Images de page
PDF
ePub

much better acquainted with their different dialects than some moderns, the Germans, for instance, are with theirs. This may, perhaps, have been, in a great degree, the effect of the universal popularity of Homer, the use of a religious ritual, and the great mutual intercourse of the nation. But, probably, the dialects were not, in the earliest times, so distinct from each other as they afterwards became; and on this hypothesis we must explain the peculiarities of the style of Homer and Hesiod. "In Homer and Hesiod," says Mathia, "forms and expressions occur, which grammarians pronounce Eolic, Doric, Attic, or the peculiarities of a local dialect. But they could hardly have been such at the time of these poets, who would have as little allowed themselves to employ such a mixture, as a German poet would permit himself to mingle together Lower Saxon and High German provincialisms. The language of Homer seems rather to have been the language of the Ionians of that time. Of the forms common in Homer, all did not remain in the Ionic dialect, but some subsisted in the Æolic-Doric only, others merely in the Attic. The grammarians call that Attic, Æolic, Doric, etc., in Homer, which was so at their time." The period when these changes took place in the leading dialects cannot be determined. It follows from all this, that, to have a thorough knowledge of the Greek language, we must follow out, historically, the course of its formation, tak ing no partial grammar as our foundation, but extending our view over all the varied forms of the dialects a labor which this language, so rich in classic models of every kind, and therefore so perfect, so flexible, so expressive, so sweet in its sound, so harmonious in its movement, and so philosophical in its grammatical forms and whole structure, merits, and richly rewards. At what time this language first began to be expressed in writing, has long been a subject of doubt. According to the general opinion, Cadmus, the Phonician, introduced the alphabet into Greece. His alphabet consisted of but 16 letters; four (ex) are said to have been invented by Palamedes, in the Trojan war, and four more (z нn) by Simonides of Ceos. That the eight letters mentioned, are more modern than the others, is certain, partly from historical accounts, partly from the most ancient inscriptions. As the Ionians first adopted these letters, and the Athenians received them from them, the alphabet with 24 letters is called

the Ionic. The figures of the oldest Phoenician and Greek letters differ very much from the modern Hebrew and Greek letters. There have not been wanting persons, however, who assert that the art of writing was practised among the Pelasgi before the time of Cadmus. This opinion, not unknown to the ancients, but corroborated by no single author of authority, has not failed to meet with advocates in modern times. Others, on the contrary, have appeared, who place the origin of the art of writing in Greece much later. The first who attracted attention to this point, was Wood, in his Essay on the original Genius of Homer. It is, at all events, of great importance, for forming a proper judgment of Homer, and deciding respecting Ante-Homeric poetry and literature, to ascertain whether the art of writing was or was not known in the time of Homer. Wood's opinion is, that we may place the time when the use of the alphabet became common in Greece, and the beginning of prose writing, in about the same period, 554 before Christ, and about as long after Homer. In Homer's time, all knowledge, religion and laws were preserved by memory alone, and for that reason were put in verse, till prose was introduced with the art of writing. The argument drawn from several ancient inscriptions on temples, Wolf has deprived of all its force: in his Prolegomena to Homer, he has converted the question with more precision into two:-1. When did the Greeks become acquainted with the art of writing? 2. When was it common among them? In solving the latter question, it must be ascertained when convenient materials for writing became common, and in what century the writing of books was introduced among the Greeks. Wolf proves not only that Homer committed to writing nothing which he sung, the skins of animals not having been used for writing till after him, nor Egyptian papyrus till the time of Psammeticus, but that his verses were never committed to writing till the middle of the sixth century before Christ. It remains to remark, that the Greeks originally wrote their lines from right to left, then boustrophedon (see Boustrophedon), and finally from left to right.

Greek Literature. The origin of Greek literature, that is, of the intellectual cultivation of the Greeks by written works, is lost in an almost impenetrable obscurity. Though there existed in Greece, in earlier times, no actual literature, there was by no means a want of what we may, not

improperly, call literary cultivation, if we free ourselves from the prejudice, that the palladium of humanity consists solely in written alphabetical characters. The first period of Grecian cultivation, which extends to the invasion of the Peloponnesus by the Heraclidæ and Dorians, and the great changes produced by it, consequently to 80 years after the Trojan war, and which we may designate by the name of the Ante-Homeric period, was indeed utterly destitute of literature; but it may be questioned whether it was also destitute of all that culture, which we are accustomed to call literary. The fables which are told of the intellectual achievements of this period, have a certain basis of truth. Among the promoters of literary cultivation, in this time, we must distinguish three classes-1. Those of whom we have no writings, but who are mentioned as inventors of arts, poets and sages: Amphion, Demodocus, Melampus, Olen, Phemius and Prometheus. 2. Those to whom are falsely attributed works no longer extant: Abaris, Aristeas, Chiron, Epimenides, Eumolpus, Corinnus, Linus and Palamedes. 3. Those to whom writings yet extant, which, however, were productions of later times, are attributed: Dares, Dictys, Horapollo, Musæus, Orpheus, and the authors of the Sibylline oracles. This is not the place to inquire whether any and how much of these writings is genuine. It is enough, that the idea of such a forgery proves the existence of earlier productions. And how could the next period have been what it was, without previous preparation? If we may thus infer what must have been, in order that the succeeding period should be what it was, we learn, also, from the various traditions of the Ante-Homeric period, that there existed in it institutions which, through the means of religion, poetry, oracles and mysteries, had no small influence on the civilization of the nation and the promotion of culture; for the most part, indeed, in Oriental forms, and perhaps of Oriental origin; and that these institutions, generally of a priestly character, obtained principally in the northern parts of Greece, Thrace and Macedonia. We must here remark, that intellectual cultivation did not prosper at once in Greece, nor display itself simultaneously among all the tribes; that the Greeks became Greeks only in the process of time, and some tribes made more rapid progress than others. About 80 years after the Trojan war, new commotions and a new migration began within the borders of Greece.

A portion of the inhabitants emigrated from the mother country to the islands and to Asia Minor. This change was in the highest degree favorable to Grecian genius; for the new settlements, abounding in harbors, and destined by nature for commerce and industry, afforded them not only a more tranquil life, but also a wider field for refinement, and gave rise to new modes of life. The ancients ascribed to the colonies in Ionia and Asia Minor the character of luxury and voluptuousness. The blue sea, the pure sky, the balmy air, the beautiful prospects, the finest fruits and most delicious vegetables in abundance, all the requisites of luxury, here united to nourish a soft sensuality. Poetry and philosophy, painting and statuary, here attained their highest perfection; but great and heroic deeds were oftener celebrated than performed. Near the scene of the first grand national enterprise of the Greeks the Trojan war-it was not strange that the interest it excited should be lively, and that it should take a powerful hold of the imagination. Poetry thus found a subject, in the treatment of which it necessarily assumed a character entirely distinct from that of the former period. Among all nations, heroic poetry has flourished with the spirit of heroism. The heroes were here followed by the bards, and thus the epopee was formed. We therefore call this second period the epic age of the Greeks. The minstrel (dodos) now appears separated from the priest, but highly honored, particularly because the memory of the heroes lived in his verse; and poetry was the guardian of all the knowledge of preceding times, so long as traditions were not committed to writing. From its very nature, the epopee must be historical, in an enlarged sense. Under such circumstances, it is not strange that regular schools for poets were established; for the imagination of the first poet fired the imagination of others, and it was then, perhaps, believed that poetry must be learned like other arts-a belief to which the schools for priests contributed not a little, on which the schools for minstrels were probably modelled. But they were minstrels in the strictest sense, for their traditions were sung, and the poet accompanied his verses on a stringed instrument. On every important occasion, minstrels were present, who were regarded as standing under the immediate influence of the gods, especially of the muses, who were acquainted with the present, the past and the future. The minstrel, with the seer, thus stood at the head of men. But,

among the many minstrels which this age undoubtedly possessed, Homer alone has survived. We have from him two great epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, with several hymns and epigrams. One mock heroic poem, the Batrachomyomachy (the Battle of the Frogs and Mice), is ascribed to him. From him an Ionian school of minstrels takes its name-the Homerida who probably constituted, at first, at Chios, a distinct family of rhapsodists, and who preserved the old Homeric and epic style, the spirit and tone of the Homeric verse. Much that is attributed to Homer, may reasonably be assigned to them. The same may be the case with the epic Cyclus, also ascribed to Homer; which brings us to the Cyclic poets, who began, how ever, to deviate materially from the Ionian epos, the historical element predominating more and more over the poetical. By Cyclus, we here understand the whole circle of traditions and fables, and not merely the events of the Trojan war. Cyclic poetry comprehended the whole compass of mythology; and we may, therefore, divide it into, 1. a cosmogonical, 2. a genealogical, and 3. a heroic Cyclus; in the latter of which there are two separate periods; 1. of the heroes before, and 2. of those af ter, the expedition of the Argonauts. To the first class belong the battles of the Titans and giants; to the second, the theogonies and herogonies. To the first period of the third class belong the Europia, several Heracleia and Dionysiacs, several Thebaids, Argonautics, Theseids, Danaids, Amazonica, etc. In the second period, the poetry generally related to the Trojan war. To this belonged the Nostoi, which treated of the return of the heroes from Troy. The earliest of these Cyclic poets appeared about the time of the first Olympiad. A history of the gradual formation of their poetry cannot be given, because we have only very general accounts respecting them. But what we do know justifies us in concluding that between these historic poets and the Ionian school of minstrelsy, something intervened, making, as it were, the transition. And we actually find this in the Baotian-Ascrean school, which arose in European Greece probably about 890 B. C. It derived its name from Ascra in Bœotia, the residence of Hesiod, who stood at its head, and by whom poetry was probably conducted back again from Asia Minor (for he originated from Cuma in Eolia) to Greece. His works, also, were at first preserved by rhapsodists. They were not arranged till a later period, when they were augmented

by foreign additions; so that, in their present form, their authenticity is as doubtful as that of the poems ascribed to Homer. (See Hesiod.) Of the sixteen works attributed to him, there have come down to us the Theogony, the Shield of Hercules (the fragment of a larger poem), and Works and Days, a didactic poem on agriculture, the choice of days, intermixed with moral and prudential maxims, &r. These works, especially those of Homer and Hesiod, which acquired a canonical importance, and constituted, in a certain degree, the foundation of youthful education, gave to the character of the Greeks that particular direction, by which it was afterwards distinguished, and which was most strikingly displayed in their religion; which, for want of the necessary dignity, and especially of a caste of priests, was so indefinite, and therefore so fanciful. The mysticism of the first period was, therefore, for the most part, discarded; and in the later Grecian mythology (for that a new system of divinities had arisen cannot be doubted), nothing was seen but the perfection of human nature. Sensuality thence became the characteristic of the Grecian religion, in which no other morality could subsist but that which teaches the enjoyment of the pleasures of life with prudence. Hitherto poetry had been the only instructress of the Grecian world; and it remained so still, when it took another direction. This happened in the third period, the age of lyric poetry, of apologues and philosophy, with which history gradually acquired a greater certainty. About the beginning of the epoch of the Olympiads (776 B.C.), there ensued a true ebb and flood of constitutions among the small states of Greece. After numerous vicissitudes of power, during which the contending parties persecuted each other for a long time with mutual hatred, republics, with democratical constitutions, finally sprung up, which were in some measure united into one whole by national meetings at the sacred games. The spirit prevalent in such a time greatly favored lyric poetry, which now became an art in Greece, and reached the summit of its perfection at the time of the invasion of the Persians. Next to the gods, who were celebrated at their festivals with hymns, their country, with its heroes, was the leading subject of this branch of poetry, on the character of which external circumstances seem to have exercised no slight influence. The mental energies of the nation were roused by the circumstances of the country; and the numerous wars

sus,

and conflicts, patriotism, the love of freedom and the hatred of enemies and tyrants, gave birth to the heroic ode. Life, however, was at the same time viewed more on its dark side. Thence there was an intermingling of more sensibility in the elegy, as well as, on the other side, a vigorous reaction, in which the spirit of ridicule gave rise to the iambus (satire). In every thing there was a more powerful impulse towards meditation, investigation and labor for the attainment of a desired condition. The golden age, the gift of the gods, was felt to have departed. Whatever man discovered in future was to be the fruit of his own efforts. This feeling showed that the age of manhood had arrived. Philosophy had become necessary, and attained continually a greater developement. It first spoke in maxims and gnomes, in fables and in dogmatic precepts. Lyric poetry next gave utterance to the feelings excited by the pleasures of earth. Of those who gained a reputation in this way, as well as by the improvement of music and the invention of various forms of lyric poetry, history presents us the names Archilochus of Paros, inventor of the iambus; Tyrtæus of Miletus, author of war songs; Callimachus of Epheinventor of the elegiac measure; Aleman, the Lydian; Arion of Methymna, who perfected the dithyrambus; Terpander of Antissa, inventor of the barbitos (a kind of lyre); the tender Sappho of Mitylene; her countryman Alcæus; Erinna, the contemporary of both; Mimnermus of Colophon, the flute player; Stesichorus of Himera; Ibycus of Rhegium; Anacreon and Simonides of Ceos; Hipponax of Ephesus; Timocreon of Rhodes; Lasus of Hermione; Corinna of Tanagra, the friend and instructress of Pindar. As gnomic writers (see Gnomic), Theognis, Phocylides, Pythagoras, deserve to be named; as a fabulist, Æsop. In the order of time, several belong to the following period, but are properly placed here, on account of their connexion. If we consider the philosophy of this age, we find it to have generally had a practical character. The philosophy of life must precede the philos ophy of science. Philosophy must give lessons of wisdom, before it can furnish scientific systems. In this light must we consider the seven wise men of Greece, as they are called (Periander, instead of whom others place Epimenides of Crete or Myon, Pittacus, Thales, Solon, Bias, Chilo and Cleobulus); six of whom acquired their names, not by diving into hidden lore,but by mature experience and the practical wisdom result

ing from it, by their prudence and reflec tion, their skill in affairs of state, in business and the arts. Their sayings are practical rules, originating in the commerce of life, and frequently only the expression of present feelings. But as knowledge is the foundation of science, further investigations resulted in theoretical philosophy. Thales was the founder of the Ionic philosophy. Here we stand on the most important point of the history of the literary developement of Greece, where poetry ceases to contain every thing worthy of knowledge, to be the only source of instruction. Hitherto she had discharged the office of history, philosophy and religion. Whatever was to be transmitted to posterity, whatever practical wisdom and knowledge was to be imparted, whatever religious feelings were to be inspired, recourse was had to her measured strains, which, from their rhythmical character, left a deeper and stronger impression on the memory. Henceforth it was to be otherwise. Civil life was to have an important influence on language. The public transactions, in which the citizen took a part, compelled him to make the language of common life more suitable for public delivery. This and alphabetical writing, that had now become common in Greece, with the introduction of the Egyptian papyrus, prepared the way for the formation of prose. All this had an essential influence on the condition of science. From epic poetry proceeded, by degrees, history. From the practical wisdom conveyed in verse proceeded an investigating philosophy. Our former singleness of view is thus lost. We must now necessarily turn our attention to different sides, and, in the rest of our sketch, follow out each branch separately. Every thing tended to excite the spirit of inquiry, and a scientific activity was every where awakened. We may therefore call the fourth period, that now ensued, the scientific period. It reaches to the end of Greek literature, but is divided into several epochs, according to the different spirit which predominated, and the superiority which a particular branch acquired at different times. The first epoch extends from Solon to Alexander (594-336 B. C.) In philosophy, a physico-speculative spirit was manifested; for philosophy originated immediately from religion, and all religion rests on the conception of the Divinity, which was not then distinguished from nature. Now, since the conception of religion contained nothing but poetical ideas of the origin of the principal phe

nomena of nature, that is, of the divinities, the most ancient philosophy was, of necessity, natural philosophy, in which the human mind sought to analyze more thoroughly the phenomena previously observed, to explain them more satisfactorily, and to comprehend them in one whole. From the want of sufficient experimental acquaintance with nature, it was to be expected that the imagination would frequently interfere in the work of the understanding and reason. From this cause, these philosophical inquiries are interwoven with poetical images. This was the form of the Ionic philosophy, whose author was Thales; the Italian, whose founder was Pythagoras, and the older and later Eleatic. To the Ionic school, which sought after a material origin to the world, belonged Pherecydes, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Diogenes of Apollonia, Anaxarchus and Archelaus of Miletus. The principal disciples of the Pythagorean philosophy, which referred the organization of the world to numher and measure, were Alcmeon, Timeus of Locris, Ocellus Lucanus, Epicharmus, Theages, Archytas, Philolaus and Eudoxus. To the older Eleatic school, which held the idea of a pure existence, belonged Xenophanes, Parmenides; to the later, Zeno, Melissus and Diagoras. With this is connected the atomic school of Leucippus and Democritus, and the dualist, Empedocles. On the other hand, Heraclitus stands alone in his theory of the eternal flow of things. Till near the 90th Olympiad, the philosophers and their scholars were dispersed through all the Greek cities. About this time, Athens became their principal place of residence, which contributed not a little to breathe another spirit into philosophy, the Sophists becoming the teachers. Gorgias of Leontium in Sicily, who joined the Eleatics, Protagoras of Abdera, Hippias of Elis, Prodicus of Cos, Trasimacus and Tisias are the most celebrated whose names have reached us. Their name designates them as men of science; and they were, in fact, the encyclopædists of their times, who collected the ideas and sentiments of the former ages, and enriched them with their own. They were particularly distinguished in rhetoric and politics, two sciences so highly important in democratic forms of government; but, not contented with this, they also professed the natural sciences, mathematics, the theory of the fine arts, and philosophy. In the last, it does not seem to have been their object to arrive at truth, but only to make a plausible argu

VOL. VI.

2

ment; and for this end were formed sophistics and eristics, or the art of reasoning, which was afterwards called dialectics; in which their object was to prove every thing they wished. For this they invented those fallacies, still called, from them, sophistries, and sought to lead their opponents astray by various means. That this must needs be detrimental to true philosophy is evident. So much the more fortunate was it that, in this very age, Socrates appeared, who was not only a strenuous antagonist of these Sophists, but opened a new career to philosophy itself. It has been justly said of him, that he brought down philosophy from heaven to earth, for he gave it again a practical direction, differing, however, from the former, since the object was no longer merely to string together experiments, but philosophers began to investigate the nature and relations of man, the object and best regulation of his life; and reflection was turned principally to psychology and morals, instead of physics and metaphysics. Socrates had many scholars, some of whom committed his ideas to writing in his manner-Cebes,

schines, Xenophon; others, deviating more or less from his ideas and his manner, were founders of philosophical schools of their own. The four following schools proceeded from that of Socrates: 1. the Cyrenaic, whose founder was Aristippus of Cyrene (see Aristippus); 2. the Megaric, Elian and Eretrian, under Euclid, Phædon and Menedemus; 3. the academic, whose founder was Plato; and 4. the Cynic, whose founder was Antisthenes. Plato (q. v.) was unquestionably the most comprehensive and splendid genius. With the philosophical knowledge of the former Greek philosophers, he combined that of the Egyptian priests, and the eloquence of the Sophists. A fondness for the supernatural, a delicate moral sense, a fine, acute and profound understanding, reign in his productions, which are adorned with all the graces of expression, and are enlivened by a rich imagination. By his poetic talent, the philosophical dialogue of Socrates was presented under a truly dramatic form. While philosophy was making such important progress, history rapidly approached perfection. In the period of 550-500 B. C., traditions were first committed to writing in prose, and Cadmus, Dionysius and Hecatæus of Miletus, Acusilaus the Argive, Hellanicus of Mitylene and Pherecydes of Scyros are among the oldest historical writers. After them appeared Herodotus (q. v.), the Homer of history. His example kindled Thucydi

« PrécédentContinuer »