Page:The Outline of History Vol 1.djvu/377

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353
GREEK THOUGHT AND LITERATURE

course, the Oriental despotic touch—fantastic vanity and cruelty; and at length the recurrence of human sacrifice.

"The greatness of Greece comes out only in the art and literature and thought; not in the political and social history—except in dim flashes. By all means emphasize clearly to start with that the Greeks of, say, the ninth century, were practically savages, and those of even the sixth and in places right on to the fifth and fourth were in many things on the 'Lower Cultures' level. Clothes like Polynesians; tools very poor; religion … fragments of the Polynesian all about, when you got outside the educated Attic world. But the characteristic is that, on this very low level, you have extraordinary flashes of very high inspiration, as the poetry and art and philosophy witness. Also, an actual achievement in social life—what one calls 'Hellenism,' i.e., republicanism, simplicity of life, sobriety of thought, almost complete abolition of torture, mutilation, etc., and an amazing emancipation of the individual and of the human intellect. It is impossible to speak, really, of the 'Greek view' of anything. Because all the different views are put forward and represented: polytheism, monotheism, atheism; pro-slavery, anti-slavery; duty to animals, no duty to animals; democracy, monarchy, aristocracy. The characteristic is that human thought got free. (Not absolutely, of course; only to an amazing extent.) This emancipation was paid for by all sorts of instability; awful political instability, because stability in such things is produced exactly by the opposite—by long firm tradition and cohesiveness.

"It is not fair to say I idealize the Athenian mob; see, for example, my Euripides and his Age. But I don't think it was like our music-hall mob. It was much more artistic, much more intellectual and yet more primitive, more indecent but less lascivious; more capable of atrocious misconduct; also probably more capable of idealism. But we don't really know much about the crowd. It is only a hostile average-sensual-man background against which the philosophers and poets stand out. There was no 'city mob,' as in Rome. They were nearly all small farmers or craftsmen. I can't help thinking that their badness was more like the faults of a superior South Sea Islander than like the viler side of the 'crowd' to-day."