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which has already passed into stronger hands, and almost invariably these old men are represented as acquiescing, though with complaints, in the weakness of their position, and submitting to much insolence from foes and rivals. There seems no such thing as a patient submission to an aged sovereign, nor did his old experience, or the scars of former battles, secure to him the allegiance of his people, when his vigour had passed away.
It is easy to see the grounds of this harshness in the Greek mind. Sentimentality was to them almost unknown. In spite therefore of that respect which they could not but feel for age, the violent nature of Periclean politics, as well as the warlike temper of earlier days, made vigour in their leaders an absolute necessity. The nation was a stirring nation, always seeking advance and enlargement in some direction, and therefore not tolerant of the sleepy and effete governments which are often popular, and still more often tolerated, in modern Europe and among antiquated orientals. One terse line of Hesiod expresses the Greek attitude in all history1: Work in youth, counsel in maturity, prayers in old age—such are the duties of life as expressed in this untranslateable apophthegm. It was left for other nations, such as the Chinese and ourselves, to tolerate, nay rather to honour governors who are long past their usefulness, to have great offices of trust filled by timid and hesitating old men, whose incapacity often ruins great interests, and breaks the hearts of the earnest
1 ἔργα νέων, βουλαὶ δὲ μέσων, εὐχαὶ δὲ γερόντων.
workers who see their way clearly, but cannot lead or command till the same terrible disease has dimmed their vision, and made them in turn a burden and a drag on the progress of a younger generation.
But in these safe and quiet times, we can afford without absolute ruin generals and judges and bishops whom five years of life, like old Greek life, would sweep to the winds. The Periclean Athenians were too acute to be imposed upon by the absurd, but still potent maxim, that quantity of experience in itself increases our wisdom; they saw that when maturity of age is passed, and the power of decision begins to wane, this very burden of long experience perplexes the mind, and engenders doubt and fear instead of confidence. Thus Horace, painting his typical old man, doubtless from Greek models, puts before us, not his venerable aspect, and his wise authority, but rather his weakness and querulousness :—
'Multa senem circumveniunt incommoda, vel quod
It is but fair to urge these points in defence of a hard feature in Greek life, which even reached such a pitch, that by a law commonly acted upon, old men could be brought into court by their children, and if they were found incapable of managing their property, it was taken from them and transferred to their heirs. Such an attitude of public opinion would go far to
explain the strange account given us of the old people in Ceos (Müller, Frag. Hist. ii. p. 214), who when they came to the age of sixty or upwards, and felt themselves growing useless, drank hemlock, and left the world in which they were becoming a mere incumbrance1. How desirable would such a practice appear in some of our public services and institutions!
But though from the practical side it is possible to offer these explanations, from the poetical we cannot be surprised at the extreme horror of old age felt by the Greek poets, how they loaded it with imprecations, and reviled it as the most certain and most awful of human miseries. With their keen love of enjoyment, and appreciation of beauty, we can well imagine how bitterly they felt the passing away of youth, and on no subject have they at all times spoken with more heartfelt utterance. Everybody knows the great chorus in Sophocles' later Edipus, which has been so often translated, and will ever be tempting other hands to essay
1 In more barbarous nations, the same results are attained, despite of the want of public spirit in the old people, who put their relations to the trouble of deciding the question of a rude but effective test. Waitz, in his Anthropology (vol. v.) tells us of tribes in Borneo, who when they think their elders have lived a reasonable time, and show signs of decay, put them up into trees, and then dance round the tree, shaking it violently, and singing in rude refrain: The fruit is ripe, the fruit is ripe, 'tis time for it to fall.' When the fruit does accordingly fall, it is cooked and eaten. We are not informed what happens when it does not. Probably the old man has proved his farther usefulness by his literal and not figurative tenacity of life. The Chinese, with the oldest civilisation in the world, and perhaps the most effete, have gone into the other extreme even beyond ourselves, and honour a man in direct proportion to his age. This seems to have been the case in ancient Egypt also, as appears from various documents. (Cp. Proleg. to Anc. Hist. p. 280).
the mastery of its Protean beauties. I prefer here to conclude with an English version of another less known, but not less characteristic chorus, that in Euripides' Hercules Furens on the miseries of old age. I have to thank my learned friend Professor Webb for having translated it especially for this place. It speaks the same language which we find in Mimnermus, in Solon, in Theognis—that ingrained horror of a keen, sensitive race against the condition of life which destroys beauty, and mars enjoyment. It is thus one of those passages in Euripides which are in peculiar relation and in intimate sympathy with the whole. nation, and which secured his widespread and lasting popularity:—
If the high Gods would give me a guerdon,
Be it youth ere its forces are fled;
For age is a wearisome burden,
An Aetna that lies on the head,
A robe of the blackness of darkness, that over the eyelids is spread.
'Tell me not of the Asian Tyrant,
Or of palaces plenished with gold;
Youth that maketh prosperity brighter, and even adversity lighter.
But sombre and stained as with slaughters
Old age is a thing I abhor;
Oh! would it were swept o'er the waters
To plague home and city no more:
Oh! would it were swept through the Ether, on wings that wendwho careth whither?
As the manifest impress of virtue
A renewal of youth they 'd bestow,
And the path of descent would revert, and restore the blest shades from below.
'And the dead with the living would mingle;
But the life of the bad would be single,
And the death of the wicked be one;
And there would be a symbol for ever, the good from the evil to
'In the sky though the cloud-rack may dim it,
Each star by the sailor is seen,
But the high Gods have fixed not a limit
The good and the evil between ;
And still as the tide of time floweth, wealth all that is noble outgroweth.'