« EelmineJätka »
awakening thought through Gaul by Marseilles, and along the coast of Africa by means of Cyrene. She has sailed up both sides of the Euxine, and deposited her literary wares, as traders nowadays leave samples of merchandise. The whole of Asia Minor and Syria resounds with her teaching; barbarians are quoting fragments of her tragedians; Greek manners are introduced and perpetuated on the Tigris and Euphrates, the Hydaspes and Acesines. But there is no place so intimately connected with the glories of Athens, as that city which rose about the time of her political decline-I mean Alexandria-rose as if for the very purpose of becoming a capital seat of learning, to spread the literature of Athens to the most distant regions; fulfilling in this the desire of her beneficent founder, the pupil of Aristotle, whose soul, uniting a devotion to letters with a genius for sovereignty, was not content with conquests, unless they added to the field of knowledge, and who, when he was in India, paid a graceful homage to the city of intellect, by confessing that he was doing his great acts to gain the immortal praise of the Athenians.
That Athens became so intellectually great was owing to many causes to her democratic energy and early military successes-to her situation, climate, and natural beauties-to her commerce-to the habits of life and customs of her people.
A confined triangle, perhaps fifty miles its greatest length, and thirty its greatest breadth; two elevated rocky barriers, meeting at an angle; three prominent mountains, commanding the plain, Parnes, Pentelicus, and Hymettus; a mild climate; a somewhat meagre soil, containing sufficient pasture for sheep and goats, yielding barley and even wheat to the skilful cultivator; with good figs, excellent oil and honey; fisheries productive; silver and metallic earths, and quarries of beautiful marble-such was Attica, regarded in an agricultural and material point of view. Looking at her commercial capabilities, we should notice her central situation with respect to Greece, and her commodious harbours, which were so placed as to receive vessels during all winds. And these natural advantages were improved by the industry of the population, and by the encouragement afforded to strangers who settled at Athens for the purposes of trade. All of which helped to make Athens a seat not only of naval power and commercial wealth, but one of art and learning. For of course it was necessary that the artists and students and all the tribe of visitors, who flocked to the metropolis of knowledge, should have the means of living well and enjoying themselves. And this accordingly they found in abundance. Athens had only too many resources for an elegant, nay, a luxurious abode. So plentiful were the imports of the place, that it was a common saying, that the productions, which were found singly elsewhere, were brought all together in Athens. The native wine of Attica was not of the best quality; but the richest wines were brought from the isles of the gæan; the finest wool and carpeting from Miletus; all varieties of luxuries
came from Asia and the Euxine and the coasts of the Mediterranean, The Athenians did not much condescend to manufactures themselves; but they encouraged them in others; and a population of foreigners caught at the lucrative occupation both for home consumption and for exportation. Their cloth, and other textures for dress and furniture, and their hardware, for instance, armour, were in great request. Labour was cheap; stone and marble in plenty; and the taste and skill, which at first were devoted to public buildings, as temples and porticos, were in course of time applied to the mansions of public
But the mental inspiration of the Athenians was owing less to any artificial improvement of the natural advantages of their fatherland, than to the nature and quality of the air they breathed and the soil they trod. It is agreed on all hands, that the purity of the air of Attica had a beneficial effect not only on the buildings and the vegetation of the country, but on the temper and genius of the people. And who can tell how the enthusiasm of the poets and orators may have been kindled by the rock of the Acropolis and the magnificent scenery which it commanded, independently even of its historical traditions and reminiscences? An eloquent writer in the Catholic University Gazette warms with the subject, as if he had been himself an Athenian
'Many a more fruitful coast or isle is washed by the blue Ægæan; many a spot is more beautiful or sublime to see, many a territory more ample; but there was one charm in Attica, which in the same perfection was nowhere else. The deep pastures of Arcadia, the plain of Argos, the Thessalian vale, these had not the gift; Boeotia, which lay to its immediate north, was notorious for its very want of it. The heavy atmosphere of that Boeotia might be good for vegetation; but it was associated in popular belief with the dulness of the Boeotian intellect: on the contrary, the special purity, elasticity, clearness, and salubrity of the air of Attica, fit concomitant and emblem of its genius, did that for it which earth did not ;—it brought out every bright hue and tender shade of the landscape on which it was spread, and would have illuminated the face even of a more bare and rugged country.
"The Attic olive tree was so choice in nature and so noble in shape, that it excited a religious veneration; and it took so kindly to the light soil, as to expand into woods upon the open plain, and to climb up and fringe the hills. The clear air brought out, yet blended and subdued, the colours on the marble, till they had a softness and harmony, for all their richness, which in a picture looks exaggerated, yet is after all within the truth. The same delicate atmosphere freshened up the pale olive, till the olive glowed like the arbutus or beech of the Umbrian hills."
He goes on to speak of the thyme and thousand fragrant herbs which carpeted Hymettus, and the hum of bees upon its flowery hill;
the prospect over the Egaan, where we might "follow with our eyes the chain of islands, which, starting from the Sunian headland, seemed to offer to the fabled divinities of Attica, when they would visit their Ionian cousins, a sort of viaduct thereto across the sea: the dark violet billows with their white edges down below; those graceful fan-like jets of silver close upon the rocks, which slowly rise aloft like water spirits from the deep, then shiver and break and spread and shroud themselves, and disappear, in a soft mist of foam; the gentle, incessant heaving and panting of the whole liquid plain; and the long waves, keeping steady time, like a line of soldiery, as they resound upon the hollow shore."
Our greatest poets have celebrated the intellectual achievements of Athens; none so well as Milton:
Where on the Ægean shore a city stands,
Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil;
Or hospitable, in her sweet recess,
City or suburban, studious walks and shades.
Plato's retirement, where the Attic bird
Trills her thick-warbled notes the summer long;
There flowery hill Hymettus, with the sound
Of bees' industrious murmur, oft invites
To studious musing; there Ilissus rolls
His whispering stream: within the walls then view
Great Alexander to subdue the world,
Lyceum there, and painted Stoa next:
There shalt thou hear and learn the secret power
By voice or hand; and various measured verse,
And his who gave them breath, but higher sang,
Of moral prudence, with delight received
In brief sententious precepts, while they treat
Those ancient, whose resistless eloquence
Shook the arsenal, and fulmined over Greece
To Macedon and Artaxerxes' throne:
To sage philosophy next lend thine ear,
From heaven descended to the low-roof'd house
Of Socrates; see there his tenement,
Whom well inspired the oracle pronounced
Wisest of men; from whose mouth issued forth
Shelley's panegyric (in his Ode to Liberty) is one of a much
The nodding promontories, and blue isles,
And cloud-like mountains, and dividuous waves
On the unapprehensive wild
The vine, the corn, the olive mild,
Like the man's thought dark in the infant's brain,
Art's deathless dreams lay veiled by many a vein
Of Parian stone; and yet a speechless child,
Verse murmured, and Philosophy did strain
Her lidless eyes for thee; when o'er the Ægean main
Athens arose; a city such as vision
Builds from the purple crags and silver towers
Of battlemented cloud, as in derision
Of kingliest masonry: the ocean floors
Pave it; the evening sky pavilions it;
By thunder-zoned winds, each head
Gleamed with its crest of columns, on the will
Of man, as on a mount of diamond, set;
For thou wert, and thine all-creative skill
Peopled with forms, that mock the eternal dead
In marble immortality, that hill
Which was thine earliest throne and latest oracle.
Within the surface of Time's fleeting river
Its wrinkled image lies, as then it lay
Immoveably unquiet, and for ever
It trembles, but it cannot pass away!
The voices of thy bards and sages thunder
Through the caverns of the past;
Religion veils her eyes; Oppression shrinks aghast;
Rending the veil of space and time asunder!
One ocean feeds the clouds, and streams, and dew ;
One sun illumines heaven; one spirit vast
With life and love makes chaos ever new,
As Athens doth the world with thy delight renew.
Where was the education which produced these results ?-Such is a question which a modern philanthropist, busied in schemes for the dissemination of useful knowledge, would be inclined to ask: and certain it is, that, whatever be the natural capabilities of men, whatever their advantages of descent, race, soil, climate, &c., there must be some training to draw forth their native powers, and furnish their minds with knowledge. The ordinary scholastic education at Athens would not be thought much of now-a-days. The schools were dayschools, established on speculation by persons seeking to gain a livelihood, varying in quality according to the attainments of the different masters, (Demosthenes boasts that he had been sent to respectable schools,) yet all pursuing pretty much the same system
of teaching. Boys went to them at the age of six and remained till they were sixteen. During this period the son of a respectable citizen was committed to the charge of his Pædagogus, usually an intelligent slave, who took him every day (except on festivals and holidays) to the school and the gymnasium; for bodily exercises were considered as important as those of the mind. The rudiments at school were grammar, writing, and cyphering: the higher literary instruction consisted in reading the poets, especially Homer, and committing portions of them to memory. At the best schools the lesson was very likely accompanied with instructive comment and explanation. Reading of prose authors probably came in fashion as the number of prose works increased. Music was deemed an important, though not absolutely essential, part of a liberal education. It was commenced at the age of thirteen. The favourite instrument in more ancient times was the flute, and Aristotle tells us, that at the close of the Persian war there was hardly any Athenian citizen who could not play it; but afterwards the harp and the lyre were preferred, because the flute distorted the face and did not allow accompaniment with the voice.
Such was the routine of schooling at Athens, better there probably than anywhere else; (and we know that Theban parents sometimes sent their sons to Athenian schools;) yet the amount of actual acquirement was not very great. Arithmetic and the rudiments of music; such a knowledge of his own language, and such cultivation of literary taste, as enabled him to enjoy the works of Greek writers, and to express himself with propriety; this, together with good manners, formed the sum total of what the best educated Athenian learned at school. There was no higher course of scholastic education; nothing further was open to the aspiring youth, except the lectures of the sophist or rhetorician; but this sort of instruction did not come into vogue till after the close of the Peloponnesian war. At sixteen the state took him in hand, and for two years compelled his attendance at the public gymnastic schools, where he was disciplined in manly exercises, and served that apprenticeship which enabled him to perform military service for his country.
Nor were there any public institutions at Athens for popular education; although some of the measures of her leading statesmen tended indirectly to promote that end. Pisistratus formed a library, to which he gave access to his countrymen, and made a careful collection of the Homeric poems. These and other poems, to diffuse the knowledge of them, were recited at the Panathenæa; an edict was issued by Hipparchus, making such recital compulsory. Measures of this sort were most important, when books, or manuscripts, were scarce and dear. According to Böckh there was no trade in books at Athens before the time of Plato. It is shown in the Charicles, that books were sold, and private libraries formed, at an earlier period; but the price of them must have been very high.