Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/8

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THE IDEA

Hesiod. In the golden age Dike or Astraea wandered about the earth freely; in the silver age her visits became fewer, and in the brazen age she set out for heaven and became the constellation Virgo. Perhaps Horace had read the lament of the goddess: 'What a race the golden sires have left—worse than their fathers; and your offspring will be baser still.' In the third century after Christ, when civilization was really crumbling, Pagans and Christians join in a chorus of woe. On the other side, the triumphs of man over nature are celebrated by the great tragedians, and the Introduction to the First Book of Thucydides sketches the past history of Greece in the spirit of the nineteenth century. Lucretius has delighted our anthropologists by his brilliant and by no means idealized description of savage life, and it is to him that we owe the blessed word Progress in its modern sense.

'Usus et impigrae simul experientia mentis paulatim docuit pedetemtim progredientes. sic unum quicquid paulatim protrahit aetas in medium, ratioque in luminis erigit oras.'

Pliny believes that each age is better than the last. Seneca, in a treatise, parts of which were read in the Middle Ages, reminds us that 'not a thousand years have passed since Greece counted and named the stars, and it is only recently that we have learned why the moon is eclipsed. Posterity will be amazed that we did not know some things that will seem obvious to them.' 'The world', he adds, 'is a poor affair if it does not contain matter for investigation for men in every age. We imagine that we are initiated into the mysteries of Nature; but we are still hanging about her outer courts.' These last are memorable utterances, even if Seneca confines his optimism to the pleasure of explor-