Slike strani
PDF
ePub

Attic Culture.-Certain Trades and Professions.

CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTION.

AMONG the nations which stand out in the course of history, as having done most to promote human knowledge, human art, and human culture, the Greeks are first in the judgment of all competent observers. The hold which Greek literature retains on our modern education is not the mere result of precedent or fashion. Every thinking man who becomes acquainted with the masterpieces of Greek writing, must see plainly that they stand to us in a far closer relation than the other remains of antiquity. They are not mere objects of curiosity to the archæologist, not mere treasure-houses of roots and forms to be sought out by comparative grammarians. They are the writings of men of like culture with ourselves, who argue with the same logic, who reflect with kindred feelings. They have worked out social and moral problems like ourselves, they have expressed them in such language as we should desire to use. In a word, they are thoroughly modern, more modern even than the epochs quite proximate to our own. The disjointed sentences of the Egyptian moralist, the confused metaphors of the

B

Hebrew prophet, show that were they transplanted into our life, and taught our language, they would still be completely at a loss to follow the reasoning of our modern literature. Ptah-hotep or Ezechiel could not move in modern society. Aristotle or Menander, on the other hand, would only need to understand the names invented for our modern discoveries. In all moral and social questions they would at once find their way, and enjoy even our poetry and our fiction. But what is more striking, even the mediæval baron and the mediæval saint would feel vastly more out of place among us than the intelligent Greek. The satire and scepticism of our modern society, the decay of fixed belief, the omnipotence of free discussion as shown by press and platform, the rule of private interest over patriotism and self-sacrifice—all these features would be very congenial to the Greek, while they would shock and perplex the Crusader. Commerce and speculation, debate and diplomacy, would delight the clever Athenian. He would recognise the teaching of his nation in poetry, architecture, and painting; and the manifest superiority of the old models would save him from feeling small in the face of our other progress. Let us invert the whole case, and the result would be very analogous. If one of us were transported to Periclean Athens, provided he were a man of high culture, he would find life and manners strangely like our own, strangely modern, as he might term it. The thoughts and feelings of modern life would be there without the appliances, and the high standard of general culture would more than counter

[ocr errors]

balance sundry wants in material comfort. For these reasons Greek social life must be far more interesting to general readers than any other phase of ancient history. Some of the problems which are still agitating our minds were settled by the Greeks, others, if not settled, were at least discussed with a freedom and an acuteness now unattainable. Others, again, were solved in strange violation of our notions of morals and good taste; and when such a people as the Greeks stand opposed to us, even in vital principles, we cannot reject their verdict without weighing their reasons.

The social life of the Greeks has often been handled, especially by German and French authors. But the ponderous minuteness and luxury of citation in the works of the former have obscured the general effect, and leave the ordinary reader with no distinct impression on his mind. The crushing weapon of modern criticism has in Germany shivered classical philology into splinters, and each man is intent on gathering up, and claiming as his own a fragment or two, which he analyses with wearying accuracy. The French essays on Greek life are of an opposite description. They aim at brilliancy and esprit alone, and gain these qualities at the frequent sacrifice of accuracy and critical research. Their authors are ready to uphold, for example, a spurious treatise against all critical objections, however sound, provided it affords them a striking trait to complete their social picture. In fact, a sound knowledge of Greek has not yet been diffused among the French, and so their isolated Hellenists do not write in an atmosphere of correcting

« PrejšnjaNaprej »