Hegel’s Philosophy of History
Among the Greeks we feel ourselves immediately at home, for we are in the region of Spirit; and though the origin of the nation, as also its philological peculiarities, may be traced farther – even to India – the proper Emergence, the true Palingenesis of Spirit must be looked for in Greece first. At an earlier stage I compared the Greek world with the period of adolescence; not, indeed, in that sense, that youth bears within it a serious, anticipative destiny, and consequently by the very conditions of its culture urges towards an ulterior aim – presenting thus an inherently incomplete and immature form, and being then most defective when it would deem itself perfect – but in that sense, that youth does not yet present the activity of work, does not yet exert itself for a definite intelligent aim – but rather exhibits a concrete freshness of the soul’s life. It appears in the sensuous, actual world, as Incarnate Spirit and Spiritualized Sense – in a Unity which owed its origin to Spirit. Greece presents to us the cheerful aspect of youthful freshness, of Spiritual vitality. It is here first that advancing Spirit makes itself the content of its volition and its knowledge; but in such a way that State, Family, Law, Religion, are at the same time objects aimed at by individuality, while the latter is individuality only in virtue of those aims. The [full-grown] man, on the other hand, devotes his life to labor for an objective aim; which he pursues consistently, even at the cost of his individuality.
The highest form that floated before Greek imagination was Achilles, the Son of the Poet, the Homeric Youth of the Trojan War. Homer is the element in which the Greek world lives, as man does in the air. The Greek life is a truly youthful achievement. Achilles, the ideal youth, of poetry, commenced it: Alexander the Great, the ideal youth of reality, concluded it. Both appear in contest with Asia. Achilles, as the principal figure in the national expedition of the Greeks against Troy, does not stand at its head, but is subject to the Chief of Chiefs; he cannot be made the leader without becoming a fantastic untenable conception. On the contrary, the second youth, Alexander – the freest and finest individuality that the real world has ever produced – advances to the head of this youthful life that has now perfected itself, and accomplishes the revenge against Asia. We have, then, to distinguish three periods in Greek history: the first, that of the growth of real Individuality; the second, that of its independence and prosperity in external conquest (through contact with the previous World-historical people); and the third, the period of its decline and fall, in its encounter with the succeeding organ of World-History. The period from its origin to its internal completeness (that which enables a people to make head against its predecessor) includes its primary culture. If the nation has a basis – such as the Greek world has in the Oriental – a foreign culture enters as an element into its primary condition, and it has a double culture, one original, the other of foreign suggestion. The uniting of these two elements constitutes its training; and the first period ends with the combination of its forces to produce its real and proper vigor, which then turns against the very element that had been its basis. The second period is that of victory and prosperity. But while the nation directs its energies outwards, it becomes unfaithful to its principles at home, and internal dissension follows upon the ceasing of the external excitement. In Art and Science, too, this shows itself in the separation of the Ideal from the Real. Here is the point of decline. The third period is that of ruin, through contact with the nation that embodies a higher Spirit. The same process, it may be stated once for all, will meet us in the life of every world-historical people.
Greece is [that form of] the Substantial [i.e., of Moral and Intellectual Principle], which is at the same time individual. The Universal [the Abstract], as such, is overcome; the submersion in Nature no longer exists, and consentaneously the unwieldy character of geographical relations has also vanished. The country now under consideration is a section of territory spreading itself in various forms through the sea – a multitude of islands, and a continent which itself exhibits insular features. The Peloponnesus is connected with the continent only by a narrow isthmus: the whole of Greece is indented by bays in numberless shapes. The partition into small divisions of territory is the universal characteristic, while at the same time, the relationship and connection between them is facilitated by the sea. We find here mountains, plains, valleys, and streams of limited extent: no great river, no absolute Valley-Plain presents itself; but the ground is diversified by mountains and rivers in such a way as to allow no prominence to a single massive feature. We see no such display of physical grandeur as is exhibited in the East – no stream such as the Ganges, the Indus, etc., on whose plains a race delivered over to monotony is stimulated to no change, because its horizon always exhibits one unvarying form. On the contrary, that divided and multiform character everywhere prevails which perfectly corresponds with the varied life of Greek races and the versatility of the Greek Spirit.
This is the elementary character of the Spirit of the Greeks, implying the origination of their culture from independent individualities; – a condition in which individuals take their own ground, and are not, from the very beginning, patriarchally united by a bond of Nature, but realize a union through some origin of their moral life the Greeks have preserved, with grateful recollection, in a form of recognition which we may call mythological. In their mythology we have a definite record of the introduction of agriculture by Triptolemus, who was instructed by Ceres, and of the institution of marriage, etc. Prometheus, whose origin is referred to the distant Caucasus, is celebrated as having first taught men the production and the use of fire. The introduction of iron was likewise of great importance to the Greeks; and while Homer speaks only of bronze, ∆schylus calls iron “Scythian.” The introduction of the olive, of the art of spinning and weaving, and the creation of the horse by Poseidon, belong to the same category.
More historical than these rudiments of culture is the alleged arrival of foreigners; tradition tells us how the various states were founded by such foreigners. Thus, Athens owes its origin to Cecrops, an Egyptian, whose history, however, is involved in obscurity. The race of Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, is brought into connection with the various Greek tribes. Pelops of Phrygia, the son of Tantalus, is also mentioned ; next, Danaus, from Egypt: from him descend Acrisius, Danae, and Perseus. Pelops is said to have brought great wealth with him to the Peloponnesus, and to have acquired great respect and power there. Danaus settled in Argos. Especially important is the arrival of Cadmus, of Phoenician origin, with whom phonetic writing is said to have been introduced into Greece; Herodotus refers it to Phoenicia, and ancient inscriptions then extant are cited to support the assertion. Cadmus, according to the legend, founded Thebes.
We thus observe a colonization by civilized peoples, who were in advance of the Greeks in point of culture: though we cannot compare this colonization with that of the English in North America, for the latter have not been blended with the aborigines, but have dispossessed them; whereas in the case of the settlers in Greece the adventitious and autochthonic elements were mixed together. The date assigned to the arrival of these colonists is very remote – the fourteenth and fifteenth century before Christ. Cadmus is said to have founded Thebes about 1490 B.C. – a date with which the Exodus of Moses from Egypt (1500 B.C.) nearly coincides. Amphictyon is also mentioned among the Founders of Greek institutions; he is said to have established at Thermopylae a union between many small tribes of Hellas proper and Thessaly – a combination with which the great Amphictyonic league is said to have originated. These foreigners, then, are reputed to have established fixed centres in Greece by the erection of fortresses and the founding of royal houses. In Argolis, the walls of which the ancient fortresses consisted, were called Cyclopian; some of them have been discovered even in recent times, since, on account of their solidity, they are indestructible.
These walls consist partly of irregular blocks, whose interstices are filled up with small stones – partly of masses of stones carefully fitted into each other. Such walls are those of Tiryns and Mycenae. Even now the gate with the lions, at Mycenas, can be recognized by the description of Pausanias. It is stated of Prcetus, who ruled in Argos, that he brought with him from Lycia the Cyclopes who built these walls. It is, however, supposed that they were erected by the ancient Pelasgi. To the fortresses protected by such walls the princes of the heroic times generally attached their dwellings. Especially remarkable are the Treasure-houses built by them, such as the Treasure-house of Minyas at Orchomenus, and that of Atreus at Mycenas. These fortresses, then, were the nuclei of small states; they gave a greater security to agriculture; they protected commercial intercourse against robbery. They were, however, as Thucydides informs us, not placed in the immediate vicinity of the sea, on account of piracy; maritime towns being of later date. Thus with those royal abodes originated the firm establishment of society. The relation of princes to subjects, and to each other, we learn best from Homer. It did not depend on a state of things established by law, but. on superiority in riches, possessions, martial accoutrements, personal bravery, pre-eminence in insight and wisdom, and lastly, on descent and ancestry; for the princes, as heroes, were regarded as of a higher race. Their subjects obeyed them, not as distinguished from them by conditions of Caste, nor as in a state of serfdom, nor in the patriarchal relation – according to which the chief is only the head of the tribe or family to which all belong – nor yet as the result of the express necessity for a constitutional government; but only from the need, universally felt, of being held together, and of obeying a ruler accustomed to command – without envy and ill-will towards him. The Prince has just so much personal authority as he possesses the ability to acquire and to assert; but as this superiority is only the individually heroic, resting on personal merit, it does not continue long. Thus in Homer we see the suitors of Penelope taking possession of the property of the absent Ulysses, without showing the slightest respect to his son. Achilles, in his inquiries about his father, when Ulysses descends to Hades, indicates the supposition that, as he is old, he will be no longer honored. Manners are still very simple: princes prepare their own repasts; and Ulysses labors at the construction of his own house. In Homer’s Iliad we find a King of Kings, a generalissimo in the great national undertaking – but the other magnates environ him as a freely deliberating council; the prince is honored, but he is obliged to arrange everything to the satisfaction of the others; he indulges in violent conduct towards Achilles, but, in revenge, the latter withdraws from the struggle. Equally lax is the relation of the several chiefs to the people at large, among whom there are always individuals who claim attention and respect. The various peoples do not fight as mercenaries of the prince in his battles, nor as a stupid serf-like herd driven to the contest, nor yet in their own interest; but as the companions of their honored chieftain – as witnesses of his exploits, and his defenders in peril. A perfect resemblance to these relations is also presented in the Greek Pantheon. Zeus is the Father of the Gods, but each one of them has his own will; Zeus respects them, and they him: he may sometimes scold and threaten them, and they then allow his will to prevail or retreat grumbling; but they do not permit matters to come to an extremity, and Zeus so arranges matters on the whole – by making this concession to one, that to another – as to produce satisfaction. In the terrestrial, as well as in the Olympian world, there is, therefore, only a lax bond of unity maintained; royalty has not yet become monarchy, for it is only in a more extensive society that the need of the latter is felt.
While this state of things prevailed, and social relations were such as have been described, that striking and great event took place – the union of the whole of Greece in a national undertaking, viz., the Trojan War; with which began that more extensive connection, with Asia which had very important results for the Greeks. (The expedition of Jason to Colchis – also mentioned by the poets – and which bears an earlier date, was, as compared with the war of Troy, a very limited and isolated undertaking.) The occasion of that united expedition is said to have been the violation of the laws of hospitality by the son of an Asiatic prince, in carrying off the wife of his host. Agamemnon assembles the princes of Greece through the power and influence which he possesses. Thucydides ascribes his authority to his hereditary sovereignty, combined with naval power (Hom. II. ii. 108), in which he was far superior to the rest. It appears, however, that the combination was effected without external compulsion, and that the whole armament was convened simply on the strength of individual consent. The Hellenes were then brought to act unitedly, to an extent of which there is no subsequent example. The result of their exertions was the conquest and destruction of Troy, though they had no design of making it a permanent possession. No external result, therefore, in the way of settlement ensued, any more than an enduring political union, as the effect of the uniting of the nation in the accomplishment of this single achievement. But the poet supplied an imperishable portraiture of their youth and of their national spirit, to the imagination of the Greek people; and the picture of this beautiful human heroism hovered as a directing ideal before their whole development and culture. So likewise, in the Middle Ages, we see the whole of Christendom united to attain one object – the conquest of the Holy Sepulchre; but, in spite of all the victories achieved, with just as little permanent result. The Crusades are the Trojan War of newly awakened Christendom, waged against the simple, homogeneous clearness of Mahometanism.
The royal houses perished, partly as the consequence of particular atrocities, partly through gradual extinction. There was no strictly moral bond connecting them with the tribes which they governed. The same relative position is occupied by the people and the royal houses in the Greek Tragedy also. The people is the Chorus – passive, deedless: the heroes perform the deeds, and incur the consequent responsibility. There is nothing in common between them; the people have no directing power, but only appeal to the gods. Such heroic personalities as those of the princes in question, are so remarkably suited for subjects of dramatic art on this very account – that they form their resolutions independently and individually, and are not guided by universal laws binding on every citizen; their conduct and their ruin are individual. The people appears separated from the royal houses, and these are regarded as an alien body – a higher race, fighting out the battles and undergoing the penalties of their fate, for themselves alone. Royalty having performed that which it had to perform, thereby rendered itself superfluous. The several dynasties are the agents of their own destruction, or perish not as the result of animosity, or of struggles on the side of the people: rather the families of the sovereigns are left in calm enjoyment of their power – a proof that the democratic government which followed is not regarded as something absolutely diverse. How sharply do the annals of other times contrast with this!
This fall of the royal houses occurs after the Trojan war, and many changes now present themselves. The Peloponnesus was conquered by the Heraclidae, who introduced a calmer state of things, which was not again interrupted by the incessant migrations of races. The history now becomes more obscure; and though the several occurrences of the Trojan war are very circumstantially described to us, we are uncertain respecting the important transactions of the time immediately following, for a space of many centuries. No united undertaking distinguishes them, unless we regard as such that of which Thucydides speaks, viz., the war between the Chalcidians and Eretrians in Euboea, in which many nations took part. The towns vegetate in isolation, or at most distinguish themselves by war with their neighbors. Yet, they enjoy prosperity in this isolated condition, by means of trade ; a kind of progress to which their being rent by many party-struggles offers no opposition. In the same way, we observe in the Middle Ages the towns of Italy – which, both internally and externally, were engaged in continual struggle – attaining so high a degree of prosperity. The flourishing state of the Greek towns at that time is proved, according to Thucydides, also by the colonies sent out in every direction. Thus, Athens colonized Ionia and several islands; and colonies from the Peloponnesus settled in Italy and Sicily. Colonies, on the other hand, became relatively mother states; e.g., Miletus, which founded many cities on the Propontis and the Black Sea. This sending out of colonies – especially during the period between the Trojan war and Cyrus – presents us with a remarkable phenomenon. It can be thus explained. In the several towns the people had the governmental power in their hands, since they gave the final decision in political affairs. In consequence of the long repose enjoyed by them, the population and the development of the community advanced rapidly; and the immediate result was the amassing of great riches, contemporaneously with which fact great want and poverty make their appearance. Industry, in our sense, did not exist; and the lands were soon occupied. Nevertheless a part of the poorer classes would not submit to the degradations of poverty, for everyone felt himself a free citizen. The only expedient, therefore, that remained, was colonization. In another country, those who suffered distress in their own, might seek a free soil, and gain a living as free citizens by its cultivation. Colonization thus became a means of maintaining some degree of equality among the citizens; but this means is only a palliative, and the original inequality, founded on the difference of property, immediately reappears. The old passions were rekindled with fresh violence, and riches were soon made use of for securing power: thus “Tyrants” gained ascendancy in the cities of Greece. Thucydides says, “When Greece increased in riches, Tyrants arose in the cities, and the Greeks devoted themselves more zealously to the sea.” At the time of Cyrus, the History of Greece acquires its peculiar interest; we see the various states now displaying their particular character. This is the date, too, of the formation of the distinct Greek Spirit. Religion and political institutions are developed with it, and it is these important phases of national life which must now occupy our attention.
In tracing up the rudiments of Greek culture, we first recall attention to the fact that the physical condition of the country does not exhibit such a characteristic unity, such a uniform mass, as to exercise a powerful influence over the inhabitants. On the contrary, it is diversified, and produces no decided impression. Nor have we here the unwieldy unity of a family or national combination; but, in the presence of scenery and displays of elemental power broken up into fragmentary forms, men’s attention is more largely directed to themselves, and to the extension of their immature capabilities. Thus we see the Greeks – divided and separated from each other – thrown back upon their inner spirit and personal energy, yet at the same time most variously excited and cautiously circumspect. We behold them quite undetermined and irresolute in the presence of Nature, dependent on its contingencies, and listening anxiously to each signal from the external world; but, on the other hand, intelligently taking cognizance of and appropriating that outward existence, and showing boldness and independent vigor in contending with it. These are the simple elements of their culture and religion. In tracing up their mythological conceptions, we find natural objects forming the basis – not en masse, however; only in dissevered forms. The Diana of Ephesus (that is, Nature as the universal Mother), the Cybele and Astarte of Syria – such comprehensive conceptions remained Asiatic, and were not transmitted to Greece. For the Greeks only watch the objects of Nature, and form surmises respecting them ; inquiring, in the depth of their souls, for the hidden meaning. According to Aristotle’s dictum, that Philosophy proceeds from Wonder, the Greek view of Nature also proceeds from wonder of this kind.
Not that in their experience, Spirit meets something extraordinary, which it compares with the common order of things; for the intelligent view of a regular course of Nature, and the reference of phenomena to that standard, do not yet present themselves; but the Greek Spirit was excited to wonder at the Natural in Nature. It does not maintain the position of stupid indifference to it as something existing, and there an end of it; but regards it as something in the first instance foreign, in which, however, it has a presentiment of confidence, and the belief that it bears something within it which is friendly to the human Spirit, and which it may be permitted to sustain a positive relation. This Wonder, and this Presentiment, are here the fundamental categories ; though the Hellenes did not content themselves with these moods of feelings, but projected the hidden meaning, which was the subject of the surmise, into a distinct conception as an object of consciousness. The Natural holds its place in their minds only after undergoing some transformation by Spirit – not immediately. Man regards Nature only as an excitement to his faculties, and only the Spiritual which he has evolved from it can have any influence over him. Nor is this commencement of the Spiritual apprehension of Nature to be regarded as an explanation suggested by us; it meets us in a multitude of conceptions formed by the Greeks themselves. The position of curious surmise, of attentive eagerness to catch the meaning of Nature, is indicated to us in the comprehensive idea of Pan. To the Greeks Pan did not represent the objective Whole, but that indefinite neutral ground which involves the element of the subjective; he embodies that thrill which pervades us in the silence of the forests; he was, therefore, especially worshipped in sylvan Arcadia: (a “panic terror” is the common expression for a groundless fright). Pan, this thrill-exciting being, is also represented as playing on the flute; we have not the bare internal presentiment, for Pan makes himself audible on the seven-reeded pipe. In what has been stated we have, on the one hand, the Indefinite, which, however, holds communication with man; on the other hand the fact, that such communication is only a subjective imagining – an explanation furnished by the percipient himself. On the same principle the Greeks listened to the murmuring of the fountains, and asked what might be thereby signified; but the signification which they were led to attach to it was not the objective meaning of the fountain, but the subjective – that of the subject itself, which further exalts the Naiad to a Muse. The Naiads, or Fountains, are the external, objective origin of the Muses. Yet the immortal songs of the Muses are not that which is heard in the murmuring of the fountains; they are the productions of the thoughtfully listening Spirit – creative while observant. The interpretation and explanation of Nature and its transformations – the indication of their sense and import – is the act of the subjective Spirit; and to this the Greeks attached the name manteia. The general idea which this embodies, is the form in which man realizes his relationship to Nature. Manteia has reference both to the matter of the exposition and to the expounder who divines the weighty import in question. Plato speaks of it in reference to dreams, and to that delirium into which men fall during sickness; an interpreter, mantis, is wanted to explain these dreams and this delirium. That Nature answered the questions which the Greek put to her, is in this converse sense true, that he obtained an answer to the questions of Nature from his own Spirit. The insight of the Seer becomes thereby purely poetical; Spirit supplies the signification which the natural image expresses. Everywhere the Greeks desired a clear presentation and interpretation of the Natural. Homer tells us, in the last book of the Odyssey, that while the Greeks were overwhelmed with sorrow for Achilles, a violent agitation came over the sea: the Greeks were on the point of dispersing in terror, when the experienced Nestor arose and interpreted the phenomenon to them. Thetis, he said, was coming, with her nymphs, to lament for the death of her son. When a pestilence broke out in the camp of the Greeks, the Priest Calchas explained that Apollo was incensed at their not having restored the daughter of his priest Chryses when a ransom had been offered. The Oracle was originally interpreted exactly in this way. The oldest Oracle was at Dodona (in the district of the modern Janina). Herodotus says that the first priestesses of the temple there, were from Egypt; yet this temple is stated to be an ancient Greek one. The rustling of the leaves of the sacred oaks was the form of prognostication there. Bowls of metal were also suspended in the grove. But the sounds of the bowls dashing against each other were quite indefinite, and had no objective sense; the sense – the signification – was imparted to the sounds only by the human beings who heard them. Thus also the Delphic priestesses, in a senseless, distracted state – in the intoxication of enthusiasm (mantia) – uttered unintelligible sounds; and it was the manteis who gave to these utterances a definite meaning. In the cave of Trophonius the noise of subterranean waters was heard, and apparitions were seen: but these indefinite phenomena acquired a meaning only through the interpreting, comprehending Spirit. It must also be observed, that these excitements of Spirit are in the first instance external, natural impulses. Succeeding them are internal changes taking place in the human being himself – such as dreams, or the delirium of the Delphic priestess – which require to be made intelligible by the mantis. At the commencement of the Iliad, Achilles is excited against Agamemnon, and is on the point of drawing his sword; but on a sudden he checks the movement of his arm, and recollects himself in his wrath, reflecting on his relation to Agamemnon. The Poet explains this by saying that it was Pallas-Athene (Wisdom or Consideration) that restrained him. When Ulysses among the Phaeacians has thrown his discus farther than the rest, and one of the Phaeacians shows a friendly disposition towards him, the Poet recognizes in him Pallas-Athene. Such an explanation denotes the perception of the inner meaning, the sense, the underlying truth; and the poets were in this way the teachers of the Greeks – especially Homer. Manteia in fact is Poesy – not a capricious indulgence of fancy, but an imagination which introduces the Spiritual into the Natural – in short a richly intelligent perception. The Greek Spirit, on the whole, therefore, is free from superstition, since it changes the sensuous into the sensible – the Intellectual – so that [oracular] decisions are derived from Spirit; although superstition comes in again from another quarter, as will be observed when impulsions from another source than the Spiritual, are allowed to tell upon opinion and action.
But the stimuli that operated on the Spirit of the Greeks are not to be limited to these objective and subjective excitements. The traditional element derived from foreign countries, the culture, the divinities and ritual observances transmitted to them ab extra must also be included. It has been long a much vexed question whether the arts and the religion of the Greeks were developed independently or through foreign suggestion. Under the conduct of a one-sided understanding the controversy is interminable; for it is no less a fact of history that the Greeks derived conceptions from India, Syria, and Egypt, than that the Greek conceptions are peculiar to themselves, and those others alien. Herodotus (II. 53) asserts, with equal decision, that “Homer and Hesiod invented a Theogony for the Greeks, and assigned to the gods their appropriate epithets” (a most weighty sentence, which has been the subject of deep investigation, especially by Creuzer) – and, in another place, that Greece took the names of its divinities from Egypt, and that the Greeks made inquiry at Dodona, whether they ought to adopt these names or not. This appears selfcontradictory: it is, however, quite consistent; for the fact is that the Greeks evolved the Spiritual from the materials which they had received. The Natural, as explained by man – i.e., its internal essential element – is, as a universal principle, the beginning of the Divine. Just as in Art the Greeks may have acquired a mastery of technical matters from others – from the Egyptians especially – so in their religion the commencement might have been from without; but by their independent spirit they transformed the one as well as the other.
Traces of such foreign rudiments may be generally discovered (Creuzer, in his “Symbolik,” dwells especially on this point). The amours of Zeus appear indeed as something isolated, extraneous, adventitious, but it may be shown that foreign theogonic representations form their basis. Hercules is, among the Hellenes, that Spiritual Humanity which by native energy attains Olympus through the twelve far-famed labors: but the foreign idea that lies at the basis is the Sun, completing its revolution through the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The Mysteries were only such ancient rudiments, and certainly contained no greater wisdom than already existed in the consciousness of the Greeks. All Athenians were initiated in the mysteries – Socrates excepted, who refused initiation, because he knew well that science and art are not the product of mysteries, and that Wisdom never lies among arcana. True science has its place much rather in the open field of consciousness.
In summing up the constituents of the Greek Spirit, we find its fundamental characteristic to be, that the freedom of Spirit is conditioned by and has an essential relation to some stimulus supplied by Nature. Greek freedom of thought is excited by an alien existence; but it is free because it transforms and virtually reproduces the stimulus by its own operation. This phase of Spirit is the medium between the loss of individuality on the part of man (such as we observe in the Asiatic principle, in which the Spiritual and Divine exists only under a Natural form), and Infinite Subjectivity as pure certainty of itself – the position that the Ego is the ground of all that can lay claim to substantial existence. The Greek Spirit as the medium between these two, begins with Nature, but transforms it into a mere objective form of its (Spirit’s) own existence; Spirituality is therefore not yet absolutely free; not yet absolutely self-produced – is not self-stimulation. Setting out from surmise and wonder, the Greek Spirit advances to definite conceptions of the hidden meanings of Nature. In the subject itself too, the same harmony is produced. In Man, the side of his subjective existence which he owes to Nature, is the Heart, the Disposition, Passion, and Variety of Temperament: this side is then developed in a spiritual direction to free Individuality; so that the character is not placed in a relation to universally valid moral authorities, assuming the form of duties, but the Moral appears as a nature peculiar to the individual – an exertion of will, the result of disposition and individual constitution. This stamps the Greek character as that of Individuality conditioned by Beauty, which is produced by Spirit, transforming the merely Natural into an expression of its own being. The activity of Spirit does not yet possess in itself the material and organ of expression, but needs the excitement of Nature and the matter which Nature supplies: it is not free, self-determining Spirituality, but mere naturalness formed to Spirituality – Spiritual Individuality. The Greek Spirit is the plastic artist, forming the stone into a work of art. In this formative process the stone does not remain mere stone – the form being only superinduced from without; but it is made an expression of the Spiritual, even contrary to its nature, and thus transformed. Conversely, the artist needs for his spiritual conceptions, stone, colors, sensuous forms to express his idea. Without such an element he can no more be conscious of the idea himself, than give it an objective form for the contemplation of others; since it cannot in Thought alone become an object to him. The Egyptian Spirit also was a similar laborer in Matter, but the Natural had not yet been subjected to the Spiritual. No advance was made beyond a struggle and contest with it; the Natural still took an independent position, and formed one side of the image, as in the body of the Sphinx. In Greek Beauty the Sensuous is only a sign, an expression, an envelope, in which Spirit manifests itself.
It must be added, that while the Greek Spirit is a transforming artist of this kind, it knows itself free in its productions; for it is their creator, and they are what is called the “work of man.” They are, however, not merely this, but Eternal Truth – the energizing of Spirit in its innate essence, and quite as really not created as created by man. He has a respect and veneration for these conceptions and images – this Olympian Zeus – this Pallas of the Acropolis – and in the same way for the laws, political and ethical, that guide his actions. But He, the human being, is the womb that conceived them, he the breast that suckled them, he the Spiritual to which their grandeur and purity are owing. Thus he feels himself calm in contemplating them, and not only free in himself, but possessing the consciousness of his freedom; thus the honor of the Human is swallowed up in the worship of the Divine. Men honor the Divine in and for itself, but at the same time as their deed, their production, their phenomenal existence; thus the Divine receives its honor through the respect paid to the Human, and the Human in virtue of the honor paid to the Divine.
Such are the qualities of that Beautiful Individuality, which constitutes the centre of the Greek character. We must now consider the several radiations which this idea throws out in realizing itself. All issue in works of art, and we may arrange under three heads: the subjective work of art, that is, the culture of the man himself; – the objective work of art, i.e., the shaping of the world of divinities; – lastly, the political work of art – the form of the Constitution, and the relations of the Individuals who compose it.
Man with his necessities sustains a practical relation to external Nature, and in making it satisfy his desires, and thus using it up, has recourse to a system of means. For natural objects are powerful, and offer resistance in various ways. In order to subdue them, man introduces other natural agents; thus turns Nature against itself, and invents instruments for this purpose. These human inventions belong to Spirit, and such an instrument is to be respected more than a mere natural object. We see, too, that the Greeks are accustomed to set an especial value upon them, for in Homer, man’s delight in them appears in a very striking way. In the notice of Agamemnon’s sceptre, its origin is given in detail: mention is made of doors which turn on hinges, and of accoutrements and furniture, in a way that expresses satisfaction. The honor of human invention in subjugating Nature is ascribed to the gods. But, on the other hand, man uses Nature for ornament, which is intended only as a token of wealth and of that which man has made of himself. We find Ornament, in this interest, already very much developed among the Homeric Greeks. It is true that both barbarians and civilized nations ornament themselves ; but barbarians content themselves with mere ornament; they intend their persons to please by an external addition. But ornament by its very nature is destined only to beautify something other than itself, viz. the human body, which is man’s immediate environment, and which, in common with Nature at large, he has to transform. The spiritual interest of Primary importance is, therefore, the development of the body to a perfect organ for the Will – an adaptation which may on the one hand itself be the means for ulterior objects, and on the other hand, appear as an object per se. Among the Greeks, then, we find this boundless impulse of individuals to display themselves, and to find their enjoyment in so doing. Sensuous enjoyment does not become the basis of their condition when a state of repose has been obtained, any more than the dependence and stupor of superstition which enjoyment entails. They are too powerfully excited, too much bent upon developing their individuality, absolutely to adore Nature, as it manifests itself in its aspects of power and beneficence. That peaceful condition which ensued when a predatory life had been relinquished, and liberal nature had afforded security and leisure, turned their energies in the direction of self-assertion – the effort to dignify themselves. But while on the one side they have too much independent personality to be subjugated by superstition, that sentiment has not gone to the extent of making them vain; on the contrary, essential conditions must be first satisfied, before this can become a matter of vanity with them. The exhilarating sense of personality, in contrast with sensuous subjection to nature, and the need, not of mere pleasure, but of the display of individual powers, in order thereby to gain special distinction and consequent enjoyment, constitute therefore the chief characteristic and principal occupation of the Greeks. Free as the bird singing in the sky, the individual only expresses what lies in his untrammelled human nature – [to give the world “assurance of a man"] – to have his importance recognized. This is the subjective beginning of Greek Art – in which the human being elaborates his physical being, in free, beautiful movement and agile vigor, to a work of art. The Greeks first trained their own persons to beautiful configurations before they attempted the expression of such in marble and in paintings. The innocuous contests of games, in which every one exhibits his powers, is of very ancient date. Homer gives a noble description of the games conducted by Achilles, in honor of Patroclus; but in all his poems there is no notice of statues of the gods, though he mentions the sanctuary at Dodona, and the treasure-house of Apollo at Delphi. The games in Homer consist in wrestling and boxing, running, horse and chariot races, throwing the discus or javelin, and archery. With these exercises are united dance and song, to express and form part of the enjoyment of social exhilaration, and which arts likewise blossomed into beauty. On the shield of Achilles, Hephaestus represents, among other things, how beautiful youths and maidens move as quickly “with well-taught feet,” as the potter turns his wheel. The multitude stand round enjoying the spectacle; the divine singer accompanies the song with the harp, and two chief dancers perform their evolutions in the centre of the circle.
These games and aesthetic displays, with the pleasures and honors that accompanied them, were at the outset only private, originating in particular occasions; but in the sequel they became an affair of the nation, and were fixed for certain times at appointed places. Besides the Olympic games in the sacred district of Elis, there were also held the Isthmian, the Pythian, and Nemean, at other places.
If we look at the inner nature of these sports, we shall first observe how Sport itself is opposed to serious business, to dependence and need. This wrestling, running, contending was no serious affair; bespoke no obligation of defence, no necessity of combat. Serious occupation is labor that has reference to some want. I or Nature must succumb; if the one is to continue, the other must fall. In contrast with this kind of seriousness, however, Sport presents the higher seriousness; for in it Nature is wrought into Spirit, and although in these contests the subject has not advanced to the highest grade of serious thought, yet in this exercise of his physical powers, man shows his Freedom, viz. that he has transformed his body to an organ of Spirit. Man has immediately in one of his organs, the Voice, an element which admits and requires a more extensive purport than the mere sensuous Present. We have seen how Song is united with the Dance, and ministers to it: but, subsequently Song makes itself independent, and requires musical instruments to accompany it; it then ceases to be unmeaning, like the modulations of a bird, which may indeed express emotion, but which have no objective import; but it requires an import created by imagination and Spirit, and which is then further formed into an objective work of art.
If the subject of Song as thus developed among the Greeks is made a question, we should say that its essential and absolute purport is religious. We have examined the Idea embodied in the Greek Spirit; and Religion is nothing else than this Idea made objective as the essence of being. According to that Idea, we shall observe also that the Divine involves the vis natura only as an element suffering a process of transformation to spiritual power. Of this Natural Element, as its origin, nothing more remains than the accord of analogy involved in the representation they formed of Spiritual power; for the Greeks worshipped God as Spiritual. We cannot, therefore, regard the Greek divinity as similar to the Indian – some Power of Nature for which the human shape supplies only an outward form. The essence is the Spiritual itself, and the Natural is only the point of departure. But on the other hand, it must be observed, that the divinity of the Greeks is not yet the absolute, free Spirit, but Spirit in a particular mode, fettered by the limitations of humanity – still dependent as a determinate individuality on external conditions. Individualities, objectively beautiful, are the gods of the Greeks. The divine Spirit is here so conditioned as to be not yet regarded as abstract Spirit, but has a specialized existence – continues to manifest itself in sense; but so that the sensuous is not its substance, but is only an element of its manifestation. This must be our leading idea in the consideration of the Greek mythology, and we must have our attention fixed upon it so much the more firmly, as – partly through the influence of erudition, which has whelmed essential principles beneath an infinite amount of details, and partly through that destructive analysis which is the work of the abstract Understanding – this mythology, together with the more ancient periods of Greek history, has become a region of the greatest intellectual confusion.
In the Idea of the Greek Spirit we found the two elements, Nature and Spirit, in such a relation to each other, that Nature forms merely the point of departure. This degradation of Nature is in the Greek mythology the turning point of the whole – expressed as the War of the Gods, the overthrow of the Titans by the race of Zeus. The transition from the Oriental to the Occidental Spirit is therein represented, for the Titans are the merely Physical – natural existences, from whose grasp sovereignty is wrested. It is true that they continue to be venerated, but not as governing powers; for they are relegated to the verge [the limbus] of the world. The Titans are powers of Nature, Uranus, Gaea, Oceanus, Selene, Helios, etc. Chronos expresses the dominion of abstract Time, which devours its children. The unlimited power of reproduction is restrained, and Zeus appears as the head of the new divinities, who embody a spiritual import, and are themselves Spirit. It is not possible to express this transition more distinctly and naively than in this myth; the new dynasty of divinities proclaim their peculiar nature to be of a Spiritual order.
The second point is, that the new divinities retain natural elements, and consequently in themselves a determinate relation to the powers of Nature, as was previously shown. Zeus has his lightnings and clouds, and Hera is the creatress of the Natural, the producer of crescent vitality. Zeus is also the political god, the protector of morals and of hospitality. Oceanus, as such, is only the element of Nature which his name denotes. Poseidon has still the wildness of that element in his character; but he is also an ethical personage; to him is ascribed the building of walls and the production of the Horse. Helios is the sun as a natural element. This Light, according to the analogy of Spirit, has been transformed to self-consciousness, and Apollo has proceeded from Helios. The name lukeios points to the connection with light; Apollo was a herdsman in the employ of Admetus, but oxen not subjected to the yoke were sacred to Helios: his rays, represented as arrows, kill the Python. The idea of Light as the natural power constituting the basis of the representation, cannot be dissociated from this divinity; especially as the other predicates attached to it are easily united with it, and the explanations of MŁller and others, who deny that basis, are much more arbitrary and far-fetched. For Apollo is the prophesying and discerning god – Light, that makes everything clear. He is, moreover, the healer and strengthener; as also the destroyer, for he kills men. He is the propitiating and purifying god, e.g., in contravention of the Eumenides – the ancient subterrene divinities – who exact hard, stern justice. He himself is pure; he has no wife, but only a sister, and is not involved in various disgusting adventures, like Zeus; moreover, he is the discerner and declarer, the singer and leader of the dances – as the sun leads the harmonious dance of stars. – In like manner the Naiads became the Muses. The mother of the gods, Cybele – continuing to be worshipped at Ephesus as Artemis – is scarcely to be recognized as the Artemis of the Greeks – the chaste huntress and destroyer of wild beasts. Should it be said that this change of the Natural into the Spiritual is owing to our allegorizing, or that of the later Greeks, we may reply, that this transformation of the Natural to the Spiritual is the Greek Spirit itself. The epigrams of the Greeks exhibit such advances from the Sensuous to the Spiritual. But the abstract Understanding cannot comprehend this blending of the Natural with the Spiritual.
It must be further observed, that the Greek gods are to be regarded as individualities – not abstractions, like “Knowledge,” “Unity,” “Time,” “Heaven,” “Necessity.” Such abstractions do not form the substance of these divinities; they are no allegories, no abstract beings, to which various attributes are attached, like the Horatian “Necessitas clavis trabalibus.” As little are the divinities symbols, for a symbol is only a sign, an adumbration of something else. The Greek gods express of themselves what they are. The eternal repose and clear intelligence that dignifies the head of Apollo, is not a symbol, but the expression in which Spirit manifests itself, and shows itself present. The gods are personalities, concrete individualities: an allegorical being has no qualities, but is itself one quality and no more. The gods are, moreover, special characters, since in each of them one peculiarity predominates as the characteristic one; but it would be vain to try to bring this circle of characters into a system. Zeus, perhaps, may be regarded as ruling the other gods, but not with substantial power; so that they are left free to their own idiosyncrasy. Since the whole range of spiritual and moral qualities was appropriated by the gods, the unity, which stood above them all, necessarily remained abstract ; it was therefore formless and unmeaning Fact, [the absolute constitution of things] – Necessity, whose oppressive character arises from the absence of the Spiritual in it; whereas the gods hold a friendly relation to men, for they are Spiritual natures. That higher thought, the knowledge of Unity as God – the One Spirit – lay beyond that grade of thought which the Greeks had attained.
With regard to the adventitious and special that attaches to the Greek gods, the question arises, where the external origin of this adventitious element is to be looked for. It arises partly from local characteristics – the scattered condition of the Greeks at the commencement of their national life, fixing as this did on certain points, and consequently introducing local representations. The local divinities stand alone, and occupy a much greater extent than they do afterwards, when they enter into the circle of the divinities, and are reduced to a limited position; they are conditioned by the particular consciousness and circumstances of the countries in which they appear. There are a multitude of Herculeses and Zeuses, that have their local history like the Indian gods, who also at different places possess temples to which a peculiar legend attaches. A similar relation occurs in the case of the Catholic saints and their legends; though here, not the several localities, but the one “Mater Dei” supplies the point of departure, being afterwards localized in the most diversified modes. The Greeks relate the liveliest and most attractive stories of their gods – to which no limit can be assigned, since rich fancies were always gushing forth anew in the living Spirit of the Greeks. A second source from which adventitious specialities in the conception of the gods arose is that Worship of Nature, whose representations retain a place in the Greek myths, as certainly as they appear there also in a regenerated and transfigured condition. The preservation of the original myths, brings us to the famous chapter of the “Mysteries.” already mentioned. These mysteries of the Greeks present something which, as unknown, has attracted the curiosity of all times, under the supposition of profound wisdom. It must first be remarked that their antique and primary character, in virtue of its very antiquity, shows their destitution of excellence – their inferiority; – that the more refined truths are not expressed in these mysteries, and that the view which many have entertained is incorrect, viz. – that the Unity of God, in opposition to polytheism, was taught in them. The mysteries were rather antique rituals; and it is as unhistorical as it is foolish, to assume that profound philosophical truths are to be found here; since, on the contrary, only natural ideas – ruder conceptions of the metamorphoses occurring everywhere in nature, and of the vital principle that pervades it – were the subjects of those mysteries. If we put together all the historical data pertinent to the question, the result we shall inevitably arrive at will be that the mysteries did not constitute a system of doctrines, but were sensuous ceremonies and exhibitions, consisting of symbols of the universal operations of Nature, as, e.g., the relation of the earth to celestial phenomena. The chief basis of the representations of Ceres and Proserpine, Bacchus and his train, was the universal principle of Nature; and the accompanying details were obscure stories and representations, mainly bearing on the universal vital force and its metamorphoses. An analogous process to that of Nature, Spirit has also to undergo; for it must be twice-born, i.e. abnegate itself; and thus the representations given in the mysteries called attention, though only feebly, to the nature of Spirit. In the Greeks they produced an emotion of shuddering awe; for an instinctive dread comes over men, when a signification is perceived in a form, which as a sensuous phenomenon does not express that signification, and which therefore both repels and attracts – awakes surmises by the import that reverberates through the whole, but at the same time a thrill of dread at the repellent form. ∆schylus was accused of having profaned the mysteries in his tragedies. The indefinite representations and symbols of the Mysteries, in which the profound import is only surmised, are an element alien to the clear pure forms, and threaten them with destruction ; on which account the gods of Art remain separated from the gods of the Mysteries, and the two spheres must be strictly dissociated. Most of their gods the Greeks received from foreign lands – as Herodotus states expressly with regard to Egypt – but these exotic myths were transformed and spiritualized by the Greeks; and that part of the foreign theogonies which accompanied them, was, in the mouth of the Hellenes, worked up into a legendary narrative which often redounded to the disadvantage of the divinities. Thus also the brutes which continued to rank as gods among the Egyptians, were degraded to external signs, accompanying the Spiritual god. While they have each an individual character, the Greek gods are also represented as human, and this anthropomorphism is charged as a defect. On the contrary (we may immediately rejoin) man as the Spiritual constitutes the element of truth in the Greek gods, which rendered them superior to all elemental deities, and all mere abstractions of the One and Highest Being. On the other side it is alleged as an advantage of the Greek gods that they are represented as men – that being regarded as not the case with the Christian God. Schiller says:
“While the gods remained more human,
The men were more divine.”
But the Greek gods must not be regarded as more human than the Christian God. Christ is much more a Man: he lives, dies – suffers death on the cross – which is infinitely more human than the humanity of the Greek Idea of the Beautiful. But in referring to this common element of the Greek and the Christian religions, it must be said of both, that if a manifestation of God is to be supposed at all, his natural form must be that of Spirit, which for sensuous conception is essentially the human; for no other form can lay claim to spirituality. God appears indeed in the sun, in the mountains, in the trees, in everything that has life; but a natural appearance of this kind, is not the form proper to Spirit: here God is cognizable only in the mind of the percipient. If God himself is to be manifested in a corresponding expression, that can only be the human form: for from this the Spiritual beams forth. But if it were asked: Does God necessarily manifest himself? the question must be answered in the affirmative; for there is no essential existence that does not manifest itself. The real defect of the Greek religion, as compared with the Christian, is, therefore, that in the former the manifestation constitutes the highest mode in which the Divine being is conceived to exist – the sum and substance of divinity; while in the Christian religion the manifestation is regarded only as a temporary phase of the Divine. Here the manifested God dies, and elevates himself to glory; only after death is Christ represented as sitting at the right hand of God. The Greek god, on the contrary, exists for his worshippers perennially in the manifestation – only in marble, in metal or wood, or as figured by the imagination. But why did God not appear to the Greeks in the flesh? Because man was not duly estimated, did not obtain honor and dignity, till he had more fully elaborated and developed himself in the attainment of the Freedom implicit in the aesthetic manifestation in question; the form and shaping of the divinity therefore continued to be the product of individual views, [not a general, impersonal one]. One element in Spirit is, that it produces itself – makes itself what it is: and the other is, that it is originally free – that Freedom is its nature and its Idea. But the Greeks, since they had not attained an intellectual conception of themselves, did not yet realize Spirit in its Universality – had not the idea of man and the essential unity of the divine and human nature according to the Christian view. Only the self-reliant, truly subjective Spirit can bear to dispense with the phenomenal side, and can venture to assign the Divine Nature to Spirit alone. It then no longer needs to inweave the Natural into its idea of the Spiritual, in order to hold fast its conception of the Divine, and to have its unity with the Divine, externally visible; but while free Thought thinks the Phenomenal, it is content to leave it as it is; for it also thinks that union of the Finite and the Infinite, and recognizes it not as a mere accidental union, but as the Absolute – the eternal Idea itself. Since Subjectivity was not comprehended in all its depth by the Greek Spirit, the true reconciliation was not attained in it, and the human Spirit did not yet assert its true position. This defect showed itself in the fact of Fate as pure subjectivity appearing superior to the gods; it also shows itself in the fact, that men derive their resolves not yet from themselves, but from their Oracles. Neither human nor divine subjectivity, recognized as infinite, has as yet, absolutely decisive authority.
The State unites the two phases just considered, viz., the Subjective and the Objective Work of Art. In the State, Spirit is not a mere Object, like the deities, nor, on the other hand, is it merely subjectively developed to a beautiful physique. It is here a living, universal Spirit, but which is at the same time the self-conscious Spirit of the individuals composing the community. The Democratical Constitution alone was adapted to the Spirit and political condition in question. In the East we recognized Despotism, developed in magnificent proportions, as a form of government strictly appropriate to the Dawn-Land of History. Not less adapted is the democratical form in Greece, to the part assigned to it in the same great drama. In Greece, viz., we have the freedom of the Individual, but it has not yet advanced to such a degree of abstraction, that the subjective unit is conscious of direct dependence on the [general] substantial principle – the State as such. In this grade of Freedom, the individual will is unfettered in the entire range of its vitality, and embodies that substantial principle [the bond of the political union], according to its particular idiosyncrasy. In Rome, on the other hand, we shall observe a harsh sovereignty dominating over the individual members of the State; as also in the German Empire, a monarchy, in which the Individual is connected with and has devoirs to perform not only in regard to the monarch, but to the whole monarchical organization.
The Democratical State is not Patriarchal – does not rest on a still unreflecting, undeveloped confidence – but implies laws, with the consciousness of their being founded on an equitable and moral basis, and the recognition of these laws as positive. At the time of the Kings, no political life had as yet made its appearance in Hellas; there are, therefore, only slight traces of Legislation. But in the interval from the Trojan War till near the time of Cyrus, its necessity was felt. The first Lawgivers are known under the name of The Seven Sages – a title which at that time did not imply any such character as that of the Sophists – teachers of wisdom, designedly [and systematically] proclaiming the Right and True – but merely thinking men, whose thinking stopped short of Science, properly so called. They were practical politicians; the good counsels which two of them – Thales of Miletus and Bias of Priene – gave to the Ionian cities, have been already mentioned. Thus Solon was commissioned by the Athenians to give them laws, as those then in operation no longer sufficed. Solon gave the Athenians a constitution by which all obtained equal rights, yet not so as to render the Democracy a quite abstract one. The main point in Democracy is moral disposition. Virtue is the basis of Democracy, remarks Montesquieu; and this sentiment is as important as it is true in reference to the idea of Democracy commonly entertained. The Substance, [the Principle] of Justice, the common weal, the general interest, is the main consideration ; but it is so only as Custom, in the form of Objective Will, so that morality properly so called – subjective conviction and intention – has not yet manifested itself. Law exists, and is in point of substance, the Law of Freedom – rational [in its form and purport,] and valid because it is Law, i.e., without ulterior sanction. As in Beauty the Natural element – its sensuous coefficient – remains, so also in this customary morality, laws assume the form of a necessity of Nature. The Greeks occupy the middle ground of Beauty and have not yet attained the higher standpoint of Truth. While Custom and Wont is the form in which the Right is willed and done, that form is a stable one, and has not yet admitted into it the foe of [unreflected] immediacy – reflection and subjectivity of Will. The interests of the community may, therefore, continue to be intrusted to the will and resolve of the citizens – and this must be the basis of the Greek constitution; for no principle has as yet manifested itself, which can contravene such Choice conditioned by Custom, and hinder its realizing itself in action. The Democratic Constitution is here the only possible one: the citizens are still unconscious of particular interests, and therefore of a corrupting element: the Objective Will is in their case not disintegrated. Athene the goddess is Athens itself – i.e., the real and concrete spirit of the citizens. The divinity ceases to inspire their life and conduct, only when the Will has retreated within itself – into the adytum of cognition and conscience – and has posited the infinite schism between the Subjective and the Objective. The above is the true position of the Democratic polity; its justification and absolute necessity rest on this still immanent Objective Morality. For the modern conceptions of Democracy this justification cannot be pleaded. These provide that the interests of the community, the affairs of State, shall be discussed and decided by the People; that the individual members of the community shall deliberate, urge their respective opinions, and give their votes; and this on the ground that the interests of the State and its concerns are the interests of such individual members. All this is very well; but the essential condition and distinction in regard to various phases of Democracy is: What is the character of these individual members? They are absolutely authorized to assume their position, only in as far as their will is still Objective Will – not one that wishes this or that, not mere “good” will. For good will is something particular – rests on the morality of individuals, on their conviction and subjective feeling. That very subjective Freedom which constitutes the principle and determines the peculiar form of Freedom in our world – which forms the absolute basis of our political and religious life, could not manifest itself in Greece otherwise than as a destructive element. Subjectivity was a grade not greatly in advance of that occupied by the Greek Spirit; that phase must of necessity soon be attained: but it plunged the Greek world into ruin, for the polity which that world embodied was not calculated for this side of humanity – did not recognize this phase; since it had not made its appearance when that polity began to exist. Of the Greeks in the first and genuine form of their Freedom, we may assert, that they had no conscience; the habit of living for their country without further [analysis or] reflection, was the principle dominant among them. The consideration of the State in the abstract – which to our understanding is the essential point – was alien to them. Their grand object was their country in its living and real aspect; – this actual Athens, this Sparta, these Temples, these Altars, this form of social life, this union of fellow-citizens, these manners and customs. To the Greek his country was a necessary of life, without which existence was impossible. It was the Sophists – the “Teachers of Wisdom” – who first introduced subjective reflection, and the new doctrine that each man should act according to his own conviction. When reflection once comes into play, the inquiry is started whether the Principles of Law (das Recht) cannot be improved. Instead of holding by the existing state of things, internal conviction is relied upon; and thus begins a subjective independent Freedom, in which the individual finds himself in a position to bring everything to the test of his own conscience, even in defiance of the existing constitution. Each one has his “principles,” and that view which accords with his private judgment he regards as practically the best, and as claiming practical realization. This decay even Thucydides notices, when he speaks of every one’s thinking that things are going on badly when he has not a hand in the management.
To this state of things – in which every one presumes to have a judgment of his own – confidence in Great Men is antagonistic. When, in earlier times, the Athenians commission Solon to legislate for them, or when Lycurgus appears at Sparta as lawgiver and regulator of the State, it is evidently not supposed that the people in general think that they know best what is politically right. At a later time also, it was distinguished personages of plastic genius in whom the people placed their confidence : Cleisthenes, e.g., who made the constitution still more democratic than it had been – Miltiades, Themistocles, Aristides, and Cimon, who in the Median wars stand at the head of Athenian affairs – and Pericles, in whom Athenian glory centres as in its focus. But as soon as any of these great men had performed what was needed, envy intruded – i.e. the recoil of the sentiment of equality against conspicuous talent – and he was either imprisoned or exiled. Finally, the Sycophants arose among the people, aspersing all individual greatness, and reviling those who took the lead in public affairs.
But there are three other points in the condition of the Greek republics that must be particularly observed.
1. With Democracy in that form in which alone it existed in Greece, Oracles are intimately connected. To an independent resolve, a consolidated Subjectivity of the Will (in which the latter is determined by preponderating reasons) is absolutely indispensable; but the Greeks had not this element of strength and vigor in their volition. When a colony was to be founded, when it was proposed to adopt the worship of foreign deities, or when a general was about to give battle to the enemy, the oracles were consulted. Before the battle of Plataea, Pausanias took care that an augury should be taken from the animals offered in sacrifice, and was informed by the soothsayer Tisam-enus that the sacrifices were favorable to the Greeks provided they remained on the hither side of the Asopus, but the contrary, if they crossed the stream and began the battle. Pausanias, therefore, awaited the attack. In their private affairs, too, the Greeks came to a determination not so much from subjective conviction as from some extraneous suggestion. With the advance of democracy we observe the oracles no longer consulted on the most important matters, but the particular views of popular orators influencing and deciding the policy of the State. As at this time Socrates relied upon his “Daemon,” so the popular leaders and the people relied on their individual convictions in forming their decisions. But contemporaneously with this were introduced corruption, disorder, and an unintermitted process of change in the constitution.
2. Another circumstance that demands special attention here, is the element of Slavery. This was a necessary condition of an aesthetic democracy, where it was the right and duty of every citizen to deliver or to listen to orations respecting the management of the State in the place of public assembly, to take part in the exercise of the Gymnasia, and to join in the celebration of festivals. It was a necessary condition of such occupations, that the citizens should be freed from handicraft occupations; consequently, that what among us is performed by free citizens – the work of daily life – should be done by slaves. Slavery does not cease until the Will has been infinitely self-reflected – until Right is conceived as appertaining to every freeman, and the term freeman is regarded as a synonym for man in his generic nature as endowed with Reason. But here we still occupy the standpoint of Morality as mere Wont and Custom, and therefore known only as a peculiarity attaching to a certain kind of existence [not as absolute and universal Law].
3. It must also be remarked, thirdly, that such democratic constitutions are possible only in small states – states which do not much exceed the compass of cities. The whole Polis of the Athenians is united in the one city of Athens. Tradition tells that Theseus united the scattered Demes into an integral totality. In the time of Pericles, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, when the Spartans were marching upon Attica, its entire population took refuge in the city. Only in such cities can the interests of all be similar; in large empires, on the contrary, diverse and conflicting interests are sure to present themselves. The living together in one city, the fact that the inhabitants see each other daily, render a common culture and a living democratic polity possible. In Democracy, the main point is that the character of the citizen be plastic, all “of a piece.” He must be present at the critical stages of public business ; he must take part in decisive crises with his entire personality – not with his vote merely; he must mingle in the heat of action – the passion and interest of the whole man being absorbed in the affair, and the warmth with which a resolve was made being equally ardent during its execution. That unity of opinion to which the whole community must be brought [when any political step is to be taken,] must be produced in the individual members of the state by oratorical suasion. If this were attempted by writing – in an abstract, lifeless way – no general fervor would be excited among the social units; and the greater the number, the less weight would each individual vote have. In a large empire a general inquiry might be made, votes might be gathered in the several communities, and the results reckoned up – as was done by the French Convention. But a political existence of this kind is destitute of life, and the World is ipso facto broken into fragments and dissipated into a mere Paper-world. In the French Revolution, therefore, the republican constitution never actually became a Democracy: Tyranny, Despotism, raised its voice under the mask of Freedom and Equality.
We come now to the Second Period of Greek History. The first period saw the Greek Spirit attain its aesthetic development and reach maturity – realize its essential being. The second shows it manifesting itself – exhibits it in its full glory as producing a work for the world, asserting its principle in the struggle with an antagonistic force, and triumphantly maintaining it against that attack.
The period of contact with the preceding World-Historical people, is generally to be regarded as the second in the history of any nation. The World-Historical contact of the Greeks was with the Persians; in that, Greece exhibited itself in its most glorious aspect. The occasion of the Median wars was the revolt of the Ionian cities against the Persians, in which the Athenians and Eretrians assisted them. That which, in particular, induced the Athenians to take their part, was the circumstance that the son of Pisistratus, after his attempts to regain sovereignty in Athens had failed in Greece, had betaken himself to the King of the Persians. The Father of History has given us a brilliant description of these Median wars, and for the object we are now pursuing we need not dwelling upon them.
At the beginning of the Median wars, Lacedaemon was in possession of the Hegemony, partly as the result of having subjugated and enslaved the free nation of the Messenians, partly because it had assisted many Greek states to expel their Tyrants. Provoked by the part the Greeks had taken in assisting the Ionians against him, the Persian King sent heralds to the Greek cities to require them to give Water and Earth, i.e. to acknowledge his supremacy. The Persian envoys were contemptuously sent back, and the Lacedaemonians went so far as to throw them into a well – a deed, however, of which they afterwards so deeply repented, as to send two Lacedaemonians to Susa in expiation. The Persian King then despatched an army to invade Greece. With its vastly superior force the Athenians and Plataeans, without aid from their compatriots, contended at Marathon under Miltiades, and gained the victory. Afterwards, Xerxes came down upon Greece with his enormous masses of nations (Herodotus gives a detailed description of this expedition); and with the terrible array of land-forces was associated the not less formidable fleet. Thrace, Macedon, and Thessaly were soon subjugated; but the entrance into Greece Proper – the Pass of Thermopylae – was defended by three hundred Spartans and seven hundred Thespians, whose fate is well known. Athens, voluntarily deserted by its inhabitants, was ravaged; the images of the gods which it contained were “an abomination” to the Persians, who worshipped the Amorphous, the Unformed. In spite of the disunion of the Greeks, the Persian fleet was beaten at Salamis; and this glorious battle-day presents the three greatest tragedians of Greece in remarkable chronological association: for ∆schylus was one of the combatants, and helped to gain the victory, Sophocles danced at the festival that celebrated it, and on the same day Euripides was born. The host that remained in Greece, under the command of Mardonius, was beaten at Plataea by Pausanias, and the Persian power was consequently broken at various points.
Thus was Greece freed from the pressure which threatened to overwhelm it. Greater battles, unquestionably, have been fought; but these live immortal not in the historical records of Nations only, but also of Science and of Art – of the Noble and the Moral generally. For these are World-Historical victories; they were the salvation of culture and Spiritual vigor, and they rendered the Asiatic principle powerless. How often, on other occasions, have not men sacrificed everything for one grand object! How often have not warriors fallen for Duty and Country! But here we are called to admire not only valor, genius and spirit, but the purport of the contest – the effect, the result, which are unique in their kind. In all other battles a particular interest is predominant; but the immortal fame of the Greeks is none other than their due, in consideration of the noble cause for which deliverance was achieved. In the history of the world it is not the formal [subjective and individual] valor that has been displayed, not the so-called merit of the combatants, but the importance of the cause itself, that must decide the fame of the achievement. In the case before us, the interest of the World’s History hung trembling in the balance. Oriental despotism – a world united under one lord and sovereign – on the one side, and separate states – insignificant in extent and resources, but animated by free individuality – on the other side, stood front to front in array of battle. Never in History has the superiority of spiritual power over material bulk – and that of no contemptible amount – been made so gloriously manifest. This war, and the subsequent development of the states which took the lead in it, is the most brilliant period of Greece. Everything which the Greek principle involved, then reached its perfect bloom and came into the light of day.
The Athenians continued their wars of conquest for a considerable time, and thereby attained a high degree of prosperity; while the Lacedaemonians, who had no naval power, remained quiet. The antagonism of Athens and Sparta now commences – a favorite theme for historical treatment. It may be asserted that it is an idle inquiry, which of these two states justly claims the superiority, and that the endeavor should rather be, to exhibit each as in its own department a necessary and worthy phase of the Greek Spirit. On Sparta’s behalf, e.g., many categories may be referred to in which she displays excellence; strictness in point of morals, subjection to discipline, etc., may be advantageously cited. But the leading principle that characterizes this state is Political Virtue, which Athens and Sparta have, indeed, in common, but which in the one state developed itself to a work of Art, viz., Free Individuality – in the other retained its substantial form. Before we speak of the Pelopon-nesian War, in which the jealousy of Sparta and Athens broke out into a flame, we must exhibit more specifically the fundamental character of the two states – their distinctions in a political and moral respect.
We have already become acquainted with Athens as an asylum for the inhabitants of the other districts of Greece, in which a very mixed population was congregated. The various branches of human industry – agriculture, handicraft, and trade (especially by sea) – were united in Athens, but gave occasion to much dissension. An antagonism had early arisen between ancient and wealthy families and such as were poorer. Three parties, whose distinction had been grounded on their local position and the mode of life which that position suggested were then fully recognized. These were, the Pediaeans – inhabitants of the plain, the rich and aristocratic; the Diacrians – mountaineers, cultivators of the vine and olive, and herdsmen, who were the most numerous class; and between the two [in political status and sentiment] the Paralians – inhabitants of the coast, the moderate party. The polity of the state was wavering between Aristocracy and Democracy. Solon effected, by his division into four property-classes, a medium between these opposites. All these together formed the popular assembly for deliberation and decision on public affairs; but the offices of government were reserved for the three superior classes. It is remarkable that even while Solon was still living and actually present, and in spite of his opposition, Pisistratus acquired supremacy. The constitution had, as it were, not yet entered into the blood and life of the community; it had not yet become the habit of moral and civil existence. But it is still more remarkable that Pisistratus introduced no legislative changes, and that he presented himself before the Areopagus to answer an accusation brought against him. The rule of Pisistratus and of his sons appears to have been needed for repressing the power of great families and factions – for accustoming them to order and peace, and the citizens generally, on the other hand, to the Solonian legislation. This being accomplished, that rule was necessarily regarded as superfluous, and the principles of a free code enter into conflict with the power of the Pisistratidae. The Pisistratidae were expelled, Hipparchus killed, and Hippias banished. Then factions were revived; the Alcmaeonidas, who took the lead in the insurrection, favored Democracy; on the other hand, the Spartans aided the adverse party of Isagoras, which followed the aristocratic direction. The Alcmaeonidae, with Cleisthenes at their head, kept the upper hand. This leader made the constitution still more democratic than it had been; the pulai, of which hitherto there had been only four, were increased to ten, and this had the effect of diminishing the influence of the clans. Lastly, Pericles rendered the constitution yet more democratic by diminishing the essential dignity of the Areopagus, and bringing causes that had hitherto belonged to it, before the Demos and the [ordinary] tribunals.
Pericles was a statesman of plastic antique character: when he devoted himself to public life, he renounced private life, withdrew from all feasts and banquets, and pursued without intermission his aim of being useful to the state – a course of conduct by which he attained such an exalted position, that Aristophanes calls him the Zeus of Athens. We cannot but admire him in the highest degree: he stood at the head of a light-minded but highly refined and cultivated people; the only means by which he could obtain influence and authority over them, was his personal character and the impression he produced of his being a thoroughly noble man, exclusively intent upon the weal of the State, and of superiority to his fellow-citizens in native genius and acquired knowledge. In force of individual character no statesman can be compared with him.
As a general principle, the Democratic Constitution affords the widest scope for the development of great political characters ; for it excels all others in virtue of the fact that it not only allows of the display of their powers on the part of individuals, but summons them to use those powers for the general weal. At the same time, no member of the community can obtain influence unless he has the power of satisfying the intellect and judgment, as well as the passions and volatility of a cultivated people. In Athens a vital freedom existed, and a vital equality of manners and mental culture; and if inequality of property could not be avoided, it nevertheless did not reach an extreme. Together with this equality, and within the compass of this freedom, all diversities of character and talent, and all variety of idiosyncrasy could assert themselves in the most unrestrained manner, and find the most abundant stimulus to development in its environment ; for the predominant elements of Athenian existence were the independence of the social units, and a culture animated by the Spirit of Beauty. It was Pericles who originated the production of those eternal monuments of sculpture whose scanty remains astonish posterity; it was before this people that the dramas of ∆schylus and Sophocles were performed; and later on those of Euripides – which, however, do not exhibit the same plastic moral character, and in which the principle of corruption is more manifest. To this people were addressed the orations of Pericles: from it sprung a band of men whose genius has become classical for all centuries; for to this number belong,” besides those already named, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato, and Aristophanes – the last of whom preserved entire the political seriousness of his people at the time when it was being corrupted; and who, imbued with this seriousness, wrote and dramatized with a view to his country’s weal. We recognize in the Athenians great industry, susceptibility to excitement, and development of individuality within the sphere of Spirit conditioned by the morality of Custom. The blame with which we find them visited in Xenophon and Plato, attaches rather to that later period when misfortune and the corruption of the democracy had already supervened. But if we would have the verdict of the Ancients on the political life of Athens, we must turn, not to Xenophon, nor even to Plato, but to those who had a thorough acquaintance with the state in its full vigor – who managed its affairs and have been esteemed its greatest leaders – i.e., to its Statesmen. Among these, Pericles is the Zeus of the human Pantheon of Athens. Thucydides puts into his mouth the most profound description of Athenian life, on the occasion of the funeral obsequies of the warriors who fell in the second year of the Peloponnesian War. He proposes to show for what a city and in support of what interests they had died; and this leads the speaker directly to the essential elements of the Athenian community. He goes on to paint the character of Athens, and what he says is most profoundly thoughtful, as well as most just and true. “We love the beautiful,” he says, “but without ostentation or extravagance; we philosophize without being seduced thereby into effeminacy and inactivity (for when men give themselves up to Thought, they get further and further from the Practical – from activity for the public, for the common weal). We are bold and daring; but this courageous energy in action does not prevent us from giving ourselves an account of what we undertake (we have a clear consciousness respecting it); among other nations, on the contrary, martial daring has its basis in deficiency of culture: we know best how to distinguish between the agreeable and the irksome; notwithstanding which, we do not shrink from perils.”
Thus Athens exhibited the spectacle of a state whose existence was essentially directed to realizing the Beautiful, which had a thoroughly cultivated consciousness respecting the serious side of public affairs and the interests of Man’s Spirit and Life, and united with that consciousness, hardy courage and practical ability.
Here we witness on the other hand rigid abstract virtue – a life devoted to the State, but in which the activity and freedom of individuality are put in the background. The polity of Sparta is based on institutions which do full justice to the interest of the State, but whose object is a lifeless equality – not free movement. The very first steps in Spartan History are very different from the early stages of Athenian development. The Spartans were Dorians – the Athenians, Ionians; and this national distinction has an influence on their Constitution also. In reference to the mode in which the Spartan State originated, we observe that the Dorians invaded the Peloponnesus with the Heracleidas, subdued the indigenous tribes, and condemned them to slavery; for the Helots were doubtless aborigines. The fate that had befallen the Helots was suffered at a later epoch by the Messenians; for inhuman severity of this order was innate in Spartan character. While the Athenians had a family-life, and slaves among them were inmates of the house, the relation of the Spartans to the subjugated race was one of even greater harshness than that of the Turks to the Greeks; a state of warfare was constantly kept up in Lacedaemon. In entering upon office, the Ephors made an unreserved declaration of war against the Helots, and the latter were habitually given up to the younger Spartans to be practised upon in their martial exercises. The Helots were on some occasions set free, and fought against the enemy; moreover, they displayed extraordinary valor in the ranks of the Spartans; but on their return they were butchered in the most cowardly and insidious way. As in a slave-ship the crew are constantly armed, and the greatest care is taken to prevent an insurrection, so the Spartans exercised a constant vigilance over the Helots, and were always in a condition of war, as against enemies.
Property in land was divided, even according to the constitution of Lycurgus (as Plutarch relates), into equal parts, of which 9,000 only belonged to the Spartans – i.e., the inhabitants of the city – and 30,000 to the Lacedaemonians or Period. At the same time it was appointed, in order to maintain this equality, that the portions of ground should not be sold. But how little such an institution avails to effect its object, is proved by the fact, that in the sequel Lacedaemon owed its ruin chiefly to the inequality of possessions. As daughters were capable of inheriting, many estates had come by marriage into the possession of a few families, and at last all the landed property was in the hands of a limited number; as if to show how foolish it is to attempt a forced equality – an attempt which, while ineffective in realizing its professed object, is also destructive of a most essential point of liberty – the free disposition of property. Another remarkable feature in the legislation of Lycurgus, is his forbidding all money except that made of iron – an enactment which necessitated the abolition of all foreign business and traffic. The Spartans moreover had no naval force – a force indispensable to the support and furtherance of commerce; and on occasions when such a force was required, they had to apply to the Persians for it.
It was with an especial view to promote similarity of manners, and a more intimate acquaintance of the citizens with each other, that the Spartans had meals in common – a community, however, which disparaged family life; for eating and drinking is a private affair, and consequently belongs to domestic retirement. It was so regarded among the Athenians; with them association was not material but spiritual, and even their banquets, as we see from Xenophon and Plato, had an intellectual tone. Among the Spartans, on the other hand, the costs of the common meal were met by the contributions of the several members, and he who was too poor to offer such a contribution was consequently excluded.
As to the Political Constitution of Sparta, its basis may be called democratic, but with considerable modifications which rendered it almost an Aristocracy and Oligarchy. At the head of the State were two Kings, at whose side was a Senate (gerousia), chosen from the best men of the State, and which also performed the functions of a court of justice – deciding rather in accordance with moral and legal customs, than with written laws. The gerousia also the highest State-Council – the Council of the Kings, regulating the most important affairs. Lastly, one of the highest magistracies was that of the Ephors, respecting whose election we have no definite information; Aristotle says that the mode of choice was exceedingly childish. We learn from Aristotle that even persons without nobility or property could attain this dignity. The Ephors had full authority to convoke popular assemblies, to put resolutions to the vote, and to propose laws, almost in the same way as the tribuni plebis in Rome. Their power became tyrannical, like that which Robespierre and his party exercised for a time in France.
While the Lacedaemonians directed their entire attention to the State, Intellectual Culture – Art and Science – was not domiciled among them. The Spartans appeared to the rest of the Greeks, stiff, coarse, awkward beings, who could not transact business involving any degree of intricacy, or at least performed it very clumsily. Thucydides makes the Athenians say to the Spartans: “You have laws and customs which have nothing in common with others; and besides this, you proceed, when you go into other countries, neither in accordance with these, nor with the traditionary usages of Hellas.” In their intercourse at home, they were, on the whole, honorable; but as regarded their conduct towards other nations, they themselves plainly declared that they held their own good pleasure for the Commendable, and what was advantageous for the Right. It is well known that in Sparta (as was also the case in Egypt) the taking away of the necessaries of life, under certain conditions, was permitted; only the thief must not allow himself to be discovered. Thus the two States, Athens and Sparta, stand in contrast with each other. The morality of the latter is rigidly directed to the maintenance of the State; in the former we find a similar ethical relation, but with a cultivated consciousness, and boundless activity in the production of the Beautiful – subsequently, of the True also. This Greek morality, though extremely beautiful, attractive and interesting in its manifestation, is not the highest point of view for Spiritual self-consciousness. It wants the form of Infinity, the reflection of thought within itself, the emancipation from the Natural element – (the Sensuous that lurks in the character of Beauty and Divinity [as comprehended by the Greeks]) – and from that immediacy, [that undeveloped simplicity,] which attaches to their ethics. Self- Comprehension on the part of Thought is wanting – illimitable Self-Consciousness – demanding, that what is regarded by me as Right and Morality should have its confirmation in myself – from the testimony of my own Spirit; that the Beautiful (the Idea as manifested in sensuous contemplation or conception) may also become the True – an inner, supersensuous world. The standpoint occupied by the ∆sthetic Spiritual Unity which we have just described, could not long be the resting-place of Spirit; and the element in which further advance and corruption originated, was that of Subjectivity – inward morality, individual reflection, and an inner life generally. The perfect bloom of Greek life lasted only about sixty years – from the Median wars, B.C. 492, to the Peloponnesian War, B.C. 431. The principle of subjective morality which was inevitably introduced, became the germ of corruption, which, however, showed itself in a different form in Athens from that which it assumed in Sparta: in Athens, as levity in public conduct, in Sparta, as private depravation of morals. In their fall, the Athenians showed themselves not only amiable, but great and noble – to such a degree that we cannot but lament it; among the Spartans, on the contrary, the principle of subjectivity develops itself in vulgar greed, and issues in vulgar ruin.
The principle of corruption displayed itself first in the external political development – in the contest of the states of Greece with each other, and the struggle of factions within the cities themselves. The Greek Morality had made Hellas unfit to form one common state; for the dissociation of small states from each other, and the concentration in cities, where the interest and the spiritual culture pervading the whole, could be identical, was the necessary condition of that grade of Freedom which the Greeks occupied. It was only a momentary combination that occurred in the Trojan War, and even in the Median wars a union could not be accomplished. Although the tendency towards such a union is discoverable, the bond was but weak, its permanence was always endangered by jealousy, and the contest for the Hegemony set the States at variance with each other. A general outbreak of hostilities in the Peloponnesian War was the consummation. Before it, and even at its commencement, Pericles was at the head of the Athenian nation – that people most jealous of its liberty; it was only his elevated personality and great genius that enabled him to maintain his position. After the wars with the Medes, Athens enjoyed the Hegemony; a number of allies – partly islands, partly towns – were obliged to contribute to the supplies required for continuing the war against the Persians; and instead of the contribution being made in the form of fleets or troops, the subsidy was paid in money. Thereby an immense power was concentrated in Athens; a part of the money was expended in great architectural works, in the enjoyment of which, since they were products of Spirit, the allies had some share. But that Pericles did not devote the whole of the money to works of Art, but also made provision for the Demos in other ways, was evident after his death, from the quantity of stores amassed in several magazines, but especially in the naval arsenal. Xenophon says: “Who does not stand in need of Athens? Is she not indispensable to all lands that are rich in corn and herds, in oil and wine – to all who wish to traffic either in money or in mind? – to craftsmen, sophists, philosophers, poets, and all who desire what is worth seeing or hearing in sacred and public matters?”
In the Peloponnesian War, the struggle was essentially between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides has left us the history of the greater part of it, and his immortal work is the absolute gain which humanity has derived from that contest. Athens allowed herself to be hurried into the extravagant projects of Alcibiades; and when these had already much weakened her, she was compelled to succumb to the Spartans, who were guilty of the treachery of applying for aid to Persia, and who obtained from the King supplies of money and a naval force. They were also guilty of a still more extensive treason, in abolishing democracy in Athens and in the cities of Greece generally, and in giving a preponderance to factions that desired oligarchy, but were not strong enough to maintain themselves without foreign assistance. Lastly, in the peace of Antalcidas, Sparta put the finishing stroke to her treachery, by giving over the Greek cities in Asia Minor to Persian dominion.
Lacedaemon had therefore, both by the oligarchies which it had set up in various countries, and by the garrisons which it maintained in some cities – as, e.g., Thebes – obtained a great preponderance in Greece. But the Greek states were far more incensed at Spartan oppression than they had previously been at Athenian supremacy. With Thebes at their head, they cast off the yoke, and the Thebans became for a moment the most distinguished people in Hellas. But it was to two distinguished men among its citizens that Thebes owed its entire power – Pelopidas and Epaminondas; as for the most part in that state we find the Subjective preponderant. In accordance with this principle, Lyrical Poetry – that which is the expression of subjectivity – especially flourished there; a kind of subjective amenity of nature shows itself also in the so- called Sacred Legion which formed the kernel of the Theban host, and was regarded as consisting of persons connected by amatory bonds [amantes and amati]; while the influence of subjectivity among them was especially proved by the fact, that after the death of Epaminondas, Thebes fell back into its former position. Weakened and distracted, Greece could no longer find safety in itself, and needed an authoritative prop. In the towns there were incessant contests; the citizens were divided into factions, as in the Italian cities of the Middle Ages. The victory of one party entailed the banishment of the other; the latter then usually applied to the enemies of their native city, to obtain their aid in subjugating it by force of arms. The various States could no longer co-exist peaceably: they prepared ruin for each other, as well as for themselves.
We have, then, now to investigate the corruption of the Greek world in its profounder import, and may denote the principle of that corruption as subjectivity obtaining emancipation for itself. We see Subjectivity obtruding itself in various ways. Thought – the subjectively Universal – menaces the beautiful religion of Greece, while the passions of individuals and their caprice menace its political constitution. In short, Subjectivity, comprehending and manifesting itself, threatens the existing state of things in every department – characterized as that state of things is by Immediacy [a primitive, unreflecting simplicity]. Thought, therefore, appears here as the principle of decay – decay, viz. of Substantial [prescriptive] morality; for it introduces an antithesis, and asserts essentially rational principles. In the Oriental states, in which there is no such antithesis, moral freedom cannot be realized, since the highest principle is [Pure] Abstraction. But when Thought recognizes its positive character, as in Greece, it establishes principles; and these bear to the real world the relation of Essence to Form. For the concrete vitality found among the Greeks, is Customary Morality – a life for Religion, for the State, without further reflection, and without analysis leading to abstract definitions, which must lead away from the concrete embodiment of them, and occupy an antithetical position to that embodiment. Law is part of the existing state of things, with Spirit implicit in it. But as soon as Thought arises, it investigates the various political constitutions: as the result of its investigation it forms for itself an idea of an improved state of society, and demands that this ideal should take the place of things as they are.
In the principle of Greek Freedom, inasmuch as it is Freedom, is involved the self-emancipation of Thought. We observed the dawn of Thought in the circle of men mentioned above under their well-known appellation of the Seven Sages. It was they who first uttered general propositions; though at that time wisdom consisted rather in a concrete insight [into things, than in the power of abstract conception]. Parallel with the advance in the development of Religious Art and with political growth, we find a progressive strengthening of Thought, its enemy and destroyer; and at the time of the Peloponnesian War science was already developed. With the Sophists began the process of reflection on the existing state of things, and of ratiocination. That very diligence and activity which we observed among the Greeks in their practical life, and in the achievement of works of art, showed itself also in the turns and windings which these ideas took ; so that, as material things are changed, worked up and used for other than their original purposes, similarly the essential being of Spirit – what is thought and known – is variously handled; it is made an object about which the mind can employ itself, and this occupation becomes an interest in and for itself. The movement of Thought – that which goes on within its sphere [without reference to an extrinsic object] – a process which had formerly no interest – acquires attractiveness on its own account. The cultivated Sophists, who were not erudite or scientific men, but masters of subtle turns of thought, excited the admiration of the Greeks. For all questions they had an answer; for all interests of a political or religious order they had general points of view; and in the ultimate development of their art, they claimed the ability to prove everything, to discover a justifiable side in every position. In a democracy it is a matter of the first importance, to be able to speak in popular assemblies – to urge one’s opinions on public matters. Now this demands the power of duly presenting before them that point of view which we desire them to regard as essential. For such a purpose, intellectual culture is needed, and this discipline the Greeks acquired under their Sophists. This mental culture then became the means, in the hands of those who possessed it, of enforcing their views and interests on the Demos: the expert Sophist knew how to turn the subject of discussion this way or that way at pleasure, and thus the doors were thrown wide open to all human passions. A leading principle of the Sophists was, that “Man is the measure of all things”; but in this, as in all their apophthegms, lurks an ambiguity, since the term “Man” may denote Spirit in its depth and truth, or in the aspect of mere caprice and private interest. The Sophists meant Man simply as subjective, and intended in this dictum of theirs, that mere liking was the principle of Right, and that advantage to the individual was the ground of final appeal. This Sophistic principle appears again and again, though under different forms, in various periods of History; thus even in our own times subjective opinion of what is right – mere feeling – is made the ultimate ground of decision.
In Beauty, as the Greek principle, there was a concrete unity of Spirit, united with Reality, with Country and Family, etc. In this unity no fixed point of view had as yet been adopted within the Spirit itself, and Thought, as far as it transcended this unity, was still swayed by mere liking; [the Beautiful, the Becoming (to prepou) conducted men in the path of moral propriety, but apart from this they had no firm abstract principle of Truth and Virtue]. But Anaxagoras himself had taught, that Thought itself was the absolute Essence of the World. And it was in Socrates, that at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, the principle of subjectivity – of the absolute inherent independence of Thought – attained free expression. He taught that man has to discover and recognize in himself what is the Right and Good, and that this Right and Good is in its nature universal. Socrates is celebrated as a Teacher of Morality, but we should rather call him the Inventor of Morality. The Greeks had a customary morality; but Socrates undertook to teach them what moral virtues, duties, etc. were. The moral man is not he who merely wills and does that which is right – not the merely innocent man – but he who has the consciousness of what he is doing. Socrates – in assigning to insight, to conviction, the determination of men’s actions – posited the Individual as capable of a final moral decision, in contraposition to Country and to Customary Morality, and thus made himself an Oracle, in the Greek sense. He said that he had a daimonion within him, which counselled him what to do, and revealed to him what was advantageous to his friends. The rise of the inner world of Subjectivity was the rupture with the existing Reality. Though Socrates himself continued to perform his duties as a citizen, it was not the actual State and its religion, but the world of Thought that was his true home. Now the question of the existence and nature of the gods came to be discussed. The disciple of Socrates, Plato, banished from his ideal state, Homer and Hesiod, the originators of that mode of conceiving of religious objects which prevailed among the Greeks; for he desiderated a higher conception of what was to be reverenced as divine – one more in harmony with Thought. Many citizens now seceded from practical and political life, to live in the ideal world. The principle of Socrates manifests a revolutionary aspects towards the Athenian State; for the peculiarity of this State was, that Customary Morality was the form in which its existence was moulded, viz. – an inseparable connection of Thought with actual life. When Socrates wishes to induce his friends to reflection, the discourse has always a negative tone; he brings them to the consciousness that they do not know what the Right is. But when on account of the giving utterance to that principle which was advancing to recognition, Socrates is condemned to death, the sentence bears on the one hand the aspect of unimpeachable rectitude – inasmuch as the Athenian people condemns its deadliest foe – but on the other hand, that of a deeply tragical character, inasmuch as the Athenians had to make the discovery, that what they reprobated in Socrates had already struck firm root among themselves, and that they must be pronounced guilty or innocent with him. With this feeling they condemned the accusers of Socrates, and declared him guiltless.
In Athens that higher principle which proved the ruin of the Athenian state, advanced in its development without intermission. Spirit had acquired the propensity to gain satisfaction for itself – to reflect. Even in decay the Spirit of Athens appears majestic, because it manifests itself as the free, the liberal – exhibiting its successive phases in their pure idiosyncrasy – in that form in which they really exist. Amiable and cheerful even in the midst of tragedy is the light- heartedness and nonchalance with which the Athenians accompany their [national] morality to its grave. We recognize the higher interest of the new culture in the fact that the people made themselves merry over their own follies, and found great entertainment in the comedies of Aristophanes, which have the severest satire for their contents, while they bear the stamp of the most unbridled mirth.
In Sparta the same corruption is introduced, since the social unit seeks to assert his individuality against the moral life of the community: but there we have merely the isolated side of particular subjectivity – corruption in its undisguised form, blank immorality, vulgar selfishness and venality. All these passions manifest themselves in Sparta, especially in the persons of its generals, who, for the most part living at a distance from their country, obtain an opportunity of securing advantages at the expense of their own state as well as of those to whose assistance they are sent.
After the fall of Athens, Sparta took upon herself the Hegemony; but misused it – as already mentioned – so selfishly, that she was universally hated. Thebes could not long sustain the part of humiliating Sparta, and was at last exhausted in the war with the Phocians. The Spartans and the Phocians – the former because they had surprised the citadel of Thebes, the latter because they had tilled a piece of land belonging to the Delphin Apollo – had been sentenced to pay considerable sums of money. Both states however refused payment; for the Amphictyonic Council had not much more authority than the old German Diet, which the German princes obeyed only so far as suited their inclination. The Phocians were then to be punished by the Thebans; but by an egregious piece of violence – by desecrating and plundering the temple at Delphi – the former attained momentary superiority. This deed completes the ruin of Greece; the sanctuary was desecrated, the god so to speak, killed; the last support of unity was thereby annihilated; reverence for that which in Greece had been as it were always the final arbiter – its monarchical principle – was displaced, insulted, and trodden under foot.
The next step in advance is then that quite simple one, that the place of the dethroned oracle should be taken by another deciding will – a real authoritative royalty. The foreign Macedonian King – Philip – undertook to avenge the violation of the oracle, and forthwith took its place, by making himself lord of Greece. Philip reduced under his dominion the Hellenic States, and convinced them that it was all over with their independence, and that they could no longer maintain their own footing. The charge of littleness, harshness, violence, and political treachery – all those hateful characteristics with which Philip has so often been reproached – did not extend to the young Alexander, when he placed himself at the head of the Greeks. He had no need to incur such reproaches; he had not to form a military force, for he found one already in existence. As he had only to mount Bucephalus, and take the rein in hand, to make him obsequious to his will, just so he found that Macedonian phalanx prepared for his purpose – that rigid welltrained iron mass, the power of which had been demonstrated under Philip, who copied it from Epaminondas.
Alexander had been educated by the deepest and also the most comprehensive thinker of antiquity – Aristotle; and the education was worthy of the man who had undertaken it. Alexander was initiated into the profoundest metaphysics: therefore his nature was thoroughly refined and liberated from the customary bonds of mere opinion, crudities and idle fancies. Aristotle left this grand nature as untrammelled as it was before his instructions commenced; but impressed upon it a deep perception of what the True is, and formed the spirit which nature had so richly endowed to a plastic being, rolling freely like an orb through its circumambient ether.
Thus accomplished, Alexander placed himself at the head of the Hellenes, in order to lead Greece over into Asia. A youth of twenty, he commanded a thoroughly experienced army, whose generals were all veterans, well versed in the art of war. It was Alexander’s aim to avenge Greece for all that Asia had inflicted upon it for so many years, and to fight out at last the ancient feud and contest between the East and the West. While in this struggle he retaliated upon the Oriental world what Greece had suffered from it, he also made a return for the rudiments of culture which had been derived thence by spreading the maturity and culmination of that culture over the East; and, as it were, changed the stamp of subjugated Asia and assimilated it to a Hellenic land. The grandeur and the interest of this work were proportioned to his genius – to his peculiar youthful individuality – the like of which in so beautiful a form we have not seen a second time at the head of such an undertaking. For not only were the genius of a commander, the greatest spirit, and consummate bravery united in him, but all these qualities were dignified by the beauty of his character as a man and an individual. Though his generals were devoted to him, they had been the long tried servants of his father; and this made his position difficult: for his greatness and youth was a humiliation to them, as inclined to regard themselves and the achievements of the past, as a complete work; so that while their envy, as in Clitus’s case, arose to blind rage, Alexander also was excited to great violence.
Alexander’s expedition to Asia was at the same time a journey of discovery; for it was he who first opened the Oriental World to the Europeans, and penetrated into countries – as e.g. Bactria, Sogdiana, northern India – which have since been hardly visited by Europeans. The arrangement of the march, and not less the military genius displayed in the disposition of battles, and in tactics generally, will always remain an object of admiration. He was great as a commander in battles, wise in conducting marches and marshalling troops, and the bravest soldier in the thick of the fight. Even the death of Alexander, which occurred at Babylon in the three-and-thirtieth year of his age, gives us a beautiful spectacle of his greatness, and shows in what relation he stood to his army: for he takes leave of it with the perfect consciousness of his dignity.
Alexander had the good fortune to die at the proper time; i.e. it may be called good fortune, but it is rather a necessity. That he may stand before the eyes of posterity as a youth, an early death must hurry him away. Achilles, as remarked above, begins the Greek world, and his autotype Alexander concludes it: and these youths not only supply a picture of the fairest kind in their own persons, but at the same time afford a complete and perfect type of Hellenic existence. Alexander finished his work and completed his ideal; and thus bequeathed to the world one of the noblest and most brilliant of visions, which our poor reflections only serve to obscure. For the great World-Historical form of Alexander, the modern standard applied by recent historical “Philistines” – that of virtue or morality – will by no means suffice. And if it be alleged in depreciation of his merit, that he had no successor, and left behind no dynasty, we may remark that the Greek kingdoms that arose in Asia after him, are his dynasty. For two years he was engaged in a campaign in Bactria, which brought him into contact with the Massagetse and Scythians; and there arose the Grseco-Bactrian kingdom which lasted for two centuries. Thence the Greeks came into connection with India, and even with China. The Greek dominion spread itself over northern India, and Sandrokottus (Chandraguptas) is mentioned as the first who emancipated himself from it. The same name presents itself indeed among the Hindoos, but for reasons already stated, we can place very little dependence upon such mention. Other Greek Kingdoms arose in Asia Minor, in Armenia, in Syria and Babylonia. But Egypt especially, among the kingdoms of the successors of Alexander, became a great centre of science and art; for a great number of its architectural works belong to the time of the Ptolemies, as has been made out from the deciphered inscriptions. Alexandria became the chief centre of commerce – the point of union for Eastern manners and tradition with Western civilization. Besides these, the Macedonian Kingdom, that of Thrace, stretching beyond the Danube, that of Illyria, and that of Epirus, flourished under the sway of Greek princes.
Alexander was also extraordinarily attached to the sciences, and he is celebrated as next to Pericles the most liberal patron of the arts. Meier says in his “History of Art,” that his intelligent love of art would have secured him an immortality of fame not less than his conquests.
This third period in the history of the Hellenic World, which embraces the protracted development of the evil destiny of Greece, interests us less. Those who had been Alexander’s Generals, now assuming an independent appearance on the stage of history as Kings, carried on long wars with each other, and experienced, almost all of them, the most romantic revolutions of fortune. Especially remarkable and prominent in this respect is the life of Demetrius Poliorcetes.
In Greece the States had preserved their existence: brought to a consciousness of their weakness by Philip and Alexander, they contrived to enjoy an apparent vitality, and boasted of an unreal independence. That self-consciousness which independence confers, they could not have; and diplomatic statesmen took the lead in the several States – orators who were not at the same time generals, as was the case formerly – e.g. in the person of Pericles. The countries of Greece now assume various relations to the different monarchs, who continued to contend for the sovereignty of the Greek States – partly also for their favor, especially for that of Athens: for Athens still presented an imposing figure – if not as a Power, yet certainly as the centre of the higher arts and sciences, especially of Philosophy and Rhetoric. Besides it kept itself more free from the gross excess, coarseness and passions which prevailed in the other States, and made them contemptible; and the Syrian and Egyptian kings deemed it an honor to make Athens large presents of corn and other useful supplies. To some extent too the kings of the period reckoned it their greatest glory to render and to keep the Greek cities and states independent. The Emancipation of Greece had as it were, become the general watch-word; and it passed for a high title of fame to be called the Deliverer of Greece. If we examine the hidden political bearing of this word, we shall find that it denotes the prevention of any indigenous Greek State from obtaining decided superiority, and keeping all in a state of weakness by separation and disorganization.
The special peculiarity by which each Greek State was distinguished from the others consisted in a difference similar to that of their glorious divinities, each one of whom has his particular character and peculiar being, yet so that this peculiarity does not derogate from the divinity common to all. When therefore, this divinity has become weak and has vanished from the States, nothing but the bare particularity remains – the repulsive speciality which obstinately and waywardly asserts itself, and which on that very account assumes a position of absolute dependence and of conflict with others. Yet the feeling of weakness and misery led to combinations here and there. The Italians and their allies as a predatory people, set up injustice, violence, fraud, and insolence to others, as their charter of rights. Sparta was governed by infamous tyrants and odious passions, and in this condition was dependent on the Macedonian Kings. The Boeotian subjective character had, after the extinction of Theban glory, sunk down into indolence and the vulgar desire of coarse sensual enjoyment. The Achaean league distinguished itself by the aim of its union (the expulsion of Tyrants,) by rectitude and the sentiment of community. But this too was obliged to take refuge in the most complicated policy. What we see here on the whole is a diplomatic condition – an infinite involvement with the most manifold foreign interests – a subtle intertexture and play of parties, whose threads are continually being combined anew.
In the internal condition of the states, which, enervated by selfishness and debauchery, were broken up into factions – each of which on the other hand directs its attention to foreign lands, and with treachery to its native country begs for the favors of the Kings – the point of interest is no longer the fate of these states, but the great individuals, who arise amid the general corruption, and honorably devote themselves to their country. They appear as great tragic characters, who with their genius, and the most intense exertion, are yet unable to extirpate the evils in question; and perish in the struggle, without having had the satisfaction of restoring to their fatherland repose, order and freedom, nay, even without having secured a reputation with posterity free from all stain. Livy says in his prefatory remarks: “In our times we can neither endure our faults nor the means of correcting them.” And this is quite as applicable to these Last of the Greeks, who began an undertaking which was as honorable and noble, as it was sure of being frustrated. Agis and Cleomenes, Aratus and Philopoemen, thus sunk under the struggle for the good of their nation. Plutarch sketches for us a highly characteristic picture of these times, in giving us a representation of the importance of individuals during their continuance.
The third period of the history of the Greeks brings us to their contact with that people which was to play the next part on the theatre of the World’s History; and the chief excuse for this contact was – as pretexts had previously been – the liberation of Greece. After Perseus the last Macedonian King, in the year 168 B.C. had been conquered by the Romans and brought in triumph to Rome, the Achaean league was attacked and broken up, and at last in the year 146 B.C. Corinth was destroyed. Looking at Greece as Polybius describes it, we see how a noble nature such as his, has nothing left for it but to despair at the state of affairs and to retreat into Philosophy; or if it attempts to act, can only die in the struggle. In deadly contraposition to the multiform variety of passion which Greece presents – that distracted condition which whelms good and evil in one common ruin – stands a blind fate – an iron power ready to show up that degraded condition in all its weakness, and to dash it to pieces in miserable ruin; for cure, amendment, and consolation are impossible. And this crushing Destiny is the Roman power.