the necessity of justifying the deliverance (which was to result from the death of Jesus) by supposing that this sacrifice had been rendered necessary by a frightful crime, which could be imputed to humanity. If the people of the West were much more occupied with original sin than those of the East, it was not solely, as Taine thought, owing to the influence of Roman law, but also because the Latins, having a more elevated conception of the imperial majesty than the Greeks, regarded the sacrifice of the Son of God as having realised an extraordinarily marvellous deliverance; from this proceeded the necessity of intensifying human wretchedness and of destiny.
It seems to me that the optimism of the Greek philosophers depended to a great extent on economic reasons; it probably arose in the rich and commercial urban populations who were able to regard the universe as an immense shop full of excellent things with which they could satisfy their greed. I imagine that Greek pessimism sprang from poor warlike tribes living in the mountains, who were filled with an enormous aristocratic pride, but whose material conditions were correspondingly poor; their poets charmed them by praising their ancestors and made them look forward to triumphal expeditions conducted by superhuman heroes; they explained their present wretchedness to them by relating catastrophes in which semi-divine former chiefs had succumbed to fate or the jealousy of the gods; the courage of the warriors might for the moment be unable to accomplish anything, but it would not always be so; the tribe must remain faithful to the old customs in order to be ready for great and victorious expeditions, which might very well take place in the near future.
- Taine, Le Régime Moderne, vol. ii. pp. 121–122.
- The Athenian comic poets have several times depicted a land of Cokaigne, where there was no need to work (A. and M. Croiset, Histoire de la littérature Grecque, vol. iii. pp. 472–474).