HotFreeBooks.com
The Legacy of Greece
Author: Various
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Legacy of GREECE

Essays by GILBERT MURRAY, W. R. INGE, J. BURNET, SIR T. L. HEATH, D'ARCY W. THOMPSON, CHARLES SINGER, R. W. LIVINGSTON, A. TOYNBEE, A. E. ZIMMERN, PERCY GARDNER, SIR REGINALD BLOMFIELD

Edited by

R. W. LIVINGSTONE



OXFORD

AT THE CLARENDON PRESS

PRINTED IN ENGLAND AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, OXFORD BY JOHN JOHNSON PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY



In spite of many differences, no age has had closer affinities with Ancient Greece than our own; none has based its deeper life so largely on ideals which the Greeks brought into the world. History does not repeat itself. Yet, if the twentieth century searched through the past for its nearest spiritual kin, it is in the fifth and following centuries before Christ that they would be found. Again and again, as we study Greek thought and literature, behind the veil woven by time and distance, the face that meets us is our own, younger, with fewer lines and wrinkles on its features and with more definite and deliberate purpose in its eyes. For these reasons we are to-day in a position, as no other age has been, to understand Ancient Greece, to learn the lessons it teaches, and, in studying the ideals and fortunes of men with whom we have so much in common, to gain a fuller power of understanding and estimating our own. This book—the first of its kind in English—aims at giving some idea of what the world owes to Greece in various realms of the spirit and the intellect, and of what it can still learn from her.

THE EDITOR.

October 1921.



CONTENTS

PAGE

THE VALUE OF GREECE TO THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD. By GILBERT MURRAY, F.B.A., Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford 1

RELIGION. By W. R. INGE, D.D., Dean of St. Paul's 25

PHILOSOPHY. By J. BURNETT, F.B.A., Professor of Greek in the University of St. Andrews 57

MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY. By Sir T. L. HEATH, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., F.R.S. 97

NATURAL SCIENCE. By D'ARCY W. THOMPSON, F.R.S., Professor of Natural History in the University of St. Andrews 137

BIOLOGY. By CHARLES SINGER, Lecturer in the History of Medicine in University College, London 163

MEDICINE. By CHARLES SINGER 201

LITERATURE. By R. W. LIVINGSTONE, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford 249

HISTORY. By ARNOLD TOYNBEE, Koraés Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language, Literature, and History in the University of London 289

POLITICAL THOUGHT. By A. E. ZIMMERN, late Wilson Professor of International Politics, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth 321

THE LAMPS OF GREEK ART. By PERCY GARDNER, F.B.A., Merton Professor of Classical Archaeology in the University of Oxford 353

ARCHITECTURE. By Sir REGINALD BLOMFIELD, F.S.A., R.A. 397



THE VALUE OF GREECE TO THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD

If the value of man's life on earth is to be measured in dollars and miles and horse-power, ancient Greece must count as a poverty-stricken and a minute territory; its engines and implements were nearer to the spear and bow of the savage than to our own telegraph and aeroplane. Even if we neglect merely material things and take as our standard the actual achievements of the race in conduct and in knowledge, the average clerk who goes to town daily, idly glancing at his morning newspaper, is probably a better behaved and infinitely better informed person than the average Athenian who sat spellbound at the tragedies of Aeschylus. It is only by the standard of the spirit, to which the thing achieved is little and the quality of mind that achieved it much, which cares less for the sum of knowledge attained than for the love of knowledge, less for much good policing than for one free act of heroism, that the great age of Greece can be judged as something extraordinary and unique in value.

By this standard, if it is a legitimate and reasonable one to apply, we shall be able to understand why classical Greek literature was the basis of education throughout all later antiquity; why its re-discovery, however fragmentary and however imperfectly understood, was able to intoxicate the keenest minds of Europe and constitute a kind of spiritual 'Re-birth', and how its further and further exploration may be still a task worth men's spending their lives upon and capable of giving mankind guidance as well as inspiration.

But is such a standard legitimate and reasonable? We shall gain nothing by unanalysed phrases. But I think surely it is merely the natural standard of any philosophical historian. Suppose it is argued that an average optician at the present day knows more optics than Roger Bacon, the inventor of spectacles; suppose it is argued that therefore he is, as far as optics go, a greater man, and that Roger Bacon has nothing to teach us; what is the answer? It is, I suppose, that Roger Bacon, receiving a certain amount of knowledge from his teachers, had that in him which turned it to unsuspected directions and made it immensely greater and more fruitful. The average optician has probably added a little to what he was taught, but not much, and has doubtless forgotten or confused a good deal. So that, if by studying Roger Bacon's life or his books we could get into touch with his mind and acquire some of that special moving and inspiring quality of his, it would help us far more than would the mere knowledge of the optician.

This truth is no doubt hard to see in the case of purely technical science; in books of wider range, such as Darwin's for instance, it is easy for any reader to feel the presence of a really great mind, producing inspiration of a different sort from that of the most excellent up-to-date examination text-book. In philosophy, religion, poetry, and the highest kinds of art, the greatness of the author's mind seems as a rule to be all that matters; one almost ignores the date at which he worked. This is because in technical sciences the element of mere fact, or mere knowledge, is so enormous, the elements of imagination, character, and the like so very small. Hence, books on science, in a progressive age, very quickly become 'out of date', and each new edition usually supersedes the last. It is the rarest thing for a work of science to survive as a text-book more than ten years or so. Newton's Principia is almost an isolated instance among modern writings.

Yet there are some few such books. Up till about the year 1900 the elements of geometry were regularly taught, throughout Europe, in a text-book written by a Greek called Eucleides in the fourth or third century B. C.[1] That text-book lasted over two thousand years. Now, of course, people have discovered a number of faults in Euclid, but it has taken them all that time to do it.

[1] Since this paper was first written Euclid, Book I, in the Greek, has been edited with a commentary by Sir Thomas Heath (Cambridge Press, 1920). It is full of interest and instruction.

Again, I knew an old gentleman who told me that, at a good English school in the early nineteenth century, he had been taught the principles of grammar out of a writer called Dionysius Thrax, or Denis of Thrace. Denis was a Greek of the first century B. C., who made or carried out the remarkable discovery that there was such a thing as a science of grammar, i. e. that men in their daily speech were unconsciously obeying an extraordinarily subtle and intricate body of laws, which were capable of being studied and reduced to order. Denis did not make the whole discovery himself; he was led to it by his master Aristarchus and others. And his book had been re-edited several times in the nineteen-hundred odd years before this old gentleman was taught it.

To take a third case: all through later antiquity and the middle ages the science of medicine was based on the writings of two ancient doctors, Hippocrates and Galen. Galen was a Greek who lived at Rome in the early Empire, Hippocrates a Greek who lived at the island of Cos in the fifth century B. C. A great part of the history of modern medicine is a story of emancipation from the dead hand of these great ancients. But one little treatise attributed to Hippocrates was in active use in the training of medical students in my own day in Scotland and is still in use in some American Universities. It was the Oath taken by medical students in the classic age of Greece when they solemnly faced the duties of their profession. The disciple swore to honour and obey his teacher and care for his children if ever they were in need; always to help his patients to the best of his power; never to use or profess to use magic or charms or any supernatural means; never to supply poison or perform illegal operations; never to abuse the special position of intimacy which a doctor naturally obtains in a sick house, but always on entering to remember that he goes as a friend and helper to every individual in it.

We have given up that oath now: I suppose we do not believe so much in the value of oaths. But the man who first drew up that oath did a great deed. He realized and defined the meaning of his high calling in words which doctors of unknown tongues and undiscovered countries accepted from him and felt to express their aims for well over two thousand years.

Now what do I want to illustrate by these three instances? The rapidity with which we are now at last throwing off the last vestiges of the yoke of Greece? No, not that. I want to point out that even in the realm of science, where progress is so swift and books so short-lived, the Greeks of the great age had such genius and vitality that their books lived in a way that no others have lived. Let us get away from the thought of Euclid as an inky and imperfect English school-book, to that ancient Eucleides who, with exceedingly few books but a large table of sand let into the floor, planned and discovered and put together and re-shaped the first laws of geometry, till at last he had written one of the great simple books of the world, a book which should stand a pillar and beacon to mankind long after all the political world that Eucleides knew had been swept away and the kings he served were conquered by the Romans, and the Romans in course of time conquered by the barbarians, and the barbarians themselves, with much labour and reluctance, partly by means of Eucleides' book, eventually educated; so that at last, in our own day, they can manage to learn their geometry without it. The time has come for Euclid to be superseded; let him go. He has surely held the torch for mankind long enough; and books of science are born to be superseded. What I want to suggest is that the same extraordinary vitality of mind which made Hippocrates and Euclid and even Denis of Thrace last their two thousand years, was also put by the Greeks of the great age into those activities which are, for the most part at any rate, not perishable or progressive but eternal.

This is a simple point, but it is so important that we must dwell on it for a moment. If we read an old treatise on medicine or mechanics, we may admire it and feel it a work of genius, but we also feel that it is obsolete: its work is over; we have got beyond it. But when we read Homer or Aeschylus, if once we have the power to admire and understand their writing, we do not for the most part have any feeling of having got beyond them. We have done so no doubt in all kinds of minor things, in general knowledge, in details of technique, in civilization and the like; but hardly any sensible person ever imagines that he has got beyond their essential quality, the quality that has made them great.

Doubtless there is in every art an element of mere knowledge or science, and that element is progressive. But there is another element, too, which does not depend on knowledge and which does not progress but has a kind of stationary and eternal value, like the beauty of the dawn, or the love of a mother for her child, or the joy of a young animal in being alive, or the courage of a martyr facing torment. We cannot for all our progress get beyond these things; there they stand, like light upon the mountains. The only question is whether we can rise to them. And it is the same with all the greatest births of human imagination. As far as we can speculate, there is not the faintest probability of any poet ever setting to work on, let us say, the essential effect aimed at by Aeschylus in the Cassandra-scene of the Agamemnon, and doing it better than Aeschylus. The only thing which the human race has to do with that scene is to understand it and get out of it all the joy and emotion and wonder that it contains.

This eternal quality is perhaps clearest in poetry: in poetry the mixture of knowledge matters less. In art there is a constant development of tools and media and technical processes. The modern artist can feel that, though he cannot, perhaps, make as good a statue as Pheidias, he could here and there have taught Pheidias something: and at any rate he can try his art on subjects far more varied and more stimulating to his imagination. In philosophy the mixture is more subtle and more profound. Philosophy always depends in some sense upon science, yet the best philosophy seems generally to have in it some eternal quality of creative imagination. Plato wrote a dialogue about the constitution of the world, the Timaeus, which was highly influential in later Greece, but seems to us, with our vastly superior scientific knowledge, almost nonsensical. Yet when Plato writes about the theory of knowledge or the ultimate meaning of Justice or of Love, no good philosopher can afford to leave him aside: the chief question is whether we can rise to the height and subtlety of his thought.

And here another point emerges, equally simple and equally important if we are to understand our relation to the past. Suppose a man says: 'I quite understand that Plato or Aeschylus may have had fine ideas, but surely anything of value which they said must long before this have become common property. There is no need to go back to the Greeks for it. We do not go back and read Copernicus to learn that the earth goes round the sun.' What is the answer? It is that such a view ignores exactly this difference between the progressive and the eternal, between knowledge and imagination. If Harvey discovers that the blood is not stationary but circulates, if Copernicus discovers that the earth goes round the sun and not the sun round the earth, those discoveries can easily be communicated in the most abbreviated form. If a mechanic invents an improvement on the telephone, or a social reformer puts some good usage in the place of a bad one, in a few years we shall probably all be using the improvement without even knowing what it is or saying Thank you. We may be as stupid as we like, we have in a sense got the good of it.

But can one apply the same process to Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet? Can any one tell us in a few words what they come to? Or can a person get the good of them in any way except one—the way of vivid and loving study, following and feeling the author's meaning all through? To suppose, as I believe some people do, that you can get the value of a great poem by studying an abstract of it in an encyclopaedia or by reading cursorily an average translation of it, argues really a kind of mental deficiency, like deafness or colour-blindness. The things that we have called eternal, the things of the spirit and the imagination, always seem to lie more in a process than in a result, and can only be reached and enjoyed by somehow going through the process again. If the value of a particular walk lies in the scenery, you do not get that value by taking a short cut or using a fast motor-car.

In looking back, then, upon any vital and significant age of the past we shall find objects of two kinds. First, there will be things like the Venus of Milo or the Book of Job or Plato's Republic, which are interesting or precious in themselves, because of their own inherent qualities; secondly, there will be things like the Roman code of the Twelve Tables or the invention of the printing-press or the record of certain great battles, which are interesting chiefly because they are causes of other and greater things or form knots in the great web of history—the first having artistic interest, the second only historical interest, though, of course, it is obvious that in any concrete case there is generally a mixture of both.

Now Ancient Greece is important in both ways. For the artist or poet it has in a quite extraordinary degree the quality of beauty. For instance, to take a contrast with Rome: if you dig about the Roman Wall in Cumberland you will find quantities of objects, altars, inscriptions, figurines, weapons, boots and shoes, which are full of historic interest but are not much more beautiful than the contents of a modern rubbish heap. And the same is true of most excavations all over the world. But if you dig at any classical or sub-classical site in the Greek world, however unimportant historically, practically every object you find will be beautiful. The wall itself will be beautiful; the inscriptions will be beautifully cut; the figurines, however cheap and simple, may have some intentional grotesques among them, but the rest will have a special truthfulness and grace; the vases will be of good shapes and the patterns will be beautiful patterns. If you happen to dig in a burying-place and come across some epitaphs on the dead, they will practically all—even when the verses do not quite scan and the words are wrongly spelt—have about them this inexplicable touch of beauty.

I am anxious not to write nonsense about this. One could prove the point in detail by taking any collection of Greek epitaphs, and that is the only way in which it can be proved. The beauty is a fact, and if we try to analyse the sources of it we shall perhaps in part understand how it has come to pass.

In the first place, it is not a beauty of ornament; it is a beauty of structure, a beauty of rightness and simplicity. Compare an athlete in flannels playing tennis and a stout dignitary smothered in gold robes. Or compare a good modern yacht, swift, lithe, and plain, with a lumbering heavily gilded sixteenth-century galleon, or even with a Chinese state junk: the yacht is far the more beautiful though she has not a hundredth part of the ornament. It is she herself that is beautiful, because her lines and structure are right. The others are essentially clumsy and, therefore, ugly things, dabbed over with gold and paint. Now ancient Greek things for the most part have the beauty of the yacht. The Greeks used paint a good deal, but apart from that a Greek temple is almost as plain as a shed: people accustomed to arabesques and stained glass and gargoyles can very often see nothing in it. A Greek statue has as a rule no ornament at all: a young man racing or praying, an old man thinking, there it stands expressed in a stately and simple convention, true or false, the anatomy and the surfaces right or wrong, aiming at no beauty except the truest. It would probably seem quite dull to the maker of a mediaeval wooden figure of a king which I remember seeing in a town in the east of Europe: a crown blazing with many-coloured glass, a long crimson robe covered with ornaments and beneath them an idiot face, no bones, no muscles, no attitude. That is not what a Greek meant by beauty. The same quality holds to a great extent of Greek poetry. Not, of course, that the artistic convention was the same, or at all similar, for treating stone and for treating language. Greek poetry is statuesque in the sense that it depends greatly on its organic structure; it is not in the least so in the sense of being cold or colourless or stiff. But Greek poetry on the whole has a bareness and severity which disappoints a modern reader, accustomed as he is to lavish ornament and exaggeration at every turn. It has the same simplicity and straightforwardness as Greek sculpture. The poet has something to say and he says it as well and truly as he can in the suitable style, and if you are not interested you are not. With some exceptions which explain themselves he does not play a thousand pretty tricks and antics on the way, so that you may forget the dullness of what he says in amusement at the draperies in which he wraps it.

But here comes an apparent difficulty. Greek poetry, we say, is very direct, very simple, very free from irrelevant ornament. And yet when we translate it into English and look at our translation, our main feeling, I think, is that somehow the glory has gone: a thing that was high and lordly has become poor and mean. Any decent Greek scholar when he opens one of his ancient poets feels at once the presence of something lofty and rare—something like the atmosphere of Paradise Lost. But the language of Paradise Lost is elaborately twisted and embellished into loftiness and rarity; the language of the Greek poem is simple and direct. What does this mean?

I can only suppose that the normal language of Greek poetry is in itself in some sense sublime. Most critics accept this as an obvious fact, yet, if true, it is a very strange fact and worth thinking about. It depends partly on mere euphony: Khaireis horôn fôs is probably more beautiful in sound than 'You rejoice to see the light', but euphony cannot be everything. The sound of a great deal of Greek poetry, either as we pronounce it, or as the ancients pronounced it, is to modern ears almost ugly. It depends partly, perhaps, on the actual structure of the Greek language: philologists tell us that, viewed as a specimen, it is in structure and growth and in power of expressing things, the most perfect language they know. And certainly one often finds that a thought can be expressed with ease and grace in Greek which becomes clumsy and involved in Latin, English, French or German. But neither of these causes goes, I think, to the root of the matter.

What is it that gives words their character and makes a style high or low? Obviously, their associations; the company they habitually keep in the minds of those who use them. A word which belongs to the language of bars and billiard saloons will become permeated by the normal standard of mind prevalent in such places; a word which suggests Milton or Carlyle will have the flavour of those men's minds about it. I therefore cannot resist the conclusion that, if the language of Greek poetry has, to those who know it intimately, this special quality of keen austere beauty, it is because the minds of the poets who used that language were habitually toned to a higher level both of intensity and of nobility than ours. It is a finer language because it expresses the minds of finer men. By 'finer men' I do not necessarily mean men who behaved better, either by our standards or by their own; I mean men to whom the fine things of the world, sunrise and sea and stars and the love of man for man, and strife and the facing of evil for the sake of good, and even common things like meat and drink, and evil things like hate and terror, had, as it were, a keener edge than they have for us and roused a swifter and a nobler reaction.

Let us resume this argument before going further. We start from the indisputable fact that the Greeks of about the fifth century B. C. did for some reason or other produce various works of art, buildings and statues and books, especially books, which instead of decently dying or falling out of fashion in the lifetime of the men who made them, lasted on and can still cause high thoughts and intense emotions. In trying to explain this strange fact we notice that the Greeks had a great and pervading instinct for beauty, and for beauty of a particular kind. It is a beauty which never lies in irrelevant ornament, but always in the very essence and structure of the object made. In literature we found that the special beauty which we call Greek depends partly on the directness, truthfulness, and simplicity with which the Greeks say what they want to say, and partly on a special keenness and nobility in the language, which seems to be the natural expression of keen and noble minds. Can we in any way put all these things together so as to explain them—or at any rate to hold them together more clearly?

An extremely old and often misleading metaphor will help us. People have said: 'The world was young then.' Of course, strictly speaking, it was not. In the total age of the world or of man the two thousand odd years between us and Pericles do not count for much. Nor can we imagine that a man of sixty felt any more juvenile in the fifth century B. C. than he does now. It was just the other way, because at that time there were no spectacles or false teeth. Yet in a sense the world was young then, at any rate our western world, the world of progress and humanity. For the beginnings of nearly all the great things that progressive minds now care for were then being laid in Greece.

Youth, perhaps, is not exactly the right word. There are certain plants—some kinds of aloe, for instance—which continue for an indefinite number of years in a slow routine of ordinary life close to the ground, and then suddenly, when they have stored enough vital force, grow ten feet high and burst into flower, after which, no doubt, they die or show signs of exhaustion. Apart from the dying, it seems as if something like that happened from time to time to the human race, or to such parts of it as really bear flowers at all. For most races and nations during the most of their life are not progressive but simply stagnant, sometimes just managing to preserve their standard customs, sometimes slipping back to the slough. That is why history has nothing to say about them. The history of the world consists mostly in the memory of those ages, quite few in number, in which some part of the world has risen above itself and burst into flower or fruit.

We ourselves happen to live in the midst or possibly in the close of one such period. More change has probably taken place in daily life, in ideas, and in the general aspect of the earth during the last century than during any four other centuries since the Christian era: and this fact has tended to make us look on rapid progress as a normal condition of the human race, which it never has been. And another such period of bloom, a bloom comparatively short in time and narrow in area, but amazingly swift and intense, occurred in the lower parts of the Balkan peninsula from about the sixth to the fourth centuries before Christ.

Now it is this kind of bloom which fills the world with hope and therefore makes it young. Take a man who has just made a discovery or an invention, a man happily in love, a man who is starting some great and successful social movement, a man who is writing a book or painting a picture which he knows to be good; take men who have been fighting in some great cause which before they fought seemed to be hopeless and now is triumphant; think of England when the Armada was just defeated, France at the first dawn of the Revolution, America after Yorktown: such men and nations will be above themselves. Their powers will be stronger and keener; there will be exhilaration in the air, a sense of walking in new paths, of dawning hopes and untried possibilities, a confidence that all things can be won if only we try hard enough. In that sense the world will be young. In that sense I think it was young in the time of Themistocles and Aeschylus. And it is that youth which is half the secret of the Greek spirit.

And here I may meet an objection that has perhaps been lurking in the minds of many readers. 'All this,' they may say, 'professes to be a simple analysis of known facts, but in reality is sheer idealization. These Greeks whom you call so "noble" have been long since exposed. Anthropology has turned its searchlights upon them. It is not only their ploughs, their weapons, their musical instruments, and their painted idols that resemble those of the savages; it is everything else about them. Many of them were sunk in the most degrading superstitions: many practised unnatural vices: in times of great fear some were apt to think that the best "medicine" was a human sacrifice. After that, it is hardly worth mentioning that their social structure was largely based on slavery; that they lived in petty little towns, like so many wasps' nests, each at war with its next-door neighbour, and half of them at war with themselves!'

If our anti-Greek went further he would probably cease to speak the truth. We will stop him while we can still agree with him. These charges are on the whole true, and, if we are to understand what Greece means, we must realize and digest them. We must keep hold of two facts: first, that the Greeks of the fifth century produced some of the noblest poetry and art, the finest political thinking, the most vital philosophy, known to the world; second, that the people who heard and saw, nay perhaps, even the people who produced these wonders, were separated by a thin and precarious interval from the savage. Scratch a civilized Russian, they say, and you find a wild Tartar. Scratch an ancient Greek, and you hit, no doubt, on a very primitive and formidable being, somewhere between a Viking and a Polynesian.

That is just the magic and the wonder of it. The spiritual effort implied is so tremendous. We have read stories of savage chiefs converted by Christian or Buddhist missionaries, who within a year or so have turned from drunken corroborees and bloody witch-smellings to a life that is not only godly but even philanthropic and statesmanlike. We have seen the Japanese lately go through some centuries of normal growth in the space of a generation. But in all such examples men have only been following the teaching of a superior civilization, and after all, they have not ended by producing works of extraordinary and original genius. It seems quite clear that the Greeks owed exceedingly little to foreign influence. Even in their decay they were a race, as Professor Bury observes, accustomed 'to take little and to give much'. They built up their civilization for themselves. We must listen with due attention to the critics who have pointed out all the remnants of savagery and superstition that they find in Greece: the slave-driver, the fetish-worshipper and the medicine-man, the trampler on women, the bloodthirsty hater of all outside his own town and party. But it is not those people that constitute Greece; those people can be found all over the historical world, commoner than blackberries. It is not anything fixed and stationary that constitutes Greece: what constitutes Greece is the movement which leads from all these to the Stoic or fifth-century 'sophist' who condemns and denies slavery, who has abolished all cruel superstitions and preaches some religion based on philosophy and humanity, who claims for women the same spiritual rights as for man, who looks on all human creatures as his brethren, and the world as 'one great City of gods and men'. It is that movement which you will not find elsewhere, any more than the statues of Pheidias or the dialogues of Plato or the poems of Aeschylus and Euripides.

From all this two or three results follow. For one thing, being built up so swiftly, by such keen effort, and from so low a starting-point, Greek civilization was, amid all its glory, curiously unstable and full of flaws. Such flaws made it, of course, much worse for those who lived in it, but they hardly make it less interesting or instructive to those who study it. Rather the contrary. Again, the near neighbourhood of the savage gives to the Greek mind certain qualities which we of the safer and solider civilizations would give a great deal to possess. It springs swift and straight. It is never jaded. Its wonder and interest about the world are fresh. And lastly there is one curious and very important quality which, unless I am mistaken, belongs to Greek civilization more than to any other. To an extraordinary degree it starts clean from nature, with almost no entanglements of elaborate creeds and customs and traditions.

I am not, of course, forgetting the prehistoric Minoan civilization, nor yet the peculiar forms—mostly simple enough—into which the traditional Greek religion fell. It is possible that I may be a little misled by my own habit of living much among Greek things and so forgetting through long familiarity how odd some of them once seemed. But when all allowances are made, I think that this clean start from nature is, on the whole, a true claim. If a thoughtful European or American wants to study Chinese or Indian things, he has not only to learn certain data of history and mythology, he has to work his mind into a particular attitude; to put on, as it were, spectacles of a particular sort. If he wants to study mediaeval things, if he takes even so universal a poet as Dante, it is something the same. Curious views about the Pope and the emperor, a crabbed scholastic philosophy, a strange and to the modern mind rather horrible theology, floating upon the flames of Hell: all these have somehow to be taken into his imagination before he can understand his Dante. With Greek things this is very much less so. The historical and imaginative background of the various great poets and philosophers is, no doubt, highly important. A great part of the work of modern scholarship is now devoted to getting it clearer. But on the whole, putting aside for the moment the possible inadequacies of translation, Greek philosophy speaks straight to any human being who is willing to think simply, Greek art and poetry to any one who can use his imagination and enjoy beauty. He has not to put on the fetters or the blinkers of any new system in order to understand them; he has only to get rid of his own—a much more profitable and less troublesome task.

This particular conclusion will scarcely, I think, be disputed, but the point presents difficulties and must be dwelt upon.

In the first place, it does not mean that Greek art is what we call 'naturalist' or 'realist'. It is markedly the reverse. Art to the Greek is always a form of Sophia, or Wisdom, a Technê with rules that have to be learnt. Its air of utter simplicity is deceptive. The pillar that looks merely straight is really a thing of subtle curves. The funeral bas-relief that seems to represent in the simplest possible manner a woman saying good-bye to her child is arranged, plane behind plane, with the most delicate skill and sometimes with deliberate falsification of perspective. There is always some convention, some idealization, some touch of the light that never was on sea or land. Yet all the time, I think, Greek art remains in a remarkable degree close to nature. The artist's eye is always on the object, and, though he represents it in his own style, that style is always normal and temperate, free from affectation, free from exaggeration or morbidity and, in the earlier periods, free from conventionality. It is art without doubt; but it is natural and normal art, such as grew spontaneously when mankind first tried in freedom to express beauty. For example, the language of Greek poetry is markedly different from that of prose, and there are even clear differences of language between different styles of poetry. And further, the poetry is very seldom about the present. It is about the past, and that an ideal past. What we have to notice there is that this kind of rule, which has been usual in all great ages of poetry, is apparently not an artificial or arbitrary thing but a tendency that grew up naturally with the first great expressions of poetical feeling.

Furthermore, this closeness to nature, this absence of a unifying or hide-bound system of thought, acting together with other causes, has led to the extraordinary variety and many-sidedness which is one of the most puzzling charms of Ancient Greece as contrasted, say, with Israel or Assyria or early Rome. Geographically it is a small country with a highly indented coast-line and an interior cut into a great number of almost isolated valleys. Politically it was a confused unity made up of numerous independent states, one walled city of a few thousand inhabitants being quite enough to form a state. And the citizens of these states were, each of them, rather excessively capable of forming opinions of their own and fighting for them. Hence came in practice much isolation and faction and general weakness, to the detriment of the Greeks themselves; but the same cause led in thought and literature to immense variety and vitality, to the great gain of us who study the Greeks afterwards. There is hardly any type of thought or style of writing which cannot be paralleled in ancient Greece, only they will there be seen, as it were, in their earlier and simpler forms. Traces of all the things that seem most un-Greek can be found somewhere in Greek literature: voluptuousness, asceticism, the worship of knowledge, the contempt for knowledge, atheism, pietism, the religion of serving the world and the religion of turning away from the world: all these and almost all other points of view one can think of are represented somewhere in the records of that one small people. And there is hardly any single generalization in this chapter which the author himself could not controvert by examples to the contrary. You feel in general a great absence of all fetters: the human mind free, rather inexperienced, intensely interested in life and full of hope, trying in every direction for that excellence which the Greeks called aretê, and guided by some peculiar instinct toward Temperance and Beauty.

The variety is there and must not be forgotten; yet amid the variety there are certain general or central characteristics, mostly due to this same quality of freshness and closeness to nature.

If you look at a Greek statue or bas-relief, or if you read an average piece of Aristotle, you will very likely at first feel bored. Why? Because it is all so normal and truthful; so singularly free from exaggeration, paradox, violent emphasis; so destitute of those fascinating by-forms of insanity which appeal to some similar faint element of insanity in ourselves. 'We are sick', we may exclaim, 'of the sight of these handsome, perfectly healthy men with grave faces and normal bones and muscles! We are sick of being told that Virtue is a mean between two extremes and tends to make men happy! We shall not be interested unless some one tells us that Virtue is the utter abnegation of self, or, it may be, the extreme and ruthless assertion of self; or again, that Virtue is all an infamous mistake! And for statues, give us a haggard man with starved body and cavernous eyes, cursing God—or give us something rolling in fat and colour....'

What is at the back of this sort of feeling? which I admit often takes more reasonable forms than these I have suggested. It is the same psychological cause that brings about the changes of fashion in art or dress: which loves 'stunts' and makes the fortunes of yellow newspapers. It is boredom or ennui. We have had too much of A; we are sick of it, we know how it is done and despise it; give us some B, or better still some Z. And after a strong dose of Z we shall crave for the beginning of the alphabet again. But now think of a person who is not bored at all; who is, on the contrary, immensely interested in the world, keen to choose good things and reject bad ones; full of the desire for knowledge and the excitement of discovery. The joy to him is to see things as they are and to judge them normally. He is not bored by the sight of normal, healthy muscles in a healthy, well-shaped body; he is delighted. If you distort the muscles for emotional effect, he would say with disappointment: 'But that is ugly!' or 'But a man's muscles do not go like that!' He will have noted that tears are salt and rather warm; but if you say like a modern poet that your heroine's tears are 'more hot than fire, more salt than the salt sea', he will probably think your statement {apithanon} 'unpersuasive', and therefore {psychron} 'chilling'.

It is perhaps especially in the religious and moral sphere that we are accustomed to the habitual use of ecstatic language: expressions that are only true of exalted moments are used by us as the commonplaces of ordinary life. 'It is a thousand times worse to see another suffer than to suffer oneself.' 'True love only desires the happiness of the beloved object.' This kind of 'high falutin'' has become part of our regular mental habit, just as dead metaphors by the bushel are a part of our daily language. Consequently we are a little chilled and disappointed by a language in which people hardly ever use a metaphor except when they vividly realize it, and never utter heroic sentiments except when they are wrought up to the pitch of feeling them true. Does this mean that the Greek always remains, so to speak, at a normal temperature, that he never has intense or blinding emotions? Not in the least. It shows a lack of faith in the value of life to imagine such a conclusion. It implies that you can only reach great emotion by pretence, or by habitually exaggerating small emotions, whereas probably the exact reverse is the case. When the great thing comes, then the Greek will have the great word and the great thought ready. It is the habitual exaggerator who will perhaps be bankrupt. And after all—the great things are sure to come!

The power of seeing things straight and knowing what is beautiful or noble, quite undisturbed by momentary boredoms or changes of taste, is a very rare gift and never perhaps possessed in full by any one. But there is a profound rule of art, bidding a man in the midst of all his study of various styles or his pursuit of his own peculiar imaginations, from time to time se retremper dans la nature—'to steep himself again in nature'. And in something the same way it seems as if the world ought from time to time to steep itself again in Hellenism: that is, it ought, amid all the varying affectations and extravagances and changes of convention in art and letters, to have some careful regard for those which arose when man first awoke to the meaning of truth and beauty and saw the world freely as a new thing.

Is this exaggeration? I think not. But no full defence of it can be attempted here. In this essay we have been concerned almost entirely with the artistic interest of Greece. It would be equally possible to dwell on the historical interest. Then we should find that, for that branch of mankind which is responsible for western civilization, the seeds of almost all that we count best in human progress were sown in Greece. The conception of beauty as a joy in itself and as a guide in life was first and most vividly expressed in Greece, and the very laws by which things are beautiful or ugly were to a great extent discovered there and laid down. The conception of Freedom and Justice, freedom in body, in speech and in mind, justice between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, penetrates the whole of Greek political thought, and was, amid obvious flaws, actually realized to a remarkable degree in the best Greek communities. The conception of Truth as an end to pursue for its own sake, a thing to discover and puzzle out by experiment and imagination and especially by Reason, a conception essentially allied with that of Freedom and opposed both to anarchy and to blind obedience, has perhaps never in the world been more clearly grasped than by the early Greek writers on science and philosophy. One stands amazed sometimes at the perfect freedom of their thought. Another conception came rather later, when the small City States with exclusive rights of citizenship had been merged in a larger whole: the conception of the universal fellowship between man and man. Greece realized soon after the Persian war that she had a mission to the world, that Hellenism stood for the higher life of man as against barbarism, for Aretê, or Excellence, as against the mere effortless average. First came the crude patriotism which regarded every Greek as superior to every barbarian; then came reflection, showing that not all Greeks were true bearers of the light, nor all barbarians its enemies; that Hellenism was a thing of the spirit and not dependent on the race to which a man belonged or the place where he was born: then came the new word and conception {anthrôpotês}, humanitas, which to the Stoics made the world as one brotherhood. No people known to history clearly formulated these ideals before the Greeks, and those who have spoken the words afterwards seem for the most part to be merely echoing the thoughts of old Greek men.

These ideas, the pursuit of Truth, Freedom, Beauty, Excellence are not everything. They have been a leaven of unrest in the world; they have held up a light which was not always comforting to the eyes to see. There is another ideal which is generally stronger and may, for all we know, in the end stamp them out as evil things. There is Submission instead of Freedom, the deadening or brutalizing of the senses instead of Beauty, the acceptance of tradition instead of the pursuit of Truth, the belief in hallucination or passion instead of Reason and Temperate Thought, the obscuring of distinctions between good and bad and the acceptance of all human beings and all states of mind as equal in value. If something of this kind should prove in the end to be right for man, then Greece will have played the part of the great wrecker in human history. She will have held up false lights which have lured our ship to dangerous places. But at any rate, through calm and storm, she does hold her lights; she lit them first of the nations and held them during her short reign the clearest; and whether we believe in an individual life founded on Freedom, Reason, Beauty, Excellence and the pursuit of Truth, and an international life aiming at the fellowship between man and man, or whether we think these ideals the great snares of human politics, there is good cause for some of us in each generation at the cost of some time and trouble to study such important forces where they first appear consciously in the minds of our spiritual ancestors. In the thought and art of ancient Greece, more than any other, we shall find these forces, and also to some extent their great opposites, fresh, clean and comparatively uncomplicated, with every vast issue wrought out on a small material scale and every problem stated in its lowest terms.

GILBERT MURRAY.



RELIGION

Those who write about the Greeks must beware of a heresy which is very rife just now—the theory of racialism. Political ethnology, which is no genuine science, excused the ambition of the Germans to themselves, and helped them to wage war; it has suggested to the Allies a method of waging peace. The false and mischievous doctrine of superior and inferior races is used to justify oppression in Europe, and murder by torture in America. It will not help us to understand the Greeks. The Greeks were a nation of splendid mongrels, made up of the same elements, differently mixed, as ourselves. Their famous beauty, which had almost disappeared when Cicero visited Athens, was mainly the result of a healthy outdoor life and physical training, combined with a very becoming costume. They were probably not handsomer than Oxford rowing crews or Eton boys. Their flowering time of genius was due to the same causes which produced similar results in the Italian Renaissance. The city-state is a forcing-house of brilliant achievement, though it quickly uses up its human material. We cannot even regard the Greeks as a homogeneous mixed race. The Spartiates were almost pure Nordics; the Athenians almost pure Mediterraneans. The early colonists, from whom sprang so many of the greatest names in the Hellenic roll of honour, are not likely to have kept their blood pure. Nor was there ever a Greek culture shared by all the Greeks. The Spartan system, that of a small fighting tribe encamped in a subject country, recalls that of Chaka's Zulus; Arcadia was bucolic, Aetolia barbarous, Boeotia stolid, Macedonia half outside the pale. The consciousness of race among the Greeks counted practically for about as much as the consciousness of being white men, or Christians, does in modern civilization.

Greece for our purposes means not a race, but a culture, a language and literature, and still more an attitude towards life, which for us begins with Homer, and persists, with many changes but no breaks, till the closing of the Athenian lecture-rooms by Justinian. The changes no doubt were great, when politically Greece was living Greece no more, and when the bearers of the tradition were no longer the lineal descendants of those who established it. But the tradition, enshrined in literature, in monuments, and in social customs, survived. The civilization of the Roman Empire was not Italian but Greek. After the sixth century, Hellenism—the language, the literature, and the attitude towards life—was practically lost to the West for nearly a thousand years. It was recovered at the Renaissance, and from that time to this has been a potent element in western civilization. The Dark Ages, and the early Middle Ages, are the period during which the West was cut off from Hellenism. Yet even then the severance was not complete. For these were the ages of the Catholic theocracy; and if we had to choose one man as the founder of Catholicism as a theocratic system, we should have to name neither Augustine nor St. Paul, still less Jesus Christ, but Plato, who in the Laws sketches out with wonderful prescience the conditions for such a polity, and the form which it would be compelled to take. Even in speculative thought we know that Augustine owed much to the Platonists, the Schoolmen to Aristotle, the mystics to the pupil of Proclus whom they called Dionysius. Only Greek science, and the scientific spirit, were almost completely lost, and a beginning de novo had to be made when the West shook off its fetters.

Hellenism then is not the mind of a particular ethnic type, nor of a particular period. It was not destroyed, though it was emasculated, by the loss of political freedom; it was neither killed nor died a natural death. Its philosophy was continuous from Thales to Proclus, and again from Ficino and Pico to Lotze and Bradley, after a long sleep which was not death. Its religion passes into Christian theology and cultus without any real break. The early Church spoke in Greek and thought in Greek. In the days of Greek freedom to be a Greek had meant to be a citizen of a Greek canton; after Alexander it meant to have Greek culture. None of the great Stoics were natives of Greece proper; Zeno himself was a Semite. Of the later Greek writers, Marcus Aurelius was a Romanized Spaniard, Plotinus possibly a Copt, Porphyry and Lucian Syrians, Philo, St. Paul, and probably the Fourth Evangelist were Jews. These men all belong to the history of Greek culture. And if these were Greeks how shall we deny the name to Raphael and Michael Angelo, to Spenser and Sidney, to Keats and Shelley? When Blake wrote—

The sun's light when he unfolds it, Depends on the organ that beholds it,

he was summing up, not only the philosophy of the Lake Poets but the fundamental dogma of the maturest Greek thought. Would not Plato have rejoiced in Michael Angelo's confession of faith, which Wordsworth has translated for us?

Heaven-born, the soul a heavenward course must hold; Beyond the visible world she soars to seek (For what delights the sense is false and weak) Ideal Form, the universal mould. The wise man, I affirm, can find no rest In that which perishes; nor will he lend His heart to aught that doth on time depend.

Has the highest aspect of Greek religion ever been better expressed than by Wordsworth himself, to whom, as to Blake, it came by inspiration and not from books?

While yet a child, and long before his time Had he perceived the presence and the power Of greatness; and deep feelings had impressed So vividly great objects that they lay Upon his mind like substances, whose presence Perplexed the bodily sense.

The spirit of man does not live only on tradition; it can draw direct from the fountain-head. We are dealing with a permanent type of human culture, which is rightly named after the Greeks, since it attained its chief glory in the literature and art of the Hellenic cities, but which cannot be separated from western civilization as an alien importation. Without what we call our debt to Greece we should have neither our religion nor our philosophy nor our science nor our literature nor our education nor our politics. We should be mere barbarians. We need not speculate how much we might ultimately have discovered for ourselves. Our civilization is a tree which has its roots in Greece, or, to borrow a more appropriate metaphor from Clement of Alexandria, it is a river which has received affluents from every side; but its head waters are Greek. The continuity of Greek thought and practice in religion and religious philosophy is especially important, and it is necessary to emphasize it because the accident of our educational curriculum leaves in the minds of most students a broad chasm between the Stoics and the Christians, ignores the later Greek philosophy of religion altogether, and traces Christian dogma back to Palestine, with which it has very little connexion.

Our sense of continuity is dulled in another way. There is a tendency to isolate certain aspects of Hellenic life and thought as characteristic, and to stamp others, which are equally found among the ancient Greeks, as untypical and exceptional. In the sphere of religion, with which we are concerned in this essay, we are bidden to regard Plato and Euripides as rebels against the national tradition, and not as normal products of their age and country. I do not feel at liberty to pick and choose in this fashion. A national character may be best exemplified in its rebels, a religion in its heretics. If Nietzsche was right in calling Plato a Christian before Christ, I do not therefore regard him as an unhellenic Greek. Rather, I trace back to him, and so to Greece, the religion and the political philosophy of the Christian Church, and the Christian type of mysticism. If Euripides anticipated to an extraordinary degree the devout agnosticism, the vague pantheism, the humanitarian sentiment of the nineteenth (rather than of the twentieth) century, I do not consider that he was a freak in fifth-century Athens, but that Greece showed us the way even in paths where we have not been used to look to her for guidance. I am equally reluctant to assume, without evidence, that the later Platonism, whether we call it religion or philosophy, is unhellenic. It is quite unnecessary to look for Asiatic influences in a school which clung close to the Attic tradition. It is more to the purpose to show how a religious philosophy of mystical revelation and introspection grew naturally out of the older nature-philosophies, just as in our own day metaphysics and science have both been driven back upon the theory of knowledge and psychology. It should not be necessary to remind Hellenists that 'Know thyself' passed for the supreme word of wisdom in the classical period, or that Heracleitus revealed his method in the words 'I searched myself'.

We shall come presently to certain parts of our modern heritage which are not Greek either by origin or by affinity. These will not be found in Euripides or Plato any more than in Herodotus or Sophocles. But some developments of religion which our Hellenists particularly dislike, and are therefore anxious to disclaim as alien to Greek thought and practice, such as asceticism, sacramental magic, religious persecution, and timid reliance on authority, are maladies of the Greek spirit, and came into the Church from Hellenistic and not from Jewish sources. It was Cleanthes who wished to treat Aristarchus as the Church treated Galileo, for anticipating Galileo's discovery. It was Plutarch, or rather his revered father, who said, 'You seem to me to be handling a very great and dangerous subject, or rather to be raising questions which ought not to be raised at all, when you question the opinion we hold about the gods, and ask reasons and proofs for everything. The ancient and ancestral faith is enough; and if on one point its fixed and traditional character be disturbed, it will be undermined and no one will trust it'. It is true that Celsus accused the Christians of saying, 'Do not inquire; only believe.' But this was not the attitude of Clement and Origen, still less of that most courageous pioneer St. Paul; it was rather the attitude of the average devout pagan. At this time the defence of popular superstition was no longer a matter of mere policy but of heartfelt need. Marcus Aurelius was a great immolator of white cows. The Christians were disliked, not as superstitious, but as impious. Alexander of Abunoteichos expelled 'Christians and Epicureans' by name from his séances. Lucian is the Voltaire of a credulous age. As for sacerdotal magic, Ovid explicitly ascribed the ex opere operato doctrine to the Greeks.

Graecia principium moris fuit; illa nocentes impia lustratos ponere facta putat, a nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina caedis fluminea tolli posse putatis aqua.

The Christian Church was the last great creative achievement of the classical culture. It is neither Asiatic nor mediaeval in its essential character. It is not Asiatic; Christianity is the least Oriental of all the great religions. The Semites either shook it off and reverted to a Judaism purged of its Hellenic elements, or enrolled themselves with fervour under the banner of Islam, which Westcott called 'a petrified Judaism'. Christian missions have had no success in any Asiatic country. Nor is there anything specifically mediaeval about Catholicism. It preserved the idea of Roman imperialism, after the secular empire of the West had disappeared, and even kept the tradition of the secular empire alive. It modelled all its machinery on the Roman Empire, and consecrated the Roman claim to universal dominion, with the Roman law of maiestas against all who disputed its authority. Even its favourite penalty of the 'avenging flames' is borrowed from the later Roman codes. It maintained the official language of antiquity, and the imperial title of the autocrat who reigned on the Seven Hills. Nor were the early Christians so anxious as is often supposed to disclaim this continuity. At first, it is true, their apologetic was directed to proving their continuity with Judaism; but Judaism ceased to count for much after the destruction of the Holy City in A. D. 70, and the second-century apologists appeal for toleration on the ground that the best Greek philosophers taught very much the same as what Christians believe. 'We teach the same as the Greeks', says Justin Martyr, 'though we alone are hated for what we teach.' 'Some among us', says Tertullian, 'who are versed in ancient literature, have written books to prove that we have embraced no tenets for which we have not the support of common and public literature.' 'The teachings of Plato', says Justin again, 'are not alien to those of Christ; and the same is true of the Stoics.' 'Heracleitus and Socrates lived in accordance with the divine Logos', and should be reckoned as Christians. Clement says that Plato wrote 'by inspiration of God'. Augustine, much later, finds that 'only a few words and phrases' need be changed to bring Platonism into complete accord with Christianity. The ethics of contemporary paganism, as Harnack shows, with special reference to Porphyry, are almost identical with those of the Christians of his day. They differ in many points from the standards of 500 years earlier and from those of 1,500 years later, but the divergences are neither racial nor credal. Catholic Christianity is historically continuous with the old civilization, which indeed continued to live in this region after its other traditions and customs had been shattered. There are few other examples in history of so great a difference between appearance and reality. Outwardly, the continuity with Judaism seems to be unbroken, that with paganism to be broken. In reality, the opposite is the fact.

This most important truth has been obscured from many causes. The gap in history made by our educational tradition has been already mentioned. And our histories of the early Church are too often warped by an unfortunate bias. Christianity has been judged at its best, paganism at its worst. The rhetorical denunciations of writers like Seneca, Juvenal, and Tacitus are taken at their face value, and few have remembered the convention which obliged a satirist to be scathing, or the political prejudice of the Stoics against the monarchy, or the non-representative character of fashionable life in the capital. The modern Church historian, as Mr. Benn says, has gathered his experience in a college quadrangle or a cathedral close, and knows little enough about his own country, next to nothing about what morality was in the Middle Ages, and nothing at all about what it still is in many parts of Europe. In the most recent books, however, there is a real desire to hold the scales fairly, and Christianity has nothing to fear from an impartial judgement.

There is also an assumption, which we find even in such learned writers as Harnack and Hatch, that the Hellenic element in Christianity is an accretion which transformed the new religion from its original purity and half-paganized Europe again. They would like to prove that underneath Catholicism was a primitive Protestantism, which owed nothing to Greece. The truth is that the Church was half Greek from the first, though, as I shall say presently, the original Gospel was not. St. Paul was a Jew of the Dispersion, not of Palestine, and the Christianity to which he was converted was the Christianity of Stephen, not of James the Lord's brother. His later epistles are steeped in the phraseology of the Greek mysteries. The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Fourth Gospel are unintelligible without some knowledge of Philo, whose theology is more Greek than Jewish. In the conflict about the nature of the future life, it was the Greek eschatology which prevailed over the Jewish. St. Paul's famous declaration, 'We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal', is pure Platonism and quite alien to Jewish thought. Judaic Christianity was a local affair, and had a very short life.

Further, too much is made of the conflict between the official cults of paganism and Christian public worship. It is forgotten how completely, in Hellenistic times, religion and philosophy were fused. Without under-estimating the simple piety which, especially in country districts, still attached itself to the temples and their ritual, we may say confidently that the vital religion of the empire was associated with the mystery-religions and with the discipline of the 'philosophic life'. It is in this region that the continuity of Catholicism with Hellenism is mainly to be found. The philosophers at this time were preachers, confessors, chaplains, and missionaries. The clerical profession, in nearly all its activities, is directly descended from the Hellenistic philosophers.

This claim of continuity may seem paradoxical when we remember the savage persecutions of the Christians by the imperial government. Of these persecutions there were several causes. The empire, like all empires of the same type, rested partly on religious support. Augustus encouraged his court poets to advocate a revival of piety and sound morals. A government cannot inquire into religious conviction, but it can enforce conformity and outward respect for the forms of worship as 'by law established'. The Christians and Epicureans were held guilty of the same political offence—'atheism'. The State had no quarrel with the mystery-religions, which were a private matter, but open disrespect to the national deities was flat disloyalty. The pagans could not understand why the Church would make no terms with the fusion of religions ( {theokrasia}) which seemed to them the natural result of the fusion of nationalities. Apuleius makes Isis say, when she reveals herself to Lucius, 'cuius numen unicum multiformi specie, ritu vario, nomine multiiugo totus veneratur orbis'; and she then recounts her various names. This more than tolerant hospitality of the spirit seemed to the mixed population of the empire the logical recognition of the actual political situation, and those who deliberately stood outside it were at least potentially enemies of society. This was the real quarrel between the Church and the empire. It is the old State religion which Augustine attacks, ridiculing the innumerable Roman godlings whose names he perhaps found in Varro. It is true that Plato, Euripides, and Xenophanes had attacked the official mythology with hardly less asperity; but they did not escape censure, and the Christian alienation from the Olympians was far more fundamental.

The pagan revival under the empire was rather like Neo-Catholicism in France. It was patriotic, nationalistic, and conservative, rather than strictly religious. Celsus, in his lost book against the Christians, seems to have appealed to their patriotism, urging them to support their country and its government in dangerous times. As the Church grew in numbers and power, and the old traditions crumbled away, largely from the fall in the birth-rate among the upper and middle classes, the conservatives became more anxiously attached to their own culture, and saw in Christianity a 'shapeless darkness' which threatened to extinguish 'all the beautiful things in the world'. We can partly sympathize with this alarm, though not with the foolish policy which it inspired. The early persecutions were like Russian 'pogroms', instigated or connived at by the government as a safety valve for popular discontent. For at this time the common people hated the Christians, and half believed the monstrous stories about them. The attacks were not continuous, and were half-hearted, very unlike the systematic extermination of Jews and Protestants in Spain. At Alexandria Hadrian found a money-loving population worshipping Christ and Sarapis almost indifferently. A wrong impression is formed if we picture to ourselves two sections of society engaged in constant war. The first real war was the last, under Diocletian; it was to decide whether paganism or Christianity was to be the state religion. However, there is no doubt that the persecutions helped to seal the fate of the old culture.

Harnack traces three stages in the Hellenization of Christianity. 'In the earliest Christian writings, apart from Paul, Luke, and John', he cannot find any considerable traces of Greek influence. 'The real influx of Greek thought and life' began about 130. The exception is so important as to make this statement of little or no value. After 130, he says, 'the philosophy of Greece went straight to the core of the new religion'. A century or so later, 'Greek mysteries and Greek civilization in the whole range of its development exercise their influence on the Church, but as yet not its mythology and polytheism; these were still to come'. 'Another century had to elapse before Hellenism as a whole and in every phase of its development was established in the Church.' The process which he describes began, in fact, as soon as Christian preachers used the Greek language, and was never so complete as he says. The Logos-Christology, to which he justly attributes the greatest importance, is already present in St. Paul's epistles; the name only is wanting; and the sharp contradiction which he finds between the Christian idea of a revelation made through a person at a certain date, and the Greek idea of an apprehension of timeless and changeless truth, always open to individuals after the appropriate discipline, was faced and in part overcome by the Greek Fathers. Harnack also regards Gnosticism as an embodiment of the genuinely Greek view of revelation, forgetting that orthodox Platonism was as hostile to Gnosticism as the Church itself. In rejecting Gnosticism, the Church in fact decided for genuine Hellenism against a corrupted and barbarized development of it. On the other hand, there is no period at which we can speak of a complete conquest of Christianity by Greek ideas. There was a large part of the old tradition which perished with its defenders, who, obeying the melancholy law which directs human survival, died out to make way for immigrants and for the formerly submerged classes, the people with few wants, who were indifferent to a culture which they had never been allowed to share.

One more cause of misunderstanding may be illustrated from the writings of Matthew Arnold. He divides the human race into Hebraizers and Hellenizers, and classifies the modern English and Americans as Hebraizers. The fundamental maxim of Hebrew ethics, according to him, is 'Walk by the light you have'; of Greek ethics, 'Take heed that the light which is in thee is not darkness'. The Hebraizer is conscientious but unenlightened; the Hellenizer is clear-headed but unscrupulous. Professor Santayana has lately noted the same difference between the type of character developed by the Latin nations and by the Anglo-Saxons. The Mediterranean civilization, older and more sophisticated, is careful to get its values right; the northern man is bent on doing something big, no matter what, and follows Clough's advice:

Go! say not in thine heart, And what then, were it accomplished, Were the wild impulse allayed, what is the use and the good?

But Santayana does not make the mistake of regarding the Reformation as a return to Palestinian Christianity. This was, indeed, the opinion of the Reformers themselves; but all religious innovation seeks to base itself on some old tradition. Christianity at first sought for its credentials in Judaism, though the Jews saw very quickly that it 'destroyed the Law'. The belief of the Reformers was plausible; for they rejected just those parts of Catholicism which had nothing to do with Palestine, but were taken over from the old Hellenic or Hellenistic culture. But the residuum was less Jewish than Teutonic. On one side, indeed, the Reformation was a return to Hellenism from Romanism. Early Christian philosophy was mainly Platonic; early Christian ethics (as exemplified especially in writers like Ambrose) were mainly Stoical. There had been a considerable fusion of Plato and the Stoa among the Neoplatonists, so that it was easy for the two to flourish together. Augustine banished Stoical ethics from the Church, and they were revived only at the Reformation. Calvinism is simply baptized Stoicism; it is logically pantheistic, since it acknowledges only one effective will in the universe. The creed of nineteenth-century science is very similar. Puritanism was not at all like Judaism, in spite of its fondness for the Old Testament; it was very like Stoicism. The Reformation was a revolt against Latin theocracy and the hereditary paganism of the Mediterranean peoples; it was not really a return to pre-Hellenic Christianity. It sheltered the humanism of Erasmus and the late-flowering English Renaissance, and Christian Platonism has nowhere had a more flourishing record than in Protestant Britain.

At the present time a more drastic revolt is in progress among the plebs urbana, which does in truth threaten with destruction 'what we owe to Greece'. The industrial revolution has generated a new type of barbarism, with no roots in the past. For the second time in the history of Western Europe, continuity is in danger of being lost. A generation is growing up, not uneducated, but educated in a system which has little connexion with European culture in its historical development. The Classics are not taught; the Bible is not taught; history is not taught to any effect. What is even more serious, there are no social traditions. The modern townsman is déraciné: he has forgotten the habits and sentiments of the village from which his forefathers came. An unnatural and unhealthy mode of life, cut off from the sweet and humanizing influences of nature, has produced an unnatural and unhealthy mentality, to which we shall find no parallels in the past. Its chief characteristic is profound secularity or materialism. The typical town artisan has no religion and no superstitions; he has no ideals beyond the visible and tangible world of the senses. This of course opens an impassable gulf between him and Greek religion, and a still wider gulf between him and Christianity. The attempts which are occasionally made, especially in this country, to dress up the Labour movement as a return to the Palestinian Gospel, are little short of grotesque. The contrast is well summed up by Belfort Bax, in a passage quoted by Professor Gardner. 'According to Christianity, regeneration must come from within. The ethics and religion of modern socialism on the contrary look for regeneration from without, from material conditions and a higher social life.' Here the gauntlet is thrown down to Christ and Plato alike.

Quite logically the new spirit is in revolt against what it calls intellectualism, which means the application of the dry light of reason to the problems of human life. It wishes to substitute for reason what some of its philosophers call instinct, but which should rather be called sentiment and emotion. There is no reconciliation between this view of life and Hellenism. For science is the eldest and dearest child of the Greek spirit. One of the great battles of the future will be between science and its enemies. The misologists have numbers on their side; but 'Nature', whom all the Greeks honoured and trusted, will be justified in her children.

The new spirit is especially bitter against the Stoical ethics, which as we have seen were taken over, with the Platonic metaphysics, by Christianity. Stoicism teaches men to venerate and obey natural law; to accept with proud equanimity the misfortunes of life; to be beneficent, but to inhibit the emotion of pity; to be self-reliant and self-contained; to practise self-denial for the sake of self-conquest; and to regard this life as a stern school of moral discipline. All this is simply detestable to the new spirit, which is sentimental, undisciplined, and hedonistic. It remembers the hardness of Puritanism, and has no admiration for its virtues.

It is often said that the modern man has entirely lost the Greek love of beauty. This is, I think, untrue, and unjust to our present civilization, unlovely as it undoubtedly is in many ways. It is curious that modern critics of the Greeks have not called attention to the aesthetic obtuseness which showed itself in the defective reaction of the ancients against cruelty. It was not that they excluded beautiful actions from the sphere of aesthetics; they never thought of separating the beautiful from the good in this way. But they were not disgusted at the torture of slaves, the exposure of new-born children, or the massacre of the population of a revolted city. The same callousness appears in the Italian cities at the Renaissance; Ezzelino was a contemporary of the great architects and painters. I cannot avoid the conclusion that it is connected in some obscure way with the artistic creativeness of these two closely similar epochs. The extreme sensibility to physical suffering which characterizes modern civilization arose together with industrialism, and is most marked in the most highly industrialized countries. It has synchronized with the complete eclipse of spontaneous and unconscious artistic production, which we deplore in our time. Evelyn, in the seventeenth century, was still able to visit a prison in Paris to gratify his curiosity by seeing a prisoner tortured, and though he did not stay to the end of the exhibition he shows that his stomach was not easily turned. It is certain that our repugnance to such sights is aesthetic rather than moral, and probable that it is strongest in the lower social strata. Several years ago I went to the first night of a rather foolish play about ancient Rome, in which an early Christian is brought in to be very mildly tortured on the stage. At the first crack of the whip my neighbours sprang from their seats, crying, 'Shame! Stop that!'; and the scene had to be removed in subsequent performances. The operatives in a certain factory stopped the engines for an hour because they heard a cat mewing among the machinery. Having with difficulty rescued the animal from being crushed they strangled it. The explanation of this extreme susceptibleness must be left to psychologists; but I am convinced that we have here a case of transferred aesthetic sensibility. We can walk unmoved down the streets of Plaistow, but we cannot bear to see a horse beaten. The Athenians set up no Albert Memorials, but they tortured slave-girls in their law-courts and sent their prisoners to work in the horrible galleries of the Laureion silver-mines.

This emergence of a new spirit, which seems to be almost independent of all traditions, makes it difficult to estimate our present indebtedness to Greece in matters of religion. It would be difficult even if the industrial revolution had not taken place. The northern Europeans have hardly yet attained to self-expression. Their religion is a mixture of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew elements which refuse to be harmonized, and which in this country sometimes clash with the ideal of a gentleman, that lay religion of the English-speaking peoples, which has no longer any connexion with heraldry or property in land. The English gentleman is not a Greek any more than he is a Jew. His code makes Odysseus an amusing rascal; Achilles a violent and sulky savage; and Aristotle's {megalopsychos} (as has been said) is rather like a nobleman in a novel by Disraeli, but not like any other sort of gentleman. The Englishman is by nature religious; but Christianity in its developed form is a Mediterranean religion; in all external features it might have been very different if it had been first planted north of the Alps. There is, therefore, a chronic confusion in Protestantism which makes its conflicts with the Latin Church like the battles of undisciplined barbarians against well-drilled troops.

Nevertheless, though it is so difficult to separate out the various threads which make up the tangled skein of our modern religion, it may be worth while to make the attempt to distinguish, first, those parts of current Christianity which are not Greek, in the wide sense which I have chosen for the word, and then those which, in the same sense, are Greek by origin or affinity.

Among those elements which are not Greek, the first place must be given to the original Gospel, of which I have said nothing yet. Our records of the Galilean ministry, contained in the three synoptic Gospels, were not compiled till long after the events which they describe, and must not be used uncritically. But in my opinion, at any rate, the substance of the teaching of Christ comes out very clearly in these books. No Hellenic influence can be traced in it; there is not even any sign of the Hellenized Judaism which for us is represented by his contemporary Philo. But neither is it possible to call the Gospel Jewish, except with many qualifications. Christ came before his countrymen as a prophet; he deliberately placed himself in the line of the prophetic tradition. Like other prophets of his nation, he did not altogether eschew the framework of apocalyptic which was at that time the natural mould for prophecy. But he preached neither the popular nationalism, nor the popular ecclesiasticism, nor the popular ethics. His countrymen rejected him as soon as they understood him. The Gospel was, as St. Paul said, a new creation. It is most significant that it at once introduced a new ethical terminology. The Greek words which we translate love (or charity), joy, peace, hope, humility, are no part of the stock-in-trade of Greek moralists before Christ. Men do not coin new words for old ideas. Taken as a whole the Gospel is profoundly original; and a Christian can find strong evidence for his belief that in Christ a revelation was made to humanity at large, in which the religion of the Spirit, in its purest and most universal form, was for the first time presented to mankind. This revelation has to a considerable extent passed into the common consciousness of the civilized world; but its implications in matters of conduct, individual, social, and international, are still imperfectly understood and have never been acted upon, except feebly and sporadically. It is a reproach to us that the teaching of Christ must be regarded as only one of many elements which make up what we call Christianity. The Quakers, as a body, seem to me to come nearest to what a genuinely Christian society would be.

Secondly, the Greeks escaped the evils of priestly government. The Oriental type of theocracy, with which they were familiar in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, was alien to their civilization. Their sacrifices were for the most part of the genial type, a communion-meal with the god. But even in Greece we must remember the gloomy chthonian rites, and the degradations of Orphism mentioned by Plato in the Republic. 'They persuade not only individuals but whole cities that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices and amusements which fill a vacant hour, and are equally at the service of the living and of the dead; the latter sort they call mysteries, and they redeem us from the pains of hell, but if we neglect them no one knows what awaits us.' This exploitation of sacramentalism was common enough in Greece; but the characteristic Caesaro-Papism of Byzantium and modern imperialism was wholly foreign to Hellenism. It was introduced by Constantine as part of the Orientalizing of the empire begun by Diocletian. As Seeley says, 'Constantine purchased an indefeasible title by a charter. He gave certain liberties and received in return passive obedience. He gained a sanction for the Oriental theory of government; in return he accepted the law of the Church. He became irresponsible to his subjects on condition of becoming responsible to Christ.'

The Greeks never had a book-religion, in the sense in which Judaism became, and Islam always was, a book-religion. But they were in some danger of treating Homer and Hesiod as inspired scriptures. To us it is plain that a long religious history lies behind Homer, and that the treatment of the gods in Epic poetry proves that they had almost ceased to be the objects of religious feeling. Some of them are even comic characters, like the devil in Scottish folklore. To turn these poems into sacred literature was to court the ridicule of the Christians. But Homer was never supposed to contain 'the faith once delivered to the saints'; no religion of authority could be built upon him, and Greek speculation remained far more unfettered than the thought of Christendom has been until our own day.

Those who have observed the actual state of Christianity in Mediterranean countries cannot lay much stress on the difference between Christian monotheism and pagan polytheism. The early Church fought against the tendency to interpose objects of worship between God and man; but Mariolatry came in through a loophole, and the worship of the masses in Roman Catholic countries is far more pagan than the service-books. In the imagination of many simple Catholics, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are the chief potentates in their Olympus.

The doctrine of the creation of the world in time, which was denied by most pagan thinkers and affirmed by most Christian divines, belongs to philosophy rather than to religion. The disbelief in the pre-existence of the soul, a doctrine which for Greek thought stands or falls with the belief in survival after death, is more important, and may be partly attributable to Jewish influence. But pre-existence does not seem to have been believed by the majority of Greeks, and in fact almost disappears from Greek thought between Plato and the Neoplatonists. It is possible that the Pythagorean and Platonic doctrine may still have a future.

There are some who will insist that these differences are insignificant by the side of the fact that Christianity was the idealistic side of a revolt of the proletariat against the whole social order of the time. This notion, which made Christ 'le bon sans-culotte', has again become popular lately; some have even compared the early Christians with Bolsheviks. It is a fair question to ask at what period this was even approximately true. Christ and his apostles belonged to the prosperous peasantry of Galilee, a well-educated and comfortable middle class. The domestic slaves of wealthy Romans, who embraced the new faith in large numbers, were legally defenceless, but by no means miserable or degraded. After the second century the comparison of the Christians to modern revolutionists becomes too absurd for discussion. There is a good deal of rhetorical declamation about riches and poverty in the Christian Fathers; but unfortunately the Church seems to have done very little to protest against the crying economic injustices of the fourth and fifth centuries. From first to last there was nothing of the 'Spartacus' movement about the Catholic Church. As soon as the persecutions ceased, the bishops took their place naturally among the nobility.

When we turn to the obligations of modern religion to Greece, it is difficult to know where to begin.

The conception of philosophy as an ars vivendi is characteristically Greek. Nothing can be further from the truth than to call the Greeks 'intellectualists' in the disparaging sense in which the word is now often used. The object of philosophy was to teach a man to live well, and with that object to think rightly about God, the world, and himself. This close union between metaphysics, morals, and religion has remained as a permanent possession of the modern world. Every philosopher is now expected to show the bearing of his system on morality and religion, and the criticism is often justified that however bold the speculations of the thinker, he is careful, when he comes to conduct, to be conventional enough. The Hellenistic combination of Platonic metaphysics with Stoic ethics is still the dominant type of Christian religious philosophy. It is curious to observe how competing tendencies in these systems—the praise of isolated detachment and of active social sympathy—have continued to struggle against each other within the Christian Church.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse