Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/20

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10
HISTORY

was more fitted, by its terseness, clearness, and gravity, to be the medium of the legislator and administrator. Under the influence of foreign conquest and of Greek civilization, Rome, however, quickly evolved a literature of her own, an echo of the superior and riper one produced by the people she had conquered; it tinged with glory the last years of the Republic and the early ones of the Empire, the age of Augustus. Virgil produced a highly polished, if not convincing, imitation of Homer. Lucretius philosophized a crude materialistic universe in moderate hexameters. Cicero, with better success and some native quality, modeled himself on Demosthenes; while the historians alone equaled their Greek masters, and in the statesmanlike instinct and poisoned irony of Tacitus revealed a worthy rival of Thucydides.

Latin and Greek were the two common languages of the Mediterranean just as the unwieldy Republic of Rome was turning to imperialism. The Greek universities, Athens, Pergamon, and Alexandria, dictated the fashions of intellectualism, and gave preeminence to a decadent and subtilized criticism and philosophy perversely derived from the Greek masters of the golden age. But a third influence was on the point of making itself felt in the newly organized Mediterranean political system — that of the Jews.


THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE JEWS

To understand the part the Jews were now to play, it is necessary first of all to look back upon the general character of the social and political struggles of those ancient centuries. At the time of Homer's heroes, and, in a way, until that of Alexander the Great, states were small, generally a city or a group of cities. War was constant, and generally accompanied by destruction and slavery. As the centuries slipped by, the scale increased. Athens tried to create a colonial empire as did Carthage, and the great continental states, Macedon and Rome, followed close at their heels. In the last century or so before Christ, war was nearly continuous on a vast scale, and it was attended by at least one circumstance that demands special consideration.

Social inequality was a fundamental conception of the ancient world. The Greek cities in their origin had been communities ruled