoftovKoL' 
Generally, throughout Greek drama, whether on this topic or 
on any other, it would be difficult to find a single instance of false 
sentiment. A glance at the tragedies of Seneca will show, by 
contrast, what that means. 

* Rhet. i362b 19. 


cultivating for their fruit, and deplores the neglect of 
such profitable investments. ' What other possession is 
in the least comparable to a good friend ? ' (So far there 
is nothing uncommon ; but the following remarks sound 
strange to modern ears.) ' What horse or team of animals 
is so useful as a good friend, what slave is so well-disposed 
and constant, what other possession is so entirely ex- 
cellent ? . . . And yet while some people will tend trees 
for their fruit, most of us are lazy and careless in their 
attentions to that all-productive property which we call 
a friend.' 1 

What cynicism ! we think. But it is not cynicism, 
only a perfect frankness, which does not shrink from 
drawing consequences and is not ashamed of uttering 
them. It is always meeting us : in an openness of speech 
about, and allusion to, sexual matters (witness quite 
casual phrases and metaphors in the tragedians), which 
at least had this result, that it kept Greek literature 
singularly free from pruriency : in candid admissions 
about courage and cowardice, a topic where moderns 
are particularly reticent. ' I do not undertake to fight 
with ten or with two, nor indeed willingly with one,' 
says Demaratus to Xerxes. A young Athenian soldier, 
explaining to a jury his feelings after the defeat at Coronea, 
says : ' the archons voted to select detachments as sup- 
ports, and we were all afraid naturally, gentlemen ; it was 
a terrible thing, after barely getting off safe a little before, 
to be thrown into new dangers.' Aristotle avows that 
only ' insane or insensible ' men do not fear earthquakes 
and storms at sea ; and adds : ' it seems that the citizens 
are induced to face dangers by the penalties and censures 
which the laws inflict and by the honours which they 
1 Xen. Mem. 2. 4. 5 f. 


confer.' l If a modern man thought these things, would 
he have the directness to say them ? 

One more instance ; a better one than the preceding, 
for it brings us near the deeper things of life. It is taken 
from the Funeral Speech, which was delivered in the first 
year of the Peloponnesian War. There was a public 
funeral in the Cerameicus for those who had fallen during 
the year, and all Athens was there to hear Pericles give 
the address over their graves. He had no easy task to 
perform. Obituary consolations are notoriously difficult, 
and Pericles had not even the belief that these dead had 
passed into an eternal life. Below him in the crowd he 
could see those whose husbands, fathers, sons had fallen. 
What was he to say when he came to speak of their loss ? 
It was difficult to avoid ' vacant chaff well-meant for grain '. 
This is what he says : 

' You know that your life has been passed among 
manifold vicissitudes ; and that they may be thought 
fortunate who have gained most honour, whether an 
honourable death like your sons, or an honourable 
sorrow like yours. I know how hard it is to make you 
feel this, when the good fortune of others will too often 
remind you of the gladness which once lightened your 
hearts. The deepest sorrow is felt at the loss of blessings 
to which we have grown accustomed. Some of you are of 
an age at which they may hope to have other children, and 
they ought to bear their sorrow better. Not only will the 
children who may be born hereafter make them forget 
their own lost ones, but the city will be a gainer. To those 
of you who have passed their prime, I say : " Congratulate 
yourselves that you have been happy during the greater 
part of your days ; remember that your life of sorrow 
will not last long, and be comforted by the glory of those 
who are gone. Honour is the delight of men when they 
are old and useless." ' 2 

1 Hdt. 7. 104. Lysias, Or. 16. 16. Aristotle, 1 1 1 5 b , 27 ; 1 1 16*, 
1 8. So Aeschines, In Ctes. 175. * Thuc. 2. 44. 


That is cold comfort, for childlessness in the eyes of 
a Greek was a far greater misfortune than it is to us. 1 
Yet Pericles does not spare his audience, or minimize their 
loss. He dwells on it, returns to it, enforces it on their 
minds. He even reminds them how often in days to come 
it will return to them. Others have thought it better to 
have loved and lost than never to have loved. Pericles 
disagrees and he will not spare his hearers the point. And 
what is the consolation he offers ? That some shall make 
themselves useful to Athens by having more children ; 
while the others must console themselves in a ' useless old 
age ' with their neighbours' respect. There is no mincing 
of words here ; no shrinking from facts. We may not 
think that Pericles is right ; but at any rate, he has 
looked death straight in the face. We can see that, if 
we set against the words of Pericles a fine piece of senti- 
ment on the same subject. It is an extract from Dryden's 
Ode to the Memory of Mrs. Anne Killigrew. 

Thou youngest Virgin-Daughter of the Skies, 

Made in the last promotion of the Blest ; 
Whose Palms, new pluckt from Paradise, 
In spreading Branches more sublimely rise, 

Rich with Immortal Green above the rest : 
Whether, adopted to some Neighbouring Star, 
Thou roll'st above us in thy wand'ring Race, 

Or, in Procession fixt and regular, 
Mov'd with the Heavens Majestick pace : 

Or, called to more Superior Bliss, 
Thou tread'st, with Seraphims, the vast Abyss : 
Whatever happy region is thy place, 
Cease thy Celestial Song a little space ; 
(Thou wilt have time enough for Hymns Divine, 

Since Heav'ns Eternal Year is thine.) 

1 Euripides puts children before ' wealth and royal halls ' : 
/on, 482 see the whole passage and Greek literature passim. 


Hear then a Mortal Muse thy praise rehearse 

In no ignoble Verse, 

But such as thy own voice did practise here 
When thy first Fruits of poesie were given, 
To make thyself a welcome Inmate there ; 
While yet a young Probationer, 
And Candidate of Heav'n. 

Certainly this is ' no ignoble verse '. But read again the 
passage from the Funeral Speech quoted above. It has 
indeed none of Dryden's conscious art ; as its language, 
so its sentiments are bald and almost brutal ; many people 
might think that if these were all the fruits of patriotism, 
and these all the rewards of the pains of child-bearing 
and child-rearing, then S. Paul was right to say that the 
Greeks were without hope in the world. But right or 
wrong, Thucydides has at any rate felt far more deeply 
than Dryden, what death is. He has not obscured its 
form with a mist of convention and sentiment. He has 
brought us really into its presence, and his words, if 
they are put by the side of Dryden's, simply kill them. 
Dryden's lines are beautiful, not without feeling, and, in 
their stately and imaginative phrasing, the work of a real 
poet. We might read them delightfully in an armchair 
by the fireside ; but would they not seem a mockery in 
a house of death ? 

It is more usual to define first and illustrate afterwards ; 
we have inverted the process and given instances of a 
quality before we analysed it. We saw that the Greeks did 
not view love as Dante, or death as Dryden, or seagulls 
as Mrs. Browning ; that they admitted the material 
uses of friends and children with nai've candour : and we 
gave the name directness to the habit of mind in virtue 


of which they did this. We must now return and define 
more exactly what directness is. 

Two things it is not. It is not, as we might at first 
be inclined to think, an absence of convention. If 
any one maintains that the Greeks did not descend to 
such a thing, it is easy to convict him by pointing to the 
Greek drama, which with its chorus, its three actors, 
its queer stage machinery, its long harangues, its fabulous 
mythology, has far more conventions than our own. 
But that is no discredit to it. All literatures work through 
authorized and accepted forms. Rhythm, metre, language 
itself, are conventions. But convention is not conven- 
tionality, and its employment is consistent with absolute 
inner truthfulness of feeling. We may wear a collar, 
a dress coat, or even a fancy costume, without thereby 
becoming insincere. These are the lines on which we 
might answer any one who argued that Euripides and 
others, using the old myths without always believing in 
them, could not be called direct. 

Nor yet does directness mean that the Greeks had an 
unerring view into the real nature of things, and that, 
like skilful surgeons, they could cut within a millimetre 
of their mark. This is too much to claim for them. Such 
accuracy of insight has not been given to man, and 
whether we turn to their philosophers' speculations on 
the universe, or to their poets' dreams about the Gods, 
we shall find that in common with all humanity, they 
made their blunders and had their blind eye. That is 
no discredit to them either, for every age has beliefs 
which its successor will disown. Milton depicts Satan 
striding across the sea of burning marie, and Shakespeare 
shows Prospero conversing with a winged spirit. Yet 
Satan is none the less a living portrait of rebellious pride, 


nor Prospero less a pattern of the charitable wisdom of old 
age, because their creators placed them in a setting which 
we find incredible. Similarly Aeschylus and Euripides 
kept their hold on real life in spite of legend and myth. 

We shall understand more easily the quality of which 
we are speaking, when we remember that the Greeks 
were a primitive people. They were simpler, less sophisti- 
cated, more naive than we, for they stood nearer to 
the morning of the world, and had inherited fewer 
traditions of thought, smaller accumulations of knowledge. 
There is something childlike about them. Like children 
they were sometimes deceitful and often mistaken, but 
romanticism and sentimentality had not yet taken hold 
upon them. Like children they had an amazing power 
of going straight to the point. The freshness with which 
they looked at the most common things and lighted 
instinctively on truths ' which we are groping all our 
lives to find ', is childlike ; and very childlike is the 
directness which saw in things no more than is actually 
there. Only they were children with the intellects of men. 

This primitiveness, this simplicity of the Greeks is in 
the first instance responsible for the qualities on which 
their admirers so often dwell, their lucidity, their con- 
creteness, their definiteness, their ' eternal outline ', 
their directness. They were too young for many of the 
tastes of our own age. They themselves said that they 
disliked TO aireipov, the infinite, ' that of which the 
end cannot be seen : ' the mysterious as a whole was 
disagreeable to them, and they were infinitely far from 
the deliberate exploitation of it, by which Maeterlinck, 
Verlaine, and the modern symbolists live. 1 They had 

1 A. Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature, gives a 
convenient account of modern symbolism. 


no part in those familiar phenomena of modern poetry, 
its rebellion against the actual, its cry for the impossible, 
its reaching away from the finite, its obstinate questioning 
of sense and outward things, its aspiration towards 
unrealized worlds. They did not seek, like Mrs. Browning, 
for a half-human soul in seabirds : nor, like Shelley, 
did they flutter in the illimitable inane, expressing the 
material in terms of the immaterial : 1 nor, when they 
wished to describe the fading of a rose, did they write, 

like Blake : 

O Rose, thou art sick ! 
The invisible worm 
That flies in the night, 
In the howling storm, 

Has found out thy bed 
Of crimson joy ; 
And his dark secret love 
Does thy life destroy. 

Nor did they wanton in mere beauty, using language and 
painting situations, because, though unreal, they are 
picturesque or pleasant ; like Vergil, who introduces 
rustics talking politics in limelight scenery, or like Ovid, 
who spends his genius on characters as unreal, if as 
beautiful, as the courtiers and shepherdesses of Dresden 
china ; like Dryden, who thinks to annihilate death by 
describing its victim as moving across heaven in the 
procession of the stars ; like Heine, who talks of a pine on 
a snowclad northern hill, dreaming of a palm in the burning 
East ; like Mr. Housman, who tells us that if we go to 
a certain bridge in Shropshire, we shall hear his soul 
' sighing above the glimmering weirs '. Nor did they 
wallow in luxurious emotions of sentimentality, trying 
at all costs to be magnificent or heroic or pathetic or 
1 F. Thompson's essay on Shelley, p. 58. 


picturesque, sacrificing truth to effect, leaving reality 
to follow a phantom, which in the end disappoints them 
of their quest : thus they escaped the commonest vice of 
our literature, which flaws forty-nine out of fifty among 
its novels, and from which few even of our greatest writers 
are free. They have nothing which answers to the unreal 
pathos of Dickens, the intolerable falsity of Pope, the 
pose of Byron, the affectations of Bulwer Lytton. 

Instead they did what Mrs. Browning did not do with 
the seagull, nor Dryden with death, nor Vergil with 
the Italian rustic, nor Blake with the rose, nor Byron 
with himself they kept their eye on their subject, and 
wrote down what the eye saw there. They were finite 
and actual : they lived in a realized world. They looked 
at things naked, and found that the seagull was an 
ordinary bird and love a very definite emotion. They 
did not search in them for more than meets the eye, but 
were content with their beauty as it is. There is quite 
enough beauty, they thought, in the real thing, if you 
will only open your eyes and see it. They knew too that 
parents were badly off when their children died, that 
friends were profitable, that children dead in battle 
could never be replaced when their parents were past a 
certain age. They said so frankly at once. They were not 
sentimental about these things. 

Here let us guard against a misconception into which 
we might slip. Some modern writers are very unsenti- 
mental : they plume themselves on looking straight at 
life : they open one eye and see all the ugliness, meanness, 
and odiousness of things, and produce literature brutal 
and bitter to a degree at which subsequent generations 
will wonder. Do not let us suppose that Greek directness 
led to any such results. It did not mean pessimism. 


The Greeks had both eyes open, and did not overlook 
good and beauty because they were able to see evil. They 
knew that life, like light, can be decomposed into many 
colours, and is really neither dark nor bright, but many- 
hued. So they never fell into sordid ' realism '. In their 
saddest moments and a tone of sadness runs through 
all Greek literature they remembered that they had 
received good at the hand of God as well as evil. ' Rejoice,' 
writes Archilochus, ' in what is delightful, and be not 
overvexed at ill : and recognize what a balance our life 
maintains.' l ' I weep not for thee,' is the epitaph of 
one friend over another, 'for thou knewest many fair 
things ; and again God dealt thee thy lot of ill.' 2 
Light balanced against darkness ; darkness balanced 
against light. That is the Greek attitude, and it is the 
truest realism. 

Directness of the kind of which we have been speaking 
is a quality which the Greek shares with writers of every 
race. Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales is as direct as Homer, 
so are the Icelandic Sagas : so is all early literature : for 
the poets who write it are young-eyed people in a young 
world. And because affectation and sentimentality are 
not the necessary accompaniments, though they are 
the dangers, of culture, directness persists in every age, 
and for the most part prevails over its opposites. But 
always, as time advances, this primitive simplicity tends 
to give place to complication, affectation, unreality. The 
Euphues of Lyly, the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney mark 
such a progression in our own literature. Was there 
nothing analogous in Greece ? . Did not the world become 
stale to its writers, so that they took their eyes off it and 
followed fancy or beauty into regions of unreality ? In 

1 fr. 66. * Stobaeus, Flor. 124, p. 616 (tr. Mackail). 


the age of Euripides, for instance, when at least two 
centuries of poetry had been outlived, and the first bloom 
had passed from the world, shall we not find that Greece 
forsook directness for other attractions ? 

Certainly we see signs of such a movement in the fifth 
century. The extravagances of Aeschylus it is easy 
to exaggerate their number may be due to a unique 
Titanic nature. But the Phaedrus and Symposium of 
Plato, at which we shall glance later, show a new spirit, 
and the choruses of the Bacchae are full of romanticism. 

Lines like 

nav $ (Tfi/e/3a/f)(ei/ opoy 
KOI Ofjpes. 

attribute, in the modern manner, animate emotions to 
inanimate things. 1 The writer of the Treatise on the 
Sublime in his third chapter quotes instances of that 
subordination of truth to effect, of reality to pose, which 
is the greatest enemy to directness : and Plato has parodied 
it in Agathon's speech in the Symposium. If we go to 
later writers we shall find the same spirit in Alexandrian 
literature ; and it is the abiding vice of that New Sophistry 
which was the great work of the second century A. D. 
Still, before Alexandrian times, these are rare exceptions. 
Of the instances of directness given above, the most part 
came from comparatively late writers, from Thucydides, 
Aristotle, Xenophon, Sophocles, Euripides himself. And 
if we go to still later times, it is the same ; Theocritus, 

1 Bacchae, 726-7 : ' The wild beasts and all the mountain 
revelled with them ' (a-wtftaKxfvt has been taken to mean ' rang 
with the name of Bacchus ' : but that is not its natural meaning, 
and the author of the jrtp\ tyovs took it as above, c. 15); cp. 
Aesch. fr. 58 evBovaui 89 So^ia, f$aK\(v(i artyr). Both these in- 
stances, it is to be noticed, occur in connexion with Bacchic 


Polybius, the epigrammatists, Lucian, are as ' direct ' and 
truthful as Homer or Alcman. This is enough to show 
that directness was not merely the transitory bloom of 
the youth of Hellenism. 

Its persistence was in part due to a fortunate accident. 
At the moment when romanticism and sentimentality 
might have seized them, the Greeks were passing through 
a severe discipline of scientific and philosophic thought. 
Dialectics, logic, ethics, natural science, were created 
or developed during the fifth century, and in an air 
which is full of these forces, the fanciful and the insincere 
find it hard to breathe. Logic would hammer them to hear 
if they rang true, dialectic would toss them up and down 
to see if they hung together, science would insist on know- 
ing if they corresponded to facts. Thus if Euripides or his 
successors tried a flight into mere fantasy, there was always 
something to restrain them. They had learnt to think 
and criticize, to trust their brains, to recognize that mere 
imagination could not guarantee what reason would 
disown, to keep the feet on earth even when the head was 
in the clouds ; and this is almost as effective a safeguard 
of directness, as natural simplicity of mind. 1 Even when 
they came to deal with philosophy, in which directness 
is difficult, and the unknown and the indefinite have to 
be faced, the Greeks still turned towards the concrete, 
and as far as possible checked their conceptions by 
references to earth : compare the moral philosophy of 
Aristotle with that of T. H. Green, and the difference 
is apparent. A self-perpetuating tradition had been 
founded which, even in ages of decadence, and even for 
writers of metaphysics, kept its clarifying power. 

1 How much the world might have missed, had the modern 
symbolists received a rigorous training in logic or science ! 


Pages have been spent in defining directness, and the 
reader may complain that though many phrases and 
metaphors have been discharged at him, and though he 
has been told what it is not, he still lacks a positive 
definition. If he does so, we will answer him by piling 
our metaphors and phrases in a heap, and saying that to 
be direct is to keep the feet on the earth, to shrink from 
mysticism, to be concrete and definite ; to dwell on the 
' unimaginary ' qualities of things, to see things naked, 
to keep the eye on them ; to avoid sentimentalism and 
all forms of literary falsity : in fine, to have the outlook 
V^on life of a simple, naive, childlike mind. 

This is the second ingredient in that Hellenic truth- 
fulness of which Goethe spoke ; by it the Greeks were 


To bear all naked truths, 
And to envisage circumstance, all calm : * 

and because of it, we seem in their literature to watch 
the immediate image of life, unrefracted by any disturbing 
medium, just as to-day, off their coasts, the traveller 
sometimes sails over a sunken sarcophagus, and far 
below him can see the carven figures on it, clear and 
undistorted through the pellucid waters. 

Some people think that the world can have too much 
of directness, and quarrel with precisely the quality 
which we have been praising. It is just here, they argue, 
that we have advanced beyond the Greeks. By a less 
exact fidelity to hard fact we have immensely enriched 
life and poetry, as by their strictness the Greeks im- 
poverished both. Fancy playing with the picturesque and 
pretending that it is true : Reverie in its dreamworld : 
1 Keats, Hyperion, bk. 2. 


Poetic Pantheism, with its sympathetic interpretation 
of nature : none of these were known to the old Greek 
world. They would have withered away in the blaze of 
its directness. 

True, it is a clear light in which the Greeks lived ; 
but there is a quality of coldness and hardness in its tone. 
We miss the richness, the variety of light and shadow, 
which our own literature possesses. Greece never learnt, 
like the symbolists, to indicate the vague emotions which 
hover on the verge of consciousness : it ignores the infinite 
mystery of things or reduces it to a minimum. Its clarity 
palls on us like the transparent atmosphere and vivid 
colours of Switzerland, till we long for mistier outlines 
and bluer distances. And more. It is hostile, a critic 
might argue, to sentiment as well as to sentimentality. 
A whole range of thought and feeling is wanting in 
Hellenism. There is hardly a trace in it of that poetry 
of failure, in which writing of weakness and disaster, 
a poet so treats his subject that we almost feel the 
weakness to be a virtue and the disaster a success. Such 
sentiment is present, perhaps, in Shakespeare's Richard II, 
and Marlowe's Edward II : it is the life and soul of the 
poetry and prose of Jacobitism ; Browning dallies with it ; l 
and it inspires much modern minor poetry, notably that 
of the Irish school and of Francis Thompson. There is 
none of this sentiment hi the Greeks. They do not admire 
and exalt failure, they do not disguise it : they look at 
it far too directly to do either the one or the other. With 
an infinite sense of the tragedy, then: literature goes 
forward in its splendid way, passing inexorably by the 
dying, leaving the wounded to lie where they fall, offering 
no consolation to the mourner. Hector dies, and Homer 

1 e.g. in A bt Vogler; and in his praise of the man who ' aiming 
at a million misses a unit.' 

1358 G 


simply says that ' his soul flew forth from his limbs and 
was gone to the house of Hades, wailing her fate, leaving 
her vigour and youth ' ; x and passes on to describe his 
mutilation by Achilles and the hopeless tears of his wife. 
Troy is .burnt, its men killed, Astyanax thrown from the 
walls before his mother's eyes. Yet, as the play ends and 
they pass into slavery, the Trojan women only say, ' Alas ! 
unhappy city : still, turn thou thy feet to the galleys of 
Greece.' 2 

Against these pronouncements, merciless and inevitable 
as those of fate, our sentiment rebels. 

el IJ.GV yap iroXe/jtov irfpl rovSt fyvyovrt 
aUt $r) fieXXoifjLff dyrjp<o r' ddavdrco re 

If we were unageing and immortal all our days, if there 
were no such things as ill health or failure, then we might 
live in this blaze of white light, which befits the deities of 
Olympus and an Olympian humanity : but as it is, let 
us turn to Greece when we are elated and triumphant, 
but keep for our hours of depression and disappointment 
the twilight world of sentiment, where irrevocable defeat 
is in imagination retrieved, and the paths again lie open, 
which illness, folly, sin, or want of parts have finally 
closed, where failure takes the form of success, and death 
itself is transmuted into something rich and strange. 

Such, put briefly, is a plea which might be made against 
Hellenism : it is the plea of colour versus light. The 
case is easier to put than to decide : and in default of an 
impartial judge we will use a method consecrated by poetic 
usage to settle the dispute. We will ascertain what we 
should gain by the Greek directness, and what we should 

1 //. 22. 361-3. * Eur. Troad. 1331-2. 

3 //. 12. 322-4. ' If we were destined to escape this war and be 
for ever ageless and immortal.' 


lose by it ; and, as Dionysus once put the tragedies of 
Aeschylus and Euripides in opposing scales, so we will 
weigh our losses against our gains. 

Suppose we adopt directness. First, we shall lose the 
' poetry of failure ' spoken of above ; and must console 
ourselves by remembering that a great deal of minor 
poetry will disappear under that head. Then, we shall 
lose all the poetry which owes its origin to the love of 
rhetoric. Rhetoric is always tempting men to close their 
eyes to facts, to ' talk big ', to use, irrespective of their 
truth, phrases that ring well and flatter the ear ; to 
say what sounds effective or picturesque or pathetic or 
magnanimous ; to see things as we should like them to 
be, as public opinion approves of their being, anyhow 
but as they are. Such poetry is incompatible with direct- 
ness and perishes in its presence. And so we should lose 
a good deal of Latin poetry. For the Romans, with their 
passion for rhetoric, are continually saying things that 
sound very well, but are simply untrue. Their literature 
is full of false sentiment, of unreal points, of rhetorical lies. 1 
Here is a passage from Lucan : 

Victurosque dei celant, ut vivere durent, 
Felix esse mori. 2 

Of course, in point of fact, the gods do nothing of the sort ; 
nor under ordinary circumstances is there any happiness 

1 The following passage from De Quincey's essay on Rhetoric 
is interesting in this connexion, though some people might disagree 
with his views. ' Among the greater orators of Greece there is not 
a solitary gleam of rhetoric. . . . Isocrates may have a little, being 
. . . neither orator nor rhetorician in any eminent sense.' This 
quality in Greek oratory De Quincey attributes ' to the intense 
reality of its interest'. And if this can be said of Demosthenes 
and Lysias, how much more can it be said of the poets and 
thinkers of Greece I 

2 Lucan, 4. 519. 'From those who are to live the gods conceal 
the happiness of death, that they may continue in life.' 


in death. Only the sentiment has a sham Stoical ring, and 
appeals in its rhetorical unreality to all that is rhetorical 
and unreal in us or was rhetorical and unreal in Lucan's 
contemporaries. Ovid is even fuller of unreality than 
Lucan, though his unreality is of a different kind. The 
following is a passage from an imaginary letter of Dido 
to Aeneas : 

Your sword before me while I write does lie, 

And by it, if I write in vain, I die. 

My tears flow down ; the sharp edge cuts their flood, 

And drinks my sorrows, that must drink my blood. 

How well thy gift does with my fate agree ; 

My funeral pomp is cheaply made by thee. 

To no new wounds my bosom I display, 

The sword but enters where love made the way. 

And she concludes by suggesting a suitable epitaph : 

The cause of death and sword by which she died 
Aeneas gave ; the rest herself supplied. 1 

Now these sentiments may show wit, cleverness and a 
certain gift of tinsel pathos, but they are not real ; such 
words would not have been written by a heart-broken 
woman in antiquity any more than now, and Ovid is 
untrue to life in making her write them. Hence, though 
poetry like this may be attractive to us, if we wish to 
be entertained or stimulated by literature, and require 
of it merely cleverness or fancy or artistic grace, it will 
not satisfy any deeper needs. It will not serve as a 
serious document for the study of humanity and its 
ways ; it will not sustain or inspire or comfort, for it 
has not that higher sincerity which penetrates to the 
All this verse we shall lose ; and with it much of Latin 

1 Heroides, vii. 11. 184-90, 195-6. The translation, which is 
mainly Dryden's, exactly gives the feeling of the original. 


literature, condemned because it is unreal, and tries to get 
past our sense of fact by appealing to our sentimentality 
or to our sense of beauty, and so charming us into admira- 
tion of it. The Romans took kindly to the literary 
pastoral, and the literary epic, and the sham didactic 
poem ; they revelled in the undigested mythology of 
another race. They are imitative and second-hand, 
content to dispense with direct experience of life and 
translate into their own language the emotions and thought 
of others ; for the most part their fingers do not touch 
the pulse of life. Vergil's Pastorals and Georgics are charm- 
ing ; but his shepherds are sham ones and keep no sheep, 
nor are any genuine labourers at work in his fields. Only 
Lucretius among Latin poets will show us the hard struggle 
of man with the earth. And if we only keep Vergil in 
selections, we shall have some difficulty in keeping Ovid 
at all. When he is animal, he is no doubt sincere ; but in 
general he spends his time in the company of mythological 
marionettes, in whose reality neither he nor any one else 
could possibly believe. 

Finally, there will be losses nearer home, of all literature 
which has not the stamp of entire sincerity. We shall 
lose masses of eighteenth-century poetry with its surrender 
of truth to pointed epigram or conventional diction ; 
masses of modern poetry with its surrender of truth to 
luxurious emotion ; much from the Idylls of the King 
and from poems like Enoch Arden, in which, to quote a 
famous criticism, there is more simplesse than simplicity. 
Quantities of Shelley will disappear. We shall keep the 
last chorus of Hellas, but some of the most exquisite 
stanzas of Adonais will dissolve. We shall hear no more 
of the Mighty Mother, the Dreams and Splendours, the 
Twilight Fantasies. Such phantoms of Romance cannot 
live in honest sunlight, and we shall prefer as our models, 



either the simply truthful words in which Antigone looks 
forward to joining her dead : 

a) KaTacrKa(f>r)$ 

aetypovpos, d 
?rpoy rody e/iai/TTyy, cov dpiOftbv kv 

Kapr v tTTi<nv rpeot> 
Trarpi, 7rpo<r(f>i\ri$ tie (rot, 
fifjrep, <f>i\T) 5e aoi, Kaa-iyvrjTov Kapa. 1 

or the preface to A donais, a work of Hellenic sincerity. Set 
fragments from the preface and the poem side by side, and 
the point will become clear. 

' John Keats died at Rome of a consumption, in his 
24th year, on the - of - 1821 ; and was buried in 
the romantic and lonely cemetery of the Protestants in that 
city, under the pyramid which is the tomb of Cestius, and 
the massy walls and towers, now mouldering and desolate, 
which formed the circuit of ancient Rome. The cemetery 
is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with 
violets and daisies. . . . 

* The circumstances of the closing scene of poor Keats's 
life were not made known to me till the Elegy was ready 
for the press. I am given to understand that the wound 
which his sensitive spirit had received from the criticism 
of Endymion was exasperated by the bitter sense of 
unrequited benefits ; the poor fellow seems to have been 
hooted from the stage of life, no less by those on whom he 
had wasted the promise of his genius, than those on whom 
he had lavished his fortune and his care.' 

Is not this at least as noble a tribute to Keats as the 
cloudy splendour of the stanzas that follow it ? 

1 Soph. Ant. 891-4, 897-9. Mr - Whitelaw translates : 

O tomb ! O nuptial chamber ! O house deep-delved 
In earth, safeguarded ever ! To thee I come 
And to my kin in thee, who many a one 
Are with Persephone, dead among the dead : 
But a good hope I cherish, that, come there, 
My father's love will greet me, yea and thine, 
. My mother and thy welcome, brother dear. 


Where wert thou, mighty Mother, when he lay, 

When thy Son lay, pierced by the shaft which flies 

In darkness ? where was lorn Urania 

When Adonais died ? With veiled eyes, 

'Mid listening Echoes, in her Paradise 

She sate, while one, with soft enamoured breath, 

Rekindled all the fading melodies, 

With which, like flowers that mock the corse beneath, 

He had adorned and hid the coming bulk of Death. 

We shall lose all verse of this pattern, which is, truth- 
fully considered, only a 'monumental mockery'. And 
we could enumerate many other losses, at the nature 
of which the reader can guess by referring to pages 90 
to 92 above. 

The losses in our list have been rising in value as we 
progressed, and many people who would surrender Ovid 
or Lucan may hesitate when they are called upon to 
part with Adonais. But if they would really learn the 
lesson of Hellenism, they may have to make sacrifices 
even greater than that. The love of the unknown, the 
voluntary surrender to the emotions which it arouses, 
are as uncommon in Greek as they are common in 
modern poetry. The Greeks did not indulge the soaring 
imagination which loves to lose itself in an altitudo, 
or muse on the strangeness of a world in which man 
walks with wonder and humility amid riddles and 
mysteries, himself the greatest riddle and mystery of all. 
True, there are exceptions ; Plato, whom we must keep for 
special treatment ; Aeschylus somewhat, in whose plays 

Giant shapes silently flitting 
Pile the dim outlines of the coming doom. 

In the close of the Oedipus Coloneus there is a trace of 
similar feeling, and perhaps something allied to it in the 
Bacchae. But, unless it be from Plato and his late descen- 
dants, it would be difficult, if not impossible, really to 


parallel in Greek literature, either Pascal, le silence eternel 
de ces espaces inftnis m'effraie, 1 or Vaughan : 

On some gilded cloud or flower 
My gazing soul would dwell an hour, 
And in those weaker glories spy 
Some shadows of eternity. 

or Wordsworth indulging 

That blessed mood 

In which the burthen of the mystery, 
In which the heavy and the weary weight 
Of all this unintelligible world 
Is lightened : that serene and blessed mood 
In which the affections gently lead us on, 
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame 
And even the motion of our human blood 
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep 
In body, and become a human soul ; 
While with an eye made quiet by the power 
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, 
We see into the life of things. 2 

Such emotions are surely alien from the main drift of 
Greek literature. Greek wonder was milder in quality. 
' There are many strange things, and nothing is stranger 
than man/ 3 says Sophocles ; yes, but when we read 
further we find that man is strange because he sails the sea, 
1 ploughs the earth, founds cities and rules his kind. Just 
subjects for wonder, doubtless ; but put this beside the 
profound amazement of Pascal, frightened by ' the 

1 Pensees, 206. 

1 It is noticeable that in the next lines Wordsworth half repents of 
these words and relapses into a more ' direct ', a more Greek view 
of the situation : 

If this 

Be but a vain belief, yet, oh ! how oft 
In darkness and amid the many shapes 
Of joyless daylight . . . 
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee 
O sylvan Wye I 

Lines composed above Tintern Abbey. 
1 Ant. 332. 


eternal silence of these infinite spaces ', and mark the 
difference between ancient and, modern. 1 

On our judgement of the value of these feelings of wonder 
will largely depend our judgement of the completeness 
or incompleteness of Greek literature. Many people will 
feel that the classical Greeks as a whole felt wonder too 
little, and were, to adapt Carlyle's epigram, more at home 
in Zion than any one has a right to be ; that the world 
seemed too simple to them, simpler than it is. Since their 
day the floor of heaven, which they thought solid, has been 
shattered, and revealed abysses of infinite spaces behind ; 
and in the world of the spirit an analogous enlargement 
was made, when Christianity broke up the old limitations 
of humanity and spread a belief in its infinite possibilities. 

But let us turn to the compensations which Greek 
directness has to offer us. If we achieve it, our first gain 
will be a far keener sense of the beauty and interest of 
the ordinary simple things around us. Most of us pass 
through life, as people go for walks at Oxford, with 
their eyes on nothing in particular, and their mind on 
anything but the beauty through which they move. 
Existence is a prolonged somnambulism with rare moments 
of waking. Even when our eyes are open, they are fixed 
sometimes on sordid details, sometimes on abstruse and 
complicated topics, and miss the ordinary things which lie 
at our feet. Our poets are no better : they soar away 
from the common earth and lift us with them into ideal 
worlds. Shakespeare keeps listening to the ' still sad 
music of humanity ', Milton's vision is ' with dreadful 

1 The same quality of Hellenism is indicated by the primitive 
character of music the most suggestive of arts in Greece, and 
by the lateness of the appearance of the conception of personality 
the most mysterious of conceptions ; the first faint traces of it 
are found, I believe, in Aristotle. 


faces thronged and fiery arms ', Shelley lives ' pinnacled 
dim in the intense inane '. 

But while Shelley tries at the expense of twenty-one 
verses to make me think of his skylark as a ' blithe spirit ' 
(which I know it is not), Sappho and Simonides with four 
words 1 make me see a real nightingale, and give me a 
greater and a far saner pleasure than Shelley's ' unbodied 
joy ' could give. For the Greeks walked through life with 
their eyes open, and did not miss 6 /car' 7//*ap /St'oroy. I 
open my volume of the lyric poets, and it is this charac- 
teristic which meets me on every page. The writer's feet 
are on the earth, and its sights and sounds are before 
them. The visions they see are not Shelley's, but a girl 
who cannot mind her loom for thinking of her lover ; 2 or 
shepherds trampling down the bluebells as they follow 
their flocks on the hills ; 3 or a stormy night and men 
drinking beside blazing logs ; 4 or a common barndoor 

1 Sapph. fr. 39 *Hpos ayyt\os , l/jifp6(p<at>os dfjStoi', ' The messenger 
of spring, the lovely- voiced nightingale. Simon, fr. 73 dfjtiovfs 
TroXwcwTiXoi x\u>pavxevfs flapivai, ' The warbling nightingales with 
olive necks, the birds of spring.' 

* Sapph. fr. 90 : 

TXvKfia [WTtp, OVTOI Bvvafjiai Kpexyv TOV icrrov 
Troda da/Melcra 7ral8os fipabivav 81 'A.<pp68iTav. 

1 Dear mother, I cannot weave my web ; I am overcome with 
longing for the boy, by the doing of delicate Aphrodite.' 

* Sapph. fr. 94 : 

Ouii> Tav vaKtvdov (V ovp((ri iroififves avftpes 
7r6o~o~i K.o.Tao~T(if3oio~i ) x^f 1 * 11 ^* Tf irop(pvpov avdos . . . 
' Like the hyacinth on the hills which shepherds tread under 
foot, and the bright flower is crushed to the ground.' 
4 Alcaeus, f r. 34 : 

*Y fj.fv 6 Zevs, (K fi' opavat pfyas 
nfTrdyacriv 8' vbdrcw poai. 

TOV %(iptov t eV! per ridtis 
nvp, (V 8e Kipvais <3 

v t airrap dfji<j)\ Kopcra 


fowl ; l or the na'ive and very concrete occupations of a 
poet ; 2 or an admirable description of an evening's genial 
merrymaking over the fire : 

These are the words to use, in the stormy season of winter, 
Lying on couches soft, with bellies full, by the fireside, 
Honeysweet wine in the glass, and nuts and beans at the 

elbow ; 
' Who are you ? when were you born ? and which is the 

country you hail from ? 
What was your age when the Persian came ' ? 3 

Always it is a joy in simple things that marks the Greek ; 
he had learnt that this was the secret for one who wished 
in Euripides' words, Kara 0aoy VVKTCIS re $tXay evatmva 
Siatfv. This is the first thing he can teach us. 

Then in our general view of life ' directness ' will keep 
us from humbug and false sentiment. That will be a cruel 
blow at first. We delight in ' dim and feverish sensations, 
dreamy and sentimental sadness, tendency to reverie, 
and general patheticalness *, 4 without troubling to ask 

' Zeus sends rain, there is a great storm out of the sky, and the 
waterfloods are frozen. Out with winter ! Pile high the fire, mix 
honeyed wine generously and wrap a soft hood round your head.' 

1 SimonideSjfr. 8 1 dpepfyav aXeWtop, ' O cock that criest at dawn.' 

* Anacreon, fr. 17: 

(v pov 


olvov 8' e(Triov icddov, 
vvv 8* dftpais tp6f(r(rav 

Kco/iaa>i/ TraTSl 

1 1 broke a little off a thin cake and breakfasted : I drank 
up a jug of wine : and now I am playing my dainty passionate 
lyre to the dainty girl of my love.' 

* Xenophanes, ap. Athenaeum, 54 : 

Ilap Trvpl xpr) TOiavra \eytiv xci/Lta>i/o? ff oprj 
(V K\ivrj (j.a\aKfj KaTaKttfjLtvov, f[jnr\(ov ovra, 
TTivovra yXvKvv olvov, vTroTp&yovr' IpfftivQovs. 
" ris TTootv ffs dv&pSiv, irocra TOI try e'orl (ptpicrrf, 
irrjX'tKos r\a& 06' 6 MrJSor afpiKfro ; " 

4 Ruskin, Modern Painters, iv. I3.'J 14. 


whether these are justified by fact. We are opium-eaters, 
and allow ourselves to be deluded by splendid visions or 
drugged into a comfortable slumber. If a poet is musical 
or picturesque, if he catches our fancy or tickles our ears, 
we never ask whether what he says is true. 

There are two literatures in the world which are hope- 
lessly at war with this spirit, and which we must shun 
unless we wish to be shaken out of it. They are very dif- 
ferent in their conclusions, for they start from widely 
different presuppositions, but they are very much alike in 
their determination to see things as they are. One of these 
is Greek literature, the other is the New Testament. They 
may seem a queer pair to couple. Yet any one can take 
my meaning who will note S. Paul's teaching on marriage 
or that preamble to the Anglican marriage service for 
which to-day we substitute some amiable hymn. Read 
these and consider with what a Greek directness the 
Apostle and the Church face the subject. Both to the 
early Christians and to the Greeks life was too real a 
thing to be surrendered to sentiment and sham. The 
gay fancies of Sidney's pastorals, the facile epithalamia 
of the seventeenth century, the glib threnodies of Dryden 
and Pope, the sentimental melancholy of our minor 
poets were not for them. They were content, in the 
presence of life, if they could use and enjoy it rightly, and 
in the presence of death, if they could know it for what 
it was. 


Let us notice briefly one apparent, and one real, 
exception to directness in Greek literature. Was Empe- 
docles direct when he attributed the cosmic process to 
the working of Love and Strife ; or the Pythagoreans 
when they declared that things were numbers ? Is 


Plato direct in the view of love which he advances in the 
Phaedrus and the Symposium ? 

It must be remembered with regard to Empedocles, 
and indeed to all the early natural philosophers, that 
when a thinker tries to reduce the world to its elements, 
to find what lies below its surface, he is ipso facto unable 
to deal in the tangible and concrete, in the ' actual and 
unimaginary ' qualities of things. Further, as Professor 
Burnet has pointed out in his Early Greek Philosophy, 
science is obliged to advance through a succession of 
hypotheses which sound incredible and are rarely true. 1 
And above all, though there is error in their views, there 
is none of the falsity which we saw to be the real enemy 
of directness. Perhaps that is because the eccentricities 
of the Greek physicists were intellectual, those of the 
modern symbolists are emotional. With regard to Plato, 
the exception must be admitted it is touched on in 
Chapter VII ; certainly he is highly mystical and modern 
in his treatment of love. Yet it would seem that here we 
have him in an un-Greek mood, or at least in a mood 
inconsistent with the genius of the Greeks. In the first 
place, there is no trace of such a view of love before Plato, 
there is no trace of it (I believe) even in Greek tragedy ; 
in the second, though Xenophon in his Symposium 
attributes the mystical view to Socrates, there is no 
trace of it in Xenophon's picture of ordinary married life 
in the Oeconomicus : and it is worth noticing that the 
other guests at Xenophon's dinner were very far from 
sharing it. 2 If we find one view of love in nine-tenths 
of Greek literature, and another view in one-tenth of it 
(and this is a liberal over-estimate of the mysticism in 
Greek), we may legitimately conclude that the first is 
the general Greek view. 

1 Op. cit. pp. 29, 32. 2 Xen. Sympos. 9. 


Now rises a further question. The Greek tried to see 
things as they are. Yes, but how are they ? He was 
true to facts. Yes, but what are facts ? There are very 
few certain facts ; and these are such that the knowledge 
of them does not much help us to solve the problem of 
conduct ; for the important thing is not the fact, but 
the meaning we attach to it. Birth as Wordsworth 
viewed it, or as a physiologist views it in his physiological 
moments, or as Mr. H. G. Wells views it, or as the mother 
of a child views it ; death a mere dissolution of cells 
and tissues, or an end to the possibility of many sensations 
of pleasure and pain, or the opening of a door into a new 
world and a vast increase in those possibilities ; marriage 
a momentary connexion between two animals, or a 
mystical partnership never to be dissolved ; there are the 
same facts in every case, but they can be taken to mean 
very different things. The important thing is not the 
fact, but its interpretation. So there rises the question : 
how did the Greeks interpret the world ? They had the 
same facts as we have (the modern world in spite of its 
scientific discoveries has no more certain clue to the 
meaning of life than Aeschylus or Thucydides). In what 
light did they interpret these facts ? 

They did not interpret the world in the materialistic way, 
seeing in a beautiful landscape only an exceptional dis- 
position of strata, and in a human being only a peculiar 


collection of atoms. Nor did they interpret it in a 
spiritual way, believing that the realities were unseen 
things God, a Spiritual Universe, a Future Life and 
saying that it did not yet appear what we should be. 
There were no infinite possibilities in the sky above them 
or in the human beings around them. While to some 
the world has meant Atoms, and to others Spirit, to the 
Greek it meant simply Man ; man under his natural 
circumstances, and with his most obvious attributes ; 
passing from childhood through manhood to old age, 
the centre of his existence a home and a city, its main 
events birth, marriage, death; its chief evils sickness, 
poverty, exile ; its chief goods health, wealth, success, an 
honourable name, warm affections and friendships. The 
Greek took this being, with his instincts, impulses, and 
faculties, and, with no preconceptions, no regard to the 
invisible, asked himself to what they pointed ; asked 
himself what obviously and on the surface man was, and 
in accordance with the answer constructed his philosophy 
of life. Here, then, we have the fourth note of the Greek 
genius. It is the human standpoint towards life ; we may 
call it Humanism, and we may sum it up in the saying 
attributed to Protagoras, oivOptoiros /j.rpov irdvTtov Man is 
the measure of all things. 

It is true that in a sense the Greek was religious ; we 
can see from the writings of Herodotus and Xenophon 
how continually the gods were in his thoughts, and even 
S. Paul called him Si<ri8ai(jioi>oTpos. But his religion 
was very human. It is true that he admitted possibilities 
in the unseen ; but he minimized the inconveniences that 
might attend their existence by making the unseen visible ; 
he admitted the existence of gods, but he created them 
in his own human likeness, with his own human passions, 


and only differing from man by their immortality and their 
greater power. As Pindar bluntly puts it, ' one race there 
is of men and one of gods, but from one mother, Earth, 
draw we both our breath ; yet is the strength of us Diverse 
altogether, for the race of men is nought, but the brazen 
heaven abideth.' 1 This is what the Greek made of God. 
He humanized him. 

Everywhere he carried this passion for humanizing 
things. He set to work on the old beast-gods, which 
were the legacy of early barbarism, and they too were 
humanized. The eagle, the raven, the snake, the wolf 
were originally forms under which the god manifested 
himself : in Greek hands they become his attendants 
or attributes. Hera and Athene took the forms of 
women, but kept from the shapes which they once wore, 
the one a cow's mild glance (/Sowny), the other the keen 
grey eyes of the owl (yXavK&Tris). So again inanimate 
nature became not merely animate, but human. The 
Greek could not think of rivers without their river-gods, 
or of sun and moon apart from their divinities. Naiads 
live in springs and are the authors of their clearness ; 
Dryads are the tree-spirits that die when the tree is 
felled. A sudden fright seizes some shepherds as they 
feed their flock on the hillside ; it was Pan who peered 
out at them from among the rocks. A girl was blown over 
a cliff ; the North Wind had carried her away to be his 
playmate. Such were the legends that the Greek invented, 
and it was a human place that he made of the world. 

What he did for God and Nature, that the Greek did 

for his daily life. He humanized it. Some thinkers 

S. Paul, Pascal, Byron are among them have seen in 

man a twofold nature, god and beast ; and finding no 

1 Nem. vi. i f. (tr. Myers). 


reconciliation between his two natures, have been agonized 
by the conflict within this being 

Half dust, half deity, alike unfit 
To sink or soar. . . . l 

The Greek was not conscious of such a distinction ; he 
only saw a unity ' glorious in its action and itself ', in 
which humanity was not distinct from divinity, nor body 
from soul. S. Paul and Pascal found no escape from this 
horrible dualism within except by the intervention of 
God. They threw themselves on His grace. Pour faire 
d'un homme un saint il faut bien que ce soil la grace ; et 
qui en doute ne sait ce que c'est que saint et qu'homme. 2 
The Greek had not felt the difficulty and did not need the 
solution. Hard work, he thought, would achieve all that 
was possible to man. ' The anxious thought of youth 
conjoined with toil achieves renown,' said Pindar. 3 You 
would have found it impossible to explain to a Greek 
what this ' grace ' was ; if he were an Orphic, he 
would have had a glimpse of your meaning ; but there 
is no word in classical Greek which answers to it. S. Paul 
and Pascal felt that the evil, infectum scelus, must always 
remain while they were clothed with the flesh, and for 
final deliverance looked forward to a future life. The 
Greek believed that human nature could, and sometimes 
did, achieve its end on earth. Of an after-life he had the 
vaguest ideas, and such as he had were in no way con- 
soling. Homer had spoken of asphodel meadows, where, / 
bloodless and unhappy, flit the ghosts of those who were r 
once so full of life ; where Achilles could say that he would 
rather be a labourer on the tiniest of human farms than a 
king over all the dead. And not less gloomy, if less definite . 

1 Manfred, i. 2. * Pascal, Pensees, 508. * fr. 207 (Bergk). 



than this, is the conception of a future life which dominates 
Greek literature. Here are characteristic sentiments from 
different centuries. ' When a man is dead all his glory 
is gone.' He is ' dust and ashes ; what is nought turns 
to nothing '. He has ' no strength nor veins that throb 
with blood '. ' What of the underworld ? ' asks an epitaph 
of the man over whom it is set. ' Deep darkness,' comes 
the reply. Better so, thinks Macaria, the Athenian girl 
who gives up her life that the suppliant children of 
Heracles may live. ' I pray that there may be nothing 
below the earth ; if we mortals that are to die have 
sorrow even there, I know not where to turn ; for death 
is thought the supreme medicine for misfortune.' x At 
best there was a sickening uncertainty : 

If any far-off state there be, 
Dearer to life than mortality ; 
The hand of the Dark hath hold thereof, 
And mist is under and mist above. 
And so we are sick for life and cling 
On earth to this nameless and shining thing. 
For other life is a fountain sealed, 
And the depths below are unrevealed, 
And we drift on legends ever. 2 

fivOois aXXcoy fapoftfcrda : ' we drift on legends ever '. 
Greek literature, usually so definite, so precise in colour 
and form, here alone is vague and indefinite. Except for 
two great writers 3 it has no New Jerusalem, descending 
visibly out of heaven, mapped and measured, named and 
described ; no worshipping multitude of spirits, who were 
dead and are alive. Its New Jerusalem was on earth ; its 

1 The references above are to Homer, Od. 1 1. 488 f. ; Stesichorus, 
fr. 52; Euripides, fr. 536; Aeschylus, fr. 226; Anth. Pal. 7. 524; 
Eur. Heracl. 592 ff. My instances are mainly taken from Rohde, 
Psyche, 2. 198-263. * Eur. Hipp. 191 f-. (tr. Murray). 

* Pindar and Plato, with whom Chapter VII tries to deal. 


ideal was a human paradise. If he had health, if he escaped 
poverty and exceptional sorrow, if he lived with repute 
in the small city where he was born, if he was happy in 
his friends and family, if he left behind him children to 
perpetuate his name then the ordinary Greek felt that 
he and the world had done their duty to each other. 
A philosopher would have added something more, 
freedom to develop his intellect and his moral nature. 1 
But of a personal relation to God, of God's grace, of 
a future life, neither philosopher nor ordinary man 
thought. Recall three Greek definitions of happiness, and 
observe how they justify this view. The first is by 
Pindar : ' Two things alone there are that cherish life's 
bloom to its utmost sweetness amid the fair flowers of 
wealth to have good success and to win therefor fair 
fame. Seek not to be a god : if the portion of these 
honours fall to thee, thou hast already all. The things 
of mortals best befit mortality.' 2 The second is attributed 
to Solon and approved by Herodotus : ' If a man is sound 
in limb, free from disease, free from misfortune, happy 
in his children, and himself goodlooking : if in addition he 
ends his life well, he may rightly be termed happy.' 3 The 
third is from Aristotle : ' Happiness may be defined as pros- 
perity conjoined with virtue, or as independence of life, or as 
the pleasantest life conjoined with safety, or as an abun- 
dance of goods and slaves with the ability to preserve them 
and make a practical use of them ; it would be pretty gener- 
ally admitted that happiness is one or more of these things. 
Such then being the definition of happiness, it follows 
that its constituent parts are nobility, the possession of 
many and excellent friends, wealth, a goodly and numerous 

1 Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, has written the moral 
philosophy of humanism. * Isthm. 4. 12. * Herod, i. 32. 


family and a happy old age ; also such physical excellence 
as health, beauty, strength, stature, and athletic powers, 
and finally fame, honour, good fortune, and virtue.' 1 
Famous and representative definitions, these tell us what 
the Greek asked of life. If Christ had given a definition 
of happiness, it would have been in different terms. 

It is related of Robert Hall that he ' confessed that 
reading Miss Edgeworth hindered him for a week in his 
clerical functions ; he was completely disturbed by her 
pictures of a world of happy active people without any 
visible interference of religion a sensible and on the 
whole healthy world, yet without warnings, without 
exhortations, without any apparent terrors concerning 
the state of souls '. 2 The people who disconcerted 
Robert Hall's devotions might well have been Greeks. 
' The Greek humanized life. This does not mean that 
he made it animal, nor must we suppose that he inter- 
preted it simply in terms of sense and animal desire. 
It was not so. Coarsely minded men among the Greeks 
put a coarse construction on human nature, ate, drank, 
and indulged themselves, and looked on such indulgence 
as the best thing in life. But the better sort thought 
differently. To them humanity meant the exercise of 
natural gifts, the enjoyment of natural pleasures ; and 
the close of the preface to Ruskin's Crown of Wild Olives 
shows not unfairly what this people, having resigned the 
hope of immortality and contenting themselves with 
making the best they could out of earth, saw in life and 
asked from it. ' They knew that life brought its contest ; 
but they expected from it also the crown of all contest. 
No proud one ! no jewelled circlet flaming through 

1 Ar. Rhet. 1360!), 14. 

* Quoted in Lewes, Life of Goethe, bk. vi. c. 2. 


heaven above the height of the unmerited throne ; only 
some few leaves of wild olive, cool to the tired brow, 
through a few years of peace. The wreath was to be of 
wild olive, mark you ; the tree that grows carelessly, 
tufting the rocks with no vivid bloom, no verdure of 
branch ; only with soft snow of blossom and scarcely 
fulfilled fruit, mixed with grey leaf and thorn-set stem ; 
no fastening of diadem for you but with such sharp 
embroidery ! But this, such as it was, they might win 
while yet they lived ; type of grey honour and sweet rest. 
Free-heartedness, and graciousness, and undisturbed trust, 
and requited love, and the sight of the peace of others, and 
ministry to their pain; these and the blue sky above them, 
and the sweet waters and flowers of the earth beneath.' * 

These words are truer of their author than of the 
nation to whom he applied them, for there is more savour 
of the earth about the Greeks than Ruskin lets us feel. 
Yet no one can read Greek literature without finding that 
it brings him close to a people who are human in the 
best sense of the word. We see this in Homer, who is 
the singer not only of war, feasting, and travel, but also 
of quiet domestic life. To us Hector is the terrible hero, 
who wades through blood with his gleaming bronze and 
nodding crest ; Homer remembered that he was a man 
too, and shows him comforting his wife and playing with 
his child. To us Odysseus is a prototype of the mariner 
with a lie for every emergency and a wife in every port ; 
Homer tells us also, how he went in disguise to greet the 
father who had not seen him for twenty years, found him 
in leather gaiters and gauntlets ' because of the thorns ', 
digging in the vineyard and ' nursing his sorrow ', and 

1 For purposes of quotation I have altered a few unimportant 



was surprised out of his deceits by intense pity at the 
sight. Such poetry is typical of a very human people. 

Very human, too, are the ten Corinthians of whom 
Herodotus tells a story it is the only incident in their 
life which we know. An oracle had warned them against 
an infant who was one day to be the ruin of their state, 
and they resolved on the cruel but not unnatural precau- 
tion of putting it to death. Their plan failed, and the 
reason for its failure tells us something about the tem- 
perament of these cruel conspirators, and about that of 
the historian who delighted to describe their behaviour. 
' They went into Eetion's courtyard and asked for the 
baby. Its mother, ignorant of their purpose and fancying 
that they asked out of friendship to its father, gave the 
infant into the hands of one of them. Now they had 
agreed on the road that the one who first received the 
child should dash it to the ground. But it happened by 
a divine chance that the child smiled at the man who 
took it ; and he noticing it was seized with pity and was 
unable to destroy it, so he gave it to the second and he to 
the third, till it thus passed through the hands of all the 
ten, and no one of them would destroy it. Then they 
gave the child back to its mother and went outside. 
There they stopped at the gate and began to blame 
and reproach each other, but particularly him who had 
first received the child.' 1 The writer of this was a very 
human man. 

And turn to figures less fabulous than these. Xenophon 
has left us some random sketches of his friends, which 
show what Greeks of the best kind were like. We are 
not to regard these men as poets or philosophers or in 
any way exceptional. They were average Greeks of the 
1 Herod. 5. 92. 


better sort ; and Xenophon's own career and character 
is typical of theirs. He was a successful and adventurous 
soldier, one of the leaders of the Ten Thousand, who 
made that famous march through the mountains of 
Anatolia. Later he settled in the country and spent his 
days in hunting and literature. He wrote a history of his 
own time, memoirs of Socrates, tractates on education, 
on household management, on hunting, on commanding 
cavalry, on buying and keeping horses. In the words of 
a biographer ' he was a man remarkable in many ways, 
notably, as his writings show, in his taste for hunting and 
military pursuits ; a pious man who loved to offer 
sacrifices, was versed in religious matters, and was 
a faithful disciple of Socrates '. His friends were not 
unlike himself. 

Among them are Crito, Cebes, and the rest, of whom 
he tells us that they associated with Socrates, ' not that 
they might become popular speakers or successful bar- 
risters, but in order to grow into good and noble men, 
and learn how rightly to conduct themselves to their 
households and servants, their relations and friends, their 
country and fellow-countrymen.' l Is it possible to sum 
up human morality more concisely or more completely 
than in these words? Then there is Ischomachus, who 
had realized ' that unless we know what we ought to do 
and take pains to bring it about, God has decided that 
we have no right to prosperity ; but if we are wise and 
painstaking, He grants it to some of us, though not to 
others. So to start with, I reverence Him ; and then I do 
my best to act so as to be entitled, when I pray, to obtain 
health and physical strength and the respect of my fellow- 
Athenians and the affection of my friends and an increase 
1 Mem. i. 2. 48. 


of wealth with honour and safety in war with honour ' .* 
Finally, a more personal portrait, there is the young Her- 
mogenes, who is ' wasting away for love of nobleness ; look 
at his serious brow, his steady glance, the temperateness 
of what he says, the gentleness of his voice, the cheerful- 
ness of his temper ; although he has friends among the 
most august of the gods, he never despises us mortals.' 2 
Whatever faults these men may have had, they were not 
mere animals. Their ideals are those which we like to 
attribute to the best kind of English gentleman. 

Such were Xenophon's friends among themselves. The 
following conversation between one of them and his wife 
shows the spirit in which they approached marriage. 
The husband is speaking. * " Your parents on your behalf, 
and I on my own, reflected as to the best person either of 
us could find to share a home and children ; and I chose 
you and your parents chose me, out of the persons avail- 
able. If God gives us children, we shall consult together 
about the best way of bringing them up ; we shall need 
them to help us and support us in old age ; and this is an 
interest we have in common. But at present we share 
this household. I put all I have into the common stock, 
and you have done the same with your dowry. We are 
not to count which of us has contributed the greater sum ; 
we are to remember that whichever of us is the better 
partner makes the more valuable contribution." My wife 
answered : " How can I help you in this ? what does my 
power come to ? Everything rests on you, and my 
mother told me that my business was to live soberly 
" Yes, and that is just what my father said 

1 Oecon. ii. 8. 

1 Sympos. 8. 3. It is an interesting picture of what a Greek 
really meant by a caX6? 


to me. But a sober-living man and wife look to the 
preservation of their fortune, and add to it what rightly 
and honourably they can." " But what," she said, " do 
you see that I can do to increase it ? " " Why," I replied, 
" do as well as you can what God created you to do and 
what the law approves." ' 1 And then he goes on to 
explain the duties of a mother and the mistress of a house- 
hold as he conceives them. 

These words illustrate very well the view of life to which, . 
under ordinary circumstances, Greek humanism led. There 
is nothing ideal, mystical, or romantic in this conception 
of marriage ; it is viewed as a very human thing ; note 
the utilitarian uses of children, and the stress laid on the 
duty of increasing one's income. Yet tenderness, mutual 
comfort, and affection are also there ; the bond is much 
more than animal. The light that never was on sea or 
land does not fall on it ; yet it is warmed and brightened 
by the common everyday sun. 

In the same temper Ischomachus and his wife go about 
the business of training and managing their servants. 
' For housekeeper we chose the woman we thought would 
be most temperate in food, drink, and sleep ; one who had 
a good memory, and was most likely to think how she 
could please us and win our esteem. In happy hours we 
shared our happiness with her and in hours of distress we 
invited her sympathy ; so we taught her to be loyal to us. 
We took her into the counsels of our household and let 
her share in its prosperity ; so we made her eager for its 
advantage. We honoured goodness, and pointed out to 
her that the good were better off and had more liberty 
than the bad ; so we taught her to be good.' z Whether 
servants can really be managed in this way is another 
1 Oec. 7. ii f. * Oec. 9. n. 


question. But if they can, the post of housekeeper to 
Ischomachus must have been a pleasant one. Not that 
there is any great idealism in this picture of a Greek 
household or in the principles on which it was ruled. The 
master and mistress simply assume that unspoilt human 
beings are by nature kindly and honest ; that it is natural 
that they should be this and not the opposite, for kindli- 
ness and honesty prosper best in the world ; and that if you 
treat your servants with sympathy, they will be interested 
in your prosperity and do their part in contributing to it. 

It is a purely human view of life, but in practice not 
a bad one. Holding to it, a man knows exactly where he 
stands, what he can do, and what he may look forward to. 
He knows the worst that can happen to him, and has 
only to make up his mind to enjoy the good and endure 
the bad. In his gloomiest moments he might perhaps say 
with Pascal : ' Le dernier acte est sanglant, quelque belle 
que soit la comedie en tout le reste ; on jette enfin de la 
terre sur la tete, et en voila pour jamais.' But he would 
never say, * Je blame egalement, et ceux qui prennent 
parti de louer I'homme, et ceux qui le prennent de le 
blamer, et ceux qui le prennent de se divertir ; et je ne 
puis approuver que ceux qui cherchent en gemissant.' 1 
For there are none of the haunting uncertainties of 
modern religion about the Greek view of life ; no dark 
corners, no likelihood of skeletons in the cupboard. It is 
a clear air, and in it we are not baffled by mists, which 
rise and fall, but never entirely lift ; and which hold 
behind them endless possibilities that can never be quite 
brought to the test. 

In Xenophon we see humanism at its best, and, without 
looking at its dark side, we may pass to see how a humanist 
1 Pens&es, 210, 421. 


takes life. But, in passing, let us emphasize once more the 
interest to us of this human view of the world. 

It is here that Hellenism parts company with Chris- 
tianity, or at any rate with the prevailing Christian 
theory. Hellenism dispenses with the need for a deity, 
a future life, and a purely spiritual world. It is not essen- 
tially inconsistent with these beliefs, and they have often 
been found in union with it ; but it can do without them. 
Abolish them for the Greek, and he would still live the 
same life as if they were there. For him the whole creation 
was not groaning and travailing in pain. He was waiting 
for no glory to be revealed, with which the sufferings of 
this present time were not worthy to be compared. The 
glory was already present to his eyes : flesh and blood for 
him did, or might, already in this terrestrial world possess 
the kingdom of God. He could live with satisfaction in 
the present, and forgo the necessity of a redemption to 
come. But abolish the unseen world for the Christian, 
and the whole meaning and value of life is altered. If 
there is anything permanent in Christianity it is the certain 
persuasion that the world is not an adequate theatre for 
man, nor he capable of reaching the perfection of his nature 
unaided. Again and again in the teaching of the Church 
this conviction breaks out : it underlies the doctrines of 
the Fall, of Predestination and Reprobation, of Grace ; it 
prompts that sense of homelessness here to which Christian 
writers give constant expression. Omnia quae hie amantur 
et transeunt are the words of Augustine ; ex umbris et 
imaginibus in veritatem is the epitaph of Newman ; 
memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis is Pascal's 
summary of our life. 

There are few more important problems than this 
is humanism right ? Is it right to take a purely human 



attitude towards life, to assume that man is the measure 
of all things, and to believe that, even though the unseen 
may be there, still we can know our duty and live our 
life without reference to it. That is perhaps the biggest 
question of the present day, the one most worth settling, 
the one which every one has to settle for himself. 

If our minds are made up and we are humanists, then 
we are not likely to find better models than the Greeks. 
Of unaided human nature it is not too much to say that 
they made the best that can be made ; in regard to the 
chief things of life, modern humanists are not likely to 
come to conclusions different from or better than those 
of a people whose acuteness of insight amounts almost 
to inspiration ; and they can hardly find better or wiser 
teachers than its great men. 

But if we approach the subject as inquirers, anxious 
to learn to what humanism leads and whether it will work, 
still we must turn to Athens. There alone the experiment 
of humanism has been tried ; the only evidence about it 
we can get is the evidence from Greek society. There we 
can see how it succeeds ; whether it tends to strength, to 
racial survival ; whether it leads to justice, righteousness, 
mercy, true happiness ; or whether the sins, whose long 
catalogue closes the first chapter of S. Paul's Epistle to 
the Romans, are the logical and finally inevitable issue 
of life for those peoples who worship and serve the creature 
more than the Creator. 

Let us now form some idea of the view of life to which 
humanism commits us. 

If we wish to know how a humanist looks at the world, 
we must first forget our own view of it, dismiss alike our 
prejudices and our convictions (especially theological), 


and forgo that knowledge which in the course of years 
humanity has achieved. We must approach the subject 
with the open mind of ignorance and in the temper in 
which the conventional stranger from Mars is supposed 
to view the world. Imagine, then, that we arrive upon 
earth, with no preconceived notions about it or its inhabi- 
tants, and try to discover what man is, in order that we 
may decide what he should do. We meet our first human 
being ; and it becomes at once clear to us that he is 
a composite being, composite of body and mind to use the 
latter term in its widest sense. Which of these elements 
is most important, which is man to satisfy, the first, the 
second, or both ? 

First, the body would force itself on our attention, 
visible, tangible, and certain ; present with us from life 
to death ; with needs that must be met if we are to exist 
at all ; with imperious desires clamouring for satisfaction ; 
the seat of intense and gross pleasures, and yet of fine and 
spiritual ones too ; gorging itself to repletion, besotted 
in the harlots' houses, drinking itself drunk, hunting, 
riding, fishing, tasting all the fine exultation of bodily 
exercise. Surely this is the central, certain, dominant 
reality. And if we think so, we shall reply that bodily 
good is the good thing, and devote ourselves to securing 
health, health at all costs, and money and friends in 
sufficiency to satisfy the body's demands and minister to 
its enjoyments. 

In such a view there would be something very Greek. 
The Greek looked at man, and the first thing that struck 
him as he looked was the importance of the body ; he 
never forgot the lesson, even when thought and experience 
had naturally carried him past it. That was natural ; for 
the body is the most certain, tangible, real thing in man, 


and the Greek always grasped after what was tangible 
and certain. We will take some illustrations. Let the 
reader ask himself what three wishes he would make, if 
he were assured of being granted them. Here is a Greek 
view in a proverb, quoted or alluded to five times by no 
less a writer than Plato. ' First comes health, second 
personal beauty, then wealth honestly come by, fourthly 
to be young with one's friends.' 1 A surprising order of 

1 During two successive years I asked a lecture class to put 
on paper four wishes in order of preference. The answers were 
so various that one or two had to be omitted and the rest grouped 
under heads, but the general result was as follows : 

Health 54 

Spiritual or Moral Excellence . . -47 
Friendship or Domestic Happiness . 35 

Intellectual Excellence . . . . .32 

Contentment . . . . . .29 

Artistic Pleasures . . . . 1 5 

Physical Excellence . . . . -13 

Success . . . . . . 13 

Hard Work .10 

Travel 8 

Wealth 8 

The individual answers were naturally more interesting than these 
groups. As a whole they show instructive differences from the 
Greek point of view : notably in the comparative indifference to 
wealth and physical excellence, and in the appearance of items 
like travel. The lists varied somewhat in the two years ; in the 
first, art, travel, and hard work were prominent : the latter two 
were ignored in the second year, and art almost ignored. But 
otherwise the agreement was exact, wealth (as opposed to reason- 
able means, which were reckoned under the head of contentment) 
coming in both cases at the bottom of the list. 

Perhaps in this connexion it is worth quoting Stevenson's three 
wishes, in his own words. 

1. Good health. 

2. Two to three hundred a year. 

3. O du lieber Gottl friends. 

In regard to the proverb quoted in the text, it must be remem- 


merit, to our ideas. So again, Aristotle thinks that the 
highest thing a man can aspire to is wisdom, the intel- 
lectual contemplation of God ; yet no man, he thinks, can 
be happy ' who is absolutely ugly '} One of Xenophon's 
young friends was of the same opinion : for he swears 
' by all the gods that he would not choose the empire of 
Persia instead of beauty '? There is no false idealism 
about these sentiments; the Greek thought it a great 
misfortune to be bad-looking or poor, and he was quite 
frank in saying so ; his were concrete ambitions and 
redolent of earth. Yet one would hardly call them 
materialistic. It is the spiritualization of what is earthy, , / 
the idealism of common things, that is typical of the 

The predominance of the body ; we see it in the abiding 
passion for personal beauty and physical strength ; in 
the idealization of the athlete ; in the sculpture that 
developed its ideals as it watched in the gymnasia the 
naked human form ; in the charm of Alcibiades ; in the 
mythical story of the acquittal of Phryne ; in the legend 
how Pisistratus came to Athens in the train of a country- 
woman of surprising beauty, giving her out to be the 
goddess Athene, and so was accepted by the Athenians as 
their ruler. Xenophon mentions as qualifications for high 
political office, ' good birth, and physique eminently 
comely to the outward eye, and capable of supporting 
hard work.' 3 (How few modern statesmen would satisfy 

bered that it is part of a skolion, and any deductions from it as to 
Greek ideals should be corrected by a reference to the definitions 
of happiness given on p. 115. Still, Plato would not have quoted 
it so often if he had felt no sympathy with the views it expresses. 
1 Nic. Eth. 1099 b, 4. * Xen. Symp. 4. n. 

Xen. Symp. 8. 40 vupa aio7rpe7re'0raTOj> ftfv iSeiv, iKavbv ic 


the second of these conditions !) Plato, who in many 
things falls away from the Greek ideal, keeps this particu- 
lar element. For him physical beauty is the natural 
expression of the beauty of the soul, and when he wishes 
to describe the unworthy philosopher, whose champion- 
ship is the supreme degradation of philosophy, he portrays 
him under the likeness of an ' undersized baldheaded 
tinker '. And what poet has ever drawn a picture of 
youth and health like this ? 

Just Cause : 
Nay, bright will be your hours and fresh with busy round 

of play, 

You'll never bandy naughty jests like young men of to-day 
About the streets, nor lord yourself in some vexatious case, 
But down in Academe between the olives you will race, 
Bright grasses bound about your head, in honest company 
Fragrant of woodbine and of ease and budding poplar tree 
And greet, where maple sighs to elm, the springtide merrily. 

If to my words you give good heed 
My counsel you abide 
A goodly chest and clearest skin 
Are yours, and shoulders wide. 
Few words will lie upon your tongue 
But sound you'll be in limb and lung. 1 

A very attractive young man ; and born, if we are to 
believe Aristophanes, into a world admirably adapted to 
the young. No one can read Greek literature without 
feeling its delight in all the rich variety of physical exis- 
tence. The Greek felt and expressed an extraordinarily 

1 Aristoph. Clouds, 1002 ff. Here are three lines from the 
original : 

(TTpava>(Tdp.fvos xaXa/jo) XevKejJ /ra (ra><ppovos T)\IKIG>TOV 
fj.i\(iKos ofait KOI airpayp.o(rvvi]s Kal XtvKrjs <pv\\of$o\ov<Ti)s 
ev &pa xaiptw, OTTOTOV ir\aravos 

How admirable a phrase is 3<ui> airpaynoavvrjs ! I owe the transla- 
tion to my former pupil, Mr. P. J. Patrick. 


keen pleasure in being able to eat and drink and run and 
play and be young with his friends, in pleasures yXv/cIa 
KaSdirava KCU 0/Xa, 1 in dances, shows, processions, high 
animal spirits, a direct and eminently natural sense of 
humour, and, if we are to believe Aristophanes, in all 
kinds of cakes and sweet confectionery. Dickens, in 
English, has something of this feeling with his Christmas 
feasting and coach-drives through the frosty air. But 
there is far more of it in Greek literature. Look, for 
instance, at the lyrists, Alcaeus, Hipponax and Archilochus 
particularly. When they were not fighting they were 
feasting or celebrating their fights and feasts in verse, 
writing skolia which thrill the most abstemious man with 
the mere pleasure of eating and drinking. What a genial 
ruffianism breathes through the words of Hipponax : 
' Take my coat, I will hit Bupalus in the eye ; for I am 
ambidextrous and I never miss my aim.' 2 And what 
a healthy thirst is here : ' We drank out of the decanter, 
for it had lost its glass ; for the boy fell on it and broke it.' 3 

As genial and less fragmentary is the lineal descendant 
of these joyous bon vivants, Aristophanes. We will not 
violate with a translation a passage which Frere left 
unfinished on his deathbed, but if any one will turn to 
the Peace (11. 1140 f.), he will find a picture of country life 
in Attica, which rivals Christmas at Dingley Dell in jollity, 
and far surpasses it in the indefinable grace of its narrative. 
The corn is in the ground, a soft rain is falling, and some 
farmers seize the heaven-sent opportunity for a holiday. 
The maid is sent to call in the labourer off the soaking 
farm. The wife is told to fetch some figs, and toast beans 
and wheat together. Then there is a thrush, two finches, 
a beestings pudding and four hare pies in the larder 

1 Aristoph. Peace, 592. * fr. 83. * fr. 38. 

1358 I 


unless the weasel has got them l ; she was making a great 
noise there last night ; three pies are for the drinkers, and 
one for the old father. Then a slave can fetch a dessert 
of myrtle-berries from a neighbour, and on the way call 
in Charinades to drink the health of the growing crops. 

The same joyous spirit breathes in passages more 
elevated in tone. ' Come/ says the poet in one of his plays, 
' come, ye daughters who bring the rain, come to the 
splendid land of Athens, and see a country rich in loveli- 
ness, rich in men. Here is the majesty of inviolate shrines, 
here are statues and soaring temples, here are processions, 
sacred, blessed, and, through every season of the year, 
flower-crowned feasts and festivals of gods. Here, as 
spring advances, comes the glory of the wine-god, and the 
musical delight of dancing, and the deep-toned melody 
of the flute.' 2 It is an invocation to the Clouds, but other 
people and other ages have felt the charm of his call, and 
gone in thought with him to ' the flowering meadows deep 
in roses ', 3 where half the town were making holiday, men 
and women, young and old together, ' leaping, mocking, 
dancing, playing,' 4 with their prayer to Demeter : 

Approach, O Queen of orgies pure, 
And us thy faithful band ensure 
From morn to eve to ply secure 

Our mocking and our clowning : 
To grace thy feast with many a hit 
Of merry jest or serious wit, 
And laugh, and earn the prize, and flit 

Triumphant to the crowning. 5 

For the Attic festivals, like those of the Roman Church, 
joined recreation with religion, and were jovial, human 
holidays. Such, for instance, was the race to Phalerum 

1 The Greeks had no tame cats, but kept weasels to deal with 
mice. a Clouds, 300 f . ' Frogs, 449. 

* Ibid. 374 f. (tr. Murray). Ibid. 386 f. 


at the Oschophoria, in which, after the religious cere- 
monies were over, all the youth of Athens took part, 
the day ending with a universal picnic on the shores of 
the bay. Such was the dancing on greased skins at the 
Dionysia ; and a sport mentioned by Suidas in which 
drinkers standing on inflated wine-skins, at a signal from 
a trumpet, drank for a prize. Such were the ceremonies 
at the Great Panathenaea, to be seen to-day in stone on 
the walls of the British Museum, though the idealized 
figures of the Elgin Marbles give us little idea of the gaiety 
of the real scene. There were boat-races, torch-races, foot- 
races, horse-races, dances of men in full armour, leaping in 
and out of flying chariots, javelin-throwing from horse- 
back, cock-fighting, musical and gymnastic contests, prizes 
for manly beauty, recitations from Homer, a speech by 
a chosen orator of the day, and, finally, the great proces- 
sion to the Acropolis, in which a sacred ship was drawn 
through the city, the yellow embroidered robe destined 
for the statue of Athena Polias blowing out from its mast, 
and the whole population of Athens, on foot, on horseback, 
in chariots, following in its train. 

How good is man's life, the mere living ! how fit to 

All the heart, and the soul, and the senses for ever in joy ! 

Yes, and the senses counted for more with the Greek 
than with us : and we will allow ourselves to be brought 
back to them and the body, our original theme, by con- 
sidering the Greek's view of old age. When youth wore 
away, he felt (and it is difficult for a humanist not to feel) 
that what made life worth living was gone. In part, 
perhaps, it was that old age had terrors for the Greeks 
which we do not feel. They were without eyeglasses, ear- 
trumpets, bathchairs, and the elaborate system of aperitifs, 


which modern science has devised to assist our declining 
days. Yet even with these consolations, it may be doubted 
whether the Greek would have faced old age with pleasure. 
At least, to judge from Greek literature, he lamented its 
minor discomforts less than the loss of youth's intense 
capacity for action and enjoyment. People who prize 
beauty and health so highly can hardly think otherwise 
when age comes and they 

. . . feel her slowly chilling breath invade 
The cheek grown thin, the brown hair sprent with grey ; 
They feel her finger light 

Laid pausefully upon life's headlong tram ; 
The foot less prompt to meet the morning dew, 
The heart less bounding at emotion new, 

And hope, once crush'd, less quick to spring again. 1 

The following passage, taken from one of Plato's 
dialogues, shows how the ordinary Greek hated old age, 
and why he hated it. The speaker is an elderly friend of 
the philosopher. ' I and a few other people of my own 
age are in the habit of frequently meeting together. On 
these occasions most of us give way to lamentations, and 
regret the pleasures of youth, and call up the memory of 
love affairs and drinking parties and similar proceedings. 
They are grievously discontented at the loss of what they 
consider great privileges, and describe themselves as 
living well in those days, whereas now, by their own 
account, they cannot be said to live at all. Some also 
complain of the manner in which their relations insult 
their infirmities, and make this a ground for reproaching 
old age with the many miseries it occasions them.' 2 It 
is true that Plato himself did not think thus of old age, 
for he makes the speaker say that the real cause of these 

1 Arnold, Thyrsis. I have altered ' I ' into ' They '. 
" Rep. 329. 


men's discontent lay not in their age but their characters. 
Still to some such dismal conclusion the humanist view 
of life tends to lead ; that it did so lead in Greece is shown 
by the words ' most of us '. Plato's own view was the 
unusual one. Greek writers in general are gloomy on the 
subject of old age. They do not call it beautiful or peace- 
ful or mellow ; their epithets for it are Xvypos, /?apuy, 
' dismal/ ' oppressive,' and at best they allow that it 
brings wisdom. Pindar and Aeschylus seem to have taken 
the most favourable view of old age, and even Pindar 
calls it ' detested '. It is true that Plato represents 
Sophocles as welcoming its approach. But few traces of 
such contentment are apparent in his plays, and no one has 
ever used bitterer words of advancing years than those 
with which he closes a chorus of the Oedipus at Colonus : 
1 that is the final lot of man, even old age, hateful, impotent, 
unsociable, friendless, wherein all evil of evil dwells.' l 

Humanism is a better gospel for the young, the healthy, 
and the prosperous, than for the old, the sick, or the 
unfortunate, and in this context it is worth recalling 
Augustine's memorable criticism on the Greeks. He is 
talking of what he learnt from Plato, and after admitting 
the magnitude of his debt, adds the words, nemo ibi audit 
vocantem, Venite ad me qui laboratis, ' In those pages none 
hear the call, Come to me all ye that labour.' 2 

But with all their feeling for bodily excellence and their 
dread of bodily ill, the Greeks were very far from being 

I O. C. 1236. The most pessimistic passage in Greek on old age 
is Aristotle's brutal account of the characteristics of old men, 
Rhet. 2. 13. Even more impressive is the praise of youth in 
Euripides H. F. 637 ff., where he suggests that if God thought 
as a man, he would reward virtue with the gift of a second youth. 

II Conf. 7. 21. 



mere animals or mere athletes. Looking at human nature, 
they saw another element, the intellect, a faculty minis- 
tering to a strange need called a sense of truth ; often so 
destructive of beliefs on which our happiness rests that we 
are tempted to deny it ; often killing or corrupting the 
body, and, together with the body, itself ; yet indispensable 
to material success, and with worthier uses besides. To this 
element in human nature the Greeks gave full weight ; 
and not the philosophers only, but the ordinary man. 
Common Athenians formed the audience of the Greek 
drama ; and it was said of them in a later day that 
they spent their time ' in nothing else but either to tell or 
to hear some new thing '. It was naturally so. There 
was always some new intellectual interest in fifth-century 
Athens. A rhapsode was reciting Homer ; or a play by 
one of the Three was being exhibited, or Anaxagoras 
was unfolding those theories of the universe which were 
later condemned as atheistical, or Herodotus reading 
his account of travels through Egypt and Asia, or Pro- 
tagoras enouncing the theory of grammar, or Gorgias 
illustrating the technique of style, and many a sophist 
beside, whose name has perished with his writings, dis- 
cussing, or ready to discuss, any subject in heaven or 

Think of the picture of Greek life afforded by the 
Memorabilia of Xenophon. Between the years 440 and 
400 B. c. a visitor to Athens would have seen, during the 
forenoon in the market-place, at other tunes in one of the 
gymnasia or of the covered walks which were found in 
all Greek cities, a strongly built but ugly man, talking to 
a small group of people. The subjects of the conversation 
were not such as we should expect to-day to hear in similar 
spots in England, in Piccadilly, for instance, or outside the 


Stock Exchange. These Greeks would be discussing the 
meaning of religion and irreligion, discussing what are 
beauty and ugliness, what are justice and courage, what 
are the qualities that make men good rulers, and how to 
define ' city ' or ' government '. We might be surprised 
to hear such conversations held in public, and to learn 
that the speakers discussed these subjects, because they 
thought that knowledge of them was indispensable to 
a AcaXoy *aya0oy, while ignorance of them was the mark 
of a slave. 

It must be remembered that now we are not speaking of 
the professional philosophers, but of the ordinary Athenian. 
He it was who felt himself ' possessed and maddened with 
the passion for knowledge '- 1 Generals, cavalry officers, 
courtesans, painters, country gentlemen, aspiring or dis- 
appointed politicians, came to discuss their affairs with 
Socrates, and went away enlightened on subjects as 
various as house-building, painting, picnicking, operations 
of war, indigestion, and physical exercise. 2 The Memora- 
bilia, which professes to record their conversations, shows 
how rational the ordinary Greek was, how much more 
inclined to appeal and listen to reason than, for instance, 
the ordinary Englishman. Men bring common disputes 
and practical disagreements to Socrates for settlement. 
Two brothers have quarrelled and he reconciles them. 
A young cavalry officer discusses with him how he can 
best work up his regiment to efficiency, and Socrates points 
out to him that unless he is a good speaker he will never 
make a good officer. 3 A certain Aristarchus, who in the 

1 Plato, Symp. 218 B. 

1 Mem. 3. 8. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 14. Ibid, passim. Ibid. 13. 
Ibid. 12. 

3 Xen. Mem. 3. 3. n. 


later years of the Peloponnesian War was obliged to sup- 
port a number of his ruined female relatives, and was 
nearly beggared by the expense, asks and receives Socrates' 
advice as to what he shall do. Here is Xenophon's account 
of the interviews. 5. ' Why this difficulty, Aristarchus ? 
Ceramon has a number of slaves' mouths to feed, yet he 
thrives on it.' A. ' Yes, they are slaves.' S. ' Are not 
your lady cousins better than slaves ? ' A . ' Certainly.' 
5. ' Is it not a shame that he should make out of slaves 
what you fail to make out of the free-born ? ' A . ' But 
his are skilled workers.' 5. ' Well, a skilled worker is one 
who knows how to make something useful ? ' A. ' Yes/ 
5. ' And are not bread and dresses useful ? ' A. ' Very.' 
5. ' Then why not make your female relatives do what 
Ceramon's slaves do and support themselves ? ' l 

What ! it may be said ; are you trying to persuade us 
that the Greek with his sudden revulsions of feeling, with 
his blind outbursts of pity and panic and cruelty, was an 
eminently rational being ? Is this the lesson of the Corcyrean 
massacres, or of the Mytilenaean debate ? Well, paradox 
as it may seem, there are grounds for believing it true. 
The Greeks had indeed the emotional temperament of 
a southern nation, but they were continually fighting to 
keep it in subjection to reason. There is the Memorabilia 
to witness to it, there is the long line of Greek philosophers ; 
and the true type of his race was seized by Plato in the 
Phaedrus, where he figures the human soul as a charioteer, 
struggling with an unruly horse, his animal nature, but 
striving to recall and retain in his memory the vision of 
truth and temperance and justice and beauty, which he 
saw before birth, when he drove across heaven in the 
company of the gods. Often the struggle ended in defeat ; 
1 Xen. Mem. 2. 7. 


but the greatest Greeks did succeed in reining in the 
rebellious horse, and reaching an Olympian peace, where 
all traces are lost of the storms through which they have 
come. We know that Sophocles, we may suspect that 
Plato, were men of violent animal passions, and only 
reached freedom after a long struggle with ' many mad 
tyrants '. Yet few would imagine it in gazing on the 
tranquil surface of their art. 

Perhaps none of this comes intimately home to us. 
Under the dissecting knife the living cease to live, and 
when we display in conspicuous isolation qualities which 
in the flesh were blended, the Greek ceases to be a human 
being and appears as a compound of an aesthete, a holiday- 
maker and a prig. Then, too, the details of his life are 
alien and remote from ours. We give no prizes for physical 
beauty, and the Greek praises of it sound strained to our 
ears ; the conversations of Socrates are apt to weary us ; 
Greece seems very far away. Yet there are two places 
in England in which, amid the smoke and wealth and 
elaboration of our life, an Athenian might for a moment 
feel himself at home. They are the seats of a population 
which possesses that e/cros- xPTY^ a ^ worldly goods 
which Aristotle thought an indispensable preliminary to 
happiness, yet on the whole has too little wealth and 
too much taste for vulgar display ; a population so far 
autochthonous that it is largely drawn from the owners 
of the soil and takes possession of the universe with an 
easy condescension ; a population mainly young, active, 
well developed in body and mind, in which the sophists 
would have found pupils, and Socrates such young men 
as he loved to converse with, and Alcibiades humours 
equal to his own, and the Olympic victors rivals of 


their athletic grace. Surely of Oxford and Cambridge 
most of the Funeral Speech of Pericles is still mutatis 
mutandis true ; or at least those most often quoted words 
from it, (f>i\oKa\ovfj,v per' cureAe/ay KOI 0tAoo-o0oO/*p 
avev paXaKias. ' We are lovers of beauty without extrava- 
gance and of wisdom without effeminacy.' 

NOTE. For the sake of clearness I have laid stress, in the 
earlier part of this chapter, on the differences between humanism 
and Christianity. But, as a logician might say, they are opposites, 
not contradictories : indeed (and the later part of the chapter 
should show it), humanism may fitly be regarded as complementary 
to any except the most ascetic Christianity. What I mean, is 
this. Judaea taught men their relation to God, and indicated 
that their faculties were to be used in His service. But it says 
nothing of the nature of these faculties. Hence it is impossible 
to get a content of life from Judaea ; it is impossible to live after 
the manner of the Jew, for the sufficient reason that, if we tried 
it, we should have so little to do. A highly civilized man cannot 
spend his time in worship or agriculture or trade, for he is not 
born exclusively to pray or plough or make money. He has many 
faculties and instincts, and the Greek, who conceived of art and 
literature and political life is the best example to which he can 
turn, if he wishes to employ these faculties worthily. This is the 
point where humanism is complementary to Judaism; 



WE should make our points clearer if we could exhibit 
the Greek spirit in a typical Greek. But he is difficult to 
find. The authors we class together under the heading 
of Greek literature are widely different personalities, and 
few of them, one might almost say, typical Greeks. Great 
men of letters are not often completely typical of their 
nation ; they are isolated, unique ; whereas the portrait 
which would serve us best is that of an ordinary man, 
a man with the instincts, ideas, prejudices of his neigh- 
bours, and only differing from them in the possession of 
genius. Such a man it is not easy to find among the 
great names of Greek literature. We cannot turn to 
Thucydides ; there is nothing popular about his grave 
and sober and philosophic view of life : nor to Aristo- 
phanes ; the comic mask is a distortion, and we catch 
only a glimpse of the man behind : nor to Aeschylus ; 
for he is Titanic and unique hi any age. Plato and 
Euripides will not help us, for they are spirits in revolt 
against their time. Sophocles perhaps comes nearer to 
what we want, but his personality is hidden under his art. 
Or the orators ; but men declaiming and posturing never 
show their real countenances clearly ; Rhetoric, according 
to Plato, is a species of deception ; and the character of 
the mistress is unconsciously reflected in her devotees. 
There are two great writers left, Pindar and Herodotus. 
Let us glance briefly at them. 


Pindar is writing for the society that existed in the 
early part of the fifth century ; for the society that fought 
and beat the Persians conceived the ideal of a united 
Greek nation, made a few generous, unpractical efforts 
to achieve it, failed and resigned the attempt. It was 
a society in which aristocracies were supreme ; but 
Pindar saw democracy arise in one state after another, in 
some dispossess its hereditary lords, in almost all wage 
against them internecine war. Of these two great move- 
ments, the national and the democratic, there is hardly 
a trace in him. He has no interest in politics, either at 
home or abroad ; he has no interest in the masses ; if 
anything, a dislike for them. He writes for the rich, the 
noble, the ' upper classes ' ; and even here he is limited ; 
his masterpieces were written for those who won athletic 
victories. It is as if a modern poet should confine himself 
to Oxford and Cambridge indifferent to newer univer- 
sities, indifferent to socialism and the working classes, 
indifferent to imperialism, to India, Egypt, or the Colonies ; 
and in Oxford should celebrate mainly the exploits of 
' blues '. It may seem a narrow field and typical of a 
narrow mind, and Pindar may appear a bad example of 
the Greek manysidedness. Yet on the other hand, just 
because he is not a very profound thinker, he probably 
represents the way in which an ordinary Greek looked 
at life, better than any of the great writers except perhaps 
Herodotus ; and the peculiar Hellenic virtues stand out 
the more vividly against a background of convention. 

He leaves us in no doubt as to what he thinks to be the 
highest happiness, and the enthusiastic Hellenist is apt 
to be shocked when he comes to Pindar's view of the 
ideal life. What Pindar covets and admires is no mystic 
vision of supersensual beauty, no intellectual grasp of 


abstract truth, but an earthly, tangible, profitable good. 1 
To start with, a man should be young and tall and hand- 
some, and have those natural gifts which attract friends, 
help him to win races at Olympia, put him in a position 
to enjoy the good things of life, and make him, in a word, 
a success. He must have ayXaoyvios rjfir) ' glorious- 
limbed youth ' you could not parallel the phrase outside 
Greek. The picture of Jason, as he conies down from the 
Centaur's cave among the forests of Pelion to claim the 
kingship which was his due, gives a clear notion of Pindar's, 
and indeed of the Greek, ideal of man. ' So in the fullness 
of time he came, wielding two spears, a wondrous man ; 
and the vesture that was on him was twofold, the garb 
of the Magnetes country close fitting to his splendid limbs ; 
but above he wore a leopard's skin to turn the hissing 
showers ; nor were the bright locks of his hair shorn from 
him, but over all his back ran rippling down. Swiftly he 
went straight on, and took his stand, making trial of his 
dauntless soul, in the market-place when the multitude 
was full.' 2 This is the sort of man Pindar would like you 
to be. 

Then, if you can choose your station in life, be a king 
that is the crown and summit of human good. But in 
any case be rich, and wealth joined to or in Pindar's 
expressive phrase, ' enamelled with ' the gifts of nature 3 
will make you as secure as a man can be. It will give you 
chances which the ordinary man has not, it will suppress 
the deeper cares, and in the end it will bring you to the 
Paradise of the Just. So at least Pindar implies. A strange 
key it seems with which to open heaven. And yet there 

1 On his relation to Orphism see pp. 198, 200-1. 
* Pyth. 4. 78. I have borrowed Mr. Myers's renderings in 
nearly every case. * Ol. 2. 53 ff. 


is some sense in Pindar's view ; for the possession of 
wealth puts a man beyond the vulgar temptations of 
poverty, and it is a law of life that to him that hath more 
is given. Be rich, be strong, be handsome. This is the 
Greek grasping after facts, after hard, concrete, physical 

But supposing Nature has done her duty, and made you 
an athlete and a rich man, what of the world into which 
you are born ? It seems a bad world on the whole. Any 
one glancing through a collection of Pindar's sayings 
might think them predominantly gloomy. Everywhere 
death is seen closing up the avenues of prosperity and 
success which these athletic triumphs open, and Pindar 
will not let the victor forget that he is putting his festal 
robes on a body which is mortal, and that at the last he 
will clothe himself in earth. 1 Even life itself is a dark 
thing. The poet is oppressed by thoughts of TTOVOS and 
Xrj&rj, the hard work which is necessary to success, the 
oblivion which so soon and so remorselessly devours it. 
For man is ' a creature of a day, the dream of a shadow'. 2 
Then, too, there are the ordinary misfortunes of human 
life, which Pindar thinks so many that ' heaven allots 
two sorrows to man for every good thing '. 3 Even his 
heroes are not exempt. Some one of these brilliant victors 
is in disfavour, or in exile, or has been disappointed of 
some hope. Perhaps there has been death in his house, 
or illness is sapping his strength, or old age has ended 
his triumphs and warns him of the approach of death ; 
and ' there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor 
wisdom in the grave whither he goes '. Then, too, there 
are all those unnumbered hindrances, accidents, and 
checks to ambition, summed up in the bitter words of the 

1 New. ii. 15. * Pyth. 8. 95. Pyth. 3. 81. 


fourth Pythian : ' now this they say is of all griefs the 
sorest, that one knowing good should of necessity abide 
without lot therein.' l Pindar never holds his tongue 
about these things, and, if he were a modern, we should 
call him a pessimist. But he is Greek, and so a page or 
a line further on, and we are deep in one of those bril- 
liantly coloured, ' purple ' descriptions of joy or feasting 
or adventure of which he is a master, ' moving among 
feasting and giving up the soul to be young, carrying 
a bright harp and touching it in peace among the wise of 
the citizens/ 2 

Here is the Greek, determined, as far as he can see it, to 
tell himself the truth. There is no shirking facts, no 
pretending that evil is good and death pleasant ; there is 
no attempt even to conceal the fact that such things 
exist. Yet the existence of evil is no argument for pessi- 
mism in Pindar's eyes. The skeleton is indeed brought 
out to fill his place ; but he is only one among the guests 
at the banquet of life. If the dark days are many, so are 
the bright, and the wise man enjoys or endures each as it 

Many people would criticize Pindar's view of life as 
earthy, and find fault with a poet who seems to place man, 
not a little lower than the angels, but rather a little higher 
than the brutes. Yet no one could call Pindar sordid, for 
he has the Greek gift, to repeat a phrase, of spiritualizing 
material things. The joys of feasting, for instance, play 
some considerable part in him (they were, then as now, 
the sequel to athletic contests). But they are viewed 
in a glory of ideal light, not as the mere filling of the 
belly, but as v<f)poo-vi>r) , ' cheerfulness,' as Upbv ev<pas 
, ' the sacred blossom of joyous living.' English 
. 4. 287. Pyth. 4. 294. 


keeps traces of the same thought in phrases like ' good 
cheer ' and ' good living ', but they have long since sunk 
into synonyms for gluttony ; in Pindar the good fellow- 
ship remains more than the good food, as we see in the 
description of the brilliant company of poets and states- 
men at the table of Hiero. ' They celebrate the son of 
Kronos, when to the rich and happy hearth of Hiero they 
are come ; for he wieldeth the sceptre of justice in Sicily 
of many flocks, culling the choice fruits of all kinds of 
excellence ; and with the flower of music is he made 
splendid, even such strains as we sing blithely at the table 
of a friend.' 1 

No, it is not sordid, nor, if life is to be regarded from 
a purely human point of view, is it wrong. At any rate 
even the most aspiring idealists have at times their human 
moments, and there are few who will not find it refreshing 
after reading Carlyle or some other mystic prophet, till 
the head grows dizzy and numb with the thought of the 
mystery of life and of man wandering between two 
eternities, to take up Pindar and read, set out in a flaming 
glory of language, this sober, commonplace philosophy of 
the earth on which we live. 

Probably the more we have said about Pindar, the 
more unfitted he has seemed to illustrate the view of 
Hellenism which the last chapter attempted to expound. 
There it was argued that the Greek united to his love 
of physical excellence a love of, and respect for, the 
things of the mind. And now, to illustrate this theory, 
we have hit upon a poet, who has the Greek truth- 
fulness and the Greek love of personal beauty and of 
concrete things, but who has so far shown no sign of the 
Greek love of reason. Pindar, to judge from what we 

1 01. i.8f. 


have seen of him, appears to have had a very common- 
place intellect, and to have compensated for intellectual 
commonplaceness, as a man by a passion for athleticism, 
as a poet by a rich sense of beauty. 

True, Pindar has not a first-class intellect ; he has no 
speculative power at all ; and though much of his poetry 
is sudden and dazzling like lightning, its flashes do not 
illuminate the depths of human nature. Yet Pindar is 
more philosophical than at first appears. He has an 
elaborate intellectual theory of life, is clearly very pleased 
with it, and loses no opportunity of preaching it. He may 
not be speculative in the sense in which Plato and the 
dramatists are speculative, but like all his race he felt the 
need for some rational account of things. Hence a 
philosophy. Its catchwords sound meaningless (so do 
Election, Reprobation, Justification by Works or by 
Grace ); but that is only because we have outgrown the 
phraseology, and use clearer or ampler language to 
express our meaning. The meaning is modern, if not 
the words. 

Let us take a fragment of this philosophy Pindar's 
account of evil. Our misfortunes, he thinks, are due to 
three causes. First comes the nature of the universe, in 
which death and old age are inevitable, and some people 
are born weak or sickly ; in which accidents happen that 
no one can foresee or avert. That is Moipa, Fate, which 
sends evil not of our seeking and beyond our control. It 
is no use our complaining or rebelling against it. Death 
and old age have to be frankly accepted as the tyrant 
of Syracuse had to accept them ; avOtvel ^v xpari 
fiatvav, d\\a p.oipi8Lov rjv, 1 ' walking with sick body, 

1 Pyth. i. 55. (The words are used of Philoctetes, to whom 
Hiero is compared.) 



yet so it was fated to be.' Then there are the evils which 
we bring on ourselves, by arrogance or vice or some other 
sin ; and these are due to "Tfipis, the Insolence of man. 
Finally there are the evils which cannot be put down to 
either of these causes, which are not of God, yet for which 
we can hardly blame ourselves. An upright, patriotic 
citizen is banished ; his very virtue makes it impossible 
for him to live peaceably with his neighbours, and keeps 
him out of office and power. What is the malign influence 
which works against him but QOovos, Envy ? MoTpa, 
"TfSpis, $66vos, the three sources of our misfortunes ; how 
could we improve on the definition, except by a change 
of words ? What is the remedy for these evils ? For ill- 
ness ? doctors, medicine : but there are many evils which 
they never cure. For "Tfipis ? repentance and amend- 
ment : but the evil done may be irreparable. For $0oj/os ? 
it is difficult to find any remedy for that, except Pindar's 
general remedy for them all, Xpovos, Time. A slow remedy 
and one sometimes overtaken by death ; but is there any 
other which is effective ? S. Paul, perhaps, might have 
said vironovri, 'patient endurance' ; but that is only putting 
the same idea in a profounder and more personal way. 

So, after all, Pindar serves to illustrate our point ; 
a commonplace intellect ; interests which might well have 
crowded out intellectual things, and certainly do not 
encourage them ; yet a complete philosophy ; not pro- 
found, in some ways crude, but carefully thought out, 
elaborately rounded off, and perhaps not so very inade- 
quate or contemptible. 

Now let us pass to our second example. 
To have been born in a town, situated in Asia, but where 
the settlers were Dorians and the prevailing influence 


Ionian ; before the age of twenty to have rebelled against 
the local tyrant, to have been exiled, to have returned, to 
have been driven out again by the ' intolerable criticism ' 
of the citizens ; then to have travelled northward as far 
as the Crimea, southward as far as Assouan, eastward as 
far as Susa, westward as far as Sicily ; when forty, to 
have joined a new venture for founding an all-Greek 
colony in Italy ; thence to have returned to Athens, while 
Pericles was at the height of his power that was not 
a narrow life, nor a poor training for an historian. It is 
the life of Herodotus. 

What inspired him to write his history ? 

Not the motives which inspired Gardiner and Acton, 
and inspire the better historians of our own day. Not the 
instinct, half conscious, half mechanical, to learn what 
really happened, to rinse from their baser setting scanty 
grains of genuine truth, to postpone to that the picturesque, 
the interesting, the profitable, the prudent. Herodotus 
had, as we shall see, a peculiar veracity of his own ; but 
it was not the veracity of a scientific historian. Otherwise 
there would have been fewer miracles in his history : 
and we should have missed that conversation (whose 
genuineness his contemporaries questioned, but he him- 
self with amazing mendacity affirms,) in which Darius 
and two eminent Persians debate at Babylon on the merits 
of democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny, in set speeches 
and with sentiments entirely Greek. 1 Herodotus does 
not belong to the modern school. 

Yet his motives were not those of historians like Livy 
or like Macaulay. He did not write to glorify a great 
faction or a great people or great principles or a great man : 
or if he did, if the triumph of Greece over Persia was his 

1 3. 80 f. 


real inspiration, he wrote in a different spirit from the 
historians whom we have just named. He is not a mere 
panegyrist or an apologist : he does not speak of his own 
people as Livy speaks of the Romans, or Macaulay of the 
Whigs, or Carlyle of Cromwell. He does not speak of 
the Persians as Livy speaks of Carthage or Macaulay 
of the Tories, or Carlyle of the Cavaliers. He is not 
a lawyer, briefed to elicit the virtues of one side and 
the vices of the other. He quotes with evident enjoy- 
ment Cyrus's definition of a Greek market-place, as ' a 
place set apart for people to go and cheat each other 
on oath'. Though Persia was the enemy of Greece, he 
calls attention to the Persian virtues. ' Their valour, 
their simplicity and hardiness, their love of truth, their 
devoted loyalty to their princes, their wise customs and 
laws, are spoken of with a sincerity and strength of 
admiration which strongly marks his superiority to the 
narrow spirit of national prejudice. . . . The personal 
prowess of the Persians is declared to be not a whit inferior 
to that of the Greeks, and constant apologies are made for 
their defeats, which are ascribed to deficiencies in their 
arms, equipment, and discipline.' It is the same with 
his own people. He admires Athens beyond any state : 
yet he frequently criticizes her, pointing out, for example, 
the Spartans' superiority in courage. He dislikes Corinth 
and Boeotia, yet he calls attention to the bravery of the 
latter and to various excellences of the former. His 
verdict on the Greek world, so full of jealousy and detrac- 
tion, has a tranquil impartiality. ' So much I know, that 
if all people were to deposit their private misdoings in 
public and try to make an exchange with their neighbours, 
when they had examined their neighbours' iniquities, they 
would all of them be thankful to carry home again those 


with which they came.' And he concludes with a charac- 
teristic description of his own practice. t ' For myself, I am 
bound to report all that is said : but I am not bound to 
believe it all.' l 

The little treatise of Plutarch, On the Malignity of 
Herodotus, is an interesting testimony to this candour. 
Plutarch took the view that the Greeks of the great age 
were incapable of wrong, and rated the historian for 
' needlessly describing evil actions '. ' How malignant of 
Herodotus,' he thinks, ' to say that the Delphic oracle was 
bribed, that a party in Athens tried to betray the city 
after Marathon, that the Persians were worse armed than 
the Spartans at Plataea (' if so, what remains great and 
glorious to Greece in those battles '). How odious is his 
habit, after relating something to the credit of a man, of 
mentioning some weakness or vice ; as in the case of 
Ameinocles the Magnesian, of whom he says that he 
killed his son : it is better to leave such details out.' 2 An 
odd criticism, but one which is based on fact. There are 
many characters in Herodotus whom we like, but none of 
them are heroes ; and I am inclined to think that there 
is no one, except perhaps Aristides, whom we can whole- 
heartedly respect. Perhaps that is not entirely the fault 
of Herodotus : still it is true that his was not the style 
of those text-books of our childhood from which we learnt 
that the English arms never suffered a reverse except at 
Fontenoy, Saratoga, and Yorktown. He is not a scientific 
historian : he is not a conscientiously merciless realist : 

1 Hdt. i. 153 (an agora) : quotation from Rawlinson, Herodotus, 
i. 80 : see the whole passage from p. 76 for references. Hdt. 
7. 152. 

1 Except for the words in brackets (de malign. 874), this is 
not a verbal quotation, though it represents the sentiments and 
employs the instances of Plutarch : for Ameinocles see Hdt. 7. 190. 

K 3 


but with the genuine Greek instinct of directness he took 
men and things as nature made them. And so as an his- 
torian his place is not with Livy, Froude, Carlyle, and 
their like. 

Why, then, did he write his history ? 

He wrote it because he kept to manhood a gift which is 
original in us all. For Herodotus is exactly what a man 
would be who grew up and preserved unimpaired the 
na'ive curiosity with which he was born. Solon had the 
same curiosity it made him travel Ofwptrjs Iz/eica, ' to 
see the world : ' and it made Herodotus travel too, and 
leave in writing what he saw. @o>/*a ' Wonder ' he 
calls the quality, and in some sense or other the 
word is continually on his lips : OS>p.d pot Alyerat 

a> TO 


Fortunate Egyptian priests, who expounded to him the 
ways of their country, and watched him absorb it all from 
the three hundred and thirty sovereigns of Egypt down 
to the bird that picks the crocodile's teeth ! He took down 
every detail, small or great, with the impartial interest of 
a child. You can learn from him that Egyptian cats 
jump into the fire, that the Persians dislike white pigeons, 
that the priestess of Athene at Pedasus has twice grown 
a large beard, that the Massagetae eat their parents, that 
the Danube islanders get drunk on smells : he tells us 
why Scythian cattle have no horns, what is the relative 
hardness of an Egyptian and a Persian skull, what is the 
size of the waterworks at Samos, how Psammetichus learnt 
that the first men on the earth were Phrygians, how the 
walls of Babylon were built, how the trench was dug 
through Athos, how the Adyrmachidae treat fleas, how 
the lake-dwellers prevent their children falling into the 


water. 1 And all this springs from a history of the relations 
of Greece with the East, which its writer follows through 
sinuous meanders of infinite digression, using it as a frame 
for the history of all the ways of all mankind of which he 
knew or had been told. 

And how much of something more interesting than 
archaeological or ethnological fact, how much of human 
nature, passes in review as we read him. For the Wonder 
of Herodotus goes far beyond the curiosity of Mandeville 
or Marco Polo, and is nearer the imaginative sympathy 
of a great novelist. He loves to watch and depict human 
nature. He loves the personal element in history. And 
because he is unfettered by desire for immediate relevance, 
he lets this draw him wherever it is to be found ; so that 
in his pages, statesmen, grooms, doctors, nurses, peasants, 
gods, thieves, jostle one another. Now a king speaks, 
now a philosopher, now a cafe loafer. We see Syloson 
in the great square of Memphis, strutting in his scarlet 
cloak, we hear the self-complacency of the fisherman who 
was asked to dinner with the tyrant of Samos, 2 and the 
retort of the mother of Ariston to the man who said that 
a mule driver was the father of her children. Children, 
too, who are generally excluded from history, delight the 
broad humanity of Herodotus, and are continually to be 
met in his pages. 3 In general he is more interested in 
human beings, their passions and emotions, than in the 
' forces ' and ' movements ' of the modern historian. ' The 
Phocaeans sunk a lump of iron and swore they would 

1 2.66 ; I. 138 ; 8. 104 ; I. 216 ; r. 202 ; 4. 29 ; 3. 12 ; 3. 60 ; 
2. 2 ; I. 179 ; 7. 23 ; 4. 168 ; 5. 16. 

1 3. 42 (/ie-ya iroi(vfitvos) ; 3.139 (Syloson) ; 6. 69 (the wife of 

e.g. i. inf.; 2. i ; 3.48; 5. 51.92. 


not return to their city till it floated. But as they were 
setting out for Cyrnus, longing and sorrow for their home 
and for the ways of the land overcame more than half of 
them, and they broke their oath and sailed back to 
Phocaea.' l The writer of these words was more than a 
mere historian. He was a man whose width of human 
sympathy, and interest in human things places him nearer 
to Shakespeare than to Thucydides. 

The real genius of Herodotus lies in this quick imagi- 
native intellect not in his religious or ethical views. Of 
his religion it is difficult to speak, for he belongs to an age 
of transition, and exhibits at once the old superstitions 
and the new criticism. On the one hand, he fills his 
history with miracles, goes out of his way to express 
confidence in the oracles of Bakis, is shocked by any form 
of impiety, and believes that God envies and overthrows 
men for becoming powerful. On the other, he supposes 
that the gods owe their functions, shapes, and names to 
Homer and Hesiod, thinks that ' one man knows as much 
of them as another ', and holds the dangerous doctrine 
that custom determines men's beliefs. 2 A generation 
later these lines might have taken him into agnosticism. 
But whatever his destination, he was not and could never 
have become a religious genius ; he is not a spiritual man, 
and he is entirely wanting in that sense of a personal 
relation to God without which religion wanes as knowledge 

Equally little is he a great moralist. When a definite 

1 i. 165. 

* 8. 77 (Bakis) ; i. 32 (enviousness of God: so 3. 40 ; 7. 10) ; 
2. 53 (Homer and theology) ; 2. 3 ; 3. 38 (vopos). The ' envious- 
ness ' of the Herodotean gods is not to be confused with the 
' jealousy ' of Jehovah : it is mere unmixed envy. 


issue is presented to him, he takes the side of the angels ; 
he definitely condemns certain enormities : he often im- 
plies, without openly stating, condemnation. On the 
other hand, he relates horrible things in the same spirit 
in which we read of murders, sometimes with a pleased 
interest in their strangeness, sometimes with a not 
unagreeable thrill of horror, but in either case without 
any realization of the misery and degradation they imply. 
Here is his account of a particularly atrocious custom, 
the Scythian custom of blinding slaves. ' The Scythians 
blind all their slaves because of the milk which they drink : 
and what they do is this.' (Then he describes a method 
of inflating the mares to make them give more milk.) 
' When the milk has been obtained, they pour it into 
hollow wooden vessels, station the blind slaves by them 
and churn the milk. The part which sets, they drain off 
and esteem most : what sinks to the bottom, they con- 
sider of less value. That is why the Scythians blind 
every one they capture : for they do not cultivate the 
ground, but are nomads.' That is a type of many stories 
in Herodotus. Herodotus has come upon some odd 
customs ; he is extremely interested in a curious way the 
Scythians have of treating their slaves, in a curious way 
they have of making their mares give more milk. If we 
could ask him whether he approved of treating slaves 
thus, he would of course have answered no. But he is so 
absorbed hi the way in which the Scythians get their 
milk, what they do with it, and what they think of it, 
that he forgets to be angry or disgusted about the slaves. 
Hence a string of details quite irrelevant to the main 
horror, and which indicate that Herodotus is full of intel- 
lectual curiosity, but temporarily indifferent to the moral 
aspects of the story. In that he is a true devotee of 


It is almost impossible to unite the impar- 
tiality of a genuine critical temperament with moral 
fervour. The one will be lukewarm or the other biased. 
If a man is Renan or Goethe, he will not be Carlyle or 
Ruskin. 1 

Now let us glance at the relation of all this to the Greek 

We saw in the preceding chapter that intellectual 
interest is one side of humanism. Here Herodotus is 
a better representative of the Greeks than Pindar, whose 
mental joints work somewhat stiffly ; and for that reason 
we have occupied ourselves with him. He was never 
trained to criticize or speculate ; his criticism and 
speculation are the spontaneous work of an untutored 
brain. But he is the rough material of a Socrates or 
a Plato, and with such a stock to draw from we are 
not surprised at the later intellectual achievements of 

True, the ordinary man was not Herodotus. But no 
one can read the history without realizing that it tells of 
a people amazingly quick-witted itself and delighting in 
the quick wit of others, a people, as Herodotus says, ' dis- 
tinguished of old from the barbarians for its greater clever- 
ness and greater freedom from silly simplicity.' 2 There 
are the quaint sayings and ready retorts ev flprjfifva, 
dcrrcTa. There is the infinite fertility of expedient 

1 Hdt. 4. 2. It is, perhaps, possible to argue that all the while 
Herodotus is in a state of suppressed moral indignation. Every 
one must judge for himself whether that is the impression he 
leaves. On the difference between the moral and intellectual 
temperament, see Mazzini's essays on Renan, and on Goethe and 

* i. 60. 


and trick which furnished Herodotus with so many of his 
tales. There is the gusto with which these things are 
narrated. And, greatest testimony of all, there is the 
sight of the Greek already seizing the position which he 
was to hold for so many generations, under Seleucids, 
Ptolemies, Romans, Turks, already becoming the brain 
of the Nearer East. His oracles it was an intellectual 
people surely that riddled and unriddled sayings so 
obscure are consulted by Eastern potentates ; his 
philosophers go travelling to their courts ; his engineers 
bridge the Bosphorus for Darius ; his doctors attend that 
monarch for sprained ankle ; his exiles instigate and 
counsel Persia in the invasion of Greece. Their ready wit 
takes the Greeks everywhere and makes them everything. 
When Cambyses invaded Egypt, he both found Greeks in 
the opposing army and took them with him in his own : 
they had come, Herodotus says, ' in great quantities, 
some to trade, and some, too, to see the country.' Perhaps 
on that occasion some Persian or Egyptian courtier may 
have anticipated by six centuries Juvenal's hatred of 
this ubiquitous, insinuating race, and cursed in his own 
language the 

Ingenium velox, audacia perdita 
of Greece. 1 

As in intellectual power, so in religious and moral 
capacity, Herodotus is the general type of the Greek race. 
It is doubtless unfair to generalize from a single individual, 
but so much surely is borne out by history. Though the 
Greeks did much for theology, yet we should not look 
among them for the great religious teachers of man- 
kind ; though they did much for moral philosophy, their 

1 i. 30 (Solon); 4. 87 (Bosphorus bridge) ; 3. 130 (Democedes); 
3. II and 139 (Greeks in Egypt) ; Juvenal 3. 73. 


achievement in the sphere of practical morals was the virtue 
of a few individuals, not the strenuous uplifting of a whole 
nation. They had the sympathetic temperament, which 
at the worst shows itself as quickness of mind, at the best 
as high imagination. The strength of this temperament 
is not the patient, stubborn edification of character. Its 
victories are won in literature and thought, and in brief 
moments of brilliant life. It made the Greeks quickly 
responsive to noble ideas, to sublime conceptions of God 
and man and the world. By moments they felt more 
intensely than any men the splendour of patriotism, the 
fascination of wisdom, the excellence of virtue ; though, 
as such natures do, they were apt to lack persistence for 
the hard toil through which visions are wrought into 
realities. They had the poet's nature, which is sensitive 
to the atmosphere around it, and flushes to its colours 
as quickly as a cloud. So in their cities they created 
a rich life, and in their art, philosophy, and literature 
they were capable of high and beautiful conceptions. 
And the latter were permanent, but the former passed 
rapidly away. 1 

To suit our purposes we have dwelt on the points in 
which Herodotus is complementary to Pindar and have 
ignored his view of life. In spite of the differences between 
the two men, it is essentially the same as Pindar's. 
Herodotus was a democrat, Pindar an aristocrat : in the 
latter we see the cramped embryo of a speculative intel- 
lect, in the former one that is growing to manhood. But 
on things in general their opinions coincide. Like Pindar, 

1 I cannot help feeling that Maeandrius, ' the man who wanted 
to be just and found it impossible ' (Hdt. 3. 146 f.), is a type of 
many Greeks. 


Herodotus thinks the world an evil place, and almost 
justifies Goethe's statement that the lesson of Greek 
literature and art was that hell existed on this earth and 
in our present life. 1 Here is a conversation in which the 
speakers are Xerxes and Artabanus, but the sentiments 
are Greek. ' Our life is short, and yet there is no man so 
happy but he will have occasion often and often to wish 
that he was dead rather than alive. Misfortunes befall, 
illnesses harass us, and make life seem long, for all its 
brevity. Life is wretched, death is the most desirable 
refuge from it, and God shows his jealousy by giving us 
a taste of the sweetness of existence.' 

These are gloomy words ; yet round Herodotus, as 
round Pindar, there hang none of the depressing miasmata 
of modern pessimism ; he faces this evil world with the 
common sense of a healthy man. ' Human life is as you 
say, Artabanus, but let us say no more about it, nor 
remember the evil days while the good are in our power.' 
The big battalions of fate are against us, but that is no 
reason for dropping arms from nerveless hands. ' If you 
are going, as each question arises, to take into account all 
possible chances, you will never do anything at all. It 
is better to be always courageous and come in for half 
the possible disasters, than to fear everything and never 
suffer anything at all. . . . The chances here are equally 
balanced. How can a man have certain knowledge ? It 
is impossible for him. But those who act generally suc- 
ceed, and those who take everything into consideration 
and turn back, generally do not.' Brave talk and excellent 
sense, these words, both in their gloom and their courage, 

1 Briefwechsel zwischen Goethe und Schiller, 927. Perhaps I have 
misrepresented Goethe by substituting literature and art for 
Homer and Polygnotus. 


are typical of the Greek view of life, at least in the years 
before Chaeronea. They should warn us not to speak of 
Greek ' pessimism ' without explaining what we mean by 
the word. 1 

For the Greeks, as we said before, kept both eyes open, 
and knew that life might give a qualified happiness to 
any one. And here again, though the happiness which 
Herodotus contemplates is less gilded than that of Pindar, 
it mixes, like Pindar's, with a vein of idealism those con- 
crete and earthly qualities which we saw that the Greeks 
favoured. The historian has told us something about 
three men whom Greek opinion considered happy, one 
Athenian, two Argives. The Athenian had virtuous and 
good-looking sons, he saw his grandchildren grow to 
manhood, his city was prosperous, he fell in victorious 
battle for her, and the city gave him a public funeral. 
Because of all this Solon thought him the happiest man 
he knew. The Argives are Cleobis and Biton, who drew 
their mother in a carriage five miles to a festival, and 
' having done this and having been seen by the gathering 
(few moderns would be unsentimental enough to add 
this detail), came to an excellent end. God showed in 
their case that it was better to die than to live. The 
Argive men surrounded them and congratulated them on 
their strength ; the Argive women congratulated their 
mother on her children. Then she, delighted at what they 
had done and at its celebrity prayed God to give them the 
gift best for man. And after that prayer, when they had 
sacrificed and feasted, they lay down to rest in the temple, 
and never rose again. But the Argives made statues of 
them and set them up in Delphi, as the best of men.' 
Herodotus adds as further ingredients in their happiness 
1 Hdt. '7. 46. 47. 50. 


that they had comfortable means and powerful physique, 
and that they had been victorious in the public games. 1 

Keats, whose untaught genius a century ago rejected 
the stilted Hellene of popular imagination, spoke in his 
Ode on a Grecian Urn of a 

Little town by river or sea shore 

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 

and some such place was the home of Cleobis and Biton. 
Its citizens, as Herodotus shows them, are a homely, 
genial people a German would call them gemutlich 
too simple to be intellectualists or hedonists, too human 
to be materialists, prizing highly the common virtues and 
pieties, but not so idealistic as to undervalue good looks, 
' comfortable means/ public funerals, and statues at 
Delphi ; inclined to a dark view of the world, yet able to 
enjoy it, and living in kindly simplicity the happy life of 
the ' natural ' man. 

With this picture of them we may leave our sketch of 
the meaning of Greek humanism. 

1 Hdt. i. 30. 31. 


HUMANISM did not disappear from the world with the 
Greeks, nor is it a philosophy peculiar to them. It is the 
shadow thrown by human nature, and, like a shadow, 
inseparable from it. Wherever body and brain exist, 
strength, beauty, and intellectual prowess have their 
worshippers ; youth is enjoyed and old age dreaded. 
Men eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, 
to-day, in the days of Noah, and in those of the Son of 
Man. In any society and under any religion, they seek 
the enjoyments and activities proper to human nature. 
A few ascetics cut themselves off completely from life. 
But most men have felt that common humanity is not 
inconsistent with their creed, and have been content to 
approach God through the circumstances of ordinary 
life, and by the instruments that lay ready to their hand. 
Thus humanism is no less present in our world than it was 
in that of Pericles, though in Greece it was cramped by 
fewer restrictions and worshipped with a more exclusive 

We are all humanists in the sense that instinctively we 
enjoy human energies. But our own age is going beyond 
that. It is becoming exclusively humanist, and con- 
sciously adopting humanism as its creed of life. The 
word, or some derivative of it, is a favourite with both 
Comtism and Pragmatism ; and all agnostics, whether 
they make a religion of humanity or not, are bound to 


pay it the highest respect. For, not recognizing God in 
the world, nor admitting divine ordinances, they must 
form their ideas of what man should be from a considera- 
tion of the circumstances and possibilities of human 
nature. And so conscious humanism creeps in. Popular 
thinkers like Maeterlinck, Wells, and Galsworthy, start 
unaffectedly from human premises, and search in the 
human being himself for a revelation of what the human 
being should be. They do not ask what God requires of 
man ; they are ceasing to ask what Duty requires of him. 
They simply inquire if he is true or false to what is best 
in himself, and judge him by that standard, condemning 
him for treason to his nature, praising him for loyalty to 
it. They are humanists and nothing more. 

If this be true, the modern world should be swinging 
round with the slow set of the tide to that attitude and 
way of thought which Greece assumed so many centuries 
ago. And yet it is not so. However humanistic we may 
be, no one can feel that we have much Hellenism about 
us. Few Hellenists are more than poor copies of those 
splendid originals, mere cardboard imitations of leather. 
Somewhere between us and the Greeks a great gulf is 
fixed. Partly no doubt this is because the great mass of 
mankind are not yet humanists in their philosophy. But 
partly it is due to other reasons. The modern sense of 
beauty is, as we have seen, poor and limited in comparison 
with that of Greece, and this makes our whole life and 
literature uglier than that of Athens. Then, we are far 
more sentimental than the Greeks ; tendrils of sentimen- 
tality still cling about those in whom its roots are dead, 
as ivy clings to a house long after its roots have been cut 
through ; a certain falsity makes itself felt in the most 
merciless of our realists, a falsity quite alien to the naive 

1358 L 


and natural temper of the best Greek literature. But 
there is something more than this which makes us fall 
behind the Greeks. We have our humanist philosophers, 
but they hold a very mutilated and imperfect form of the 
creed. Their lives and their theory of human nature are 
narrow in a way in which Greek life and theory were not. 
There was in the Greeks a certain re Act or 77? which 
we do not possess ; a certain width and completeness in 
their view of human nature, for want of which our litera- 
ture is limited and provincial ; a certain width and com- 
pleteness in their conduct of life, for want of which our 
life is poor and starved. It is this weakness of modern 
humanism which the present chapter tries, very briefly, 
to analyse. The subject falls under two heads, literature 
and daily life ; we must ask how our men of letters differ 
from Sophocles or Euripides, and how our clerks or 
prosperous artisans differ from the Periclean Athenian. 
We will take the first and less important question first. 
In estimating the particular contributions of the 
nineteenth century to the literature of the world, there 
are three kinds of writing which no critic can ignore. In 
the first class are essays like A Dissertation on Roast Pig, 
A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis, The 
Praise of Chimney-sweepers, On the Melancholy of Tailors, 
all of them much or little ado about nothing. Lamb is the 
greatest writer of these, but he has many descendants, 
both legitimate and bastard. The second class has a wide 
sweep ; it includes all literature which draws its emotions 
from that uncertain borderland whose mystery and horror 
trench on life : Salome and Dorian Gray, Les Aveugles and 
Pelle'as et Melisande, French Symbolistic poetry, The 
Celtic Twilight and most of Mr. Yeats's verse belong to it. 
In the third class are Flaubert and Sudermann abroad, 


and Arnold Bennett and Galsworthy in England ; they 
are distinguished by the possession of powerful intellects 
and by the impartial use they make of them ; the cold 
and critical nature of their work is its strength and its 
weakness. These three schools defend themselves in 
different ways. But one of two principles underlies all 
their work. It is justified because it is Art ; or it is 
justified because it is true. Art for Art's sake is a notorious 
maxim ; we may add to it another the real ground of 
the new drama's best work Intellect for Intellect's 
sake. If these two maxims are pursued deeper, their 
roots unite. 

Now in the best Greek literature we do not find Intellect 
for Intellect's sake. Aeschylus and his successors had 
high intellectual power ; but no one could say that their 
central quality is a merciless analysis of fact. Nor again 
do we find in Greek literature that other class of writing 
to which we have alluded. Its great age at any rate 
shows no works like Oscar Wilde's Salome, or the poems 
of Mr. Yeats or Verlaine, or the charmingly written essays 
on nothing in particular which are associated with the 
names of Charles Lamb and Stevenson. The best Greek 
literature is neither eccentric nor pathological nor trifling ; 
its writers do not lead us, like Mr. Yeats, into the bypaths 
of the human soul, to travel by dark and enchanted ways ; 
nor, like Wilde, are they interested in its subtler maladies, 
living in the poisonous air of its sick-rooms, or in ' a delicate 
odour of decay ' ; * nor yet, like Lamb, do they spend 
themselves on slight essays, where the charm lies in style 
and treatment, in the elegant chewing of what is after all 
only a cud of poor grass. There are no works of this kind 
till we come to the morbid love poems of Alexandria (which 
1 A phrase of Pater's. 


might perhaps be set against Salome), and to the amiable 
essays of Lucian on flies and amber (which have something 
in common with the Plea for Gas-lamps and the Disserta- 
tion on Roast Pig). The earlier literature is barren of 
such children. Perhaps that should not be counted to it 
as a merit ; there is sincerity and even genius in some 
at least of the works cited above, and they reflect real 
experiences. Still the fact remains ; such subjects are 
not found in Greek literature before 326 B.C. 

This is not a mere accident. It comes from the character 
of the writers and their audience. Those early Greeks 
were ' energiques, frais, dispos ' ; they were not ' faibles, 
malades, maladifs '- 1 They were not biases. They had 
not yet outgrown an interest in the simple, ordinary 
emotions of mankind, in what Wordsworth calls ' the 
human heart by which we live '. So they were neither 
aesthetes nor mystics nor symbolists. They drew from 
the common sources of humanity, at the point where the 
waters issue pure and fresh from the rock ; and their 
subjects are ordinary, simple, human things. 

Take Homer. The topics of his poetry are really very 
few ; there are battles and games and councils and sea- 
faring, cannibals and enchantresses and marvellous gar- 
dens, life in a Greek palace and in a Greek army and on 
a Greek country farm. But the underlying interests are 
only the broad interests which healthy men in any age 
have in common little more indeed than a strong 
physical life and the activities which arise out of it and the 
intense and elemental feelings which centre round it, 
eating, drinking, fighting, adventure, marriage, friendship, 
faithful service ; courage, generosity, loyalty ; anger, 
cunning, fear. These are the oldest things in man, and 
1 Sainte-Beuve, Qu'est-ce qu'un classiquef (Causeries du Lundi). 


they are common to all men, for they are the original 
elements out of which we were made. And these things 
Homer cares for and describes, and he cares for and 
describes little else. 

Two illustrations will bring out my point. There is 
a certain similarity between the stories of Homer's 
Nausicaa and Wilde's Salome. Both are girls ; both are 
attracted by men of age unequal to their own. But 
Nausicaa's love is the elemental human passion ; Salome's 
is an obscure disease. Contrast the words of the latter 
when she receives the head of John (I will not quote them) , 
with the naive confession of Nausicaa to her companions. 
' Listen, my white-armed maidens, and I will say some- 
what. Ere while this man seemed to me uncomely, but 
now he is like the gods that keep wide heaven. Would 
that such a one might be called my husband, dwelling 
here, and that it might please him here to abide.' * Or, 
again, observe in what a different spirit Homer and Wilde 
think of friendship. The following is from Dorian Gray. 
' Talking to him was like playing on an exquisite violin. 
He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow. There 
is something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. 
To project one's soul into some gracious form and let it 
tarry there for a moment ; to hear one's own intellectual 
views echoed back to one with all the added music of 
passion and youth ; to convey one's temperament into 
another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange 
perfume : there was a real joy in that perhaps the most 
satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as 
our own.' Now hear Homer : ' Achilles wept, remember- 
ing his dear comrade . . . turning him to this side and that, 
yearning for Patroklos' manhood and excellent valour, 
1 Od. 6. 239 f. 


and all the toils he achieved with him and the woes he 
bare. As he thought thereon he shed big tears, now lying 
on his side, now on his back, now on his face ; and then 
anon he would rise upon his feet, and roam wildly beside 
the beach of the salt sea.' x Homer is simple, central, 
human nature. Wilde is informed with the spirit which 
Pater saw in La Joconda, with ' strange thoughts and 
fantastic reveries and exquisite passions ' ; if he has 
beauty, it is a beauty into which ' the soul with all its 
maladies has passed '. 

So much for Homer. Then take the tragedians. At 
first they seem to refute my statement, for they are 
occupied with problems that never occurred to the older 
poet. In the murders of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, 
in the adultery of Aegisthus and the marriage of Jocasta, 
Homer had only seen horrible and exciting stories. To 
the tragedians these suggest the problem of evil, the conse- 
quences of sin, the mystery of heredity. For Homer the 
fighting at Troy was a great game. For Aeschylus and 
Euripides it raised all the problems of war ; it seemed the 
disorganization of society, the ruin of civilization, a cause 
of misery to the conquered, of cruelty and debasement to 
the conquerors. Human life had grown more complex 
since Homer's day, its difficulties and possibilities had 
multiplied, and literature faithfully reflects the change. 
But even so literature remains central and simple in its 
interests. The agonies and misfortunes of the heroes of 
tragedy may be more complex than the elemental passion 
of the Homeric Achilles ; but they are agonies we all 
might conceivably have to suffer, misfortunes that might 
possibly befall ourselves. Bizarre vices are avoided. It is 
noticeable, when we remember how adulterous passions 

1 //. 24. 3 f. 


attract the modern playwright, that no extant Greek play 
except the Hippolytus has them for its central interest. 
There is no morbid pathology in Greek drama. 

Let me illustrate my point from a play which seems 
to contradict this view. The legend of the Oedipus Rex is 
morbid. It is the story of Oedipus who, in ignorance, 
kills his father and marries his mother, Jocasta. Surely 
this cannot be called ordinary, central, broadly human ; 
does it not rather rank with or below Salome ? At 
first sight one would be tempted to say so. Yet the real 
interest of the play is not in the relations into which 
Oedipus is brought. It resides partly in the plot most 
wonderful of plots and in the intricate net of circum- 
stance by which Oedipus is taken in his guilt ; but mainly 
in the appeal to our moral sympathies made by the story 
and especially by the part which one of the sufferers plays. 
Jocasta, with a woman's quick intuition, realizes the 
shameful fact before her son ; with natural weakness she 
tries to hush it up, and, this failing, flies from it by suicide. 
But Oedipus, on whom the truth breaks later, insists on 
hearing the story of his shame to its end ; and then, after 
himself rehearsing the tale of his misery in calm and 
bitter words, resolves, unlike his wife, to bear his fate to 
its end, and goes forth a consecrated outcast into the 
solitudes of the hills. The appeal of the play is not patho- 
logical or even intellectual ; it is the moral appeal to the 
most universal of our sympathies. We see the agony of 
a human being crushed under unspeakable misfortune ; 
and we see him triumph over misfortune by strength of 
will. The universe falls in ruins about him and he con- \- 

fronts it undismayed. L'homme n'est qu'un roseau, le plus 
faible de la nature. . . . Mais quand I'univers I'ecraseroit, 
I'homme seroit encore plus noble que ce qui le tue. And so 


many people read the play, and get to the heart of what 
Sophocles meant by it, without ever quite presenting to 
themselves the exact nature of Oedipus' sin. They hardly 
realize that Sophocles is writing about incest. For the 
fact is that the poet has used the nicest and the parricide 
simply to produce a sense of superhuman disaster, of 
unutterable sin ; he has not analysed and dissected them 
for themselves, he has not treated them pathologically. 
Put the Oedipus by the side of Salome or the Picture of 
Dorian Gray, put it even by the side of Hugo von Hoff- 
mannsthal's play on the same subject, Oedipus und die 
Sphinx, and the difference of the two methods of treat- 
ment is apparent. Sophocles would have no sooner 
written Salome than Pheidias would have sculptured the 
deformities of a hunchback. 

This interest in the essential things of humanity is easy 
to understand. It is partly due to the fact on which we 
have already dwelt, that the Greeks were a younger people 
than we. They stood in the morning of the world, no foot 
had been before them to brush the dew from its common 
grass and flowers, and they took possession of it with 
a fresh delight. The bizarre, the unusual did not tempt 
them. It has been said of Maeterlinck that his whole aim 
is ' to show how mysterious life is ' : and of another 
symbolist that he sought ' the secret of things that is just 
beyond the most subtle words '. Such an aim, such 
a search was foreign to the Greek ; the morbid pathology 
and the charming affectations of modern literature were 
equally alien from his naive and natural mind. 

But there is another reason for this quality. The Greek 
writers led a life very different from modern men of letters. 
Our own writers, born, bred, and condemned to live in 
the study, are stuffed from their early years with ' art ' 


and criticism, and they have the qualities which such 
a training develops. They are artistic and critical. They 
are artistic, and their work is perfect in form and taste. 
Or they are critical, and it shows an intellectual apprecia- 
tion of the problems of life and an uncomfortable insight 
into character, though little warmth of sympathy or 
delight. But in either case the universe in which they live 
is narrow ; for art is really less important than life and 
worthless when taken apart from it, nor does the world 
consist as wholly of problems, as in a study we are apt 
to believe. So it comes that the modern analyst's influence 
is as narrow as his range ; the intellectuals read him, the 
Stage Society acts him, and the greater part of the world 
(whose life is not in these things) passes him by. 

The great Greek writers were very different. Instead 
of being mere men of letters they led the lives of ordinary 
active men. Like Goethe or Scott or Byron or Milton, they 
mixed in the affairs of the world. Sophocles and Thucy- 
dides commanded fleets, Aeschylus had fought at Marathon, 
Socrates had served in the army and presided in the ecclesia, 
Herodotus was a great traveller, the comic poet Eupolis was 
killed in a sea fight, Protagoras drew up the constitution 
for the great Panhellenic colony of Pericles at Thurii, and 
the most famous sophists served as ambassadors and diplo- 
mats : even with writers of whom we have no such records, 
we may feel sure, owing to the peculiar nature of a Greek 
state, that they took some part in public life. 1 Such an 

1 Cp. ' It came upon me " come stella in Ciel ", when,, in the 
account of the taking of Amphipolis, Thucydides, os <al ravra 
^weypa^fv, comes with seven ships to the rescue. Fancy old Hallam 
sticking to his gun at a Martello tower. This was the way to make 
men write well ; and this was the way to make literature respect- 
able. Oh, Alfred Tennyson, could you but have the luck to be 
put to such employment ! ' Fitzgerald, Letters, I. 233. 


existence bred men not only with wide but also with 
ordinary interests, and with a healthy outlook on life ; 
in fact it bred normal men ; nature added genius, and so 
we get the literature which sane, normal men would, if 
they had genius, write. We do not get Art for Art's sake, 
for the writers' interests were not those of artists or littera- 
teurs, but those of general humanity. We do not even get 
such innocent and partial forms of it as Lamb's essays. 
A Greek would have said of such things that they were very 
delightful, but fit rather for invalids or aged persons, not 
for robust men, brimful of life and capable of its intense 
activities ; he would have sympathized with the saying of 
Carlyle about Lamb, that his genius was ' a genuine but 
essentially small and cockney thing '. 1 Nor do we get Intel- 
lect for Intellect's sake. These writers' interest in humanity 
was not that of a student or thinker, but living, so that they 
were kept from the cold, accurate, unfeeling analysis of 
characters and situations, which is common in the ablest 
dramatists of our own day. They knew, what we have 
forgotten, that a generous heart as well as a clear brain was 
necessary for the making of great literature. As their idea of 
a dramatist was not merely an artist, who constructed good 
plots, conceived tragic situations, and embodied the whole 
in beautiful verse, so it was not merely a profound thinker, 
who dissected character finely, studied the effect on it of 
circumstance, started problems, pricked and quickened 
his audiences' brains. The Greek writers were pre- 
occupied with their plots, not for the artistic or intel- 
lectual, but^ for the human interest ; concerned for the 
actual misfortunes of the hero, not merely attracted by 
their dramatic value. His triumphs and trials they did not 

1 Life of Carlyle, 2. 210. In speaking of Lamb I am, here as 
above, only thinking of the Essays of Elia. 


so much see as feel. For they remembered that the figures 
that moved on the stage were reflections of the struggling 
humanity to which they themselves belonged, in whose 
weaknesses and sufferings they saw the image of their own, 
from whose errors they drew warning, from whose fortitude 

Here, then, is a fifth note of Hellenism. It is an interest 
in and generous sympathy with the ' general passions and 
thoughts and feelings of men '. It springs from a nature 
which maintains the balance of perfect health, and has 
only the tastes and pleasures of the healthy. If we think 
of its origin, we may call it ' sanity ' ; if we think of its 
effects, we may coin some such word as ' centrality ' to 
denote it. Because Greek literature has this quality, two 
things can be said of it. Firstly, since all ages live by the 
' human heart ', Greek literature is never antiquated. It 
has never had its day, for its day is, so long as the earth 
is peopled with men. Secondly, it is never morbid ; it 
is a school of healthy thought and feeling ; in Plato's 
words, it is 'a wind wafting health from salubrious 
lands '. 

Most of the features which have been spoken of above, 
as absent from the prime of Greek poetry, make their 
appearance later. Unfriendly critics saw Art for Art's sake 
in the lyrics of Euripides, and blamed him for sacrificing 
sense to sound. They found an unhealthy and morbid 
interest in his plays on the adulterous passions of Phaedra 
and Stheneboea. Certainly he is more critical and intel- 
lectual than his two predecessors. Aeschylus is notable 
for what the Germans call Stimmungsbilder ; his atmo- 
sphere is electric with tremendous forces. Sophocles is 
a master of dramatic situations. But Euripides is the 
student of character, the poet of problem plays. That 


description is far from exhausting his powers, but there 
is something in the view which Aristophanes took of his 
genius that he taught the Athenians ' to think, see, 
understand, suspect evil, question everything '.* 'To 
suspect evil ' that is one of the lessons which Shaw and 
Galsworthy are teaching modern England. And it must 
be remembered that Euripides is the first ' study-poet ' of 
Greece. He led no armies, commanded no fleets, spoke in 
no assembly. He lived in his study the life of a recluse 
his great caricaturist seized that point in him. 2 In Athens 
his library was famous, and tradition represented him as 
' gloomy, unsmiling, averse to society '. 3 

A century later literature was delivered over to the 
' study-poets '. Far away from Athens, under the shadow 
of Egyptian civilization, a monarch of foreign descent 
founded the first university of the world. He instituted 
the great library and museum of Alexandria ; he built 
a common hall where the savants whom he endowed could 
dine, corridors where they could converse, a theatre 
where they could lecture. It was a university of pro- 
fessors without undergraduates, and thither the scholars 
and writers of Greece flocked, to show what poetry men 
of taste living in learned seclusion can produce. Inter- 
minable elegies on incestuous relations ; the hymns of 
Callimachus, perfect in form and empty of matter ; the 
nature poetry of Theocritus, destitute, amid all its 
beauty, of virility or real human interest these were 
produced in a foreign country, amid learned men, under 

1 Frogs, 957. 

2 Aristophanes, Acharnians, 406-9. It is with the utmost 
difficulty that Dicaeopolis, who wishes to borrow some rags from 
Euripides, can get him out of his study ou o-^oX^, Euripides says : 
' I have no time.' 3 Suidas. 


the patronage of a despot, in an age when Greece itself was 
sick to death. Then and only then did literature finally 
divorce itself from living, and become a diversion, an 
occupation, an art. The poets are no longer Aeschylus 
or Pindar or Euripides, but men who (if we judged only 
from their works) had neither home life nor national life 
nor any of the natural activities of healthy men ; they 
had merely a fine taste in literature. 

The last few pages may seem to have been a tilting, 
gratuitous and impertinent, at persons on whom the 
public has already set the seal of its approval. So they 
shall close by an extract which describes with entire 
fairness the origin of one of the most perfect works, which 
Art for Art's sake can claim to have inspired. It neither 
praises nor blames ; it can be taken to do either, and 
every one will take it according to his taste. 

It was not till long after Christ's coming that Longus 
wrote his fairy story of two Greek children, who lived, 
in a state of impossible innocence, in the country near 
Mitylene. But his pastoral has all the qualities of Alex- 
andrian literature, and the words with which M. Anatole 
France describes the spirit in which Longus wrote, might, 
with a few changes, be transferred to Theocritus and 
his friends. ' La Chloe du roman grec ne fut jamais 
une vraie bergere, et son Daphnis ne fut jamais un vrai 
chevrier. Le Grec subtil qui nous conta leur histoire ne 
se souciait point d'etables ni de boucs. II n'avait souci 
que de poesie et d'amour. Et comme il voulait montrer, 
pour le plaisir des citadins, un amour sensuel et gracieux, 
il mit cet amour dans les champs oil ses lecteurs n'allaient 
point, car c'etaient de vieux Byzantins blanchis au fond 
de leurs palais, au milieu de feroces mosa'iques ou derrire 
le comptoir sur lequel ils avaient ramasse de grandes 


richesses. Afin d'6gayer ces vieillards mornes, le conteur 
leur montra deux beaux enfants. . . .' l Think as you read 
these words, how different in the circumstances of its 
production was the genuine literature of Greece, and if 
you care to read the pastoral of Longus, note how different 
is its spirit. 

Here, then, is a point in which Greek differs from modern 
humanism. It took a more central view of humanity. And 
so its literature has not merely the charm of beauty, or the 
quaintness of a puppet show, or the queerness of a morbid 
dream, or the chilly interest of an intellectual problem, 
but, as in Shakespeare or Scott or Goethe, real men and 
women move before us in it, and life is presented, not as 
thought but as action, not as a spectacle but as a 8pdfj.a, 
not as a fantasy or a problem play or a vision of beauty, 
but as life. That is one reason why Greek writers are so 
far ahead of our own humanists. 

All this is the concern of our men of letters, and does 
not touch those who are not novelists and dramatists and 
essayists. We must now attack the second part of our 
inquiry, turning from our men of letters to the ordinary 
citizen, from Maeterlinck and Galsworthy to John Doe 
and Richard Roe. We have seen how Greek humanism 
brought forth different points from our own in literature : 
we must now trace an analogous difference in common life 
and for the ordinary man. 

The modern world recognizes and almost expects a 
divorce between different interests and occupations. It 
shuts the scholar into his study, the man of science in his 
laboratory, the merchant in his office ; it leaves the poet 
to his dreams, it reserves politics for a chosen few : it asks 
1 Le Jar din d' Epicure. 


from its soldier and its sailor little beyond proficiency in 
their business and a love of sport. If any of these stray 
beyond their allotted province, it stares in wonder, often 
in disapproval. But to gain any idea of Greek life, we must 
reverse all our conceptions of what is natural and proper, 
and cease to think of each man as limited to a particular 
function in the commonwealth. We must fancy Browning 
and Tennyson fighting at the bombardment of Alexan- 
dria, as Aeschylus fought at Salamis, and as Thucydides 
commanded a fleet in Thrace. We must conceive of 
Mr. Chamberlain, after initiating the Boer War, as leading 
the English army in person the fifth-century Athenians 
expected that a politician who advised an expedition, 
should himself carry it out. We must think of ourselves 
as all trooping off from our regular employment, four times 
a month or more, to discuss foreign policy and vote 
budgets and bills in parliament : as all going to a national 
theatre twice annually and sitting through whole days 
to watch the tragedies and comedies of a contemporary 
Shakespeare : we must expect to find, seated by us, at 
Westminster or in the theatre, our neighbours and fellow 
citizens, from the Prime Minister to our butcher or grocer ; 
we must not grumble (whether we are Territorials or not) 
at being suddenly asked to put on uniform and go off to 
invade a foreign country. In short we must imagine 
a many-sided, many-coloured life, full of every kind of 
practical and intellectual interests. Then we shall get 
some idea of fifth-century Athens. 

The instinct of manysidedness was as deeply rooted as 
any in the Greek character, and was early formulated as a 
philosophical idea. The first principle the Greek struck 
out to guide him through life was the saying wSlv dyav, 
Nothing too much. It is a crude and negative principle : 


no doubt the Greek hit upon it by roughly reasoning from 
the fate of men in too great prosperity whose hearts were 
lifted up to foolishness, men who went too far and came 
to a miserable end. But the maxim carries with it as its 
obverse and corollary, the precept to see life whole and on 
all its sides. 

Indeed the same conclusion results from the principle 
we found at the bottom of the Greek view of life, from 

I 'humanism. You are a man : be a man. Man is a being 
with many faculties, they are there to be developed, and 
if you will be a perfect man, use them all. Homo es : nihil 
humani a te alienum puta. Give everything in you its 
share : give a share to religion, to war, to politics, to 
family life, to the intellect and to the body, to the state 
and to yourself. Give a share even to qualities which might 
seem dangerous. 1 Man is generally a sober and reasonable 
being ; be generally sober and reasonable. But man has 
moments of exaltation and excitement ; devise Dionysiac 
festivals to carry them off and let there be days when you 
are not ashamed to be excited and exalted and drunk. 
Man has bodily passions ; allow them scope, though a 
j moderate scope. Do not be ascetic, do not ignore human 
' nature, do not maim it ; give it play, yet such play that 
while no side of it is undeveloped, no side of it tyrannizes 
over, dwarfs, or interferes with the rest. 

1 The Hippolytus of Euripides is full of this feeling. The Nurse 
there recommends Phaedra to indulge her adulterous passion 

A straight and perfect life is not for man 

(467, tr. Murray ; see the whole speech, 433 f.) 
and holds that 

' Thorough ' is no word of peace : 
'Tis ' Naught-too-much ' makes trouble cease, 
And many a wise man bows thereto. 

(261-2, tr. Murray.) 
Needless to say, the sympathies of Euripides are not with the Nurse. 


Clearly there are objections to such a way of life. It 
will produce a highly civilized people, good poets, good 
philosophers, good historians, bad generals, bad politi- 
cians, indifferent men of business. It is not consistent 
with efficiency, for efficiency demands specialization. 
Further, it has a profound moral danger. We have used 
the term manysidedness in a good sense. But Juvenal, 
whose keen eyes had noted this quality in the Greeks, uses 
it in a bad one, and saw only evil in the readiness with 
which they could assume any character and turn to any 
trade. He is describing the versatility of the Greek whom 
he knew in Rome. 

A Protean tribe, one knows not what to call, 

Which shifts to every form, and shines in all : 

Grammarian, painter, augur, rhetorician, 

Ropedancer, conjuror, fiddler, physician, 

All trades his own your hungry Greekling counts : 

And bid him mount the sky the sky he mounts ! 

No longer now the favourites of the stage 

Boast their exclusive power to charm the age ; 

The happy art with them a nation shares, 

Greece is a theatre, where all are players. 

For lo ! their patron smiles they burst with mirth ; 

He weeps they droop, the saddest souls on earth ; 

He calls for fire they court the mantle's heat ; 

Tis warm, he cries and they dissolve in sweat. 1 

We can recognize in Juvenal's words the defect of the 
quality, that want of steadiness, want of character, which 
waits so often on brilliant and varied genius. The Roman 
indeed knew Greece in its later days, when changed 
political conditions had developed a fault which was in 
the blood, just as illness will bring out in human beings 
a latent constitutional taint. But Athens herself had felt 
the evil of it long ago, when Alcibiades was her citizen, 

1 Sat. 3. 74-8, 98-103 (tr. Gifford). 

1358 M 


and Plato's description of what he calls the ' democratic 
man ' is a profound analysis of that corruption of many- 
sidedness which was the curse of Greece. 

' It is the habit of his life to make no distinction between 
his pleasures, but to suffer himself to be led by the passing 
pleasure which chance throws in his way, and to turn to 
another when the first is satisfied scorning none but 
fostering all alike. Hence he lives from day to day to the 
end, in the gratification of the casual appetite, now drink- 
ing himself drunk to the sound of music, and presently 
putting himself under training, sometimes idling and 
neglecting everything, and then living like a student of 
philosophy. Often he takes part in public affairs, and 
starting up, speaks and acts according to the impulse of 
the moment. Now he follows eagerly in the steps of 
certain great generals, because he covets their distinctions 
and anon he takes to trade, because he envies the success- 
ful trader. And there is no order or constraining rule in 
his life ; but he calls this life of his pleasant, and liberal, 
and happy, and follows it out to the end.' * It is the very 
voice of Juvenal, five centuries before his time. 

We started out to bless manysidedness : it may seem 
we have ended by cursing it. Certainly what we have said 
of it would not raise the Greeks in the opinion of an 
English man of business. Yet the quality is no slight or 
common one ; nor is it without importance for our prac- 
tice of life. Nothing is more remarkable than the richness 
of opportunity in Athens. There it would have been 
possible to find the same man, at different times, sitting 
at a cobbler's bench, listening to the Bacchae, voting in 
the Assembly, a worshipper in the temples, a soldier on 
campaign, a juror in the courts. We cannot indeed revive 
1 Republic, 561. 


that Greek world in which poets were soldiers, and 
politicians generals, and every man a member of Parlia- 
ment, nor should we wish to do so. But we can try to 
catch a portion of its spirit. This existence, whatever its 
faults may have been, had not the grinding specialism of 
the modern world. Here no one was absorbed by his trade 
or livelihood ; but a man remained in the first place 
a human being, and exercised the gifts, and experienced 
the enjoyments, proper to human nature. The artisan 
did not become a machine, or the labourer a drudge. The 
soldier, the merchant, the man of letters did not slip into 
narrow professionalism. The historian derived his know- 
ledge of politics and war from hours spent in the assembly 
and the camp. The poet and philosopher had been in 
personal touch with that human nature on which they 
moralized and wrote. And if at times this world had the 
defects of its qualities and developed characters which 
were everything by turns and nothing long, it fully com- 
pensated for these failures by its successes. Greek life 
always charms us by the brilliance of its many colours ; 
but at its best they merge in one and become something 
like ' the white radiance of eternity '. 

Having reached this point in our argument let us look 
back over the way we have come. Our original purpose 
was to seize the essential elements in Hellenism and set 
them down side by side, without asserting any necessary 
connexion between them. So we passed from the Greeks' 
Sense of Beauty to their Freedom, their Directness, their 
Humanism, their Manysidedness, their Sanity. As our 
argument advanced, it appeared that these were not 
isolated qualities, but were connected with, and had 
developed out of, each other. The Greek Sense of Beauty 


does perhaps stand apart. But the others depend, like 
links of a chain, from the Greek Freedom as their out- 
ward or negative, and Greek Directness as the inward or 
positive, condition. Because their view of life was not 
dominated by theological or political tyranny, and because 
they looked at the world ' directly ', the Greeks became 
Humanists. For Man met their direct gaze as the obviously 
present, supremely real thing in the world. And because 
the Greeks were Humanists they were Manysided. For 
Man, when you look at him, clearly is a creature with 
many sides, and if you wish to do him justice you must 
treat him as such. And because they were Direct in their 
view of him they were also Sane. For if you look straight 
at Man, you see that he is at bottom not like the Cuchulain 
of Mr. Yeats, or the Salome of Wilde, but a human being. 
No passion is worse than the passion for a system, and 
perhaps it would have been better to leave these qualities 
of the Greek genius in splendid isolation, instead of trying 
to derive them from one source. But this much can be 
said, I think, for the quality I have called Directness. It 
is the one quality which every Greek has. Thucydides, 
Aristotle, Demosthenes, show no exceptional sense of 
beauty. Aristophanes, Herodotus, Homer, are not remark- 
able for moral fervour. But nearly every Greek has 
Directness. The most Hellenic Greeks have most of it : 
but all Greek writing has something of it. And more : it 
is really the secret of Greek literature. The beauty of 
that literature is simply the beauty of a representation of 
some event or emotion which has been felt with vivid 
exactness and pictured in a full clear light. Its weight and 
depth are simply the gifts of writers who have looked 
straight at life and put down exactly what they saw there, 
exactly as they saw it. 


WE have built a picturesque and roomy fold : it is 
hexagonal in shape, and the names of its walls are Beauty, 
Liberty, Directness, Humanism, Sanity, Manysidedness. 
We have driven our cattle inside it, and there they remain, 
to all appearance comfortably and securely penned. 
None seem to have been left outside, and though a few 
were rebellious, most went in without resistance or kick- 
ing. That is the convenience of dealing with dumb or 
dead creatures which cannot answer back ; they might 
be less docile, if they had voices. 

And no doubt, as we built up our notes of Hellenism, 
and squared and related and adjusted them, and then 
compelled the Greeks to come in, straggling strictly 
forbidden, the reader may have felt that this systematic 
grouping was too complete to be natural, and that Hel- 
lenism had some animals which did not properly belong 
to our flock. He was quite right if he thought so. For 
though the central fact in Hellenism and its most precious 
legacy to the world is the lucid, free, rational spirit which 
takes form now as -rrapprja-ia, now as humanism, now as 
directness, now as manysidedness, there is another spirit 
in it too, and if we had to criticize a writer like Matthew 
Arnold, who himself owed so much to Greece and said so 
much that was true about her, we should say that he fell 
short in his estimate of the Greek genius from supposing 
that it was always coolly rational and failing to notice that 
at times it was more. For if Greece showed men how to 




trust their own nature, and lead a simply human life, how 
to look straight in the face of the world and read the 
beauty that met them on its surface, certain Greek 
writers preached a different lesson from this. In 
opposition to directness they taught us to look past the 
' unimaginary and actual ' qualities of things to secondary 
meanings and an inner symbolism. In opposition to 
liberty and humanism they taught us to mistrust our 
nature, to see in it weakness, helplessness, an incurable 
taint, to pass beyond humanity to communion with God, 
to live less for this world than for one to come. 

At this independent current of thought we must now 
glance : briefly, for two reasons. Firstly, it is not the 
main stream of Hellenism, but subordinate. Secondly, 
we can get it from the great thinkers of Christianity in 
a more impressive form, while directness, humanism, and 
liberty can nowhere be found in such purity and complete- 
ness as in Greece. For the sake of vividness it will be 
convenient to expound this unhellenic spirit under the 
name of the one great extant writer who fully represents 
it on all its sides. 

Perhaps to some people it may seem surprising that 
this writer is lato. Rohde long ago showed clearly that 
the Platonic spirit was an alien phenomenon in Greece, 1 
and other writers before had said as much : but except 
on grammatical and textual points, schoolboys are apt 

1 In his Psyche, on which is based what I say about Orphism 
and ideas of immortality, and Plato's ' otherworldliness '. To 
any one who did not know Plato, this chapter would afford 
a onesided idea of him, for I am trying, not to give an account 
of the man, but to illustrate certain phases in him. Of course, his 
extreme views on the body, for instance only appear in certain 
dialogues ; and the Symposium, here cited for unhellenic qualities, 
is in many ways the most Hellenic work in Greek literature. 


to read the classics more as admirers than as critics, and 
many people attain good classes in Literae Humaniores 
without discovering how deep is the gulf that lies between 
Plato and nearly all his peers. Still the gulf is there : and 
though in a thousand ways Plato is a Greek of the Greeks, 
in all that is most distinctive in his thought he is so far 
a heretic that if Hellenism had been a persecuting religion, 
it would have been bound to send him to the stake. 
Nietzsche, who justly pointed out that he was one of the 
earliest defaulters from Greek traditions, called him, in 
his ugly German way, praexistent-christlich : and, to return 
to my own classification, it will soon become clear that he 
is frequently not direct, that he is no admirer of freedom, 
and that he is not a genuine humanist. Let us take these 
three notes in order, and see where he innovates on them. 

We saw in an earlier chapter that of whatever the 
Greek spoke, he tended to dwell on its ' unimaginary and 
actual qualities ' to ' take it at its surface value ', to ' see 
things naked ', to ' keep his feet on the earth ', to ' shrink 
from mysticism ', to be ' concrete and definite ', to ' keep 
his eye on the object ', in a word, to be ' direct '. 

Now Plato is generally as direct as Homer or any of 
his nation, and that too in subjects where he might 
well be otherwise. The famous description of scenery 
in the Phaedrus is often quoted to illustrate the severe 
and unsentimental treatment of nature, characteristic of 
ancient writers : * and whatever may be thought of the 
feelings which led Plato to his views on an after-life, 
there is no doubt that when he takes us there, he is 
definite, concrete, and unmystical in his description of the 
future world to a far greater extent than, for instance, the 
writer of the Apocalypse. In the pictures of Cephalus 
1 Phaedr. 230. 


with which the Republic, and of the house of Callias with 
which the Protagoras opens : above all, in the account of 
the death of Socrates, where instead of commenting or 
sentimentalizing, Plato relates the plain facts and leaves 
them to move our feelings Plato is entirely direct. And 
so generally. 

But there are times when he is very different, as all 
readers of the Ion, the Symposium, and the Phaedrus will 
remember. Take the first of these dialogues and note 
Plato's theory of poetry. Poets no doubt, at the best of 
times and in the most direct of hands, are mysterious 
people, but it is possible to treat them with very little 
mystery, as Wordsworth does in his Poet's Epitaph. 

The outward shows of sky and earth, 
Of hill and valley, he has viewed ; 
And impulses of deeper birth 
Have come to him in solitude. 

In common things that round us lie 
Some random truths he can impart ; 
The harvest of a quiet eye 
That broods and sleeps on his own heart. 

That is perfectly direct ; these lines attribute to the poet 
powers which are indubitably his ; no one could possibly 
deny that he does and is what Wordsworth says. But 
many people might have grave doubts of the truth of 
Plato's account of the poet as a ' light and winged and 
holy thing ', in whom there is no poetry, till he has been 
inspired and is out of his senses, till God ' possesses ' him 
and uses him as a mouthpiece. 1 Here, in their respective 
treatment of the same subject, Plato is mystical, Words- 
worth is direct. 
A still better instance is the Phaedrus. We saw in an 

1 Ion, 534. 


earlier chapter that Greek literature as a whole, with one 
exception, treats love with as little mysticism as the 
subject allows, describing its obvious manifestations and 
effects, without any attempt to discover for them unap- 
parent relations or to make them symbolic of profounder 
realities. The one exception was Plato. That potent and 
surprising emotion to which all humanity is liable he 
endeavoured to connect with mystic experiences in a 
former life, when the unborn human souls drove across 
heaven in the train of Zeus and other gods. There they 
caught a passing glimpse of the great Ideas, of essential 
beauty, essential justice, essential temperance, essential 
knowledge, and then falling to the earth were imprisoned 
in bodies and born as men. And so when a man meets 
beauty in the world, his soul, which is languishing in its 
prison-house, revives, and is fed and refreshed, and 
remembers once more the vision of ideal beauty which 
it saw before birth : this is love. Love, therefore, is the 
intermediary between God and man, the desire of the 
beautiful which is also the good, an earnest of the divine 
excellence which resides in heaven, simple and unalloyed. 1 
How infinitely far are we come from Sappho's commo- 
tion of spirit, as she sits and sees her lover : how far from 
Andromache's affection for the wise and brave husband 
of her girlhood : how far from the many-named goddess 
of Sophocles, who spurs men now to evil, now to good. 
Love left those writers on the earth, even though on a 
better or a wilder earth ; but it has lifted Plato away to 
heaven. We may agree with him, we may think that he has 
ennobled a passion and purged it of earthliness ; but we 
must not rank him, when he speaks thus, with Homer, or 
the lyric poets, or Euripides, or indeed with any of his 
1 Phaedr. 247-51. 


race : his place is in the new world, with Dante and 
Browning and the poets of mystical and unearthly love. 
Whatever he is here, he is not direct. 

So, too, in the question of liberty, Plato abandons the 
ideal of his race, or rather of that Ionian section of it to 
which he belonged. Pericles, as we saw, intended that 
in Athens a man should be able to think, say, and do 
what he wished. He entrusted the greatest interests to 
an unaided, unfenced humanity, in the simple faith that 
it is the nature of man to do right and walk straight. His 
citizens, he thought, had a spirit of awe, a thirst for fame, 
and a devotion to a country, so glorious that she could 
claim devotion. This was a secure guarantee for patriotism, 
a sufficient basis on which to build a polity. 1 

There was a time when Plato must have agreed with 
him, for freedom of thought was the maxim and practice of 
his master, Socrates. But when he turned to politics, he 
proposed to found his state on principles very different 
from those of Pericles. Indeed its chief features are 
borrowed from those regulations of Lycurgus which 
Pericles expressly rejects. 

Think for a moment of the life which we should be 
leading if Plato had had his way. Born in a society where 
marriage was promiscuous, we should never know father 
or mother. Our early years would be spent in a state 
nursery, and from youth up our character scrutinized, till 
at manhood we were irrevocably fixed in one of the three 
Platonic castes, labouring, military, or governing. In the 
lowest and least honoured of these we might do what 
we would : in the other two we should live together ' like 
soldiers in a camp '. The use of gold and silver would, 
1 Thuc. 2. 37. 3 ; 40. I ; 43. i. 


according to Spartan precedent, be forbidden : private 
possessions would be illegal : our houses would be open 
to the world, our wives common property, our children 
as much and as little ours as those of our neighbours. 
For Plato insists on absolute communism, and as long as 
we owned anything, would not trust us to be unselfish. 1 

Such was Plato's plan for an ideal city ; but realizing 
that on earth it was impracticable and could only exist in 
heaven as a pattern to which the lawgiver should longingly 
aspire, he sketched in his Laws a second-best state. Here 
he will allow us private property and families, though the 
syssitia are continued, gold and silver banished, personal 
wealth narrowly restricted, and a host of small regulations 
enforced. But there is a human possession of greater 
price than these purely material goods, and when he deals 
with it, Plato is no friend to clemency. In his state, what- 
ever may be the case with his possessions, no man's mind 
is free, no man's soul is his own. Plato has decided what 
is the truth in morality and religion, and has embodied it 
in laws, from which no syllable shall pass. He has drawn 
up certain dogmas, theological and ethical, which are 
rigorously imposed on all citizens. ' The gods exist, they 
care for men, they cannot be propitiated by prayers or 
sacrifices.' 2 ' Virtue is always pleasant and vice always 
miserable, and you must not say that a wicked man can 
be happy nor a good man unhappy.' 3 

These are wide and on the whole reasonable views ; but 
the net, though it has large meshes, still remains a net, 
and Plato is determined that no one shall escape from it. 
' I should punish severely any one in the land who should 
dare to say that there are bad men who live pleasant lives ; 
and there are many other matters about which I should 

1 Republic, 415-17. 2 Laws, 885. * Ibid. 662. 


make my citizens speak in a manner different from the 
modern Cretan and Lacedaemonian, and I may say, indeed, 
from the world in general.' 1 At ten years of age the 
slavery begins with teaching the child poetry selected in 
order to inculcate the desired views, and certain sermons 
that Plato oddly proposes to attach to his laws. Plato 
knew well how easily the mind takes indelible impressions, 
and saw from the readiness with which the Athenian of his 
day believed the most improbable stories of mythology that 
' the legislator can persuade the minds of the young of 
anything : so that he has only to reflect and find out what 
belief will be of the greatest public advantage, and then 
use all his efforts to make the whole community utter one 
and the same word in their songs and tales and discourses 
all their life long.' 2 Anything that can break down the 
intellectual tyranny thus established is carefully shunned. 
The poets are compelled to proclaim the creed, and are 
punished severely if they criticize it. Foreign travel so 
often the solvent of national traditions is forbidden before 
the age of forty, and to any one in a private capacity, 
though a few selected individuals are sent abroad with 
instructions to tell the youths on their return that the 
institutions of other states are inferior to their own. 3 At 
home, a body, ominously called the Nocturnal Council, 
which is carefully indoctrinated with the aims of the state, 
and primed with the arguments for the established 
theology, watches through its spies for any symptoms of 
heresy. And if, after all, some ardent spirit, some Greek 
Giordano Bruno, defies laws and traditions and poets, and 
slaking his thirst for knowledge at a muddied spring 
because the wells of truth are sealed, breaks into irreligion, 
and declares that there is no god, Plato is ready for him. 
1 Laws, 662. 2 Ibid. 663, 664. 3 950. 


Some one who hears the blasphemy shall lay information, 
and the man shall be committed for five years to the 
House of Reformation, cut off from all intercourse except 
with the Nocturnal Council ' for the improvement of his 
soul's health ' : when the time has passed, if he has not 
repented, the penalty is death. That is for the honest and 
virtuous unbeliever : for family prayers, held in a man's 
own house, and supposed to leave a loophole for heresy, 
other penalties are prescribed : for the wicked atheist 
immediate death and exposure beyond the borders. 1 

The actual ideas which Plato thus wished to propagate 
are noble, but his methods the world renounced for ever 
at the Reformation. Such powers are too likely to be 
used against the wrong persons indeed, as Grote has 
argued, Socrates himself might well have been condemned 
to death under the laws which his pupil promulgated ; 
even where successful, they produce a plaster-of-Paris 
virtue, at once stiff and brittle ; 2 and they soon lead the 
best-intentioned men into ambiguous positions and dis- 
creditable measures. Not many people will feel that 
Plato had his feet on a straight road, when they find him 
led to recommend to his lawgiver the use of ' noble false- 
hoods ', and contemplating that on occasions he will ' tell 
the young men useful lies for a good purpose '. 3 But, be 
that as it may, this compulsory discipline under which 
mankind is to be educated, policed, and, where necessary, 
hoaxed, into virtue, is infinitely removed from the liberty 
of which Thucydides and Pericles dreamed. It may be 

1 Laws, 907-10. 

2 An interesting modern example of this is the fate of the 
Paraguayan State, when the Jesuits, who had ruled it so success- 
fully, were removed. 

3 Republic, 414 ; Laws, 663. 


common sense, it may be ' the hard facts of life ' ; but it 
is the shattering of the Greek ideal. 

Let us pass to the third point in which Plato departs 
from the canons of Hellenism as we conceived them. The 
ordinary Greek was a humanist, in the sense that, looking 
at man, he saw a creature at bottom and in its proper 
nature essentially good, with a body and soul equally 
excellent ; looking at life, he made this being the measure 
of all things, turned to the earth for success or failure, 
and set no store by a world to come. The two views hang 
together, and Plato, who repudiated the first of them, was 
in the end driven to repudiate the second. 

To start with, he broke up the splendid unity of uncor- 
rupted body and soul which to the earlier Greeks was 
Man : he detected in its pure gold the stain of an alloy : 
he saw in its superficial aspect of radiant health a malig- 
nant cancer which flourished at the expense of the whole, 
and if unexcised would gradually destroy it : in fact he 
. adopted the Hebrew creed of original sin. 

The body, which counted for so much to the ordinary 
Greek, was the head of the evil. 1 True that Plato at times 
speaks of it in the genuine Greek spirit, goes into raptures 
over the young Charmides and Lysis which modern taste 
might feel mawkish, and calls a handsome face ' the 
expression of Divine Beauty '. 2 But elsewhere he holds 
very different language, and exhausts his vocabulary in 
metaphors of detestation. The body is the oyster-shell 
of our imprisonment, the fetter in which we are chained, 
the quack that cheats us. It wastes our time with outcries 

1 In the Laws, 896, he has the idea of two world-souls, one of 
which causes all evij, the other all good. 
* Phaedr. 251. 


for food, hampers us with diseases, betrays us to lusts, 
terrors, phantoms, distracts us into the quest for money, 
and thereby involves us in disputes, factions, and wars. 
' Even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some 
speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, 
causing turmoil and confusion in our inquiries, and so 
amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth.' 

From such premises Plato passes to the inevitable con- 
clusion of asceticism, that it is not possible, as the earlier 
Hellenism held, to take the body with its errors, fears, and 
lusts, convert them to noble objects, and raise out of 
weakness a temple to virtue. Instead of hopeless efforts 
to control the evil, we must fly from it, ' withdrawing 
from the body so far as the conditions of life allow,' dis- 
honouring ' it, mortifying it, and in short ' making life 
one long study for death '- 1 How strange would these 
ideas have sounded to Homer or Sophocles ! how strange 
must the sober, earthly Aristotle have found them, who 
taught that men's happiness falls in their lifetime, that 
it is past for ever after death, and that wealth, good birth, 
good looks, and a reasonable length of life are indispensable 
to it ! 2 

With the body Plato had thrown over one article in 
the creed of Greece, and he soon found himself obliged 
to discard another. Humanism cannot satisfy those who 
have discovered a fatal flaw in human nature. If man is 
tied to something radically evil which is inseparable from 
him on earth, then his happiness must be placed elsewhere 
than here. If the body is a chain which in this present life 
continually chafes the soul, then our affections must be 
fixed on a future world in which we shall be released 

1 The above quotations are taken from Phaedo, 65-7 ; Phaedr. 
250 ; Republic, 6n. * Nic. Ethics, i. n. 


from it. No one has put this more clearly than himself. 
' If we would have pure knowledge of anything we must 
be quit of the body the soul in herself must behold things 
in themselves : and then we shall attain the wisdom which 
we desire and of which we say that we are lovers : not 
while we live, but after death : for if, while in company 
with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one 
of two things follows either knowledge is not to be 
obtained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not 
till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist 
in herself alone.' 1 

This is indeed the gospel of otherworldliness, and it 
drives Plato to further conclusions which would have 
shocked his contemporaries even more. Avoid, he urged, 
political life. It has killed philosophy in contemporary 
Greece, so that the only philosophers left there are a few 
who have been kept in private life by ill health or who 
contemn and neglect the politics of the cities in which they 
are born. 2 Of these few remaining princes of philosophy 
he draws in another passage a picture which to our minds 
is both odious and contemptible, and which must have 
been even more so to a Greek. Conceive how the following 
words must have outraged the public sentiment of a city, 
where all citizens were members of parliament, and politics 
was an indispensable part of human life. ' They (the 
princes of philosophy) from youth up are unacquainted 
with the road to the market-place : they have no idea even 
where are the law courts or the houses of parliamen t or 
any other place of public assembly. They do not see or 
hear laws or decrees written or recited. They have not 
the faintest notion of the enthusiasm of caucuses for office, 
nor of their meetings and dinners. Of public failures and 

1 Phaedo, 66. * Republic, 496. 


successes they have heard as little as of the number of 
pints contained in the ocean. And the philosopher is not 
even conscious of all this ignorance of his. He does not 
hold aloof to acquire a reputation ; it is a genuine fact 
that only his body reposes and is at home in Athens ; his 
mind looks on these topics as puny and valueless, and dis- 
regards them, and moves everywhere, in Pindar's words, 
meting the surfaces of the earth and the deeps beneath it, 
scanning the stars above the sky, everywhere inquiring 
into all the nature of each thing in its entirety that is, 
demeaning itself to nothing that lies at its feet.' * 

In itself this passage is misleading, for Plato is speaking 
of contemporary Greek politics, which he held in contempt : 
no doubt, when his ideal city is founded, he will allow us, 
if we are philosophers, to rule her. Yet a radical aver- 
sion to politics underlies all his thought, founded on the 
feeling that the highest life was one of intellectual contem- 
plation. He had no higher opinion of Miltiades or Pericles 
than of the statesmen of his own day, and in one passage 
he goes so far as to say that in a city composed ' entirely 
of good men, to avoid office would be as much an object 
of contention as to obtain office is at present '. 2 

Plato had despaired of the body, he had deserted the 
earth, and now he must find some alternative place of 
rest, or else relapse into helpless pessimism. Life would 
be a dismal paradox for the Platonic man, if imprisoned 
in a body which warped his nature, and planted in a world 
for whose climate he was unfit, he was perpetually to 
contemplate amid inconveniences and obstacles an ideal 
good which was removed from his reach. And so Plato has 
recourse to heaven. In those dialogues where he is most 
deeply moved, after bringing all the forces of dialectic to 
1 Theaet. 173. J Republic, 347. 

1358 N 


support the cause of truth and justice, at the close he 
abandons reasoning, and portrays a future world where, if 
not in this, virtue and vice receive their dues. It is far 
more definite than the Homeric Hades, more definite even 
than the Heavenly Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, and Plato 
tells us its geography. He speaks of its hot and cold 
springs, its streams of fire and mud, its boiling lakes, its 
four great rivers, Oceanus, Styx, Pyriphlegethon, and 
Cocytus, its vast chasm, Tartarus, into which these flow, 
its stream of forgetfulness, its dark blue region, like lapis 
lazuli, wild and savage, its treeless, grassless wastes full 
of scorching heat. Here, after death, all men come for 
judgement, and thence pass to the fate which their 
sentence allots. The way leads near a tunnel, which 
bellows when a sinner approaches : wild, flaming men 
seize him, drag him through thorns, flog him, and fling 
him into Tartarus, whence he never emerges. Lesser 
offenders suffer a purgatorial torment of one year, and 
then are ' cast forth by the wave ' into the Acherusian 
lake, where they call on the forgiveness of those whom 
they have wronged, and if they can obtain it are released 
from torment. But the holy are ' released from the body's 
prison and go to their pure home above '. That, too, 
Plato describes ; its trees, and flowers, and fruit, its 
precious stones, its wonderful lights and colours, its 
temples in which men hear and see and hold converse 
with God himself. 1 Not, as Plato admits, that this 
description of the soul and its mansions is ' exactly true '. 
But inasmuch as the soul is shown to be immortal, a man 
of sense 'may venture to think, not improperly or un- 
worthily, that something of the kind is true '. 2 

1 The above details are taken from Phaedo, 110-14, and 
Republic, 615. Phaedo, 114; cp. Gorgias, 527. 


Now we can see why Plato was called praexistent-christ- 
lich a Christian born out of due time. He anticipates in 
point after point, if not the doctrines of the Catholic 
Church, yet principles which underlay her development, 
and important elements in her practice. His race had 
held that human nature was fundamentally good, and 
thought that knowledge and training would abolish wrong. 
Plato argued that there is an incurably evil element in 
man to which only death can put an end ; as the Church 
argued that there is an incurably evil element in him, 
which can only be quenched by the Grace of God. Plato's 
race had held that physical beauty is among the highest 
objects of desire Plato himself thought that the body 
interferes with the soul, often encrusts and embrutes it. 
He spoke of mortifying it here, and being happily rid of it 
hereafter ; he taught men to shun its vanities and affec- 
tions, to leave even politics and public life, to devote 
themselves to the contemplation of God and the saving 
of their souls ; till his words might have been inscribed 
in the cells of Christian hermits, to justify and sustain 
them in the austere asceticism of their retirement from 
the world. Plato's race had concentrated their gaze on 
this earth, and had steeled themselves to face a hopeless 
Sheol hereafter. Plato told his disciples to look forward to 
a future life, to a judgement to come, to heaven, hell, or 
purgatory, to a scheme of punishments and rewards that 
followed a man's conduct in his time on earth. Plato's 
race had a generous confidence in human nature, and 
wished to strike the shackles off it, in the hope that it 
would of itself choose good and refuse evil. Plato invented 
for his countrymen a political system more rigid than 
that of the Middle Ages, a system of dogma as unalter- 
able, and an Inquisition almost as severe. Original sin, 


asceticism, ideas of a future life, strict authoritarianism 
in all these Plato anticipated the mediaeval Church. 

And not without close analogies in Christianity is the 
spirit which lies behind all these innovations a general 
and complete mistrust of man. Plato is so strict with 
human nature, so anxious for its future, because he has 
a feeling that, except for a few favoured natures, we 
cannot be trusted to do our duty, unless temptation is 
removed out of our path and we are barricaded into virtue. 
' Small, my dear Cleinias,' he says in the Laws, ' small, 
naturally scanty and the product of an ideal education, is 
the class of men who can steadily set their faces towards 
moderation when they are assailed by some need or desire. 
The mass of mankind is the exact opposite of this.' l 
Indeed, so far are human beings from wisdom or good- 
ness, that they hate those who would help them to these 
virtues. Plato likens our race to men sitting in a cavern, 
bound with their backs to the light and fancying that the 
shadows on the wall before them are not shadows but real 
objects. But when the philosopher goes among them, 
trying to release and lead them out of the cavern into the 
sunlight, they are simply vexed with him, put him to 
death, and return to the darkness from which they came. 2 

Whether he is right in his view of human nature, is one 
of the great unsolved questions of the world, and not the 
least interest of his writings is that they raise it so clearly. 
Those who disagree with him would argue that his 
pessimism can be explained on purely natural grounds, by 
the history of the man and of the times in which he lived. 
He had seen the fall of Athens and the judicial murder of 
Socrates, his own essays in politics had been a failure, 
and he was sore and embittered. What wonder, when he 
1 Laws, 918. * Republic, 514-17. 


looked at the Athenian democracy, which had ruined his 
country and put his master to death, that he should think 
men a hopeless breed ? His belief , it might be maintained, 
was only the gloom of a disappointed nature, and had he 
lived a century earlier, he would have thought differently. 
But there are others who feel that time had brought home 
to Plato a truth which the youthful thinkers of his race 
had missed, and admire the insight which first suspected 
a fatal flaw in human nature : they hail in him the fore- 
runner of S. Paul, with his opposition of flesh and spirit of 
Pascal with his endless paradox of grandeur and bassesse 
meeting, unreconciled, in man. Our own age would 
probably decide against him. Things are well with it. It 
is making money fast ; education and recreation are cheap, 
science has removed many causes of misery ; savagery 
and revolution are rare ; so at present we are riding high 
on a wave of humanism, and are optimistic about the 
nature of man, and the rapidity of the march on Paradise. 
Whether we are right is a point which every one must 
settle for himself, and which time will settle for us, if we 
can wait. It is enough here to notice that Plato raised the 
question and gave the same answer to it as Christianity. 
We have hitherto spoken of Plato, as if he was the one 
great innovator in Hellenic belief, and perhaps we are 
justified in that, because he is the most eminent repre- 
sentative of the heretics. But in his theories of the lower 
world, he is a mouthpiece, not an originator. He is the 
prophet in literature of the Orphic worship, which, coming 
from Thrace in the sixth century, spoke of immortality 
and rebirth, of intimate union with God, of a heaven for 
the initiate and mud pools for the sinner, preaching 
asceticism and purity as a road to the former and, some- 
what after the fashion of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, 



giving its votaries elaborate instructions for their behaviour 
when they found themselves in the lower world. 

Those who wish to know more of Orphism will find 
admirable summaries of its beliefs in Meyer's Geschickte 
des Alter turns and in the work of Rohde quoted above ; the 
Nekyia of Dieterich describe its relations to Christian 
eschatology, and Miss Harrison has an interesting, if 
rhapsodic, account of it in her Prolegomena to Greek 
Religion. Here we can do no more than briefly indicate 
the wideness of its influence by a reference to literature. 
Those who longed for some hopes of a future life such as 
the national theology was unable to give, and were, in 
the words of Euripides, ' sick of desire for an unknown 
bright thing beneath the earth,' * turned with relief to its 
promises ; two great writers besides Plato were deeply 
touched by Orphism, and many others have allusions to 
it. Pindar tells how the wicked suffer troubles on which 
men cannot bear to look, in a land where ' sluggish streams 
of black night belch abroad endless darkness ' ; and tells, 
too, of sunny islands of deep red roses, where dead heroes 
race and wrestle and dance and 

Mix all odour to the gods 
On one far height in one far-shining fire. 2 

Pythagoras was given up to Orphism heart and soul. Its 
influence appears in the descent to Hades in the eleventh 
Odyssey. Its doctrine inspired the Bacchae of Euripides, 
and his lost play, the Cretans ; the much mocked line, 

Who knows if life be death and death be life, 

is clearly Orphic ; 3 and, in his Frogs, the unspiritual 
Aristophanes has parodied an Orphic ' descent ' into the 
lower world. 
1 Hipp. 194. * frs. 130, 129. Ol. 2. 6 1 f. 3 fr. 639. 


Nor is Orphism the only gospel of otherworldliness in 
Greece ; the Eleusinian mysteries gave similar teaching 
and attracted great numbers of worshippers. No doubt 
they were on a lower moral and spiritual level. The 
purity they required was ceremonial, and courtesans were 
admitted to their rites. The best authorities agree that 
there was no symbolism in their teaching, and that, 
instead of detaching their devotees from this world, they 
merely made them comfortable here and hereafter. ' The 
hints and emotions won from their pictures and represen- 
tations did not deprive this earthly existence of its value 
for the enthusiastic hungerers after the Beyond, nor make 
them strangers to the living instincts of the old unbroken 
Hellenism.' l But none the less the Mysteries were a force 
which worked against humanism, for they turned men's 
minds from this life to a future one. And, even without 

them, we have, in Orphism alone, sufficient traces of , 

otherworldliness in Greece. Are they enough to overthrow 
the view that the Greek genius was humanist ? 

Before answering this question we must repeat that 
every rule applying to human nature is bound to have 
exceptions, and that rules may yet be laid down. In this 
particular case, the exceptions, when we scrutinize them, 
are seen to be less serious than at first appears. Some, it 
may be argued, are due to foreign influence ; the worships 
of Orpheus and Dionysus were in origin Thracian cults ; 
the Bacchae, the most romantic of Greek plays, was written 
in Thrace, where the scenery and the wild native religion 
might well influence the sympathetic temperament of 
a poet. But in any case the exceptions are few, and the 
instances for the rule enormously exceed those against it. 
From first to last, the former run as an unbroken thread 
1 Rohde, op. cit. i. 300 (ed. 1902). 


through Greek literature, the latter are intermittent and 
accidental. The many are humanists and direct, the few 
are not : and even these only diverge from the rule at 
moments, and in general conform to it. The New Comedy, 
Theocritus, Polybius, the Anthology, Lucian, show as 
much humanism and directness as Homer : in the main 
the same is true of Aristotle and the Alexandrians. For 
one romanticist piece of poetry in Euripides there are 
a thousand where he complies with national tradition. 

Take two crucial instances, immortality and Orphism. 
Of extant Greek writers Pindar is the one unqualified 
believer in anything that can rightly be called a future 
life ; though those who are acquainted with his poems 
may well question whether the belief made much difference 
to him. Plato is an ardent apostle : yet in places even he 
laughs at the idea of rewards and punishments after 
death, 1 and, if Socrates voices his views in the Apology, was 
at one time uncertain whether death led to immortality 
or to a dreamless sleep. 2 Outside these two writers, there 
prevails the normal Greek view, which was either ignorant 
of personal immortality or knew it only as an existence 
drained alike of vital delight and of active and tormenting 
pain. Absolute extinction or a shadowy life, these were 
the alternatives between which the rest of Greek litera- 
ture, as we have it, wavers. This is true even of the 
successors of Plato. His school ignored their master's 
view, Epicurus openly rejected it ; Aristotle is ambiguous 
on the subject ; Stoicism either denied personal im- 
mortality or held that at best the soul could survive the 
body till the general conflagration ; Chrysippus restricted 
this scanty possibility to the philosopher. Plato himself, 
in one of his most elaborate descriptions of the lower 
1 Republic,'^, 387. j a Apol. 40. 


world, lets fall a phrase, which shows how strange to the 
average educated Greek were the theories that he was 
about to disclose. ' Have you not learned,' he says to 

his friend Glaucon, ' that our soul is immortal ? ' And 

Glaucon (who is an ordinary young Athenian) ' looked 

at me and said in amazement No, really, / have not.' l 
The exceptions to humanism are few ; the rule prevails. 
It is the same with Orphism (here we are on ground 
which we have just traversed). Except Plato and Pytha- 
goras no Greek writer really gave himself up to it. Though 
it found its way into Homer it has so far failed to colour 
him, that by the side of the Orphic passage comes the 
famous description of Achilles, as a bloodless, unhappy 
ghost. It attracted Pindar, but Pindar absorbed nothing 
of its otherworldliness, its spirituality : anything more v 
earthly than his general philosophy of life it would be 
difficult to find. Aeschylus and Sophocles allude to it, 
but themselves take the normal view. Euripides has 
more of it, but who would consider that Euripides was 
an Orphic at heart, or that the spirit of Greek literature 
as a whole is otherworldliness, asceticism, ceremonial 
purity, the desire for a personal union with God ? It is 
one thing to toy with a belief, to be attracted by the 
beauty and romance of it, to indulge a brief sympathy, 
to set free for a moment one of the many selves bound 
up in us, to rhapsodize with the prophets of a creed 
which is alien from our inner temperament and ultimate 
conviction : it is another thing to believe. 

What we have done with humanism we might also do 
with liberty, directness, and the other qualities which 
we have attributed to the Greeks. We might show that 
1 Republic, 608. 


all of them have their exceptions, yet that the rule pre- 
dominates. But our intention from the first was to 
speak of the essence of Hellenism, not of its by-products, 
and if we deal with these, we shall find ourselves carried 
far out of classical times, and forced to give sketchy and 
inadequate accounts of growths as late as Neoplatonism. 
So we will be content with having roughly indicated under 
each Note, where the exceptions to it may be looked for, 
and once more insist that directness, humanism, and 
freedom are the prime characteristics of the genius of 

Yet while we insist on the pre-eminence of these 
qualities, let us not forget that Greece shows also the first 
beginnings of their opposites. Hers is the very chest of 
Pandora. Authoritarianism, mysticism, otherworldliness, 
romanticism, are lying ready for us at its bottom. She 
gives us the alkali with the acid ; with the poison (if we 
think it a poison) she gives us the antidote. 



THE genius of the British people existed in its essence 
long before its greatest achievements. The qualities 
which have made us a trading, colonizing, ruling power 
were evident before we had a fleet or an empire. A con- 
temporary of Shakespeare might have analysed and 
exhibited the character of our race in years when the 
industrial revolution had not been dreamed of, and the 
colonial dominions were represented by Virginia : even 
in our own day a writer might write a book on the British 
genius, without a mention of those great achievements, 
and yet perhaps miss nothing that was vital to his purpose. 
Something similar is true of the Greeks. The Greek 
genius was in existence before the greatest achievements 
of Hellenism, before the fifth century opened, before 
Pericles or Plato was born. It was alive when the 
Homeric poems were put together. The later Greeks 
added nothing to it. They did but exemplify it in richer 
combinations and fuller developments. If we understand 
it, we shall understand them. If we understand Homer 
and Hesiod, we shall understand Euripides and Aristotle 
understand at least what is most excellent and eternal in 
them : just as, if we understand Drake and Cromwell 
we shall understand the British achievement in the last 

This theory we have hitherto followed ; seeking the 
general Greek genius, a spirit independent of time or 
place, a property common to all ages and persons 


that are genuinely Hellenic ; seeking notes or charac- 
teristics which are found alike in Homer and in 
Lucian, in Herodotus and in the late epigrammatists of 
Byzantium. Now we must go further : we must look 
beyond the essential qualities of Hellenism. We must 
fix our eyes on one particular development of it, which 
is so important that for the general public it has almost 
thrust aside what went before and after, and arrogated to 
itself the right to stand for Greece. No history of the 
English genius would really be complete if it ignored the 
nineteenth century : no history of the Greek genius is 
complete which forgets the form it took somewhere about 
500 B. c. 

On the south shore of the Latmian bay and looking 
across it to where the Maeander joins the sea, lies the 
town of Miletus. Here, about the opening of the seventh 
century, a Greek called Thales puzzled over the worlcr 
around him and wondered what it really was. What lay 
behind the bay and hills and olive-trees and vines and 
white buildings of his home ? He thought, and decided 
that everything in the last resort was water. Out of water 
all things were generated. It seems a strange notion to us. 
Yet Thales had grounds for it. Water, he had noticed, 
is everywhere and enters into everything. It lapped, 
a blue liquid, on the shores of his home ; it fell, a white 
solid, in hail and snow on the hills ; it blew across them, 
a transitory vapour, in wreaths of mist. It was in the 
sky over his head, and on rainy days fell and gave fertility 
to the soil of his fields. It appeared suddenly on the 
ground as dew, it welled up in springs, it ascended on 
sunny days in great shafts to the sky. It ran as blood 
through his own veins and as sap through the trunks 
of his olives ; he could squeeze it out of their berries, 


and as oil it fed the flame of his lamps. Surely this 
omnipresent thing was the element from which everything 
was made. Even legend sanctioned the belief, for were 
not Tethys and Oceanus called the parents of all things, 
and did not the gods swear by the waters of the Styx ? l 

A few years later came his townsman and pupil, Anaxi- 
mander, who, thinking that there were four irreducible 
elements in the world, earth, air, fire, and water, felt that 
it was absurd to reduce them to water, and hit on the 
notion that the original source of all four was an Indefinite 
Something, which was neither earth, air, fire, nor water, 
but which was capable of becoming any of them ; out of 
it, he thought, the world was formed. 

The seventh century, with Thales for midwife, has given 
birth to a strange child. Hitherto Habit has been master 
of the world without a rival. Men have believed without 
'doubt or question what authority prescribed. ' When 
the world was created, Marduk the Sungod defeated 
Tiamat, the Chaos out of whose womb all things came, 
and split her in half, to form the sky above, the earth 
beneath/ thought the Babylonian priests. ' When the 
world was created, Shu tore the goddess Nuit from the 
arms of Keb, and now she hangs above him and he is the 
earth lying beneath her,' thought the Egyptian. ' Our 
sacred books have recorded it, our priests declare it.' 
But now Thales and Anaximander are inquiring how the 
world is really composed, and instead of Tiamat and Nuit, 
find only Water or some strange Indefinite Element at 
work. Their own theory is not in itself much better than 
that of the Assyrian hierarchs. But their attitude to the 
question is new, and has in it the germs of infinite change 

1 Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 49 ; Aristotle, Metaph. 
A. 3.383 b. 


reaching to a day when their spiritual descendant, Demo- 
critus, will discover that sky and earth were formed in 
void space of atoms. Nor will the new spirit rest here. 
Learning their lesson in this school, other thinkers will 
turn to fields more important than cosmology. Taking 
the homely virtues, which old Greece had practised with- 
out thinking why, they will analyse patriotism, justice, 
courage, virtue, and many more, asking what these 
qualities are and why men should be patriotic, just, brave, 
good. They will set themselves a new task in all provinces 
of life to rise above mere instinct and habit to rebuild 
what is wise and right in them on the unshattered rock 
of reason, to have an account and a ground for what they 
do. So these naive speculations of Thales are among the 
great events of human history. A new thing has come 
into the world, such as is not to be found in the ancient 
homes of civilization, neither in Jerusalem, nor in Babylon, 
nor in Egypt. The reign of use and wont is over ; hence- 
forth men are to base their life on reason. We are standing 
beside the cradle of newborn thought. 

We have watched the obscure beginnings of philosophy, 
and now we must pass over nearly two centuries ; remem- 
bering, however, that though we can take leaps, nature 
nihil facit per saltum, and that thought, which was ger- 
minating in Greece before Thales, is evident before the 
second half of the fifth century, even in poetry ; evident 
in Pindar and highly developed in Aeschylus. Still, the 
years after 460 B.C. are the real Age of Reason. Before 
460 thought was sporadic, occasional, uncertain of itself ; 
after 460 it became popular, universal, systematic : and, 
therefore, if we wish not to follow the history of its 
development, but to see its essential spirit, we shall 


turn to the age of Euripides, Socrates, Thucydides. We 
shall leave Herodotus with his mixture of scepticism and 
credulity, with his genuine desire to make history a la-ropia, 
an 'inquiry', and his frequent failures to do so, with 
his perpetual portents, dreams, and divine interventions, 
with his apparitions of Pan, Helena, Astrobacchus, and 
others, with his theory that one dream does not, but that 
two, do, constitute an omen, with the horse that gave 
birth to a hare, and the olive-tree that grew a cubit in 
a day ; and we shall turn to Thucydides, who says nothing 
about dreams or portents, and little about the gods, and 
who is so coldly scientific in his account of the plague. 
Thucydides was a younger contemporary of Herodotus, 
yet in reading him we are conscious of a change as of 
centuries. The wave of thought, which has drenched the 
Periclean Athenian, wetted the feet of his predecessor ; 
but no more. Clearly it is in Athens that the real work 
was done, and its most momentous consequences educed. 
Ionian philosophers were the* prospectors : but Athens 
made the roads and opened the country. lonians con- 
ceived of Thought, Athens developed it. Thought began 
outside Attica, but without Attica it would have failed 
of its greatest effect. The lonians had applied it to 
physics. They had worked at natural science, and had 
made a beginning with metaphysics and ethics. But they 
had not gone further. More their speculations touched a 
small class only : their thinkers lived in the isolation of 
learning : the world went past their studies uninterested 
and unmoved. When Thought came to Athens, all this 
was changed. Natural science fell into the background, 
and the interest passed to problems of morality and 
politics. In them it developed apace ; it had found a 
medium in which ferments work more rapidly. For 


social life and individual conduct are the concern of 
every one, while natural science is the province of a few. 
In a moment all Athens was seething with this new and 
revolutionary culture. And further : from the hobby 
of a few Thought became the property of all, and there 
sprung up, what otherwise before our own times is un- 
paralleled in history, a Thinking Nation. 

To produce this spiritual transformation, which in its 
way is not less important than the Renaissance or the rise 
of Christianity, two things were needed the occasion 
and the men. Both these were present in fifth-century 
Athens. There was the occasion. Firstly the victories of 
the Persian wars had brought a sense of elevation and 
expansion into national life. As at the Renaissance, and in 
the French Revolution, men's hearts and imaginations 
were raised above the level of ordinary things. New 
ambitions and activities came into life. Athens was in 
a susceptible, excited mood. At the same time, increase 
of trade brought wealth, and wealth brought emancipa- 
tion from mean needs, and emancipation brought leisure, 
and leisure left men free for thought. Finally, a demo- 
cracy was established, in which every citizen took a direct 
share in the government of his country. Politics became 
the most important business of life. This latter fact was 
the immediate cause of the coming of Thought. 

English interest runs so much to practical life that it 
is not easy to imagine a nation which by temperament 
loved knowledge for its own sake, which did not slight 
such interests as academic, and which would flock to its 
public places day by day simply in the hope of seeing 
or hearing some new thing. Still, let us imagine 
such a state of affairs. Imagine further this nation as 
totally without what we call higher education. They 


have some primary schools, where reading, writing, 
athletics, and music are taught. But they have no 
public schools and no universities. Great latent intellec- 
tual powers : but nothing to develop or satisfy them. 
Vast and perennial waters, but the human being has not 
yet come by who can tap them. Imagine also that 
a sudden political change comes about in their state, 
by which henceforward birth and wealth except for their 
accidental advantages counted as nothing. All citizens 
sit in parliament ; every office from commander-in-chief 
to civil service clerk is open to talent ; an aristocrat, 
a grocer, an artisan may equally become premier : he has 
only to persuade parliament to elect him. In such a state 
the first need is the gift of speech : an eloquent, plausible, 
convincing tongue. That is the one road to power. With 
it a man may achieve anything. Only, where can he 
learn the art of speaking, and, what is more important 
than speech, the art of knowing what to say ? If we can 
conceive of a nation in this plight, we shall know what 
Athens was like after the Persian wars. Our imagina- 
tions will be helped if we think of the recent demand for 
education from our own labouring classes, who, like the 
Athenians, have suddenly been called to politics, and 
find themselves unequipped for the task. And perhaps 
in some of the tutorial classes now being held under the 
auspices of the Workers' Educational Association, we 
may see, in minds capable of knowledge and from which 
knowledge has been hitherto withheld, some image of 
the Greek epcoy 0tAoo-o0tay, the passionate desire to know. 
This was the occasion, and it immediately brought 
forth the men. With their names every student of the 
classics is acquainted ; of their nature he is apt to have 
vague ideas. They were the central figures in fifth- 

1358 O 


century Greece, though to-day their faces are scarcely 
distinguishable on its faded canvas. Their writings are 
lost, their names largely forgotten, and our knowledge of 
them is chiefly drawn from the works of their enemy and 
critic, Plato. They are the sophists. 

It is not easy to translate the word ' sophist ' into 
modern language. At first sight ' educational quack ' 
seems the nearest equivalent. If a foreigner came to 
London and announced that he was a teacher of virtue, 
and a merchant of the goods of the soul, that he was 
openly practising what Shakespeare, Milton, and Byron 
practised in secret, that he was in brief an instructor of 
mankind, he would be dismissed as an impostor and a poor 
one. Yet according to Plato, Protagoras made professions 
equivalent to these. 1 And if from mere curiosity we went 
to our foreigner's lecture-room and heard him saying: 
' about the gods I cannot know that they exist or that 
they do not exist : the obscurity of these matters and the 
shortness of human life are impediments to such know- 
ledge ; ' 2 we might go further and accuse him of some- 
thing more than quackery. 

Yet on a nearer view it becomes difficult to think 
altogether unfavourably of the sophists. Undiluted im- 
posture could hardly have brought educated Athens to 
their feet. Nor are the charges of immorality easy to 
sustain. There is nothing immoral in the profession 
of Protagoras that every day a pupil associated with him 
he would go home a better man, or in the promise of 
Gorgias to teach the highest and best of human things. 3 
Prodicus was the author of the noble fable of the Choice 

1 Plato, Protag. 313, 316, 317. 

2 One of the few surviving sayings of Protagoras. 

3 Plato, Protag. 318 ; Gorg. 451. 


of Heracles, and was welcomed in unintellectual Sparta 
for the wholesomeness of his teaching. If Protagoras 
declared his uncertainty of the existence of Gods, Gorgias 
and Prodicus are represented as praying to them. If 
some sophists were radicals, one at least defended Cimon 
against Pericles, old ways against new. No, the sophists 
were not revolutionary or radical, except in so far as all 
thought carries with it an element of unrest. If we need 
a modern parallel to them, we may say that they did for 
Greece what the schools of literae humaniores and modern 
history do for their students in Oxford ; or what agencies 
as various as university extension lectures, tutorial classes, 
Everyman's library, and other collections of good books, 
writers like Shaw, Wells, and Chesterton, try to do for 
England as a whole. And yet though there is something 
in these analogies, they give little idea of what the 
sophist was ; he had something of all these influences, 
yet he was more than any of them. He came nearest 
perhaps to a university teacher, glorified, extended, and 
brought into contact with practical life. 

A hungry people cried to the sophists and they fed it 
with all manner of intellectual food. They wrote books 
for it on grammar, music, medicine, geometry, astronomy, 
tactics : they wrote on anything that could interest or 
instruct. But their main subject was the conduct of 
life. Go to them, and you might learn ' how to manage 
your home in the best way, and to be able to speak and 
act for the best in public life '.* We laugh at such an idea. 
Yet it was a brilliant and plausible one. Music and 
medicine were teachable, and a man who studied hard 
enough might learn to sing or heal. Why not extend the 
principle to life ? Surely there were rules for that, rules 
1 Plato, Protag. 318. 


for managing men or for disciplining oneself. Why not 
ascertain them, and learn to become a good man and 
a great statesman as one might learn to become a skilful 
doctor or musician ? 

And so the young Athenian who wished to ' learn 
politics ' came to Gorgias and Protagoras : and they 
taught him rhetoric how to plead a cause and put a case, 
how to arrange his arguments in the best order and style : 
how to employ metaphors, figures, rhythms : how to 
master the arts of narration, proof, exhortation, eulogy, 
satire : how to excite or calm human passions, how to 
turn them to the speaker's uses. And further than that, 
because a man must know what to say as well as how 
to say it, they imparted ideas, arguments, precedents, 
instances, applicable to politics. This led them into 
wider fields. The mere theory of politics in the first place, 
the arguments for and against democracy or kingship, 
the commonplaces that were useful in any political dis- 
cussion the successful statesman must know all these. 
Then he must be acquainted with men, and with the con- 
siderations which appeal to them, he must sweep the end- 
less field of human nature with a discerning eye, and be 
able to play on the vices, virtues, passions, prejudices of 
his audience. And that took him into moral philosophy, 
in which Protagoras had his treatises ' on the Virtues ' 
and ' on Ambition ' ; and moral philosophy led to meta- 
physics, where Protagoras would discuss the theory of 
knowledge and the nature of existence. No knowledge was 
too minute or remote to be of service to one whose life was 
spent in governing men. Cicero the greatest of all advo- 
cates was only echoing the sophistic theory, when he de- 
manded of his ideal orator a knowledge of dialectics, ethics, 
physics, law, history, and rhetoric : he is only describing 


sophistic practice when he would train his orator by written 
composition, extempore speaking, paraphrasing poetry 
from memory, reading and criticizing literature, discussing 
topics from opposite sides, study of jurisprudence, political 
science, history. 1 The sophist's pupils were taken through 
all these subjects ; so that, by the time their education 
was over, they had taken a glance at most things in 
heaven and earth, and, as far as a superficial education 
can make a man so, were qualified ' to manage their 
homes, and to speak and act for the best in politics '. That 
was the university education of an Athenian. 

Let us make the acquaintance of a certain Greek, who 
came under the influence of the sophists and can show 
us what they did for those who could reject what was 
bad in their teaching and profit by what was valuable 
in it. He is the greatest pupil whom the sophists ever 
had, and his work, which we possess, may give us an 
idea of the atmosphere that they created in Athens. 
I mean Thucydides. 

No one can read Herodotus and Thucydides side by 
side, and not be struck by the gulf which lies between 
the two historians. Herodotus is delightful, instructive, 
and, in his way, veracious : his eyes were open, he saw 
things worth seeing, and he can tell what he saw. But 
he teaches us more about human nature (which he under- 
stood well) than about history itself. On the other hand, 
in Thucydides we meet a really scientific historian, who 
brings everything to the test of truth. The miscellaneous 
credulity, the genial inconsequence, of Herodotus is no 
more. Facts are weighed and selected : causes are sought 

1 De Oratore, i. 148-59; Orator, 11-19. 


for effects : the light of reason plays everywhere. Hero- 
dotus had a generous interest in humanity : Thucydides 
had also a critical intellect. Herodotus was a genius : 
Thucydides was an educated man besides. Where had 
he received his education ? 

He had received it from the sophists ; and a certain 
trick which he has shows the kind of thing they taught. 
Continually there recur in his history passages like the 
following. ' Simple men generally make better citizens 
than the astute. For the latter desire to be thought 
wiser than the laws ; they want to be always getting their 
own way in public discussions ; they think that they can 
nowhere have a finer opportunity of displaying their 
intelligence, and their folly generally ends in the ruin 
of their country : whereas the others, mistrusting their 
own capacity, admit that the laws are wiser than them- 
selves ; and being impartial judges, not ambitious rivals, 
they hit the mark.' * Or again. ' In peace and prosperity 
both states and individuals are actuated by higher 
motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of 
imperious necessities : but war, which takes away the 
comfortable provision of daily life . . . tends to assimilate 
men's characters to their conditions.' 2 Whenever a 
politician speaks, thoughts like these are made to flow 
from his lips, though few things could be less plausible 
or appropriate than such abstract musings. They are 
rather the reflections of a philosopher. They deal with 
the psychology of human nature, and in particular of 
human nature in politics. Thucydides is always reflecting 
, on these topics. He is always analysing political actions 
and situations. His history is a handbook of political 
theory in disguise. The theory of empire : what is the 
1 3- 37- 3 * * 3- 82. 2. 


justification of it, how is it best acquired and preserved : 
why it involves expansion and what dangers expansion 
brings : what is the place of clemency and generosity in 
it : why it is safer to leave subjects free : what leads 
to rebellion ; when rebellion is justified. The theory 
of the state : the question of the rights of the individual 
against it : why it is better to belong to a state than to 
remain selfishly isolated. The theory of politics in 
general : the effect of war on a people's temperament : 
the danger to political stability, of eloquent speakers, 
of education, of a critical spirit : the function of in- 
telligence in a state do clever or stupid men make the 
best citizens ? the place of religious motives and of con- 
siderations of ' honour ' in politics : the question of justice 
versus expediency in statecraft, in which, clearly after 
much rumination, Thucydides comes to the decided 
conclusion that the final criterion in these things is 
expediency and not justice : though like Burke he would 
hold that ' Magnanimity is not seldom the best policy '. 
Finally the theory of human nature : the effects on men 
of sudden disaster and sudden success ; the psychology of 
crime (a very elaborate and acute study) ; the limits 
of the effectiveness of punishment : the influence on 
character of revenge, and of hope. All these and many 
more topics Thucydides treats or glances at. Often his 
reflections are crudely introduced, like the mannerisms of 
a clever youth who has suddenly discovered psychology, 
and learnt that human action masks a network of motives 
and purposes ; and who is so pleased with the discovery 
that he can talk of little else. But the reflections themselves 
are generally profound. Read the extraordinary passage 
where he describes the effects of party spirit in his own 
day, tracing its dismal pedigree and hideous offspring, 


and ask whether a more subtle, profound, and tragic 
piece of analysis was ever penned. 1 

Here, then, is a pupil from the school of the sophists 
this is the sort of man they turned out this is the atmo- 
sphere they generated. These are the discussions which 
we should have heard, if we had penetrated one of their 
lecture-rooms and got inside four walls with Protagoras 
and the young men, who were learning ' politics ' and 
' virtue ' at two hundred pounds a course. 2 They were 
discussing methods and principles in politics, they were 
probing into the interior of the human being who is the 
rough material from which politics are made. ' This 
Athens ; does she well to have an empire ? And having 
an empire, how can she preserve it ? These human voters : 
has prosperity debauched them, will war upset their 
balance ? What is the secret of their nature, that we 
may know it and guide them ? ' After all they are the 
same subjects which Mr. Graham Wallas in one way, 3 
Mr. Galsworthy in another, are treating in our own day. 

Thales cast a seed into the ground. Ionian and Sicilian 
philosophers tended the plant which grew from it. 
The sophists transplanted it to Athens, where it was 
watered and planted out and grafted, till it spread into 
a mighty forest. That is the Natural History of Thought 
in Greece and in the world. Now let us look in more 
detail at the trees of its wood. 

1 3. 82 f. The topics mentioned above have been taken from 
the Mytilenaeans' speech at Sparta (3. 9 f.), Cleon's speech on the 
ethics of empire (3. 37 f.), the reply of Diodotus (ibid.), the 
speeches of Pericles (2. 60 f.), of Alcibiades (6. 16 f.). 

8 The fee of Evenus was 5 minas (Plato, Apol. 20). 

3 In Human Nature in Politics. 


First is the growth of Criticism, of which we need say 
little more. Thucydides will stand as an example, and 
what we said of him may be taken as said of it. To 
analyse their neighbours' souls and their own, to weigh, 
test, suspect, probe, to spare no nerve because it was 
sensitive, to husband no forces because they were weak, 
to expose all things mercilessly to the dissecting-knife, 
and decide for ever what was diseased and sound 
Athens began to do this. In doing it she created new 
forms of literature. In prose the first history worthy 
of the etymology of the name, and the great stream of 
philosophic inquiry that flows down through Plato and 
Aristotle past Alexandria and Rome and Byzantium deep 
into the Middle Ages. In poetry something even greater 
for the critical spirit, though alien from imaginative 
writing, and ultimately perhaps destructive of it, is like 
many poisons, a powerful tonic in small doses. Epic 
poetry, which is the telling of stories, lyric poetry, which 
is an outbreak of spontaneous feeling, gave way to a 
graver and more profound form. Their place was taken by 
the drama. It is the predominance of the drama which 
marks the poetry of the fifth century, and the essence of 
the drama is that it treats of moral and intellectual 
problems. These are the offshoots of the spirit of criticism 
which was the first growth of the fifth century. 

The second growth was akin to the first it is the spirit 
of Science. Criticism is a volatile and random thing, 
which flits hither and thither without any aim beyond 
its own activity an intellectual Puck. It owes no 
allegiance and admits no obligations, but fights like 
a free-lance for the amusement of fighting, or, it may be, 
for the best pay. You cannot count on it : the sword 
which was once used in your service, criticism may turn 


on its old master, or if the mood suits, on its own self. 
(And the fear of this recklessness made conservatives in 
Athens distrust the sophists, as in England they distrust 
Mr. Shaw to-day.) But take this irresponsible spirit and 
moralize it, give it an aim and an ideal, and you will 
behold it casual and arbitrary no longer, but chastened 
by a serious purpose and consecrated to a particular 
pursuit. Puck becomes Ariel, the most faithful, laborious, 
and trusted of ministers, and takes the livery of service, 
and practises his arts in the household of Truth. Criticism 
develops into Science. 

Socrates was the means of this development in Athens. 
He learnt from the sophists, and was really a sophist 
himself. But he added moral genius to intellectual 
power. Where the sophists were superficial, he was 
thorough. They were teachers, working for money, 
watching for pupils, and paid by results. The pupils 
wanted their brains sharpened for practical life, and 
expected quick returns from education. Science does not 
flourish under such conditions, and the sophists' teaching 
tended to be shallow and shoddy : they had to humour 
the market and sell to demand. But Socrates took no 
money and courted no pupils. He talked to those who 
cared to talk to him, but he talked how and of what he 
liked. He worked under conditions favourable to Science. 
Not of course that we shall find in his Athens anything 
like modern Science. There are no elaborate systems of 
experiment and classification : no laboratories and test- 
tubes : none of the machinery of knowledge. Nor are 
there the achieved results of these, the masses of stored 
and labelled fact, the huge granaries of daily accumulating 
certainty from which nations can be fed. Such things 
begin with Aristotle, and even then are only a beginning. 


But Socrates had something more important if less 
imposing than these the spirit of Science. 

Consider for a moment the man and his ways. He 
had the laboriousness, the patience of a man of science. 
' I must tell you a tale of Socrates, while he was on the 
expedition ' (says Alcibiades in the Symposium). ' One 
morning he was thinking about something which he 
could not resolve ; he would not give it up, but continued 
thinking from early dawn to noon there he stood fixed 
in thought ; and at noon attention was drawn to him, 
and the rumour ran through the wondering crowd that 
Socrates had been standing and thinking about something 
ever since the break of day. At last in the evening after 
supper, some lonians out of curiosity brought out their 
mats and slept in the open air that they might watch 
him and see whether he would stand all night. There he 
stood till the following morning ; and with the return 
of light, he offered up a prayer to the sun and went his 
way.' * 

This was in the trenches round Potidaea. Now listen 
to him in a friend's house at Athens. He is discussing 
justice. ' What/ he asks, ' is it ? ' ' Giving back to your 
neighbour what is his own,' replies some one. ' And 
would you give a sword back to a madman if it were his 
own, and he likely to do murder with it ? ' ' No.' ' Then 
we must look for some other definition.' ' Justice is to 
do harm to one's enemies and good to one's friends.' 
' But if our enemy is a good man, is it just to injure him ? 
surely not ? You will have to give up that definition too.' 
And so on ; definition after definition is raised and found 
wanting, and we end probably in a fog. This happens 

1 Plato, Sympos. 220. The next passage is from the first book 
of the Republic. 


in every dialogue. The discussions of Socrates lead to 
little in the way of conclusion ; they are sceptical ; they 
never reach more than a provisional truth ; they are 
always ready to throw away results, to sacrifice a position 
that might seem to have been gained. Socrates is content 
to advance by slow degrees. He holds it more worthy to 
seek than to find, better never to reach his goal than 
to arrive at a wrong one. 

This was his spirit through life, nor did it desert him 
in the hour of death. In the last conversation between 
Socrates and his friends, as they waited for the gaoler to 
bring the cup of hemlock, their talk turned on immortality. 
In that hour human weakness might well have claimed 
its due, and the teacher and his disciples, whose com- 
panionship was so soon to be broken, have spent their last 
moments in the indulgence of a tranquillizing hope. Some 
of the company were willing to do this ; not so Socrates. 
These are his words. ' At this moment I am sensible 
that I have not the temper of a philosopher ; like the 
vulgar, I am only a partisan. Now the partisan when he 
is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of 
the question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers 
of his own assertions. And the difference between him 
and me at the present moment is merely this that 
whereas he seeks to convince his hearers that what he says 
is true, I am rather trying to convince myself ; to con- 
vince my hearers is a secondary matter with me. And 
do but see how much I gain by the argument. For if 
what I say is true, then I do well to be persuaded of the 
truth ' (he had been maintaining the immortality of the 
soul) ; ' but if there be nothing after death, still, during 
the short time that remains, I will not distress my friends 
with lamentations, and my ignorance will not last, but 


will die with me, and therefore no harm will be done. 
This is the state of mind, Simmias and Cebes, in which 
I approach the argument. And I would ask you to be 
thinking of the truth and not of Socrates ; agree with me 
if I seem to be speaking the truth ; or if not, withstand 
me with might and main, that I may not deceive you as 
well as myself in my enthusiasm, and, like the bee, leave 
my sting in you before I die. And now let us proceed.' 1 

Bishop Burnet writes of Sir Harry Vane that he 
belonged to the ' sect called " Seekers ", as being satisfied 
with no form of opinion yet extant, but waiting for further 
discoveries '. 2 Socrates belonged to that sect too. It 
makes him irritating to read ; most of us prefer decisive 
pronouncements, and find the vagueness of the Greek 
philosopher irritating. For the method of Socrates runs 
counter to human instinct, which calls for definite results, 
which clings to its inherited ideas and does not care to 
sacrifice them for such problematical gains. Yet this 
scepticism, this willingness to consider and reconsider 
till absolute certainty is reached, is the preliminary to 
real knowledge. For it means complete indifference to 
everything except truth. 

Because Socrates was the first to understand and 
practise it, he marks an epoch in the world. If science 
had her cathedrals and stained glass lights, we might 
fancy an artist commemorating her lineage in a design 
analogous to a Jesse window. In the lowest panel, where 
religion enthrones the Jewish farmer, from whose loins 
sprang the tree of Christianity, Science might fairly place 
the Athenian, who is the spiritual father of her greatest 
sons. Nor, if mottoes and texts were needed, would it 

1 Plato, Phaedo, 91. 

1 Burnet's History of his Own Times. 


be easy to surpass sayings, which, if not his, were inspired 
by him. ' I am one of those who are very willing to be 
refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very 
willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, 
and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute : for I hold 
that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is 
greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing 
another.' l And again. ' I pray God to grant that my 
words may endure, in so far as they have been spoken 
rightly ; if unintentionally I have said anything wrong, 
I pray that he will impose on me the just punishment of 
him who errs ; and the just punishment is that he should 
be set right.' 2 If Socrates was not a man of science 
himself, he knew the spirit by which science lives. 

This, then, is the second growth in fifth-century Athens. 

The third growth is more difficult to describe. It would 
be misleading to call it a growth of morality. Perhaps 
we might say that it was a quickening of interest in morals. 
There was in Athens a movement very similar to one which 
we have seen in our own day. In modern Europe the 
attacks made by criticism upon the long unquestioned 
traditions of religion and conduct have filled the air 
with talk of these things. Ethics have passed out of the 
study of the philosopher, religion is professed beyond the 
pale of the churches. Novelists and playwrights turn 
preachers ; men of science provide new creeds daily ; 
journalists make copy out of them ; publishers issue them 
in inexpensive manuals. Something analogous to this 
came about in the fifth century B.C. Men became pro- 
foundly interested in morality, as under the circumstances 
of the time they were bound to become. For everything 
was criticized at Athens, and morality itself did not 
1 Plato, Gorgias, 458. 2 Id. Critias, 106. 


escape criticism. As Shaw or Wells attack our marriage 
laws, so the sophists picked holes in the old-fashioned 
ideals of the MapaQdavofid^ai, and pressed them to find 
grounds for their virtues. Thus the problems of conduct 
were forced into men's minds. 

This did not necessarily mean that men grew better. 
Thinking about morality is often a substitute for prac- 
tising it, and seems by some law of our nature to effect, 
as Aristotle might have said, a purgation of virtue. 
Still there is a presumption that if men talk much about 
righteousness, they will practise it a little, and certainly 
some men in Athens tried to act what they preached, and 
to persuade their countrymen to do the same. Foremost 
in this was Socrates. Xenophon, in his bald way, tells 
how Socrates ' used always to talk about what related 
to man, and consider the meaning of piety, impiety, 
honour, dishonour, justice, injustice, moderation, madness, 
courage, cowardice ; asking what do city and politician, 
government and governor connote, and reflecting on 
those topics, knowledge of which makes a man deserve 
the name of icaXoy Kayados, ignorance of which, the name 
of slave.' * Plato, more picturesquely, makes his master 
himself proclaim his mission. ' While I have life and 
strength, I shall never cease from the practice and teaching 
of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet and saying 
to him after my manner : You, my friend a citizen of 
the great and mighty and wise city of Athens are you 
not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money 
and honour and reputation, and caring so little about 
wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the 
soul, which you never heed or regard at all ? And I shall 
repeat the same words to every one I meet, young and 
1 Mem. i. i. 16. 


old, citizen and alien, but especially to the citizens, 
inasmuch as they are my brethren. For I know that this 
is the command of God ; and I believe that no greater 
good has ever happened in the state than my service to 
the God. For 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 am that 
gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day 
long and in all places am always fastening upon you, 
arousing and persuading and reproaching you.' l 

The mission is that of a Hebrew prophet : Socrates will 
convince his people of sin. But there is something in 
his methods we do not find in Isaiah. Socrates did not 
fill Athens with denunciations of evil, nor thunder against 
a guilty people, nor strive nor cry, nor pace the streets 
of his home with the terse warning that in forty days 
Athens should be overthrown. Threats and terror were 
not in his method. Instead he quietly recommended to 
his hearers an old Greek proverb : ' Know thyself.' To 
know oneself, one's powers and limitations, to know how 
far that self is really satisfied by money or fame or power, 
to know the things which belong to its peace that was 
his repeated advice. Argument, common sense, looking 
facts in the face with this (he thought) the world could 
be healed. So day by day ' from the early morning ' 2 he 
was to be found in the public walks or gymnasia, or market- 
place, ' asking and answering questions ', in the simple 
faith that finally unreason is weaker than reason, prejudice 
than truth. 

Here we have the wedding of thought with morality, 
of wisdom with virtue, which is so characteristic of Greece 
1 Plato, Apol. 30. * Xen. Mem. i. i. 10. 


and yet of all its phenomena is perhaps the strangest to 
us. The English have a reasonable love of goodness, but 
it is not the love of which Euripides wrote : 

TO, %o<f)ia iraptSpovs Tre/j-treiv '.Epooray, 
aperay vvepyov$, 

Strong loves of all godlike endeavour 
Whom wisdom hath throned on her throne. 1 

What a magnificent phrase, yet how alien from our ways 
of feeling ! Note the three elements indissolubly inter- 
woven wisdom, virtue, love virtue springing out of 
wisdom and by its beauty exciting passionate desire. 
Our virtue is not of this kind. It springs variously from 
conscientiousness, from reverence, from a Puritan instinct 
to mortify the flesh. But it is not ' seated by the side of 
wisdom ' ; or where it is so, as in men like J. S. Mill, 
there goes with it a certain uncomeliness, which is far 
from exciting the passionate love of which Euripides 
wrote. It is but ' a caput mortuum of piety with little 
of its loveliness though with most of its essentials '? 
It moves us to <f>i\ia, but not to e/xy. Only perhaps in 
the age when English thought had shaken itself loose 
from Rome and was rebuilding its theology, rejoicing in 
the strength of newfound truth, do we find that reason 
was lovable because it led to virtue, and that virtue was 
right because it was reasonable, and beautiful both for 
its reasonableness and for itself. ' The end, then, of 
learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by 
regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge 
to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may 

1 Med. 844 (tr. Murray). The words would make a good motto 
for a university. 

* Stevenson, of Herbert Spencer, in The Influence of Books 
(Art of Writing). 

1358 P 


the nearest, by possessing our souls of true virtue.' And 
again : 

How charming is divine philosophy ! 

Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose, 

But musical as is Apollo's lute, 

And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets. 1 

The true Greek spirit is in these extracts. But it has gone 
out both from our education and our philosophy : and until 
it returns, neither of them will reach the heights where 
it is their place to walk. 

Here for a moment let us pause, and glance at a specimen 
of this fifth-century development, at a ' modern ' man. 
Our example is not Socrates, who is unique almost to 
eccentricity. It is the writer of the Greek words which 
we have just quoted. 

Consider the nominal beliefs of the society into which 
he was born, the beliefs which he inherited as his birth- 
right. Consider his Bible, the theology of legend. It 
taught huii that there were many gods, male and female, 
and that only one of these had no illegitimate children ; 
she had an altar on which human beings were sacrificed. . 
Zeus seduced the wives and daughters of men, his consort .> 
consoled herself by tormenting these women and their 
children ; Aphrodite punished excessive chastity, Artemis 
requited her by persecuting her favourites. The human 
heroes of this Bible were hardly more stainless, though 
they bore such names as Agamemnon, Helen, Menelaus, 
Odysseus, and had been glorified by the poets of his land. 
Helen, after running away from her husband with a 
stranger, had allowed thousands of men to kill each other 
for her through the wasting misery of a ten years' war. 
Agamemnon, to prosper his expedition for the recovery of 
1 Milton, Letter on Education, and Comus. 


this woman, his brother's wanton wife, had cheated his own 
daughter into leaving home by declaring that he wished to 
marry her to Achilles, and then had sacrificed her to a god- 
dess ; he had stolen from his best ally a slave girl whom he 
coveted as a concubine, and by offending him had almost 
ruined his army ; finally he had outraged his wife's feelings 
by bringing a second concubine home in his chariot. 1 Yet 
Homer had seen no weakness in these gods and men, but 
worshipped the one and praised the other in all good faith, 
honouring Zeus as ' highest of rulers ' and Agamemnon as 
' king of men '. Euripides found it difficult to follow him. 

He found it equally difficult, with his acute, critical 
mind, to follow other stories which his predecessors had 
accepted. When Orestes killed his mother, Aeschylus 
believed that the place filled with women, snakes bound 
in their hair, who hunted the murderer, mewing at the 
smell of blood ; and that these were seen by the by- 
standers. Before the critical gaze of Euripides such a 
story fell to pieces. True, that in the iphigeneia Orestes 
supposes himself hunted by such creatures. But they are 
not brought on the stage, and nobody else sees or speaks 
of them. A rustic describes how he beheld Orestes combat- 
ing something which he (Orestes) called Furies. But the 
rustic himself saw no such things, saw only Orestes doing 
execution on some cows, and calling the world to witness 
that he was slaying his enemies. 2 No doubt, like Ajax on 
a former occasion, he was for the moment out of his senses. 

But knowing that men who murdered their mothers 

1 Cp. Eur. El. 101 1-50, where Clytemnestra makes these points 
against Agamemnon and so excuses her own conduct. 

* I. T. 285 f. The madness of Orestes is a purely natural 
thing in the three plays of Euripides in which it comes, Electro,, 
Orestes, I. T. It is noticeable that in the Choephoroe the by- 
standers do not see the Furies, 1. 1061. 


were not visited by women with serpents in their hair, 
Euripides knew, too, that matricide has its punishment. 
He shows us what it is in his Orestes. When the play opens 
Orestes is lying on a bed, pale and thin, with foam on his 
lips and long hair in disorder, his sister watching him. 
He will not eat : he will not wash : he huddles closely in the 
blankets, and groans. At times he sees dog-faced things 
in the air menacing him, starts up, fancies he will shoot 
them, and goes through the motions of drawing a bow. 
The watchers hold him down in bed till the fit passes. 
Then he comes to himself and lies there in a mood more 
trying to his nurse than the madness helplessly crying. 
cfji<f>pa>i> SaKpvei. Conceive the horror of it. This has 
been going on for five days. 1 So a child of the Age of 
Reason read the punishment of matricide . It was a nervous 
mental derangement. It was, in a worse form, the punish- 
ment of Lady Macbeth. 

Take another instance. Legend told how Helen left her 
Greek husband to become the wife of Paris, and how the 
Greeks followed her to Troy, and took it, and how she 
became again the wife of Menelaus. An awkward story, 
if we care to criticize, and ask closely what sort of woman 
she could have been to act thus. Homer himself felt the 
difficulty, and his Helen admits her sin. She is KvvSyjns, 
shameless as a dog. But in general for Homer she is 
simply the 8ia yvvaiK&v, the wonderful woman, with 
white arms and flowing dress, whose beauty makes even 
the Trojans think that she is worth a ten years' war. 
Euripides is more searching in his analysis of the nature 
of this wife who left home and daughter for a stranger. 
To him she is essentially the vain, selfish, luxurious woman, 
and he spares no pains to bring this out. 
1 Or. 34 f., 255 f. 


The handsome face of Paris fascinated her, and his rich 
Eastern dress ; even more trivial vanities won her heart 
the gold collar round Paris's neck, his wide Eastern trousers. 
Her fancy was bewitched. And then Argos was a poor 
Greek town. Troy offered her the fabled treasures and 
luxurious delights of the East. 

Once free from Sparta, and there rolled 
The Tyrian glory, like broad streams of gold, 
To steep thine arms and splash the towers ! How small, 
How cold that day was Menelaus' hall ! 

So she left her home. Arrived in Troy she showed herself 
the complete coquette, taunting Paris whenever the 
Greeks won a victory, and so teasing his love into life. 
She liked the elaborate courtesy, the prostrations and 
salutations of the East, which were so offensive and 
ridiculous to the Greek spirit. And when the end came 
and Troy was taken and Paris killed, she dressed herself 
splendidly for vanity never failed and went out to 
meet the Greeks. Returning to Argos, middle-aged 
now, she was the same : tori tf i^ irdXai y 1/1/17. Her 
interest is in dress, in mirrors and fans : she has brought 
a Phrygian eunuch from Troy to wait on her, and her 
attendants are connoisseurs in perfumes and looking- 
glasses. Even when the decency of mourning requires 
her to cut her hair, she will not spoil her good looks, but 
pares off only the very tips of it. Such was Helen, seen 
by the Age of Reason. 1 

1 Troades, 969-1032 (the translation quoted above is Professor 
Murray's); Orestes, 128, 1112, 1430; Cyclops, 182-5, are the 
passages from which the above details are taken. It is noticeable 
that Helen inherits her vanity from Clytemnestra (Electra, 1071), 
and bequeathes it to her daughter Hermione (Andromache, 147 f.). 
Euripides regards Appoavvr) as an hereditary trait of the family, 
Orestes, 349. 


It is the same with the war of which Helen was the 
cause. To Homer war was splendid. His heroes had 
found in it their vocation, and its evil was outweighed by 
the magnificence of their valour and the number of men 
whom they were able to slay. Euripides thought other- 
wise, as the story of one of his plays will show. 

A town has been taken : the men in it have been killed, 
and the women who are waiting to be shipped off into 
slavery tell their feelings and discuss their future. The 
characters who speak are carefully chosen for their unlike- 
ness, so that we may see the scene through different eyes 
and in different lights. There are the common women, 
whose grief is a half-animal pain at the loss of creature 
comforts and the breaking up of their happy homes. There 
is the wife of the king of the city. She is an old woman, 
and her warm affections have burnt out, and her deeper 
human sympathies dried up, partly through old age, 
partly through the very pomp and state of royalty, till 
what she feels most is the bitterness of the loss of a 
kingdom, and the destruction of a dynasty. There is 
her daughter-in-law, whose happy married life has 
been broken through her husband's death, and is to be 
succeeded by existence as the slave concubine of his 
murderer's son. There is a prophetess who looks at the 
disaster with a wider view, as befits the servant of heaven. 
There is one of the victorious army, who is sorry for the 
conquered, but after all is only doing what his betters 
order, and who feels the self-complacency of a victor and 
is looking forward to seeing his home again. Such is the 
design of the Troades. Throughout, the scene is laid on 
the sea-shore, where the captive women are huddled in 
a corner near the tent assigned to them. In the distance 
we see the victors drawing lots for the prisoners, carrying 


the spoil on board and preparing for departure. As the 
play opens with the wailing of the captives, so it closes 
with the sounding of the trumpet to call them to the 
Greek ships : the town sinks into the flames, and Troy is 
lost in dust and smoke. 

There is not a gleam of light throughout : the play is 
hopeless to the end. The captives have lost husbands 
and children, they are about to be dragged into slavery 
and divided as the lot falls, their old life is at an end and 
there is no hope for them in the new. There are two notes 
of exultation in the play, only two, and these are charac- 
teristic. First is the joy of Cassandra that she is carrying 
with her to Greece destruction for her captor, Agamemnon. 
Second is the joy of Menelaus that at last he can punish 
his treacherous wife. For, even to the victors, victory 
brings no happiness. By the mouth of Cassandra Euri- 
pides expressly states that of the two the conquerors are 
less enviable than the conquered. A moment's revenge 
is the reward of Menelaus for ten years' fighting : and 
those who through these ten years had forfeited their home 
life, are returning to find, some, death, some, treachery, and 
all, change, awaiting them in Greece. Euripides had 
asked himself what war is, when you look at it as it is : 
and this is his answer. 1 

Voir clair dans ce qui est : so Stendhal defined the 
author's duty, and Euripides might have taken the words 
for his motto, for thoilgh there are many tendencies 
in his work, in essence it is an attempt to see things as 
they are. 

To see Apollo as he was, the god who ordered Orestes 
to murder his mother, because she had murdered his 

1 Professor Murray (translation of the Troades) points out that 
this is the significance of the play. 


father Agamemnon : who seduced a young girl and 
poisoned her whole life. 1 

To see the murder of Clytemnestra as it was : an act 
which did no good to Agamemnon and which he would 
have been the first to dissuade : a brutal survival of the 
lex talionis into days when law had taken the place of that 
primitive device. 2 

To see the madness of Orestes as it was : no visible 
haunting with snakes and scourges and pursuing Furies : 
but a horrible thing none the less, a natural disease, the 
outcome of conscience, wasting the body and troubling 
the brain : accompanied with morbid suspicions which 
come and go with the fits of madness : fed by and feeding 
the intense self-centred egoism which is an invariable 
feature of such states. 

To see the great figures of Greek mythology as they are : 
Menelaus, not, as Homer shows him, a great conqueror 
and king, but a selfish, prudent, and cowardly man : 3 
Helen, not simply divinely beautiful, as Homer shows 
her, but a vain, selfish, and false woman. 

To see the Trojan war and its results, as they are : the 
horrid murderous sack of a great town it holds in some 
of the plays of Euripides almost the place which the 
family curse has in the Aeschylean drama of which the 
consequences cling to all who had part in it, and, taking 
various forms, haunt their houses, bringing misery even 
to the third and fourth generations. 

But note that Euripides is a moralist as well as a critic. 
In this point also he is linked to Socrates and separated 
from Homer. Homer has a moral standard, but his 

1 In the Electro, and the Ion. 

2 See VerralTs essay on the Orestes in Four Plays of Euripides. 
* In the Andromache and Orestes. 


judgement is long-suffering and his censures are light. He 
is so delighted with the fullness and beauty of life that he 
often forgets to condemn. Not so Euripides. He brings 
the offenders mercilessly to his bar, and looks past tradi- 
tional reputation to the naked self within : Menelaus, 
Odysseus, Jason, Orestes, Helen, Hermione, Apollo, 
Aphrodite, Hera, Artemis : we see their souls ' marked 
with the whip, and full of the prints and scars of perjuries 
and crimes, and crooked with falsehood and imposture '. 
Euripides does not ask whether these heroes and deities 
were rich or famous ; but only whether they conformed 
to the highest standards of goodness, which he and Athens 
knew. Were they just, courageous, merciful, truth- 
loving ? If not, all the solemn plausibilities of legend 
should not save them. Into the pillory they 
should go. 

Here is an instance, akin to those already quoted, which 
brings out clearly the ethical bent of the new drama. It is 
Euripides' treatment of one of those stories so common in 
Greek myth. Most of the famous families of legend owed 
their origin to a god. Apollo or Zeus conceived a passion 
for one of the fair daughters of men : in that early age the 
' gods partook the weaknesses of mortals, and mortals 
the enjoyments of the gods ' ; and nothing came of the 
ephemeral connexion except that a hero was born into 
the world. Greek mythology is full of such tales : and the 
ninth Pythian of Pindar shows with what gracious beauty 
a poet I had almost written a thinker could invest one 
of these venial irregularities not half a century before 
Euripides held the stage. 

But Euripides himself saw these matters otherwise, 
and, to our notions, more nearly as they are. A young 
Athenian girl was once picking the yellow flowers which 


grew on the Long Rocks north of the Acropolis. There 
Apollo found her, seized and dragged her, crying, into 
a cave, as a middle-aged woman, she could still remember 
the whiteness of the wrists that grasped her, and the 
blaze of golden light about him on that day. 1 She bore 
a child, and, to hide it from her mother, took it by night 
to the cave : there she laid it, hoping that somehow 
Apollo would help her. But he, having taken his pleasure, 
left her alone to bear the pain of childbirth, and the 
torture of concealment. Let us hear the story and the 
sequel, as she told it to an old servant, years later. 

Creusa. Do you know the cliffs of Cecrops, which we 
call the Long Rocks a cave in them which faces North ? 
There I fought a fearful battle ; I was forced into a miser- 
able union with Apollo. 

Servant. How did you conceal your intercourse with 
the god ? 

C. I bore a child ; (the servant starts) ; endure to hear 
this from me. 

5. Who attended you ? and where ? or were you alone 
in your pains ? 

C. Alone ; in the cave which saw my union. 

5. Where is the boy ? You shall be childless no more. 

C. Dead : exposed to savage beasts. 

5. Dead ? And did not Apollo, base god, help you ? 

C. He did not help : and my boy has his upbringing 
in the house of Death. 

5. Who exposed him ? Surely not you ? 

C. I exposed him. One dark night I swaddled him in 
a robe. 

5. Had you no accomplice in the deed ? 

C. None but unhappiness and secrecy. 

5. How did you harden yourself to leave the child in 
the cave ? 

C. How, indeed ! many and bitter were my farewells. 

5. Oh, bold, hard heart ; and the god's heart harder 
than your own. 

1 Ion, 887-91. 


C. Yes : and if you had seen the child stretching out 
its hands to me. 1 

No more was heard of the child, and Creusa, its mother, 
married the King of Athens. In the play she is the 
stately, middle-aged Queen of Athens : but we are not 
allowed to forget that early adventure on the cliffs of her 
home. Euripides loves to trace the bad effect of suffering 
on female character, and Creusa is his childless woman. 
No baby has been born to her since the one who was lost ; 
and external prosperity cannot fill this void in her life. 
The young temple servant at Delphi admires and envies 
her home and lineage. ' So far my happiness goes ; no 
further ' ; is her bitter reply. 2 l-naQov &XQS dfiiov, she says 
of herself, ' My sorrow is too deep for life.' And when at 
the end of the play, after jealousies, blasphemies, devilry, 
and attempted murder, Apollo, who set this train of 
misery in motion and has been skulking in the back- 
ground to shield his reputation from the discredit of 
exposure, at last puts up another deity to restore the lost 
child (now a grown man), we see that the god's reparation 
is incomplete, and that Creusa's happiness comes too late 
to compensate for a wasted and tragic youth. That is 
how Euripides saw a light-hearted divine amour, which 
Pindar would have invested with the splendour of poetry. 
To him it was the brutal rape of a helpless girl. It had 
the consequences which such actions have. It added 
a quotum to the sum of human misery on earth. 3 

1 Ion, 936-7, 939, 940, 946-61. I have shortened the opening 
of the dialogue. * 1. 264. 

* The preceding is, of course, not even an attempt at a complete 
account of Euripides, who had other qualities than a critical 
intellect. As with Pindar and Herodotus in the fifth, and Plato 
in the seventh chapter, I have merely dwelt on those sides of him 
which illustrate my particular point. 


Here we may take leave of the Age of Reason. For 
though we have hardly crossed its threshold, we have seen 
enough to judge of its significance. In it the Greek genius 
enters decisively on a new course. Its youth is closed, 
henceforth it faces the strenuous duties and painful virtues 
of men. It studies how to live and how to know: Stoics, 
Epicureans, Cynics, arise to be the spiritual doctors of 
erring humanity. They chasten it and fortify it and show 
it a new way of life and save its soul. Meanwhile others 
take the wages of science, and give up their lives to the 
accumulation of knowledge. In Athens Aristotle and his 
followers made huge collections of facts, from a complete 
list of all the plays acted in Athens, with the names of 
their authors, actors, and managers, down to the famous 
analysis of 158 constitutions, of which one, the constitu- 
tion of Athens, has survived to our own day. Alexandria 
has its Museum and Library and Botanical Gardens. 
Pergamum, Antioch, Tarsus have their schools of learned 
men. In literary history Heraclides, in literary criticism 
Zenodotus and Aristarchus, in grammar Dionysius of 
Thrace, in music Aristoxenus, in social history Dicaearchus, 
in astronomy Hipparchus, in geometry Archimedes and 
Euclid, in mechanics Heron, in physical geography and 
cartography Eratosthenes, made huge collections of data, 
used the methods of critical inquiry, and laid the founda- 
tions of sciences. And these are but a few names. On 
agriculture alone, Varro, the Roman, knew of fifty Greek 
treatises. Equally thorough and wide is the work done 
in philosophy. Through different paths, Stoics, and 
Epicureans, Cynics, the followers of Plato and those of 
Aristotle sought for virtue and happiness, and opened 
up the fields of physics, metaphysics, logic, psychology, 


And so when Christianity comes, she finds the world in 
a sense prepared for her. There are old bottles which will 
hold her new wine and not break. There is a metaphysic 
and a moral philosophy, and a vocabulary ready for her. 
S. Paul will find the opposition of ' flesh ' and ' spirit ' 
close to his hand : S. John will have the logos, in which he 
can express the Person of Christ : S. Thomas will have 
the system of Aristotle in which to propound the mysteries 
of the gospel. Apologists will use the Greek method of 
allegory for Old Testament difficulties : they will borrow 
arguments against Greek gods from Greek philosophers, 
and cite Plato and Euemerus as witnesses against Zeus. 
The Hell and Heaven and Purgatory of Christianity will 
borrow punishments and rewards from the pictures which 
Orphism has drawn of a life to come. Thus with Socrates 
and Euripides, we are on the watershed whence the 
streams of European life descend. An infinite prospect 
opens before us. 

Tanta patet rerum series atque omne futurum 
Nititur in lucem. 

That is the significance of the fifth century. It fixed the 
lines on which henceforward men were to work. It 
brought to reasonable perfection the tools which they 
were to use. Without it the services of Greece to the 
world would have been incomplete. Intersect Hellenism 
about the close of the sixth century, and the line drawn 
would give us some of the greatest poetry in Greece. 
But below it would fall the movement which gave 
a civilization to the Roman Empire, and the spirit of 
knowledge to us. Without the fifth century and its 
consequences Greek influence would have hardly touched 
the world. 


If this is so, why is not the late Greek more attractive 
than his ancestors ? Why does not our interest progres- 
sively increase as we pass from Socrates to Aristotle and 
from Aristotle to Theophrastus, and thence into ages 
whose sentiment grows ever liker to our own, and whose 
thought becomes ever more adapted to modern needs? 
Have we here another instance of scholastic pedantry, 
which fixes on certain periods as classical, and confines 
itself to these with such exclusiveness that half the pupils 
which it trains do not realize that Hellenism lived on 
after the battle of Chaeronea, and barely know the names 
of the later thinkers ? Or did a degenerative change really 
come over Greece ? And was Nietzsche right to argue 
that Socrates and Euripides were the first of her deca- 
dents ? Such questions are not easy to settle. Yet most 
of us have tacitly answered them in our thoughts. Greece 
interests us after the fall of Athens, but we do not grow 
enthusiastic over it. How many people, if fate offered 
them the life of a classical Greek, would accept it at the 
price of living in the fourth or following centuries B.C. ? 
The Athenians themselves were conscious of decadence. 
In a passage where, though the words are put on the lips 
of Pericles, the thoughts are clearly the thoughts of 
Xenophon, the latter deplores the decay of Athens. 
' How can we convert men to a passion for the virtue and 
renown and happiness of old ? The city has degenerated. 
The men of old, men say, were far superior to our contem- 
poraries.' x Two generations later Aeschines speaks in 
the same tone to the assembled Athenians. ' If some one 
asked you whether you think the city more glorious to-day 
than it was in the times of your ancestors, you would all 
agree that it was not. Were men better then than now ? 
1 Xen. Mem. 3. 5. 7 f. 


Yes, they were superior : we are far inferior.' x Allowing 
for human love of self-detraction, there is still some truth 
left in these statements. A slackness, a softness has come 
upon the Athenians. If Demosthenes was right, we see 
it in their unwillingness to find men and money to make 
war on Philip. The very language of the fourth century 
bears a curious and indirect witness to it. Note the 
adjectives which occur in the speeches of the orators, and 
consider to what they point. If Demosthenes wishes to 
praise a man, he calls him ^erptoy, (f>i\dvOp<oTro$, irpaos, 
'moderate, humane, gentle'. These were the qualities 
which the age applauded ; these were the virtues of its 
choice. Qualities excellent in themselves, but in their 
continual recurrence the symptoms of a certain effeminacy 
and quietism very foreign to early Athens. Her virtues 
were more active. Thucydides does not call his country- 
men ' moderate ' : bold (doKvoi), enterprising (roX^rjpot), 
innovating (vfcoTepotroioi), confident (ev f \7ri8fs), are the 
adjectives he uses of them. Natural force (0yo-ea>y 
and rapidity of judgement are the qualities he praises in 
Themistocles, and in Pericles independence and honesty. 
It may seem unfair to blame a nation for humanitarian 
virtues which we should all be glad to possess. Yet even 
so there is something wrong with the fourth century. The 
greatest charm of its predecessor is too volatile for 
language. It is the fullness and beauty of Athenian life. 
After 400 B. c. that is gone. It fades out of Athens, leaving 
her ostensibly unchanged, just as the expression which 
gave all the charm to a face fades out of it without any 
definite alteration in the features. Henceforward she is 
a lively municipal town, with a powerful intellectual life, 
arid political interests which excite much noise, but are 
1 Aesch. In Ctes. 178. 


infantile in comparison with those of Rome. Perhaps it 
was the same at bottom before. Perhaps the Periclean 
age was an inflated air bubble. Perhaps Thucydides has 
imposed on us, and made us hold our breath over debates 
more trifling and enterprises less important than those of 
our provincial Town Councils. But at any rate he did 
impose on us. Now we are undeceived. 

And if this is true of the fourth, it is still truer of suc- 
ceeding centuries. The Greek takes up a new role and 
enters on his missionary campaign for the conversion of 
the earth. He is in the spiritual, what the mercenaries 
of Xenophon and Clearchus were in the military world. 
He follows in the train of each conquering race, to educate 
and influence it, to amuse and instruct its leisure. We 
meet him in every capital small and great, from Parthia 
and Babylon to Alexandria and Rome, ready to sell the 
secrets of virtue and art and knowledge to all who can hire 
him ; he acts the Bacchae at the court of Orodes, corrects 
the verses of Cornelius Gallus, translates Homer for the 
children of Livius Salinator, is the tame poet of Marius 
and the chosen companion of Scipio Africanus and of Nero. 
He comes in many guises : he is the financial adviser of 
Roman emperors, the philosopher and confessor of Roman 
aristocrats, the social parasite and ' hungry Greekling ' 
of disappointed Roman clients. He is the doctor, the 
music-master, the rhetorician, the actor, the painter, the 
rope-dancer, the palmist, the masseur, of the ruling race. 
But one thing he is never again a free citizen in an 
independent state. 

This progressive political decay took the colour out of 
later Greek life, and is the first cause of its unattractive- 
ness. But by its side goes a subtle spiritual degeneracy. 
We foresee it as we read Euripides. He propounds his 


terrific problems and finds no solution to them. Ortho- 
doxy, tradition, custom fall in ruins round him. A merci- 
less critic, he fails to construct. Men cannot go on doing 
this for ever. Two things, says La Rochefoucauld, man can 
never look between the eyes for long, the sun and death. 
We may add a third to them the universe as Euripides 
saw it. If the world really is as he shows it to us in the 
Hecuba, the Troades, the Ion, the Electra, the Hippolytus, 
then we had better shut our eyes or take to spectacles 
which colour things more agreeably. 

So felt the fourth century. It suffered from the common 
sequelae of a critical agnosticism. Not from especial 
wickedness (scepticism and crime do not necessarily go 
hand in hand, nor is a godless world always an immoral 
one), but from torpor. Men have tired of hunting after 
truth which they never find, of engaging in a pursuit 
which calls for so much effort and brings so much pain, 
and yet has such small results to offer. They have 
grown afraid of the task which they have undertaken ; 
when they think upon these things they are too painful 
for them, and they turn aside into easier paths. The 
higher literature takes to studying character instead of 
portraying action, or pursues artistic effects with much 
talk of art for art's sake ; and a corresponding change 
comes over the attitude of educated men to life. A genera- 
tion grows up which takes few risks and makes little pro- 
gress, which is content with ' a modest competence ' in 
matters of intellect even more than in income. Vigour 
is replaced by virtuosity ; and life by refined criticism on 
it. The ideas of such a society are generally cultured, the 
ideals of it are always bourgeois and neither of these 
adjectives indicates a higher level of humanity. It is for 
this kind of society that comedy is written, if we mean 

1358 Q 


by comedy, not the coarse vivacity of Aristophanes, but 
the delicate wit of Menander or Molidre or Congreve or 
the modern French school. 

That is why the New Comedy is so typical of the 
fourth century, of which it is the most important literary 
product. Menander is the new Euripides. He has learnt 
from his great predecessor an idealization of female 
character, an interest in common life, and an exquisite 
style. But he has dropped the profound earnestness of his 
master. Tragedy has declined into comedy, the passionate 
search for truth into the genial criticism of common sense. 
Heroes and heroines give place to courtesans and buffoons 
and cooks and slaves ; and the sufferings of tragedy, the 
dying Hippolytus and the blinded eyes of Oedipus, are 
replaced by the tears of disappointed lovers and the aching 
stomachs of hungry parasites. Menander's ideal is a 
comfortable and unheroic life the bourgeois ideal of wild 
oats in youth, and respectability with a dowried wife in 
middle age. 

No doubt there were loftier and more energetic minds 
in Athens than Menander's : but even these undergo a 
degenerative change. Action begins to be divorced from 
thought, and there appears a class of thinkers who are 
willing to be mere spectators of life ; the best of them 
persuaded of the wisdom of views, which they make but 
a feeble attempt to enforce on the world, the worst of 
them contented to weigh and appraise a thousand theories 
without believing in, still less practising, one. It is 
impossible not to feel in reading Aristotle, that though 
his political speculations were started to meet a real need, 
yet he is satisfied with having created his ideal constitu- 
tion, and almost indifferent to its becoming a reality on 
earth. He lives to know rather than to make his knowledge 


effective. Even Plato, who is cut to the soul by the needs 
of his age, resigns himself to the view that his ideal state 
must remain in the clouds. He sees too clearly a vanity 
in human effort even when most successful, and is im- 
patient and disgusted at the slow travelling and at the 
rough and muddy roads. So he leaves the earth and gives 
himself up to wandering in the clear and unimpeding aether 
of the intellect, 

aepo/Saroo*' KOU irtpi$pov>v rov rjXiov, 

as Aristophanes, a generation earlier, said scornfully of 
his kind, and builds his airy palaces where no one can 
hinder or defile or destroy. 

The following century brought a revival, and philosophy 
once more became practical : nor has history many inci- 
dents more striking than the Stoic and Cynic attempt to 
save mankind through virtue. Perhaps we actually owe 
more to these ages than to earlier Greece. But the new 
world was never quite like the old. Greece had for ever 
lost two things freedom and the glory of her early 


IN spite of classical education, in spite of newspaper 
tributes to the greatness of Athens, the general public 
have never quite come to regard Greek literature as a 
living force. Most people and among them many who 
have been through the public schools class it vaguely 
with the civilizations of Egypt or Assyria as something 
which has an archaeological interest, but is not suitable 
for general education. And of those who realize that it 
is more than this, how many think of it as genuinely 
alive ? How many would turn to its writers expecting to 
meet a criticism of life as true and poignant as that of our 
own literature, or to see, as they read, the world changed 
and illuminated for them by Greek tragedy as by Shake- 
speare ? How many regard the ideals of Homer or 
Aeschylus as at least as effective as those of Milton or 
Dryden, or think of Thucydides and Euripides as more 
truly ' modern ' than Dickens or Thackeray ? 

' Ancient ' and ' modern ' ; ' dead ' and ' living ' the 
familiar antitheses of educational controversy have made 
us their dupes, and we swallow the adjectives whole, 
confusing ancient with antiquated and cotemporary 
with modern. If a language is spoken or a religion 
venerated in our own day, we hastily conclude that it 
is ' modern ' in every sense of the word : if it is ' ancient ' 



or ' dead ', we suppose it to be mere litter on the rubbish 
heap of the past. Yet old thoughts are not necessa- 
rily senile, nor are cotemporary thoughts necessarily of 
value. We should be landed in strange conclusions if it 
were so : Bantu would be a ' modern ' language, and the 
rites of Bush tribes a ' modern ' religion ; Hellenism 
would be obsolete, because it lies sixteen centuries behind 
us, and Christianity superseded, because it was born in 
the empire of Augustus. 1 

No ; Greek thought is still as living as our own. Greek 
freedom could have taught us lessons of toleration up to, 
and even in the nineteenth century. Greek sanity is a 
reducing medicine, suitable to purge some of the humours 
of modern literature. Greek directness will train us to 
clarify our thoughts and verify our emotions. Greek 
humanism is the clearest and simplest form of that religion 
of the earth, against which S. Paul and so many preachers 
since him have declaimed : in Plato we hear their voice 
already raised, and have a forecast of the coming of 
Christianity. 2 To how many of the phenomena mentioned 

1 In these paragraphs I am only speaking of what I believe to 
be the views of the public at large ; and I am not urging the cause 
of compulsory Greek ; that is a very different question, and one 
which I wish carefully to avoid. 

* One of the reasons why Greek has such high educational value 
is that it continually poses fundamental problems, forces them on 
our attention, and so is an introduction to literature and thought. 
Thus Greek directness raises the great literary problems which 
centre round the value of romanticism : and Greek humanism 
suggests the contrast between the Christian and the humanistic 
view of life (see pp. 123-4). 

The remarks on the ' modernity ' of Greece that follow are 
intended to emphasize the points where its thought touches 
ours, and deliberately take no account of the differences be- 
tween us. 


in the last chapter could we find modern parallels, for how 
many of the personages could we substitute modern names ! 
Qualify Shelley's passionate idealism and love of beauty 
with the merciless insight of Ibsen and his fondness for 
the details of ordinary life you have Euripides. France 
has created a Menander in the younger Dumas. The 
sophists are come to life again in a dozen popular teachers. 
M. Bourget has studied the disastrous influence of one 
of these ' seducers of youth ' in Le Disciple, where the 
philosopher and his depraved pupil might almost pass for 
Socrates and one of those young men whom he was 
accused of corrupting. Nor are many writings more 
genuinely ' sophistic ' than those of Mr. H. G. Wells, with 
their unshrinking audacity of thought, their wide range of 
subject, their appeal to the general public, their smatter- 
ing of scientific knowledge, their pretensions to the scien- 
tific spirit. And Plato ? Readers of M. Brunetiere's Sur 
les chemins de la croyance, and of the novels of M. Rene 
Bazin, will feel that if modern France lacks a Plato, it 
exhibits many of those circumstances which produced 
his shuddering reaction from materialism into spiritual 
vision, from the disintegrating forces of individualist 
anarchy into a revolutionary conservatism. Perhaps if 
Newman had lived a generation later, we might have 
seen something like Plato again on earth. 

But, turning from dangerous parallels, let us sum up the 
reasons of our approximation to Greece. First is Greek 
humanism. Greece, as we have said so often, stands for 
humanity, simple and unashamed, with all the variety of 
its nature free to play. The Greek set himself to answer 
the question how, with no revelation from God to guide 
him, with no overbearing necessity to cramp or intimidate 
him, man should live. It has been a tendency with our 


own age either to deny that heaven has revealed to us 
in any way how we ought to behave, or to find such a 
revelation in human nature itself. In either case we are 
thrown back on ourselves and obliged to seek our guide 
there. That is why the influence of Greece has grown so 
much. The Greeks are the only people who have con- 
ceived the problem similarly ; their answer is the only 
one which has yet been made. So we are turning back 
to Greece and beginning to understand what the Greeks 
meant; we are beginning to canvass their views and in 
some cases to accept them. In Germany, Professor von 
Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, in England Professor Murray, 
have entered into the Greek mind to a degree impossible 
to previous generations. 

Secondly and it is this, as we have said before, which 
ties us so closely to the fifth century the only thinking 
civilization in the world before our own is that of Greece. 
Greece tried to base life on reason. But on the collapse 
of Graeco-Roman culture, mankind took refuge in a series 
of despotisms, political and intellectual, which lasted to 
and through the Middle Ages ; -the Roman Catholic 
Church evolved a system which saved them from thinking 
on theology and morals ; the theory of divine right, if it 
did not destroy political thought, imprisoned it within 
fixed limits. At the Reformation the world formally 
declared itself free, though without quite understanding 
what it meant by the declaration ; through subsequent 
centuries it has moved towards a gradual realization of 
the consequences of freedom, and now, in an almost com- 
plete emancipation, has admitted reason as its one stan- 
dard, and is shaping its theory of life to meet her demands. 
In short we are resuming the task which from different 
standpoints the Sophists, Socrates, Euripides, and Plato, 


so long ago essayed. Hence we have an inner sympathy 
with them which was hardly possible before our own day ; 
and one of them at least, Euripides, has remained a puzzle 
and a stumbling-block to critics, till an age came which 
could understand him, because it was his spiritual co- 

These are the two chief causes which have brought 
Greece nearer to us than to our predecessors. They are 
accidental causes : we happen at the present time in some 
ways to have taken the same attitude to life as the Greeks 
of a certain age, and so they seem to us living and modern. 
But there is another reason, far more important, which 
gives Hellas life, and will keep it alive even in ages which 
are far away from its mind. We must not forget this, 
nor rest the permanence of Hellenism on a temporary 
relation between its thought and ours. Greek literature 
has a stronger fountain of life in the immortality which 
all thought and utterance earn when it is truly and rightly 
devised ; it has the immortality of what, in the widest 
sense of the word, is art. There are some sentences of 
Plutarch which describe this quality far better than any 
words of mine can do, and they may fitly close this account 
of the Greek genius ; Plutarch wrote them in his own age 
about the Periclean buildings on the Acropolis, but they 
will bear a wider application. ' For this cause therefore 
those works are more wonderful ; because they were 
perfectly made in so short a time and have continued so 
long a season. For every one of those which were finished 
up at that time seemed then to be very ancient touching 
the beauty thereof : and yet for the grace and continuance 
of the same, it looketh at this day as if it were but newly 
done and finished, there is such a certain kind of flourishing 
freshness in it, which letteth that the injury of time cannot 


impair the sight thereof. As if every of those foresaid 
works had some living spirit in it, to make it seem young 
and fresh : and a soul that lived ever, which kept them 
in their good continuing state.' l That is a just descrip- 
tion of Greek Literature. 

1 Vit. Periclis. 13 (tr. North). 


SEP 22 

DF Livingstone, (Sir) Richard 

77 Winn 

L58 The Greek genius and its 

meaning to us.