Brief Survey of Arts, Letters, and Philosophy in Greece, prior to the Legislation of Solon.

I. Before concluding this introductory portion of my work, it will be necessary to take a brief survey of the intellectual state of Greece prior to that wonderful era of Athenian greatness which commenced with the laws of Solon. At this period the continental states of Greece had produced little in that literature which is now the heirloom of the world. Whether under her monarchy, or the oligarchical constitution that succeeded it, the depressed and languid genius of Athens had given no earnest of the triumphs she was afterward destined to accomplish. Her literature began, though it cannot be said to have ceased, with her democracy. The solitary and doubtful claim of the birth - but not the song - of Tyrtaeus (fl. B. C. 683), is the highest literary honour to which the earlier age of Attica can pretend; and many of the Dorian states - even Sparta itself - appear to have been more prolific in poets than the city of Aeschylus and Sophocles. But throughout all Greece, from the earliest time, was a general passion for poetry, however fugitive the poets. The poems of Homer are the most ancient of profane writings - but the poems of Homer themselves attest that they had many, nor ignoble, precursors. Not only do they attest it in their very excellence - not only in their reference to other poets - but in the general manner of life attributed to chiefs and heroes. The lyre and the song afford the favourite entertainment at the banquet [161]. And Achilles, in the interval of his indignant repose, exchanges the deadly sword for the "silver harp,"

                     "And sings 
    The immortal deeds of heroes and of kings." [162]

II. Ample tradition and the internal evidence of the Homeric poems prove the Iliad at least to have been the composition of an Asiatic Greek; and though the time in which he flourished is yet warmly debated, the most plausible chronology places him about the time of the Ionic migration, or somewhat less than two hundred years after the Trojan war. The following lines in the speech of Juno in the fourth book of the Iliad are supposed by some [163] to allude to the return of the Heraclidae and the Dorian conquests in the Peloponnesus: -

    "Three towns are Juno's on the Grecian plains, 
     More dear than all th' extended earth contains - 
     Mycenae, Argos, and the Spartan Wall - 
     These mayst thou raze, nor I forbid their fall; 
     'Tis not in me the vengeance to remove; 
     The crime's sufficient that they share my love." [164]

And it certainly does seem to me that in a reference so distinct to the three great Peloponnesian cities which the Dorians invaded and possessed, Homer makes as broad an allusion to the conquests of the Heraclidae, not only as would be consistent with the pride of an Ionic Greek in attesting the triumphs of the national Dorian foe, but as the nature of a theme cast in a distant period, and remarkably removed, in its general conduct, from the historical detail of subsequent events, would warrant to the poet [165]. And here I may observe, that if the date thus assigned to Homer be correct, the very subject of the Iliad might have been suggested by the consequences of the Dorian irruption. Homer relates,

    "Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring 
     Of woes unnumbered."

But Achilles is the native hero of that Thessalian district, which was the earliest settlement of the Dorian family. Agamemnon, whose injuries he resents, is the monarch of the great Achaean race, whose dynasty and dominion the Dorians are destined to overthrow. It is true that at the time of the Trojan war the Dorians had migrated from Phthiotis to Phocis - it is true that Achilles was not of Dorian extraction; still there would be an interest attached to the singular coincidence of place; as, though the English are no descendants from the Britons, we yet associate the British history with our own: hence it seems to me, though I believe the conjecture is new, that it is not the whole Trojan war, but that episode in the Trojan war (otherwise unimportant) illustrated by the wrath of Achilles, which awakens the inspiration of the poet. In fact, if under the exordium of the Iliad there lurk no typical signification, the exordium is scarce appropriate to the subject. For the wrath of Achilles did not bring upon the Greeks woes more mighty than the ordinary course of war would have destined them to endure. But if the Grecian audience (exiles, and the posterity of exiles), to whom, on Asiatic shores, Homer recited his poem, associated the hereditary feud of Achilles and Agamemnon with the strife between the ancient warriors of Phthiotis and Achaia; then, indeed, the opening lines assume a solemn and prophetic significance, and their effect must have been electrical upon a people ever disposed to trace in the mythi of their ancestry the legacies of a dark and ominous fatality, by which each present suffering was made the inevitable result of an immemorial cause. [166]

III. The ancients unanimously believed the Iliad the production of a single poet; in recent times a contrary opinion has been started; and in Germany, at this moment, the most fashionable belief is, that that wonderful poem was but a collection of rhapsodies by various poets, arranged and organized by Pisistratus and the poets of his day; a theory a scholar may support, but which no poet could ever have invented! For this proposition the principal reasons alleged are these: - It is asserted as an "indisputable fact," "that the art of writing, and the use of manageable writing materials, were entirely, or all but entirely, unknown in Greece and its islands at the supposed date of the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey; that, if so, these poems could not have been committed to writing during the time of such their composition; that, in a question of comparative probabilities like this, it is a much grosser improbability that even the single Iliad, amounting, after all curtailments and expungings, to upwards of 15,000 hexameter lines, should have been actually conceived and perfected in the brain of one man, with no other help but his own or others' memory, than that it should in fact be the result of the labours of several distinct authors; that if the Odyssey be counted, the improbability is doubled; that if we add, upon the authority of Thucydides and Aristotle, the Hymns and Margites, not to say the Batrachomyomachia, that which was improbable becomes morally impossible! that all that has been so often said as to the fact of as many verses or more having been committed to memory, is beside the point in question, which is not whether 15,000 or 30,000 lines may not be learned by heart from print or manuscript, but whether one man can originally compose a poem of that length, which, rightly or not, shall be thought to be a perfect model of symmetry and consistency of parts, without the aid of writing materials; - that, admitting the superior probability of such an achievement in a primitive age, we know nothing actually similar or analogous to it; and that it so transcends the common limits of intellectual power, as at the least to merit, with as much justice as the opposite opinion, the character of improbability." [167]

And upon such arguments the identity of Homer is to be destroyed! Let us pursue them seriatim.

1st. "The art and the use of manageable writing materials were entirely, or all but entirely, unknown in Greece and its islands at the supposed date of the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey."

The whole argument against the unity of Homer rests upon this assertion; and yet this assertion it is impossible to prove! It is allowed, on the contrary, that alphabetical characters were introduced in Greece by Cadmus - nay, inscriptions believed by the best antiquaries to bear date before the Trojan war are found even among the Pelasgi of Italy. Dionysius informs us that the Pelasgi first introduced letters into Italy. But in answer to this, it is said that letters were used only for inscriptions on stone or wood, and not for the preservation of writings so voluminous. If this were the case, I scarcely see why the Greeks should have professed so grateful a reminiscence of the gift of Cadmus, the mere inscription of a few words on stone would not be so very popular or beneficial an invention! But the Phoenicians had constant intercourse with the Egyptians and Hebrews; among both those nations the art and materials of writing were known. The Phoenicians, far more enterprising than either, must have been fully acquainted with their means of written communication - and indeed we are assured that they were so. Now, if a Phoenician had imparted so much of the art to Greece as the knowledge of a written alphabet, is it probable that he would have suffered the communication to cease there! The Phoenicians were a commercial people - their colonies in Greece were for commercial purposes, - would they have wilfully and voluntarily neglected the most convenient mode of commercial correspondence? - importing just enough of the art to suffice for inscriptions of no use but to the natives, would they have stopped short precisely at that point when the art became useful to themselves? And in vindicating that most able people from so wilful a folly, have we no authority in history as well as common sense? We have the authority of Herodotus! When he informs us that the Phoenicians communicated letters to the Ionians, he adds, that by a very ancient custom the Ionians called their books diptherae, or skins, because, at a time when the plant of the bibles or papyrus was scarce [168], they used instead of it the skins of goats and sheep - a custom he himself witnessed among barbarous nations. Were such materials used only for inscriptions relative to a religious dedication, or a political compact? NO; for then, wood or stone - the temple or the pillar - would have been the material for the inscription, - they must, then, have been used for a more literary purpose; and verse was the first form of literature. I grant that prior, and indeed long subsequent to the time of Homer, the art of writing (as with us in the dark ages) would be very partially known - that in many parts of Greece, especially European Greece, it might scarcely ever be used but for brief inscriptions. But that is nothing to the purpose; - if known at all - to any Ionian trader - even to any neighbouring Asiatic - even to any Phoenician settler - there is every reason to suppose that Homer himself, or a contemporary disciple and reciter of his verses, would have learned both the art and the use of the materials which could best have ensured the fame of the poet, or assisted the memory of the reciter. And, though Plutarch in himself alone is no authority, he is not to be rejected as a corroborative testimony when he informs us that Lycurgus collected and transcribed the poems of Homer; and that writing was then known in Greece is evident by the very ordinance of Lycurgus that his laws should not be written. But Lycurgus is made by Apollodorus contemporary with Homer himself; and this belief appears, to receive the sanction of the most laborious and profound of modern chronologers [169]. I might adduce various other arguments in support of those I have already advanced; but I have said enough already to show that it is not an "indisputable fact" that Homer could not have been acquainted with writing materials; and that the whole battery erected to demolish the fame of the greatest of human geniuses has been built upon a most uncertain and unsteady foundation. It may be impossible to prove that Homer's poems were written, but it is equally impossible to prove that they were not - and if it were necessary for the identity of Homer that his poems should have been written, that necessity would have been one of the strongest proofs, not that Homer did not exist, but that writing did!

But let us now suppose it proved that writing materials for a literary purpose were unknown, and examine the assertions built upon that hypothesis.

2d. "That if these poems could not have been committed to writing during the time of their composition, it is a much grosser improbability that even the single Iliad, amounting, after all curtailments and expungings, to upwards of 15,000 hexameter lines, should have been actually conceived and perfected in the brain of one man, with no other help but his own or others' memory, than that it should, in fact, be the result of the labours of several distinct authors."

I deny this altogether. "The improbability" might be "grosser" if the Iliad had been composed in a day! But if, as any man of common sense would acknowledge, it was composed in parts or "fyttes" of moderate length at a time, no extraordinary power of memory, or tension of thought, would have been required by the poet. Such parts, once recited and admired, became known and learned by a hundred professional bards, and were thus orally published, as it were, in detached sections, years perhaps before the work was completed. All that is said, therefore, about the difficulty of composing so long a poem without writing materials is but a jargon of words. Suppose no writing materials existed, yet, as soon as portions of a few hundred lines at a time were committed to the memory of other minstrels, the author would, in those minstrels, have living books whereby to refresh his memory, and could even, by their help, polish and amend what was already composed. It would not then have been necessary for the poet himself perfectly and verbally to remember the whole work. He had his tablets of reference in the hearts and lips of others, and even, if it were necessary that he himself should retain the entire composition, the constant habit of recital, the constant exercise of memory, would render such a task by no means impracticable or unprecedented. As for the unity of the poem, thus composed, it would have been, as it is, the unity, not of technical rules and pedantic criticism, but the unity of interest, character, imagery, and thought - a unity which required no written references to maintain it, but which was the essential quality of one master-mind, and ought to be, to all plain men, an irrefragable proof that one mind alone conceived and executed the work.

IV. So much for the alleged improbability of one author for the Iliad. But with what face can these critics talk of "probability," when, in order to get rid of one Homer, they ask us to believe in twenty! Can our wildest imagination form more monstrous hypotheses than these, viz. - that several poets, all possessed of the very highest order of genius (never before or since surpassed), lived in the same age - that that genius was so exactly similar in each, that we cannot detect in the thoughts, the imagery, the conception and treatment of character, human and divine, as manifest in each, the least variety in these wonderful minds - that out of the immense store of their national legends, they all agreed in selecting one subject, the war of Troy - that of that subject they all agreed in selecting only one portion of time, from the insult of Achilles to the redemption of the body of Hector - that their different mosaics so nicely fitted one into the other, that by the mere skill of an able editor they were joined into a whole, so symmetrical that the acutest ingenuity of ancient Greece could never discover the imposture [170] - and that, of all these poets, so miraculous in their genius, no single name, save that of Homer, was recorded by the general people to whom they sung, or claimed by the peculiar tribe whose literature they ought to have immortalized? If everything else were wanting to prove the unity of Homer, this prodigious extravagance of assumption, into which a denial of that unity has driven men of no common learning and intellect, would be sufficient to establish it.

3d. "That if the Odyssey be counted, the improbability is doubled; that if we add, upon the authority of Thucydides and Aristotle, the Hymns and Margites, not to say the Batrachomyomachia, that which was improbable becomes morally impossible."

Were these last-mentioned poems Homer's, there would yet be nothing improbable in the invention and composition of minor poems without writing materials; and the fact of his having composed one long poem, throws no difficulty in the way of his composing short ones. We have already seen that the author need not himself have remembered them all his life. But this argument is not honest, for the critics who have produced it agree in the same breath, when it suits their purpose, that the Hymns, etc., are not Homer's - and in this I concur with their, and the almost universal, opinion.

The remaining part of the analysis of the hostile argument has already been disposed of in connexion with the first proposition.

It now remains to say a few words upon the authorship of the Odyssey.

V. The question, whether or not the two epics of the Iliad and Odyssey were the works of the same poet, is a very different one from that which we have just discussed. Distinct and separate, indeed, are the inquiries whether Greece might produce, at certain intervals of time, two great epic poets, selecting opposite subjects - and whether Greece produced a score or two of great poets, from whose desultory remains the mighty whole of the Iliad was arranged. Even the ancients of the Alexandrine school did not attribute the Odyssey to the author of the Iliad. The theme selected - the manners described - the mythological spirit - are all widely different in the two works, and one is evidently of more recent composition than the other. But, for my own part, I do not think it has been yet clearly established that all these acknowledged differences are incompatible with the same authorship. If the Iliad were written in youth, the travels of the poet, the change of mind produced by years and experience, the facility with which an ancient Greek changed or remodelled his pliant mythology, the rapidity with which (in the quick development of civilization in Greece) important changes in society and manners were wrought, might all concur in producing, from the mature age of the poet, a poem very different to that which he composed in youth. And the various undetected interpolations and alterations supposed to be foisted into the Odyssey may have originated such detailed points of difference as present the graver obstacles to this conjecture. Regarding the Iliad and Odyssey as wholes, they are so analogous in all the highest and rarest attributes of genius, that it is almost as impossible to imagine two Homers as it is two Shakspeares. Nor is there such a contrast between the Iliad and the Odyssey as there is between any one play of Shakspeare's and another [171]. Still, I should warn the general reader, that the utmost opposition that can reasonably and effectually be made to those who assign to different authors these several epics, limits itself rather to doubt than to denial.

VI. It is needless to criticise these immortal masterpieces; not that criticism upon them is yet exhausted - not that a most useful, and even novel analysis of their merits and character may not yet be performed, nor that the most striking and brilliant proofs of the unity of each poem, separately considered, may not be established by one who shall, with fitting powers, undertake the delightful task of deducing the individuality of the poet from the individualizing character of his creations, and the peculiar attributes of his genius. With human works, as with the divine, the main proof of the unity of the author is in his fidelity to himself: - Not then as a superfluous, but as far too lengthened and episodical a labour, if worthily performed, do I forego at present a critical survey of the two poems popularly ascribed to Homer.

The early genius of Greece devoted itself largely to subjects similar to those which employed the Homeric muse. At a later period - probably dating at the Alexandrian age - a vast collection of ancient poems was arranged into what is termed the "Epic Cycle;" these commenced at the Theogony, and concluded with the adventures of Telemachus. Though no longer extant, the Cyclic poems enjoyed considerable longevity. The greater part were composed between the years 775 B. C. and 566 B. C. They were extant in the time of Proclus, A. D. 450; the eldest, therefore, endured at least twelve, the most recent ten centuries; - save a few scattered lines, their titles alone remain, solitary tokens, yet floating above the dark oblivion which has swept over the epics of thirty bards! But, by the common assent, alike of the critics and the multitude, none of these approached the remote age, still less the transcendent merits, of the Homeric poems.

VII. But, of earlier date than these disciples of Homer, is a poetry of a class fundamentally distinct from the Homeric, viz., the collection attributed to Hesiod. Of one of these only, a rustic and homely poem called "Works and Days," was Hesiod considered the author by his immediate countrymen (the Boeotians of Helicon); but the more general belief assigned to the fertility of his genius a variety of other works, some of which, if we may judge by the titles, aimed at a loftier vein [172]. And were he only the author of the "Works and Days" - a poem of very insignificant merit [173] - it would be scarcely possible to account for the high estimation in which Hesiod was held by the Greeks, often compared, and sometimes preferred, to the mighty and majestic Homer. We must either, then, consider Hesiod as the author of many writings superior perhaps to what we now possess, or, as is more plausibly and popularly supposed by modern critics, the representative and type, as it were, of a great school of national poetry. And it has been acutely suggested that, viewing the pastoral and lowly occupation he declares himself to pursue [174], combined with the subjects of his muse, and the place of his birth, we may believe the name of Hesiod to have been the representative of the poetry, not of the victor lords, but of the conquered people, expressive of their pursuits, and illustrative of their religion. This will account for the marked and marvellous difference between the martial and aristocratic strain of Homer and the peaceful and rustic verse of Hesiod [175], as well as for the distinction no less visible between the stirring mythology of the one and the thoughtful theogony of the other. If this hypothesis be accepted, the Hesiodic era might very probably have commenced before the Homeric (although what is now ascribed to Hesiod is evidently of later date than the Iliad and the Odyssey). And Hesiod is to Homer what the Pelasgic genius was to the Hellenic. [176]

VIII. It will be obvious to all who study what I may call the natural history of poetry, that short hymns or songs must long have preceded the gigantic compositions of Homer. Linus and Thamyris, and, more disputably, Orpheus, are recorded to have been the precursors of Homer, though the poems ascribed to them (some of which still remain) were of much later date. Almost coeval with the Grecian gods were doubtless religious hymns in their honour. And the germe of the great lyrical poetry that we now possess was, in the rude chants of the warlike Dorians, to that Apollo who was no less the Inspirer than the Protector. The religion of the Greeks preserved and dignified the poetry it created; and the bard, "beloved by gods as men," became invested, as well with a sacred character as a popular fame. Beneath that cheerful and familiar mythology, even the comic genius sheltered its license, and found its subjects. Not only do the earliest of the comic dramatists seem to have sought in mythic fables their characters and plots, but, far before the DRAMA itself arose in any of the Grecian states, comic recital prepared the way for comic representation. In the eighth book of the Odyssey, the splendid Alcinous and the pious Ulysses listen with delight to the story, even broadly ludicrous, how Vulcan nets and exposes Venus and her war-god lover -

    "All heaven beholds imprisoned as they lie, 
     And unextinguished laughter shakes the sky."

And this singular and well-known effusion shows, not only how grave and reverent an example Epicharmus had for his own audacious portraiture of the infirmities of the Olympian family, but how immemorially and how deeply fixed in the popular spirit was the disposition to draw from the same source the elements of humour and of awe.

But, however ancient the lyrical poetry of Greece, its masterpieces of art were composed long subsequent to the Homeric poems; and, no doubt, greatly influenced by acquaintance with those fountains of universal inspiration. I think it might be shown that lyrical poetry developed itself, in its more elaborate form, earliest in those places where the poems of Homer are most likely to have been familiarly known.

The peculiar character of the Greek lyrical poetry can only be understood by remembering its inseparable connexion with music; and the general application of both, not only to religious but political purposes. The Dorian states regarded the lyre and the song as powerful instruments upon the education, the manners, and the national character of their citizens. With them these arts were watched and regulated by the law, and the poet acquired something of the social rank, and aimed at much of the moral design, of a statesman and a legislator: while, in the Ionian states, the wonderful stir and agitation, the changes and experiments in government, the rapid growth of luxury, commerce, and civilization, afforded to a poetry which was not, as with us, considered a detached, unsocial, and solitary art, but which was associated with every event of actual life - occasions of vast variety - themes of universal animation. The eloquence of poetry will always be more exciting in its appeals - the love for poetry always more diffused throughout a people, in proportion as it is less written than recited. How few, even at this day, will read a poem! - what crowds will listen to a song! Recitation transfers the stage of effect from the closet to the multitude - the public becomes an audience, the poet an orator. And when we remember that the poetry, thus created, imbodying the most vivid, popular, animated subjects of interest, was united with all the pomp of festival and show - all the grandest, the most elaborate, and artful effects of music - we may understand why the true genius of lyrical composition has passed for ever away from the modern world.

As early as between 708 and 665 B. C., Archilochus brought to perfection a poetry worthy of loftier passions than those which mostly animated his headstrong and angry genius. In 625 (thirty-one years before the legislation of Solon) flourished Arion, the Lesbian, who, at Corinth, carried, to extraordinary perfection the heroic adaptation of song to choral music. In 611 flourished the Sicilian, Stersichorus - no unworthy rival of Arion; while simultaneously, in strains less national and Grecian, and more resembling the inspiration of modern minstrels, Alcaeus vented his burning and bitter spirit; - and Sappho (whose chaste and tender muse it was reserved for the chivalry of a northern student, five-and-twenty centuries after the hand was cold and the tongue was mute, to vindicate from the longest-continued calumny that genius ever endured) [177] gave to the most ardent of human passions the most delicate colouring of female sentiment. Perhaps, of all that Greece has bequeathed to us, nothing is so perfect in its concentration of real feeling as the fragments of Sappho. In one poem of a few lines - nor that, alas! transmitted to us complete - she has given a picture of the effect of love upon one who loves, to which volumes of the most eloquent description could scarcely add a single new touch of natural pathos - so subtle is it, yet so simple. I cannot pass over in silence the fragments of Mimnermus (fl. B. C. 630) - they seem of an order so little akin to the usual character of Grecian poetry; there is in them a thoughtful though gloomy sadness, that belongs rather to the deep northern imagination than the brilliant fancies of the west; their melancholy is mixed with something half intellectual - half voluptuous - indicative of the mournful but interesting wisdom of satiety. Mimnermus is a principal model of the Latin elegiac writers - and Propertius compares his love verses with those of Homer. Mimnermus did not invent the elegiac form (for it was first applied to warlike inspiration by another Ionian poet, Callinus); but he seems the founder of what we now call the elegiac spirit in its association of the sentiment of melancholy with the passion of love.

IX. While such was the state of POETRY in Greece - torpid in the Ionian Athens, but already prodigal in her kindred states of Asia and the Isles; gravely honoured, rather than produced, in Sparta; - splendidly welcomed, rather than home-born, in Corinth; - the Asiatic colonies must also claim the honour of the advance of the sister arts. But in architecture the Dorian states of European Greece, Sicyon, Aegina, and the luxurious Corinth, were no unworthy competitors with Ionia.

In the heroic times, the Homeric poems, especially the Odyssey, attest the refinement and skill to which many of the imitative arts of Grecian civilization had attained. In embroidery, the high-born occupation of Helen ad Penelope, were attempted the most complex and difficult designs; and it is hard to suppose that these subjects could have been wrought upon garments with sufficient fidelity to warrant the praise of a poet who evidently wrote from experience of what he had seen, if the art of DRAWING had not been also carried to some excellence - although to PAINTING itself the poet makes none but dubious and obscure allusions. Still, if, on the one hand [178], in embroidery, and upon arms (as the shield of Achilles), delineation in its more complex and minute form was attempted, - and if, on the other hand, the use of colours was known (which it was, as applied not only to garments but to ivory), it could not have been long before two such kindred elements of the same art were united. Although it is contended by many that rude stones or beams were the earliest objects of Grecian worship, and though it is certain that in several places such emblems of the Deity preceded the worship of images, yet to the superstitious art of the rude Pelasgi in their earliest age, uncouth and half-formed statues of Hermes are attributed, and the idol is commemorated by traditions almost as antique as those which attest the sanctity of the fetiche [179]. In the Homeric age, SCULPTURE in metals, and on a large scale, was certainly known. By the door of Alcinous, the king of an island in the Ionian Sea, stand rows of dogs in gold and silver - in his hall, upon pedestals, are golden statues of boys holding torches; and that such sculpture was even then dedicated to the gods is apparent by a well-known passage in the earlier poem of the Iliad; which represents Theano, the Trojan priestess of Minerva, placing the offering of Hecuba upon the knees of the statue of the goddess. How far, however, such statues could be called works of art, or how far they were wrought by native Greeks, it is impossible to determine [180]. Certain it is that the memorable and gigantic advance in the art of SCULPTURE was not made till about the 50th Olympiad (B. C. 580), when Dipaenus and Scyllis first obtained celebrity in works in marble (wood and metals were the earliest materials of sculpture). The great improvements in the art seem to have been coeval with the substitution of the naked for the draped figure. Beauty, and ease, and grace, and power, were the result of the anatomical study of the human form. ARCHITECTURE has bequeathed to us, in the Pelasgic and Cyclopean remains, sufficient to indicate the massive strength it early acquired in parts of Greece. In the Homeric times, the intercourse with Asia had already given something of lightness to the elder forms. Columns are constantly introduced into the palaces of the chiefs, profuse metallic ornaments decorate the walls; and the Homeric palaces, with their cornices gayly inwrought with blue - their pillars of silver on bases of brass, rising amid vines and fruit-trees, - even allowing for all the exaggerations of the poet, - dazzle the imagination with much of the gaudiness and glitter of an oriental city [181]. At this period Athens receives from Homer the epithet of "broad-streeted:" and it is by no means improbable that the city of the Attic king might have presented to a traveller, in the time of Homer, a more pleasing general appearance than in its age of fame, when, after the Persian devastations, its stately temples rose above narrow and irregular streets, and the jealous effects of democracy forbade to the mansions of individual nobles that striking pre-eminence over the houses of the commonalty which would naturally mark the distinction of wealth and rank, in a monarchical, or even an oligarchical government.

X. About the time on which we now enter, the extensive commerce and free institutions of the Ionian colonies had carried all the arts just referred to far beyond the Homeric time. And, in addition to the activity and development of the intellect in all its faculties which progressed with the extensive trade and colonization of Miletus (operating upon the sensitive, inquiring, and poetical temperament of the Ionian population), a singular event, which suddenly opened to Greece familiar intercourse with the arts and lore of Egypt, gave considerable impetus to the whole Grecian MIND.

In our previous brief survey of the state of the Oriental world, we have seen that Egypt, having been rent into twelve principalities, had been again united under a single monarch. The ambitious and fortunate Psammetichus was enabled, by the swords of some Ionian and Carian adventurers (who, bound on a voyage of plunder, had been driven upon the Egyptian shores), not only to regain his own dominion, from which he had been expelled by the jealousy of his comrades, but to acquire the sole sovereignty of Egypt (B. C. 670). In gratitude for their services, Psammetichus conferred upon his wild allies certain lands at the Pelusian mouth of the Nile, and obliged some Egyptian children to learn the Grecian language; - from these children descended a class of interpreters, that long afterward established the facilities of familiar intercourse between Greece and Egypt. Whatever, before that time, might have been the migrations of Egyptians into Greece, these were the first Greeks whom the Egyptians received among themselves. Thence poured into Greece, in one full and continuous stream, the Egyptian influences, hitherto partial and unfrequent. [182]

In the same reign, according to Strabo, the Asiatic Greeks obtained a settlement at Naucratis, the ancient emporium of Egypt; and the communication, once begun, rapidly increased, until in the subsequent time of Amasis (B. C. 569) we find the Ionians, the Dorians, the Aeolians of Asia, and even the people of Aegina and Samos [183], building temples and offering worship amid the jealous and mystic priestcrafts of the Nile. This familiar and advantageous intercourse with a people whom the Greeks themselves considered the wisest on the earth, exercised speedy and powerful effect upon their religion and their art. In the first it operated immediately upon their modes of divination and their mystic rites - in the last, the influence was less direct. It is true that they probably learned from the Egyptians many technical rules in painting and in sculpture; they learned how to cut the marble and to blend the colours, but their own genius taught them how to animate the block and vivify the image. We have seen already, that before this event, art had attained to a certain eminence among the Greeks - fortunately, therefore, what they now acquired was not the foundation of their lore. Grafted on a Grecian stock, every shoot bore Grecian fruit: and what was borrowed from mechanism was reproduced in beauty [184]. As with the arts, so with the SCIENCES; we have reason to doubt whether the Egyptian sages, whose minds were swathed and bandaged in the cerements of hereditary rules, never to swell out of the slavery of castes, had any very sound and enlightened philosophy to communicate: their wisdom was probably exaggerated by the lively and credulous Greeks, awed by the mysticism of the priests, the grandeur of the cities, the very rigidity, so novel to them, of imposing and antique custom. What, then, was the real benefit of the intercourse? Not so much in satisfying as in arousing and stimulating the curiosity of knowledge. Egypt, to the Greeks, was as America to Europe - the Egyptians taught them little, but Egypt much. And that what the Egyptians did directly communicate was rather the material for improvement than the improvement itself, this one gift is an individual example and a general type; - the Egyptians imparted to the Greeks the use of the papyrus - the most easy and popular material for writing; we are thus indebted to Egypt for a contrivance that has done much to preserve to us - much, perhaps, to create for us - a Plato and an Aristotle; but for the thoughts of Aristotle and Plato we are indebted to Greece alone: - the material Egyptian - the manufacture Greek.

XI. The use of the papyrus had undoubtedly much effect upon the formation of prose composition in Greece, but it was by no means an instantaneous one. At the period on which we now enter (about B. C. 600), the first recorded prose Grecian writer had not composed his works. The wide interval between prose in its commencement and poetry in its perfection is peculiarly Grecian; many causes conspired to produce it, but the principal one was, that works, if written, being not the less composed to be recited, not read - were composed to interest and delight, rather than formally to instruct. Poetry was, therefore, so obviously the best means to secure the end of the author, that we cannot wonder to find that channel of appeal universally chosen; the facility with which the language formed itself into verse, and the license that appears to have been granted to the gravest to assume a poetical diction without attempting the poetical spirit, allowed even legislators and moralists to promulgate precepts and sentences in the rhythm of a Homer and a Hesiod. And since laws were not written before the time of Draco, it was doubly necessary that they should he cast in that fashion by which words are most durably impressed on the memory of the multitude. Even on Solon's first appearance in public life, when he inspires the Athenians to prosecute the war with Megara, he addresses the passions of the crowd, not by an oration, but a poem; and in a subsequent period, when prose composition had become familiar, it was still in verse that Hipparchus communicated his moral apothegms. The origin of prose in Greece is, therefore, doubly interesting as an epoch, not only in the intellectual, but also in the social state. It is clear that it would not commence until a reading public was created; and until, amid the poetical many, had sprung up the grave and studious few. Accordingly, philosophy, orally delivered, preceded prose composition - and Thales taught before Pherecydes wrote [185]. To the superficial it may seem surprising that literature, as distinct from poetry, should commence with the most subtle and laborious direction of the human intellect: yet so it was, not only in Greece, but almost universally. In nearly all countries, speculative conjecture or inquiry is the first successor to poetry. In India, in China, in the East, some dim philosophy is the characteristic of the earliest works - sometimes inculcating maxims of morality - sometimes allegorically shadowing forth, sometimes even plainly expressing, the opinions of the author on the mysteries of life - of nature - of the creation. Even with the moderns, the dawn of letters broke on the torpor of the dark ages of the North in speculative disquisition; the Arabian and the Aristotelian subtleties engaged the attention of the earliest cultivators of modern prose (as separated from poetic fiction), and the first instinct of the awakened reason was to grope through the misty twilight after TRUTH. Philosophy precedes even history; men were desirous of solving the enigmas of the world, before they disentangled from tradition the chronicles of its former habitants.

If we examine the ways of an infant we shall cease to wonder at those of an infant civilization. Long before we can engage the curiosity of the child in the History of England - long before we can induce him to listen with pleasure to our stories even of Poictiers and Cressy - and (a fortiori) long before he can be taught an interest in Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, he will of his own accord question us of the phenomena of nature - inquire how he himself came into the world - delight to learn something of the God we tell him to adore - and find in the rainbow and the thunder, in the meteor and the star, a thousand subjects of eager curiosity and reverent wonder. The why perpetually torments him; - every child is born a philosopher! - the child is the analogy of a people yet in childhood. [186]

XII. It may follow as a corollary from this problem, that the Greeks of themselves arrived at the stage of philosophical inquiry without any very important and direct assistance from the lore of Egypt and the East. That lore, indeed, awakened the desire, but it did not guide the spirit of speculative research. And the main cause why philosophy at once assumed with the Greeks a character distinct from that of the Oriental world, I have already intimated [187], in the absence of a segregated and privileged religious caste. Philosophy thus fell into the hands of sages, not of priests. And whatever the Ionian states (the cradle of Grecian wisdom) received from Egypt or the East, they received to reproduce in new and luxuriant prodigality. The Ionian sages took from an elder wisdom not dogmas never to be questioned, but suggestions carefully to be examined. It thus fortunately happened that the deeper and maturer philosophy of Greece proper had a kind of intermedium between the systems of other nations and its own. The Eastern knowledge was borne to Europe through the Greek channels of Asiatic colonies, and became Hellenized as it passed. Thus, what was a certainty in the East, became a proposition in Ionia, and ultimately a doubt, at Athens. In Greece, indeed, as everywhere, religion was connected with the first researches of philosophy. From the fear of the gods, to question of the nature of the gods, is an easy transition. The abundance and variety of popular superstitions served but to stimulate curiosity as to their origin; and since in Egypt the sole philosophers were the priests, a Greek could scarcely converse with an Egyptian on the articles of his religion without discussing also the principles of his philosophy. Whatever opinions the Greek might then form and promulge, being sheltered beneath no jealous and prescriptive priestcraft, all had unfettered right to canvass and dispute them, till by little and little discussion ripened into science.

The distinction, in fine, between the Greeks and their contemporaries was this: if they were not the only people that philosophized, they were the only people that said whatever they pleased about philosophy. Their very plagiarism from the philosophy of other creeds was fortunate, inasmuch as it presented nothing hostile to the national superstition. Had they disputed about the nature of Jupiter, or the existence of Apollo, they might have been persecuted, but they could start at once into disquisitions upon the eternity of matter, or the providence of a pervading mind.

XIII. This spirit of innovation and discussion, which made the characteristic of the Greeks, is noted by Diodorus. "Unlike the Chaldaeans," he observes, "with whom philosophy is delivered from sire to son, and all other employment rejected by its cultivators, the Greeks come late to the science - take it up for a short time - desert it for a more active means of subsistence - and the few who surrender themselves wholly to it practise for gain, innovate the most important doctrines, pay no reverence to those that went before, create new sects, establish new theorems, and, by perpetual contradictions, entail perpetual doubts." Those contradictions and those doubts made precisely the reason why the Greeks became the tutors of the world!

There is another characteristic of the Greeks indicated by this remark of Diodorus. Their early philosophers, not being exempted from other employments, were not the mere dreamers of the closet and the cell. They were active, practical, stirring men of the world. They were politicians and moralists as well as philosophers. The practical pervaded the ideal, and was, in fact, the salt that preserved it from decay. Thus legislation and science sprung simultaneously into life, and the age of Solon is the age of Thales.

XIV. Of the seven wise men (if we accept that number) who flourished about the same period, six were rulers and statesmen. They were eminent, not as physical, but as moral, philosophers; and their wisdom was in their maxims and apothegms. They resembled in much the wary and sagacious tyrants of Italy in the middle ages - masters of men's actions by becoming readers of their minds. Of these seven, Periander of Corinth (began to reign B. C. 625, died B. C. 585) and Cleobulus of Lindus (fl. B. C. 586), tyrants in their lives, and cruel in their actions, were, it is said, disowned by the remaining five [188]. But goodness is not the necessary consequence of intellect, and, despite their vices, these princes deserved the epithet of wise. Of Cleobulus we know less than of Periander; but both governed with prosperity, and died in old age. If we except Pisistratus, Periander was the greatest artist of all that able and profound fraternity, who, under the name of tyrants, concentred the energies of their several states, and prepared the democracies by which they were succeeded. Periander's reputed maxims are at variance with his practice; they breathe a spirit of freedom and a love of virtue which may render us suspicious of their authenticity - the more so as they are also attributed to others. Nevertheless, the inconsistency would be natural, for reason makes our opinions, and circumstance shapes our actions. "A democracy is better than a tyranny," is an aphorism imputed to Periander: but when asked why he continued tyrant, he answered, "Because it is dangerous willingly to resist, or unwillingly to be deposed." His principles were republican, his position made him a tyrant. He is said to have fallen into extreme dejection in his old age; perhaps because his tastes and his intellect were at war with his life. Chilo, the Lacedaemonian ephor, is placed also among the seven. His maxims are singularly Dorian - they breathe reverence of the dead and suspicion of the living. "Love," he said (if we may take the authority of Aulus Gellius, fl. B. C. 586), "as if you might hereafter hate, and hate as if you might hereafter love." Another favourite sentence of his was, "to a surety loss is at hand." [189] A third, "we try gold by the touchstone. Gold is the touchstone of the mind." Bias, of Priene in Ionia, is quoted, in Herodotus, as the author of an advice to the Ionians to quit their country, and found a common city in Sardinia (B. C. 586). He seems to have taken an active part in all civil affairs. His reputed maxims are plain and homely - the elementary principles of morals. Mitylene in Lesbos boasted the celebrated Pittacus (began to govern B. C. 589, resigned 579, died 569). He rose to the tyranny of the government by the free voice of the people; enjoyed it ten years, and voluntarily resigned it, as having only borne the dignity while the state required the direction of a single leader. It was a maxim with him, for which he is reproved by Plato, "That to be good is hard." His favourite precept was, "Know occasion:" and this he amplified in another (if rightly attributed to him), "To foresee and prevent dangers is the province of the wise - to direct them when they come, of the brave."

XV. Of Solon, the greatest of the seven, I shall hereafter speak at length. I pass now to Thales (born B. C. 639); - the founder of philosophy, in its scientific sense - the speculative in contradistinction to the moral: Although an ardent republican, Thales alone, of the seven sages, appears to have led a private and studious life. He travelled, into Crete, Asia, and at a later period into Egypt. According to Laertius, Egypt taught him geometry. He is supposed to have derived his astrological notions from Phoenicia. But this he might easily have done without visiting the Phoenician states. Returning to Miletus, he obtained his title of Wise [190]. Much learning has been exhausted upon his doctrines to very little purpose. They were of small value, save as they led to the most valuable of all philosophies - that of experiment. They were not new probably even in Greece [191], and of their utility the following brief sketch will enable the reader to judge for himself.

He maintained that water, or rather humidity, was the origin of all things, though he allowed mind or intellect (nous) to be the impelling principle. And one of his arguments in favour of humidity, as rendered to us by Plutarch and Stobaeus, is pretty nearly as follows: - "Because fire, even in the sun and the stars, is nourished by vapours proceeding from humidity, - and therefore the whole world consists of the same." Of the world, he supposed the whole to be animated by, and full of, the Divinity - its Creator - that in it was no vacuum - that matter was fluid and variable. [192]

He maintained the stars and sun to be earthly, and the moon of the same nature as the sun, but illumined by it. Somewhat more valuable would appear to have been his geometrical science, could we with accuracy attribute to Thales many problems claimed also, and more probably, by Pythagoras and later reasoners. He is asserted to have measured the pyramids by their shadows. He cultivated astronomy and astrology; and Laertius declares him to have been the first Greek that foretold eclipses. The yet higher distinction has been claimed for Thales of having introduced among his countrymen the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But this sublime truth, though connected with no theory of future rewards and punishments, was received in Greece long before his time. Perhaps, however, as the expressions of Cicero indicate, Thales might be the first who attempted to give reasons for what was believed. His reasons were, nevertheless, sufficiently crude and puerile; and having declared it the property of the soul to move itself, and other things, he was forced to give a soul to the loadstone, because it moved iron!

These fantastic doctrines examined, and his geometrical or astronomical discoveries dubious, it may be asked, what did Thales effect for philosophy? Chiefly this: he gave reasons for opinions - he aroused the dormant spirit of inquiry - he did for truths what the legislators of his age did for the people - left them active and stirring to free and vigorous competition. He took Wisdom out of despotism, and placed her in a republic - he was in harmony with the great principle of his age, which was investigation, and not tradition; and thus he became the first example of that great truth - that to think freely is the first step to thinking well. It fortunately happened, too, that his moral theories, however inadequately argued upon, were noble and exalting. He contended for the providence of a God, as well as for the immortality of man. He asserted vice to be the most hateful, virtue the most profitable of all things [193]. He waged war on that vulgar tenacity of life which is the enemy to all that is most spiritual and most enterprising in our natures, and maintained that between life and death there is no difference - the fitting deduction from a belief in the continuous existence of the soul [194]. His especial maxim was the celebrated precept, "Know thyself." His influence was vigorous and immediate. How far he created philosophy may be doubtful, but he created philosophers. From the prolific intelligence which his fame and researches called into being, sprang a new race of thoughts, which continued in unbroken succession until they begat descendants illustrious and immortal. Without the hardy errors of Thales, Socrates might have spent his life in spoiling marble, Plato might have been only a tenth-rate poet, and Aristotle an intriguing pedagogue.

XVI. With this I close my introductory chapters, and proceed from dissertation into history; - pleased that our general survey of Greece should conclude with an acknowledgment of our obligations to the Ionian colonies. Soon, from the contemplation of those enchanting climes; of the extended commerce and the brilliant genius of the people - the birthplace of the epic and the lyric muse, the first home of history, of philosophy, of art; - soon, from our survey of the rise and splendour of the Asiatic Ionians, we turn to the agony of their struggles - the catastrophe of their fall. Those wonderful children of Greece had something kindred with the precocious intellect that is often the hectic symptom of premature decline. Originating, advancing nearly all which the imagination or the reason can produce, while yet in that social youth which promised a long and a yet more glorious existence - while even their great parent herself had scarcely emerged from the long pupilage of nations, they fell into the feebleness of age! Amid the vital struggles, followed by the palsied and prostrate exhaustion of her Ionian children, the majestic Athens suddenly arose from the obscurity of the past to an empire that can never perish, until heroism shall cease to warm, poetry to delight, and wisdom to instruct the future.