Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/33

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II. ANCIENT HISTORY

By Professor William Scott Ferguson

OF the three periods of approximately fifteen hundred years each into which the history of the Western World falls, two belong to the domain of antiquity.

The first of these "links in the chain of eternity" includes the rise, maturity, and decay of the Oriental civilization at its three distinct but interconnected centers, Egypt, Babylonia, and Crete-Mycenae. The second reaches from 1200 B. C. to 300 A. D., and it too is filled with the growth, fruition, and decline of a civilization—the high material and intellectual culture of the Greeks and Romans. Overlapping this for several centuries, the third or Christian period runs down to our own time. The nineteenth century of our era may be regarded as the opening of a fourth period, one of untold possibilities for human development.

The Greeks, like the Christians, went to school for many centuries to their predecessors. Their earliest poems, the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" of Homer, are in one sense a legacy from the Cretan-Mycenæan age, in which the scene of their action is laid. None the less, like the peoples of mediæval and modern Europe, the Greeks owed the production of their most characteristic things to their own native effort.

It was in the eighth and seventh centuries B. C. that the Greeks became a new species of mankind. In this, the time of their expansion from an Ægean into a Mediterranean people, they shook off the bonds which had shackled the Oriental spirit, and, trusting to their own intellects, faced without flinching the grave problems of human life. When they then awoke to a realization of their position, they found themselves in the possession of cities which were at the same time states. Political connection between them there was none, and slender indeed were the ties of sentiment, language, and religion which bound to one another the Hellenes of Miletus, Corinth, Syracuse, Marseilles, and the hundreds of other Greek city-states then in

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