« ForrigeFortsett »
innumerable forms of Parian marble white as snow, and disposed in every attitude of grace and majesty. One seems to feel the silence of the scene in thinking upon it; its beauty, magic, grandeur, touch and awe and elevate the soul, and we almost expect that one of the more than mortal shapes should break the stillness, and address us in the language of Pericles or Demosthenes; till some patrician youth, like Alcibiades, flushed with wine, apparelled in purple, and crowned with flowers, followed by a rabble-rout of bacchanals, breaking forth from the haunts of their revelry, with shout, and song, and dance, and music, disenchant the whole,-or rather transform the enchantment into a new and more exhilarating spectacle of the midnight orgies of the finest sons of Greece in her prime.
Is there anywhere a parallel to this picture of imagination ?-Somewhere in the depths of an abandoned wilderness, in the heart of Africa, according to an ancient tradition, there may be seen to this day, in perfect preservation, a magnificent city, once the capital of a surrounding empire, on which so strange a judgment came, that all its inhabitants were in a moment turned to stone, while they and their dwellings were doomed to remain, through the lapse of ages, precisely as they stood, as they looked, as they were, at the infliction of the stroke. The stillness of death-of death in every form of life, reigns within the walls, while the multitudes of people of all ages, ranks, and occupations, who seem to the visiter (if visiter ever enters there) at the first glance in the full action of men, women, and children, hurrying to and fro about their business or their amusements,—the longer you gaze seem more and more fixed to the eye, till the beholder himself becomes almost petrified by sympathy. Sometimes, however (and it is well for him, when his trance is so broken), a herd of antelopes, fleeing from a lion in full chase after them, rush through the open gates of the city, and bound along the streets, regardless of the apparent throngs of human beings wherever they turn, but whose motionless figures, through long familiarity, are to them as indifferent as so many unshapen fragments of rock.-I must drop the veil here, both over the city of Minerva and the city of the desert, which I have dared to bring into crude comparison with it: in contemplating either, imagination may have rum riot in the labyrinths of revery, mistaking phantoms for realities, and vain fancies for high thoughts. We return for a few moments to the straightforward path of historical retrospection.
The Decline of Greek Literature. It has been already stated, that the period from Pisistratus to Philip of Macedon was the golden age of Grecian fame; literature and freedom flourishing together,—and they ought never to be separated. Literature, when freedom is lost, becomes the most degraded and the most dangerous tool of despotism; while freedom without literature—that is, without knowledge-presents the most ferociously savage state of human society, if society can exist without a single bond of moral or civil restraint. If the Spartans were not such an iron race, it was because learning and philosophy, which they affected to despise, exercised an indirect but benign influence over them, without betraying the secret of their power.
From the division of the empire of Alexander the Great, when Greece fell under the dominion of one of his captains, though the Achaian league partially restored and maintained the republican spirit in some of the states, till the time when the whole country passed under the Roman yoke,-from the death of Alexander to the reign of the Emperor Aurelian, may be styled the silver age of Greece.
Many noble and illustrious names of the second order belong to this period. Then followed a brazen time, which may be brought as low as the reign of Heraclius, emperor of the East, in the seventh century of the Christian era. Thenceforward, a long series of iron years have rolled in heavy and hopeless burden over Greece, under its own latest sovereigns, and from the fifteenth century under its Turkish oppressors ta the present day.
But the circle of ages is surely now complete, and have we not the promise, the prospect, the commencement of an immediate return of Astrea to Greece, bringing back the golden days of justice, liberty, and literature, to that fairest, most fertile, that most wronged and, forsaken region of the earth? Marathon and Thermopylæ are again named with enthusiasm by lips that speak nearly the same dialect, and breathe the same spirit as Miltiades and Leonidas,-from bosoms in which the fire of Grecian bards and Grecian heroes has been recently rekindled. That fire, indeed, broke forth at first with an avenging violence, which, if it consumed not its enemies, repelled them from the soil: but now since security and repose may be looked for, we may hope that the tempered flame will, once more and for ever, shine out with a purity and splendour that shall rival, if it cannot eclipse, the glory of the better days of ancient Greece.
Greek and Roman Polity contrasted.
GREECE and Rome were the reverse of each other in respect to arts and arms. Greece, divided into almost as many little commonwealths as there were islands in her seas, or encircling mountains and intersecting rivers on her main land, was prevented from extending her dominion otherwise than by colonization along the neighbouring shores of Asia Minor, Sicily, and Calabria; while at home perpetual jealousies and feuds tended rather to preserve than to endanger or destroy the balanced independence of her numerous states. In one instance only Greece became an invader and a conqueror; but that was not till she herself had been invaded and conquered by Philip of Macedon. Then, not of choice but from compulsion, under his son Alexander, collected armies, small in comparative numbers, but forming a phalanx of which every soldier was in himsel a host, were led through the heart of Asia, and even to the banks of the Ganges, reducing the whole eastern world to the personal sway of their commander; for it was for himself, and not for his country,-for himself alone, and not for a dynasty of princes in his own line, that “Macedonia's madman” won the most unwieldy empire the world ever saw :-it rose, it stood, it fell with him.
To the political fate of Greece after his demise allusion sufficient has already been made. It never again was a conqueror at home or abroad. In Greece, therefore (Sparta excepted, which from the days of Lycurgus, through many generations, maintained its standing as its legislator had left it,-in resolute semi-barbarism; uniting the savage virtues with a high tone of moral feeling on some points, and a deplorable profligacy on others): in Greece, the culture of the fine arts was the principal occupation of the most accomplished minds, and the profession of arms was secondary, but only secondary, and almost parallel with this favourite pursuit among those who had leisure to choose their way of life. In Rome, on the contrary, for seven centuries after the foundation of the city, aggression and aggrandizement were the watchwords of her citizens, and universal empire the secret or avowed aim of her warriors and statesmen; till, having won the world with her sword, she became the victim of that reaction by which nature avenges herself on all, whether individuals or nations, who outrage her equity in the distribution of power, wealth, dignity, or dominion. The luxuries and the vices of the conquered countries became the snares and the destroyers of Rome herself.
But before we proceed to notice the literature of Rome in a retrospect like the present, brief as it must be even on the main subjects, it will be requisite to glance at least for a few moments upon the character and condition of the multitude, both in Greece and Italy, during the two most brilliant eras of each. The term classic, affixed by way of preeminence to the literature and arts of these people, operates like a spell upon our imagination : without attaching to it any definite meaning, we associate with it all that is great and splendid, beautiful and excellent, in the surviving pages of ancient authors; as well as all that is venerable, sublime, and alniost superhuman in the relics of Greek and Roman architecture and sculpture—the severest and most enduring of manual labours.
In these, for the present at least, let the writers, the builders, and the artists stand alone and unrivalled. They were the few, but what were the many, in the renowned règions whence we have derived