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existences, we seem to stand on the threshold of an outburst of positive belief far less rational, and therefore less enduring than that which is now being contemptuously cast aside.
I mention these things as analogies to the Greek attitude upon religion, because they are eternal features in civilised human nature, and will repeat themselves wherever the circumstances are at all similar. In this sense our present experience may be as much a kтîμa ès ael applicable to older times, as Thucydides' history is applicable to our times. The important point in the analogy is this, that all through Greek history scepticism never made way among the majority even of the educated people, but was merely the privilege or pain of small circles of philosophers and their followers. The Sophists indeed attempted to transfuse this mental attitude, by means of education, into the public mind, but the soberer portion of the nation vehemently and successfully resisted them.
The evidence upon this point need only be stated to convince the reader. Protagoras' books were burnt by the common hangman at Athens, perhaps the earliest example of this curious practice of punishing not men but things; yet less curious than in the middle ages, if we remember that there was at Athens a special court and form of trial for inanimate objects which had accidentally caused death, and which were cast beyond the border, if found guilty of homicide'. Damon and
1 These are the aúxar dínaι described by Pollux, and also Harpocration (sub. voc. 'Enì Пpvтaveía), but alluded to by both Æschines and Pausanias; and probably a very ancient form of trial at Athens. Cp. HermannStark, Griech. Antiqq. i. p. 487.
Anaxagoras, the friends of Pericles, were prosecuted for impiety, in spite of the powerful support of the prime minister, nor did he dare to stand forward openly and defend their theological tenets. We have next the frequent and bitter complaints of Aristophanes in his comedies, the whole of the Clouds being directed against even Socrates' teaching, though he was confessedly no common sceptic, but a man who desired to deepen the foundations, and strengthen the roots, of popular faith and of popular morals. Then comes the actual prosecution of Socrates, in which the attitude of the prosecutors is far more important than the result, which depended partly upon a widespread political animosity against the aristocrats, and partly upon the contumacy of the accused. This attitude is based firmly upon the orthodoxy of the general public, and would have neither force nor meaning without such presupposition.
These are the polemical evidences on the very surface of Greek history, which need only be recalled to the reader's attention, and which need not be supported by special quotations. During all this time the youth of Greece were still being taught morals and religion through Homer and Hesiod, and the gnomic poets. The sophists talked a great deal, and made such a noise that we still hear their voices across the gulf of centuries, above the voices of quiet and orderly people; but these latter were after all the great majority, and formed the popular mind. Take Demosthenes, or the orator Lycurgus, or Hypereides, or any of the later authorities whose works have been preserved. Do they imply a public educated by the sophists? Do they preach or suggest sceptical views? Nothing of the sort. De
mosthenes addresses throughout an orthodox and even religious public'. He complains that they were wanting in energy and action, but he never attacks them for unbelief, nor on the other hand does he encourage it, but alludes to religion as we should do, admitting and enforcing a faith in Divine Providence, and looking to the gods for help and succour in national dangers and transgressions.
The same was the attitude of Xenophon, a very good specimen of the educated Athenian in days succeeding the outburst of the sophistic scepticism. I do not so much refer to his own action in consulting the oracle at the instigation of Socrates, for in those days the oracle had been so often convicted of partiality, that the 'apostolical succession' of its priests and prophetess may have been open to general question, though the old habit of consulting it on moral difficulties still remained. But let us rather consider the tone assumed throughout his dialogues towards religion. We there find, as has been said, that a sort of average orthodoxy is professed by his speakers, and implied as the general state of belief.
Among the country folk this orthodoxy was of course stronger and clearer, and appears associated rather with a belief in some systematic ruler of the world, single in purpose, and not specialised in form or character, than with a passionate capricious personage like the Zeus of Homer. Indeed I am convinced that many a good old
1 See for example the speech Пpòs Mañáρтатov (p. 1072) in which he, or his client, quotes an oracle, as supporting in principle Solon's laws, and as the highest authority in morals.
country gentleman felt how unworthy were the pictures of the poets, and how much better was the rustic habit of speaking of the God' without farther detail, and insisting upon his general benevolence and care of human affairs, rather than upon his amours with some ancestress, in order to claim a divine parentage. Many old and picturesque sayings are even now preserved among the Greeks, which point to these simple and reasonable beliefs; and we can well appreciate that most poetical expression of Xenophon: when the late harvest time is come, do not all men turn their eyes towards God, to see when he will water the earth and let them out to sow their seed 1.' Such people had little to say to the sophists, and cared little about even the Socratic elenchus.
But even the speakers in more educated society, the
1 Xen. Econ. c. xvii. ἐπειδὰν γὰρ ὁ μετοπωρινός χρόνος ἔλθῃ, πάντες που οἱ ἄνθρωποι πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἀποβλέπουσιν, ὁπότε βρέξας τὴν γῆν ἀφήσει avтOÙS σTEίρEI. This attitude of looking to one supreme God, especially as the ruler of the weather, fell in easily with the Christian doctrine, so that even in the present day Greece is full of these old pictorial expressions, which remind us of the old simple mythology. There are a number of most interesting hints on this point in Bernhard Schmidt's Volksleben der Neugriechen, especially pp. 26-35. They still say ẞpéxeɩ ὁ θεός, and even κατουράει ὁ θεός, which strangely reminds us of old Strepsiades' remark in the Clouds 373. Rainwater is still called OTɩkò νερό, literally Theophrastus” τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Διὸς ὕδωρ. Lightning and thunder are still caused by the god shaking his head, which we find in the magnificent lines of Homer, A. 528, where Zeus shakes his ambrosial locks, and as they wave upon his immortal head, all the great Olympus rocks. God still uses the thunderbolt for his weapon as we find it in Aristophanes, Pindar, and Æschylus. The quaint form of these expressions points to a great antiquity, dating from long before the Periclean age, nor was the habit probably ever interrupted. Thus Marcus Aurelius (v. 7) mentions an Athenian prayer for rain beginning ὖσον, ὖσον, ὦ φίλε Ζεῦ, which was of course very old, but used down to his days.
gentlemen assembled at Xenophon's Symposium express themselves satisfied with their faith, and desirous to practise it as a duty. That both Greeks and barbarians consider the gods to know all that is and that will be is very manifest, accordingly all cities and all nations enquire of the gods through prophecy what they ought and what they ought not to do. Moreover, that we at least believe that they can do us both good and ill, this too is plain, for all pray to the gods to avert evil, and to grant prosperity. These gods, then, that are omniscient and all-powerful are so friendly to me, that on account of their care for me they never lose me out of their sight, either by night or day, wherever
I may go, or whatever may do. But by reason of
their foreknowledge how each thing will result, they give me signs, sending as their messengers (angels) voices and dreams and omens, what I should do and what I should forbear. When I obey these I never have reason to repent, but it has happened that I have been punished for want of faith in them.' Then Socrates says: 'None of these things are the least incredible, but this I should gladly hear, how you serve them so as to make them such friends of yours.' 'So you shall,' is the reply, and I do it at very moderate expense. For I praise them without any cost to myself, and of what they grant me I always return them a share. I speak of them respectfully, as far as I can, and when I call them to witness, I never intentionally tell a lie.' 'Well by Jove,' says Socrates, if by so doing you have the gods your friends, the gods too, it seems, are pleased with gentlemanly conduct1.'
Symp. iv. § 47, sqq.