Page:Sophocles - Seven Plays, 1900.djvu/19

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PREFATORY NOTE TO THE
EDITION OF 1883


 I. The Hellenic spirit has been repeatedly characterized as simple Nature worship. Even the Higher Paganism has been described as 'in other words the purified worship of natural forms.'[1] One might suppose, in reading some modern writers, that the Nymphs and Fauns, the River-Gods and Pan, were at least as prominent in all Greek poetry as Zeus, Apollo, and Athena, or that Apollo was only the sweet singer and not also the prophet of retribution.

The fresh and unimpaired enjoyment of the Beautiful is certainly the aspect of ancient life and literature which most attracted the humanists of the sixteenth century, and still most impresses those amongst ourselves who for various reasons desire to point the contrast between Paganism and Judaism. The two great groups of forces vaguely known as the Renaissance and the Revolution have both contributed to this result. Men who were weary of conventionality and of the weight of custom 'heavy as frost and deep almost as life,' have longed for the vision of 'Oread or Dryad glancing through the shade,' or to 'hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.' Meanwhile, that in which the Greeks most resembled us, 'the human heart by which we live,' for the very reason that it lies so near to us, is too apt to be lost from our conception of them. Another cause of this one-sided view is the illusion produced by the contemplation of statuary, together with the unapproachable perfection of form which every relic of Greek antiquity indisputably possesses.

  1. [Sir John Seeley's] Natural Religion, p. 79