Слике страница
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

HERE can be no doubt that the most delicate features in our modern civilization

are due, not to the legacies left us by the Greeks and the Romans, but to the romantic nature of our Germanic ancestors. Honour among men, dignity among women, are known to have existed among them even when they lived as barbarians in their primeval forests. But though it cannot be said that the Greeks possessed these higher social feelings at all so much as the Germans in proportion to their other refinement, surely the most perfect civilization of the ancient world—perhaps of any period of the world, cannot have failed to develop some of the more subtle and delicate graces in our modern life. Yet the extraordinary genius and attainments of the ancient Greeks are, I think, more generally acknowledged than appreciated amongst us. Their ideas have been so universally adopted and imitated, that we are now often unconscious of our

obligations, and mistake for our own what we have borrowed. Yet where have we not borrowed from them ? Their political history, which has occupied many of the greatest living writers in our own day, has afforded a model for the Republic of America, the last great constitution the world has seen framed among its nations. Their architecture, while it afforded the noblest types for the public buildings of many centuries, has been even travestied most painfully with unsuitable materials, for unsuitable purposes, and in an unsuitable atmosphere, by the builders of churches during the past century, and of houses in every modern city. Their sculpture, while it stimulated the genius of a Canova, has led smaller minds to desperate attempts at combining the ungainly dress of the present day with the graceful folds of classic drapery--attempts which disfigure the principal thoroughfares of this and other cities. Nor is the fashionable milliner, when she racks her brains to change the just established fashion, independent of these great masters of grace and refinement. In short, the civilization of the ancient Greeks has influenced not merely every description of modern art, philosophy, and literature, but even every grade and rank in society.

But while the artistic results they attained are so familiar to us all, the greatest ignorance prevails concerning their society and their private life ; for even in most of the works published on the subject, where there are numerous details concerning the material part of their private life, its moral aspect has been as yet imperfectly discussed. What was there in those days corresponding to our notions of gentlemanly conduct, and of honour, of courtesy towards the aged and the weaker sex, of delicacy and of tact in society? What, in fact, was the history of the higher sentiments among the ancient Greeks? This is the special subject I am now about to introduce to your notice. But unfortunately our information is very defective: it consists wholly in stray hints, in accidental allusions made by contemporary writers and artists — poets, politicians, philosophers, and painters. To gather together and weld into a connected discourse these scattered fragments, is no easy task, and must claim your special indulgence.

I. Of the three epochs which I have chosen from the thousand years of Greek civilization, as affording striking mutual contrasts, and as being each depicted by a great contemporary author, the Homeric stands first in order of time, and, perhaps, of interest; for there is a subtle charm about antiquity itself which chains the refined taste with a strange spell of interest. The simplest social picture, which excites no notice in our own day, becomes curious and fascinating if you move it back a hundred generations ; but let it be preserved to us from the cradle of the world's history, and it is toned with a mellow light, which clothes its commonest features in grace and poetry,

So fresh, so strange the days that are no more.” And besides, the society of historical Greece possesses not a tithe of the romance or the sentiment found in the Homeric heroes and heroines. Even the later and more civilized Greeks looked back with respect and affection to these glorious days, and quoted Homer as the model of good breeding and refinement. And this is the real point of interest in his writings; for, in our day, no amount of luxury and refinement in material life would be accepted as a proof of high civilization. The use of silver and of gold, wrought by the cunning workman; of robes of divers textures, dyed with Phoenician purple; the use even of amber, imported from the distant Baltic ; the luxuries of sponges and of warm baths—all such things, constantly alluded to in the Homeric poems, are yet consistent with great barbarism. We desire to find among them not merely the implements, but the sentiments of civilized men. And as war was their chief occupation, let us examine their notions of honour and of fair play, as well as of humanity and of respect towards the weak.

But remember that we have to do with a people naturally neither very courageous nor very honest. No doubt, it seems very strange to say that a people constantly occupied in war were failing in personal courage. Nevertheless it is true; for not only among nations, but among individuals, you may have observed that the most pugnacious and quarrelsome are by no means the bravest. And in the case of the Greeks, there is ample evidence throughout their history that they were not brave in the sense applied to the heroes of chivalry and the soldiers of our own

« ПретходнаНастави »