Page:The Outline of History Vol 1.djvu/378

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354
THE OUTLINE OF HISTORY
 

§ 4

The most characteristic feature of the opening years of this brilliant century and a half (475 to 325 B.C.) of Greek intellectual life was the appearance of the great tragedies.

Before the age of Pericles the main literature of the Greek peoples had been their epic poetry, of which we have already said something in our account of the earlier nomadic Aryan life. It was made up of songs of free adventure, aristocratic and valiant in spirit. The main Greek epics were reduced to writing, and the text of the chief ones put in its present order in the time of the tyrant Peisistratus (i.e., immediately before the first Persian wars). Chanted originally to the chiefs and leading men in hall, they were now recited at the public festivals. In addition, there were also poems of more homely character, love songs, war lyrics, and the like.

A third stream of poetry also ran into the Greek tradition, perhaps not of Aryan origin at all, but preserving the religious ideas of the dark whites whom the Greeks had conquered. There were religious chants and hymns associated with the secret religious practices of the worship of Demeter, the earth goddess, and of Orpheus and Dionysus. They are mixed up with ideas of self-abasement, self-mutilation, and the like, that were altogether foreign to the healthy directness of the hardy barbarians from the north. These ideas were creeping out from their hiding-places, and expressing themselves in Greek in Athens during this period in the Orphic religious poetry. It seems probable that in the Athenian population among all the Greek cities the pre-Aryan strain was unusually strong. This dark strain was subtle, artistic, creative—Cnossos witnesses to that; but it had no great courage of the mind; it was afraid of the stars and of life. Whenever that strain is found in any race, there are to be found also thoughts and legends of sacrificial murders.

And perhaps also indigenous to the Greek soil, rooted deeply there in the time of the world-wide ancient heliolithic culture, were religious dances. Such dances we can trace from the Atlantic to Peru. There is a drawing in a Spanish cave at Cogul, near the Ebro, which is supposed to represent a later palæolithic ritual dance. There is little evidence of the primitive Aryans engaging