Imágenes de páginas

his message.

facts or ideas which are the natural framework, and afterwards continue to be the evidences, for any civilisation worthy of the name. They are : language and grammar, religious dogma and worship, literature and fine-art, philosophy and science, social organisation and political institutions.1

If one man can give the artistic embodiment of a civilisation, he is the Classic of that time. Those who love him, love the Civilisation which he mirrors; if we are coldly affected towards him, it is because we have not realised

If we desiderate personality in him, it is because we have not perceived that his personality is the personality of a people and an age, individualised by the artist. If you try to parody Sophocles--except in the merest verbal accidents in him-you will be parodying the Periclean Age; as in Shakespeare the Elizabethan England.

This is not to say that Sophocles is greater than Aeschylus. I would contest that Milton is not the representative poet of the seventeenth century, though he is its greatest name. Perhaps there are epochs too transitional to admit the representative poet, epochs like the boastful, chaotic century we have just buried, which are mere preparatory shufflings, irregular dartings and radiatings which precede a new crystallisation. But even in an organised civilisation the grand eccentric—an Aeschylus or a Milton—may be the paramount figure. And it is then we need to redress a mental bias in order to appreciate duly the representative great poet, great without lawlessness, not by the bursting vehemence of prophetic individuality, great and normal.

1 Taine summarised by Boutmy, Le Parthénon et le Génie Grec, Pref. xiv.

I believe we might point to an analogy in Painting, but it would detain us too long to elaborate. Modern fancy has turned in the Italian Schools with peculiar admiration to the great Primitives or to the salient personal touch of a Michelangiolo, and declared it humdrum to repeat the praises lavished by the eighteenth century on Raphael. But the eighteenth century was an organic unit, a civilisation in the sense above outlined, and what they saw in Raphael was a perfect artistic embodiment of another civilisation ; Raphael is the ripeness of the Italian Renaissance, as Sophocles is the Periclean Age.

If, then, this is the clue to Sophocles, we must try to form, though only in rough outline, some image of the Periclean Age. Chapters, nay volumes, have been written on it. In short compass I know nothing so rich in penetrative enthusiasm as E. Boutmy's Le Parthenon, &c.; but Beloch has a very telling chapter, highly compressed, but with well-managed emphasis, and calculated to nip certain sentimental exaggerations which forget the background of savagery in Athens of the fifth century.

The note of the time is Harmony. It is the extraordinary harmonious parity of development in every branch of human activity at once. Sparta after the Persian wars surrenders the headship of Greece ‘from craven fears of being great': Athens, full of ambition and conscious power, succeeds. The elements which go to make up her position in the middle of the century are, in abstract, these: a sudden, enormous increase of population induced by her liberal policy towards immigration; the intoxicating self-revelation, the awakening of national consciousness, caused by the miraculous achievement of defeating Persia; the vast and sudden affluence of wealth from the tribute and from the expansion of commerce—and this at a time when the purchasing power of money was very high. Athens by position was the meeting point of the Dorian and the Ionian world, and now there was added an extraordinary intermingling of classes, races, and types, stimulating every kind of activity. A community of merchant princes has ever been a hotbed of art; they abounded at Athens; and the State itself was collectively a merchant prince, like Genoa or Venice or Florence in their great days. The artistic impulse was deep-seated in the Attic nature; the Pisistratids had fostered it, as Tyranny all over Greece fostered it. But now Athens was to prove that abnegation of political activity is not a necessary condition to its development, but that it can be carried to the highest excellence concurrently with the deployment of


of the human character.

She was mistress of Greece for a brief season after the reduction of Boeotia, and though the process of dissolution began within a generation, her spirit was not broken till the Peloponnesian War had run some twenty years.

She was heiress of the science and philosophy of lonia ; she gathered and absorbed the feeble beginnings of literary art which the Dorian

put forth in tragedy and comedy; she borrowed the poetry and rhetoric of Sicily; she borrowed the sculpture and architecture of her Western neighbours. And all that she borrowed she raised to a new power. Of the sturdy, heavy Doric order of building she made a Parthenon; from the stiff Argive and Aeginetan schools in sculpture she evolved a Phidias. reserved for her to actualise the possible graces

It was He was

of every

form in which man strives to touch the idea of Beauty.

And at the same time every individual citizen of Athens was a Tupavvõs, despot over half the Greek world in military dominion, and Tupavvós in that for his pride and enjoyment the greatest masters of Poetry, Sculpture, Architecture, Oratory brought their emulous tribute. The Periclean State Socialism paid him a living wage for condescending to perform his duties; a vast mass of slaves lay crushed to consolidate the foundations of his magnificence.

never long enough at peace to become hebetated; the glory of Athens began in war and bloomed through war. Ruskin's splendid denial that Peace is a nurse of arts is exemplified in the Greek States. Look at the barren record of communities which like Argos stood aloof in long periods of sluggishness ! Pericles surveying Athens from his height might have said that never had man individually and collectively lived so full and rich an existence, with such noble scope and equipment for the exercise and satisfaction of

every aptitude. And the Athenian listening to his Olympian First Citizen could not but see typified in Pericles the perfect norm of the city's intense and luxuriant being.

« AnteriorContinuar »