LLR Books

ATHENS AND ITS DEMOCRACY


CHAPTER XI



THE history of Athens is scarcely less interesting from a political than
from an artistic and architectural point of view. It affords the first
example of a thoroughly organised democracy, and as such it has much to
teach the nations of modern Europe, both in the way of encouragement and
warning.

Reference has already been made to what was done by Solon in the
beginning of the sixth century B.C. to establish a constitutional form
of government, in which all classes of the population, slaves only
excepted, should have some degree of representation. The form of
government which Solon introduced has been called a
_timocracy_--property, not birth or rank, being the standard of
political power. He divided the population into four classes, the
highest consisting of citizens who possessed 500 medimni of corn. It was
from this last class alone that the nine archons--Ministers of State in
a restricted sense--and the _strategoi_ or generals had to be chosen.
All other offices were open to the whole population--the lowest class or
_Thetes_ alone excepted, whose eligibility was confined to serving as
_dicasts_ or jurymen, and who were exempted from the graduated
income-tax imposed on the three higher classes. All citizens had a right
of membership in the _Ecclesia_ or popular assembly, to which the
_Boulé_ or Council of 400, selected by lot, had to submit any proposals
of a legislative character. A special benefit was at the same time
conferred upon the distressed agriculturists by a measure called
_Seisachtheia_, for relieving them more or less from the burdens which
their costly mortgages had entailed upon them.

Still more democratic measures were introduced, nearly a century later,
by Cleisthenes, a member of the Alcmæonid family. He abolished all class
distinctions, with the single exception that the office of archon was
still confined to the highest of the four classes recognised by Solon.
He also divided the community into ten tribes; increased the number of
the _Boulé_ to 500, 50 being chosen from each tribe; and gave to the
general Assembly, of which all citizens above eighteen years of age were
members, a more definite and secure place in the constitution. No one
was eligible for public office till he was thirty years of age. From
each of the ten tribes 600 _dicasts_ were annually appointed by lot,
5000 of the total number being required for service in the law courts,
and the remaining 1000 for revision of the laws. It was also with
Cleisthenes that the measure known as _Ostracism_ originated. It gave
the assembly power in any political emergency to banish from the country
for ten years (later the period was changed to five years)
Over the talus of the débris from the excavations on the south side of
the Acropolis we see the front of the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, with
the long portico connecting it with the Theatre of Dionysos. On the
Acropolis itself, if we proceed from left to right, are Beulé’s gate,
the Propylæa and neighbouring remains, the Erechtheum and the Parthenon.
Towering above the east end of the Acropolis is Lycabettos, with the
chapel on its summit catching the sunlight. This drawing is intended to
convey some idea of the glitter of sunlight upon the splendid series of
marble temples and monuments of the Athenian Acropolis.]

any one whose presence seemed to endanger the safety of the state. When
a vote of this nature was taken, each of the citizens could nominate for
banishment any one he chose; but unless 6000 votes were recorded the
whole proceedings fell to the ground. The measure seems a strange one,
but it provided a safety-valve for political feeling on critical
occasions before the institutions of the country had become firmly
established. In the course of the fifth century ten politicians were
ostracised, the first being Cleisthenes himself, and the last (417 B.C.)
Hyperbolus, who was made a scape-goat for Alcibiades and Nicias, the two
rival leaders of the day. By another singular enactment, directed
against movements of a factious or seditious character, it was
obligatory on every citizen, when civil commotions arose, to range
himself either on one side or the other--neutrality in such
circumstances being regarded as treason to the state.

The constitution established by Cleisthenes remained in force as long as
Athens continued to be a free state, with a few additional reforms,
which gave it a still more democratic character. The restriction of the
archonship to men of wealth was abolished, and the power of the
Areopagus, the oldest and most venerable body in Athens, embracing in
its membership all who had previously held the office of archon, was
reduced to little more than the right of adjudicating in cases of
alleged homicide. In the days of Pericles provision was made for the
payment of citizens officiating as _dicasts_ or jurymen, and a “Theoric
Fund” was also created for the purpose of defraying the expenses of
public festivals, and bestowing on each citizen the price of admission
to the theatre on such occasions. In course of time this was followed by
the payment of citizens for attendance at the meetings of the general
assembly.

In the age of Pericles the greatness of Athens reached its culminating
point, and never before had democracy been so justified by its results.
In the funeral oration delivered by Pericles on one occasion (p. 168) we
have an attractive picture of the state whose fortunes he was guiding:--

     “From the magnitude of our city, the products of the whole earth
     are brought to us, so that our enjoyment of foreign luxuries is as
     much our own and assured as those which we grow at home.... We
     combine elegance of taste with simplicity of life, and we pursue
     knowledge without being enervated: we employ wealth not for talking
     and ostentation, but as a real help in the proper season. The
     magistrates who discharge public trusts fulfil their domestic
     duties also--the private citizen, while engaged in professional
     business, has competent knowledge on public affairs: for we stand
     alone in regarding the man who keeps aloof from these latter not as
     harmless but as useless. In fine, I affirm that our city,
     considered as a whole, is the schoolmistress of Greece.”--Thuc. ii.
     40.

The continuity of the Athenian democracy was rudely broken by the
Spartans the year after the fateful battle of Ægospotami. Having
demolished the walls of the city (which was starved into surrender) amid
the flute-playing and dancing of women crowned with wreaths, the
Spartans set up the tyranny of the “Thirty,” which gave the Athenians a
more bitter experience of injustice, oppression and cruelty than they
had experienced even in the closing years of the Peisistratid dynasty. A
remarkable proof of the intense hatred of political tyranny which
prevailed at Athens nearly half a century later was afforded by the
reception given to two young Thracian Greeks, who had at one time
studied under Plato, when they repaired to Athens after assassinating
Cotys, the tyrant of their country. Partly on general grounds, partly
because Cotys had been a dangerous enemy of Athens, they were received
with the greatest honour, being admitted to the freedom of the city and
presented with golden wreaths. So glowing were the eulogies passed upon
them in the Assembly that one of the two felt constrained to declare,
“It was a god who did the deed; we only lent our hands.” The feeling
against despotic power was scarcely less strong in Magna Græcia, where
the iron entered into the soul of many communities under the usurpation
of Dionysius of Syracuse, about the beginning of the fourth century B.C.
His request for a wife from the city of Rhegium, which was accompanied
with a promise of benefactions to the city, was rejected; and in the
public discussion of the subject one of the speakers remarked that the
daughter of the public executioner would be the only suitable wife for
him. Dionysius fared better at Locri, where he obtained the hand of a
lady named Doris, the daughter of an eminent citizen, but not till after
another citizen, a friend of Plato, had refused his daughter, saying
that he would rather see her dead than wedded to a despot. Doris, it is
interesting to learn, made her voyage to Syracuse in a magnificent new
ship with five banks of oars, and on landing was conveyed to the
tyrant’s house in a beautiful chariot drawn by four white horses. The
same day Dionysius also married one of his own subjects, and, strange to
say, the two ladies were treated with equal respect, and sat with
dignity at the same table.

At Athens the drama was one of the most powerful educative influences in
the community. The remains of what was no doubt in its time the chief
Dionysiac theatre may be seen in the neighbourhood of the
Acropolis--part of the southern face of the rock having been scarped to
form the back of the theatre. Plato speaks of it as accommodating 30,000
people, but this is probably an exaggeration, 20,000 being nearer the
mark. The front seats running round part of the orchestra are in the
form of marble thrones, adorned with reliefs on their fronts and sides,
and bearing the names of priests and other dignitaries for whom they
were intended. These seats probably formed part of the original stone
theatre, but the latest inscriptions date from the time of Hadrian. The
Emperor’s throne seems to have stood on an elevation (still to be seen)
in a central position behind the front row of seats, and images of him
were set up in various parts of the theatre--a departure from the
example of Lycurgus, who set up statues of the great dramatists, the
bases of some of which are still in existence. Immediately in front
of the seats is a circular wall, which appears to have been erected as a protection from wild beasts in the
time of the Roman gladiatorial exhibitions. On the other side of the
orchestra, facing the auditorium, are the remains of a stage with
figures in relief, representing the birth of Dionysus and other cognate
subjects, and a crouching Silenus supporting the stage. These were
probably not set up in their present form before the third century A.D.,
though the marbles themselves may date from the time of Nero. Farther
back there are the foundations of other stages of an earlier date, with
a _stoa_ or colonnade, intended as a shelter for the people in case of
rain. Traces have also been found, partly beneath the present orchestra,
of the primitive enclosure which served as an orchestra before the
construction of the theatre. It was probably here that the most famous
Greek tragedies were exhibited, though it appears to have been at a
different spot, in the _Agora_, that the first play of Æschylus was
enacted, when the scaffolding on which the people sat gave way,
rendering it necessary that some new arrangement should be provided. At
first a cart or table is said to have served as a stage for the actor, a
booth being provided at a later time as a background and dressing-room,
with some kind of platform for a stage, in the neighbourhood of a spot
suitable for dancing and overlooked by a rising ground from which the
spectators might be able to hear and see what was going on. It was
probably not till about 330 B.C., in the days of Lycurgus, that the
elaborately constructed theatre was erected, whose ruins still excite
so much interest and admiration. Immediately to the west of the theatre
are the remains of a colonnade--the _Stoa_ of Eumenes--which led from
the theatre to the Odeum of Herodes Atticus, one of the most munificent
of the Roman benefactors of Athens in the second century _A.D._ The
Odeum was built in memory of his wife Regilla, and though the
marble-covered seats and cedar roof are gone, its arches form an
imposing ruin.

Historically speaking, Greek tragedy, the flower and crown of Greek
poetry, had a very humble origin. It was developed from the dithyramb, a
lyric hymn in honour of Dionysus (Bacchus), which seems to have been
derived from Thrace, and was of a wild, impassioned, semi-oriental
character. Hence the theatre stood within the precincts sacred to
Dionysus: and the foundations of a shrine, as well as of a larger temple
in which the image of the god in gold and ivory was preserved, have been
discovered in the immediate neighbourhood of the theatre. About 600 B.C.
the dithyramb entered on a new phase in the hands of Arion of Methymna
in Lesbos, who found Corinth a congenial scene for such revelry. He
organised a chorus of fifty members in the form of satyrs[7] (whence the
name of tragedy or “goat song”), who danced around the altar or image of the
wine-god. Half a century later this performance was introduced at
Athens, and became a feature of the greater Dionysia which were
instituted by the “Tyrant” Peisistratus. By and by, at one of these
celebrations, Thespis, in order to give a rest to the chorus, came
forward as a reciter of poetry, which he seems to have addressed not to
the chorus, but to a person who was described as _hypocritēs_
(“answerer”), which became the name for an actor. The dramatic element
thus introduced was strengthened a few years later by Æschylus, who
provided employment for two actors and gave dialogue a more important
place, though the entertainment was still largely of a lyrical
character. A farther step was taken by Sophocles (who gained a victory
over the great founder of Greek tragedy in 468 B.C.) by the addition of
a third actor and the adoption of scene-painting. Sophocles arranged his
plays in trilogies or sets of three, frequently choosing subjects that
had no connection with each other, instead of the tetralogy (set of
four), which had formerly been the fashion. As a result of this change
the number of the chorus was increased to fifteen instead of twelve,
which had been approximately the fourth part of Arion’s chorus of fifty.

What strikes a western mind as the most remarkable thing about Greek
tragedy is its high moral and religious character, notwithstanding its
association with the worship of Bacchus and the prominence assigned to
dancing. Its subjects were almost always of a heroic nature, drawn from
the national mythology, and the problems of human sin and suffering were
treated from a deeply religious point of view. As Prof. J. S. Blackie
says in his translation of Æschylus (vol. i. pp. xxxviii-xxxix):--

     “Our modern Puritans, who look upon the door of a theatre
     (according to the phrase of a famous Edinburgh preacher) as the
     gate of hell, might take any one of these seven plays which are
     here presented in an English dress, and, with the simple
     substitution of a few Bible designations for heathen ones, find, so
     far as moral and religious doctrine is concerned, that, with the
     smallest possible exercise of the pruning-knife, they might be
     exhibited in a Christian church, and be made to subserve the
     purposes of practical piety as usefully as many a sermon. The
     following passage from the _Agamemnon_ is not a solitary gem from a
     heap of rubbish, but the very soul and significance of the
     Æschylean drama:--

    For Jove doth teach men wisdom, sternly wins
    To virtue by the tutoring of their sins;
    Yea! drops of torturing recollection chill
    The sleeper’s heart; ’gainst man’s rebellious will
        Jove works the wise remorse:
    Dread Powers, on awful seats enthroned, compel
        Our hearts with gracious force.”



And again (p. xlviii):--

     “The lyrical tragedy of the Greeks presents, in a combination
     elsewhere unexampled, the best elements of our serious drama, our
     opera, our oratorio, our public worship, and our festal
     recreations. The people who prepared and enjoyed such an
     intellectual banquet were not base-minded. Had their stability been
     equal to their susceptibility, the world had never seen their
     equal.”

The religious element is not so prominent in the poetry of Sophocles,
who brought his compositions to the highest perfection of art; and the
rationalising element is still more apparent in Euripides, with whom
philosophy may be said to have gained the ascendency. In his hands the
Athenian drama lost to a large extent its ideal and heroic character,
becoming realistic in its mode of thought, and showing the same
speculative tendencies as the Sophists had begun to indulge in.
Euripides represents a period of decline; but for intellectual keenness
and subtlety, for humane sentiment and tender pathos, he is generally
regarded as the greatest of the three. It gives us some idea of the
marvellous intellectual wealth of Athens at this period in her history
when we remember that the great poets we have mentioned were sometimes
defeated by competitors, whose writings have unfortunately perished.

Side by side with the later developments of Greek tragedy, Attic comedy
reached its culminating point in the writings of Aristophanes, whose
plays, eleven in number (dating from 427 B.C. onwards), are all that
exist of the comic literature of this period. It originated in the droll
procession, with merry song and rude comments on public affairs, which
formed one of the features of the “Greater Dionysia”--borrowed no doubt
from the rustic celebrations at vintage and harvest which are usually
attributed to the Dorian genius. At first voluntary, the procession
afterwards became a recognised part of the Athenian festival, and was
subsidised by the state, the result being that it assumed a dramatic
character in the hands of the poet Cratinus. While fun and laughter were
the primary objects it was intended to serve, it found room for an
infusion of beautiful lyric poetry; and the chorus became the
mouth-piece of the poet for expressing his mind on the questions of the
day, and satirising the vices and follies of politicians and other
public men. Unfortunately Aristophanes did not spare even such a
salutary teacher as Socrates, whom we find caricatured in the _Clouds_.
Though the comic poets were generally conservative in their instincts
and bitterly opposed to philosophic radicalism, they owed their right of
criticism very largely to the free spirit of the Athenian democracy; and
they soon gave up their scathing personalities when power passed out of
the hands of the people. Moreover the revelry associated with the
worship of Dionysus seemed to justify the licence which they claimed;
and when the old religion lost its hold on the mind of the nation they
lost their courage and independence as public censors. In Menander and
others the “New Comedy” became little more than an amusing reflection of
the social life of the day.

The plays in the theatre were only part of the Dionysiac festival, which
was celebrated with great magnificence by a public procession and
sacrifices. During the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., when the Greek
drama was at its best, the responsibility of producing a play was generally undertaken by some rich man who was
called the _choregus_, it being his duty to provide the chorus and
furnish its members with suitable dresses. In the event of the play
being successful in the competition, the _choregus_ received a prize in
the form of a tripod, which it was customary for him to set up in the
precincts of Dionysus’ temple, or in an adjoining street. Fortunately
one such monument has been preserved, which had been erected (as the
inscription tells) by Lysicrates in 335 B.C.--surmounted by a bronze
tripod, which has disappeared. Apart from its historical interest the
monument has considerable value from an architectural point of view, as
it is one of the earliest and finest specimens of the Corinthian order.
It is in the form of a small circular temple of Pentelic marble, fully
20 feet high, standing on a high square pediment of Piræic limestone 13
feet high, with a cornice of Hymettus marble. It is beautifully
decorated in a chaste and delicate style, the roof consisting of a
single leaf-shaped block of marble, and the frieze being ornamented with
scenes in the mythological history of Dionysus. For many years it served
as the library of a Capuchin convent which was built round it. The
convent was a favourite residence for Englishmen at Athens, and Lord
Byron is said to have used the interior of the monument for a study.

The theatre was often used for public meetings. It was there that it was
proposed to honour Demosthenes with a golden wreath in acknowledgment of
the signal service he had rendered to his countrymen in reviving their
courage and persuading the Thebans to join with them in resisting the
victorious advance of Philip. It was a great contrast to the treatment
he had experienced in the same place many years before, when a wealthy
Hipparch named Meidias attacked him with his fists at the very time he
was acting as _choregus_ for his tribe Pandionis. In general, great
decorum was observed in the theatre. It was not even permitted to the
officials who were responsible for maintaining order to inflict a blow
on any disorderly person, though it might be their duty to remove him by
force. That same year Demosthenes and some other leading Athenians paid
a visit to the court of Philip at Pella. Among other entertainments
which the king provided for them, his son Alexander, then a boy of ten
years of age, recited a dialogue, along with a companion, from one of
the great tragic poets of Athens. The taste for this kind of literature
never left the great prince, though his interest in natural science was
also shown by a grant of 800 talents to his former tutor, Aristotle, for
the purpose of carrying on zoological researches. When he asked Harpalus
to send him something to read during his stay in Upper Asia, the works
of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were among the few books selected.
Again, when he returned from the conquest of Egypt to Phœnicia, after
he had been saluted as the son of Zeus by the priest of Jupiter-Ammon in
the Libyan desert, dramatic representations formed an important part of
the festivals which were got up in his honour; and the princes of Cyprus
were conspicuous for the zeal and liberality with which they acted the
part of _choregi_ in competitions modelled on those of Athens. Of the
popularity of the tragic poets with Greek soldiers we have a remarkable
evidence in the fact that when, a century before, the Athenian army
which had been sent for the invasion of Sicily was utterly destroyed, a
number of men who escaped capture and wandered about the country, and
also some of those who had been reduced to slavery, won the hearts of
their conquerors by reciting passages of Euripides which they happened
to know by heart. In this connection it may be mentioned that all
free-born children in Athens were taught to read and write, while the
recitation of selected passages from great authors, and the practice of
music on the lyre or flute, along with gymnastics for the training of
the body, were always included in a liberal education.

Another great educative influence in democratic Athens was the practice
and the love of oratory. In the beginning of the sixth century B.C. we
find Solon employing verses on political subjects for the persuasion of
his countrymen, while at the same time condemning the incipient drama of
Thespis, when he saw him acting, as tending to falsehood--emphasising
his opinion, we are told, by striking his stick on the ground. It was
not till nearly a century later that the cultivation of prose rhetoric
became common in Greece. The Ionic philosophers of Asia Minor, and their
successors in Magna Græcia, who had tried to grapple with the problems
of the universe, gave place to the sophists who abandoned the quest for
abstract truth and devoted themselves to studies which had a direct
bearing on the practical interests of life. They naturally gravitated to
Athens as the intellectual capital of Greece, and found many young men
who were eager to acquire the arts and accomplishments they professed to
impart. Socrates has been called the greatest of the sophists, but,
apart from deeper points of difference, he was distinguished from them
by the facts that he gave no instruction in public speaking (for which
he had no taste), and that he accepted no fee from his disciples. On the
latter point, however, the sophists do not seem to have been so
mercenary as is sometimes alleged, if we may judge from the example of
Protagoras, who is represented by Plato as stating that he made no
bargain with his pupils beforehand, and that if they thought on leaving
that he was asking too much he allowed them to name a smaller figure, on
condition that they went into a temple and declared on oath that they
considered it a more just remuneration.

The fact that every citizen who had a case in the law courts of Athens
was obliged to plead his cause in person before a court consisting of
about 500 jurors, gave a great impetus to the cultivation of oratory.
Not only was the preparation of the speeches often entrusted to
professional rhetoricians, but their services as teachers of elocution
were also called into requisition by those who were anxious to do
justice to their cause by means of an effective delivery. The general
Assembly offered a still larger field for the practice of
At the junction of the converging lines of scarped rock is the _bēma_,
or altar, of the Pnyx, with a platform in front, from which, it is
believed, the orators addressed the people. It will be seen that the
steps, at the side of the cubical mass of rock, which has been called an
altar, ascend right up to the top of it; and it seems probable that we
have here rather the basis of the altar than the altar itself. The
latter may very well have been movable. Above the _bēma_ will be seen
the remains of a semicircular row of seats, apparently the seats of the
Prytanes, facing the people. In the middle distance of the drawing the
Acropolis rises majestically, and is finely opposed by the long line of
Mount Hymettos.]

eloquence, on the part of those who were ambitious of a political
career, and it was open to all citizens who chose to attend. The result
was that the Athenians became as pre-eminent in their power of
expression in language as in the visible forms of art. One of the most
interesting spots in Athens is the Pnyx, where the Assembly usually
met--“that angry, waspish, intractable, little old man, Demos of
Pnyx”--to quote the words of Aristophanes. The place of meeting was a
semicircular space on the face of a low rocky hill, a quarter of a mile
west of the Acropolis. Where the diameter of the circle would be, but
forming an obtuse angle, is a wall of hewn rock, fifteen feet high at
its central part, but getting lower towards the sides. In front of this
wall, about where the centre of the circle would be, there is a block of
stone eleven feet long and as many broad, resting on a platform of three
steps about thirty feet wide at its front base, cut out of the natural
rock. This is believed to have been the _bēma_ (“stone in the Pnyx”)
from which the speakers in the Assembly sometimes addressed 6000 or 7000
citizens chiefly resident in Athens or the immediate neighbourhood and
belonging to the middle or lower classes. Round part of the semicircle,
retaining-walls can still be traced, which appear to have been
originally much higher, so that the enclosure would slope down towards
the _bema_ or platform, and thus bring the speaker within sight and
hearing of the whole Assembly.

It was in the Pnyx that the great debates took place which determined
the policy of Athens and influenced the destiny of all Greece. Here
might be heard the demagogue Cleon, who knew how to play on the passions
and prejudices of the mob. By the strange working of the Athenian
constitution, he found himself on two important occasions at the head of
the army, first at Sphacteria, when the forces under his command
inflicted on Sparta one of the greatest humiliations which it ever
suffered at the hands of Athens, and again at Amphipolis, when the
Spartan general Brasidas gained the victory, though at the cost of his
own life, Cleon also being slain by a spear-wound in the back when he
was fleeing from the field. Here too Phocion delivered his opinions, the
plain, blunt, warm-hearted soldier who studied brevity and candour in
all his utterances, never condescending to flatter or even to please his
audience. On one occasion, when some remark he had made was loudly
applauded, he turned round to a neighbour and inquired whether he had
said anything very much amiss! His wisdom was not always equal to his
honesty and courage, but his career was long and honourable, as he was
forty-five times elected general for a year, and on many occasions
rendered signal service to his country. The conduct of the citizens,
assembled in the theatre, in refusing him a hearing (an old man of
eighty-four years) before condemning him to death as a traitor, will
always be a blot on the history of the Athenian democracy.

In the Pnyx, as well as in the law courts, might be heard the consummate
orator, whose extant speeches are pronounced by general consent to be
the finest specimens of parliamentary and forensic eloquence in ancient
or in modern times. The power of Demosthenes in delivery seems to have
been equal to his skill in argument and his clearness and felicity of
expression--the result of marvellous patience and perseverance in the
face of difficulties which would have seemed to most men to be
insuperable, arising from defective articulation, a weak voice, short
breath and an awkward manner. His devotion to his country was equal to
his enthusiasm as an orator; and if it had been still possible to teach
the democracy wisdom and preserve the liberties of Athens, Demosthenes
would have been the man to do so. But his lot fell in evil times, and
fate was against him. His end, like that of many of the great men of
antiquity, was a very sad one. In 324 B.C., six years after delivering
his great speech _De Corona_, which has been fitly called “the funeral
oration of Greek liberty,” he was thrown into prison on a charge of
conspiring against the Macedonian authority. He made his escape and took
refuge in the Peloponnesus, where he was living at the time of the death
of Alexander the Great--an event which kindled in the breasts of
patriotic Greeks a fresh hope of regaining their liberties. Demosthenes
took the lead in the movement for liberation and secured for his
countrymen the help of Peloponnesian allies in a last effort to throw
off the Macedonian yoke. On landing at Piræus he received a magnificent
welcome from all classes of his fellow-citizens. But the rising was soon
suppressed. Antipater compelled the city to surrender at discretion;
and within a year Demosthenes was again a fugitive under sentence of
death, passed against him by the remnant of citizens who were still
permitted to abide at Athens. In his extremity he took refuge in a
temple of Poseidon at Calauria, which had been an inviolable asylum from
time immemorial. The Athenian who was at the head of the Thracian force
sent by Antipater to take him was afraid to desecrate the sanctuary, and
tried to entice him beyond its precincts by promising that his life
would be spared. But Demosthenes knew how little faith was to be put in
such a promise. He knew that even if his life were spared he might have
his tongue cut out, like other orators who had done what they could to
warn their countrymen against Macedonian aggression. Despairing of being
able to render any further service to his country he resolved to put an
end to his life by swallowing the poison which he had secreted about his
person to meet such an emergency. As soon as he felt the poison begin to
work he arose and walked slowly out of the sanctuary, calling for
support to his tottering steps, in order to save the temple from being
desecrated by his death.

A few words may be added regarding another aspect of Athenian greatness
during the period of the democracy, which has already been incidentally
mentioned. The latter half of the fifth century B.C., which was the
golden age of the sophists, also saw the rise of a new intellectual
movement, which was destined to secure for Athens a position of
supremacy in the department

The worn and polished bed of the Ilissus, down which trickles the water
of the fountain of Kallirrhoè, is richly coloured with blue and purple,
owing to reflected light from the blue sky of a brilliant early morning
in summer. The Acropolis, with the Parthenon (divided into two masses
from this point of view), is relieved against the sky. To the right are
some of the lofty columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the little
café or refreshment house giving scale to them.]

of philosophy for hundreds of years after it had sunk into political
insignificance, and even after the sceptre in the realm of literature
had passed to Alexandria. The man to whom this new departure was chiefly
due was Socrates, a brave soldier, a genial friend, and an incorruptible
citizen, as well as an original thinker. Greatly to his own
astonishment, he was declared by the Delphian oracle to be the wisest of
men--a statement which he could only credit in the sense that he was
wiser than others inasmuch as he was aware of his own ignorance. He not
only imparted a higher moral tone to the teaching of Greek philosophy
than it ever had before, but also laid the foundation of the Logic of
Definition, and anticipated in the sphere of ethics the principle of
Induction on which Aristotle acted in the next century in various
departments of his encyclopædic studies, and which was to be fully
applied by Lord Bacon in the natural world nearly 2000 years afterwards.
Before the days of Socrates the greatest, or at least the most
ambitious, thinkers had made vain attempts to unveil the secrets of the
physical universe, and in doing so had either ignored the traditional
theology, or else explained it away, like Xenophanes, who held that the
gods were the creation of human imagination, and that if oxen or lions
were to become religious they would likewise make for themselves gods in
their own image. With such impiety Socrates could have no sympathy, as
we may judge from the fact that he even condemned the presumption of
Anaxagoras in treating _Helios_ and _Selené_ (sun and moon) as if they
were material bodies, whose motions and magnitudes could be ascertained
by the intellect of man.

In Plato, the disciple and exponent of Socrates, Greek speculation may
be said to have reached its culminating point. How greatly his thoughts
have influenced the course of philosophy in subsequent times, even to
our own day, may be judged from the following words of the late
Professor Jowett in his introduction to the _Republic_, which is
generally acknowledged to be the greatest and most suggestive of the
numerous works of Plato:--

     “He (Plato) was the greatest metaphysical genius whom the world has
     seen; and in him, more than in any other ancient thinker, the germs
     of future knowledge are contained. The sciences of logic and
     psychology, which have supplied so many instruments of thought to
     after-ages, are based on the analyses of Socrates and Plato. The
     principles of definition, the law of contradiction, the fallacy of
     arguing in a circle, the distinction between the essence and
     accidents of a thing or notion, between means and ends, between
     causes and conditions; also the division of the mind into the
     rational, concupiscent and irascible elements, or of pleasures and
     desires into necessary and unnecessary--these and other great forms
     of thought are all of them to be found in the _Republic_, and were
     probably first invented by Plato. The greatest of all logical
     truths, and the one of which writers on philosophy are most apt to
     lose sight, the difference between words and things, has been most
     strenuously insisted on by him.... In the _Republic_ is to be found
     the original of Cicero’s _De Republica_, of St. Augustine’s _City
     of God_, of the _Utopia_ of Sir Thomas More, and of the numerous
     other States which are framed upon the same model.... The
     _Republic_ of Plato is also the first treatise upon education, of
     which the writings of Milton and Locke, Rousseau, Jean Paul, and
     Goethe are the legitimate descendants. Like Dante or Bunyan, he has
     a revelation of another life; like Bacon, he is profoundly
     impressed with the unity of knowledge; in the early Church he
     exercised a real influence on theology, and at the revival of
     literature on politics.... He is the father of idealism in
     philosophy, in politics, in literature; and many of the latest
     conceptions of modern thinkers and statesmen, such as the unity of
     knowledge, the reign of law, and the equality of the sexes, have
     been anticipated in a dream by him.”




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