« AnteriorContinuar »
history of his own time and country. The gradual transition from observations on nature in general, to those of the various natural curiosities to be found in different countries and climates, and finally to the fortunes and mannersof inhabitants of such countries respectively, is clearly perceptible, and maybe traced with historical evidence.
It is true, that the writings of all the early historians, despite their historical tendency, abound in fables and fictions,15 a fault of which, even the more strict Herodotus is guilty, yet it does not follow, as Creuzer16 would infer from a passage in Clemens, that they did nothing but convert into prose the verses of Hesiod, and of the Cyclic poets such as they found them. Clemens, no doubt, maintains it of Eumelus and Acusilaus)17 but these are but two of the many. Even Hecateus ridicules, in the preface to his work,19 the fables of the Greeks, and shows himself generally free from the influence and superstitions of the epic poets of former times. Nay, the very same Acusilaus, whom Clemens accuses of repeating indiscriminately the stories of poetry, is in the eye of Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, one of those who endeavoured to purify traditions from poetical embellishments, and surely, whenever Clemens differs from the more ancient Dionysius, we are always inclined to favour the latter, however great our respect is for the authorities of the venerable Alexandrian on other occasions.
Josephus, too, remarks19 that many erroneous facts in Hesiod were cor
u Dion. ib. Diod. Sic. i. 37; we ought, however, to bear in mind, that they were not the inventors but the reporters of the current fables.
18 Ib. p. 76.
v Strom, vol. vi. p. 629; vii. p. 752. Creuzer adds to these two also, Dion, of Mil. and forgets that his Kvkkos ioropocos is A pragmatic exposition of the mythological fables of the Cyclic poets. Dionysius may be said to have been the precursor of Ephorus, and his work, the first rough attempt to explain historically the mythological fictions.
18 ra dfj ypd<jxo — v. CI. Hec. Mil. Frag. ed. Klausen, Borol. 1531.
"Cont. Apion. i. p. 1034.
rected by Acusilaus; this remark shows at once how far and in what sense he made use of Hesiod in composing his own work, of which the effect was to point out to the public such facts as they might consider historical, and such as had their rise only in the brain of the poet. Creuzer ought not to have overlooked that passage, and still less the remark of Josephus,10 of Suidas,21 and of Clemens himself,2-'that the same Acusilaus published a collection of inscriptions on old tablets of brass excavated from the ground. This circumstance is sufficient to establish him as a critic and a careful inquirer after truth. Hecateus, moreover, wrote in that same critical spirit, as is obvious from Demetrius. We thus see, that nearly all the ancient writers are opposed to the more modern Clemens with regard to the early historians, who we can hardly suppose wasted their time and labour for no other purpose but to convert a poetical text into prose, a modern mania of the XlXth century, quite unknown to the early writers of antiquity. The bare suspicion of plagiarism which the venerable father entertains, that the early historiographers plundered Hesiod and published the facts in their own name, savours more of the spirit of his and our age than of a more remote and simple one. It is very possible that Acusilaus and Eumelus were informed during their travels by the natives, of facts already contained in Hesiod, and partly referred to him as an authentic source in many respects, and especially at a time when criticism was hardly as yet in its infancy, and poets were looked upon as established authorities.23 Strabo observes of Hecateus, that his writings, though in prose, were still composed in the spirit of poetry,24 nor need we wonder at this. Young men and young nations always speak poetically on almost every subject, however prosaic may be their ideas. The diction of all the early writers belonged to
their age and nation, but the subject and thoughts to themselves. Hence, the remark of Strabo,'-* that prose is degenerated poetry, as comedy is degenerated tragedy, and that the later writers had degraded and, as it were, drawn down language from its former elevated station, is a mere hypothesis of his own, to explain his own views respecting the rise and origin of prose. Cicero, Dionysius, and Demetrius, at least, inform us, that the style of those early historians was highly simple and barren. Moreover, the poetical vein conspicuous throughout the whole history of Greece, confirms our assertion, that poetry was more the characteristic feature of the nation in general, than of an age and individuals in particular.
The first attempts of the early Greek historians were anything but historical. Their chief topics were poetry, fables, mythology, geography, and natural history, with only occasional remarks on men and their political revolutions. History, in the strictest sense of the word, made but slow progress among the Greeks; the cause lay chiefly in the want of an institution to promote its developement. Among all other ancient nations, Egyptians, Phenicians, Babylonians, and even Romans, it was customary from time immemorial with the priests to record in annals all the occurrences of the day, especially as far as religion was concerned. With such authentic and public records not only was the rude sketch of future history delineated, but the historians were furnished also with ample resources for a true record of real events. But such a matter-of-fact institution was not congenial with the poetical spirit of the Greeks; and the early writers, however ready they may have been to compose true history, meeting no where with genuine sources to draw the materials from, could not help amalgamating facts with fables in the true sprit of the nation at large.
To poetry and mythology, the original elements of Greek history, were in later ages added politics and rhetoric. This latter degenerated in process of time into that chain of reasoning called by modern writers prag
* I.e. 21.
mutism; which the historians adopted on all occasions and subjects, especially when touching on politics and morals.
These elements are easily discovered in all the Greek historians. Thucydides'-8 is of opinion, that the early logographers or mythographcrs wrote more for the amusement of the idle, than the information of the inquisitive; an opinion more fully illustrated by Dionysius,27 who states, that the early Greek historians related promiscuously historical facts and poetical tales without drawing a line of demarcation between them. In the number of such writers, he includes even Herodotus.28 We must, however, bear in mind, that however fabulous and fictitious all these tales appeared to the later writers, the logographers attached to them historical faith. They stood, as it were, on the borders between prosaic criticism and poetical superstition; their writings have somewhat of the chiaroscuro, but may after all be considered as historical, since they contained the true picture of the spirit, character, life, and belief of their age.
Dionysius observes,29 that "all the stories and sayings current in the variouscountries were carefully preserved and handed down from father to son, and it was required from those who wished to write them down, not to attempt to alter and embellish them in the slightest degree." He then proceeds to state, that " it was necessary for those writers to intermix poetical episodes in their historical and local descriptions." Now we clearly see the object of the logographers, which was to preserve the traditions in their original purity, and to separate them from the poetical fictions which appear only as episodes in their writings, and for the insertion of which Dionysius insinuates a kind of an apology in the latter remark. This object is obvious, even in Herodotus, who says explicitly in the exordium of his work, that his object in writing was, to preserve from obli
28 i. p. 48.
=7 De Thuc. His. Jud. c. 5.
28 As is clearly seen in the words (1. 22.) KTrifia « &(\ fia\ovy fj ayuTUTfia ft T6 TTapaxpi /*a OKoittv fr/yKfirai.
■>> lb. c. T.
vion past events. Indeed, the definition of historical facts varies with the conditions attached to them. Wonders and miracles founded on the evidence of the Scriptures will be branded by the irreligious with the epithet of fables, while the religious will call them historical facts.
Thus, the traditions which the later philosophers styled fictions, were no such thing with the early Greeks; they attached historical faith to them, and understood by fables, only the inventions of the poets in opposition to the traditions. The logographers were consequently historical critics according to their belief; they endeavoured to draw a line of demarcation between the traditions (their historical facts) and the stories of the poets (their fables). This attempt may indeed be considered as the first step to modern criticism in history. We can thus understand how Cadmus and Herat Pus, whose own writings abound in fables and fictions, could still sneer at many of the Grecian stories, and even attempt to correct Hesiod. The distinction, as we have shown, consisted in the definition attached to history and fable, and according to their definition, they recorded traditions and ridiculed poetical inventions.
Those who consider the attempts of the ancient logographers in no other light than a mere conversion of poetry into prose, there ought to appear a considerable gap between the fictions of the logographers and the history of Herodotus.—What a gigantic leap in history and criticism!—What a sudden transition from the darkness of night to the .blaze of midday!! The Persian war, it is true, has done much for the progress of the arts and sciences among the Greeks, and in a great measure even for the admirable history of Herodotus. It was a second Trojan war in reality, where all the Greek nations were united for one common cause, and brought into full display their respective national peculiarities, energies, vices and virtues. They began to be conscious of their political bearings as regarded themselves and one another. Their subsequent successful attack upon Persia herself opened to those domestic confederacies a new world; they saw men, countries, manners, and the curiosities of
G«.vx. Mao. Vol. VII.
nature, of which they had never dreamt. Their faculties as politicians and statesmen, were continually on the stretch, and exerted on important political circumstances which surrounded them, and probably disgusted them with their former childish amusements, the ideal illusions of poetry. All this does not, however, weaken, but rather strengthens us in placing Herodotus, forming, as it were, the intervenient link between the logographers and the strict historians, at the head of whom Thucydides shines in all his glory. He stood, to use the expression, on the threshold between infancy and manhood of history. Too young for deep reflection, too old for childish play, his observations are neither profound nor absolutely grave, and amidst his serious task, he cannot help amusing himself now and then with the recital of a fable, though aware of its untruth. We can therefore not concur in the reproach Thucydides30 seems to bestow on him for having inserted tables with the view of pleasing the vulgar. He only resembled the halfgrown boy, caught at times playing with his schoolfellows younger than himself, and acting in the true spirit of his age and nation.
It is an opinion of old standing, that patriotism was the all-absorbing feeling among the ancient nations; any study or innovation not connected with the welfare of the country was considered idle, useless, and even dangerous. This is however more true with the Romans than the Greeks.
The various and contradicting points in the character of the Athenians as depicted by Thucydidcs91 in the speech of Pericles, and by Pliny32 in the wellknown story of Parrhasius, can hardly be reconciled with the principles of patriotism, and still less emanate from them. They are, on the contrary, the results of unbridled, licentious, and sensual liberty, of moral depravity coupled at the same time with a cheerful and good-hearted disposition, so often seen in the warm-hearted Epicureans and debauches of our days. Self-denial is almost impossible with them, and not seldom did the Greeks
30 p. 30. note 2. Apthon. Progym. in excerp- laud.
« II. 35—47. w N. H. I. 30—5.
of the time of Herodotus sacrifice public interest to selfish motives. Religion, morals, arts, sciences, and even politics, bear that character which is visible even in the work of Herodotus, who was more the child than the teacher of his age. Like his predecessors, he did not confine his work to political accounts; he noted down, in the true spirit of a tourist,indiscriminately all that seemed remarkable to him.13 Thus, his first five books actually resemble more travels than history. The political accounts, to which he devoted exclusively his last four books, are the results of conversations he held on his travels with different people, but not of his research and examination. With all this, he but ill conceals his propensity to reason and lecture on politics;3' he does not scruple to put into the mouth of his historical personages, speeches on government, probably invented by himself, and which may be considered as the first attempts in oratory, so sucsessfully cultivated and developed by subsequent historians. His politics are natural but superficial, in the true spirit of the Athenians at the time of the Persian war, who, prompted by a feeling of sympathy and justice towards their wronged Ionian brethren, did not hesitate to embark in a ruinous war against the oppressor, without calculating, like sound politicians, the many chances against their success and the evil consequences likely to result for them from such an untimely interference. All the political views of Herodotus flow more from the heart than mature reflection, and no wonder, if they are in substance defective and erroneous. When he read his history to the assembled Greeks, Thucydides, son of Oloros of Athens, is said to have listened to it with tears and emotion." He was more moved by the recital of the facts than the poetical
» II. c. 123.
** III. c. 80; v. G6.78. 92. Comp. Meriotto sur Herod et le but de son histoire m. r.
** We are aware that this fact is contested by many; however Lucian (Herod. 5. Avtiun t. iv.) renders it so probable that Midler (AUg. Gesch. P. i. p. 153.) and Heeren (ib. P. in.) do not hesitate to adopt it as historical.
diction of Herodotus: they were the tears of a noble heart,—tears of joy and awe, which a high-minded and generous youth brings to the memory of his ancestors when listening to their deeds and changes of fortune.
There were in Thucydides all the grand capacities requisite to a great statesman and noble patriot; but adverse circumstances,16 it appears, prevented him from entering into an active and practical career, and made him, fortunately for the learned world, only a writer; but such a one, be it remembered, as to become hereafter the model for historians. The rapid developementof the early sciences and politics which took place among the Greeks after the conclusion of the Persian war, and about fifty years before the beginning of the Peleponnesian, is as conspicuous in Thucydides as it was formerly in Herodotus. Then it was that a new era in historiography arose. Thucydides was the first to examine every fact with the keenness of the critic and the calmness of the philosopher, before he gave credit to it. Politics and state-eloquence are the predominant elements in his work, and so blended with the sublime of poetry, that it drew forth at one and the same time the censure and admiration of the ancients.87 It was, perhaps, more the poetical form than the conciseness and obscurity (as Dionysius, Cicero, and Quintilianus imagined) of his style, that rendered it unfit for the forum. Dionysius himself acknowledges,3' that Thucydides is particularly great in the pathot,—witness the retreat of the Athenians from Syracuse: nor is there one among the ancients who is not in raptures with his elevated style. There is moreover a tragical gravity, a passionate ire in his language when alluding to human frailty and misery, that transports the reader, as it were, by a magic spell upon the dramatic stage, which was iu his time at its culminating point. Despite his poetical diction,
"Poppo Pio1. ad Thuc. V. i. c. 1—6. 19 —23. Ii. c. 8.17.
37 Dion. Hal. i. Vett. ser. cens. in. 3. He praises the opposite qualities in the diction of Philostus ap. ad Pomp. 5, and Vett. ser. cens. m. 2.
i' Ii. 11,
the views and criticism of Thucydides are sound, deep, and any thing but sanguine. The eighth book alone is in a composed, dry, and prosaic style, and so different from the rest as to give rise to the suspicion that it was written by his daughter, and according to some, by Xenophon, The most probable opinion however is, that he died before he gave it the last touch, and that the MS. was after his death published from the rough sketch it was found. Herodotus and Thucydides were equally the representatives of the opinions and spirit of their respective ages. Their diction is congenial with the elements in their works, in the former poetry and politics, in the latter politics and rhetoric. The leading idea of Thucydides was, to impress the reader with sound views of politics, not through the means of reasoning and lecturing (as Herodotus did) on the abstract principles and theory of the science, but by putting facts in such a light as to leave it to the reader to draw the conclusions for himself. With very great tact then he chose for that purpose the Peleponnesian war— a subject affording, more than any, a variety of views as to the consequences resulting from it as regards the developement of Ihe arts, sciences, and politics throughout the whole of Greece. Dionysius, who rather disapproves of the subject," does not seem to have entered into the real view of Thucydides; but just the selection of the subject, and the way he has treated it, make us sufficiently acquainted with the design he hadin view. Many passages in this work betray it clearly.40 He put, not without intention, into the mouth of Pericles the praise of the Athenian state;" in the same spirit are the speeches on the days of general convocation at Sparta, at which the opposite characters of the Athenians and Lacedemonians are strongly painted; also the conference with the Melians points to that view. To the same purpose did Thucydides begin his work with the description of ancient Greece, its patriotism, simplicity and innocence,
* Ep. adCn. Pomp. 3.
* Especially i. 22. 41 II. 35.
and which serves as a contrast to the depraved morals and seditions of the Greeks in the time of the Peleponnesian war—a picture of which he has so skilfully drawn (in. 82.).
There is one particular feature in the history of Thucydides, that distinguishes him from the historians of all ages, ancient and modern. He has nothing to do with individuals; he never points to certain persons to whom the victorious or fatal success is to be ascribed, and who appear with historians in general as soul and spirit of the mass of the people, that seens to be a mere machine in their hands and unworthy of notice. Thucydides treats only of states and nations; they are the characters in his historical drama. Not even to I'ericles, his favourite hero, does he devote a particular chapter.41 He established, moreover, the licence of the old historians to introduce speeches at pleasure—speeches that deserve that nameonly in his hands, with theexcep tion of a few in Xenophon; for as to Dionysius and Livy, they are but the imitators of the son of Oloros. In a republican government, every statesman should be an orator, and every historian a politician. Every individual generally is, and ought to be, acquainted with the politics of the country in a government where none are excluded from the management of the state affairs. In the time of Thucydides, the politics of Greece, especially of the Athenians, were sound, crafty, and universal. His speeches may therefore be considered as printed parliamentary displays, the proper means in a Republic to instruct and convince the people at large. The best and longest speeches in Thucydides are on that account those of the ambassadors, when pronouncing the opinions of their respective countries in general.
Cicero is certainly right in pronouncing the speeches of Thucydides unfit for the forum j but he forgets that the historian never meant them as a pattern for a statesman to harrangue the people, to tickle their ears by polished periods, or to elicit their their applause by sudden bursts of eloquence rather than to win them to
«■ As to II, 65, iee Poppo in. i. p. 47.