Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/19

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9
HISTORY

into the gloomy and poignant drama of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. They then turned to history and philosophy. In the former they produced a masterpiece of composition with Thucydides and one of the most delightful of narratives with Herodotus. In the latter they achieved their most important results.

Greek philosophy was to prove the greatest intellectual asset of humanity. No other civilization or language before the Greek had invented the abstract ideas: time, will, space, beauty, truth, and the others. And from these wonderful, though imperfect, word ideas the vigorous and subtle Greek intellect rapidly raised a structure which found its supreme expression in Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno. But from the close of the Fourth Century before Christ, the time of Aristotle and his pupil Alexander the Great, Greek began to lose its vitality and to decay.

This decadence coincided with events of immense political importance. Alexander created a great Greek Empire, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indus. After his death this empire was split into a number of monarchies, the Greek kingdoms of the East, of which the last to survive was that of the Ptolemies in Egypt. This perished when Augustus defeated Cleopatra and Antony at Actium in B. C. 31, exactly three hundred years after Alexander's final victory over Darius at Arbela.


THE DOMINATION OF ROME

During these three hundred years a more western branch of the Aryans, the Romans, had gradually forced their way to supremacy. It was not until about B. C. 200 that Rome broke down the power of Carthage, got control of the western Mediterranean, and then suddenly stretched out her hand over its eastern half. In less than two centuries more she had completed the conquest of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Egypt, and the Mediterranean had become a Roman lake.

The city of Rome may go back to B. C. 1000, and the legends and history of the Republic afford an outline of facts since about B. C. 500, but it was only after establishing contact with the civilization and language of Greece that the Romans really found literary expression. Their tongue had not the elasticity and harmony of the Greek, nor had it the wealth of vocabulary, the abstract terms; it