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under the excitement of a sudden and Divine compulsion.
Little need here be said upon the gradual development of scepticism within the Greek religion, upon the gradual separation, and at length conflict, between religion and philosophy; how the higher thinkers in politics began to despise the oracles, and the higher teachers in morals to condemn the poets. These things are natural to every speculative race, and this gradual development from instinctive faith and authority to reflective faith and private judgment, and then to absolute freedom of thought or scepticism, is one of the most universal and ever-recurring changes, which can be found in civilised races. It has been expounded with great power, and marvellous richness of illustration, by Mr. Grote, indeed by all historians of Greece, and my weaker pen can add nothing to what is now an historical common-place.
I am rather here concerned with insisting upon a point which they seem to me to have misrepresented, either by distinct statement, or by implication. I think they are disposed greatly to overrate the area over which this scepticism spread, or its density within any given area of population. It is somehow assumed, that after the epoch of Pericles, as expounded by the Greek history of Thucydides, scepticism became the prevailing religion of the Athenians, if not of all educated Greeks. It is assumed that Thucydides' sneers at the oracles, and his silence upon the interference of the gods, are evidence of the tone of mind pervading the general Greek public. It is assumed, contrary to all the evidence of history, that there was no reaction from this
advanced and negative attitude, and that the positive faith of Greece died almost as her political greatness came into full development. I know not whether I am wronging the historians in this matter, but such is certainly the general impression they have left upon me, and upon many other students whom I have consulted upon this point.
But if I am in error as to their real views, I am the more anxious to prevent others from like stumbling, and to insist upon the true and natural attitude of the Greeks on this all important problem. The general belief in the almost universal scepticism of the Periclean age arises from our over-estimate of Thucydides as its exponent. As I have often before said, Herodotus is nearer the state of the public mind than Thucydides. The latter represents a small set of advanced thinkers, such as Pericles, Anaxagoras, Damon, and probably Phidias, who led in politics, in art, and in literature, but were obliged to conceal their advanced thinking in religion, and could not lead their contemporaries here also. They were probably indifferent on this point, and thought, as many sceptics do, that faith was a good thing for the crowd. There are stories in Plutarch's Pericles which seem to point to some such belief in the mind of Pericles himself1.
Thus we estimate the state of the Athenian mind in general by a few brilliant exponents, who stood in
Especially the story of his being in great distress at a severe accident to a workman engaged on one of his great public buildings, and his being told in a dream of the proper remedy to apply. He came down to the Agora, and announced that the Gods had revealed to him the remedies which really proved effectual. Plut. Pericles, c. 13.
direct opposition to it at this very time. In the very same way the great literature of the Hebrews, written by what was evidently a small though brilliant minority, blinds us to the fact perpetually breaking through the history, that the masses of the Jewish people were always idolatrous and polytheistic, though their literary monuments were composed by the cultivated monotheists; and hence these great prophets and psalmists are now generally accepted as uttering the voice of the whole. nation. So in the present day, to give a more homely and practical example, because the German university men are sceptics, and the tone of German learning is sceptical, we find it commonly believed that the Germans generally are an irreligious and unbelieving people-a flagrant error, which the anecdotes of the late war, and still more the politic telegrams of the German emperor should have exploded.
But when we have gained from Thucydides this general notion that the Greek mythology was then altogether abandoned, we are so impressed with its absurdities and its immoralities that we can hardly conceive it rehabilitated, and thus we come to believe in a sort of general scepticism pervading Attic society from that day onward. This again is applying our standpoint to other men, and forgetting that only the few come to hold as absurd what they have once believed, nay more what has once been to them the object of deep veneration, and the source of their best and purest moral principles.
There is no more frequent attitude among reasonable and educated sceptics of our own day than this, that however false Christianity may be, its effects upon the
moral and social history of man are such, that it must for ever be regarded with respect and high consideration. They will tell you, and with great good sense, that the scoffing scepticism of Payne and Proudhon was not only rude and out of taste, but historically absurd and ignorant, and that in a world where absolute truth is hardly to be discovered, it is a very silly proceeding to ridicule a system which, even regarded as fictitious, nevertheless impressed great moral principles upon mankind. All this applies, we may think, to our pure and venerable Christianity, but could never be asserted of those heathen systems which teemed with dishonesty and immorality. This is the narrow modern attitude which I think so false. To the old-fashioned Athenian, his mythology was the source of his morals and of his highest culture. He had framed for himself ideals of bravery, of honour, of greatness from his Homer; he had seen the tragic poets draw their most splendid inspirations from these legends; he had seen the Epos inspire the painter, the sculptor, and the architect-in fact, the whole glory of Athens, literary, social, and artistic, was bound up with the Homeric theology. Supposing him, therefore, to be persuaded by the philosophers, and to abandon in secret the faith of his forefathers, we can well imagine him arguing with even more apparent force than the modern sceptic, that however false or fictitious were these ancient legends, however unproved or doubtful this ancient creed, yet at all events under it, and through it, Athens had grown in splendour, and become perfect in culture; that therefore no citizen versed in the annals of Athens, and appreciating her true greatness, could venture to speak disrespectfully of
her creed, even were it proved obsolete. I must insist upon these subjective analogies, because of the common habit, which is well nigh the essence of modern faith, of regarding one's own creed as absolute truth, and all other systems as obviously absurd and wicked.
In opposition then to all these one-sided and partial views, it appears that the Greek public was always religious in the sense in which our own public is religious, that is to say, bound by tradition and habit to a creed, which many believe conscientiously, and which even those who doubt care not to disturb. There are among ourselves epochs and outbursts of scepticism, when it seems as if all the world were abandoning its faith, and as if a return to the old belief were quite impossible. Such was the outbreak in the eighteenth century; such is perhaps the present attitude of our English society in India. Such is that of the German universities, and of our own literary circles. And yet if history can be any guide, we may be perfectly certain that there will and must come a reaction into positive belief. The dogmas may vary, the articles of our faith may possibly be changed, but faith, that quality on which all our early experience, all our higher feelings, all our greatest hopes are based, faith will reassert itself.
It is to us a very interesting speculation, what form that faith will take, whether it will be the reassertion of some wider Christianity, or whether, as seems just now likely, it may assume the stranger form of a systematic spiritualism. When we see men who have lived and preached as sceptics all their lives coming round to believe the evidence of new miracles, to argue the possibility of a scientific system of communication with other