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claim — Voilà la beauté véritable et souveraine : jamais il ne s'est écrit rien de pareil chez les hommes.
I wish to avoid all mere eulogy here, and I take leave to point out specifically where and in what, I think, lie these excellences of Greek literature.
There were in Greece, as there are now, four great divisions of literary work and activity, which engaged the highest efforts of the greatest minds — poetry, history, oratory, philosophy.
Now in each of these departments Greek literature presents one or two names to which I think succeeding ages offer no equals. Consider, first, the poetry of Homer, undoubtedly the most valuable poetical monument the world contains. The two great Homeric poems are concerned with themes apparently the most remote from the modern world. The characters are grotesque deities and legendary heroes. The scenes and events lie in the cloudland of mythology and tradition, having little foundation in historic fact. The sentiments of the poems are often, perhaps generally, those of a society but partially touched by the softening, humanizing influences of what we call civilization; yet these poems speak the same voice to all ages. They are simple pictures of human action and feeling; they do not seek primarily to teach morals, religion or politics. Their interest is purely dramatic; but no one who has ever read Homer intelligently, in the original, has failed to find here, to a degree quite unequalled elsewhere, the four qualities which Mr. Arnold has enumerated — rapidity of movement, plainness and directness of style, plainness and directnesss of ideas, and nobleness of treatment. These are, I suppose one may say with confidence, the very highest qualities of narrative or epic poetry. So that if it is desirable that our youth should be taught by an acquaintance with the highest examples of such poetry, it is clear that the poems of Homer must be studied.
So in tragedy or tragic poetry, Æschylus stands in a similar relation to all the literature which has since been produced. Not only was he the founder and father of Greek Tragedy as a form of literary production, he was likewise, the inventor of the drama as a form of imitative Art, and his themes, his ideas, his tone, the color of his genius and spirit as now shown in all his principal works, are lofty, pure, earnest, in the highest degree. There are passages in the Eumenides and Prometheus Bound which as specimens of literary art and intellectual power, as well as of high and stern morality, are worthy to stand as models forever. Not to know Æschylus is not to know what was first in time, and is perhaps highest in conception and style in the whole range of tragic poetry and dramatic art.
And undoubtedly in the art of historical writing, in historical narrative, or disquisition, or judgment, there is no name that can be placed on an equal elevation with Thucydides. He was the first writer who treated history philosophically, that is, regarded its outward features as the strict result of causes which it is the historian's proper task to discover and point out. His tone is judicial and elevated, his analysis deep and penetrating. But I can never help thinking that the literary merits of his work form his highest title to our study and reverence. He is a great example of Lessing's remark already quoted. His principles of art were so fundamental that no feelings aroused by the events of his narratives ever betray or hurry him beyond the just limit of expression or judgment.
His relations, too, to the growth of Greek prose give a
special value to his writings as studies in language. He wrote in what has been called an “ante-grammatical age,” and he fixed as much as any one the rules and canons of artistic prose writing of which he was at once author and exemplar.
But in the great art of oratory, the most powerful and attractive of all forms of literary art, Greek literature presents Demosthenes. For my own part, there is hardly a career in statesmanship, and the conduct and shaping of public affairs, which seems to me better deserving the study of the statesman of to-day. The period in which he lived, the forces with which he dealt, the results which depended on the events with which he was connected, form a chapter of political history of the highest intrinsic interest and value. His public aims and methods, his personal and public character, his devotion to high principles and ideals of duty, make him an historical figure worthy of perpetual observation and admiration. But in the field of oratory, in the preparation and delivery of public speeches, lies his pre-eminent claim to greatness. Here it is hard to say which of many supreme merits he exhibits in highest degree. A severity of style which never fails, a subordination of all the arts and devices of rhetoric to the orator's great purpose; but with all this, elevation of sentiment, power of demonstration, wealth of illustration, passion of appeal and persuasion, patriotic ardor — a combination to which no trait of power or beauty seems wanting, and which apparently exhausts the capacity of language — this is the oratory of Demosthenes.
In the field of philosophical speculation, the search for ideal truth, logical, metaphysical, ethical, psychological, and political, Greek literature has given us Plato. And of the works of Plato it may be said that, apart from the
thought which they contain, they are true literary masterpieces.
Of Plato's philosophical speculations and conclusions, this also is true, that the impulse which he gave to speculative thought, and the methods he pursued have left the deepest traces in all subsequent thought and literature. “ Plato,” says Emerson, “is philosophy, and philosophy, Plato, — at once the glory and the shame of mankind, since neither Saxon nor Roman have availed to add any idea to his categories.”
Then came Aristotle, who covered the whole range of thought of his age, carrying speculative philosophy to its highest results, and devising and stating the methods and laws of all intellectual inquiry. He was also the first writer who can be said to have written the history of philosophy, while in the art of classification, in accumulating and systematizing knowledge or facts, and in the scientific method of treating all subjects, in analytic insight and power, he remains still the first in time, and in many respects the greatest of the world's teachers..
Such, in a meagre and most limited statement, are some of the contents of Greek literature. In all the departments of intellectual exertion to which they severally belong, these are the original sources, the earliest great examples. Their influence, as a matter of fact, has been powerful and continuous in all the intellectual history and progress of the world. All literature of value, as a matter of fact, has been strongly affected by the Greek authors whom I have named. However much the objects and materials of literary art have changed, however many of the conclusions or teachings of Greek philosophy have been disproved and rejected, the intellectual processes and
literary standards which Greek literature first illustrated and enforced, have survived and are in use now.
No man, then, can aspire to become cultivated in these leading departments of intellectual effort, or to become familiar with the progress and results of the intellectual history of mankind, unless he deeply studies Greek literature.
And if to this consideration we add what is indisputable and obvious, that translations can never perfectly, and rarely adequately reproduce the meanings and impressions of the original works, the conclusion cannot be avoided that an acquaintance with Greek literature, through a knowledge of the Greek language, is and must be, whether required by schools and colleges or not, an indispensable means for laying the foundation of the broadest culture, the most useful and effective mental training. The Greek language and literature are thus, whether we will or not, a “fundamental requirement,” “ without which,” in the words of Mr. Adams, “no one can pursue a specialty to (the highest) advantage.”
As soon as one really reflects on this matter, and seriously inquires what is, by its nature and office, “ fundamental,” to a high, or strong, or useful, or adequate training and culture for the work of modern life, he finds that by no convention of scholars so-called, in deference to no long-cherished superstition, through the worship of no “ fetish,” but by a necessity arising from the plain facts of the world's intellectual and literary history, the Greek language and literature are the only key to much that is the most valuable intellectual and literary treasure of the world.
But not the least, perhaps the greatest superiority of Greek literature is in what is usually called its style — the quality which Mr. Lowell has lately reminded us, is “the