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her what she is carrying in her arms, but she answers, 'a child' and the lady (who is the heroine herself) asks to see it, but she refuses, for she had been ordered by its parents to show it to no one; however, the lady persists, and, stroking its head, predicts it will yet be the fairest of Spartan women.' So, from that day, the child's appearance began to amend.
Such was the interest which Herodotus, and his age, felt in little children. It was accordingly mentioned as one of the greatest calamities that befell the Chians (vi. 27), how the roof fell in upon 120 children at their lessons in a school, and only one escaped alive. Even the cold Thucydides confesses that in after days during the Peloponnesian war, the greatest and deepest sympathy excited by any incident in the war was the massacre of a school-full of little children, at Mycalessus, by some Thracian savages, who passed through when returning home from mercenary duty. His own feelings are pretty well concealed under the most violent contortions of grammar1. Thus Euripides, who appealed to the emotions of ordinary men, heightens the pathos of his Andromache, by putting her child Molossus on the stage, no easy matter in a Greek theatre. The pathetic appearances of Astyanax in the Troades, and of Orestes in the Iphigenia in Aulis, though they are silent, have not escaped the observation of intelligent critics.
Before leaving Herodotus I must add a word on the sociality and bon hommie, which his whole work breathes. However dishonest and selfish, the Greeks
1 vii. 29: καὶ ξυμφορὰ τῇ πόλει πάσῃ οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων μᾶλλον ἑτέρας ἀδοκητός τε ἐπέπεσεν αὕτη καὶ δεινή.
were always pleasant and conversational. This appears even in his pictures of the tyrants, a class whom he detested politically, and regarded as one of the greatest of human evils (v. 78, vi. 104, 134). In telling us the story of Polycrates and the ring, he describes the fisherman (iii. 42) bringing the fine fish he had caught to Polycrates' door, and asking to see him. And when he was admitted, he says: O king, when I caught this, I would not bring it to market, though I live by my trade, but it seemed to me worthy of you and your greatness, I accordingly bring it a present to you.' The tyrant is delighted and says: You have done right well, and I thank you twice, first for your deed, and next for your (pleasant) words, so join us at supper? This Polycrates, it must be remembered, was the greatest and most powerful Greek sovereign of that age, perhaps excepting the tyrants of Syracuse (Herod. iii. 60, 125); and the habit of the Asiatic monarchs was to see no such people, but to receive their messages, as Herodotus well knew (iii. 119). Yet here we have a certain simplicity of life very peculiar for a man who aspired to the sovereignty of the sea.
The same friendliness, combined with much refinement, comes out in the story of the famous marriage of Agariste (vi. 126, sqq.), which I believe Herodotus to have heard at Athens from the Alcmæonidæ, whose family history he knew so well. Its peculiar features are decidedly Athenian. For the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon entertains for a year in his palace all the great lords of Greece, who are suitors for his daughter's hand. With great tact, if it be not historically accurate, Herodotus does not introduce a Spartan among
these suitors, as his exclusiveness and boorish manners, if they did not prevent him from bidding for the Corinthian tyrant's daughter, would certainly have totally unfitted him for the competition which ensued1. For they were tested as to disposition and temper and education and manliness, in gymnasia if they were young, but in any case and particularly, he tested them by social entertainments. When the deciding day came, there was a feast of a hundred oxen, and after (late) dinner, the suitors endeavoured to outshine one another in matters of music, and in general conversation (TQ λεγομένῳ ἐς τὸ μέσον) when of course the two Athenians excel the rest. But Hippocleides takes to dancing and then to standing on his head, and Cleisthenes for some time, though he loathed the idea of having a son-in-law so shameless, refrained from breaking out upon him, but when he saw him standing on his head, and gesticulating with his legs, he could not help calling out, O son of Tisander, you have at all events danced away your marriage.' And then he selects the other Athenian, Megacles, an Alcmæonid.
Nothing can exceed the gentlemanly conduct of the tyrant all through this affair, who, by the way, on choosing Megacles, apologises to the suitors for the necessity of choosing one among so many whom he would all gladly favour. In fact throughout his history,
He gives an account of Spartan boorishness again, when certain envoys were required to prostrate themselves before the king of Persia, and refused (vii. 160).
2 καὶ τό γε μέγιστον, ἐν τῇ συνιστίῃ διεπειρᾶτο; here I think I see the Athenian touch of the story coming out.
Herodotus, with true tact, contrasts the manners of the despots with the manners of such free Greeks as the Spartans, whom he evidently respects, but thinks very disagreeable. Thus when the joint embassy of the Greeks goes to Gelon of Syracuse, to ask for aid, and he offers it, but claims the command on the ground of his superior force, the Spartan envoy (not like Cleisthenes) at once bursts out into invective, but Gelon answers: Spartan stranger, reproaches are wont to excite anger in him who receives them, but you, though you showed yourself insolent in your speech, will not persuade me to make an unseemly reply '— a sentiment more like those of Menander, than those of the age of Euripides.
These dialogues, which I quote rather as evidence of Herodotus' own culture than that of the men whom ne introduces as his speakers, show that there was throughout Greece, and especially among the states which had been ruled by tyrants, a great deal of social culture, and a great deal of gentleness and good breeding. The Athenian society in which he mixed, was, I think, of this kind, and the many obligations of Sophocles to his immortal history, show how much in sympathy he stood with the foremost men of his age. Nay even in one respect he seems to me clearly in advance of the hard, grasping, and shortsighted selfishness of the Greeks of Thucydides. In the exquisite passage which gave to Sophocles the germ of his finest chorus, Herodotus has attained to that Indian Summer in human experience, where the fading leaf and the ripened fruit with all their richness suggest
the winter of decay, and remind us that however sweet is life, it has been doled out in scanty measure. Nay even the end that comes so soon, comes not so soon as we pray for it, and bitter as it is, there are few who have not longed for it to cut short their earthly miseries. From this deeper reflection flow the gentleness and the unworldliness of the man who loved and enjoyed the world so keenly. Here is the famous passage in detail (vii. 46). Xerxes, having ordered a review of all his forces at the Hellespont, and seeing the sea hidden with ships and the coast swarming with men, first was overjoyed, but presently burst into tears. Whereupon his uncle Artabanus observed to him: O king, what a contrast there is between your present and your late conduct; then you were congratulating yourself, but now you weep. But he said: it occurred to me when I thought thereon to pity human life, how short it is, since of all this multitude not one will survive in one hundred years. But the other answered: There are other things harder in our lot than the mere shortness of life. For in this so brief span there is no mere mortal born in all the world so happy, that it must not occur to him once and again to wish for death rather than life. For misfortunes falling upon him, and diseases troubling him make this life, short as it is, seem tedious. Thus death has become a very chosen refuge to man from so sorry an existence, and the God who has given us a sweet taste of it in our generation, is found grudging in his dole '.'
1 This is the germ of Sophocles' famous chorus, Edip. Col. 1242, sqq., to which I shall refer hereafter.