John S. (John Shertzer) Hittell.

A history of the mental growth of mankind in ancient times online

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were not satisfied to stay quiet. " Regarding the Arca-
dians as very much their inferiors, they sent to consult
the oracle about conquering the whole of Arcadia. The
Pythoness thus answered them : —

'Gravest thou Arcady? Bold is thy craving. I shall

not content it.
Many the men that in Arcady dwell, whose food is the

They will never allow thee. It is not I that am niggard ;
I will give thee to dance in Tegea, with noisy foot fall,
And with the measuring line mete out the glorious


"When the Lacedaemonians received this reply, leaving
the rest of Arcadia untouched, they marched against the
Tegeans, carrying with them fetters, so confident had
this oracle (which was in truth, but of base metal) made
them that they would enslave the Tegeans. The battle,

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Iiowever, went against them, and many fell into the
enemy's hands. Then these persons, wearing the fetters
which they had themselves brought, and fastened to-
gether in a string, measured the Tegean plain as they
executed their labors. The fetters in which they worked
were still, in my day, preserved at Tegea, where they
hung round the walls of the temple of Minerva Alea.
Throughout the whole of this early contest with the
Tegeans, the Lacedaemonians met with nothing but de-
feats; but in the time of Croesus, under the kings An-
axandrides and Aristo, fortune had turned in their favor,
in the manner which I will now relate. Having been
worsted in every engagement by their enemy, they sent
to Delphi, and inquired of the oracle what god they
must propitiate to prevail in the war against the Tegeans.
The answer of the Pythoness was, that before they could
prevail, they must remove to Sparta the bones of Orestes,
the son of Agamemnon. Unable to discover his burial-
place, they sent a second time, and asked the god where
the body of the hero had been laid. The following was
the answer they received: —

'I^evel and smooth is the plain where Arcadian Tegea

There two winds are ever, by strong necessity, blowing.
Counter-stroke answers stroke, and evil lies upon evil.
There all-teeming Earth doth harbor the son of Atrides,
Bring thou him to thy city, and then be Tegea*s master.'

"After this reply, the Lacedaemonians were no nearer
discovering the burial-place than before, though they
continued to search for it diligently; until at last a man
named Lichas, one of the Spartans, called Agathoergi,
found it. The Agathoergi are citizens who have just


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served their time among the knights. The five eldest of
the knights go out every year, and are bound during the
year after their discharge, to go wherever the state sends
them, and actively employ themselves in its service
Lichas was one of this body, when, partly by good luck,
partly by his own wisdom, he discovered the burial-place.
Intercourse between the two states existing just at this
time, he went to Tegea, and, happening to enter into the
workshop of a smith, he sa'w him forging some iron.
As he stood marveling at what he beheld, he was
observed by the smith, who, leaving off his work, went
up to him and said: 'Certainly, then, you Spartan
stranger, you would have been wonderfully surprised if
you had seen what I have, since you make a marvel even
of the working in iron. I wanted to make myself a well
in this room, and began to dig it, when, what think you?
I came upon a coffin seven cubits long. I had never
believed that men were taller in the olden times than
they are now, so I opened the coffin. The body inside
was of the same lengtfi; I measured it, and filled up the
hole again.' Such was the man's account of what he
had seen. The other, on turning the matter over in his
mind, conjectured that this was the body of Orestes, of
which the oracle had spoken. He guessed so because
he observed that the smithy had two bellows, which he
understood to be the two winds, and the hammer and
anvil would do for the stroke and the counter-stroke,
and the iron that was being wrought for the evil lying upon
evil. This he imagined might be so because iron had
been discovered to the hurt of man. Full of these con-
jectures, he sped back to Sparta and laid the whole mat-
ter before his countrymen. Soon after, by a concerted
plan, they brought a charge against him and began a

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prosecution. Lichas betook himself to Tegea, and on
his arrival acquainted the smith with his misfortune, and
proposed to rent his room of him. The smith refused
for some time; but at last Lichas persuaded him, and
took up his abode in it. Then he opened the grave, and,
collecting the bones, returned with them to Sparta.
From henceforth, whenever the Spartans and the Tegeans
made trial of each other's skill in arms, the Spartans
always had greatly the advantage; and by the time to
which we are come now, they were master of most of the
Peloponnesus." *

After Timoleon had taken command of the Corinthian
expedition to relieve Syracuse, and when the weakness
of his forces led to the general expectation that he would
fail, he went to Delphi and inquired of the oracle whether
he would succeed. Not only did he receive an encour-
aging reply, " but while he was actually in the temple, a
fillet with intertwined wreaths and symbols of victory
fell from one of the statues upon his head. The priest-
esses of Persephone learned from the goddess in a dream
that she was about to sail with Timoleon for Sicily, her
own favorite island. Accordingly he caused a new
special trireme to be fitted out, sacred to the two god-
desses (Demeter and Persephone) who were about to
accompany him. And when, after leaving Corcyra, the
squadron struck across for a night voyage to the Italian
coast, this sacred trireme was seen illumined with a blaze
of lightfrom heaven; while a burning torch on high, similar
to that which was usually carried in the Eleusinian mys-
teries, ran along with the ship and guided the pilot to
the proper landing-place at Metapontum. Such mani-
festations of divine presence and encouragement, properly
certified and commented upon by the prophets, rendered

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the voyage one of universal hopefulness to the armament."*
Never were prophecies more speedily or splendidly ful-
filled. In many contingencies, Timoleon achieved suc-
cess far beyond the expectations of himself or of his
companions; and there was a general belief among the
Greeks of his time that he owed all his greatest triumphs
to the interposition of the gods in his favor.

It will be observed that in most of the cases here men-
tioned the responses were given in, or the precise phras-
eology of the poetical response was preserved to, histor-
ical times. Another response, given by an oracle in Asia
Minor, deserves a place with these from Delphi, The re-
ligious sentiment of Greece made it a sacred duty to pro-
tect suppliants; but when some Lydians fleeing from Cy-
rus became suppliants in the small city of Cyme, the
danger of resisting the conqueror was so great that an
agent named Aristodicus was sent to a neighboring
oracle for advice. On his arrival at the shrine of the
god, Aristodicus, speaking on behalf of the whole body,
thus addressed the oracle: "O king, Pactyas, the Lyd-
ian, threatened by the Persians with a violent death, has
come to us for sanctuary, and lo, they ask him at our
hands, calling upon our nation to deliver him up. Now,
though we greatly dread the Persian power, yet have we
not been bold to give up our suppliant, till we have cer-
tain knowledge of thy mind, what thou wouldst have us
to do." The oracle, questioned several times, gave the
same answer, bidding them surrender Pactyas to the
Persians; whereupon Aristodicus, who had come pre-
pared for such an answer, proceeded to make the cir-
cuit of the temple, and to take all the nests of young
sparrows and other birds that he could find about the
building. As he was thus employed, a voice, it is said.

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came forth from the inner sanctuary, addressing Aristod-
icus in these words: "Most impious of men, what is
this thou hast the face to do? Dost thou tear my sup-
pliants from my temple?" Aristodicus, at no loss for a
reply, rejoined : *' O king, art thou so ready to protect
thy suppliants, and dost thou command the Cymaeans to
give up a suppliant?" **Yes," returned the god, "I do
command it, that so for the impiety you may the sooner
perish, and not come here again to consult my oracle
about the surrender of suppliants."* The idea that dic-
tated the first responses was that men, who doubted the
duty of protecting suppliants at every risk to themselves,
were so impious that they deserved destruction.

Sec. 397. Greek Burials, etc, — The Greeks disposed of
the corpses of their freemen with the most devout care.
After the body had been washed and dressed in a shroud
of white linen, it was laid out on a bed, crowned with
flowers, gnd then watched at its side and mourned
through one whole day and the following night by four
women relatives. The next morning at sunrise the body
was taken to the tomb or to the funeral pile, accompanied
by a procession of the male relatives, slaves and friends,
near female relatives, other women at least sixty years of
age, hired mourners, and flute players. There was a
factitious burial for bodies lost at sea, and for soldiers
slain in battle under such circumstances that the corpses
could not be obtained. There was no funeral service for
criminals and persons struck dead by lightning.

Cremation and burial were both practiced, the former
being the more frequent. The coffin for burial was of
wood, pottery, or stone. In the mouth of the dead man
a small copper coin was placed to pay the ferriage across
the Styx, Earthen vessels containing wine and bread

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were put into the grave or placed on the funeral pile ;
and on the third day friends went to the grave, or to the
urn containing the ashes of the dead, to adorn it with
flowers and ribbons, and to make offerings of milk, honey,
wine, olives, and flowers. Sometimes a pyre was built*
covered with a banquet and flowers, and then burned
Similar ceremonies were repeated on the anniversaries of
the person's birth and death, and also on the day, which
came in the autumn, observed generally as the feast of
the dead. Funeral monuments were erected at the road-
side outside of the city gate, so that everybody coming
in or going out should be reminded of the deceased. He
who found an unburied corpse must bury it, or at least
throw three handfuls of earth upon it. Graves were sa-

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Section 398. Homer. — In many branches of literature
the ancient Greeks reached an excellence not approached
before, and in some, not excelled since. Among epic
poets, Homer is unquestionably the first, as is Demos-
thenes among the orators of the bar. Thucydides, as a
historian, iEschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, as tragic
dramatists, Aristophanes as a comic poet, Socrates as a
dialectician, Plato as a metaphysician, Aristotle as a biol-
ogist and inductive philosopher, and Epicurus and Zeno
as moral philosophers, are among the greatest names in
literature ; and many of them are the original organizers
of their respective departments. The very language that
the Greeks used took the impress of a brilliant national
genius. By many scholars, the Attic dialect has been
praised as the most forcible, precise, and beautiful of all
tongues for the expression of human thought. Felton
says of it : " It was the most flexible and transparent
body in which human thought has ever been clothed."

The Attic dialect became the language of Greek liter-
ature. Most of the great authors of the Hellenic blood
were Athenians by birth, and of those bom elsewhere, a
majority spent much of their time in Athens. Not only
in speech, but also in architecture and plastic art, in trag-
edy and comedy, in oratory and history, in lyric poetry


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and in social customs, the taste of Athens was accepted
throughout Greece as the highest standard of correct-
ness. This Attic taste or Atticism has been defined as
an " exquisite feeling for the right tone and natural propor-
tion ; an effort to obtain pliancy without softness, grace
without affectation, the love of sober and refined ele-
gance ; and all these gifts put at the service of a rich,
original, and unfettered imagination."

In nearly every department of literature known to the
ancients, the Greeks produced some work of great merit.
As pleas of an advocate, the orations of Demosthenes are
unapproached. In its substance, the oration of Pericles,
at the funeral of the Athenians slain at Samos, is the most
impressive address ever spoken on a public occasion. By
many able critics the history of Thucydides is considered
the greatest work of its kind. Since the ancient Greeks
disappeared as a distinct nationality, in no important de-
partment of letters except in prose romance, can the
moderns claim to have surpassed them.

In this work no attempt will be made to give a critical
review of Greek literature. Great books, as a class, are
effects, not causes, of high general culture. They have
been most numerous when the nation which produced
them was about to decline. So it was in ancient Athens
and Rome ; so it was in medieval Florence ; and so it has
been in several modern nations. The ages of Pericles,
Augustus, and Lorenzo de Medici were the culminating
periods of their respective countries. The most splendid
blooming of literature did not exhaust the people, but it
came when they were about to be exhausted by other
influences. The poetry of Homer, the dramatic pro-
ductions of -/Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the
history of Thucydides, and the oratory of Demosthenes

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SEC. 398. HOMER. 297

have done much for human enlightenment, but their direct
effects on human life, distinctly stimulating numerous
branches of culture in many nations, cannot be traced,
as can those of the democracy of Athens, the aristocracy
of Rome, the foundation of Christianity, the constitution
of England, the discovery of America, the invention of
the printing press and of the steam engine.

Those books, which directly affect constitutional or
civil law, industrial art, scientific knowledge, ecclesiasti-
cal institutions, or philosophic system, so far as their
effects, in these directions, can be clearly traced, come
within the domain of the history of culture; others, like
the productions of architectural, plastic, pictorial, and
musical art, belong mainly to special criticism.

The first literary compositions of the Greeks were in
verse, and of these, the oldest now preserved are the
Homeric poems. The traditions in reference to the
birth-place of Homer are conflicting, but he is more
intimately associated with Chios, where he spent part
of his life, than with any other city, though it was
Athens that did the most to preserve his poems. There
they were first arranged, edited, written out in their
present shape, and appreciated as works of enduring
interest and of eminent literary value.

Of his two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the
former is universally recognized by critics, as the most
admirable production of its class. Much has been writ-
ten to prove that it is a compilation of a series of ballads
which the Greek bards were in the habit of reciting
or singing at popular festivals; but the preponderant
opinion is that it was composed by one author on a plan
that possessed the merits of unity and high interest

In regard to the general merits of the Homeric epic,

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Grote writes : " They are of all poems the most absolutely
and unreservedly popular. . . . The most unlettered
hearer of those times could readily seize, while the most
instructed reader can still recognize, the characteristic
excellence of Homeric narrative, — its straightforward,
unconscious, unstudied simplicity, its concrete forms of
speech and happy alternation of action with dialogue, —
its vivid pictures of living agents, always clearly and
sharply individualized, whether in the commanding pro-
portions of Achilles and Odysseus, or in the graceful
presence of Helen and Penelope, or in the more humble
contrast of Eumaeus and Melanthius; and always, more-
over, animated by the frankness with which his heroes
give utterance to all their transient emotions, and even
all their infirmities, — its constant reference to those coarser
veins of feeling and palpable motives which belong to all
men in common; its fullness of graphic details, freshly
drawn from the visible and audible world, and though
often homely, never tame, nor trenching on that limit of
satiety to which the Greek mind was so keenly alive;
lastly, its perpetual junction of gods and men in the same
picture, and familiar appeal to ever present divine agency,
in harmony with the interpretation of nature at that time

"The two [Homeric poems] which remain are quite
sufficient to demonstrate in the primitive Greeks, a mental
organization unparalleled in any other people, and powers
of invention and expression which prepared, as well as
foreboded, the future eminence of the nation in all the
various departments to which thought and language can
be applied. Great as the power of thought afterwards
became among the Greeks, their power of expression was
still greater. In the former, other nations have built on

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their foundations and surpassed them ; in the latter, they
still remain unrivaled. It is not too much to say that
this flexible, emphatic, and transparent character of the
language as an instrument of communication, its perfect
aptitude for narrative and discussion, as well as for stir-
ring all the veins of human emotion without ever for-
feiting that character of simplicity which adapts it to all
men and all times, may be traced mainly to the existence
and widespread influence of the Iliad and Odyssey/"

Sec. 399. The Greek Drama. — Dramatic exhibitions
may have appeared in Egypt, China, or Babylon, before
they did in Greece, but the earliest known to history
were in the latter country. There the drama was an
original product of the native mind, and there it reached
an excellence unapproached elsewhere before modern
times. The first trace of a theatrical performance
appeared in the annual festival of Bacchus, at Athens, in
which a chorus sang a song or poem descriptive of
events, with comments on the conduct of some person-
ages mentioned in the story. The entertainment was
religious in origin and character, and the song was
marked by an elevated moral tone which was preserved
in all the tragic compositions of the Greeks.

iEschylus, an Athenian who became distinguished as a
tragic poet early in the Vth century b. c, made an
important innovation in the literary entertainment of the
Bacchic festival. Instead of having a continuous song
by the chorus, he introduced an actor who sang or recited
a solo part, in dialogue with the chorus. Thus the
drama succeeded to the ballad. The actor became the
hero of the plot; and the chorus gave voice to public
opinion, questioning, criticising, approving, or condemn-
ing the actions brought to their notice.

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A little later than ^Eschylus, but contemporane-
ous with him for many years, was Sophocles, who intro-
duced a second actor on the stage, so that it may be said
that with the leader of the chorus, and the chorus, he
had four actors on the stage at the same time. Eurip-
ides, who was bom when ^schylus was forty-five, and
Sophocles sixteen years old, introduced another actor.
This was the last improvement in that direction made by
ancient tragedians. Since the actors wore masks, they
could assume different characters in successive scenes.

In Athens, and probably in other leading Grecian cities,
the performance of a tragedy was an act of worship paid
by the state to god Dionysus, or Bacchus. The govern-
ment built the theater, managed the performance,
employed the actors, trained the chorus, selected the
pieces, and paid actors and dramatists. Although the
god of wine does not seem to modern thought a good
representative of severe morality, the dramatic perform-
ances given in his honor in ancient Greece, were per-
vaded by a severe ethical spirit. A Greek tragedy
abounded with impressive teachings of justice and pity.
Of the productions of iEschylus, Sophocles and Eu-
ripides, Grote says: **So powerful a body of poetical
influence has probably never been brought to act upon
the emotions of any other population; and when we
consider the extraordinary beauty of these immortal
compositions, which first stamped tragedy as a separate
department of poetry, and gave to it a dignity never
since reached, we shall be satisfied that the tastes, the
sentiments, and the intellectual standard of the Athenian
multitude must have been sensibly improved and exalted
by such lessons.'*^

It was in Greece that the first theater was erected,

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This structure had a capacity to seat 30,000 spectators,
and was not larger than the average ancient theater,
though ten times as large as the modern. The shape
was semicircular; the seats were of stone; and there
was no roof, but there were awnings which could be
drawn across the top of the building to shield the stage
and the best seats from the sun. There was no curtain
and no sliding scenery ; but there were several scenes on
pivots, so arranged that an idea could be given of the
different places; and after the middle of the Vth century
B. c, some of these scenes were painted in linear per-
spective which was discovered by an Athenian scene
painter while engaged in his business of trying to repre-
sent streets and the interiors of buildings in a manner
true to his subjects.

The great multitude of spectators made it necessary to
give to thousands seats at such a distance from the stage
that they could neither see the features of the actor's
face, nor hear his voice in the ordinary tone of speaking.
It was partly because of the great size of the theaters,
that, on the ancient stage, the actors wore masks, of
which there was one for each of the leading emotions
represented, including anger, hatred, sorrow, mirth, and
joy; and these masks were so large and had the expres-
sion so strongly marked that their meaning was clearly
discernible. They were shaped in such a manner that
they served as speaking trumpets to make the voices
more resonant. The text of the play was not spoken in
an ordinary tone, but most of it was recited, chanted, or
sung, and was thus made intelligible to distant auditors.
All the performers were men; and in selecting them,
attention was paid to strength of voice; and a consider-
able part of the text was intrusted to a chorus.

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The performances were not given every day, nor in a
number of theaters at the same time, nor in the even-
ing; but rarely, for some few days in the year. The
Greeks were early risers, and sunrise was a favorite hour
for opening courts, theaters, and public meetings, partly
because the people generally had no means of measur-
ing time precisely, and that hour was more easily ascer-
tainable than any other of the day save sunset ; which
latter being soon followed by darkness, was unsuitable
for meetings that might last several hours.

The Athenian tragedy was religious, and its perform-
ance was preceded by some brief act of worship, such
as burning incense and offering flowers and a libation
of wine to the god. In Athens several tragedies by
different authors were produced in competition on succes-
sive days ; and each author had his own chorus and set
of actors ; and each chorus was under the management of
some prominent citizen who had selected them and pro-
vided for their musical training in the part assigned to
them. The poetical, the dramatic, the musical, and the
spectacular effects were associated with personal, political,

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Shertzer) HittellA history of the mental growth of mankind in ancient times → online text (page 22 of 30)