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A Smaller History of Greece
by William Smith
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SOPHOCLES, the younger rival and immediate successor of Aeschylus in the tragic art, was born at Colonus, a village about a mile from Athens, in B.C. 495. We have already adverted to his wresting the tragic prize from AEschylus in 468, from which time he seems to have retained the almost undisputed possession of the Athenian stage, until a young but formidable rival arose in the person of Euripides. The close of his life was troubled with family dissensions. Iophon, his son by an Athenian wife, and therefore his legitimate heir, was jealous of the affection manifested by his father for his grandson Sophocles, the offspring of another son, Ariston, whom he had had by a Sicyonian woman. Fearing lest his father should bestow a great part of his property upon his favourite, Iophon summoned him before the Phratores, or tribesmen, on the ground that his mind was affected. The old man's only reply was—"If I am Sophocles I am not beside myself; and if I am beside myself I am not Sophocles." Then taking up his OEDIPUS AT COLONUS, which he had lately written, but had not yet brought out, he read from it a beautiful passage, with which the judges were so struck that they at once dismissed the case. He died shortly afterwards, in B.C. 406, in his 90th year. As a poet Sophocles is universally allowed to have brought the drama to the greatest perfection of which it is susceptible. His plays stand in the just medium between the sublime but unregulated flights of AEschylus, and the too familiar scenes and rhetorical declamations of Euripides. His plots are worked up with more skill and care than the plots of either of his great rivals. Sophocles added the last improvement to the form of the drama by the introduction of a third actor; a change which greatly enlarged the scope of the action. The improvement was so obvious that it was adopted by AEschylus in his later plays; but the number of three actors seems to have been seldom or never exceeded.

EURIPIDES was born in the island of Salamis, in B.C. 480 his parents having been among those who fled thither at the time of the invasion of Attics by Xerxes. He studied rhetoric under Prodicus, and physics under Anaxagoras and he also lived on intimate terms with Socrates. In 441 he gained his first prize, and he continued to exhibit plays until 408, the date of his Orestes. Soon after this he repaired to the court of Macedonia, at the invitation of king Archelaus, where he died two years afterwards at the age of 74 (B.C. 406). Common report relates that he was torn to pieces by the king's dogs, which, according to some accounts, were set upon him by two rival poets out of envy. In treating his characters and subjects Euripides often arbitrarily departed from the received legends, and diminished the dignity of tragedy by depriving it of its ideal character, and by bringing it down to the level of every-day life. His dialogue was garrulous and colloquial, wanting in heroic dignity, and frequently frigid through misplaced philosophical disquisitions. Yet in spite of all these faults Euripides has many beauties, and is particularly remarkable for pathos, so that Aristotle calls him "the most tragic of poets."

Comedy received its full development at Athens from Cratinus, who lived in the age of Pericles. Cratinus, and his younger contemporaries Eupolis and Aristophanes, were the three great poets of what is called the Old Attic Comedy. The comedies of Cratinus and Eupolis are lost; but of Aristophanes, who was the greatest of the three, we have eleven dramas extant. ARISTOPHANES was born about 444 B.C. Of his private life we know positively nothing. He exhibited his first comedy in 427, and from that time till near his death, which probably happened about 380, he was a frequent contributor to the Attic stage. The OLD ATTIC COMEDY was a powerful vehicle for the expression of opinion; and most of the comedies of Aristophanes turned either upon political occurrences, or upon some subject which excited the interest of the Athenian public. Their chief object was to excite laughter by the boldest and most ludicrous caricature; and provided that end was attained the poet seems to have cared but little about the justice of the picture. Towards the end of the career of Aristophanes the unrestricted licence and libellous personality of comedy began gradually to disappear. The chorus was first curtailed and then entirely suppressed, and thus made way for what is called the Middle Comedy, which had no chorus at all. The latter still continued to be in some degree political; but persons were no longer introduced upon the stage under their real names, and the office of the chorus was very much curtailed. It was, in fact, the connecting link between the Old Comedy and the New, or the Comedy of Manners. The NEW COMEDY arose after Athens had become subject to the Macedonians. Politics were now excluded from the stage, and the materials of the dramatic poet were derived entirely from the fictitious adventures of persons in private life. The two most distinguished writers of this school were PHILEMON and MENANDER. Philemon was probably born about the year 360 B.C., and was either a Cilician or Syracusan, but came at an early age to Athens. He is considered as the founder of the New Comedy, which was soon afterwards brought to perfection by his younger contemporary Menander. The latter was an Athenian, and was born in B.C. 312. He was drowned at the age of 52, whilst swimming in the harbour of Piraeus. He wrote upwards of 100 comedies, of which only fragments remain; and the unanimous praise of posterity awakens our regret for the loss of one of the most elegant writers of antiquity. The comedies, indeed, of Plautus and Terence may give us a general notion of the New Comedy of the Greeks, from which they were confessedly drawn; but there is good reason to suppose that the works even of the latter Roman writer fell far short of the wit and elegance of Menander.

The latter days of literary Athens were chiefly distinguished by the genius of her ORATORS and PHILOSOPHERS. There were ten Attic orators, whose works were collected by the Greek grammarians, and many of whose orations have come down to us. Their names are Antiphon, Andocides, Lysias, Isocrates, Isaeus, AEschines, Lycurgus, Demosthenes, Hyperides and Dinarchus. ANTIPHON, the earliest of the ten was born B.C. 480. He opened a school of rhetoric, and numbered among his pupils the historian Thucydides. Antiphon was put to death in 411 B.C. for the part which he took in establishing the oligarchy of the Four Hundred.

ANDOCIDES, who was concerned with Alcibiades in the affair of the Hermae, was born at Athens in B.C. 467, tend died probably about 391.

LYSIAS, also born at Athens in 458, was much superior to Andocides as an orator, but being a METIC or resident alien, he was not allowed to speak in the assemblies or courts of justice, and therefore wrote orations for others to deliver.

ISOCRATES was born in 436. After receiving the instructions of some of the most celebrated sophists of the day, he became himself a speech-writer and professor of rhetoric; his weakly constitution and natural timidity preventing him from taking a part in public life. He made away with himself in 338, after the fatal battle of Chaeronea, in despair, it is said, of his country's fate. He took great pains with his compositions, and is reported to have spent ten, or, according to others, fifteen years over his Panegyric oration.

ISAEUS flourished between the end of the Peloponnesian war and the accession of Philip of Macedon. He opened a school of rhetoric at Athens, and is said to have numbered Demosthenes among his pupils. The orations of Isaeus were exclusively judicial, and the whole of the eleven which have come down to us turn on the subject of inheritances.

AESCHINES was born in the year 389, and he was at first a violent anti-Macedonian; but after his embassy along with Demosthenes and others to Philip's court, he was the constant advocate of peace, Demosthenes and AEschines now became the leading speakers on their respective sides, and the heat of political animosity soon degenerated into personal hatred. In 343 Demosthenes charged AEschines with having received bribes from Philip during a second embassy; and the speech in which he brought forward this accusation was answered in another by AEschines. The result of this charge is unknown, but it seems to have detracted from the popularity of AEschines. We have already adverted to his impeachment of Ctesiphon, and the celebrated reply of Demosthenes in his speech DE CORONA. After the banishment of AEschines on this occasion (B.C. 330), he employed himself in teaching rhetoric at Rhodes. He died in Samos in 314. As an orator he was second only to Demosthenes.

Of the life of his great rival, DEMOSTHENES, we have already given some account. The verdict of his contemporaries, ratified by posterity, has pronounced Demosthenes the greatest; orator that ever lived. The principal element of his success must be traced in his purity of purpose, which gave to his arguments all the force of conscientious conviction. The effect of his speeches was still further heightened by a wonderful and almost magic force of diction. The grace and vivacity of his delivery are attested by the well-known anecdote of AEschines, when he read at Rhodes his speech against Ctesiphon. His audience having expressed their surprise that he should have been defeated after such an oration "You would cease to wonder," he remarked, "if you had heard Demosthenes."

The remaining three Attic orators, viz. LYCURGUS, HYPERIDES, and DINARCHUS, were contemporaries of Demosthenes. Lycurgus and Hyperides both belonged to the anti-Macedonian party, and were warm supporters of the policy of Demosthenes. Dinarchus, who is the least important of the Attic orators, survived Demosthenes, and was a friend of Demetrius Phalereus.

The history of Greek PHILOSOPHY, like that of Greek poetry and history, began in Asia Minor. The earliest philosopher of distinction was THALES of Miletus, who was born about B.C. 640, and died in 554 at the age of 90. He was the founder of the IONIC school of philosophy, and to him were traced the first beginnings of geometry and astronomy. The main doctrine of his philosophical system was, that water, or fluid substance was the single original element from which everything came and into which everything returned. ANAXIMANDER, the successor of Thales in the Ionic school, lived from B.C. 610 to 547. He was distinguished for his knowledge of astronomy and geography, and is said to have been the first to introduce the use of the sun-dial into Greece. ANAXIMENES, the third in the series of the Ionian philosophers, lived a little later than Anaximander. He endeavoured, like Thales, to derive the origin of all material things from a single element; and, according to his theory, air was the source of life.

A new path was struck out by ANAXAGORAS Of Clazomenae, the most illustrious of the Ionic philosophers. He came to Athens in 480 B.C., where he continued to teach for thirty years, numbering among his hearers Pericles, Socrates, and Euripides. He abandoned the system of his predecessors, and, instead of regarding some elementary form of matter as the origin of all things, he conceived a supreme mind or intelligence, distinct from the visible world, to have imparted form and order to the chaos of nature. These innovations afforded the Athenians a pretext for indicting Anaxagoras of impiety, though it is probable that his connexion with Pericles was the real cause of that proceeding (see Ch. IX). It was only through the influence and eloquence of Pericles that he was not put to death; but he was sentenced to pay a fine of five talents and quit Athens. The philosopher retired to Lampsacus, where he died at the age of 72.

The second school of Greek philosophy was the ELEATIC which derived its name from Elea or Velia, a Greek colony on the western coast of Southern Italy. It was founded by XENOPHANES of Colophon, who fled to Elea on the conquest of his native land by the Persians. He conceived the whole of nature to be God.

The third school of philosophy was the PYTHAGOREAN, founded by PYTHAGORAS. He was a native of Samos and was born about B.C. 580. His father was an opulent merchant, and Pythagoras himself travelled extensively in the East. He believed in the transmigration of souls; and later writers relate that Pythagoras asserted that his own soul had formerly dwelt in the body of the Trojan Euphorbus, the son of Panthous, who was slain by Menelaus, and that in proof of his assertion he took down, at first sight, the shield of Euphorbus from the temple of Hera (Juno) at Argos, where it had been dedicated by Menelaus. Pythagoras was distinguished by his knowledge of geometry and arithmetic; and it was probably from his teaching that the Pythagoreans were led to regard numbers in some mysterious manner as the basis and essence of all things. He was however more of the religious teacher than of the philosopher; and he looked upon himself as a being destined by the gods to reveal to his disciples a new and a purer mode of life. He founded at Croton in Italy a kind of religious brotherhood, the members of which were bound together by peculiar rites and observances. Everything done and taught in the fraternity was kept a profound secret from all without its pale. It appears that the members had some private signs, like Freemasons, by which they could recognise each other, even if they had never met before. His doctrines spread rapidly over Magna Graecia, and clubs of a similar character were established at Sybaris, Metapontum, Tarentum, and other cities.

At Athens a new direction was given to the study of philosophy by Socrates, of whom an account has been already given. To his teaching either directly of indirectly may be traced the origin of the four principal Grecian schools: the ACADEMICIANS, established by Plato; the PERIPATETICS, founded by his pupil Aristotle; the EPICUREANS, so named from their master Epicurus; and the STOICS, founded by Zeno.

PLATO was born at Athens in 429 B.C., the year in which Pericles died. His first literary attempts were in poetry; but his attention was soon turned to philosophy by the teaching of Socrates, whose lectures he began to frequent at about the age of twenty. From that time till the death of Socrates he appears to have lived in the closest intimacy with that philosopher. After that event Plato withdrew to Megara, and subsequently undertook some extensive travels, in the course of which he visited Cyrene, Egypt, Sicily, and Magna Graecia. His intercourse with the elder and the younger Dionysius at Syracuse has been already related His absence from Athens lasted about twelve years; on his return, being then upwards of forty, he began to teach in the gymnasium of the Academy. His doctrines were too recondite for the popular ear, and his lectures were not very numerously attended. But he had a narrower circle of devoted admirers and disciples, consisting of about twenty-eight persons, who met in his private house; over the vestibule of which was inscribed—"Let no one enter who is ignorant of geometry." The most distinguished of this little band of auditors were Speusippus, his nephew and successor, and Aristotle. He died in 347, at the age of 81 or 82, and bequeathed his garden to his school.

ARISTOTLE was born in 381 B.C., at Stagira, a seaport town of Chalcidice, whence he is frequently called THE STAGIRITE. At the age of 17, Aristotle, who had then lost both father and mother, repaired to Athens. Plato considered him his best scholar, and called him "the intellect of his school." Aristotle spent twenty years at Athens, during the last ten of which he established a school of his own. In 342 he accepted the invitation of Philip of Macedon to undertake the instruction of his son Alexander. In 335, after Alexander had ascended the throne, Aristotle quitted Macedonia, to which he never returned. He again took up his abode at Athens, where the Athenians assigned him the gymnasium called the Lyceum; and from his habit of delivering his lectures whilst walking up and down in the shady walks of this place, his school was called the PERIPATETIC. In the morning he lectured only to a select class of pupils, called ESOTERIC. His afternoon lectures were delivered to a wider circle, and were therefore called EXOTERIC. It was during the thirteen years in which he presided over the Lyceum that he composed the greater part of his works, and prosecuted his researches in natural history, in which he was most liberally assisted by the munificence of Alexander. The latter portion of Aristotle's life was unfortunate. He appears to have lost from some unknown cause the friendship of Alexander; and, after the death of that monarch, the disturbances which ensued in Greece proved unfavourable to his peace and security. Being threatened with a prosecution for impiety, he escaped from Athens and retired to Chalcis; but he was condemned to death in his absence, and deprived of all the rights and honours which he had previously enjoyed. He died at Chalcis in 322, in the 63rd year of his age.

Of all the philosophical systems of antiquity, that of Aristotle was best adapted to the practical wants of mankind. It was founded on a close and accurate observation of human nature and of the external world; but whilst it sought the practical and useful, it did not neglect the beautiful and noble. His works consisted of treatises on natural, moral and political philosophy, history, rhetoric, criticism, &c.; indeed there is scarcely a branch of knowledge which his vast and comprehensive genius did not embrace.

EPICURUS was born at Samos in 342, and settled at Athens at about the age of 35. Here he purchased a garden, where he established his philosophical school. He taught that pleasure is the highest good; a tenet, however, which he explained and dignified by showing that it was mental pleasure that he intended. The ideas of atheism and sensual degradation with which the name of Epicurus has been so frequently coupled are founded on ignorance of his real teaching. But as he denied the immortality of the soul, and the interference of the gods in human affairs,—though he held their existence,—his tenets were very liable to be abused by those who had not sufficient elevation of mind to love virtue for its own sake.

ZENO was a native of Citium in the island of Cyprus, and settled at Athens about B.C. 299. Here he opened a school in the Poecile Stoa, or painted porch, whence the name of his sect. He inculcated temperance and self-denial, and his practice was in accordance with his precept.

THE END

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