Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

A.d. 988. PERIOD OF IGNORANCE. 39

Greek was the language of literature and philosophy, nor could the masters of this rich and perfect idiom be tempted to envy Perio<1 of the borrowed learning and imitative taste of their Roman 'e1101""disciples. After the fall of Paganism, the loss of Syria and Egypt, and the extinction of the schools of Alexandria and Athens, the studies of the Greeks insensibly retired to some regular monasteries, and, above all, to the royal college of Constantinople, which was burnt in the reign of Leo the Isaurian.103 In the pompous style of the age, the president of that foundation was named the Sun of Science; his twelve associates, the professors in the different arts and faculties, were the twelve signs of the zodiac; a library of thirty-six thousand five hundred volumes was open to their inquiries; and they could show an ancient manuscript of Homer, on a roll of parchment one hundred and twenty feet in length, the intestines, as it was fabled, of a prodigious serpent.104 But the seventh and eighth centuries were a period of discord and darkness; the library was burnt, the college was abolished, the Iconoclasts are represented as the foes of antiquity, and a savage ignorance and contempt of letters has disgraced the princes of the Heraclean and Isaurian dynasties.",:'

In the ninth century we trace the first dawnings of the restoration of science.10* After the fanaticism of the Arabs had subsided, the caliphs aspired to conquer the arts, rather than of Greek

, . n i . 1-tii •• learning.

the provinces, of the empire: their liberal curiosity rekindled the emulation of the Greeks, brushed away the dust from their ancient libraries, and taught them to know and reward the philosophers, whose labours had been hitherto repaid by the pleasure of study and the pursuit of truth. The Caesar Bardas, the uncle of Michael the Third, was the generous protector of letters, a title which alone has preserved his memory and excused his ambition. A particle of the treasures of his nephew was sometimes diverted from the indulgence of vice and folly; a school was opened in the

'" See Ducange (C. P. Christiana, 1. ii. p. loO, 151), who collects the testimonies, not of Theophaues, but at least of Zonaras (tom. ii. 1. EV. Ce. 3] p. 104), Cedrenus (p. 454 [torn. i. p. 795, sq., ed. Bonn]), Michael Ulycas (p. 281 (p. 522, ed. Bonn]), Constantino Manasses (p. 87 [v. 4257, p. 18i', ed. Bonn]). After refuting the absurd charge against the emperor, Spanheim (Hist. Imaginum, p. 99-111), like a true advocate, proceeds to doubt or deny the reality of the fire, and almost of the library.

104 According to Malchus (apud Zonar. 1. xiv. p. 53), this Homer was burnt in the time of Basiliscus. The MS. might be renewed—but on a serpent's skin? Most strange and incredible!

'" The iXtyla of Zonaras, the iy(i* «*< iftatla of Cedrenus, are strong words, perhaps not ill-suited to these reigns.

'" See Zonaras (l. xvi. [c. 4] p. 160, 161) and Cedrenus (p. 549, 550 (tom. ii. p. 168, *q<]., ed. Bonn]). Like Friar Bacon, the philosopher Leo has been transformed by ignorance into a conjurer; yet not so undeservedly, if he be the author of the oracles more commonly ascribed to the emperor of the same name. The physics of Leo in MS. are in the library of Vienna (Fabricius, Biblioth. Gncc. torn. vi. p. 366; torn. xii. p. 781). Quiescant!

40 REVIVAL OF , Chap. L11I.

palace of Magnaura, and the presence of Bardas excited the emulation of the masters and students. At their head was the philosopher Leo, archbishop of Thessalonica; his profound skill in astronomy and the mathematics was admired by the strangers of the East, and this occult science was magnified by vulgar credulity, which modestly supposes that all knowledge superior to its own must be the effect of inspiration or magic. At the pressing entreaty of the Caesar, his friend, the celebrated Photius,'07 renounced the freedom of a secular and studious life, ascended the patriarchal throne, and was alternately excommunicated and absolved by the synods of the East and West. By the confession even of priestly hatred, no art or science, except poetry, was foreign to this universal scholar, who was deep in thought, indefatigable in reading, and eloquent in diction. Whilst he exercised the office of protospathaire, or captain of the guards, Photius was sent ambassador to the caliph of Bagdad.1"8 The tedious hours of exile, perhaps of confinement, were beguiled by the hasty composition of his Library, a living monument of erudition and criticism. Two hundred and fourscore writers, historians, orators, philosophers, theologians, are reviewed without any regular method; he abridges their narrative or doctrine, appreciates their style and character, and judges even the fathers of the church with a discreet freedom which often breaks through the superstition of the times. The emperor Basil, who lamented the defects of his own education, intrusted to the care of Photius his son and successor Leo the Philosopher, and the reign of that prince and of his son Constantine Porphyrogeuitus forms one of the most prosperous ajras of the Byzantine literature. By their munificence the treasures of antiquity were deposited in the Imperial library; by their pens, or those of their associates, they were imparted in such extracts and abridgments as might amuse the curiosity, without oppressing the indolence, of the public. Besides the Battilicn, or code of laws, the arts of husbandry and war, of feeding or destroying the human species, were propagated with equal diligence; and the history of Greece and Rome was digested into fifty-three heads or titles, of which two only (of embassies, and of virtues and vices) have escaped the injuries of time. In every station the reader might contemplate the image of the past

"" The ecclesiastical and literary character of Photius is copiously discussed by Hanckius (de Scriptoribus Byzant. p. Jti9-:S9t5) and Fabricius.

"* Sit 'KacvfUvs can only mean Bagdad, the seat of the caliph; and the relation of his embassy might have been curious and instructive. But how did he procure his books? A library so numerous could neither be found at Bagdad, nor transported with his baggage, nor preserved in his memory. Yet the last, however incredible, seems to be affirmed by Photius himself, »v*f avrv* * y*r,ur itUu^t. Camusat (Hist. Critique des Juurnaux, p. 87-9+) gives a good account of the Myriobiblun.

A.u. 988. GREEK LEARNING. 41

■world, apply the lesson or warning of each page, and learn to admire, perhaps to imitate, the examples of a brighter period. I shall not expatiate on the works of the Byzantine Greeks, who, by the assiduous study of the ancients, have deserved, in some measure, the remembrance and gratitude of the moderns. The scholars of the present age may still enjoy the benefit of the philosophical commonplacebook of Stobaeus, the grammatical and historic lexicon of Suidas, the Chiliads of Tzetzes, which comprise six hundred narratives in twelve thousand verses, and the commentaries on Homer of Eustathius archbishop of Thessakmica, who, from his horn of plenty, has poured the names and authorities of four hundred writers. From these originals, and from the numerous t. ibe of scholiasts and critics,109 some estimate may be formed of the literary wealth of the twelfth century. Constantinople was enlightened by the genius of Homer and Demosthenes, of Aristotle and Plato; and in the enjoyment or neglect of our present riches we must envy the generation that could still peruse the history of Theopompus, the orations of Hyperides, the comedies of Menander,110 and the odes of Alcseus and Sappho. The frequent labour of illustration attests not only the existence but the popularity of the Grecian classics; the general knowledge of the age may be deduced from the example of two learned females, the empress Eudocia and the princess Anna Comnena, who cultivated, in the purple, the arts of rhetoric and philosophy.111 The vulgar dialect of the city was gross and barbarous: a more correct and elaborate style distinguished the discourse, or at least the compositions, of the church and palace, which sometimes affected to copy the purity of the Attic models

In our modern education, the painful though necessary attainment

10' Of these modern Greeks, see the respective articles in the Bibliotheca Greeca of FubriciuB; a laborious work, yet susceptible of a better method and many improvements: of Eustathius (torn. i. p. 289-292, 30G-329), of the Pselli (a diatribe of Leo Allatius, ad calcem torn, v.), of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (tom. vi. p. 486-509), of John Stobteus (tom. viii. 665-728), of Suidas (tom. ix. p. 620-827), John Tzetzes (tom. xii. p. 245-273). Mr. Harris, in his Philological Arrangements, opus senile, has given a sketch of this Byzantine learning (p. 287-300).

110 From obscure and hearsay evidence, Gerard Vossius (de Poetis Gracis, c. 6) and Le Clerc (BibliothiSque Choisie, tom. xix. p. 285) mention a commentary of Michael Psellus on twenty-four plays of Menander, still extant in MS. at Constantinople. Yet Buch classic studies seem incompatible with the gravity or dulness of a Bchoolman who pored over the categories (de Psellis, p. 42); and Michael has probably been confounded with Homerus Selliiis, who wrote arguments to the comedies of Menander. In the xth century Suidas quotes fifty plays, but he often transcribes the old scholiast of Aristophanes.

111 Anna Comnena may boast of her Greek style (t« 'exxkvi'^u» kt axpot xaxouiaxvio), and Zonaras, her contemporary, but not her flatterer, may add with truth, yXMrrat ifx,i» axfiG*i 'ATT/*f£flBfl-a». The princess was conversant with the artful dialogues of Plato, and had studied the rirgaxrl;, or i/nadrivi'tm of astrology, geometry, arithmetic, and music (see her preface to the Alexiad, with Ducange's notes).

42 DECAY OF TASTE AND GENIUS. Cuap. LHI.

of two languages which are no longer living may consume the time and damp the ardour of the youthful student. The poets

Decay of

taste and and orators were long imprisoned in the barbarous dialects of our Western ancestors, devoid of harmony or grace ; and their genius, without precept or example, was abandoned to the rude and native powers of their judgment and fancy. But the Greeks of Constantinople, after purging away the impurities of their vulgar speech, acquired the free use of their ancient language, the most happy composition of human art, and a familiar knowledge of the sublime masters who had pleased or instructed the first of nations. But these advantages only tend to aggravate the reproach and shame of a degenerate people. They held in their lifeless hands the riches of their fathers, without inheriting the spirit which had created and improved that sacred patrimony: they read, they praised, they compiled, but their languid souls seemed alike incapable of thought and action. In the revolution of ten centuries, not a single discovery was made to exalt the dignity or promote the happiness of mankind. Not a single idea has been added to the speculative systems of antiquity, and a succession of patient disciples became in their turn the dogmatic teachers of the next servile generation. Not a single composition of history, philosophy, or literature, has been saved from oblivion by the intrinsic beauties of style or sentiment, of original fancy, or even of successful imitation. In prose, the least offensive of the Byzantine writers are absolved from censure by their naked and unpresuming simplicity: but the orators, most eloquent "s in their own conceit, are the farthest removed from the models whom they affect to emulate. In every page our taste and reason are wounded by the choice of gigantic and obsolete words, a stiff and intricate phraseology, the discord of images, the childish play of false or unseasonable ornament, and the painful attempt to elevate themselves, to astonish the reader, and to involve a trivial meaning in the smoke of obscurity and exaggeration. Their prose is soaring to the vicious affectation of poetry : their poetry is sinking below the flatness and insipidity of prose. The tragic, epic, and lyric muses were silent and inglorious: the bards of Constantinople seldom rose above a riddle or epigram, a panegyric or tale; they forgot even the rules of prosody ; and with the melody of Homer yet sounding in their ears, they confound all measure of feet and syllables in the impotent strains which have received the name of political or city verses.115

112 To censure the Byzantine taste, Ducango (Prefat. Gloss. Grsec. p. 17) strings the authorities of Aulua Gellius, Jerom, Petronius, George Hamartolus, Longinus, who give at once the precept and the example.

11:1 The versus politici, those common prostitutes, as, from their easiness, they are

>

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

he m'uids of the Greeks were bound in the fetters of a base and iperious superstition, which extends her dominion round the circle profane science. Their understandings were bewildered in metanysical controversy : in the belief of visions and miracles they had >st all principles of moral evidence, and their taste was vitiated by le homilies of the monks, an absurd medley of declamation and Icripture. Even these contemptible studies were no longer dignified iy the abuse of superior talents: the leaders of the Greek church vere humbly content to admire and copy the oracles of antiquity, nor lid the schools or pulpit produce any rivals of the fame of Athanasius and Chrysostom."4

In all the pursuits of active and speculative life, the emulation of states and individuals is the most powerful spring of the

Want nf

efforts and improvements of mankind. The cities of ancient national Greece were cast in the happy mixture of union and independence, which is repeated on a larger scale, but in a looser form, by the nations of modern Europe: the union of language, religion, and manners, which renders them the spectators and judges of each other's merit:lla the independence of government and interest, which asserts their separate freedom, and excites them to strive for preeminence in the career of glory. The situation of the Romans was less favourable; yet in the early ages of the republic, which fixed the

styled by Leo Allatius, usually consist of fifteen syllables. They are used by Constantino Manasses, John Tzetzes, &c. (Ducange, Gloss. Latin, torn. iii. p. i. p. 345, 346, edit. Basil. 1762)."

1,4 As St. Bernard of the Latin, so St. John Damascenus, in the viiith century, is revered as the last father of the Greek, church.

113 Hume's Essays, vol. i. p. 125.

■' The nkiriwl rrlx" are accentual

verses, and are so called from having been

invented at Constantinople. "Whether

"there was any other Greek metre on

"the accentual principle in the middle

'' ages is uncertain; no specimen has

"reached us. Nor is it certain at what

"time the versus politici first came into

"use. In the twelfth century they had

"become so popular, that Constantine

"Manasses wrote in this measure his The

"4n M'"", and John Tzetzes his Chi

"liads,both composed in Hellenic, though

"the latter shows that he yielded un

"willingly to the vulgar taste, by his

"complaint in iambics at the commence

"ment of his book, entitled "AXf« Tjtit

"{ixit nmparvf. It is remarkable that

"this measure, although seldom, if ever,

"found in the poetry of other modern

"European nations, was common in the

'earliest English poetry, and has con'tinued to be a favourite with us in 'compositions of particular kinds. The 'only difference is, that, instead of fifteen 'syllables with an accent on the penulti'mate syllable, the English measure is 'of fourteen, with an accent on the last 'syllable. Rhyme, which is found in 'the earliest specimens of English verse, 'appears to have been adopted by the 'Greeks in a later age from the Italians, 'as it is not found before the time when 'the Venetians in Crete, the Genoese at 'Constantinople and elsewhere, and other 'Italians in several parts of the islands 'and continent of Greece, had introduced 'many of their customs, and when the 'greater part of the Romantic poetry con'sisted of translations or imitations of 'Italian romances." Leake, Peloponnesiaca, p. 135.—S.

« ForrigeFortsett »