Imatges de pàgina

But this is foreign to our purpose. The most distinguishing features of the government were the vigilant, the anxious provision made for the interests, enjoyments, and festivals of the nation; and that enlarged wisdom and profound knowledge of human nature, which led the inspired founder of the Hebrew commonwealth to exalt and sanctify the pleasures of the people by uniting them with religion, while he confirmed and endeared religion by combining it with all the popular gratifications.





“Fas mihi Graiorum sacrata resolvere jura.”

Virg. Æn. 3. 550.

Who would ever have imagined that the vivacious, intellectual, and handsome Athenians derived their origin from the gloomy, priestridden, negro-faced people of Egypt, a colony from which country was conducted to Attica by Cecrops, about the time of Moses? We know that manners are changeable, that they receive their character from climate, soil, localities, population, religion, form of government, facility of communication with strangers, and various collateral circumstances; but we cannot understand how that great physical metamorphosis was accomplished which converted an ugly race into the most graceful and finely-formed nation upon the face of the earth. Nor have we any records on which to hang a conjecture; for at this period, as Plutarch says, when

, regretting his inability to furnish its early history, Attica was “all monstrous and tragical land, occupied only by poets and fabulists.” Seven hundred years after the foundation of Athens, the writings of Homer afford many illustrations of manners among the Greeks, which still exhibited barbarous traits of defective government and unimproved society. From


FESTIVALS, GAMES, AND AMUSEMENTS, ETC. 29 the notion that the souls of deceased warriors delighted in human blood, the funeral


and monies were of the most cruel description. Achilles slew twelve of the young Trojan nobility at the pile of Patroclus; an act of atrocity which is of itself sufficient to stamp the character of barbarism upon the age in which it occurred. Half-naked savages, indeed, with a club and lion's skin, no longer wandered about the world, offering their services for the destruction of wild beasts; but the times were characterised by that licentiousness, hospitality, violence, utter disregard of human life, and union of dignified station with mean employments, to which the manners of the Scottish Highlanders, till within a century, retained so marked a resemblance. Such will ever be the features of society where the law is ineffectual for personal security. “In such cases bodily strength and courage must decide most contests; while on the other hand, craft, cunning, and surprise are the legitimate weapons of the weak against the strong. We accord

. ingly find that both the ancient and the modern history of the East is a continued scene of bloodshed and treachery."

In the time of Homer, when murders were so common that they scarcely left a stain upon the character of the perpetrator, and human sacrifices were still offered to the gods, and to the manes of the dead, we cannot expect to discover any thing refined, still less intellectual in the amusements or recreations. These were grovelling and sensual, while the public games, being simply calculated to exercise and strengthen the bodily powers, were but personal struggles, scarcely amicable in their nature, and evidently intended as preparations for war.

Several hundred years later, when the Athenians had attained their palmiest state, both as to power and literary pre-eminence, we have


Robertson's Charles V.

abundant materials for appreciating Grecian manners in general, which then present to us, so far as amusements are concerned, a decided predominance of the intellectual over the corporeal, of refinement over vulgar sensuality. Let us indulge in an imaginary walk into Athens at this period, that we may judge for ourselves, taking our first station on the road to Thria, to the north west of the city. Behold! the sun is now gleaming upon the waters of the Cephisus, burnishing the tops of the trees in the garden of the Academy, just revealing beyond them the pediment of the Temple of Theseus, and illuminating one side of the glorious Parthenon, perched aloft upon the rocky Acropolis. We will stand aside for a moment, not only to avoid the dust of the market people flocking into the city, but that we may listen to the ancient ballads they are singing, an amusement which implies something of a civilized and literary taste, even in these rude peasants. They have passed, they have crossed the bridge over the Cephisus, and we may now follow them, diverging, however, from the highroad into the shady walks on either side that constitute the grove of Academus. It was here that Plato, the pupil of Socrates, instructed his disciples, maintaining the immortality of the soul, while he placed the sovereign felicity in studying the beautiful, the true, the good ; in contemplating the supreme celestial intelligence, and in endeavouring to conciliate his love, by imitating his benevolence, so far as human infirmities allowed.

Such have been the sublime doctrines taught by the academicians and philosophers who since his time have delivered lessons of wisdom within these shady precincts; and such are the discourses to which the volatile population of Athens have eagerly crowded for amusement and recreation. What an immeasurable stride must the public mind have taken since the Homeric ages, when all enjoyments had reference to the body and the senses ! But that we may the better appreciate the character of the citizens, let us ascend this little eminence, and survey the public buildings, which, exclusively of the religious edifices, are expressly dedicated to the pleasures of the mind. See! we have now reached the Altar of the Muses, whose votaries may in some degree be said to hallow literature with a divine sanction. Yonder to the east, near the Marathon road, is the Cynosarges, or school of the Cynic philosophers; beyond it is the Lycæum, where Aristotle instructed his disciples while he walked about and founded the sect of the Peripatetic philosophers; near the gate of the Piræus is the Museum, a building dedicated to the liberal arts, and to the goddesses whose name it bears; the superb structure to the left of it is the Odeum, appropriated to the performance of concerts, to musical trials of skill, and to the rehearsal of the theatrical choruses; and the semicircular building on this side of it is the Great Theatre, to which the Athenians flock to weep at the tragedies of Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, to be convulsed with laughter at the farcical satires of Aristophanes, or to be delighted with the polished wit of the chaste and elegant Menander. Is not such a recapitulation sufficient to prove that in this classic seat of the muses the pleasures of the mind have largely triumphed over those of the body, and that the inhabitants of Athens are the most intellectual people whom the world has yet produced, or whom it is perhaps hereafter destined to see, even in a much more advanced state of its existence ?

That all their diversions are of this exalted character it would be too much to expect; but we will pursue our walk, and make our observations as we proceed. Here we are at the Gate Dipylon, in the shade of which some idlers of the lower class are reclining, while they play at dice upon the pavement, and by their animated gestures, and the anxious expression of

« AnteriorContinua »