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I Do not think any strict subdivision into epochs is necessary in a social point of view, when we have once passed through the fever of the Periclean age. Το this I have above (p. 125) alluded. The century which followed the collapse of the Athenian empire was no doubt one of great political vicissitudes, seeing that the centre of gravity in politics moved from Sparta to Thebes, then perhaps to Athens, for a moment to Phocis, and lastly to Macedonia. There were doubtless grave changes also in literature and in philosophy, but yet no revolution. The forms and kinds of literary composition, as of the other arts, were fixed for ever. The inventive genius of the Greeks, which had allowed no previous century to pass without new and strange developments, seems now changed into a critical spirit, perfecting and developing the established types. Thus Menander, Epicurus, and Demosthenes are the direct inheritors of the art of Aristophanes and Plato and Pericles tamed down, no doubt, in some respects, and modified to suit lower politics and higher culture, but yet after all the same art, and addressed to almost the
same society. With the conquests of Alexander, and the tumultuous epoch of the Diadochi, there arose a really changed society; but this is beyond our present scope, for these turbulent days have left us few traces of their peaceful pursuits, amid the dreary and confused annals of their wars and their revolutions.
I desire now to discuss Greek culture in its highest development at Athens, and in the age when men had learned to rate culture above the hard business of politics, when in fact their highest social refinement was built upon the ruins of their political greatness.
The first point I would urge upon all those who desire to form a true notion of Athenian culture in these palmy days, is the limited size of the city, and the fact that from the smallness of its population and their habits of leisure, every man of any mark was known to all the citizens, if not personally, at least by name and character. "It is impossible,' says Hypereides in a speech written for Lycophron, 'for any man to be either a miscreant or a man of good character in this city, without all of you knowing it. It was in fact as to size, a society far more like that of Dublin or Edinburgh, than that of the vast modern. capitals, where even neighbours are perfect strangers, and where a diversity of pursuit severs men more effectually than miles of distance. Thus Socrates, coming home from the campaign at Potidea, is represented, at the opening of Plato's Charmides, asking
Cp. Hypereides, pp, 28, 39, ed. Blass. λaleiv yàp TÒ TλĤOOS TÒ ὑμετέρον οὐκ ἔνι οὔτε πονηρὸν ὄντα οὐδένα τῶν ἐν τῇ πολεῖ οὔδε ἐπιεικῆ. Cp. also Lysias, p. 177.
eagerly what new beauties had appeared in the Gymnasia, just as we should ask what new belles had appeared at the balls of the season in Dublin. He takes it for granted that his friend will be sure to have seen them, for at Athens they did not observe the strict Spartan rule, which ordered that all who came in to see the sports should either 'strip or depart.' The appearance of Charmides is described just as we should describe the reigning belle at a flower showsurrounded by a crowd of gentlemen in attendance, and causing quite a sensation when she comes in1.
So again at the opening of the Laches, there is an old man introduced, who had been a friend of Socrates' father Sophroniscus, but who, living in an uneducated set of people, has lost sight of Socrates. He has however constantly heard his sons and their friends talking of him, and is quite surprised that it never struck him that Socrates might be the son of his old neighbour 2.
I think this limited size of Athens- -a feature which both Plato and Aristotle seem anxious to retain in their ideal commonwealths-had a marked effect in producing a certain unity and harmony in Athenian culture. It was like that uniformity of type, produced by such a society as the old Universities of our own day, where the men are not too many to be in some sort influenced by one another, and all to attain, amid 1 See Jowett's Plato, vol. i. PP. 8-10.
2 Prof. Jowett (Plato, i. p. 74) draws exactly the wrong inference from this passage. He takes it to imply that this old man has never heard of Socrates. This is exactly what the old man (p. 79, Jowett) says he has constantly heard of him, but did not
does not say. He
before meet him, being in a different set.
decided differences, a certain sameness, which though undefinable, strikes every intelligent observer. In art we may find something similar in the effect of residence at Rome on a painter or sculptor, perhaps a still closer analogy would be the society of painters and literary men gathered together in Munich by that modern Pericles (as to art), King Ludwig I. In such societies, where master spirits can really reach and influence the whole mass, there arises an uniform standard of criticism, recognised laws of taste, and a form at least in art and literature secured from rudeness and extravagance.
There is no greater contrast between Greek and modern civilisation than this, and no plainer cause of the greater perfection of Greek culture in some respects-I mean the severance of cultivated Greeks into separate small cities, like the Bonn, Weimar, and Dresden of educated Germany, where intellectual life gathered about independent centres, and where men were not, as they now are in Great Britain and France, looking ever to an overgrown capital, and in vain, for standards of perfection.
When we read the comedies of Aristophanes, or even the dialogues of Plato, we feel that they were addressed to the whole of Athens, though also to a highly intelligent audience, and so it is that modern historians have come to attribute so extraordinary an average culture to the Athenians. An authority so great as Mr. Freeman says, and in my opinion rightly,
1 Hist. of Federal Government, i. p. 37 sqq.
that the average intelligence of the assembled Athenians citizens was higher than that of our House of Commons. Without doubt each citizen, at all events, lived in an atmosphere far more stimulating than that in which our mercantile members are brought up. He enjoyed the contemplation of the highest art, the performance of the greatest tragedies, the delivery of the most refined orations. He and his fellows were all exercised as jurymen in deciding political and social disputes, nay even in awarding the prizes for tragedies and comedies. Nor do I find any trace of that severance of amusements which is one of the saddest features of modern life, where refined art and high excellence are only exhibited under such restrictions (especially pecuniary) as to exclude the masses, which are now so brutalised that they require a separate literature, as well as a separate art, if art it can be called, to amuse them in their rapidly increasing leisure. We hear of no Liberties, or Seven Dials, at Athens. We hear of no hells, or low music halls, or low dancing saloons. Even such vice as existed was chiefly refined and gentlemanly.
I fancy that to some extent this was due to a fortunate accident in the situation of Athens. The refinement of the people themselves was of course the great and primary cause, but nevertheless we should not forget to notice how circumstances cooperated. I allude to the separation of the sea port of Athens, the Peiræus, by four miles from the city. The character of the sailor mob, the ναυτικὸς ὄχλος, which dwelt there, is plainly enough indicated in scattered hints throughout the literature of the day.