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outlet except its narrow mountain-passes. Or imagine (if you like) a perfectly
flat Hellas, with no internal obstacles to communication, but also lying inland.
Would this wondrous expansion have taken place ? Doubtless to some extent
it would, since expansion seems to be a law of the Aryan peoples ; but it would

^ This will be the more readily understood if we reflect on the change which the develop-
ment of steam-navigation has produced in our own time in the ideas of John Bull regarding his
neighbours on the continent of Europe — a change analogous in kind, if not in degree, to that
which went on among the enterprising Greeks of antiquity.



have taken place infinitely more slowly, with infinitely more diflS.culty and
suffering, without that brilliancy which forms so striking a feature of Greek
development. Had the concourse of men belonging to different Hellenic races
— ^olians, Achoeans, lonians — that streamed to the first great trading centres
of the wider Hellas — Smyrna, Miletus, and the other Ionian coast-towns of
Asia Minor — nothing to do with that wonderful phenomenon, the appearance
of an ar^-dialect — of a Homer ? The influence of the sailor element — to put the
argument on practical ground — is very distinctly traceable, if not in the Iliad,
at least in the Odyssey, and the marvellous adventures of its hero. Moreover,
it was in these first great centres that the beginnings, not only of Poetry, but
of Science and Philosophy were made — intercourse with other minds stimula-
ting thought and calling forth, like an electric current, greater warmth and
more energetic activity (E. Curtius, Grosse und kleine Stddte, loc. cit.).

The influence of the sea has been well summed up by a recent writer,
K. Woermann, Die Landscliaft in der Kunst der alien Volker, p. 83 et seq., as
follows : —

"The sea and the sea alone is the element which unites the different
isolated parts of the Hellenic landscape. One might almost say that no Greek
city which became the representative of a thought helpful to progress
{Kidturgedanke) lay far from the sea. Most of them lay immediately on the
sea, or had, at least, from their Acropolis the sight of its blue waves. This is
true, of course, as regards the Islands, which played a most important part in
the development of Hellenic culture. But it is true also of the coast of Asia
Minor, which is sharply marked off from the interior. This was inhabited by
Greek races ; the character of the landscape harmonises with that of the rest
of Hellas, and shares in this dependence on the sea. Similar bays run up here
also into hilly coast-lands, and here, as there, the shores are bordered by a rich
circle of islands both large and small. In fact, Hellas, the Hellas of the
history of progress, consists mainly of three parts : the western coast-strips of
Asia Minor, the eastern coast of the opposite peninsula (European Greece), and
the Archipelago lying between. But the Archipelago is neither i;he smallest
nor the most insignificant part of Hellas. Any one who has sailed through it
and has observed its beautifully-formed islands as they appear one after the
other, sometimes crowned with a joyous wreath of green, sometimes rising
up in naked, often curiously carved-out rocks, at the foot of which the white
foam dashes — ^gina, Syros, Melos, Andros, Pares, Naxos, Tenos and
Myconos, Lesbos and Chios, as they present themselves to the traveller on the
voyage from Athens to Smyrna and from Smyrna to Cape Malea — any one who
remembers, moreover, the role which these islands played in the history of
culture, some as having given birth to great poets or artists, others as the
sites of much frequented sanctuaries, many intimately associated with the
favourite myths of the Greeks — all important as intermediate anchorages
between the eastern and the western mainlands of the old Hellenic world :
on any one, we say, who has seen and reflected upon all this, the significance
of these island-groups for ancient civilisation, and the significance of the sea
as the means of spreading this civilisation, will be at once and decidedly
apparent. To think of a Hellenic landscape in the fruitful time of Hellas
without the sea is, therefore, hardly possible."

Thus, in a third particular, the little land of Hellas was provided with
exactly what she needed. Essential as were the protecting and dividing
mountains in early days, they would have acted injuriously later by cramping
and confining the energies of the race had not the glorious outlet of the sea ex-
isted, to give scope to every latent power and lead on to countless experiments.


4. Development of Character. Most of us are familiar with Mr. Grote's
famous dictum on certain aspects of the Greek national character. That " their
position made the Greeks at once mountaineers and mariners " {Hist, of Greece,
ii. p. 154), is a saying which conveys a good deal more than lies on the surface.
We may still further express the effect of both factors on the Hellenic develop-
ment by saying that '* the Mountains made the Greeks Maintainors — of the
old ; the Sea made them Seekers — after the new " — in other words, Experi-
menters. Pontos and pioneering are connected by more than alliteration. We
can easily see this by examining the two types of character which, as Mr.
Grote points out, undoubtedly predominated in Hellas.

Amid his mountains the Greek grew up a shepherd and a hunter, with all
the qualities coincident with the pastoral life : he was brave and hardy, simple,
often boorish in his habits and tastes, conservative, a " stickler " for old customs,
and desirous of moving on in the old groove.

At the same time, within reach of every Greek (with the exception, as
before mentioned, of the Arcadians and the mountaineers of Mount Pindus),
within sight constantly of very many, was another element, differing altogether
from solid mother earth — sparkling, flashing perpetually under the sunny sky,
inviting and inciting him to try his luck upon it. Hence, we have also another
element in the Hellenic character — the versatile, adventurous, quick-witted
sailor-element ; the thirst for novelty, the inquisitive seeking after fresh ideas,
the readiness of adaptation to new ways and new customs, the tolerance of what
is unusual in the habits of others.

The first type of character was seen most markedly in the Arcadian, who,
shut up within his mountains, came least into contact with other peoples ; the
last, in the Ionian of Miletus. Between these two extremes, there were
many shades and varieties. It will easily be surmised, however, that
experimenting, and with it, progress, went on more rapidly among peoples of
the mariner- than amongst those of the mountaineer-type ; and this inference
is borne out by facts.

5. Development of Liberty. Finally, there only remains to be noted that
one influence of the sea which, to some minds, transcends all others. If the
mountains gave the Hellene the instinct of sturdy resistance, of dauntless
defiance, the sea breathed into him the ardour to do and to dare all in defence
of his mountain-home :

"The mountains look on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea,"

and it was with these ''two voices" ringing in their ears that the Hellenes
fought out the world's first and greatest battle in the cause of freedom. 1 To
the Greek, the mountains and the sea were the double pledge that the country
which they protected and encircled was the heritage of her children — theirs to
enjoy in freedom. He would have been dull and passionless indeed through
whose veins the blood should not have coursed more swiftly at the very thought
of any attempt to wrest from him what the gods so manifestly had sealed to
him as his own !

1 If, as we learn, the first draft of these lines was —

" Euboca looks on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea " —
Byron shewed his keen insight into Greek character by the alteration. (See Works, p. 637, ed.
of 1837.)



Coming now to a closer inspection of the little land, we are reminded that
there are certain conditions of more vital importance as regards Progress than
even protection and the opportunity for expansion. One grand essential for
successful work is, that the worker shall possess " a sound mind in a sound
body." Doubtless from the first, as now, some of the world's best work was
done by strong minds imprisoned within feeble bodies. Here, however, we
are speaking of the race, and for the race it was all-important that it should
be placed in conditions favourable to health and vigour. How did Hellas
answer to this condition ?

So remarkably that, in one case, it attracted the attention of the Hellenes
themselves. Thus, Plato says (2\mceus, p. 24c; cf. also Critias, ^. the) —
with a patriotic pride at which we may smile, but which nevertheless was
quite justified — that Athena had selected Attica wherein to plant her chosen
people, because she saw that the happy temperament of the seasons there
would produce the wisest of men ; men who, like herself, would be lovers both
of war and of wisdom — i.e., would possess the sound mind in the sound body.
And of Hellas itself we are told by Herodotus (iii. 106), who, as we know, was
a great traveller, that, beyond all other countries in the world, it enjoyed the
most happily-tempered seasons — an opinion endorsed by competent judges,
such as Aristotle and Hippocrates.

There can, indeed, be little doubt that in ancient times the climate of
Greece was much healthier than it is at present. The causes of this we shall
see clearly as we proceed. Meantime, let us bear in mind that, while we
accept the verdict of Herodotus on the country as a whole, Greece is
a land of contrasts. To begin with, Northern Greece is divided, as regards
general climatic and geological conditions, by the Pindus-range into two dis-
tinct halves. Further south, Parnassus may be regarded as the point of
separation. The eastern coast opens freely to the sea, and is dry and sunny ;
whilst the western is rugged, inhospitable, and generally more moist.

Then again, if we picture to ourselves the multitudinous little districts into
which the country is broken up, it will be evident that by no possibility could
the climate be equable or uniform throughout. There are coast-lands, such as
Attica and Argolis, where both heat and cold are agreeably tempered by the
sea-breezes ; Alpine-lands, such as Western Arcadia, .^tolia, and Doris, with
all the varying conditions of mountain-regions ; broad sunny plains, such as
those of Thessaly and Messenia ; and deep cauldron-shaped basins, such as are
met with in Eastern Arcadia and Boeotia, into which the mild sea-winds that
make the charm of the coast-lands and islands do not often penetrate.

As a consequence of this, in the different parts of the country, different
seasons prevail at one and the same time. Thus, in Arcadia there may be
deep winter-snows, whilst in Argolis and Laconia spring is unfolding in all its
brightness, and in Messenia the sun is glowing already with summer heat.
So much more severe, again, is the winter in Arcadia than in Laconia that
Pausanias attributes the defeat of the Spartans — when on one occasion they
had penetrated into Arcadia to make war on the men of Tegea — to the fact
that they were not able to withstand the severity of an Arcadian snowstorm.
Encumbered with their heavy armour and numbed by the cold, they were
easily overcome (Paus., viii. 53, 10 ; cf. also CurtiusJ Pel.j i. pp. 52, 267). Yet
Tegea lies but a little to the north of Laconia. We have also, on the authority
of the historian Polybius, the often-quoted fact that the Arcadians practised


music, not only as an enjoyment, but as a necessity — a softening remedy —
against the harsh influences of their climate.

Nevertheless, amidst all this diversity, the fact remains, that the climate
of Hellas did tend to produce the " sound mind " in the " sound body," Physi-
cally, the ancient Hellenes must have been a fine race. This is evident from
the art-works which have come down to us. Where could Greek sculptors
have found their ideals — the finely-cut profile and beautifully-proportioned
figure which they modelled — save among the people? Even at the present
day, these noble types are not extinct. They are to be met with still in the
very districts which now groan under the worst climatic conditions, Boeotia
and Arcadia.^

Of more importance still is the influence of the climate on the intelledual
life of the Hellenes. Little as we are apt to think about it, climate, with all
that it implies, plays a great part in the mental development of a people. In
reflecting on the history of any nation, two factors must always be taken into
account. These are (i) the race, the stock whence it has sprung, and (2) its
physical surroundings — in other words, the ethno-graphy of the people and the
geo-graphy of their land. Now, the Hellenes, as we have seen, sprang from
the same great Aryan family to which we ourselves belong ; but if we consider
for a moment the subsequent history of the various branches of that family —
the Indian, the Celtic, the Teutonic, &c. — we shall see that some other circum-
stance besides race determines the mental fibre of a people. The contrast
between the contemplative inaction of the Indian Aryan, for instance, and the
stirring energy of his Greek brother, would, as has often been pointed out
(Polyb., iv. 20), be otherwise inexplicable. And this contrast is repeated in
varying shades and degrees through all the different members of the Aryan
family. No two nations have developed precisely in the same way — a fact
which shews plainly that the influences which we class under the names of
" climate," "geographical position," &c., are very potent in shaping the destiny
of a people.

To guard against misapprehension, however, lest any one should imagine
that we are disposed to overrate the importance of these physical surroundings,
let us repeat here the weighty and oft-quoted words of Lassen on this very
subject (Indische Alterthiimskunde, i. p. 411; cf. also Humboldt, Kosmos, ii.
p. 38). Speaking of the Aryans who crossed the Himalayas into India, he
says : " It would be a great mistake to believe that physical influences — either
alone or in greatest measure — determine the character of a people. India,
like other countries, shews this clearly enough ; the tribes of the Deccan and
the Yindhya races were exposed to the same natural influences as the Aryans,
but they never rose independently to a higher development. We must, there-
fore, recognise in the different nations a groundwork of character — an original
spiritual bent — which may be developed and definitely helped or hindered by
the exterior nature of the land, as well as by the events of history. This is
the Genius of the Nations, breathed into them from the creation " — a genius,
which, like that of the individual, may be modified by education and outward
circumstance, but " never can be given."

In our survey, then, we are considering physical conditions as influences
which helped to mould the genius of the Hellenic people. And that such
influences are, as stated above, exceedingly potent no student of history will

^ Speaking of the people of Phigalia in Arcadia, Sir Thomas Wyse says: "Painters need
not here recur to ancient types for authority. The tradition is existing, and the man and the
costume still live " {Excursion in the Peloponnesus, ii. p. 25- Compare also Hermann Bliimner,
Privat-Antiq., § 4).


deny. These very Hindu Aryans to whom Lassen justly attributes great
intellectual ascendency themselves succumbed in the end to the enervating
influences of the climate. We cannot, therefore, consider it as the result of
mere " chance " that the lot of the great experimenters of the world should
have been cast in a land the climate of which was admirably calculated to spur
them into energetic action. The dolce far niente, the possibility of taking life
easily, which lay within the reach of the Hindu Aryan, was not possible to
any of the Greek Aryans, except the Messenians, and their fate we shall learn

'* 'Twill not be always summer, make you cabins ! " growls old Father
Hesiod {Works a7id Days, 503). He spoke to those who knew the severity of
a Boeotian winter,^ and " cabins " they accordingly made ; the arts of construc-
tion flourished apace. " Work the works which the gods have marked out for
men ! " he says in another place {Ihid., 397, 398), and there is not the slightest
doubt that the keen blast of winter, the icy prick of mountain-winds, had its
share in furthering this work, as well as the glorious brilliancy of the southern
sunshine, or the invigorating breezes of the iEgsean. Let us make no mistake
here. When we come to investigate their history, we shall find that the
earliest makers of Hellas were great workers. They worked themselves.
Their kings and heroes worked, even their gods they represented as working,
doing with their own hands what we should now call " menial tasks." Poseidon,
the noble Earth-Shaker, unyokes the immortal horses of Father Zeus from the
car; Hera, the goddess-queen, herself harnesses her steeds to the chariot;
Athena, daughter of segis-bearing Zeus, weaves with her own hands the splendid
robe which she exchanges in time of war for the cuirass of the cloud-gatherer ;
it is Hephaestus, the glorious lame god, who builds the palaces wherein dwell
the other immortals {Iliad, viii. 440 ; 381, 382, 384-386 ; i. 6o7).2

Then, if we descend to earth, we find the same scenes enacted among the
great and noble : the sons of King Priam yoke the horses to their father's
chariot ; Odysseus, the man of many devices, chieftain of Ithaca, builds with his
own hands the craft on which he sets sail from Calypso's isle — mark ! it is not
provided for him by the goddess — and his nuptial couch he makes for himself
of olive wood; Nausicaa, the Phseacian princess, not only superintends the
washing of the household linen, but apparently herself shares the toil, paddles
in the running stream, and treads the garments with her little royal feet as
merrily as any of her maidens ; whilst her lady-mother, the queen, sits at home,
and presides over the spinning of the women {Iliad, xxiv. 279; Od., v. 243;
xxiii. 190 ; vi. 85 et seq., 52). So much for the testimony of Homer concerning
the doings of the great folk in the days of chivalry.

As for Hesiod, the poet of the people — a better exponent than Homer
of the opinions of the " masses " — great is his contempt for " do-nothings ! "
Non-workers are worthless creatures, "with whom both gods and men are
wroth" — stingless drones, eating up the honey which others have amassed.
" Work," he says emphatically, " is no disgrace, but sloth is a disgrace "
{Works and Days, 303, 311).

Far from being ashamed of necessary labour, the real Makers of Hellas
gloried in it. They lifted the burthen of toil— as in the Homeric Hymn the
princesses of Eleusis bear off the shining pitchers, which they have filled at

^ See the account of Thebes, Hellas, p. 1^ et seq.

^ Even in Imperial times the conception of the gods as active powers had not entirely died
out, for Pausanias mentions (viii. 32, 4) that he saw at Megalopolis a group of the so-called
"Working-gods" {Ergatai) : Athena Ergane, Mistress of Works; Apollo Agyieus, Way-god,
guardian of highways and roads, &c. (see Hellas, pp. 120-129).


the fountain for " the dear house of their father — with a noble grace," exult-
ingly (Homer, Hymn to Demeter, 170). One could see, the old singer implies,
that they were princesses by the very way in which they poised the jars ! ^

And coming down to later times, we find the Work-spirit of old Father
Hesiod the distinguishing characteristic of the Hellenes throughout all their
best days. There is nothing that strikes a thoughtful observer more in the
great ruins on the Acropolis of Athens than the extreme thoroughness of
the workmanship. Even the parts not originally intended to be seen are
found to be as truthfully and carefully wrought as the portions of the design
which were meant to be conspicuous.

Hence we repeat again — the Makers of Hellas were great workers. When,
at a later period, we find the Hellenes despising work — pluming themselves on
the fact that they had no need to work, because there existed a body of in-
ferior beings (slaves) expressly designed to relieve them from toil — we do not
require a prophet to tell us that the un-malcing of Hellas was in progress.
From a nation of Workers, her people had become, or were fast becoming, a
"^ nation of Talkers.

Our present inquiry, however, is concerned with happier times, and we
can see that it was of the utmost consequence to the Hellenes, as Experi-
menters, that their climate should have been such as enabled them to delight
in work for its own sake. We say advisedly to delvjht in work ; for the Greek
climate has another side as well as its sterner wintry aspect. We have dwelt
specially on this, because it is undoubtedly that element which most assists in
developing energy of character ; but the softer element had its share, and a no
less important share, in making the Hellenes what they became. Suppose
that Hellas, with its little mountain-regions, had lain, say, in our own latitude,
the energetic spurs to action, keen frosts and wintry winds, would have been
present in abundance. But would these rough agents ever have succeeded in
" stimulating" the people into that wondrously harmonious development which
is characteristic of all their work ? We venture to say that, making full
allowance for the genius of the race, this question can only be answered in
the negative. It is as much as we moderns living in northern regions can
do — with all our present-day appliances for comfort — to obtain the mastery
over our natural climatic conditions. How would this have been possible in
the early ages of the world ?

Fortunately for the world, Hellas does not lie amid the fogs and chill
blasts of the Baltic and the North Sea, but in the warmer part of the temperate
zone. The genial sunshine of the South was necessary to bring to maturity
fruit so early developed as the Hellenic ; and Hellas is emphatically a land
of the sun.

The only part of the country in which a systematic study of the climate
has been carried out as yet is Athens. The following table, however, giving
the mean of a series of observations, made by Julius Schmidt (director of the
Observatory), and extending over a period of twenty-four years, speaks volumes
(Neumann u. Partsch, op. cit., p. 24) : —

Athens has —

Of clear days in the year, on which the sun is not hid for a moment 179
Bright days on which it is hid, perhaps, for half-an-hour . . 157

Cloudy days 26

Days when the sun is not seen at all 3


^ For the story of the visit of the goddess Demeter to earth, and her acting as nurse at
Eleusis in the family of Oeleus, see Hellas, p. 258, et seq.


Three hundred and thirty-six days of almost unclouded sunshine ! Contrast
this with the meagre share which falls to our own lot in the pale north.^ Con-
trast our mists and fogs and dull grey sky with the purity and transparency of
the Attic air, the glowing blue of the Attic sky, and we shall cease to wonder
at the early development of the genius of the race. In such a climate, under
such conditions, the very burthens of life are lightened, its roughnesses are

True, Attica is not Hellas, and no other part of the country possesses
in an equal degree the climatic conditions which gave Attica the pre-eminence.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that in every district of Hellas, without excep-
tion, the people could, as we have said, delight in work for its own sake.
Their energies were neither lethargised by excessive heat, nor paralysed by
excessive cold.^ The climatic diversities of the little States are, however,
best considered in connection with a subject to which they stand in close
relation — viz., the soil.


"Yes!" says a reader, "climate is, of course, a weighty factor, but I
should think that the fertility of the soil is even more important. Unless it
were very fertile, and produced in abundance all that the people wanted, there
would not be much leisure for experimenting."

Is " much leisure/' then, a sine qua non in experimenting? True it is, that

Online LibraryE. E G.The makers of Hellas: a critical inquiry into the philosophy and religion of ancient Greece → online text (page 7 of 112)