Essays and Addresses/The Age of Pericles

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The Age of Pericles  (1889) 
by Richard Claverhouse Jebb

From Essays and Addresses. Glasgow, March 1889. From the author's MS.


The debt which the modern world owes to the best age of ancient Greece is well summed up in some words which the late Professor Green wrote in his "Prolegomena to Ethics":—"When we come to ask ourselves what are the essential forms in which, however otherwise modified, the will for true good—which is the will to be good—must appear, our answer follows the outlines of the Greek classification of the virtues. It is the will to know what is true; to make what is beautiful; to endure pain or fear; to resist the allurements of pleasure (i.e., to be brave and temperate),—if not, as the Greek would have said, in the service of the State, yet in some form of human society;—to take for oneself, and to give to others, of those things which admit of being given and taken, not what one is inclined to give or take, but what is due."

Accepting this as a concise description of the Hellenic ideal, we find that the period during which it was most fully realised was that which we are accustomed to call the age of Pericles. The period so named may be roughly defined as extending from 460 to 430 B.C. Within those thirty years the political power of Athens culminated; the Athenians developed that civic life which, as sketched in the great oration attributed to Pericles by Thucydides, made Athens, as the orator says, the school of Greece, and, as we moderns might add, the teacher of posterity; within those thirty years were created works of art, in literature, in architecture, and in sculpture, which the world has ever since regarded as unapproachable masterpieces. This period, so relatively short and yet so prolific in varied excellence, followed closely on the war in which united Greece repelled the Persian invasion. It immediately preceded the war of the two leading Greek cities against each other, in which Sparta ultimately humbled Athens. Athens, as it appears in the national struggle against Persia, is not yet the acknowledged head of Hellas. The formal leadership belongs, by common consent, to Sparta; and though Athens is already pre-eminent in moral qualities,—in unselfish devotion to the national cause, and in a spirit which no reverses can break,—these qualities appear as they are embodied in a few chosen men, in a Themistocles and an Aristeides; the mass of Athenians whom they lead is still a comparatively rude multitude, not yet quickened into the full energy of conscious citizenship. If, on the other hand, we look to the close of the Age of Pericles—if we pass to the opening years of the Peloponnesian war—we find that the Athenian democracy already bears within it the seeds of decay. The process of degeneration has already begun, though a century is still to elapse before Philip of Macedon shall overthrow the liberties of Greece at Chaeronea.

The interval between the Persian war and the Peloponnesian war—the space which we call the Age of Pericles—is a space of comparative peace and rest, during which all the faculties of the Hellenic nature attain their most complete development in the civic community of Athens. Yet this interval is the only period in Athenian history of which we have no full or continuous record from a contemporary source. Herodotus leaves us at the end of the Persian invasion. Thucydides becomes our guide only at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. It is true that in the opening of his work he glances rapidly at the intervening years. But his hints serve rather to stimulate than to appease our curiosity. We learn from him little more than a few external facts which, taken by themselves, tell us little. With regard to the inner life of Athens in the age of Pericles—the social and the intellectual life—he is silent. Among the names which are nowhere mentioned by him are those of the poets Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes; the philosopher Anaxagoras; the sculptor Pheidias; the architect Ictinus. He incidentally notices the Parthenon, but only as a treasury; he notices the Propylaea,—but only as a work which had reduced the balance in the treasury. This silence, however tantalising it may be for us, admits of a simple explanation. His chosen subject, as he conceived it, was a purely political one,—the Peloponnesian war; and he did not regard such matters as pertinent to it. The art and poetry of the day, the philosophy and the social life, were, in his view, merely decorations of the theatre in which the great drama of the war was being enacted. One thing, however, he allows us to see clearly,—viz. that the "Age of Pericles" is fitly so called. Even in his slight sketch, a central and commanding figure is brought before us. And it is significant that the famous Funeral Oration sums up all that Thucydides tells us as to the life of Periclean Athens. It is as if he felt that his own silence on that subject should be broken by no voice save that of Pericles.

Thus it comes to pass that, in regard to the age of Pericles, we have to rely mainly on two sources of information. On the one hand, we have the surviving monuments of its literature, and some fragments of its art. On the other hand, we have that description of its general tone and spirit which Thucydides has embodied in the Funeral Oration. But this description is only in general terms. To those who heard it, of course, its abstract statements were full of vivid meaning, suggesting a thousand familiar details of their daily life. We moderns, however, have to reconstruct that life as best we may, by piecing together scattered bits of evidence. The questions for us are,—What were the aims which Pericles set before him? By what means did he succeed in so impressing his own ideas upon his age that the period has ever since been distinctively associated with his name? And what was it in the civic life thus developed which made its atmosphere so incomparably favourable to the creative energies of the intellect? We cannot hope to answer these questions fully; but it is possible to suggest some considerations which may assist clearness of thought in regard to them.

First of all, we must remember the idea which lay at the root of Greek education generally in the period before the Persian wars. That idea was a free cultivation of the mental and bodily powers, not limited or specialised by a view to any particular occupation in after life. The main instruments of mental cultivation were poetry and music, both of them in a close connection with the traditional popular religion. The instruments of physical training were the exercises of the palaestra. When the youth had become a man, his mental education was tested in public counsel and speech, his physical training in military service for the State. This harmonious education of mind and body on certain prescribed lines created a general Hellenic tradition, which was constantly confirmed by the influence of the festivals, with their recitations of poetry and their athletic contests. Hellenes, to whatever part of Hellas they belonged, felt themselves united by a common descent, a common religion, a common language, and a common type of social life. The two first of these ties,—descent and religion,—were, for a Greek, interdependent; for Greeks conceived themselves as sprung from heroes, and these heroes as sprung from the gods; thus, in Mr Grote's phrase, the ideas of ancestry and worship coalesced. It was only about a century before the Persian wars that this primitive Hellenic tone of mind began to be troubled by the new scepticism which had its birth in Ionia. The Ionian thinkers, in their attempts to solve the problem of the universe, gave the first shock to the old uncritical acceptance of the popular theology. People began to ask whether gods could do such things as they were said to do; whether these gods were more than symbols or fictions. Athens does not seem to have been much affected by Ionian philosophy before the Persian wars; though, in that earlier time, the social life of Athens was externally more Ionian than it afterwards became. And the effect of the Persian wars on Athens was, in one way, such as to confirm Athenian adherence to traditional modes of thought. Those wars had brought the sturdy Attic husbandmen to the front,—the men in whom the old Attic beliefs were strongest; while at the same time Athenians had become conscious of their superiority to the Ionians, the vassals of Xerxes, whom they had routed at Salamis. A feeling was thus generated strongly antagonistic to innovation, especially when it appeared irreligious, and when it came from Ionia. This, however, was not the only effect which the Persian wars left behind them. In those struggles, the Athenian powers of mind and body had been strained to the uttermost. When the effort was over, the sense of stimulated activities remained; it was no longer easy to acquiesce in the routine of ancestral usage; there was a desire for an enlargement of the mental horizon, an eagerness to enter new fields of endeavour, corresponding to the new consciousness of power. Thus, especially in minds of the higher order, a welcome was prepared for intellectual novelties. It is significant that the Ionian Anaxagoras, the foremost speculative thinker of the time, chose Athens as the most congenial abode that he could find. We note also how eagerly Athens received from Sicily the new art of Rhetoric, and from Ionia the practical culture brought by the so-called Sophists.

This sympathy with innovation, and on the other hand a newly reinforced conservatism, were the forces which divided Athens at the moment when Pericles entered public life. His father, Xanthippus, belonged to the old nobility of Attica, the Eupatridae. His mother, Agariste, was a member of a family who belonged to the younger nobility, the Alcmaeonidae, and had latterly been identified with the popular party; Agaristè was a niece of the great reformer Cleisthenes. Thus, while the maternal descent of Pericles would recommend him to the party of progress, his lineage on the father's side was a claim to the respect of their opponents. In his character, from youth onwards, one of the strongest traits seems to have been an unceasing desire of knowledge; he sought knowledge, however, not as Goethe did—to whom, in some aspects, he might be compared—with a view merely to satisfying his own intellectual needs, but rather from the point of view of a statesman—in order to strengthen the mental powers by which he aspired to guide the course of the city. Another quality which distinguished him was self-restraint. In pursuing his aims, he showed the highest degree of patience, moderation, and self-denial. The natural fire of his temperament, which flashed out at times in his oratory, was perfectly under the control of his judgment. His career may be divided into two parts. During the first, down to 444 B.C., Pericles appears as a party man,—as the leader of the reformers. From 444 B.C. to his death in 429 B.C. he occupies a position raised above party, and has the government of Athens virtually concentrated in his hands. Let us consider the nature of the reforms with which he was associated, or which he initiated, during the earlier part of his career. First of all, the Council of the Areopagus was deprived of certain general powers which rendered it a stronghold of the party opposed to change. Next, it was provided that the State should make a small payment to every citizen for each day on which he served as a juror in the law-courts, or attended the meetings of the public assembly. Also, that the State should supply to every citizen who required it the sum needful to procure his admission to the theatre at the public festivals. In modern eyes these measures may not seem very important. But in reality they constituted a revolution of the most momentous kind. In order to see this, we have only to recall a broad difference between the ancient and modern conceptions of the State. A British citizen does not feel himself the less so if he happens to have no direct share in the central conduct of public affairs. When he speaks of the State in its active capacity, he commonly means the Executive Power. He may fully recognise that he ought to live, and, if need be, die, for his country; but, unless he is a person of exceptional temperament, the thought of the State as a parent thus entitled to his devotion is not habitually present to him in everyday life; it is in a colder and more prosaic aspect that the State is chiefly familiar to his thoughts,—viz., as an institution to which he owes certain duties, and from which he receives certain rights. But in the theory of the ancient Greek State, the citizen's whole life was most intimately identified with the life of the city. The city was a larger family, to which every member was bound by a supreme obligation, overriding all private considerations of every kind. Further, a citizen was not regarded as enjoying full citizenship unless he had a direct personal share in public affairs,—either continuously, or at least in his turn. No such thing as representative government was known; the civic assembly was open to all citizens, and a citizen could use his franchise only by speaking or voting in person. Such was the theory; in practice, however, it was modified in various ways by various circumstances. If we look back to the earlier days of Greece, before the age of Pericles, we perceive the prevalence of a feeling which tended practically to disfranchise many of those who, by birth, were citizens,—a feeling, namely, that the possession of independent means, up to a certain point, should be a qualification for taking part in public life.

At Athens, in the time of the Periclean reforms, there does not seem to have been much civic pauperism. A hundred and fifty years or so before, Solon's great agrarian reform had taken a load of debt off the cultivators of the soil, and had done much to limit the size of landed estates. In the days of Pericles probably more than one half of the Attic citizen-body were owners of land. It was a law that every Athenian citizen should bring up his son to some calling or trade by which he could subsist. With its harbours and its fleet, Athens had unrivalled opportunities for commerce. But Pericles saw that, if the encouragement of industry and commerce was truly to strengthen the city, the artisan and the merchant must feel that they were in deed, and not merely in name, citizens. The unity of the State must be realised as far as possible according to the Greek idea; that is, every citizen must have some personal share in public business. Here, however, a grave difficulty encountered him. A poor citizen could not be expected to serve as a juror in the law-courts, or to attend the public assembly, if such public duties were to suspend the pursuit of his private calling. This difficulty was met by the proposal of Pericles to pay the citizen for the time which he gave to the State. The payment was extremely small; at first it was one obol, a little more than d. for each day in the law-courts or in the assembly; it was afterwards raised to about 4½d. At this time the average day's wage of an Athenian artisan was about nine-pence. The public assembly met, as a rule, only four times a month. The jury-courts sat almost every day. Every year 5000 citizens, with a further reserve of 1000, were chosen by lot, as the body from which the juries for that year should be drawn; and a man who was in that body could do but little work at his trade during that year. Thus, notwithstanding the small payment from the State, he was serving the State at a sacrifice. Neither in that case, nor in regard to the public assembly, was he under any temptation to abandon his trade, and to live on the State bounty. Pericles had foreseen that danger, and had guarded against it by the scale of payment. A century later, the public pay had become a mischief; but that mischief was rather the result than the cause of social disorganisation. Now, then, we can understand the full significance of the words which Thucydides puts into the mouth of Pericles (II. 40),—"An Athenian citizen," he says, "does not neglect the State because he takes care of his own household; and even those who are engaged in business (ἔργα) can form a very fair idea of politics. We regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs as a useless man; and if few of us are originators of a policy, we are all sound judges of it." Not less essential to the statesman's purpose was the measure which ensured the presence of the poorer citizens at the public festivals, when tragedy or comedy was performed in the theatre of Dionysus. This theatre-money has rightly been compared to modern grants in aid of education, or to the remission of school-fees. At these festivals, which were religious ceremonies animated by the noblest poetry, the citizen felt himself a sharer in the best spiritual inheritance of the city. The Thucydidean Pericles alludes to this when he says, "we have provided for a weary mind many relaxations from toil, in the festivals and sacrifices which we hold throughout the year" (II. 38). If we are inclined to be surprised at the extreme smallness of the State-payments above noticed, and to ask how they could make any appreciable difference, we must remember three things: first, that the purchasing power of money was immensely greater then than it is now; next, that ancient civilisation rested on a basis of slavery, without which the full development of the Attic democracy would have been impossible; lastly, we must remember the genuine frugality and simplicity of Athenian life—greatly favoured, as it was, by a happy climate;—the simplicity to which Pericles refers when he says, "we are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness." In the same Funeral Oration, indeed, Pericles speaks of the beautiful objects which surrounded Athenians in their private houses,—objects of which the daily delight, as he says, banishes gloom; but it would be an error to imagine that these words could apply only to the homes of the richer citizens; nothing was more characteristic of Greek art than the skill with which it gave lovely forms to the cheapest and homeliest articles of daily use.

The great work, then, which Pericles achieved during his period of political struggle might be briefly characterised as follows. He realised the essential idea of the Greek city more fully than it had ever been realised before, or was ever realised after; and he did this by enabling every citizen, poor no less than rich, to feel that he was a citizen indeed, taking his part in the work of the city without undue sacrifice of his private interests, and sharing in the noblest enjoyments which the city had to offer.

The second part of the career of Pericles dates from the banishment of Thucydides, son of Melesias, in 444 B.C. That event marked the final triumph of the reformers, and left Pericles without even the semblance of a political rival. The contemporary historian describes the position of affairs by saying that Athens was now nominally governed by a democracy, but really by her foremost citizen. The position of Pericles was now, in fact, such as would be that of an immensely popular Prime Minister who not only commanded an overwhelming majority in Parliament, but who could look forward to a tenure of power limited only by his own vitality. The recent defeat of the party opposed to Pericles was only one of the facts which help to explain this unique ascendancy. It is certain that he must have possessed one of the greatest and most versatile intellects ever given to man. On no other hypothesis can we explain the extraordinary impression which he made on the ablest of his contemporaries, and the unequalled reputation which he left behind him. Then his moral qualities were not only great in themselves, but peculiarly fitted to impress his countrymen. He was, as Thucydides says with emphasis, of stainless personal integrity. His private life was entirely free from ostentation. He was rarely seen at public festivals; indeed, he was seldom seen at all, except at his public work, or on his way to it. He was compared by contemporary wits to the Salaminia—a ship, employed in State service, which appeared only on great occasions. He gave no opening to the jealousy of fellow-citizens, and at the same time never risked his hold on their respect,—acting in the spirit of Henry IV.'s advice to his son:

          "Had I so lavish of my presence been,
          So common-hackneyed in the eyes of men,
          So stale and cheap to vulgar company,
          Opinion, that did help me to the crown.
          Had still kept loyal to possession..."

In manner, we are told, he was grave and reserved; his public speaking was marked by a studious terseness, which however, did not prevent him from rising, when strongly moved, into majestic eloquence, adorned by bold and striking imagery, of which a few examples remain. His quick-witted and excitable fellow-citizens were held in awe by the massive mind which they felt under his grave calm,—a calm which sometimes gave place to the rushing impulse of great thoughts, but never to irritation, even when the provocation was sorest. Hegel says of him: 'To be the first man in the State, among this noble, free, and cultivated people of Athens, was the good fortune of Pericles. Of all that is great for humanity the greatest thing is to dominate the wills of men who have wills of their own.'

At the time when Pericles became thus virtually supreme, Athens had reached a position wholly different from that which she had held before the Persian wars. Then, she was merely the chief town of Attica, a small district, of little natural wealth. But in the course of the last thirty years she had become an Imperial city, the head of a great confederacy which embraced the islands and coasts of the Aegean Sea. The common treasury of the league had been removed from the island of Delos to Athens, and located in the temple of Athena on the Acropolis. This transfer,—a bold step which Pericles had strongly advocated,—was a formal recognition of Athens as the capital of a wide empire. Almost all the cities which had originally been her free allies had now become her subjects; year by year their tribute flowed to the temple on her citadel. And these revenues were administered by Athenian officials, subject to the authority of Athens. The revenues proper to Athens herself had been greatly enlarged by the development of the silver mines of Laurium in Attica, and by the acquisition of gold mines in Thrace. Thus the organisation of finance had assumed a new political importance. It should be noticed that the idea of a public treasure—a permanent store on which the State could draw in emergencies—had not hitherto been fully worked out in a Greek democracy. The economical basis of the old Greek commonwealth was different from that to which we are accustomed. The Greek city was, in this aspect, more like a corporation possessing property, and paying its current expenses out of that property. The Greek citizens were like joint administrators of a trust fund, for the common benefit. To take a modern illustration on a small scale, we might compare them to the Fellows of a College, in whom is vested the administration of the College property. The Greek city depended very little on direct taxation of the citizen. Hence it had small opportunities of forming a public reserve fund of any magnitude. That would have had to be done mainly out of its annual income, and at the cost of retrenchments which would not have been generally popular. Of course, where a despot had contrived to obtain the supreme power in a Greek city, he could exact from his subjects the means wherewith to form a public treasure. Peisistratus did so, when he was despot of Athens; so also did the Sicilian despots, and many more. Thus, a power based on money had hitherto in Greece been characteristic of a tyranny, not of a free commonwealth. But Pericles saw that the imperial position of Athens, and the naval power on which her Empire rested, could be secured only by creating a public reserve fund on an adequate scale. And since the tribute paid by the subject allies was now at the absolute disposal of Athens; since, further, in any emergencies that might arise, the interests of Athens would be identified with those of her dependents; it was now comparatively easy for a statesman to effect this object. He was further assisted by the peculiar relation which existed between public finance and religion. The temples were the public banks of ancient Greece; the safest places of deposit. Under the provisions made by Pericles, the public funds lodged in the temple of Athena on the citadel were of three kinds. First, the fund designed to meet the current expenses of the State, which were consigned merely to the temporary guardianship of the goddess. Secondly, there were moneys which were formally consecrated to Athena, and which were made her own property. These could not be touched, except by way of loan from the goddess, and under a strict obligation to repay her; to take them in any other way would have been sacrilege. Thirdly, there were certain definite sums, also consecrated to her, which could not even be borrowed from her, except in certain specified cases of extreme need;—as if, for example, a hostile fleet threatened the Peiraeus. The care of these funds, and the administration of all the other sources of Athenian revenue, were organised under Pericles on a complete and elaborate system. Thus it was his merit to secure for a free State that financial stability which had elsewhere been only a pillar of despotism. We see an immediate result of this in the simple fact that the Peloponnesian war lasted 27 years. Without the treasure on the Acropolis, the naval resources of Athens must have collapsed in a very much shorter time.

I can but touch briefly on the part which colonisation played in the policy of Pericles. His principle was to avoid enlarging the empire, but to bind the existing empire together as strongly as possible. When cities which had revolted against Athens had been subdued, their territory was in some cases confiscated by Athens. Such land was then divided into a certain number of allotments. Athenian citizens of the poorer class, who wished for allotments, were then asked to send in their names, and the holdings were assigned by ballot. A successful applicant could do either of two things. He could go out and farm the land himself; in which case the State helped him with his outfit. Or he could stay at Athens, and make the former owner of the foreign land his tenant. In either case he retained his full rights as an Athenian citizen: whereas in an ordinary colony the Athenian emigrant became a citizen of the new settlement. Moreover, the ownership of the allotment was hereditary.

All things naturally conspired at this period to make Athens the great Hellenic centre of industry and of commerce. The Peiraeus, the harbour town of Athens, with its magnificent port, was the market to which all commodities flowed from east and west. From the Euxine came cargoes of fish or of hides; papyrus came from Egypt, frankincense from Syria, dates from Phoenicia, ores from Cyprus, silphium from Cyrene; Thrace sent timber; Sicily and the Aegean islands sent their fruits, wines, and other luxuries. Athens itself had a special repute for earthenware, for some kinds of metal work, and for work in leather. It is not surprising, then, that Athens began to suffer from an inconvenience which at the present day is felt on a greater scale in the United States,—viz. the influx of aliens, anxious to share in the advantages of citizenship. Pericles checked this evil by reviving the old rule, which had long fallen into disuse, viz. that full citizenship could be enjoyed only by a person, both of whose parents were of Attic birth. A re-enforcement of this rule, though unpopular at first, was made comparatively easy by the favourable conditions granted to aliens who wished to fix their abode at Athens.

Thus far we have been considering Periclean Athens chiefly as the most perfect example of Greek civic life; as an imperial city, in which the fullest individual freedom was enjoyed without prejudice to the strength of the State; as a great seat of industry and a focus of commerce. The memorials of all these things have well-nigh vanished; but the modern world still possesses monuments of the literature, and at least fragments of the art, which proclaim Athens to have been, above all, the great intellectual centre of that age. The influence of Periclean Athens is deeply impressed on the History of Herodotus, and moulded the still greater work of Thucydides; Athens was the home of the philosopher Anaxagoras, and the astronomer Meton; it was at Athens that prose composition, which had hitherto been either colloquial or poetical, was first matured; at Athens, too, oratory first became the effective ally of statesmanship; both Tragedy and Comedy were perfected; the frescoes of Polygnotus, the architecture of Ictinus, the sculpture of Pheidias, combined to adorn the city; and when we think of these great writers and artists, we must remember that they are only some of the more eminent out of a larger number who were all living at Athens within the same period of thirty years. How far can this wonderful fact be directly connected with the influence of the political work done by Pericles, or with the personal influence of the man? We must beware of exaggerating such influences. Statesmanship may encourage men of genius, but it cannot make them. When we look back on that age, we seem to recognise in its abounding and versatile brilliancy rather the golden time of a marvellously gifted race, than merely the attraction which a city of unique opportunities exercised over the rest of the world. The great national victory over Persia had raised the vital energy of the Greek spirit to the highest. But we must also recollect that, owing to the very nature of Greek literature and art, such a city as the Athens of Pericles could do more for it than any modern city could do for modern art or literature. Greek literature was essentially spontaneous, the free voice of life, restrained in its freedom only by a sense of measure which was part of the Greek nature; the Greek poet, or historian, or philosopher, was not merely a man of letters in the narrower modern meaning of the term; he was first, and before all things, a citizen, in close sympathy, usually in active contact, with the public life of the city. For a Greek, therefore, as poet or historian or philosopher, nothing could be more directly important than that this public life should be as noble as possible; since, the nobler it was, the higher and the more invigorating was the source from which he drew his inspiration. Among the great literary men who belonged to the age of Pericles, there are especially two who may be regarded as representative of it,—its chief historian and its most characteristic poet,—Thucydides and Sophocles. The mind of Thucydides had been moulded by the ideas of Pericles, and probably in large measure by personal intercourse with him. We recognise the Periclean stamp in the clearness with which Thucydides perceives that the vital thing for a State is the spirit in which it is governed; and that, apart from this spirit, there is no certain efficacy in the form of a constitution, no sovereign spell in the name. In Sophocles, again, we feel the Periclean influence working with the same general tendency as in the plastic arts; he holds with the ancient traditions of piety, but invests them with a more spiritual and more intellectual meaning. With regard to the fine arts, it was the resolve of Pericles that they should find their supreme and concentrated manifestation in the embellishment of Athens. Thucydides, with all his reticence as to art, is doubtless a faithful interpreter of the spirit in which that work was done, when he makes Pericles speak of the abiding monuments which will attest to all posterity the achievements of that age. This feeling was not prompted merely by Athenian patriotism; Athens was the city which the Persian invader, bent on avenging Sardis, had twice laid in ruins. The fact that Athens should have risen from its ashes in unrivalled strength and grace was, as Pericles might well feel, the most impressive of all testimonies to the victory of Hellene over barbarian.

When Pericles reached his full power the port of Athens was already a handsome town, with regular streets, spacious porticoes, large open spaces and perfectly equipped harbours. But the Upper City—Athens proper—with which the Peiraeus was connected by the long walls, remained comparatively poor in ornament. It still showed some traces of the haste with which it had been rebuilt after the Persian wars. Now, under the guiding influence of Pericles, architects, sculptors, and painters combined in adorning it. That which gave its distinctive stamp to their work was, ultimately, the great idea which animated them. Its inspiration was the idea of the Imperial City, Athens, as represented and defended by the goddess Athena; the Athens which, with the aid of gods and heroes, had borne the foremost part in rolling back the tide of barbarian invasion.

In no other instance which history records, has art of a supreme excellence sprung from a motive at once so intelligible to the whole people, and so satisfying to the highest order of minds.

It is well to remember that the story of Greece was not closed when the Greek genius reached the brief term of its creative activity. It is well to follow the work of the Greek mind through later periods also; but those qualities which were distinctive of its greatness can best be studied when the Greek mind was at its best. That period was unquestionably the Fifth Century before Christ—the Age of Pericles.


  1. Glasgow, March 1889. From the author's MS.