Butcher, S. H. Harvard Lectures on the Originality of Greece London: MacMillan 1911

No one can read Homer without being aware that the spirit of man has here shaken off the torpor of an earlier world and has asserted its freedom. There is no brooding sense of mystery; none of those oppressive secrets with which the atmosphere of Oriental poetry is charged. A fresh and lucid intelligence looks out upon the universe. There is the desire to see each object as it is, to catch it in some characteristic moment of grace or beauty. And the thing seen is not felt to be truly understood until it has taken shape in words, and the exact impression conveyed to the eye has been transmitted to another mind. A single epithet, one revealing word in Homer will often open up to us the very heart of the object; its inmost and permanent character will stand out in clear-cut outline. Nothing is too great, nothing too trivial, to be worth describing—the sea, the dawn, the nightly heavens, the vineyard, the winter torrent, the piece of armor, the wool-basket, the brooch, the chasing on a bowl. Over each and all of these the poet lingers with manifest enjoyment. There is but a single exception to the rule of minute delineation. In the description of the human person the outward qualities are but lightly touched. Beauty and stature–these are noted in general terms; the color of the hair is sometimes added; not unfrequently, it would seem, as a racial characteristic. But the portraiture of the individual is not drawn with any exactitude. There is no inventory of the features of men or of fair women, as there is in the Greek poets of the decline or in modern novels. Man is something different from a curious bit of workmanship that delights the eye. He is a ‘speaker of words and a doer of deeds,’ and his true delineation is in speech and action, in thought and emotion.

Again, though each thing, great and small, has its interest, the great and the small are not of equal importance. There is already a sense of relative values; the critical spirit is awake. The naiveté of Homeric society must not lead us to think of Homer as representing rude and primitive thought. Homer stands out against a vast background of civilization. The language itself is in the highest degree developed–flexible and expressive, with a fine play of particles conveying delicate shades of feeling and suggestion. Homeric men are talkative; each passing mood seeks some form of utterance; but garrulous they are not. They wish to speak, but they have always something to say. They are bent on making their feelings and actions intelligible. They endeavor to present their case to themselves as it presents itself to the minds of others. They appeal both to living witnesses and to the experience of the past; they compare and they contrast; they bring the outer and the inner world into significant connexion; they enforce their arguments by sayings containing the condensed wisdom of life. Homeric discourse, with the marvelous resources of its vocabulary, its structural coherence, its intimate union of reason and passion, has in it all the germs of future Greek oratory.

Moreover, the poet aims at being more than entertaining. He sings to an audience who desire to extend their knowledge of the facts of life, to be instructed in its lessons, to enlarge their outlook. Gladly they allow themselves to be carried into the region of the unknown. Common reality does not suffice. They crave for something beyond it. But the world of the imagination is no nebulous abode of fancy; it is still the real world, though enriched and transfigured, and throbbing with an intenser life. Through known adventures they pass imperceptibly into an undiscovered country–strange and yet familiar–in which they still find themselves at home. Poetry is not for them, as it so often is for us, an escape from reality, a refuge from world-weariness.

Strabo observes that ‘to construct an empty teratology or tale of marvels on no basis of truth is not Homeric’;1 and that ‘the Odyssey like the Iliad is a transference of actual events to the domain of poetry.’2

He insists, in particular, that ‘the more Homeric critics’ (οἱ Ὁμηρικώτεροι)–as opposed to Eratosthenes and his school–‘following the poems verse by verse’ (τοῖς ἔπεσιν ἀκολοθοῦντες) were aware that the geography of Homer is not invented; that he is ‘the leader of geographical knowledge’ (ἀρχηγέτης τἢς γεωγραφικῆς ἐμπειρίας)3, and that his stories are accurate, more accurate than those of later ages.4 Strabo has, of course, an excessive belief in the scientific accuracy of Homer; still the Odyssey is a truly remarkable geographical document, and recent investigations tend to heighten its value as a record of early travel. The desire indeed to identify Homeric localities and even personages, has led to some strange results both in ancient and modern times. An ingenious writer, who has translated the Odyssey, convinced himself that the authoress of the poem was ‘a very young woman who lived at a place now called Trapani, and introduced herself into the work under the name of Nausicaa’–the would-be princess being in truth a ‘practiced washer-woman,’ who in several passages betrays a suspicious familiarity with that art. But, apart from such extravagances of criticism, the Odyssey in all its geographical bearings has lately been made the subject of a fascinating and exhaustive inquiry by M. Victor Bérard in his two volumes entitled, Les Phéniciens et l’ Odyssée. Whatever may be thought of his Phoenician theories, and rash as we may regard some of his attempts at locating the scenes described in the poem, M. Bérard has shown with a wealth of illustrative material and under entirely new lights, how precise an acquaintance the poet had with the navigation of the Mediterranean, with its winds and currents, the coasts and islands, and with the habits of those early mariners.5 Even when we pass into the outer zone of the wanderings of Odysseus, there are links of connexion with reality. And we can imagine with what avidity the seafaring population of traders, pirates, and sailors on their return home from their voyages listened to the recitation of the Odyssey–to the description of places lying on fabulous shores or bordering on the world of fairyland, yet calling up frequent reminiscences of the actual lands they had themselves visited, and of perils they had encountered.

The close correspondence in the Odyssey between poetic fancy and the realities of a mariner’s life may be illustrated by a few examples taken from M. Bérard. In Book ii. 212 ff.6 Telemachus asks the suitors for a ship and twenty comrades, that he may go to Sparta and sandy Pylos to inquire about his father’s return. They refuse. Athene, however, under the form of Mentor equips the expedition. Some hours after sunset Mentor and Telemachus set sail. The time is marked by line 388:–

δύσετό τ᾽ ἠέλιος σκιόωντό τε τᾶσαι ἀγυιαί–

a formula occurring, in connexion with travel, seven times in the Odyssey, and denoting, apparently, the dead of night. Athene sent them ‘a favoring gale, a fresh wind from the North West (ἀκραῆ Ζέφυρον) singing over the wine-dark sea.’ Next morning at dawn they reach Pylos. Turn now to the official ‘Sailing Directions’ of to-day. In these Greek waters, we are told, land and sea breezes follow one another alternately. The sea breeze springs up each morning about 10 A.M. During the day, therefore, it keeps the ships locked in the harbor. At sunset it falls. Then for several hours there is a calm. Towards 11 P.M. the land breeze rises. Hence, this ship of Telemachus leaving Ithaca about 11 P.M., sails almost before the wind to the Peloponnese. The wind and the pilot do the work. At early dawn the mariners easily make the harbor. Later, it would be more difficult, for–see again ‘Sailing Directions’–the land breeze then freshens, and does not fall till about 9 A.M. The poet who described this voyage of Telemachus wrote, we cannot doubt, with all the knowledge of a skipper.7

One more example may be added.8 In Book V. 295-296, after Odysseus had quitted the island of Calypso, as he approaches the Phaeacian coast a tempest arises:

σὺν δ᾽ Εὖρός τε Νότος τε ἔπεσον Ζέφθρός τε δθσαὴς καὶ Βορέης αἰθρηγενέτης μέγα κῦμα κυλίνδων.

‘The South East and South West wind clashed and the stormy North West, and the North East that is born in the bright air, rolling onwards a great wave.’ Here we have four winds, Eurus, Notus, Zephyrus, Boreas. Finally Boreas prevails (383-392). It lasts two days and two nights; then it falls, and a ‘windless calm’ comes on. This was on the morning of the third day.

Again we look at our ‘Sailing Directions.’ ‘It frequently happens,’ we read, ‘that winds from the N.E., N.W., and S.E. blow at the same time in different parts of the Adriatic. The wind called Bora is most to be feared and demands active and incessant watch. … Its most furious blasts are announced by the following symptoms–a black and compact cloud, surmounted by another cloud more light and fleecy, covers the horizon in the N.E. (cp. αἰθρηγενέτης). … In summer it never lasts more than three days.’9

This, says Bérard, is not the storm of literature, but a genuine Adriatic storm. Virgil’s storms always last three days: that was part of his poetic furniture:

Tres adeo incertos caeca caligine soles
Erramus pelago, totidem sine sidere noctes.10

The poet of the Odyssey knows what he relates; he is minutely accurate in each detail; and the Adriatic storm, as he describes it, off the Phaeacian coast, is a curious confirmation of the old tradition that the island of Phaeacia is none other than Corfu.

The love of knowledge (τὸ φιλομαθές), says Plato,11 is as marked a characteristic of the Greeks as is the love of money (τὸ φιλοχρήματον) of the Phoenicians and Egyptians. From the dawn of history to know seemed to the Greeks to be in itself a good thing apart from all results. They had a keen-eyed and disinterested curiosity for the facts of outward nature, for man–his ways and his works–for Greeks and Barbarians, for the laws and institutions of other countries. They had the traveller’s mind, alert in observing and recording every human invention and discovery. One thing alone they viewed with unconcern–the language of the foreigner. Up to the time of Alexander, the Scythian Anacharsis is the only traveller of whom we read as having thought it worth his while to learn any language other than his own. Neither Herodotus, nor Democritus, nor Plato, availed themselves, as far as we know, of any such linguistic aid in their researches. Greek seemed to them the only human language; and even a skeptical philosopher like Epicurus felt no doubt that the gods, if they spoke at all, spoke in Greek. The neglect of foreign languages led to consequences more serious than the absurd etymological guesses that found acceptance in Greece. The notion that Greek words represented the original and natural names of things gave rise to mistaken theories as to the relation of language and thought. Even so great a thinker as Plato fell a victim to fallacies which could hardly have misled him had he been familiar with the grammar of any other tongue.

But the open eye and the open mind are not all that is required to discover truth. The Greeks soon became aware that, in order to see rightly, the facts must be looked for in a special way. ‘The god of Delphi,’ says Heraclitus, ‘neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign.’12 And again, ‘ Nature loves to hide.’13 She must be tracked, therefore, into her inmost recesses. Her secret must be wrested from her unawares. In the process of initiation into her mysteries no one can succeed who is faint-hearted in the search. ‘Unless a man has good hope’–once more to quote Heraclitus–‘he shall not find out the unexpected.’13 Truth assumes paradoxical forms. It is the incredible which happens, and the investigator must be on the look-out for surprises. But the stage of wonder is only the initial stage in scientific inquiry. ‘We begin,’ says Aristotle,14 ‘by wondering that a thing should be so, just as marionettes appear wonderful to those who have not yet investigated the cause;’ in the end we should be astonished if things were not as they are: ‘there is nothing that would astonish a geometrician more than if the diagonal should prove to be commensurate with the side.’ The progress of science from the unexpected to the inevitable, as here described by Aristotle, is not unlike his account of the evolution of a dramatic action–the most impressive tragic effect being that which arises from the shock of surprise at an unlooked for event followed by the discovery of necessary sequence: the catastrophe, however startling, could not have been otherwise than it was: the end was already implicit in the beginning.16

From the outset Greek thinkers looked slightingly on that multifarious learning which holds together a mass of unrelated facts, but never reaches to the central truth of things. As soon as they began to think at all, they directed their energies to the search for causes, the discovery of law throughout the universe. They are tempted at times to be too much elated by their own successes, to accept a hasty generalization, to be over-confident in the power of a formula; they cannot decipher ‘the long and difficult language of facts.’17 Yet the facts are looked at steadily, the data of experience are interrogated, sifted, collated, by methods indeed still imperfect, but without bias or partiality. We can see the writers at their task, revising and testing each judgment, and reviewing their conclusions. What a refreshing candor, for instance, it is when a physician, in one of the Hippocratic writings (a treatise On Diet in Acute Diseases) introduces a point he had overlooked in the words, ‘This argument will be of assistance to my opponent.’ Everywhere there is the same invincible desire not to rest in outward appearances, but to penetrate to reality, to interpret phenomena, to make the words of nature and of man intelligible. Mere beliefs or opinions–the image is that of Plato,18 though he shares the thought with many of his predecessors–are, like the statues of Daedalus, runaway things: not until they have been tied down by the chain of causal sequence do they stand fast and become in the true sense knowledge. ‘Rather,’ said Democritus,19 ‘would I discover the cause of one fact than become King of the Persians.’

The love of knowledge worked on the Greeks with a potent spell. It came to them as did the Sirens’ voice to Odysseus, luring him with the promise that he should know all things– the things that have been and those that are to be.20 They were, however, partly, conscious of the peril. And we find in them that the spirit of inquiry, daring indeed and far-reaching, was generally combined with reverence. It is not the timid Oriental fear that man might find out too much and so incur the jealousy of the gods–though of this feeling traces may be detected; chiefly, however, embedded in ancient strata of mythology: it is a feeling rarely hinted at in literature. The reverence I speak of is rather that restraining instinct which reminds man of the limits assigned to human faculties, and tells him that the utmost scope of his powers cannot avail completely to grasp the eternal order of the universe. Man cannot place himself at the centre and see as far as the circumference. Empedocles strikes this note in memorable verses:21

‘Straitened are the powers that are shed through the limbs of men; many the strange accidents that befall them, and blunt the edge of thought; brief is the span of that life in death which they behold–swift death to which they are doomed; then are they whirled away, and like a vapor fly aloft, each persuaded only of that on which he has himself chanced to light, driven this way and that. But the whole– man boasts that he has found it: all idly; for these things no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, neither may they be grasped by the mind. Thou, then, since thou hast strayed hither, shalt learn no more than human wisdom may discern. But, O ye gods, turn aside from my tongue the madness of these men. Hallow my lips and cause to flow from them the stream of holy words. And thee, I beseech, O Muse, much-wooed maiden white-armed, tell me the things that the creatures of a day may hear. From the House of Holiness speed me on my way and guide thy willing car.’

As in conduct the pride (ὕβρις) which thrust itself into a sphere not its own, and violated the rights of others–gods or men–was condemned; so too the feeling prevailed, though less frequently asserted, that the intellect should beware of over-stepping its proper limitations. Here too it was right to exercise the quality of temperate self-restraint (σωφροσύνη). Take again the magnificent opening lines of the poem of Parmenides–the poet whose sight was ‘straining straight at the rays of the sun.’22 The youthful inquirer is borne in the chariot of thought to the house of the goddess Wisdom. The daughters of the Sun show the way. At their entreaty the portals of the paths of night and day are flung open by Retributive Justice who holds the keys. The goddess receives him graciously and proceeds to expound to him both truth and error–‘the unshaken heart of persuasive truth’ and the vain fancies of mortals. The reverential awe with which the search for Truth is here described is rare in the mouth either of poet or philosopher. But an ethical sense—-a sense of moral limitations–akin to religious emotion, is conspicuous in the early Ionian philosophy. The great idea which Ionia contributed to human thought was that of the universal rule of law. It is one and the same law that runs through the physical and the moral world: ‘The Sun will not overpass his bounds, or the Erinnyes, the ministers of justice, will find him out.’23 The link is not yet broken between nature and man. The cosmic order rests on moral sanctions, on certain principles of limitation divinely ordained; it is the embodiment of supreme Justice–that Justice whose earthly counterpart seemed to later Greek thinkers to stand at the summit of all the virtues:–‘neither Evening nor Morning Star so wonderful.’24 The thought is not unlike that of Wordsworth’s lines:

Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens through Thee are fresh
and strong.

Greek scientific knowledge, however, grew up under secular influences, not as in the East under the shadow of the temple. There was in Greece no separate and leisured class of priests and scholars; no sacred books which hampered the free play of intellect. Even medicine, which is slow to detach itself from magic, was developed in an atmosphere of lay thought, partly through the philosophic investigation of nature, partly by the close study of health and disease in those families of physicians in which the art was hereditary. Fortunately for the Greeks they were able to utilize the scientific observations made in Egypt and Chaldaea by an organized priesthood, while they themselves dispensed with the teaching of the priests. All the accumulated lore of the earlier civilizations they appropriated, making it the starting-point for fresh inquiry. But they never rested in unverified tradition. Even religious cosmogonies they do not take ready-made. Science followed the ebb and flow of thought; its free movement was unhampered; its truths were not conveyed through hieratic channels and never hardened into lifeless dogmas.

Thus Greek science, Greek philosophy, is the awakening of the lay mind. The Greeks dared to ask the question ‘Why?’ The fact was not enough; they sought out the cause (τὸ διότι) behind the fact (τὸ ὅτι). Their answer to the ‘Why?’ is often wrong; but no anxious scruples, no priestly authority deterred them from venturing into the hidden domain of causes. In the abstract mathematical sciences they were the first to ask the Why of things, and seldom failed to hit on the true answer. One of the facts long known to Chinese, Hindoo, and Egyptian architects was that if the sides of a triangle are represented numerically by 3, 4, and 5, the sides whose lengths are 3 and 4, are perpendicular to one another. Century upon century passed before any one asked the question, Why is this so? In a dialogue written by a Chinese emperor, Tchaou-kong, about 1100 B.C., in which the emperor himself takes a part, his interlocutor reveals to him the property of this famous triangle. ‘Indeed! wonderful!’ exclaimed the emperor; but it never occurred to him to ask the reason:– the wonder in which philosophy begins sometimes stops short of philosophy. Not till the Greeks appeared in history was the reason asked and the answer given. Greek geometry was, in short, a new thing in the history of the human mind. Geometry, according to Herodotus, was born in Egypt; but it was geometry as an applied science, practical in its aims, and such as was requisite for the arts of building and land-surveying. Theoretic geometry the Greeks created for themselves; and so rapid was their advance that by the fifth century B.C., as it would seem, the greater part of what is contained in the elements of Euclid had attained to demonstrative and logical form. The kind of geometry which the Greeks discovered is characteristic of the idealist temperament so conspicuous in their art and literature. Lines which have length without breadth, which are absolutely straight or curved, indicate at once that we are in the region of pure thought. The conditions of empirical reality are neglected; the mind is striving towards ideal forms. Pythagoras, we are told, offered a sacrifice to the gods in joy at a mathematical discovery. In what earlier civilization was mathematics pursued with this disinterested ardor?

The Jews as well as the Greeks felt that the paramount need of humanity was knowledge– that man should know the truth about himself and his relation to the power outside him. But the Greek, with unwearied insistence, asked himself, What is knowledge? Can it be attained, and how? No problem appeared to him more difficult. It was looked at from every side by a succession of great thinkers. Many and various were the answers. To the Jews, on the other hand, the answer was not remote or difficult; there was but one knowledge and that the highest: ‘The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.’ It had been revealed to them by the divine voice; repeated at every crisis of their marvelous history; written indelibly on the conscience of the nation; it was indeed the secret of which they were the repository, to be guarded inviolate and disclosed in due time to the world. The knowledge of the Lord was the beginning and end of wisdom. And the words of this wisdom–so ran the command–‘ye shall teach your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thine house, and upon thy gates.’

The Greeks, like the Jews, had their sacred volume. Already in the seventh century B.C. at the Delian festival and in many other parts of the Hellenic world, they assembled to hear their minstrels recite the Homeric poems. At Athens, from the sixth century onward, a public recitation of Homer was held every fourth year at the Panathenaic festival. It was analogous to the Jewish provision that once in every seven years the law was to be read at the Feast of Tabernacles in the hearing of all Israel. In 444 B.C. we read of Ezra on his return from Babylon to Jerusalem renewing the old observance and reading the book of the law to the assembled people; and it is curious to reflect that at Athens at the same time, in the Periclean era, the corresponding custom continued to exist. But there was this difference. Whereas for each nation, Jews and Greeks alike, the reading of their own ancient volume served to heighten the sense of spiritual kinship and to create an ideal of conduct: to the Greeks the Homeric poems had now become but one among many means of satisfying the needs of thought and imagination. The popular mind still found in them the knowledge of all things human and divine; but the deeper and pressing intellectual problems that had arisen, met with no solution there. The drama was already presenting its own interpretations of human destiny; philosophy had entered on its long quarrel with poetry; Socrates had started speculation on the road that it was to pursue for centuries. Received traditions were now being questioned. The Why of duty, no less than the meaning of knowledge, was being subjected to discussion. Thus the Homeric poems, while they never ceased to be the inspiration of the race, had lost their unique authority. Meanwhile to the Jews the law, in the widest sense of the word, was still the one book on which to meditate day and night. Nor was the knowledge of it a thing to be received with languid or otiose mind, or in the quietude of religious rapture. Man’s bliss was to exercise himself therein, to go back upon it in his inmost thoughts, to drink deeply of those inexhaustible springs. The intervals of sacred leisure which were enjoyed by all classes within the community, were devoted to the deepening of the religious life; for the outward observance of the Sabbath and the non-performance of thirty-nine various kinds of work afterwards enumerated by the Rabbis did not exhaust the significance of the day to pious minds. Moreover, as this knowledge was to be translated into action, and adapted to all circumstances as the vivifying principle of conduct, it became necessary not to rest satisfied with the letter of the law, but to pass beyond the unwritten word, and divine the things that were unsaid,–or in the later Rabbinical phrase, ‘the commands left to the human heart.’ There remained a multitude of details outside the province of strict law, in which, as with the Greeks, the rules of conduct could only be discovered by immediate perception–by what Aristotle calls αἴσθησις–that delicate and sensitive faculty which intuitively apprehends the facts of the particular case. Still the greater issues of life were once for all determined, and there was no riddle left for the wise man to solve.

Aristotle, like the Jew, places the supreme bliss of man in a certain mode of knowing and thinking. But the human Reason is with him the one instrument by which this highest knowledge is to be attained. It is a thing either intrinsically divine or the divinest gift that we possess. Alone it is loved for its own sake; of all our activities it is the most continuous, the most pleasurable, the least dependent on external conditions. Man’s felicity consists in the exercise of this sovereign faculty with such untiring vigor as our human condition admits. Such a life of speculation is the noblest employment of leisure. It is an energy which is also tranquillity, an activity of mind that is set free from mechanical occupations and the pressure of material needs, and directed inward, not upon ends external to itself;–the deep repose of the soul in the contemplation of truth. It is a life higher than human; nor can we live it save in virtue of the divine principle inherent in us. ‘Let us not listen therefore to those who tell us that as men and mortals we should mind only the things of man and of mortality; but, so far as we may, we should bear ourselves as immortals (ἀθανατίζειν), and do all that in us lies to live in accord with that element within us, that sovereign principle of Reason, which is our true self, and which in capacity and dignity stands supreme.’25 Here we have the love of knowledge in its highest Greek conception, touched with religious emotion, and almost carried into the sphere of mysticism. I need not stay to enlarge on the divergence between this ideal and that suggested by the words of the Hebrew prophet: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might…: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.’

Consider, again, how the Greeks regarded the facts of history. They felt, first of all, the intellectual curiosity to know what had really happened. A fact was interesting because it was true. The past was in itself worthy of investigation, of tolerant and sympathetic inquiry. We have here “ἱστορία” in its primary sense as the search for truth. But no Greek could treat history as a mere succession of facts, a chance sequence of events. An explanation of the facts must be sought, some unifying principle discovered. Particulars must be viewed in larger relations. The interpretative force of mind must be brought to bear upon them, and their hidden meaning extracted. It is not the facts, but the meaning of the facts, that is of paramount interest; the facts must, if possible, be made into truths. And it is remarkable with what intellectual insight the great historians of Greece do actually apprehend the wider significance of the special chapters in Greek history which they severally narrate.

The conflict of Greece and Persia was for Herodotus the culminating point of a great drama, a clash of forces rendered inevitable by events that had been long preparing in the kingdoms of the East. Thucydides saw in the Peloponnesian war and in the tragedy of the Athenian downfall, an inner crisis affecting national character. Polybius recognized that with the empire of Rome new historical perspectives were opened up, and countries hitherto disconnected drawn into the current of universal history. Each of these writers was in his own way a philosophic historian. We have already seen in what sense this is true of Herodotus.26 To penetrate the mind of Thucydides is a less easy task. In his austere reserve he is far removed from the ingenuous charm and candor of Herodotus. He is not ready to come forward and reason with us. He has no intimate confidences to bestow. He offers few reflections containing a moral judgment. While the moral impression is clear and sharp, the award of praise or blame is left to the reader. Thucydides is concerned with understanding rather than with judging; his aim is to throw light on the laws of human action and the permanent principles of conduct; to enable the statesman to direct the present and in some measure to forecast the future. He is under no illusions. Psychological facts are often unlovely enough: he records them coldly: but to regard him as cynically indifferent is to misread the severe impartiality of his art. He felt the sombre fascination of the Peloponnesian war, its terror and grandeur. Great passions were there aroused, destructive energies let loose, issuing in deeds both of savagery and heroism. The outward events were for the historian a material which must be rendered in terms of mind. His philosophic impulse shows itself in tracing causes; not final causes, as with Herodotus; but the secondary causes which are revealed on the stage of human life and in the heart of the actors. He does not profess to read the purposes of a supernatural power. Neither destiny nor chance is for him the governing force of the world. Events have their roots in character, of which they are the outcome; it is here that we must seek their inner meaning. They are not mere startling or dramatic incidents, but phenomena whose reason lies deep in the moral disposition of nations and individuals, and the law of whose succession can be discovered. The great agent in shaping outward circumstances is the human will. The historian, therefore, who would interpret the world of facts must analyze the various forms in which mind manifests itself, must study its laws and reach the vital forces which are at work below the surface. History is a scroll written by human intelligence in the large and legible letters of the past. Thus, Thucydides is a philosophic historian, but he expounds no theory: he remains a historian, he is not a philosopher—a historian, however, of imaginative insight who brings out both the poetry and the philosophy latent in the facts.

Polybius, writing between two and three centuries later, derives his guiding principles direct from Thucydides. He narrates the struggle between Rome and Carthage for the supremacy of the world; and his design is to exhibit the organic unity of history, the idea of a universal history corresponding, as he conceived it, to the fact of universal empire. It is this ‘clear ecumenical view,’ says Freeman, ‘which makes him the teacher of all time.’ Unfortunately his style is a serious deterrent to the reader. We long for the ease, the finished grace, the flowing simplicity of Herodotus; or again, for the terse and rapid phrase of Thucydides, the energy, the precision of each single word, the sentence packed with thought. Polybius has lost the Greek artistic feeling for writing, the delicate sense of proportion, the faculty of reserve. The freshness and distinction of the Attic idiom are gone. He writes with an insipid and colorless monotony. In arranging his materials he is equally inartistic. He is always anticipating objections and digressing; he wearies you with dilating on the excellence of his own method; he even assures you that the size and price of his book ought not to keep people from buying it. Yet admirable as is the substance of his writing, he pays the penalty attaching to neglect of form–he is read by the few. His interest, however, for us here is that, while he intends his history to be a practical treatise, containing useful lessons for men of affairs, he is true to the philosophic tradition he has inherited from Thucydides, in his persistent effort to exhibit the relations of cause and effect through the texture of the narrative. In particular, he is at pains to search out the true cause of an event, as distinguished from the occasion of its happening; and such causes he follows back to their source in character. National life, like individual life, has for him an ethical basis; it is in character, and the institutions that grow out of character, that the true movement of a people’s history is revealed.

The idea that the true causes of events lie deep in character was appropriated as a theory of history by Polybius: Demosthenes had long ago received it from Thucydides as an inspiring motive of civic eloquence.27 The Athenians, when defeated by Philip, were wont to lay the blame on their politicians or their generals, on adverse winds, on unkindly fortune. Demosthenes carries the failure back to themselves– to their own indolence and improvidence. He will not be put off with superficial explanations. Character with him is all in all. Every Philippic oration is instinct with the thought. ‘Is Philip dead? No, he is only ill. Dead or ill, what difference to you? If anything befalls him, you will instantly create another Philip for yourselves.’28 Or again: ‘Always letting slip the present and imagining that the future will take care of itself, it is we that have made Philip great and exalted him to a height of power above that of any previous king of Macedon.’29 Men who can hope to succeed must have a mind that can anticipate and control outward circumstances: but in politics, as in war, the Athenians ‘wait upon events’; they begin to think when the time has come for action; they strike after the blow has fallen.30

The use of opportunity, the strong man’s ability to seize the present and to shape the future, is a favorite topic of Demosthenes. Its full significance may best be read in connexion with the Greek idea of Kairos (καιρός) in literature and art. No other nation has distinguished so subtly the different forms under which time can be logically conceived. Chronos (χρόνος) is time viewed in its extension, as a succession of moments, the external framework of action. Under this aspect of simple duration Time achieves, it is true, a silent work of its own. Man cannot ignore its revealing power. He looks on and almost unconsciously learns his lesson. The arts, the sciences, come into being under its gradual influence. ‘Time as it ages teaches all things’31; ‘Time alone is the proof of real truth,’32 the ‘touch-stone of every deed,’33 the one ‘wisest thing.’34 The phrases in which Aristotle describes Time as agent or joint-agent in the work of progressive discovery,35 bear an impressive resemblance to the thought and language of Bacon. Chronos, however, remained on the whole too abstract, too indeterminate to admit easily of personal embodiment in literature or art. It was otherwise with Kairos–a word which has, I believe, no single or precise equivalent in any other language. Kairos is that immediate present which is what we make it; Time charged with opportunity; our own possession, to be seized and vitalized by human energy; momentous, effectual, decisive; Time the inert transformed into purposeful activity. Not only did the poet Ion compose a hymn to Kairos in which he is called the youngest child of Zeus–opportunity being truly thought of as the latest and god-given gift–but in art the rendering of Kairos is various and interesting. Sometimes he is a youth pressing forward with wings on his feet and back, holding a pair of scales, which he inclines with a slight touch of the right hand to one side. His hair is long in front and bald behind; he must be grasped, if at all, by the fore-lock. In one relief, where Kairos occupies the center, Regret (Μετάνοια) is represented as a shrinking and dejected form who stands beside an old man, symbolizing the sadness felt over the lost moment that cannot be recalled. In the palæstra– and here he is most at home– Kairos appears in the guise of a Hermes, an athlete god. It is Kairos who seizes the lucky moment in the wrestling bout; Kairos who with his chariot-wheels closely grazes the goal; Kairos to whom men offered sacrifice as they entered the stadium. Kairos is the god of the man with a mind swift but sure in decision, and with a body trained to be the mind’s obedient servant. The sense of the opportune that is here suggested is as unlike as possible to what is commonly known as ‘opportunism’; it is ‘the triumphant flash of daring and right judgment’; it goes with high originality and initiative, and reaches even to the point of genius.

Thucydides and Demosthenes had the same ideal of statesmanship. Great men are those in whom the power of the spirit dominates matter. Their strong intelligence, free from illusion, their calm and clear reflection does not issue in any hesitating purpose; it leads direct to action. They know how to seize occasion; they are masters of things outward; they go boldly forth to meet the incalculable thing we call fortune; they thrust obstacles aside or fall, if needs must be, in the attempt. It is a view akin to that of tragedy, where external actions and events are but the setting in which character is displayed; where, in a much more complete and deeper sense, man can prove himself to be not the creature, but the lord of circumstances, which he moulds in the strength of his spiritual energy. Just as in the region of creative art the imagination impresses its own form on the lifeless elements, remaking them with its touch; so too the Greek philosopher, historian, orator, each proclaims in divers ways the supremacy of spiritual over material forces; each brings some new outlying territory under the domain of reason.

We have followed the working of the Greek intellect as revealed not in a passive reception of ideas, but in the energetic action it brings to bear on all that comes within its range: it correlates, interprets, unifies the facts of experience; translates outward things into terms of spirit, transmuting all dead material. The views of Greek thinkers on Education are in accord with this attitude of mind. With all their restless curiosity, their insatiable love of knowledge, they had no respect for mere erudition. ‘Wealth of thought, not wealth of learning’ was the thing they coveted:– πολυνοΐην, οὐ πλυμαθίην ἀσκεῖν χρή, the striking saying of Democritus.36 Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, all speak in similar depreciatory terms of mere ‘polymaths’–men of multifarious learning, untouched by the quickening force of reason. Extensive reading, the acquisition of facts, the storing of them in the memory–all this is possible without any discipline or enlargement of mind. In order that learning may become wisdom two conditions must be satisfied. First, the facts must be assimilated and interpreted; the formative power of thought must work upon the material of knowledge. And, secondly, learning must be humanized. True learning is bound up with human fellowship. It is a partnership in which there is give and take, a joint search and joint discovery. To the Greeks the subject taught seemed of less importance than the man who taught it. The teacher’s office was to show the right method of learning. He himself is a learner, who in and through learning becomes a teacher. Just as Greek poetry, more than that of any other nation, is the expression of the people’s collective life, so Greek learning draws its inspiration not so much from solitary study as from noble companionship and ideal human intercourse. Education, as the Greeks conceived it, was based on broad and deep sympathy—sympathy of intellect and character, and sympathy of aim. The Pythagorean motto κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων, ‘Friends have all things in common,’ might have been written over every Greek class-room. The love of truth, the spirit of joint investigation, the ‘following of the argument whithersoever it leads’–this was the bond of union, the prized possession of the brotherhood of learning.

There is one salient difference between education as understood by the Greeks and the popular idea of education in our own day. To the Greeks education was primarily a training of faculty that should fit men for the exercise of thought and the duties of citizenship. The modern world looks rather to the acquisition of some skill or knowledge that is needed for a career; it thinks more of the product than of the process. Acquaintance with facts counts more with the modern; mental completeness and grasp are primary with the Greek. But that mental completeness was not to be won through intellectual discipline alone; it meant also a discipline and moulding of character, a training in public spirit, a suppression of the individual, a devotion to civic ends. The Greek Paideia (παιδεία) in its full sense involves the union of intellectual and moral qualities. It is on the one hand mental illumination, an enlarged outlook on life; but it also implies a refinement and delicacy of feeling, a deepening of the sympathetic emotions, a scorn of what is self-seeking, ignoble, dishonorable–a scorn bred of loving familiarity with poets and philosophers, with all that is fortifying in thought or elevating in imagination. Our nearest equivalent for this generous and many-sided training is Culture; but unfortunately the word has acquired a tinge of meaning that is alien to the Greek Paideia. Culture to many minds suggests a kind of polish, a superficial refinement. Besides, it has about it an air of exclusiveness; it is thought of as the privilege of a favored few. The man of learning in modern times is too apt to remain in seclusion; he seems to be shut up within a charmed circle, in possession of a secret hidden from the many; and the impression not infrequently left on outsiders by the life of learned isolation is conveyed in the remark of a French writer, that ‘every man of learning is more or less of a corpse.’ Now Greek culture in its ideal form is a connecting link between learning and citizenship; it is a meeting-point of virtue and knowledge, an outcome of character, an attitude of the whole mind towards life. The intellectual élite are not estranged from the life of the community. Learning is thus humanized; instead of a dead weight of erudition it becomes a living force, a civilizing and liberating power. We have here the spirit of a University in its true conception. One chief function of academic training should be to foster this broad view of learning; and, in so doing, incidentally to disprove the saying: ‘Gentlemen are untaught by the World what they have been taught by the College.’37

A tincture of Greek is, fortunately, no longer regarded as a hall-mark of good breeding, or a sign that one has acquired at College a few gentlemanly vices. And the popular mind has, therefore, jumped to the conclusion that Greek has ceased to have any value except to furnish barbarous compounds for the advertisement of a new umbrella or of a quack-medicine. The call to burn our unlawful books of Greek is heard from many sides. But those who care for the deeper principles of education will never cease to go back to what the Greeks have said or hinted on this theme. All great teachers have been Greek in spirit. Education, in the Greek view, is the antithesis of any mere specialism, and that in two senses. It emancipates us from the narrowing influence of a trade or a purely professional calling, and lifts us into the higher air of liberal studies. But also, even within the domain of learning, we are reminded that expert knowledge may itself become a contraction of the intellect; and that the thoroughness of the craftsman, the minute work of the investigator, must not lead the teacher to miss the larger relations of his subject, and lose sight of the whole. Nor can we forget that the man himself is behind what he says or writes. Plato observes that for the higher forms of literary composition the name of writer or author is an inadequate description: the title is well enough for one who has nothing in him greater than the phrases he puts on paper (τὸν μὴ ἔχοντα τιμιώτερα ὧν συνέθηκεν ἢ ἔγραψεν).38 And a similar remark may be made about the teacher. As Life is something beyond Literature, so Personality is something beyond Learning. The teacher who leaves an impress on other minds is greater than his own knowledge, greater than the information he conveys. This is true of all teachers who have in any degree succeeded in making their appeal to that mighty and half-utilized force–the idealistic impulses of youth; and from this point of view Teaching–as I believe some one has said–while it is the vilest of trades becomes the noblest of professions.


  1. Stabo i. 2. 9 ἐκ μηδενός δ᾽ ἀληθοῦς ἀνάπτειν κενὴν τερατολογίαν οὐκ Ὁμηρικόν. Cp. i. 2. 17 τὸ δὲ πάντα τλάττειν οὐ πιθανόν, οὐδ᾽ Ὁμηρικόν. 

  2. Ib. iii. 2. 13 ὤστε καὶ τὴν Ὀδύσσειαν καθάπερ καὶ τὴν Ιλιάδα ἀπὸ τῶν συμβάντων μεταγαγεῖν εἰς ποίησιν. 

  3. Ib i. 1. 2. 

  4. Ib i. 2. 7. 

  5. Cp. Strabo i. 2. 20 κἀν τοῖς κλίμασι δὲ κἀν τοῖς ἀνέμοις διαφαίνει τὸ πολυμαθὲς τὸ περί τὴν γεωγραφίαν Ὅμηρος. 

  6. Bérard. vol. i. p. 64 ff.  

  7. The same custom of embarking at night is found in three other places in the Odyssey:–iv. 780 ff., where the sailors go to waylay Telemachus on his return; xiii. 24 ff., describing the convoy of Odysseus from Phaeacia; xv. 389 ff., Eumaeus’ story of the Phoenician merchant-ship quitting the isle of Syria–the same formula being there used (xv. 471) as in ii. 388 δύσετό τ᾽ ἡέλιος κ.τ.λ. 

  8. Bérard, vol. i. p. 481 ff. 

  9. Instruction Nautiques, No. 706. 

  10. Aen. iii. 203-204. 

  11. Rep. iv. 435e. Cp. Laws v. 747c, where the contrast between σοφία and πανουργία is noted as a similar race distinction.  

  12. Heracl. Fr. II [93] οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει ἀλλὰ σημαίνει. 

  13. Ib. 10 [123] φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ. 

  14. Ib. 7 [18] ἐὰν μὴ ἔλπημαι, ἀνέλπιστον οὐκ ἐξευρήσει. 

  15. Arist. Met. i. 2. 983a 12-20. Cp. Plato. Theaet. p. 144 D μάλα γὰρ φιλσόφου τοῦτο τὸ πάθος, τὸ θαυμάζειν· οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη ἀρχη φιλοσοφίας ἤ αὔτη.  

  16. Poet. ix. II 1452a 2-3 (the union of the παρὰ τὴν δόξαν with the δι᾽ ἄλληλα). 

  17. Plat. Polit. 278d τὰς τῶν πραγμάτων μακρὰς καὶ μὴ ῥᾳδίους συλλαβάς. 

  18. Meno, p. 97e-98a. 

  19. Democr. ap. Eus. Pr. Ev. xiv. 27. 3 Δημόκριτος γοῦν αὐτὸς ὥς φασιν ἔλεγε βούλεσθαι μᾶλλον μίαν εὑρεῖν αἰτιολγίαν ἤ τὴν Περσῶν οἱ βασιλείαν γενέσθαι. 

  20. Odyss. xii. 189-191. 

  21. Emped. 36-49. In this passage some of the readings are doubtful. 

  22. Parm. 144 αἰεὶ παπταίνουσα πρὸς αὐγὰς ἠελίοιο. 

  23. Heraclit. Fr. 29 [94] Ἥλιος οὐχ ὑπερβήσεται μέτρα· εἰ δὲ μή, Ἐρινύες μιν δίκης ἐπίκουροι ἐξευρήσουσι. 

  24. Arist. Nic. Eth. v. I. 15 καὶ διὰ τοῦτο πολλάκις κρατίστη τῶν ἀρετῶν εἶναι δοκεῖ ἡ δικαιοσύνη, καὶ οὔθ᾽ ἔσπερος οὔθ᾽ ἐῳος οὔτω θαυμαστός.  

  25. Arist. Nic. Eth. x. 7. 8: see the whole chapter. 

  26. Supr. p. 32. 

  27. See S.H. Butcher, Demosthenes (Macmillan and Co.), p. 144. 

  28. Phil, i. 11. 

  29. Olynth. i. 9. 

  30. Phil. i. 39-41. 

  31. Aesch. P.V. 981: ἀλλ᾽ ἐκδιδάσκει πάνθ᾽ ὁ γηράσκων χρόνος. 

  32. Pind. Ol. xi. 59-61:
    ὅ τ᾽ ἐξελέγχων μόνος
    ἀλάθειαν ἐτήτυμον
    Χρόνος. 

  33. Simon. of Cos Fr. 175: οὐκ ἔστιν μείζων βάσανος χρονου οὐδενὸς ἔργου. 

  34. A saying of Thales (quoted Plut. Conv. vii Sap. 9) in answer to the question τί σοφώτατον;–Χρόνος· τὰ μέν γὰρ εὓρηκεν οὖτος ἤδη, τὰ δὲ εὑρήσει Cp. Bacon Aphor. xxxii. ‘Sapientissima autem res tempus (ut ab antiquis dictum est) et novorum casuum quotidie auctor et inventor.’ 

  35. Arist. Nic. Eth. i. 7. 17 δόξειε δ᾽ἄν… ὁ χρόνος τῶν τοιούτων εὑρετὴς ἤ συνεργὸς ἀγαθὸς εἶναι. 

  36. Democr. ap. Stob. iii. 4. 81. Cp. Ib. πολλοὶ πολυμαθέες νόον οὐκ ἔχουσι. 

  37. Berkely, Minute Phil. Dial. v. 24. 

  38. Pat. Phaedr. 278 d-e.