The Legacy of Ancient Greece
 

The Greek View of Life

 
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THE GREEK VIEW OF ART


Section 1. Greek Art an Expression of National Life.

In approaching the subject of the Art of the Greeks we come to what, more plausibly than any other, may be regarded as the central point of their scheme of life. We have already noticed, in dealing with other topics, how constantly the aesthetic point of view emerges and predominates in matters with which, in the modern way of looking at things, it appears to have no direct and natural connection. We saw, for example, how inseparable in their religion was the element of ritual and ceremony from that of idea; how in their ethical conceptions the primary notion was that of beauty; how they aimed throughout at a perfect balance of body and soul, and more generally, in every department, at an expression of the inner by the outer so complete and perfect that the conception of a separation of the two became almost as impossible to their thought as it would have been unpleasing and discordant to their feeling. Now such a point of view is, in fact, that of art; and philosophers of history have been amply justified in characterising the whole Greek epoch as pre-eminently that of Beauty.

But if this be a true way of regarding the matter, we should expect to find that art and beauty had, for the Greeks, a very wide and complex significance. There is a view of art, and it is one that appears to be prevalent in our own time, which sets it altogether outside the general trend of national life and ideas; which asserts that it has no connection with ethics, religion, politics, or any of the general conceptions which regulate action and thought; that its end is in itself, and is simply beauty; and that in beauty there is no distinction of high or low, no preference of one kind above another. Art thus conceived is, in the first place, purely subjective in character; the artist alone is the standard, and any phase or mood of his, however exceptional, personal and transitory, is competent to produce a work of art as satisfying and as great as one whose inspiration was drawn from a nation's life, reflecting its highest moments, and its most universal aspirations and ideals; so that, for example, a butterfly drawn by Mr. Whistler would rank as high, say, as the Parthenon. And in the second place, in this view of art, the subject is a matter of absolute indifference. The standards of ordinary life, ethical or other, do not apply; there is no better or worse, but only a more or less beautiful; and the representation of a music-hall stage or a public house bar may be as great and perfect a work of art as the Venus of Milo or the Madonna of Raphael.

This theory, which arises naturally and perhaps inevitably in an age where national life has degenerated into materialism and squalor, and the artist feels himself a stranger in a world of Philistines, we need not here pause to examine and criticise. It has been mentioned merely to illustrate by contrast the Greek view, which was diametrically opposed to this, and valued art in proportion as it represented in perfect form the highest and most comprehensive aspects of the national ideal.

To say this, is not, of course, to say that the Greek conception of art was didactic; for the word didactic, when applied to art, has usually the implication that the excellence of the moral is the only point to be considered, and that if that is good the work itself must be good. This idea does indeed occur in Greek thought--we find it, for example, paradoxically enough, in so great an artist as Plato--but if it had been the one which really determined their production, there would have been no occasion to write this chapter, for there would have been no Greek art to write about. The truer account of the impulse that urged them to create is that given also by Plato in an earlier and more impassioned work, in which he describes it as a "madness of those who are possessed by the Muses; which enters into a delicate and virgin soul, and there inspiring frenzy, awakens lyrical and all other numbers; with these adorning the myriad actions of ancient heroes for the instruction of posterity. But he who having no touch of the Muses' madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art--he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man is nowhere at all when he enters into rivalry with the madman." [Footnote: Plato, Phaedrus, 245a.--Translated by Jowett.]

The presupposition, in fact, of all that can be said about the Greek view of art, is that primarily and to begin with they were, by nature, artists. Judged simply by the aesthetic standard, without any consideration of subject matter at all, or any reference to intellectual or ethical ideals, they created works of art more purely beautiful than those of any other age or people. Their mere household crockery, their common pots and pans, are cast in shapes so exquisitely graceful, and painted in designs so admirably drawn and composed, that any one of them has a higher artistic value than the whole contents of the Royal Academy; and the little clay figures they used as we do china ornaments put to shame the most ambitious efforts of modern sculpture. Who, for example, would not rather look at a Tanagra statuette than at the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington?

The Greeks, in fact, quite apart from any theories they may have held, were artists through and through; and that is a fact we must carry with us through the whole of our discussion.


Section 2. Identification of the Aesthetic and Ethical Points of View.

But on the other hand, it seems to be clear from all that we can learn, that their habitual way of regarding works of art was not to judge them simply and exclusively by their aesthetic value. On the contrary, in criticising two works otherwise equally beautiful, they would give a higher place to the one or the other for its ethical or quasi-ethical qualities. This indeed is what we should expect from the comprehensive sense which, as we have seen, attached in their tongue to the word which we render "beautiful." The aesthetic and ethical spheres, in fact, were never sharply distinguished by the Greeks; and it follows that as, on the one hand, their conception of the good was identified with that of the beautiful, so, on the other hand, their conception of the beautiful was identified with that of the good. Thus the most beautiful work of art, in the Greek sense of the term, was that which made the finest and most harmonious appeal not only to the physical but to the moral sense, and while communicating the highest and most perfect pleasure to the eye or the ear, had also the power to touch and inform the soul with the grace which was her moral excellence. Of this really characteristic Greek conception, this fusion, so instinctive as to be almost unconscious, of the aesthetic and ethical points of view, no better illustration could be given than the following passage from the Republic of Plato, where the philosopher is describing the effect of beautiful works of art, and especially of music, on the moral and intellectual character of his imaginary citizens:

"'We would not have our guardians grow up amid images of moral deformity, as in some noxious pasture, and there browse and feed upon many a baneful herb and flower day by day, little by little, until they silently gather a festering mass of corruption in their own soul. Let our artists rather be those who are gifted to discern the true nature of the beautiful and graceful: then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a healthgiving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason.'

"'There can be no nobler training than that,' he replied.

"'And therefore,' I said, "'Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why: and when reason comes he will recognise and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar."[Footnote: Plato, Republic III. 401.--Translated by Jowett.]

This fusion of the ideas of the beautiful and the good is the central point in the Greek Theory of Art; and it enables us to understand how it was that they conceived art to be educational. Its end, in their view, was not only pleasure, though pleasure was essential to it; but also, and just as much, edification. Plato, indeed, here again exaggerating the current view, puts the edification above the pleasure. He criticises Homer as he might criticise a moral philosopher, pointing out the inadequacy, from an ethical point of view, of his conception of heaven and of the gods, and dismissing as injurious and of bad example to youthful citizens the whole tissue of passionate human feeling, the irrepressible outbursts of anger and grief and fear, by virtue of which alone the Iliad and the Odyssey are immortal poems instead of ethical tracts. And finally, with a half reluctant assent to the course of his own argument, he excludes the poets altogether from his ideal republic, on the ground that they encourage their hearers in that indulgence of emotion which it is the object of every virtuous man to repress. The conclusion of Plato, by his own admission, was half paradoxical, and it certainly never recommended itself to such a nation of artists as the Greeks. But it illustrates, nevertheless, the general bent of their views of art, that tendency to the identification of the beautiful and the good, which, while it was never pushed so far as to choke art with didactics--for Plato himself, even against his own will, is a poet--yet served to create a standard of taste which was ethical as much as aesthetic, and made the judgment of beauty also a judgment of moral worth.

Quite in accordance with this view we find that the central aim of all Greek art is the representation of human character and human ideals. The interpretation of "nature" for its own sake (in the narrower sense in which "nature" is opposed to man) is a modern and romantic development that would have been unintelligible to a Greek. Not that the Greeks were without a sense of what we call the beauties of nature, but that they treat them habitually, not as the centre of interest, but as the background to human activity. The most beautiful descriptions of nature to be found in Greek poetry occur, incidentally only, in the choral odes introduced into their dramas; and among all their pictures of which we have any record there is not one that answers to the description of a landscape; the subject is always mythological or historical, and the representation of nature merely a setting for the main theme. And on the other hand, the art for which the Greeks are most famous, and in which they have admittedly excelled all other peoples, is that art of sculpture whose special function it is not only to represent but to idealise the human form, and which is peculiarly adapted to embody for the sense not only physical but ethical types. And, more remarkable still, as we shall have occasion to observe later, the very art which modern men regard as the most devoid of all intellectual content, the most incommensurable with any standard except that of pure beauty--I refer of course to the art of music--was invested by the Greeks with a definite moral content and worked into their general theory of art as a direct interpretation of human life. The excellence of man, in short, directly or indirectly, was the point about which Greek art turned; that excellence was at once aesthetic and ethical; and the representation of what was beautiful involved also the representation of what was good. This point we will now proceed to illustrate more in detail in connection with the various special branches of art.


Section 3. Sculpture and Painting.

Let us take, first, the plastic arts, sculpture and painting; and to bring into clear relief the Greek point of view let us contrast with it that of the modern "impressionist." To the impressionist a picture is simply an arrangement of colour and line; the subject represented is nothing, the treatment everything. It would be better, on the whole, not even to know what objects are depicted; and, to judge the picture by a comparison with the objects, or to consider what is the worth of the objects in themselves, or what we might think of them if we came across them in the connections of ordinary life, is simply to misconceive the whole meaning of a picture. For the artist and for the man who understands art, all scales and standards disappear except that of the purely aesthetic beauty which consists in harmony of line and tone; the most perfect human form has no more value than a splash of mud; or rather both mud and human form disappear as irrelevant, and all that is left for judgment is the arrangement of colour and form originally suggested by those accidental and indifferent phenomena.

In the Greek view, on the other hand, though we certainly cannot say that the subject was everything and the treatment nothing (for that would be merely the annihilation of art) yet we may assert that, granted the treatment, granted that the work was beautiful (the first and indispensable requirement) its worth was determined by the character of the subject. Sculpture and painting, in fact, to the Greeks, were not merely a medium of aesthetic pleasure; they were ways of expressing and interpreting national life. As such they were subordinated to religion. The primary end of sculpture was to make statues of the gods and heroes; the primary end of painting was to represent mythological scenes; and in either case the purely aesthetic pleasure was also a means to a religious experience.

Let us take, for example, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the most famous of the works of Pheidias. This colossal figure of ivory and gold was doubtless, according to all the testimony we possess, from a merely aesthetic point of view, among the most consummate creations of human genius. But what was the main aim of the artist who made it? what the main effect on the spectator? The artist had designed and the spectator seemed to behold a concrete image of that Homeric Zeus who was the centre of his religious consciousness--the Zeus who "nodded his dark brow, and the ambrosial locks waved from the King's immortal head, and he made great Olympus quake." [Footnote: Iliad i. 528.--Translated by Lang, Leaf and Myers.] "Those who approach the temple," says Lucian, "do not conceive that they see ivory from the Indies or gold from the mines of Thrace; no, but the very son of Kronos and Rhea, transported by Pheidias to earth and set to watch over the lonely plain of Pisa." "He was," says Dion Chrysostom, "the type of that unattained ideal, Hellas come to unity with herself; in expression at once mild and awful, as befits the giver of life and all good gifts, the common father, saviour and guardian of men; dignified as a king, tender as a father, awful as giver of laws, kind as protector of suppliants and friends, simple and great as giver of increase and wealth; revealing, in a word, in form and countenance, the whole array of gifts and qualities proper to his supreme divinity."

The description is characteristic of the whole aim of Greek sculpture,-- the representation not only of beauty, but of character, not only of character but of character idealised. The statues of the various gods derive their distinguishing individuality not merely from their association with conventional symbols, but from a concrete reproduction, in features, expression, drapery, pose, of the ethical and intellectual qualities for which they stand. An Apollo differs in type from a Zeus, an Athene from a Demeter; and in every case the artist works from an intellectual conception, bent not simply on a graceful harmony of lines, but on the representation of a character at once definite and ideal.

Primarily, then, Greek sculpture was an expression of the national religion; and therefore, also, of the national life. For, as we saw, the cult of the gods was the centre, not only of the religious but of the political consciousness of Greece; and an art which was born and flourished in the temple and the sacred grove, naturally became the exponent of the ideal aspect of the state. It was thus, for example, that the Parthenon at Athens was at once the centre of the worship of Athene, and a symbol of the corporate life over which she presided; the statue of the goddess having as its appropriate complement the frieze over which the spirit of the city moved in stone. And thus, too, the statues of the victors at the Olympian games were dedicated in the sacred precinct, as a memorial of what was not only an athletic meeting, but also at once a centre of Hellenic unity and the most consummate expression of that aspect of their culture which contributed at least as much to their aesthetic as to their physical perfection.

Sculpture, in fact, throughout, was subordinated to religion, and through religion to national life; and it was from this that it derived its ideal and intellectual character. And, so far as our authorities enable us to judge, the same is true of painting. The great pictures of which we have descriptions were painted to adorn temples and public buildings, and represented either mythological or national themes. Such, for example, was the great work of Polygnotus at Delphi, in which was depicted on the one hand the sack of Troy, on the other the descent of Odysseus into Hades; and such his representation of the battle of Marathon, in the painted porch that led to the Acropolis of Athens. And even the vase paintings of which we have innumerable examples, and which are mere decorations of common domestic utensils, have often enough some story of gods and heroes for their theme, whereby over and above their purely aesthetic value they made their appeal to the general religious consciousness of Greece. Painting, like sculpture, had its end, in a sense, outside itself; and from this very fact derived its peculiar dignity, simplicity, and power.

From this account of the plastic art of the Greeks it follows as a simple corollary, that their aim was not merely to reproduce but to transcend nature. For their subject was gods and heroes, and heroes and gods were superior to men. Of this idealising tendency we have in sculpture evidence enough in the many examples which have been preserved to us; and with regard to painting there is curious literary testimony to the same effect. Aristotle, for example, remarks that "even if it is impossible that men should be such as Zeuxis painted them, yet it is better that he should paint them so; for the example ought to excel that for which it is an example." [Footnote: Artist, Poet, xxv.--1461. 6. 12.]

And in an imaginary conversation recorded between Socrates and Parrhasius the artist admits without any hesitation that more pleasure is to be derived from pictures of men who are morally good than from those of men who are morally bad. In the Greek view, in fact, as we saw, physical and moral excellence went together, and it was excellence they sought to depict in their art; not merely aesthetic beauty, though that was a necessary presupposition, but on the top of that, ideal types of character representative of their conception of the hero and the god. Art, in a word, was subordinate to the ethical ideal; or rather the ethical and aesthetic ideals were not yet dissociated; and the greatest artists the world has ever known worked deliberately under the direction and inspiration of the ideas that controlled and determined the life of their time.


Section 4. Music and the Dance.

Turning now from the plastic arts to that other group which the Greeks classed together under the name of "Music"--namely music, in the narrower sense, dancing and poetry--we find still more clearly emphasised and more elaborately worked out the subordination of aesthetic to ethical and religious ends. "Music," in fact, as they used the term, was the centre of Greek education, and its moral character thus became a matter of primary importance. By it were formed, it was supposed, the mind and temper of the citizens, and so the whole constitution of the state. "The introduction of a new kind of music," says Plato, "must be shunned as imperilling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions." "The new style," he goes on, "gradually gaining a lodgment, quietly insinuates itself into manners and customs; and from these it issues in greater force, and makes its way into mutual compacts: and from compacts it goes on to attack laws and constitutions, displaying the utmost impudence, until it ends by overturning everything, both in public and in private." [Footnote: Plato, Rep. IV. 4240.--Translated by Davies and Vaughan.] And as in his Republic he had defined the character of the poetry that should be admitted into his ideal state, so in the "Laws" he specially defines the character of the melodies and dances, regarding them as the most important factor in determining and preserving the manners and institutions of the citizens.

Nothing, at first sight, to a modern mind, could, be stranger than this point of view. That poetry has a bearing on conduct we can indeed understand, though we do not make poetry the centre of our system of education; but that moral effects should be attributed to music and to dancing and that these should be regarded as of such importance as to influence profoundly the whole constitution of a state, will appear to the majority of modern men an unintelligible paradox.

Yet no opinion of the Greeks is more profoundly characteristic than this of their whole way of regarding life, and none would better repay a careful study. That moral character should be attributed to the influence of music is only one and perhaps the most striking illustration of that general identification by the Greeks of the ethical and the aesthetic standards on which we have so frequently had occasion to insist. Virtue, in their conception, was not a hard conformity to a law felt as alien to the natural character; it was the free expression of a beautiful and harmonious soul. And this very metaphor "harmonious," which they so constantly employ, involves the idea of a close connection between music and morals. Character, in the Greek view, is a certain proportion of the various elements of the soul, and the right character is the right proportion. But the relation in which these elements stand to one another could be directly affected, it was found, by means of music; not only could the different emotions be excited or assuaged in various degrees, but the whole relation of the emotional to the rational element could be regulated and controlled by the appropriate melody and measure. That this connection between music and morals really does exist is recognised, in a rough and general way, by most people who have any musical sense. There are rhythms and tunes, for example, that are felt to be vulgar and base, and others that are felt to be ennobling; some music, Wagner's, for instance, is frequently called immoral; Gounod is described as enervating, Beethoven as bracing, and the like; and however absurd such comments may often appear to be in detail, underlying them is the undoubtedly well-grounded sense that various kinds of music have various ethical qualities. But it is just this side of music, which has been neglected in modern times, that was the one on which the Greeks laid most stress. Infinitely inferior to the moderns in the mechanical resources of the art, they had made, it appears, a far finer and closer analysis of its relation to emotional states; with the result that even in music, which we describe as the purest of the arts, congratulating ourselves on its absolute dissociation from all definite intellectual conceptions,--even here the standard of the Greeks was as much ethical as aesthetic, and the style of music was distinguished and its value appraised, not only by the pleasure to be derived from it, but also by the effect it tended to produce on character.

Of this position we have a clear and definite statement in Aristotle. Virtue, he says, consists in loving and hating in the proper way, and implies, therefore, a delight in the proper emotions; but emotions of any kind are produced by melody and rhythm; therefore by music a man becomes accustomed to feeling the right emotions. Music has thus the power to form character; and the various kinds of music, based on the various modes, may be distinguished by their effects on character--one, for example, working in the direction of melancholy, another of effeminacy; one encouraging abandonment, another self-control, another enthusiasm, and so on through the series. It follows that music may be judged not merely by the pleasure it gives, but by the character of its moral influence; pleasure, indeed, is essential or there would be no art; but the different kinds of pleasure given by different kinds of music are to be distinguished not merely by quantity, but by quality. One will produce a right pleasure of which the good man will approve, and which will have a good effect on character; another will be in exactly the opposite case. Or, as Plato puts it, "the excellence of music is to be measured by pleasure. But the pleasure must not be that of chance persons; the fairest music is that which delights the best and best-educated, and especially that which delights the one man who is pre-eminent in virtue and education." [Footnote: Plato Laws. II. 6586.-- Translated by Jowett.]

We see then that even pure music, to the Greeks, had a distinct and definite ethical bearing. But this ethical influence was further emphasised by the fact that it was not their custom to enjoy their music pure. What they called "music," as has been already pointed out, was an intimate union of melody, verse and dance, so that the particular emotional meaning of the rhythm and tune employed was brought out into perfect lucidity by the accompanying words and gestures. Thus we find, for example, that Plato characterises a tendency in his own time to the separation of melody and verse as a sign of a want of true artistic taste; for, he says, it is very hard, in the absence of words, to distinguish the exact character of the mood which the rhythm and tune is supposed to represent. In this connection it may be interesting to refer to the use of the "_leit-motiv_" in modern music. Here too a particular idea, if not a particular set of words, is associated with a particular musical phrase; the intention of the practice being clearly the same as that which is indicated in the passage just quoted, namely to add precision and definiteness to the vague emotional content of pure music.

And this determining effect of words was further enhanced, in the music of the Greeks, by the additional accompaniment of the dance. The emotional character conveyed to the mind by the words and to the ear by the tune, was further explained to the eye by gesture, pose, and beat of foot; the combination of the three modes of expression forming thus in the Greek sense a single "imitative" art. The dance as well as the melody came thus to have a definite ethical significance; "it imitates," says Aristotle, "character, emotion, and action." And Plato in his ideal republic would regulate by law the dances no less than the melodies to be employed, distinguishing them too as morally good or morally bad, and encouraging the one while he forbids the other.

The general Greek view of music which has thus been briefly expounded, the union of melody and rhythm with poetry and the dance in view of a definite and consciously intended ethical character, may be illustrated by the following passage of Plutarch, in which he describes the music in vogue at Sparta. The whole system, it will be observed, is designed with a view to that military courage which was the virtue most prized in the Spartan state, and the one about which all their institutions centred. Music at Sparta actually was, what Plato would have had it in his ideal republic, a public and state-regulated function; and even that vigorous race which of all the Greeks came nearest to being Philistines of virtue, thought fit to lay a foundation purely aesthetic for their severe and soldierly ideal.

"Their instruction in music and verse," says Plutarch, "was not less carefully attended to than their habits of grace and good-breeding in conversation. And their very songs had a life and spirit in them that inflamed and possessed men's minds with an enthusiasm and ardour for action; the style of them was plain and without affectation; the subject always serious and moral; most usually, it was in praise of such men as had died in defence of their country, or in derision of those that had been cowards; the former they declared happy and glorified; the life of the latter they described as most miserable and abject. There were also vaunts of what they would do and boasts of what they had done, varying with the various ages; as, for example, they had three choirs in their solemn festivals, the first of the old men, the second of the young men, and the last of the children; the old men began thus:

We once were young and brave and strong;

The young men answered them, singing;

And we're so now, come on and try:

The children came last and said:

But we'll be strongest by and bye.

Indeed if we will take the pains to consider their compositions, and the airs on the flute to which they marched when going to battle, we shall find that Terpander and Pindar had reason to say that music and valour were allied." [Footnote: Plutarch, Lycurgus, ch. 21.--Clough's ed.]

The way of regarding music which is illustrated in this passage, and in all that is said on the subject by Greek writers, is so typical of the whole point of view of the Greeks, that we may be pardoned for insisting once again on the attitude of mind which it implies. Music, as we saw, had an ethical value to the Greeks; but that is not to say that they put the ethics first, and the music second, using the one as a mere tool of the other. Rather an ethical state of mind was also, in their view, a musical one. In a sense something more than metaphorical, virtue was a harmony of the soul. The musical end was thus identical with the ethical one. The most beautiful music was also the morally best, and vice versa; virtue was not prior to beauty, nor beauty to virtue; they were two aspects of the same reality, two ways of regarding a single fact; and if aesthetic effects were supposed to be amenable to ethical judgment, it was only because ethical judgments at bottom were aesthetic. The "good" and the "beautiful" were one and the same thing; that is the first and last word of the Greek ideal.

And while thus, on the one hand, virtue was invested with the spontaneity and delight of art, on the other, art derived from its association with ethics emotional precision. In modern times the end of music is commonly conceived to be simply and without more ado the excitement of feeling. Its value is measured by the intensity rather than the quality of the emotion which it is capable of arousing; and the auditor abandons himself to a casual succession of highly wrought moods as bewildering in the actual experience as it is exhausting in the after-effects. In Greek music, on the other hand, if we may trust our accounts, while the intensity of the feeling excited must have been far less than that which it is in the power of modern instrumentation to evoke, its character was perfectly simple and definite. Melody, rhythm, gesture and words, were all consciously adapted to the production of a single precisely conceived emotional effect; the listener was in a position clearly to understand and appraise the value of the mood excited in him; instead of being exhausted and confused by a chaos of vague and conflicting emotion he had the sense of relief which accompanies the deliverance of a definite passion, and returned to his ordinary business "purged", as they said, and tranquillised, by a process which he understood, directed to an end of which he approved.


Section 5. Poetry.

If now, as we have seen, in the plastic arts, and in an art which appears to us so pure as music, the Greeks perceived and valued, along with the immediate pleasure of beauty, a definite ethical character and bent, much more was this the case with poetry, whose material is conceptions and ideas. The works of the poets, and especially of Homer, were in fact to the Greeks all that moral treatises are to us; or rather, instead of learning their lessons in abstract terms, they learnt them out of the concrete representation of life. Poetry was the basis of their education, the guide and commentary of their practice, the inspiration of their speculative thought. If they have a proposition to advance, they must back it by a citation: if they have a counsel to offer, they must prop it with a verse. Not only for delight, but for inspiration, warning and example, they were steeped from childhood onwards in an ocean of melodious discourse; their national epics were to them what the Bible was to the Puritans; and for every conjunction of fortune, for every issue of home or state, they found therein a text to prompt or reinforce their decision. Of this importance of poetry in the life of ancient Greece, and generally of the importance of music and art, the following passage from Plato is a striking illustration: "When the boy has learned his letters and is beginning to understand what is written, as before he understood only what was spoken, they put into his hands the works of great poets, which he reads at school; in these are contained many admonitions, and many tales, and praises, and encomia of ancient famous men, which he is required to learn by heart, in order that he may imitate or emulate them and desire to become like them. Then again the teachers of the lyre take similar care that their young disciple is temperate and gets into no mischief; and when they have taught him the use of the lyre, they introduce him to the poems of other excellent poets, who are the lyric poets; and these they set to music and make their harmonies and rhythms quite familiar to the children's souls, in order that they may learn to be more gentle and harmonious and rhythmical, and so more fitted for speech and action; for the life of man in every part has need of harmony and rhythm," [Footnote: Plato Prot. 325c.--Translated by Jowett.]

From this conception of poetry as a storehouse of practical wisdom the transition is easy to a purely ethical judgment of its value; and that transition, as has been already noted, was actually made by Plato, who even goes so far as to prescribe to poets the direct inculcation of such morals as are proper to a tract, as that the good and just man is happy even though he be poor, and the bad and unjust man miserable even though he be rich. This didacticism, no doubt, is a parody; but it is a parody of the normal Greek view, that the excellence of a poem is closely bound up with the compass and depth of its whole ethical content, and is not to be measured, as many moderns maintain, merely by the aesthetic beauty of its form. When Strabo says, "it is impossible to be a good poet unless you are first a good man," he is expressing the common opinion of the Greeks that the poet is to be judged not merely as an artist but as an interpreter of life; and the same presupposition underlies the remark of Aristotle that poets may be classified according as the characters they represent are as good as, better, or worse than the average man.

But perhaps the most remarkable illustration of this way of regarding poetry is the passage in the "Frogs" of Aristophanes, where the comedian has introduced a controversy between Aeschylus and Euripides as to the relative merit of their works, and has made the decision turn almost entirely on moral considerations, the question being really whether or no Euripides is to be regarded as a corrupter of his countrymen. In the course of the discussion Aeschylus is made to give expression to a view of poetry which clearly enough Aristophanes endorses himself, and which no doubt would be accepted by the majority of his audience. He appeals to all antiquity to shew that poets have always been the instructors of mankind, and that it is for this that they are held in honour.

"Look to traditional history, look To antiquity, primitive, early, remote; See there, what a blessing illustrious poets Conferr'd on mankind, in the centuries past. Orpheus instructed mankind in religion, Reclaim'd them from bloodshed and barbarous rites; Musaeus deliver'd the doctrine of med'cine, And warnings prophetic for ages to come; Next came old Hesiod, teaching us husbandry, Ploughing, and sowing, and rural affairs, Rural economy, rural astronomy, Homely morality, labour, and thrift; Homer himself, our adorable Homer, What was his title to praise and renown? What, but the worth of the lessons he taught us Discipline, arms, and equipment of war?" [Footnote: Aristoph. Frogs, 1030.--Translated by Frere.]

While then there is, as we should naturally expect, plenty of Greek poetry which is simply the spontaneous expression of passionate feeling, unrestrained by the consideration of ethical or other ends; yet if we take for our type (as we are fairly entitled to do, from the prominent place it held in Greek life), not the lyrics but the drama of Greece, we shall find that in poetry even (as was to be expected) to a higher degree than in music and the plastic arts, the beauty sought and achieved is one that lies within the limits of certain definite moral pre-suppositions. Let us consider this point in some detail; and first let us examine the character of Greek tragedy.


Section 6. Tragedy.

The character of Greek tragedy was determined from the very beginning by the fact of its connection with religion. The season at which it was performed was the festival of Dionysus; about his altar the chorus danced; and the object of the performance was the representation of scenes out of the lives of ancient heroes. The subject of the drama was thus strictly prescribed; it must be selected out of a cycle of legends familiar to the audience; and whatever freedom might be allowed to the poet in his treatment of the theme, whatever the reflections he might embroider upon it, the speculative or ethical views, the criticism of contemporary life, all must be subservient to the main object originally proposed, the setting forth, for edification as well as for delight, of some episodes in the lives of those heroes of the past who were considered not only to be greater than their descendants, but to be the sons of gods and worthy themselves of worship as divine.

By this fundamental condition the tragedy of the Greeks is distinguished sharply, on the one hand from the Shakespearian drama, on the other from the classical drama of the French. The tragedies of Shakespeare are devoid, one might say, or at least comparatively devoid, of all preconceptions. He was free to choose what subject he liked and to treat it as he would; and no sense of obligation to religious or other points of view, no feeling for traditions descended from a sacred past and not lightly to be handled by those who were their trustees for the future, sobered or restrained for evil or for good his half-barbaric genius. He flung himself upon life with the irresponsible ardour of the discoverer of a new continent; shaped and re-shaped it as he chose; carved from it now the cynicism of Measure for Measure, now the despair of Hamlet and of Lear, now the radiant magnanimity of the Tempest, and departed leaving behind him not a map or chart, but a series of mutually incompatible landscapes.

What Shakespeare gave, in short, was a many-sided representation of life; what the Greek dramatist gave was an interpretation. But an interpretation not simply personal to himself, but representative of the national tradition and belief. The men whose deeds and passions he narrated were the patterns and examples on the one hand, on the other the warnings of his race; the gods who determined the fortunes they sang, were working still among men; the moral laws that ruled the past ruled the present too; and the history of the Hellenic race moved, under a visible providence, from its divine origin onward to an end that would be prosperous or the reverse according as later generations should continue to observe the worship and traditions of their fathers descended from heroes and gods.

And it is the fact that in this sense it was representative of the national consciousness, that distinguishes the Greek tragedy from the classical drama of the French. For the latter, though it imitated the ancients in outward form, was inspired with a totally different spirit. The kings and heroes whose fortunes it narrated were not the ancestors of the French race; they had no root in its affections, no connection with its religious beliefs, no relation to its ethical conceptions. The whole ideal set forth was not that which really inspired the nation, but at best that which was supposed to inspire the court; and the whole drama, like a tree transplanted to an alien soil, withers and dies for lack of the nourishment which the tragedy of the Greeks unconsciously imbibed from its encompassing air of national tradition.

Such then was the general character of the Greek tragedy--an interpretation of the national ideal. Let us now proceed to follow out some of the consequences involved in this conception.

In the first place, the theme represented is the life and fate of ancient heroes--of personages, that is to say, greater than ordinary men, both for good and for evil, in their qualities and in their achievements, pregnant with fateful issues, makers or marrers of the fortunes of the world. Tragic and terrible their destiny may be, but never contemptible or squalid. Behind all suffering, behind sin and crime, must lie a redeeming magnanimity. A complete villain, says Aristotle, is not a tragic character, for he has no hold upon the sympathies; if he prosper, it is an outrage on common human feeling; if he fall into disaster, it is merely what he deserves. Neither is it admissible to represent the misfortunes of a thoroughly good man, for that is merely painful and distressing; and least of all is it tolerable gratuitously to introduce mere baseness, or madness, or other aberrations from human nature. The true tragic hero is a man of high place and birth who having a nature not ignoble has fallen into sin and pays in suffering the penalty of his act. Nothing could throw more light on the distinguishing characteristics of the Greek drama than these few remarks of Aristotle, and nothing could better indicate how close, in the Greek mind, was the connection between aesthetic and ethical judgments. The canon of Aristotle would exclude as proper themes for tragedy the character and fate, say, of Richard III.--the absolutely bad man suffering his appropriate desert; or of Kent and Cordelia--the absolutely good, brought into unmerited affliction; and that not merely because such themes offend the moral sense, but because by so offending they destroy the proper pleasure of the tragic art. The whole aesthetic effect is limited by ethical presuppositions; and to outrage these is to defeat the very purpose of tragedy.

Specially interesting in this connection are the strictures passed on Euripides in the passage of the "Frogs" of Aristophanes to which allusion has already been made. Euripides is there accused of lowering the tragic art by introducing--what? Women in love! The central theme of modern tragedy! It is the boast of Aeschylus that there is not one of his plays which touches on this subject:--

"I never allow'd of your lewd Sthenoboeas Or filthy detestable Phaedras--not I! Indeed I should doubt if my drama throughout Exhibit an instance of woman in love!" [Footnote: Aristoph. Frogs, 1043.--Translated by Frere.]

And there can be little doubt that with a Greek audience this would count to him as a merit, and that the shifting of the centre of interest by Euripides from the sterner passions of heroes and of kings to this tenderer phase of human feeling would be felt even by those whom it charmed to be a declension from the height of the older tragedy.

And to this limitation of subject corresponds a limitation of treatment. The Greek tragedy is composed from a definite point of view, with the aim not merely to represent but also to interpret the theme. Underlying the whole construction of the plot, the dialogue, the reflections, the lyric interludes, is the intention to illustrate some general moral law, some common and typical problem, some fundamental truth. Of the elder dramatists at any rate, Aeschylus and Sophocles, one may even say that it was their purpose--however imperfectly achieved--to "justify the ways of God to man." To represent suffering as the punishment of sin is the constant bent of Aeschylus; to justify the law of God against the presumption of man is the central idea of Sophocles. In either case the whole tone is essentially religious. To choose such a theme as Lear, to treat it as Shakespeare has treated it, to leave it, as it were, bleeding from a thousand wounds, in mute and helpless entreaty for the healing that is never to be vouchsafed--this would have been repulsive, if not impossible, to a Greek tragedian. Without ever descending from concrete art to the abstractions of mere moralising, without ever attempting to substitute a verbal formula for the full and complex perception that grows out of a representation of life, the ancient dramatists were nevertheless, in the whole apprehension of their theme, determined by a more or less conscious speculative bias; the world to them was not merely a splendid chaos, it was a divine plan; and even in its darkest hollows, its passes most perilous and bleak, they have their hand, though doubtful perhaps and faltering, upon the clue that is to lead them up to the open sky.

It is consonant with this account of the nature of Greek tragedy that it should have laid more stress upon action than upon character. The interest was centred on the universal bearing of certain acts and situations, on the light which the experience represented threw on the whole tendency and course of human life, not on the sentiments and motives of the particular personages introduced. The characters are broad and simple, not developing for the most part, but fixed, and fitted therefore to be the mediums of direct action, of simple issues, and typical situations. In the Greek tragedy the general point of view predominates over the idiosyncrasies of particular persons. It is human nature that is represented in the broad, not this or that highly specialised variation; and what we have indicated as the general aim, the interpretation of life, is never obscured by the predominance of exceptional and so to speak, accidental characteristics. Man is the subject of the Greek drama; the subject of the modern novel is Tom and Dick.

Finally, to the realisation of this general aim, the whole form of the Greek drama was admirably adapted. It consisted very largely of conversations between two persons, representing two opposed points of view, and giving occasion for an almost scientific discussion of every problem of action raised in the play; and between these conversations were inserted lyric odes in which the chorus commented on the situation, bestowed advice or warning, praise or blame, and finally summed up the moral of the whole. Through the chorus, in fact, the poet could speak in his own person, and impose upon the whole tragedy any tone which he desired. Periodically he could drop the dramatist and assume the preacher; and thus ensure that his play should be, what we have seen was its recognised ideal, not merely a representation but an interpretation of life.

But this without ceasing to be a work of art. In attempting to analyse in abstract terms the general character of the Greek tragedy we have necessarily thrown into the shade what after all was its primary and most essential aspect; an aspect, however, of which a full appreciation could only be attained not by a mere perusal of the text, but by what is unfortunately for ever beyond our power, the witnessing of an actual representation as it was given on the Greek stage. For from a purely aesthetic point of view the Greek drama must be reckoned among the most perfect of art forms.

Taking place in the open air, on the sunny slope of a hill, valley and plain or islanded sea stretching away below to meet the blazing blue of a cloudless sky, the moving pageant, thus from the first set in tune with nature, brought to a focus of splendour the rays of every separate art. More akin to an opera than to a play it had, as its basis, music. For the drama had developed out of the lyric ode, and retained throughout what was at first its only element, the dance and song of a mimetic chorus. By this centre of rhythmic motion and pregnant melody the burden of the tale was caught up and echoed and echoed again, as the living globe divided into spheres of answering song, the clear and precise significance of the plot, never obscure to the head, being thus brought home in music to the passion of the heart, the idea embodied in lyric verse, the verse transfigured by song, and song and verse reflected as in a mirror to the eye by the swing and beat of the limbs they stirred to consonance of motion. And while such was the character of the odes that broke the action of the play, the action itself was an appeal not less to the ear and to the eye than to the passion and the intellect. The circumstances of the representation, the huge auditorium in the open air, lent themselves less to "acting" in our sense of the term, than to attitude and declamation. The actors raised on high boots above their natural height, their faces hidden in masks and their tones mechanically magnified, must have relied for their effects not upon facial play, or rapid and subtle variations of voice and gesture, but upon a certain statuesque beauty of pose, and a chanting intonation of that majestic iambic verse whose measure would have been obscured by a rapid and conversational delivery. The representation would thus become moving sculpture to the eye, and to the ear, as it were, a sleep of music between the intenser interludes of the chorus; and the spectator without being drawn away by an imitative realism from the calm of impassioned contemplation into the fever and fret of a veritable actor on the scene, received an impression based throughout on that clear intellectual foundation, that almost prosaic lucidity of sentiment and plot, which is preserved to us in the written text, but raised by the accompanying appeal to the sense, made as it must have been made by such artists as the Greeks, by the grouping of forms and colours, the recitative, the dance and the song, to such a greatness and height of aesthetic significance as can hardly have been realized by any other form of art production.

The nearest modern analogy to what the ancient drama must have been is to be found probably in the operas of Wagner, who indeed was strongly influenced by the tragedy of the Greeks. It was his ideal like theirs, to combine the various branches of art, employing not only music but poetry, sculpture, painting and the dance, for the representation of his dramatic theme; and his conception also to make art the interpreter of life, reflecting in a national drama the national consciousness, the highest action and the deepest passion and thought of the German race. To consider how far in this attempt he falls short of or goes beyond the achievement of the Greeks, and to examine the wide dissimilarities that underlie the general identity of aim, would be to wander too far afield from our present theme. But the comparison may be recommended to those who are anxious to form a concrete idea of what the effect of a Greek tragedy may have been, and to clothe in imagination the dead bones of the literary text with the flesh and blood of a representation to the sense.

Meantime, to assist the reader to realise with somewhat greater precision the bearing of the foregoing remarks, it may be worth while to give an outline sketch of one of the most celebrated of the Greek tragedies, the "Agamemnon" of Aeschylus.

The hero of the drama belongs to that heroic house whose tragic history was among the most terrible and the most familiar to a Greek audience. Tantalus, the founder of the family, for some offence against the gods, was suffering in Hades the punishment which is christened by his name. His son Pelops was stained with the blood of Myrtilus. Of the two sons of the next generation, Thyestes seduced the wife of his brother Atreus; and Atreus in return killed the sons of Thyestes, and made the father unwittingly eat the flesh of the murdered boys. Agamemnon, son of Atreus, to propitiate Artemis, sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, and in revenge was murdered by Clytemnestra his wife. And Clytemnestra was killed by Orestes, her son, in atonement for the death of Agamemnon. For generations the race had been dogged by crime and punishment; and in choosing for his theme the murder of Agamemnon the dramatist could assume in his audience so close a familiarity with the past history of the House that he could call into existence by an allusive word that sombre background of woe to enhance the terrors of his actual presentation. The figures he brought into vivid relief joined hands with menacing forms that faded away into the night of the future and the past; while above them hung, intoning doom, the phantom host of Furies.

Yet at the outset of the drama all promises well. The watchman on the roof of the palace, in the tenth year of his watch, catches sight at last of the signal fire that announces the capture of Troy and the speedy return of Agamemnon. With joy he proclaims to the House the long- delayed and welcome news; yet even in the moment of exultation lets slip a doubtful phrase hinting at something behind, which he dares not name, something which may turn to despair the triumph of victory. Hereupon enter the chorus of Argive elders, chanting as they move to the measure of a stately march. They sing how ten years before Agamemnon and Menelaus had led forth the host of Greece, at the bidding of the Zeus who protects hospitality, to recover for Menelaus Helen his wife, treacherously stolen by Paris. Then, as they take their places and begin their rhythmic dance, in a strain of impassioned verse that is at once a narrative and a lyric hymn, they tell, or rather, present in a series of vivid images, flashing as by illumination of lightning out of a night of veiled and sombre boding, the tale of the deed that darkened the starting of the host--the sacrifice of Iphigenia to the goddess whose wrath was delaying the fleet at Aulis. In verse, in music, in pantomime, the scene lives again--the struggle in the father's heart, the insistence of his brother chiefs, the piteous glance of the girl, and at last the unutterable end; while above and through it all rings like a knell of fate the refrain that is the motive of the whole drama:

"Sing woe, sing woe, but may the Good prevail."

At the conclusion of the ode enters Clytemnestra. She makes a formal announcement to the chorus of the fall of Troy; describes the course of the signal-fire from beacon to beacon as it sped, and pictures in imagination the scenes even then taking place in the doomed city. On her withdrawal the chorus break once more into song and dance. To the music of a solemn hymn they point the moral of the fall of Troy, the certain doom of violence and fraud descended upon Paris and his House. Once more the vivid pictures flash from the night of woe--Helen in her fatal beauty stepping lightly to her doom, the widower's nights of mourning haunted by the ghost of love, the horrors of the war that followed, the slain abroad and the mourners at home, the change of living flesh and blood for the dust and ashes of the tomb. At last with a return to their original theme, the doom of insolence, the chorus close their ode and announce the arrival of a messenger from Troy. Talthybius, the herald, enters as spokesman of the army and king, describing the hardships they have suffered and the joy of the triumphant issue. To him Clytemnestra announces, in words of which the irony is patent to the audience, her sufferings in the absence of her husband and her delight at the prospect of his return. He will find her, she says, as he left her, a faithful watcher of the home, her loyalty sure, her honour undefiled. Then follows another choral ode, similar in theme to the last, dwelling on the woe brought by the act of Paris upon Troy, the change of the bridal song to the trump of war and the dirge of death; contrasting, in a profusion of splendid tropes, the beauty of Helen with the curse to which it is bound; and insisting once more on the doom that attends insolence and pride. At the conclusion of this song the measure changes to a march, and the chorus turn to welcome the triumphant king. Agamemnon enters, and behind him the veiled and silent figure of a woman. After greeting the gods of his House, the King, in brief and stilted phrase, acknowledges the loyalty of the chorus, but hints at much that is amiss which it must be his first charge to set right. Hereupon enters Clytemnestra, and in a speech of rhetorical exaggeration tells of her anxious waiting for her lord and her inexpressible joy at his return. In conclusion she directs that purple cloth be spread upon his path that he may enter the house as befits a conqueror. After a show of resistance, Agamemnon yields the point, and the contrast at which the dramatist aims is achieved. With the pomp of an eastern monarch, always repellent to the Greek mind, the King steps across the threshold, steps, as the audience knows, to his death. The higher the reach of his power and pride the more terrible and swift is the nemesis; and Clytemnestra follows in triumph with the enigmatic cry upon her lips: "Zeus who art god of fulfilment, fulfil my prayers." As she withdraws the chorus begin a song of boding fear, the more terrible that it is still indefinite. Something is going to happen--the presentiment is sure. But what, but what? They search the night in vain. Meantime, motionless and silent waits the figure of the veiled woman. It is Cassandra, the prophetess, daughter of Priam of Troy, whom Agamemnon has carried home as his prize. Clytemnestra returns to urge her to enter the house; she makes no sign and utters no word. The queen changes her tone from courtesy to anger and rebuke; the figure neither stirs nor speaks; and Clytemnestra at last with an angry threat leaves her and returns to the palace. Then, and not till then, a cry breaks from the stranger's lips, a passionate cry to Apollo who gave her her fatal gift. All the sombre history of the House to which she has been brought, the woe that has been and the woe that is to come, passes in pictures across her inner sense. In a series of broken ejaculations, not sentences but lyric cries, she evokes the scenes of the past and of the future. Blood drips from the palace; in its chambers the Furies crouch; the murdered sons of Thyestes wail in its haunted courts; and ever among the visions of the past that one of the future floats and fades, clearly discerned, impossible to avert, the murder of a husband by a wife; and in the rear of that, most pitiful of all, the violent death of the seer who sees in vain and may not help. Between Cassandra and the Chorus it is a duet of anguish and fear; in the broken lyric phrases a phantom music wails; till at last, at what seems the breaking-point, the tension is relaxed, and dropping into the calmer iambic recitative, Cassandra tells her message in plainer speech and clearly proclaims the murder of the King. Then, with a last appeal to the avenger that is to come, she enters the palace alone to meet her death.--The stage is empty. Suddenly a cry is heard from within; again, and then again; while the chorus hesitate the deed is done; the doors are thrown open, and Clytemnestra is seen standing over the corpses of her victims. All disguise is now thrown off; the murderess avows and triumphs in her deed; she justifies it as vengeance for the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and sees in herself not a free human agent but the incarnate curse of the House of Tantalus. And now for the first time appears the adulterer Aegisthus, who has planned the whole behind the scenes. He too is an avenger, for he is the son of that Thyestes who was made to feed on his own children's flesh. The murder of Agamemnon is but one more link in the long chain of hereditary guilt; and with that exposition of the pitiless law of punishment and crime this chapter of the great drama comes to a close. But the "Agamemnon" is only the first of a series of three plays closely connected and meant to be performed in succession; and the problem raised in the first of them, the crime that cries for punishment and the punishment that is itself a new crime, is solved in the last by a reconciliation of the powers of heaven and hell, and the pardon of the last offender in the person of Orestes. To sketch, however, the plan of the other dramas of the trilogy would be to trespass too far upon our space and time. It is enough to have illustrated, by the example of the "Agamemnon," the general character of a Greek tragedy; and those who care to pursue the subject further must be referred to the text of the plays themselves.


Section 7. Comedy.

Even more remarkable than the tragedy of the Greeks, in its rendering of a didactic intention under the forms of a free and spontaneous art, is the older comedy known to us through the works of Aristophanes. As the former dealt with the general conceptions, religious and ethical, that underlay the Greek view of life, using as its medium of exposition the ancient national myths, so the latter dealt with the particular phases of contemporary life, employing the machinery of a free burlesque. The achievement of Aristophanes, in fact, is more astonishing, in a sense, than that of Aeschylus. Starting with what is always, prima facie, the prose of everyday life, its acrid controversies, its vulgar and tedious types, and even its particular individuals--for Aristophanes does not hesitate to introduce his contemporaries in person on the stage--he fits to this gross and heavy stuff the wings of imagination, scatters from it the clinging mists of banality and spite and speeds it forth through the lucid heaven of art amid peals of musical laughter and snatches of lyric song. For Aristophanes was a poet as well as a comedian, and his genius is displayed not only in the construction of his fantastic plots, not only in the inexhaustible profusion of his humane and genial wit, but in bursts of pure poetry as melodious and inspired as ever sprang from the lips of the lyrists of Greece or of the world. The basis of the comic as of the tragic art of the Greeks was song and dance; and the chorus, the original element of the play, still retains in the works of Aristophanes a place important enough to make it clear that in comedy, too, a prominent aspect of the art must have been the aesthetic appeal to the ear and the eye. In general structure, in fact, comedy and tragedy were alike; aesthetically the motives were similar, only they were set in a different key.

But while primarily Aristophanes, like the tragedians, was a great artist, he was also, like them, a great interpreter of life. His dramas are satires as well as poems, and he was and expressed himself supremely conscious of having a "mission" to fulfil. "He has scorned from the first," he makes the chorus sing of himself in the "Peace":

"He has scorned from the first to descend and to dip Peddling and meddling in private affairs: To detect and collect every petty defect Of husband and wife and domestical life; But intrepid and bold, like Alcides of old, When the rest stood aloof, put himself to the proof In his country's behoof."
[Footnote: Aristoph. Peace, 751 seq.--Translated by Frere.]

His aim, in fact, was deliberately to instruct his countrymen in political and social issues; to attack the abuses of the Assembly, of the Law-courts and the home; to punish demagogues, charlatans, professional politicians; to laugh back into their senses "revolting" sons and wives; to defend the orthodox faith against philosophers and men of science. These are the themes that he embodies in his plots, and these the morals that he enforces when he speaks through the chorus in his own person. And the result is an art-product more strange to the modern mind in its union of poetry with prose, of aesthetic with didactic significance, than even that marvellous creation, the Greek tragedy. Of the character of this comedy the reader may form an idea through the admirable and easily accessible translations of Frere; [Footnote: In Morley's Universal Library.] and we are therefore dispensed from the obligation to attempt, as in the case of tragedy, an account of some particular specimen of the art.


Section 8. Summary.

And here must conclude our survey of the character of Greek art. The main point which we have endeavoured to make clear has been so often insisted upon, that it is hardly necessary to dwell upon it further. The key to the art of the Greeks, as well as to their ethics, is the identification of the beautiful and the good; and it therefore is as natural in treating of their art to insist on its ethical value as it was to insist on the aesthetic significance of their moral ideal. But, in fact, any insistance on either side of the judgment is misleading. The two points of view had never been dissociated; and art and conduct alike proceeded from the same imperative impulse, to create a harmony or order which was conceived indifferently as beautiful or good. Through and through, the Greek ideal is Unity. To make the individual at one with the State, the real with the ideal, the inner with the outer, art with morals, finally to bring all phases of life under the empire of a single idea, which, with Goethe, we may call, as we will, the good, the beautiful, or the whole--this was the aim, and, to a great extent, the achievement of their genius. And of all the points of view from which we may envisage their brilliant activity none perhaps is more central and more characteristic than this of art, whose essence is the comprehension of the many in the one, and the perfect reflection of the inner in the outer.




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