Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 

Five Stages of Greek Religion, by Gilbert Murray, [1925], at

p. 79



There is a passage in Xenophon describing how, one summer night, in 405 b. c., people in Athens heard a cry of wailing, an oimôgê, making its way up between the long walls from the Piraeus, and coming nearer and nearer as they listened. It was the news of the final disaster of Kynoskephalai, brought at midnight to the Piraeus by the galley Paralos. 'And that night no one slept. They wept for the dead, but far more bitterly for themselves, when they reflected what things they had done to the people of Mêlos, when taken by siege, to the people of Histiaea, and Skîonê and Torônê and Aegîna, and many more of the Hellenes.'79_1

The echo of that lamentation seems to ring behind most of the literature of the fourth century, and not the Athenian literature alone. Defeat can on occasion leave men their self-respect or even their pride; as it did after Chaeronea in 338 and after the Chremonidean War in 262, not to speak of Thermopylae. But the defeat of 404 not only left Athens at the mercy of her enemies. It stripped her of those things of which she had been inwardly most proud; her 'wisdom', her high civilization, her leadership of all that was most Hellenic in Hellas. The 'Beloved City' of Pericles had become a tyrant, her nature poisoned by war, her government a by-word in Greece for brutality. And p. 80 Greece as a whole felt the tragedy of it. It is curious how this defeat of Athens by Sparta seems to have been felt abroad as a defeat for Greece itself and for the hopes of the Greek city state. The fall of Athens mattered more than the victory of Lysander. Neither Sparta nor any other city ever attempted to take her place. And no writer after the year 400 speaks of any other city as Pericles used to speak of fifth-century Athens, not even Polybius 250 years later, when he stands amazed before the solidity and the 'fortune' of Rome.

The city state, the Polis, had concentrated upon itself almost all the loyalty and the aspirations of the Greek mind. It gave security to life. It gave meaning to religion. And in the fall of Athens it had failed. In the third century, when things begin to recover, we find on the one hand the great military monarchies of Alexander's successors, and on the other, a number of federations of tribes, which were generally strongest in the backward regions where the city state had been least developed. Τὸ κοινὸν τῶν Αἰτωλῶν or τῶν Ἀχαιῶν had become more important than Athens or Corinth, and Sparta was only strong by means of a League.80_1 By that time the Polis was recognized as a comparatively weak social organism, capable of very high culture but not quite able, as the Covenant of the League of Nations expresses it, 'to hold its own under the strenuous conditions of modern life'. Besides, it was not now ruled by the best citizens. The best had turned away from politics.

p. 81

This great discouragement did not take place at a blow. Among the practical statesmen probably most did not form any theory about the cause of the failure but went on, as practical statesmen must, doing as best they could from difficulty to difficulty. But many saw that the fatal danger to Greece was disunion, as many see it in Europe now. When Macedon proved indisputably stronger than Athens Isocrates urged Philip to accept the leadership of Greece against the barbarian and against barbarism. He might thus both unite the Greek cities and also evangelize the world. Lysias, the democratic and anti-Spartan orator, had been groping for a similar solution as early as 384 b. c., and was prepared to make an even sharper sacrifice for it. He appealed at Olympia for a crusade of all the free Greek cities against Dionysius of Syracuse, and begged Sparta herself to lead it. The Spartans are 'of right the leaders of Hellas by their natural nobleness and their skill in war. They alone live still in a city unsacked, unwalled, unconquered, uncorrupted by faction, and have followed always the same modes of life. They have been the saviours of Hellas in the past, and one may hope that their freedom will be everlasting.'81_1 A great and generous change in one who had 'learned by suffering' in the Peloponnesian War. Others no doubt merely gave their submission to the stronger powers that were now rising. There were openings for counsellors, for mercenary soldiers, for court savants and philosophers and poets, and, of course, for agents in every free city who were prepared for one motive or another not to kick against the pricks. And there were always also those who had neither p. 82 learned nor forgotten, the unrepentant idealists; too passionate or too heroic or, as some will say, too blind, to abandon their life-long devotion to 'Athens' or to 'Freedom' because the world considered such ideals out of date. They could look the ruined Athenians in the face, after the lost battle, and say with Demosthenes, 'Οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐκ ἔστιν ὅπως ἡμάρτετε. It cannot be that you did wrong, it cannot be!'82_1

But in practical politics the currents of thought are inevitably limited. It is in philosophy and speculation that we find the richest and most varied reaction to the Great Failure. It takes different shapes in those writers, like Plato and Xenophon, who were educated in the fifth century and had once believed in the Great City, and those whose whole thinking life belonged to the time of disillusion.

Plato was disgusted with democracy and with Athens, but he retained his faith in the city, if only the city could be set on the right road. There can be little doubt that he attributes to the bad government of the Demos many evils which were really due to extraneous causes or to the mere fallibility of human nature. Still his analysis of democracy is one of the most brilliant things in the history of political theory. It is so acute, so humorous, so affectionate; and at many different ages of the world has seemed like a portrait of the actual contemporary society. Like a modern popular newspaper, Plato's democracy makes it its business to satisfy existing desires and give people a 'good time'. It does not distinguish between higher and lower. Any one man is as good as another, and so is any impulse or any idea. Consequently the commoner have the pull. p. 83 Even the great democratic statesmen of the past, he now sees, have been ministers to mob desires; they have 'filled the city with harbours and docks and walls and revenues and such-like trash, without Sophrosynê and righteousness'. The sage or saint has no place in practical politics. He would be like a man in a den of wild beasts. Let him and his like seek shelter as best they can, standing up behind some wall while the storm of dust and sleet rages past. The world does not want truth, which is all that he could give it. It goes by appearances and judges its great men with their clothes on and their rich relations round them. After death, the judges will judge them naked, and alone; and then we shall see!83_1

Yet, in spite of all this, the child of the fifth century cannot keep his mind from politics. The speculations which would be scouted by the mass in the marketplace can still be discussed with intimate friends and disciples, or written in books for the wise to read. Plato's two longest works are attempts to construct an ideal society; first, what may be called a City of Righteousness, in the Republic; and afterwards in his old age, in the Laws, something more like a City of Refuge, uncontaminated by the world; a little city on a hill-top away in Crete, remote from commerce and riches and the 'bitter and corrupting sea' which carries them; a city where life shall move in music and discipline and reverence for the things that are greater than man, and the songs men sing shall be not common songs but the preambles of the city's laws, showing p. 84 their purpose and their principle; where no wall will be needed to keep out the possible enemy, because the courage and temperance of the citizens will be wall enough, and if war comes the women equally with the men 'will fight for their young, as birds do'.

This hope is very like despair; but, such as it is, Plato's thought is always directed towards the city. No other form of social life ever tempts him away, and he anticipates no insuperable difficulty in keeping the city in the right path if once he can get it started right. The first step, the necessary revolution, is what makes the difficulty. And he sees only one way. In real life he had supported the conspiracy of the extreme oligarchs in 404 which led to the rule of the 'Thirty Tyrants'; but the experience sickened him of such methods. There was no hope unless, by some lucky combination, a philosopher should become a king or some young king turn philosopher. 'Give me a city governed by a tyrant,' he says in the Laws,84_1 'and let the tyrant be young, with a good memory, quick at learning, of high courage, and a generous nature. . . . And besides, let him have a wise counsellor!' Ironical fortune granted him an opportunity to try the experiment himself at the court of Syracuse, first with the elder and then, twenty years later, with the younger Dionysius (387 and 367 b. c.). It is a story of disappointment, of course; bitter, humiliating and ludicrous disappointment, but with a touch of that sublimity which seems so often to hang about the errors of the wise. One can study them in Seneca at the court of Nero, or in Turgot with Louis; not so well perhaps in Voltaire with Frederick. Plato p. 85 failed in his enterprise, but he did keep faith with the 'Righteous City'.

Another of the Socratic circle turned in a different direction. Xenophon, an exile from his country, a brilliant soldier and adventurer as well as a man of letters, is perhaps the first Greek on record who openly lost interest in the city. He thought less about cities and constitutions than about great men and nations, or generals and armies. To him it was idle to spin cobweb formations of ideal laws and communities. Society is right enough if you have a really fine man to lead it. It may be that his ideal was formed in childhood by stories of Pericles and the great age when Athens was 'in name a democracy but in truth an empire of one leading man'. He gave form to his dream in the Education of Cyrus, an imaginary account of the training which formed Cyrus the Great into an ideal king and soldier. The Cyropaedeia is said to have been intended as a counterblast to Plato's Republic, and it may have provoked Plato's casual remark in the Laws that 'Cyrus never so much as touched education'. No doubt the book suffered in persuasiveness from being so obviously fictitious.85_1 For example, the Cyrus of Xenophon dies peacefully in his bed after much affectionate and edifying advice to his family, whereas all Athens knew from Herodotus how the real Cyrus had been killed in a war against the Massagetae, and his head, to slake its thirst for that liquid, plunged into a wineskin full of human blood. Perhaps also the monarchical rule of Cyrus was too absolute for Greek p. 86 taste. At any rate, later on Xenophon adopted a more real hero, whom he had personally known and admired.

Agesilaus, king of Sparta, had been taken as a type of 'virtue' even by the bitter historian Theopompus. Agesilaus was not only a great general. He knew how to 'honour the gods, do his duty in the field, and to practise obedience'. He was true to friend and foe. On one memorable occasion he kept his word even to an enemy who had broken his. He enjoined kindness to enemy captives. When he found small children left behind by the barbarians in some town that he occupied—because either their parents or the slave-merchants had no room for them—he always took care of them or gave them to guardians of their own race: 'he never let the dogs and wolves get them'. On the other hand, when he sold his barbarian prisoners he sent them to market naked, regardless of their modesty, because it cheered his own soldiers to see how white and fat they were. He wept when he won a victory over Greeks; 'for he loved all Greeks and only hated barbarians'. When he returned home after his successful campaigns, he obeyed the orders of the ephors without question; his house and furniture were as simple as those of a common man, and his daughter the princess, when she went to and fro to Amyclae, went simply in the public omnibus. He reared chargers and hunting dogs; the rearing of chariot horses he thought effeminate. But he advised his sister Cynisca about hers, and she won the chariot race at Olympia. 'Have a king like that', says Xenophon, 'and all will be well. He will govern right; he will beat your enemies; and he will set an example of good life. If you want Virtue in the state look for it in a good p. 87 man, not in a speculative tangle of laws. The Spartan constitution, as it stands, is good enough for any one.'

But it was another of the great Socratics who uttered first the characteristic message of the fourth century, and met the blows of Fortune with a direct challenge. Antisthenes was a man twenty years older than Plato. He had fought at Tanagra in 426 b. c. He had been friends with Gorgias and Prodicus, the great Sophists of the Periclean age. He seems to have been, at any rate till younger and more brilliant men cut him out, the recognized philosophic heir of Socrates.87_1 And late in life, after the fall of Athens and the condemnation and death of his master, the man underwent a curious change of heart. He is taunted more than once with the lateness of his discovery of truth,87_2 and with his childish subservience to the old jeux d'esprit of the Sceptics which professed to prove the impossibility of knowledge.87_3 It seems that he had lost faith in speculation and dialectic and the elaborate p. 88 superstructures which Plato and others had built upon them; and he felt, like many moralists after him, a sort of hostility to all knowledge that was not immediately convertible into conduct.

But this scepticism was only part of a general disbelief in the world. Greek philosophy had from the first been concerned with a fundamental question which we moderns seldom put clearly to ourselves. It asked 'What is the Good?' meaning thereby 'What is the element of value in life?' or 'What should be our chief aim in living?' A medieval Christian would have answered without hesitation 'To go to Heaven and not be damned', and would have been prepared with the necessary prescriptions for attaining that end. But the modern world is not intensely enough convinced of the reality of Sin and Judgement, Hell and Heaven, to accept this answer as an authoritative guide in life, and has not clearly thought out any other. The ancient Greek spent a great part of his philosophical activity in trying, without propounding supernatural rewards and punishments, or at least without laying stress on them, to think out what the Good of man really was.

The answers given by mankind to this question seem to fall under two main heads. Before a battle if both parties were asked what aim they were pursuing, both would say without hesitation 'Victory'. After the battle, the conqueror would probably say that his purpose was in some way to consolidate or extend his victory; but the beaten party, as soon as he had time to think, would perhaps explain that, after all, victory was not everything. It was better to have fought for the right, to have done your best and to have failed, p. 89 than to revel in the prosperity of the unjust. And, since it is difficult to maintain, in the midst of the triumph of the enemy and your own obvious misery and humiliation, that all is well and you yourself thoroughly contented, this second answer easily develops a third: 'Wait a little, till God's judgement asserts itself; and see who has the best of it then!' There will be a rich reward hereafter for the suffering virtuous.

The typical Athenian of the Periclean age would have been in the first state of mind. His 'good' would be in the nature of success: to spread Justice and Freedom, to make Athens happy and strong and her laws wise and equal for rich and poor. Antisthenes had fallen violently into the second. He was defeated together with all that he most cared for, and he comforted himself with the thought that nothing matters except to have done your best. As he phrased it Aretê is the good, Aretê meaning 'virtue' or 'goodness', the quality of a good citizen, a good father, a good dog, a good sword.

The things of the world are vanity, and philosophy as vain as the rest. Nothing but goodness is good; and the first step towards attaining it is to repent.

There was in Athens a gymnasium built for those who were base-born and could not attend the gymnasia of true citizens. It was called Kynosarges and was dedicated to the great bastard, Heracles. Antisthenes, though he had moved hitherto in the somewhat patrician circle of the Socratics, remembered how that his mother was a Thracian slave, and set up his school in Kynosarges among the disinherited of the earth. He made friends with the 'bad,' who needed befriending. p. 90 He dressed like the poorest workman. He would accept no disciples except those who could bear hardship, and was apt to drive new-comers away with his stick. Yet he also preached in the streets, both in Athens and Corinth. He preached rhetorically, with parables and vivid emotional phrases, compelling the attention of the crowd. His eloquence was held to be bad style, and it started the form of literature known to the Cynics as χρεία, 'a help', or διατριβή, 'a study', and by the Christians as ὁμιλία, a 'homily' or sermon.

This passionate and ascetic old man would have attracted the interest of the world even more, had it not been for one of his disciples. This was a young man from Sinope, on the Euxine, whom he did not take to at first sight; the son of a disreputable money-changer who had been sent to prison for defacing the coinage. Antisthenes ordered the lad away, but he paid no attention; he beat him with his stick, but he never moved. He wanted 'wisdom', and saw that Antisthenes had it to give. His aim in life was to do as his father had done, to 'deface the coinage', but on a much larger scale. He would deface all the coinage current in the world. Every conventional stamp was false. The men stamped as generals and kings; the things stamped as honour and wisdom and happiness and riches; all were base metal with lying superscriptions. All must have the stamp defaced.90_1

This young man was Diogenes, afterwards the most famous of all the Cynics. He started by rejecting all stamps and superscriptions and holding that nothing but Aretê, 'worth' or 'goodness', was good. He p. 91 rejected tradition. He rejected the current religion and the rules and customs of temple worship. True religion was a thing of the spirit, and needed no forms. He despised divination. He rejected civil life and marriage. He mocked at the general interest in the public games and the respect paid to birth, wealth, or reputation. Let man put aside these delusions and know himself. And for his defences let him arm himself 'against Fortune with courage, against Convention with Nature, against passion with Reason'. For Reason is 'the god within us'.

The salvation for man was to return to Nature, and Diogenes interpreted this return in the simplest and crudest way. He should live like the beasts, like primeval men, like barbarians. Were not the beasts blessed, ῥεῖα ζώοντες like the Gods in Homer? And so, though in less perfection, were primitive men, not vexing their hearts with imaginary sins and conventions. Travellers told of savages who married their sisters, or ate human flesh, or left their dead unburied. Why should they not, if they wished to? No wonder Zeus punished Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, who had brought all this progress upon us and left man civilized and more unhappy than any beast! He deserved his crag and his vulture!

Diogenes took his mission with great earnestness. He was leader in a 'great battle against Pleasures and Desires'. He was 'the servant, the message-bearer, sent by Zeus', 'the Setter-Free of mankind' and the 'Healer of passions'.

The life that he personally meant to live, and which he recommended to the wise, was what he called τὸν κυνικὸν βίον, 'a dog's life', and he himself wished to p. 92 be a 'cynic' or 'canine'. A dog was brave and faithful; it had no bodily shame, no false theories, and few wants. A dog needed no clothes, no house, no city, no possessions, no titles; what he did need was 'virtue', Aretê, to catch his prey, to fight wild beasts, and to defend his master; and that he could provide for himself. Diogenes found, of course, that he needed a little more than an ordinary dog; a blanket, a wallet or bowl to hold his food, and a staff a 'to beat off dogs and bad men'. It was the regular uniform of a beggar. He asked for no house. There was a huge earthen pitcher—not a tub—outside the Temple of the Great Mother; the sort of vessel that was used for burial in primitive Greece and which still had about it the associations of a coffin. Diogenes slept there when he wanted shelter, and it became the nearest approach to a home that he had. Like a dog he performed any bodily act without shame, when and where he chose. He obeyed no human laws because he recognized no city. He was Cosmopolîtes, Citizen of the Universe; all men, and all beasts too, were his brothers. He lived preaching in the streets and begging his bread; except that he did not 'beg', he 'commanded'. Other folk obeyed his commands because they were still slaves, while he 'had never been a slave again since Antisthenes set him free'. He had no fear, because there was nothing to take from him. Only slaves are afraid.

Greece rang with stories of his mordant wit, and every bitter saying became fathered on Diogenes. Every one knew how Alexander the Great had come to see the famous beggar and, standing before him where he sat in the open air, had asked if there was p. 93 any boon he could confer on him. 'Yes, move from between me and the sun.' They knew the king's saying, 'If I were not Alexander I would be Diogenes', and the polite answer 'If I were not Diogenes I would be Alexander'. The Master of the World and the Rejector of the World met on an equality. People told too how the Cynic walked about with a lamp in the daytime searching, so he said, 'for a man'. They knew his scorn of the Mysteries with their doctrine of exclusive salvation; was a thief to be in bliss because he was initiated, while Agesilaus and Epaminondas were in outer darkness? A few of the stories are more whimsical. A workman carrying a pole accidentally hit Diogenes and cried 'Look out!' 'Why,' said he, 'are you going to hit me again?'

He had rejected patriotism as he rejected culture. Yet he suffered as he saw Greece under the Macedonians and Greek liberties disappearing. When his death was approaching some disciple asked his wishes about his burial; 'Let the dogs and wolves have me,' he said; 'I should like to be of some use to my brothers when I die.' When this request was refused his thoughts turned again to the Macedonian Wars; 'Bury me face downwards; everything is soon going to be turned the other way up.'

He remains the permanent and unsurpassed type of one way of grappling with the horror of life. Fear nothing, desire nothing, possess nothing: and then Life with all its ingenuity of malice cannot disappoint you. If man cannot enter into life nor yet depart from it save through agony and filth, let him learn to endure the one and be indifferent to the other. The watchdog of Zeus on earth has to fulfil his special p. 94 duty, to warn mankind of the truth and to set slaves free. Nothing else matters.

The criticism of this solution is not that it is selfish. It is not. The Cynic lives for the salvation of his fellow creatures. And it is worth remembering that before the Roman gladiatorial games were eventually stopped by the self-immolation of the monk Telemachus, two Cynic philosophers had thrown themselves into the arena in the same spirit. Its weakness lies in a false psychology, common to all the world at that time, which imagined that salvation or freedom consists in living utterly without desire or fear, that such a life is biologically possible, and that Diogenes lived it. To a subtler critic it is obvious that Diogenes was a man of very strong and successful ambitions, though his ambitions were different from those of most men. He solved the problem of his own life by following with all the force and courage of his genius a line of conduct which made him, next to Alexander, the most famous man in Greece. To be really without fear or desire would mean death, and to die is not to solve the riddle of living.

The difference between the Cynic view of life and that of Plato's Republic is interesting. Plato also rejected the most fundamental conventions of existing society, the accepted methods of government, the laws of property and of marriage, the traditional religion and even the poetry which was a second religion to the Greeks. But he rejected the existing culture only because he wanted it to be better. He condemned the concrete existing city in order to build a more perfect city, to proceed in infinite searching and longing towards the Idea of Good, the Sun of the spiritual p. 95 universe. Diogenes rejected the civilization which he saw, and admitted the reality of no other. His crude realistic attitude of mind had no use for Plato's 'Ideas'. 'I can see a table,' he said; 'I cannot see Tabularity' (τραπεζότης). 'I know Athens and Corinth and other cities, and can see that they are all bad. As for the Ideal Society, show it me and I will say what I think.'

In spite of its false psychology the Cynic conception of life had a great effect in Greece. It came almost as a revelation to both men and women95_1 and profoundly influenced all the Schools. Here indeed, it seemed, was a way to baffle Fortune and to make one's own soul unafraid. What men wanted was τὸ θαρρεῖν 'to be of good cheer'; as we say now, to regain their morale after bewildering defeats. The Cynic answer, afterwards corrected and humanized by the Stoics, was to look at life as a long and arduous campaign. The loyal soldier does not trouble about his comfort or his rewards or his pleasures. He obeys his commander's orders without fear or failing, whether they lead to easy victories or merely to wounds, captivity or death. Only Goodness is good, and for the soldier Goodness p. 96 (ἀρετή) is the doing of Duty. That is his true prize, which no external power can take away from him.

But after all, what is Duty? Diogenes preached 'virtue' and assumed that his way of life was 'virtue'. But was it really so? And, if so, on what evidence? To live like a beast, to be indifferent to art, beauty, letters, science, philosophy, to the amenities of civic life, to all that raised Hellenic Man above the beast or the savage? How could this be the true end of man? The Stoic School, whose founder, Zeno, was a disciple of old Antisthenes, gradually built up a theory of moral life which has on the whole weathered the storms of time with great success. It largely dominated later antiquity by its imaginative and emotional power. It gave form to the aspirations of early Christianity. It lasts now as the nearest approach to an acceptable system of conduct for those who do not accept revelation, but still keep some faith in the Purpose of Things.

The problem is to combine the absolute value of that Goodness which, as we say, 'saves the soul' with the relative values of the various good things that soothe or beautify life. For, if there is any value at all—I will not say in health and happiness, but in art, poetry, knowledge, refinement, public esteem, or human affection, and if their claims do clash, as in common opinion they sometimes do, with the demands of absolute sanctity, how is the balance to be struck? Are we to be content with the principle of accepting a little moral wrong for the sake of much material or artistic or intellectual advantage? That is the rule which the practical world follows, though without p. 97 talking about it; but the Stoics would have none of any such compromise.

Zeno first, like Antisthenes, denied any value whatever to these earthly things that are not virtue—to health or sickness, riches or poverty, beauty or ugliness, pain or pleasure; who would ever mention them when the soul stood naked before God? All that would then matter, and consequently all that can ever matter, is the goodness of the man's self, that is, of his free and living will. The Stoics improved on the military metaphor; for to the soldier, after all, it does matter whether in his part of the field he wins or loses. Life is not like a battle but like a play, in which God has handed each man his part unread, and the good man proceeds to act it to the best of his power, not knowing what may happen in the last scene. He may become a crowned king, he may be a slave dying in torment. What matters it? The good actor can play either part. All that matters is that he shall act his best, accept the order of the Cosmos and obey the Purpose of the great Dramaturge.

The answer seems absolute and unyielding, with no concession to the weakness of the flesh. Yet, in truth, it contains in itself the germ of a sublime practical compromise which makes Stoicism human. It accepts the Cosmos and it obeys the Purpose; therefore there is a Cosmos, and there is a purpose in the world. Stoicism, like much of ancient thought at this period, was permeated by the new discoveries of astronomy and their formation into a coherent scientific system, which remained unshaken till the days of Copernicus. The stars, which had always moved men's wonder and even worship, were now seen and proved to be no p. 98 wandering fires but parts of an immense and apparently eternal order. One star might differ from another star in glory, but they were all alike in their obedience to law. They had their fixed courses, divine though they were, which had been laid down for them by a Being greater than they. The Order, or Cosmos, was a proven fact; therefore, the Purpose was a proven fact; and, though in its completeness inscrutable, it could at least in part be divined from the fact that all these varied and eternal splendours had for their centre our Earth and its ephemeral master. The Purpose, though it is not our Purpose, is especially concerned with us and circles round us. It is the purpose of a God who loves Man.

Let us forget that this system of astronomy has been overthrown, and that we now know that Man is not the centre of the universe. Let us forget that the majestic order which reigns, or seems to reign, among the stars, is matched by a brutal conflict and a chaos of jarring purposes in the realms of those sciences which deal with life.98_1 If we can recover the imaginative outlook of the generations which stretched from, say, Meton in the fifth century before Christ to Copernicus in the sixteenth after, we shall be able to understand the spiritual exaltation with which men like Zeno or Poseidonius regarded the world.

p. 99

We are part of an Order, a Cosmos, which we see to be infinitely above our comprehension but which we know to be an expression of love for Man; what can we do but accept it, not with resignation but with enthusiasm, and offer to it with pride any sacrifice which it may demand of us. It is a glory to suffer for such an end.

And there is more. For the Stars show only what may be called a stationary purpose, an Order which is and remains for ever. But in the rest of the world, we can see a moving Purpose. It is Phusis, the word which the Romans unfortunately translated 'Natura', but which means 'Growing' or 'the way things grow'—almost what we call Evolution. But to the Stoic it is a living and conscious evolution, a forethought or Πρόνοια in the mind of God, what the Romans called providentia, guiding all things that grow in a direction which accords with the divine will. And the direction, the Stoic pointed out, was not towards mere happiness but towards Aretê, or the perfection of each thing or each species after its kind. Phusis shapes the acorn to grow into the perfect oak, the blind puppy into the good hound; it makes the deer grow in swiftness to perform the function of a deer, and man grow in power and wisdom to perform the function of a man. If a man is an artist it is his function to produce beauty; if he a governor, it is his function to produce a flourishing and virtuous city. True, the things that he produces are but shadows and in themselves utterly valueless; it matters not one straw whether the deer goes at ten miles an hour or twenty, whether the population of a city die this year of famine and sickness or twenty years hence of old age. But it belongs to the p. 100 good governor to avert famine and to produce healthy conditions, as it belongs to the deer to run its best. So it is the part of a friend, if need arise, to give his comfort or his life for a friend; of a mother to love and defend her children; though it is true that in the light of eternity these 'creaturely' affections shrivel into their native worthlessness. If the will of God is done, and done willingly, all is well. You may, if it brings you great suffering, feel the pain. You may even, through human weakness, weep or groan; that can be forgiven. Ἔσωθεν μέντοι μὴ στενάξης, 'But in the centre of your being groan not!' Accept the Cosmos. Will joyously that which God wills and make the eternal Purpose your own.

I will say no more of this great body of teaching, as I have dealt with it in a separate publication.100_1 But I would point out two special advantages of a psychological kind which distinguish Stoicism from many systems of philosophy. First, though it never consciously faced the psychological problem of instinct, it did see clearly that man does not necessarily pursue what pleases him most, or what is most profitable to him, or even his 'good'. It saw that man can determine his end, and may well choose pain in preference to pleasure. This saved the school from a great deal of that false schematization which besets most forms of rationalistic psychology. Secondly, it did build up a system of thought on which, both in good days and evil, a life can be lived which is not only saintly, but practically wise and human and beneficent. It did for p. 101 practical purposes solve the problem of living, without despair and without grave, or at least without gross, illusion.

The other great school of the fourth century, a school which, in the matter of ethics, may be called the only true rival of Stoicism, was also rooted in defeat. But it met defeat in a different spirit.101_1 Epicurus, son of Neocles, of the old Athenian clan of the Philaïdae, was born on a colony in Samos in 341 b. c. His father was evidently poor; else he would hardly have left Athens to live on a colonial farm, nor have had to eke out his farming by teaching an elementary school. We do not know how much the small boy learned from his father. But for older students there was a famous school on the neighbouring island of Teos, where a certain Nausiphanes taught the Ionian tradition of Mathematics and Physics as well as rhetoric and literary subjects. Epicurus went to this school when he was fourteen, and seems, among other things, to have imbibed the Atomic Theory of Democritus without realizing that it was anything peculiar. He felt afterwards as if his school-days had been merely a waste of time. At the age of eighteen he went to Athens, the centre of the philosophic world, but he only went, as Athenian citizens were in duty bound, to perform his year of military service as ephêbus. Study was to come later. The next year, however, 322, Perdiccas of Thrace made an attack on Samos and drove out the Athenian p. 102 colonists. Neocles had by then lived on his bit of land for thirty years, and was old to begin life again. The ruined family took refuge in Colophon, and there Epicurus joined them. They were now too poor for the boy to go abroad to study philosophy. He could only make the best of a hard time and puzzle alone over the problems of life.

Recent years have taught us that there are few forms of misery harder than that endured by a family of refugees, and it is not likely to have been easier in ancient conditions. Epicurus built up his philosophy, it would seem, while helping his parents and brothers through this bad time. The problem was how to make the life of their little colony tolerable, and he somehow solved it. It was not the kind of problem which Stoicism and the great religions specially set themselves; it was at once too unpretending and too practical. One can easily imagine the condition for which he had to prescribe. For one thing, the unfortunate refugees all about him would torment themselves with unnecessary terrors. The Thracians were pursuing them. The Gods hated them; they must obviously have committed some offence or impiety. (It is always easy for disheartened men to discover in themselves some sin that deserves punishment.) It would surely be better to die at once; except that, with that sin upon them, they would only suffer more dreadfully beyond the grave! In their distress they jarred, doubtless, on one another's nerves; and mutual bitterness doubled their miseries.

Epicurus is said to have had poor health, and the situation was one where even the best health would be sorely tried. But he had superhuman courage, and—what p. 103 does not always go with such courage—a very affectionate and gentle nature. In later life all his three brothers were his devoted disciples—a testimonial accorded to few prophets or founders of religions. And he is the first man in the record of European history whose mother was an important element in his life. Some of his letters to her have been preserved, and show a touch of intimate affection which of course must have existed between human beings from the remotest times, but of which we possess no earlier record. And fragments of his letters to his friends strike the same note.103_1

His first discovery was that men torture themselves with unnecessary fears. He must teach them courage, θαρρεῖν ἀρὸ τῶν θεῶν, θαρρεῖν ἀρὸ ἀνθρώπων, to fear no evil from either man or God. God is a blessed being; and no blessed being either suffers evil or inflicts evil on others. And as for men, most of the evils you fear from them can be avoided by Justice; and if they do come, they can be borne. Death is like sleep, an unconscious state, nowise to be feared. Pain when it comes can be endured; it is the anticipation that makes men miserable and saps their courage. The refugees were forgotten by the world, and had no hope of any great p. 104 change in their condition. Well, he argued, so much the better! Let them till the earth and love one another, and they would find that they had already in them that Natural Happiness which is man's possession until he throws it away. And of all things that contribute to happiness the greatest is Affection, φιλία.

Like the Cynics and Stoics, he rejected the world and all its conventions and prizes, its desires and passions and futility. But where the Stoic and Cynic proclaimed that in spite of all the pain and suffering of a wicked world, man can by the force of his own will be virtuous, Epicurus brought the more surprising good news that man can after all be happy.

But to make this good news credible he had to construct a system of thought. He had to answer the temple authorities and their adherents among the vulgar, who threatened his followers with the torments of Hades for their impiety. He had to answer the Stoics and Cynics, preaching that all is worthless except Aretê; and the Sceptics, who dwelt on the fallibility of the senses, and the logical impossibility of knowledge.

He met the last of these by the traditional Ionian doctrine of sense-impressions, ingeniously developed. We can, he argued, know the outer world, because our sense impressions are literally 'impressions' or stamps made by external objects upon our organs. To see, for instance, is to be struck by an infinitely tenuous stream of images, flowing from the object and directly impinging upon the retina. Such streams are flowing from all objects in every direction—an idea which seemed incredible until the modern discoveries about light, sound, and radiation. Thus there is direct contact with reality, and consequently knowledge. Besides p. 105 direct vision, however, we have 'anticipations', or προλήψεις, sometimes called 'common conceptions', e. g. the general conception which we have of a horse when we are not seeing one. These are merely the result of repeated acts of vision. A curious result of this doctrine was that all our 'anticipations' or 'common ideas' are true; mistakes occur through some interpretation of our own which we add to the simple sensation.

We can know the world. How then are we to understand it? Here again Epicurus found refuge in the old Ionian theory of Atoms and the Void, which is supposed to have originated with Democritus and Leucippus, a century before. But Epicurus seems to have worked out the Atomic Theory more in detail, as we have it expounded in Lucretius' magnificent poem. In particular it was possibly he who first combined the Atomic Theory with hylozoism; i. e. he conceived of the Atoms as possessing some rudimentary power of movement and therefore able to swerve slightly in their regular downward course. That explains how they have become infinitely tangled and mingled, how plants and animals are alive, and how men have Free Will. It also enables Epicurus to build up a world without the assistance of a god. He set man free, as Lucretius says, from the 'burden of Religion', though his doctrine of the 'blessed Being' which neither has pain nor gives pain, enables him to elude the dangerous accusation of atheism. He can leave people believing in all their traditional gods, including even, if so they wish, 'the bearded Zeus and the helmed Athena' which they see in dreams and in their 'common ideas', while at the same time having no fear of them.

p. 106

There remains the foolish fancy of the Cynics and Stoics that 'Aretê' is the only good. Of course, he answers, Aretê is good; but that is because it produces happy life, or blessedness or pleasure or whatever you call it. He used normally the word ἡδονή 'sweetness', and counted the Good as that which makes life sweet. He seems never to have entered into small disputes as to the difference between 'sweetness', or 'pleasure', and 'happiness' and 'well-being' (ἡδονή, εὐδαιμονία, εὐεστώ, κτλ.), though sometimes, instead of 'sweetness' he spoke of 'blessedness' (μακαριότης). Ultimately the dispute between him and the Stoics seems to resolve itself into a question whether the Good lies in πάσχειν or ποιεῖν, in Experience or in Action; and average human beings seem generally to think that the Good for a conscious being must be something of which he is conscious.

Thus the great system is built, simple, intelligible, dogmatic, and—as such systems go—remarkably water-tight. It enables man to be unafraid, and it helps him to be happy. The strange thing is that, although on more than one point it seems to anticipate most surprisingly the discoveries of modern science, it was accepted in a spirit more religious than scientific. As we can see from Lucretius it was taken almost as a revelation, from one who had saved mankind; whose intellect had pierced beyond the 'flaming walls of Heaven' and brought back to man the gospel of an intelligible universe.106_1

p. 107

In 310 b. c., when Epicurus was thirty-two, things had so far improved that he left Colophon and set up a school of philosophy in Mytilene, but soon moved to Lampsacus, on the Sea of Marmora, where he had friends. Disciples gathered about him. Among them were some of the leading men of the city, like Leonteus and Idomeneus. The doctrine thrilled them and seemed to bring freedom with it. They felt that such a teacher must be set up in Athens, the home of the great philosophers. They bought by subscription a house and garden in Athens for 80 minae (about £320)107_1 and presented it to the Master. He crossed to Athens in 306 and, though he four times revisited Lampsacus and has left letters addressed To Friends in Lampsacus, he lived in the famous Garden for the rest of his life.

Friends from Lampsacus and elsewhere came and lived with him or near him. The Garden was not only p. 108 a philosophical school; it was also a sort of retreat or religious community. There lived there not only philosophers like Mêtrodôrus, Colôtes, Hermarchus, and others; there were slaves, like Mys, and free women, like Themista, the wife of Leonteus, to both of whom the Master, as the extant fragments testify, wrote letters of intimate friendship. And not only free women, but women with names that show that they were slaves, Leontion, Nikidion, Mammarion. They were hetairae; perhaps victims of war, like many of the unfortunate heroines in the New Comedy; free women from conquered cities, who had been sold in the slave market or reduced to misery as refugees, and to whom now the Garden afforded a true and spiritual refuge. For, almost as much as Diogenes, Epicurus had obliterated the stamp on the conventional currency. The values of the world no longer held good after you had passed the wicket gate of the Garden, and spoken with the Deliverer.

The Epicureans lived simply. They took neither flesh nor wine, and there is a letter extant, asking some one to send them a present of 'potted cheese'108_1 as a special luxury. Their enemies, who were numerous and lively, make the obvious accusations about the hetairae, and cite an alleged letter of the Master to Leontion. 'Lord Paean, my dear little Leontion, your note fills me with such a bubble of excitement!'108_2 The problem of this letter well illustrates the difficulty p. 109 of forming clear judgements about the details of ancient life. Probably the letter is a forgery: we are definitely informed that there was a collection of such forgeries, made in order to damage Epicurus. But, if genuine, would it have seemed to a fair-minded contemporary a permissible or an impermissible letter for a philosopher to write? By modern standards it would be about the border-line. And again, suppose it is a definite love-letter, what means have we of deciding whether Epicurus—or for that matter Zeno or Plato or any unconventional philosopher of this period—would have thought it blameworthy, or would merely have called our attention to the legal difficulties of contracting marriage with one who had been a Hetaira, and asked us how we expect men and women to live. Curiously enough, we happen to have the recorded sayings of Epicurus himself: 'The wise man will not fall in love', and 'Physical union of the sexes never did good; it is much if it does not do harm.'

This philosophy is often unjustly criticized. It is called selfish; but that it is certainly not. It is always aiming at the deliverance of mankind109_1 and it bases its happiness on φιλία, Friendship or Affection, just as the early Christians based it on ἀγάπη, a word no whit stronger than φιλία, though it is conventionally translated 'Love'. By this conception it becomes at once more human than the Stoa, to which, as to a Christian monk, human affection was merely a weakness of the flesh which might often conflict with the soul's duty towards God. Epicurus passionately protested against this unnatural 'apathy'. It was also human in that it recognized degrees of good or bad, of virtue or error. p. 110 To the Stoic that which was not right was wrong. A calculator who says that seven sevens make forty-eight is just as wrong as one who says they make a thousand, and a sailor one inch below the surface of the water drowns just as surely as one who is a furlong deep. Just so in human life, wrong is wrong, falsehood is falsehood, and to talk of degrees is childish. Epicureanism had an easy and natural answer to these arguments, since pleasure and pain obviously admit of degrees.110_1

The school is blamed also for pursuing pleasure, on the ground that the direct pursuit of pleasure is self-defeating. But Epicurus never makes that mistake. He says that pleasure, or 'sweetness of life', is the good; but he never counsels the direct pursuit of it. Quite the reverse. He says that if you conquer your desires and fears, and live simply and love those about you, the natural sweetness of life will reveal itself.

A truer criticism is one which appears dimly in Plutarch and Cicero.110_2 There is a strange shadow of sadness hanging over this wise and kindly faith, which proceeds from the essential distrust of life that lies at its heart. The best that Epicurus has really to say of the world is that if you are very wise and do not attract its notice—Λάθε βιώσας—it will not hurt you. It is a philosophy not of conquest but of escape. This was a weakness from which few of the fourth-century thinkers completely escaped. To aim at what we should call positive happiness was, to the Epicureans, only to court disappointment; better make it your aim p. 111 to live without strong passion or desire, without high hopes or ambitions. Their professed ideals—παντὸς τοῦ ἀλγοῦντος ὑπεξαίρεσις, ἀταραξία, εὕροια, 'the removal of all active suffering', 'undisturbedness', 'a smooth flow'—seem to result in rather a low tension, in a life that is only half alive. We know that, as a matter of fact, this was not so. The Epicureans felt their doctrine to bring not mere comfort but inspiration and blessedness. The young Colotes, on first hearing the master speak, fell on his knees with tears and hailed him as a god.111_1 We may compare the rapturous phrases of Lucretius. What can be the explanation of this?

Perhaps it is that a deep distrust of the world produces its own inward reaction, as starving men dream of rich banquets, and persecuted sects have apocalyptic visions of paradise. The hopes and desires that are starved of their natural sustenance project themselves on to some plane of the imagination. The martyr, even the most heretical martyr, sees the vision of his crown in the skies, the lover sees in obvious defects only rare and esoteric beauties. Epicurus avoided sedulously the transcendental optimism of the Stoics. He avoided mysticism, avoided allegory, avoided faith; he tried to set the feet of his philosophy on solid ground. He can make a strong case for the probable happiness of a man of kindly affections and few desires, who asks little from the outside world. But after all it is only probable; misfortunes and miseries may come to any man. 'Most of the evils you fear are false,' he answers, still reasonably. 'Death does not hurt. p. 112 Poverty need never make a man less happy.' And actual pain? 'Yes, pain may come. But you can endure it. Intense pains are brief; long-drawn pains are not excruciating; or seldom so.' Is that common-sense comfort not enough? The doctrine becomes more intense both in its promises and its demands. If intense suffering comes, he enjoins, turn away your mind and conquer the pain by the 'sweetness' of memory. There are in every wise man's life moments of intense beauty and delight; if he has strength of mind he will call them back to him at will and live in the blessedness of the past, not in the mere dull agony of the moment. Nay, can he not actually enjoy the intellectual interest of this or that pang? Has he not that within him which can make the quality of its own life? On hearing of the death of a friend he will call back the sweetness of that friend's converse; in the burning Bull of Phalaris he will think his thoughts and be glad. Illusion, the old Siren with whom man cannot live in peace, nor yet without her, has crept back unseen to the centre of the citadel. It was Epicurus, and not a Stoic or Cynic, who asserts that a Wise Man will be happy on the rack.112_1

Strangely obliging, ironic Fortune gave to him also a chance of testing of his own doctrine. There is extant a letter written on his death-bed. 'I write to you on this blissful day which is the last of my life. The obstruction of my bladder and internal pains have reached the extreme point, but there is marshalled against them the delight of my mind in thinking over our talks together. Take care of the children of Metrodorus in a way worthy of your life-long devotion p. 113 to me and to philosophy.'113_1 At least his courage, and his kindness, did not fail.

Epicureanism had certainly its sublime side; and from this very sublimity perhaps arose the greatest flaw in the system, regarded as a rational philosophy. It was accepted too much as a Revelation, too little as a mere step in the search for truth. It was based no doubt on careful and even profound scientific studies, and was expounded by the master in a vast array of volumes. But the result so attained was considered sufficient. Further research was not encouraged. Heterodoxy was condemned as something almost approaching 'parricide'.113_2 The pursuit of 'needless knowledge' was deliberately frowned upon.113_3 When other philosophers were working out calculations about the size of the Sun and the commensurability of the sun-cycle and the moon-cycle, Epicurus contemptuously remarked that the Sun was probably about as big as it looked, or perhaps smaller: since fires at a distance generally look bigger than they are. The various theories of learned men were all possible but none certain. And as for the cycles, how did any one know that there was not a new sun shot off and extinguished every day?113_4 It is not surprising to find that none of p. 114 the great discoveries of the Hellenistic Age were due to the Epicurean school. Lucretius, writing 250 years later, appears to vary hardly in any detail from the doctrines of the Master, and Diogenes of Oenoanda, 500 years later, actually repeats his letters and sayings word for word.

It is sad, this. It is un-Hellenic; it is a clear symptom of decadence from the free intellectual movement and the high hopes which had made the fifth century glorious. Only in one great school does the true Hellenic Sôphrosynê continue flourishing, a school whose modesty of pretension and quietness of language form a curious contrast with the rapt ecstasies of Stoic and Cynic and even, as we have seen, of Epicurean, just as its immense richness of scientific achievement contrasts with their comparative sterility. The Porch and the Garden offered new religions to raise from the dust men and women whose spirits were broken; Aristotle in his Open Walk, or Peripatos, brought philosophy and science and literature to guide the feet and interest the minds of those who still saw life steadily and tried their best to see it whole.

Aristotle was not lacking in religious insight and imagination, as he certainly was not without profound influence on the future history of religion. His complete rejection of mythology and of anthropomorphism; his resolute attempt to combine religion and science, not by sacrificing one to the other but by building the highest spiritual aspirations on ascertained truth and the probable conclusions to which it pointed; his splendid imaginative conception of the Divine Being or First Cause as unmoved itself while moving all the universe 'as the beloved moves the lover'; all these p. 115 are high services to religious speculation, and justify the position he held, even when known only through a distorting Arabic translation, in medieval Christianity. If he had not written his other books he might well be famous now as a great religious teacher. But his theology is dwarfed by the magnificence and mass of his other work. And as a philosopher and man of science he does not belong to our present subject.

He is only mentioned here as a standard of that characteristic quality in Hellenism from which the rest of this book records a downfall. One variant of a well-known story tells how a certain philosopher, after frequenting the Peripatetic School, went to hear Chrysippus, the Stoic, and was transfixed. 'It was like turning from men to Gods.' It was really turning from Greeks to Semites, from philosophy to religion, from a school of very sober professions and high performance to one whose professions dazzled the reason. 'Come unto me,' cried the Stoic, 'all ye who are in storm or delusion; I will show you the truth and the world will never grieve you more.'

Aristotle made no such profession. He merely thought and worked and taught better than other men. Aristotle is always surprising us not merely by the immense volume of clear thinking and co-ordinated knowledge of which he was master, but by the steady Sôphrosynê of his temper. Son of the court physician of Philip, tutor for some years to Alexander the Great, he never throughout his extant writings utters one syllable of flattery to his royal and world-conquering employers; nor yet one syllable which suggests a grievance. He saw, at close quarters and from the winning side, the conquest of the Greek city states by p. 116 the Macedonian ethnos or nation; but he judges dispassionately that the city is the higher social form.

It seems characteristic that in his will, which is extant, after providing a dowry for his widow, Herpyllis, to facilitate her getting a second husband, and thanking her for her goodness to him, he directs that his bones are to be laid in the same grave with those of his first wife, Pythias, whom he had rescued from robbers more than twenty years before.116_1

Other philosophers disliked him because he wore no long beard, dressed neatly and had good normal manners, and they despised his philosophy for very similar reasons. It was a school which took the existing world and tried to understand it instead of inventing some intense ecstatic doctrine which should transform it or reduce it to nothingness.

It possessed no Open Sesame to unlock the prison of mankind; yet it is not haunted by that Oimôgê of Kynoskephalai. While armies sweep Greece this way and that, while the old gods are vanquished and the cities lose their freedom and their meaning, the Peripatetics instead of passionately saving souls diligently pursued knowledge, and in generation after generation produced scientific results which put all their rivals into the shade.116_2 In mathematics, astronomy, physics, botany, zoology, and biology, as well p. 117 as the human sciences of literature and history, the Hellenistic Age was one of the most creative known to our record. And it is not only that among the savants responsible for these advances the proportion of Peripatetics is overwhelming; one may also notice that in this school alone it is assumed as natural that further research will take place and will probably correct as well as increase our knowledge, and that, when such corrections or differences of opinion do take place, there is no cry raised of Heresy.

It is the old difference between Philosophy and Religion, between the search of the intellect for truth and the cry of the heart for salvation. As the interest in truth for its own sake gradually abated in the ancient world, the works of Aristotle might still find commentators, but his example was forgotten and his influence confined to a small circle. The Porch and the Garden, for the most part, divided between them the allegiance of thoughtful men. Both systems had begun in days of discomfiture, and aimed originally more at providing a refuge for the soul than at ordering the course of society. But after the turmoil of the fourth century had subsided, when governments began again to approach more nearly to peace and consequently to justice, and public life once more to be attractive to decent men, both philosophies showed themselves adaptable to the needs of prosperity as well as adversity. Many kings and great Roman governors professed Stoicism. It held before them the ideal of universal Brotherhood, and of duty to the 'Great Society of Gods and Men'; it enabled them to work, indifferent to mere pain and pleasure, as servants of the divine purpose and 'fellow-workers with God' in building up p. 118 a human Cosmos within the eternal Cosmos. It is perhaps at first sight strange that many kings and governors also followed Epicurus. Yet after all the work of a public man is not hindered by a slight irony as to the value of worldly greatness and a conviction that a dinner of bread and water with love to season it 'is better than all the crowns of the Greeks'. To hate cruelty and superstition, to avoid passion and luxury, to regard human 'pleasure' or 'sweetness of life' as the goal to be aimed at, and 'friendship' or 'kindliness' as the principal element in that pleasure, are by no means doctrines incompatible with wise and effective administration. Both systems were good and both in a way complementary one to another. They still divide between them the practical philosophy of western mankind. At times to most of us it seems as though nothing in life had value except to do right and to fear not; at others that the only true aim is to make mankind happy. At times man's best hope seems to lie in that part of him which is prepared to defy or condemn the world of fact if it diverges from the ideal; in that intensity of reverence which will accept many impossibilities rather than ever reject a holy thing; above all in that uncompromising moral sensitiveness to which not merely the corruptions of society but the fundamental and necessary facts of animal existence seem both nauseous and wicked, links and chains in a system which can never be the true home of the human spirit. At other times men feel the need to adapt their beliefs and actions to the world as it is; to brush themselves free from cobwebs; to face plain facts with common sense and as much kindliness as life permits, meeting the ordinary needs of a perishable p. 119 and imperfect species without illusion and without make-believe. At one time we are Stoics, at another Epicureans.

But amid their differences there is one faith which was held by both schools in common. It is the great characteristic faith of the ancient world, revealing itself in many divergent guises and seldom fully intelligible to modern men; faith in the absolute supremacy of the inward life over things external. These men really believed that wisdom is more precious than jewels, that poverty and ill health are things of no import, that the good man is happy whatever befall him, and all the rest. And in generation after generation many of the ablest men, and women also, acted upon the belief. They lived by free choice lives whose simplicity and privation would horrify a modern labourer, and the world about them seems to have respected rather than despised their poverty. To the Middle Age, with its monks and mendicants expectant of reward in heaven, such an attitude, except for its disinterestedness, would be easily understood. To some eastern nations, with their cults of asceticism and contemplation, the same doctrines have appealed almost like a physical passion or a dangerous drug running riot in their veins. But modern western man cannot believe them, nor believe seriously that others believe them. On us the power of the material world has, through our very mastery of it and the dependence which results from that mastery, both inwardly and outwardly increased its hold. Capta ferum victorem cepit. We have taken possession of it, and now we cannot move without it.

The material element in modern life is far greater p. 120 than in ancient; but it does not follow that the spiritual element is correspondingly less. No doubt it is true that a naval officer in a conning-tower in a modern battle does not need less courage and character than a naked savage who meets his enemy with a stick and a spear. Yet probably in the first case the battle is mainly decided by the weight and accuracy of the guns, in the second by the qualities of the fighter. Consequently the modern world thinks more incessantly and anxiously about the guns, that is, about money and mechanism; the ancient devotes its thought more to human character and duty. And it is curious to observe how, in general, each tries to remedy what is wrong with the world by the method that is habitually in its thoughts. Speaking broadly, apart from certain religious movements, the enlightened modern reformer, if confronted with some ordinary complex of misery and wickedness, instinctively proposes to cure it by higher wages, better food, more comfort and leisure; to make people comfortable and trust to their becoming good. The typical ancient reformer would appeal to us to care for none of those things (since riches notoriously do not make men virtuous), but with all our powers to pursue wisdom or righteousness and the life of the spirit; to be good men, as we can be if we will, and to know that all else will follow.

This is one of the regions in which the ancients might have learned much from us, and in which we still have much to learn from them, if once we can shake off our temporal obsessions and listen.


As an example it is worth noticing, even in a bare catalogue, the work done by one of Aristotle's own pupils, a Peripatetic p. 121 of the second rank, Dicaearchus of Messene. His floruit is given as 310 b. c. Dorian by birth, when Theophrastus was made head of the school he retired to the Peloponnese, and shows a certain prejudice against Athens.

One of the discoveries of the time was biography. And, by a brilliant stroke of imagination Dicaearchus termed one of his books Βίος Ἑλλαδος, The Life of Hellas. He saw civilization as the biography of the world. First, the Age of Cronos, when man as a simple savage made no effort after higher things; next, the ancient river-civilizations of the orient; third, the Hellenic system. Among his scanty fragments we find notes on such ideas as πάτρα, φρατρία, φυλή, as Greek institutions. The Life of Hellas was much used by late writers. It formed the model for another Βίος Ἑλλαδος by a certain Jason, and for Varro's Vita Populi Romani.

Then, like his great master, Dicaearchus made studies of the Constitutions of various states (e. g. Pellene, Athens, and Corinth); his treatise on the Constitution of Sparta was read aloud annually in that city by order of the Ephors. It was evidently appreciative.

A more speculative work was his Tripoliticus, arguing that the best constitution ought to be compounded of the three species, monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic, as in Sparta. Only then would it be sure to last. Polybius accepted the principle of the Mixed Constitution, but found his ideal in the constitution of Rome, which later history was to prove so violently unstable. Cicero, De Republica, takes the same line (Polyb. vi. 2-10; Cic. De Rep. i. 45; ii. 65). Dicaearchus treated of similar political subjects in his public addresses at Olympia and at the Panathenaea.

We hear more about his work on the history of literature, though his generation was almost the first to realize that such a subject had any existence. He wrote Lives of Philosophers—a subject hitherto not considered worth recording—giving the biographical facts followed by philosophic and aesthetic criticism. We hear, for example, of his life of Plato; of Pythagoras (in which he laid emphasis on the philosopher's practical work), of Xenophanes, and of the Seven Wise Men.

He also wrote Lives of Poets. We hear of books on Alcaeus and on Homer, in which latter he is said to have made the startling remark that the poems 'should be pronounced in the Aeolic dialect'. Whatever this remark exactly meant, and we cannot tell without the context, it seems an extraordinary anticipation of modern philological discoveries. He wrote on the Hypotheses—i. e. the subject matter—of Sophocles and Euripides; also on Musical Contests, περὶ Μουσικῶν ἀγώνων, carrying further Aristotle's own collection of the Didascaliae, or official notices of the production of Tragedies in Athens. The book dealt both with dates and with customs; p. 122 it told how Skolia were sung, with a laurel or myrtle twig in the hand, how Sophocles introduced a third actor, and the like.

In philosophy proper he wrote On the Soul, περὶ ψυχῆς. His first book, the Corinthiacus, proved that the Soul was a 'harmony' or 'right blending' of the four elements, and was identical with the force of the living body. The second, the Lesbiacus, drew the conclusion that, if a compound, it was destructible. (Hence a great controversy with his master.)

He wrote περὶ φθορᾶς ἀνθρώπων, on the Perishing of Mankind; i. e. on the way in which large masses of men have perished off the earth, through famine, pestilence, wild beasts, war, and the like. He decides that man's most destructive enemy is Man. (The subject may have been suggested to him by a fine imaginative passage in Aristotle's Meteorology (i. 14, 7) dealing with the vast changes that have taken place on the earth's surface and the unrecorded perishings of races and communities.)

He wrote a treatise against Divination, and a (satirical?) Descent to the Cave of Trophonius. He seems, however, to have allowed some importance to dreams and to the phenomena of 'possession'.

And, with all this, we have not touched on his greatest work, which was in the sphere of geography. He wrote a Περίοδος γῆς, a Journey Round the Earth, accompanied with a map. He used for this map the greatly increased stores of knowledge gained by the Macedonian expeditions over all Asia as far as the Ganges. He also seems to have devised the method of denoting the position of a place by means of two co-ordinates, the method soon after developed by Eratosthenes into Latitude and Longitude. He attempted calculations of the measurements of large geographic distances, for which of course both his data and his instruments were inadequate. Nevertheless his measurements remained a well-known standard; we find them quoted and criticized by Strabo and Polybius. And, lastly, he published Measurements of the Heights of Mountains in the Peloponnese; but the title seems to have been unduly modest, for we find in the fragments statements about mountains far outside that area; about Pelion and Olympus in Thessaly and of Atabyrion in Rhodes. He had a subvention, Pliny tells us (N. H. ii. 162, 'regum cura permensus montes'), from the king of Macedon, probably either Cassander or, as one would like to believe, the philosophic Antigonus Gonatas. And he calculated the heights, so we are told, by trigonometry, using the δίοπτρα, an instrument of hollow reeds without lenses which served for his primitive theodolite. It is an extraordinary record, and illustrates the true Peripatetic spirit.


79_1 Hellen. ii. 2, 3.

80_1 Cf. Tarn, Antigonus Gonatas, p. 52, and authorities there quoted.

81_1 Lysias, xxxiii.

82_1 Dem. Crown, 208.

83_1 'Such-like trash', Gorgias, 519 a; dust-storm, Rep. vi. 496; clothes, Gorg. 523 e; 'democratic man', Rep. viii. 556 ff.

84_1 Laws, 709 e, cf. Letter VII.

85_1 Aulus Gellius, xiv. 3; Plato, Laws, p. 695; Xen. Cyrop. viii. 7, compared with Hdt. i. 214.

87_1 This is the impression left by Xenophon, especially in the Symposium. Cf. Dümmler, Antisthenica (1882); Akademika (1889). Cf. the Life of Antisthenes in Diog. Laert.

87_2 Γέρων ὀψιμαθήϛ, Plato, Soph. 251 b, Isocr. Helena, i. 2.

87_3 e. g. no combination of subject and predicate can be true because one is different from the other. 'Man' is 'man' and 'good' is 'good'; but 'man' is not 'good'. Nor can 'a horse' possibly be 'running'; they are totally different conceptions. See Plutarch, adv. Co. 22, 1 (p. 1119); Plato, Soph. 251 b; Arist. Metaph. 1024b 33; Top. 104b 20; Plato, Euthyd. 285 e. For similar reasons no statement can ever contradict another; the statements are either the same or not the same; and if not the same they do not touch. Every object has one λόγος or thing to be said about it; if you say a different λόγος you are speaking of something else. See especially Scholia Arist., p. 732a 30 ff. on the passage in the Metaphysics, 1024b 33.

90_1 Τὸ νόμισμα παραχαράττειν: see Life in Diog. Laert., fragments in Mullach, vol. ii, and the article in Pauly-Wissowa.

95_1 There were women among the Cynics. 'The doctrine also captured Metrocles' sister, Hipparchia. She loved Crates, his words, and his way of life, and paid no attention to any of her suitors, however rich or highborn or handsome. Crates was everything to her. She threatened her parents that she would commit suicide unless she were given to him. They asked Crates to try to change the girl's mind, and he did all he could to no effect, till at last he put all his possessions on the floor and stood up in front of her. 'Here is your bridegroom; there is his fortune; now think!' The girl made her choice, put on the beggar's garb, and went her ways with Crates. She lived with him openly and went like him to beg food at dinners.' Diog. Laert. vi. 96 ff.

98_1 e. g. the struggle for existence among animals and plants; the ἀλληλοφαγία, or 'mutual devouring', of animals; and such points as the various advances in evolution which seem self-destructive. Thus, Man has learnt to stand on two feet and use his hands; a great advantage but one which has led to numerous diseases. Again, physiologists say that the increasing size of the human head, especially when combined with the diminishing size of the pelvis, tends to make normal birth impossible.

100_1 The Stoic Philosophy (1915). See also Arnold's Roman Stoicism (1911); Bevan's Stoics and Sceptics (1913); and especially Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta by von Arnim (1903-5).

101_1 The chief authorities on Epicurus are Usener's Epicurea, containing the Life from Diog. Laert., fragments and introduction: the papyrus fragments of Philodemus in Volumina Herculanensia; Diogenes of Oenoanda (text by William, Teubner, 1907); the commentaries on Lucretius (Munro, Giussani, &c.).

103_1 Epicurus is the one philosopher who protests with real indignation against that inhuman superiority to natural sorrows which is so much prized by most of the ancient schools. To him such 'apathy' argues either a hard heart or a morbid vanity (Fr. 120). His letters are full of affectionate expressions which rather shock the stern reserve of antique philosophy. He waits for one friend's 'heavenly presence' (Fr. 165). He 'melts with a peculiar joy mingled with tears in remembering the last words' of one who is dead (Fr. 186; cf. 213). He is enthusiastic about an act of kindness performed by another, who walked some five miles to help a barbarian prisoner (Fr. 194).

106_1 Lucretius, i. 62-79, actually speaks of the great atheist in language taken from the Saviour Religions (see below, 162):

When Man's life upon earth in base dismay,
Crushed by the burthen of Religion, lay,
Whose face, from all the regions of the sky,
Hung, glaring hate upon mortality,
First one Greek man against her dared to raise
His eyes, against her strive through all his days;
Him noise of Gods nor lightnings nor the roar
Of raging heaven subdued, but pricked the more
His spirit's valiance, till he longed the Gate
To burst of this low prison of man's fate.
And thus the living ardour of his mind
Conquered, and clove its way; he passed behind
The world's last flaming wall, and through the whole
Of space uncharted ranged his mind and soul.
Whence, conquering, he returned to make Man see
At last what can, what cannot, come to be;
By what law to each Thing its power hath been
Assigned, and what deep boundary set between;
Till underfoot is tamed Religion trod,
And, by His victory, Man ascends to God.

107_1 That is, 8,000 drachmae. Rents had risen violently in 314 and so presumably had land prices. Else one would say the Garden was about the value of a good farm. See Tarn in The Hellenistic Age (1923), p. 116.

108_1 τυρὸν κυθρίδιον, Fr. 182.

108_2 Fr. 143. Παιὰν ἄναξ, φίλον Λεοντάριον, οἴου κροτοθορύβου ἡμᾶς ἀνέπλησας, ἀναγνόντας σου τό ἐπιστόλιον. Fr. 121 (from an enemy) implies that the Hetairae were expected to reform when they entered the Garden. Cf. Fr. 62 συνουσίη ὤνησε μὲν οὐδέποτε, ἀγαπητὸν δὲ εἰ μὴ ἔβλαψε: cf. Fr. 574.

109_1 See 169 below on Diogenes of Oenoanda.

110_1 Pleasures and pains may be greater or less, but the complete 'removal of pain and fear' is a perfect end, not to be surpassed. Fr. 408-48, Ep. iii. 129-31.

110_2 e. g. Plut. Ne suaviter quidem vivi, esp. chap. 17 (p. 1098 d).

111_1 Cf. Fr. 141 when Epicurus writes to Colotes: 'Think of me as immortal, and go your ways as immortal too.'

112_1 Fr. 601; cf. 598 ff.

113_1 Fr. 138; cf. 177.

113_2 'οἱ τούτοις ἀντιγράφοντες οὐ πάνυ τι μακρὰν τῆς τῶν πατραλοιῶν καταδίκης ἀφεστήκασιν', Fr. 49. Usener, from Philodemus, De Rhet. This may be only a playful reference to Plato's phrase about being a πατραλοίας of his father, Parmenides, Soph., p. 241 d.

113_3 Epicurus congratulated himself (erroneously) that he came to Philosophy καθαρὸς πάσης παιδείας, 'undefiled by education'. Cf. Fr. 163 to Pythocles, παιδείαν δὲ πᾶσαν, μακάριε, φεῦγε τὸ ἀκάτιον ἀράμενος, 'From education in every shape, my son, spread sail and fly!'

113_4 Fr. 343-6.

116_1 Pythias was the niece, or ward, of Aristotle's friend, Hermias, an extraordinary man who rose from slavery to be first a free man and a philosopher, and later Prince or 'Dynast' of Assos and Atarneus. In the end he was treacherously entrapped by the Persian General, Mentor, and crucified by the king. Aristotle's 'Ode to Virtue' is addressed to him. To his second wife, Herpyllis, Aristotle was only united by a civil marriage like the Roman usus.

116_2 See note on Dicaearchus at end of chapter.

Next: IV. The Failure of Nerve