« PrejšnjaNaprej »
though Thucydides and his set despised them, commanded veneration and respect, nor did the contempt of the Periclean party overthrow them, seeing that in after days, such men as Xenophon condescended to consult them. Now there can be no doubt that just as the confessional of the Roman Catholic is mainly a moral engine for good, so the oracles, especially that of Delphi, were the priestly guide to many troubled consciences, and 'led into the way of truth those that had erred, and were deceived,' especially by their own interests. The greatness of this moral force is proved by the fact that even some acknowledged cases of bribing the oracle did not destroy its popularity or its use.
We do not realise what a great moral engine was here at work, for we have but few of the private responses preserved. But here is an example (Herod. vi. 86). It occurs in a speech of the Spartan king to the Athenians, when they refused to surrender some hostages whom they were keeping for the Spartans. There was a certain Glaucus, at Sparta, celebrated for justice (like our friend Cadmus, just cited), as well as in other respects, to whom a Milesian, who had heard of his fame, came and entrusted a treasure, wishing, as he said, to get the benefit of his justice, since Ionia was disturbed. Of course, such a temptation was too much even for this paragon of Greek honesty. When the heirs of the Milesian came with their tokens, and claimed the treasure, he professed to know nothing of the affair. But when they had gone away baffled, Glaucus, who had a conscience, was afraid to spend the money without asking the oracle whether he could
safely do so. Whereupon he received an answer telling him that he might, himself, escape1 the consequences, but that the family of perjurers should suffer vengeance and be exterminated. This is not all. When Glaucus begged pardon for his indiscreet question, the Pythia declared that making trial of the god, and committing the crime, were of equal guilt, and though he sent for the Milesians, and gave back the treasure, his house, says the king, is now desolate.
When the great oracle of Greece gave such moral responses, nay more, when they were still quoted with faith, there must still have been much sound moral feeling in Greece.
Allied to sound morality we may expect to find tender and kindly feeling, and of this there are some remarkable examples in the anecdotes with which Herodotus adorns his narrative. I know none more striking than the love of children which breathes through many of his dramatic anecdotes, and which I believe, in spirit and in form at all events, to be his own, or that of his age, even though the naked facts may be the heritage of a previous society.
We have, for example, the story of the birth of Cypselus (v. 93), afterwards tyrant of Corinth.
The oligarchs knew by oracles that this child would be dangerous to them, so they watched for its birth, and when this occurred they sent ten men to the deme, or townland, where his father, Eetion, lived, to slay the child. These men coming to the house of Eetion, went into the court-yard, and asked for the child;
1 The same view is put strongly by Lycurgus in his great speech against Leocrates (cap. 19)'in a later generation.
so its mother, Labda, knowing nothing of their intentions, and thinking that they had come to see it out of friendliness to its father, gave it into the arms of one of them. Now they had determined, on the way, that the first of them who got the child into his hands should dash out its brains (porovdirai). But when Labda brought it to him, by God's providence, the child smiled at him as he took it, and a pang of pity as he perceived this prevented him from slaying it; and so, with a soft heart, he handed it to the second, and he to the third. Thus the child passed through the hands of all the ten, and none of them would murder it. So giving back the child to its mother, and going out, they stood and began to reproach one another, and especially the first who had taken it, that he had not carried out their resolution, until, in time, they made up their minds to go back and accomplish the deed.' Meanwhile the mother had hidden it in a chest (kv¥éλŋ), and, after a half-hearted search, they go home to say that their duty has been performed.
This picture of the mother naturally expecting her husband's friends to walk out into the country, in order to see and admire her new-born baby, shows a pleasant contrast to the darker features we have been discussing, and the pity of the miscreants, and their hesitation, shows how strong a hold the helpless innocence of an infant had upon them, as upon all civilised men. I believe the notion of exposing infants, from economical motives, not to have prevailed till later times; and it is possibly to the same age that we may refer the interesting notice of Aristotle (Müller, Frag. Hist. ii, p. 150) about the Malians, that
an oracle having commanded them to love the dearest of the dear1, they used to carry round their little children naked at their feasts and kiss them. Thus also we find, going back to Herodotus, that the Peisistratidæ, when they were in a good condition to resist and conquer the Athenians in revolt, had all their affairs thrown into confusion,' and agreed to evacuate the country in five days, because their children, whom they were sending out secretly to a foreign place of refuge, were captured by the Athenians. A bon mot, pointing in the same direction, is preserved in Plutarch's life of Themistocles (c. 18), who used to say that his boy, who bullied his mother, was the greatest power in Greece: for the Athenians ruled the rest of Greece, he (Themistocles) ruled the Athenians, his wife ruled him, and the boy ruled her' a charming piece of humour, but showing a deep feeling for the power of little children in the
I will quote yet another anecdote on this feature, and, for variety, from Sparta. It occurs (vi. 61, sqq.) in Herodotus' account of the ungentlemanly trick by which the king Aristo obtained from his dearest friend a beautiful wife whom he coveted. He proposed that each of them should give the other whatever that other desired-a proposal which Agetus, who knew that Aristo was already married, and who had no suspicions of his intention, readily accepted. However, the lady (whose name,
1 φιλεῖν τῶν φιλτάτων τὰ φίλτατα, to reproduce the alliteration, and to render the double meaning of pixeîv (to love and to kiss), as well as the emphasis of the double superlative, is impossible in English; nor would it be easy to find a shorter and more obvious example of the power of the Greek language.
strange to say, is not mentioned) was the fairest woman in Sparta, and this, too, after having been the most hideous child; and her nurse, seeing her ugliness, and that she was the child of wealthy parents, though so ugly; and, moreover, that her parents thought her appearance a misfortune,' went daily to the temple of the heroine Helen, and prayed that the goddess would take away the hideousness of the child'. At length a lady meets her going out of the temple,' and asks
1 The reader who desires to see the Greek ideal and epical nurse, should consult the exquisite narrative in the Homeric hymn to Demeter (vv. 113, sqq.), where the daughters of the king come down to the well to draw water, and find there a beautiful and sad, but stately woman. They run home to tell their mother, who is in want of a nurse, that they have found a strange woman, whose melancholy and softness have greatly impressed them. Albeit, when she is installed, the mother of the child does not neglect its supervision, but rises in the night to see how the new nurse is treating it. Æschylus, on the contrary, lofty tragedian as he is, has given us a picture too realistic to bear translation of the duties and troubles of the ordinary historical nurse, who upon hearing the death of Orestes, weeps over the recollections of all her idle toil, Her avocation is in no respect different from that of our own nurses.
τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἄλλα τλημόνως ἤντλουν κακά·