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facts, is that Thucydides has been guilty of gross exaggeration in his political reflections above cited; and no doubt he has exaggerated, though all the historians quote him with more confidence than they would quote the Gospels; yet he has not necessarily exaggerated so much as we at first surmise. For it is a certain fact, that considerable personal probity may be combined with political rascality, when that rascality is the act or policy of a party and not of an individual. We see it in our own day in a milder form. How many members of the House of Commons vote with their party, and feel themselves obliged to do so, though they disapprove of the action of the party, and even tell their friends that they would gladly see it defeated? It is only with exceptionally bold as well as honest men, that conscience at once overrides political ties, and so a scrupulous man, in Thucydides' time, as now, was unfit to join any party1.
But I must hasten to add that the Greek parties in his day were very unlike the great constitutional parties of our House of Commons, and should be rather called factions and cabals. They were of small compass, occupied, for the most part, in struggles throughout small societies, where all the members. were personally known as friends, and all the opponents personally hated as enemies. Thus the bitterness, the rancune of faction, was intensified to a degree hardly known among us. The nearest parallels are the Italy of Macchiavelli, and the Court of France in
1 τὸ πρὸς ἅπαν σύνετον, ἐπὶ πᾶν ἄργον, was the general opinion.
La Rochefoucauld's day. The maxims which these writers drew from their observation are accordingly very similar to those of Thucydides 1.
Such factions are only joined from motives of interest, and abandoned when these motives cease, for factions have no other attraction. Thus it may happen, and, indeed, generally does happen, that a number of fairly respectable men join together in a cabal so far as they are actuated by selfish interest; and, accordingly, the public action of the cabal represents the combined meanness and rapacity of all its component members, without at all representing the good qualities they possess. In fact, these good qualities are the strongest disintegrating forces in such a combination,
1 Manzoni in his Promessi Sposi (ed. Flor. 1845, p. 15) depicts a very similar state of things throughout North Italy even in the 17th century. 'L'uomo che vuole offendere, o che teme ad ogni istante d'essere offeso, cerca naturalmente alleati e compagni. Quindi era in quei tempi portata al massimo punto la tendenza degli individui a tenersi collegati in classi, a formarne di nuove, e a procurare ognuno la maggior potenza di quella a cui apparteneva. Ognuna di queste piccole oligarchie aveva una sua forza speciale e propria; in ognuna l'individuo trovava il vantaggio d'impiegare per se, a proporzione della sua autorita, e delle sua detrezza, le forze riunite di molti. I piu onesti si valevano di questo vantaggio alla difesa loro; gli astuti e i facinorosi ne approfittavano per condurre a termine ribalderie,' &c. The reader will find similar phenomena within the limits of single court admirably sketched by Géruzez, Cours de Littérature Française, vol. ii. p. 191. Cp. also Plato's Phado (Jowett i. 438,) and Mill's Autobiography p. 104. But I would call particular attention to Demosthenes in Leptinem p. 499, whose argument proceeds on the very point I have been urging. He protests against the Athenian assembly proposing to do publicly, what they would not think of doing individually, and speaks as if such a thing were not possible, but likely.
and must be treated in the secret counsels of the faction as indecision and weakness.
This is the very aspect of things told us by Thucydides. His history being strictly political, and his only consideration of men being their political attitude, he has noticed clearly enough the hard and cruel characteristics of the Greek political factions of his day, but has completely exaggerated his account by making it a general picture of the Greeks, instead of confining it to the Greeks as politicians. When he says that 'frankness, a usual quality among honourable men, was ridiculed out of society',' he says what is true of the politics of faction, but false of the Greeks as a people, of the Greeks as private men and women, and certainly false of all the purer and more honourable men amongst them. It is surprising, among all the critical estimates of Thucydides' history which have occupied European scholars, that this very obvious onesidedness has hitherto escaped notice 2.
1 Cp. iii. 83, καὶ τὸ εὔηθες οὗ τὸ γενναῖον πλεῖστον μετέχει καταγελασθὲν ἠφανίσθη.
2 I suppose the reason of this omission with many critics is that no man is absolutely sceptical. However he may assail ancient documents, and disbelieve legends, there is some point at which his doubt ends and his faith begins. Even Sir George Lewis, one of the most consistent and absurd unbelievers the world has yet seen, even Sir G. Lewis is conservative on the origin of the Homeric poems! So it is that most of the Germans, and with them Mr. Grote, having doubted or rejected older evidence, when they come to Thucydides, begin to exercise their faith. And this long pent-up virtue then bursts out with a certain strange fervour. As if to compensate for the long and painful exercise of scepticism, these men, like new converts, take up their longsought idol, their model of historic accuracy, with a vehemence more
But as private life was reduced to a minimum of importance in this epoch, so the realistic pictures of private life, and, therefore, of women, which we meet in earlier literature, and again in Euripides, are well nigh wanting to us here. We must rely on the ideal pictures of tragedy for the higher side, or the ribald travesties of comedy for the lower side of Greek home life during the early part of this brilliant period. Herodotus is, no doubt, a partial exception, and would have been a striking one had his subject led him to paint, in greater detail, this side of human nature. But the female characters in Herodotus may fairly be classed, as I class them, with the heroic characters of the dramatic poets. For, as his great historical tragedy brought him into bye-gone days, and into distant courts of foreign rulers, very different from his own. experience, so the painting of his women, where we should expect hints as to social life, was rather ideal and artistic, than copied directly from models around him. The pictures he draws of the Persian queens, such as Amestris, are more analogous in gloom and
generous than prudent. Everything that Thucydides says is to be right and accurate, though all our other authorities differ he is to be placed above them, not even a mistake in judgment is to be imputed to him. I think this is unsound criticism, and likely to mislead us on the subtler phases of Greek life. The older writers, and the later compilers are in my mind more trustworthy than they are commonly thought, Thucydides is less so, not because he was dishonest, but because he was throughout all his work one-sided, and in some places, as I have elsewhere shown, partial. Cp. Prolegomena to Ancient History, Essay I; cp. also Mr. Strübing's great work on Aristophanes and his age.
cruelty to the portraits of Eschylus, than to those of his friend Sophocles, though such a figure as Artemisia might well take its place in any tragedy. But, in some smaller touches, Herodotus shows, as we should expect, a sympathy with female excellence deeper than that of Attic tragedy before the days of Euripides. Apart from the personal geniality of the man, which is in itself sufficient reason, we may attribute the good effect to his colonial origin, where the Athenian seclusion of women was not practised, and to his cosmopolitan education. But as I believe the morals of Herodotus to represent far better than those of Thucydides the average condition of Greece in those days, so I have no doubt that the role played by women at the same date, throughout Greece generally, was rather such as is implied by Herodotus than by the surly silence of Thucydides.
Returning to the tragic poets, I have above hinted that the women of Sophocles are very degenerate and poor as compared with those of the older Eschylus. The latter has left us, in his extant plays, only three of any import-Clytemnestra, Cassandra (in the Agamemnon), and Electra (in the Choephora). Cassandra's magnificent scene is rather due to her tragic situation— a clear-sighted but despised prophetess, seeing a hideous crime impending, and unable to avert it ;-than to her character. Of Clytemnestra I have above spoken. She is one of those great figures that stand out in the dramatic literature of the world. I shall only here remind the reader of the feminine features in her character (as compared with the Clytemnestra