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Chapter 13: Philosophy and Scepticism

Early philosophers — Age of Pericles — Religious reaction — Euripides — The Sophists.

THE beginnings of philosophy in Asia Minor and in Magna Graecia had exercised no direct influence at Athens, except so far as we may suppose that minds such as that of Aeschylus or of Sophocles or even Simonides may have gathered something indirectly from Ionia and Sicily, or that the Orphic theosophy contained an element which it had borrowed from some half-understood phase of incipient philosophy. The flower of the old mythology could not but fade, for it was a child of the twilight, and too fragile to endure the full light of awakening reflection. But beneath that many-coloured exuberance were the germs which I have tried to indicate of substantial thought—ideas which gradually came to ripeness in bold and reverent minds, eagerly persevering in the search for truth. It does not belong to the present work to examine into the purely philosophical aspect of those early thinkers, or to criticise the views that have been held concerning them; but it is a truth which cannot be too often insisted upon, though it is constantly lost sight of, that, as imagination comes before thought, so thought comes before logic, in the order of human development. If mistakes have been made by those who from Bacon to Hegel have felt their affinity with the great spirits of the past, and have coloured with their own reflections these anticipations of truth, there is also a danger lest, in rejecting their unverified appreciations, we should leave the first notions of that ‘stammering’ philosophy, as Aristotle happily described it, too bare and colourless, because they cannot be expressed in the terms of later systems. This would be an error like that of some theorists who, because Homer has only a few words for the infinite shades and hues of coloured objects, concluded that the ancients as compared with the moderns were colour-blind. If it be wrong to say that Thales or Anaximenes spoke the language of symbolism, because the symbol and the thing signified were to them inseparable, and they could not conceive the universe apart from some imaginary object of perception, it is equally wrong to take that sensuous image to have been all in all to them, or to deny that it was the vehicle of a deeper meaning. Even Aristotle could not conceive of divine thought or energy except as moving in a circle, or of the divine nature apart from the form of a sphere. It may be impossible to draw out in modern language the significance of the few great words, spoken with intense vehemence, in which the first philosophers put forth their conceptions, and yet they are alive and palpitating with significance even for us at the present day. We have here to deal, however, not with philosophical tendencies as such, but with the religious aspect of the pregnant thoughts through which they were conveyed. For to speak of the early philosophers as irreligious would be an abuse of language. Some of them thought slightingly enough of the form of religion which existed amongst their countrymen. Nothing can be more sweeping than Xenophanes' remarks on anthropomorphism, or the saying of Heraclitus about expiatory sacrifice; but they did not set themselves openly to denounce traditional customs, and amidst the social and individual freedom which existed on the Asiatic seaboard (p. 115), they were tolerated as perhaps they would not have been tolerated at Athens in the days of Cimon. Meanwhile they were themselves impelled by what was essentially a religious spirit, different indeed from that of priest or soothsayer, but also deeper and more enduring. It was not a dead universe of which they sought to give an account. Thales, who spoke the first word that implied a universal principle, and so laid the corner stone of science, was also the author of the saying ‘that all things are full of gods.’ Xenophanes had said or sung ‘one god is highest both in heaven and earth; unlike to mortals both in form, and mind; all sight, all thought, all hearing.’ He does not deny the plurality of gods, but asserts the supremacy of one, whose transcendent being cannot be represented in a human form. Heraclitus, who in making fire the primordial element resolved the universe into a process of energy in harmony with law, said also ‘that which ever wills to be expressed and yet will never be expressed, is the name of Zeus, the supreme god.’ Religious thoughts which are at least latent in Heraclitus, if not explicit, are the relativity of evil, and its necessity as the condition of good; the universality of truth, in which opposing elements co-exist in ultimate harmony; and in a vague pantheistic sense, the unreality of death. ‘There await men after death,’ he says, ‘things other than what they look for or expect.’ ‘It is not good for men to get what they desire; sickness brings health after it, hunger satisfaction, weariness repose.’ He sought to awaken his disciples to the conception of a moving world encompassing them, and full of vitality, in contemplating which the mind awakes from stagnation and from the sleep of sense, and ranges the pure dry element above the mists of earth, the waters of forgetfulness, the cold obstruction of the nether ground. The ‘dry soul’ is exempt from narrow personal views, and bounded only by universal law. ‘We can speak with confidence,’ he says, ‘only while we follow that thought which comprehends all things, even as the law of the state controls the citizens, only much more firmly. All human laws are fed by the one divine law, which prevails as far as it chooseth, and is adequate and more than adequate to every need.’ ‘The universal soul is infinite, you may travel every way and never find the end.’ (Compare the words of Zophar in the Book of Job: ‘It is as high as heaven: what canst thou do? deeper than hell: what canst thou know?’) The phrase ‘dry light of intellect,’ which Bacon has made proverbial, was borrowed from Heraclitus.

Parmenides, the founder of that opposition between being and not-being which made logic possible and indirectly also physical science, asserted with the energy of a Hebrew prophet the eternal fulness of that supreme substance or existence which is one with thought. I will not here discuss his philosophy, but rather dwell on the fervid enthusiasm with which he proclaimed it. For if wonder, as Plato and Aristotle both say, is the beginning of philosophy, the combination of awe with eager boldness, which characterises these utterances, contains in it an essential element of religion. To illustrate this I will first quote the prelude of his great poem:

Ye steeds that bear me, ye that bore me then,

When I assayed the path of wisdom's way,

Straining the yoke;—the daughters of the sun,

Rending the veils from off their temples fair,

Were leading us from darkness into light,

To where the gates which sever night from day,

Stand o'er the threshold; held by Righteousness.

Whom then the maidens, with caressing speech,

Persuaded to draw back the massive bolt;

Then through that yawning gateway flew my car

Led by those maids on the direct forth-right.

The goddess took my hand and spake to me,

‘Hail, youth! no evil destiny hath brought

Thy car this way—far from the track of man.

For 'tis thy blessed fate to learn all Truth,

Truth sound of heart, convincing, unreproved;

And also to discern the thoughts of men,

Deceiving and unprovable, that so

With understanding thou mayest guide thy way.

This contempt for ordinary thinking is a note which is common to all the early philosophers, especially to Parmenides and Heraclitus:—

All speech and thought must hold that Being is,

Not-Being is Nought. Mark that, and turn thy mind

Away from following that path: and then

Avoid this also, on which ignorant men

Are wandering ever with divided brain,

Helpless, distraught, deaf, blind, amazed and dumb.

To be and not to be to them are one

And diverse, so perverse are all their ways.

I will quote one more passage in which Parmenides, with prophetic fervour, declares the attributes of his supreme being:

'Tis all alike and undivided still,

Continuous all throughout; in equal strength;

All full of being; indiscerptible;

For Being touches Being everywhere.

Unmoved, in limits of eternal bonds,

It is—without beginning, without end.

Growth and decay are banished far away,

Driven off by proofs irrefragable and sure.

Ever the same, abiding in the same,

In its own place it rests immovable.

Sovereign necessity holds it in strict bonds,

And keeps it in all round. Being cannot be

Unlimited: for nothing can it lack.

Were it not-being, it had lacked of all.

That which characterised the religious consciousness of all these early thinkers was pantheism, not theosophic or mystical, as in the Orphic teacher, but philosophic and speculative. Anaxagoras of Clazomenae approached even more nearly to what we understand by monotheism; for in setting mind over against the elements which it informed and regulated, he asserted the supremacy of a spiritual principle, uncreated, invisible, and eternal. To ordinary Greek intelligence this assertion seemed blank atheism, because denying the divinity of what was visible and material, such as the orb of the sun.

When Pericles was at the height of his power, in what Thucydides describes as a democracy in form, but in reality a rule of the chief citizen, distinguished foreigners were glad to be invited to form part of the inner circle surrounding him. Aspasia, the illuminata, had probably some influence in promoting this. Amongst these visitants was Anaxagoras, who had uttered the last word of the Ionian school. His visit was like the letting in of waters. The full stream of Ionian culture, imperfectly realised, was poured upon sensitive minds in a condition of abnormal activity. The result was an access of enlightenment resembling the Aufklärung which preceded the French Revolution, and equally with that to be followed shortly by a religious reaction or fanatic outburst. While these elements were fermenting there began the great interhellenic conflict, in which the two chief powers of Hellas were to exhaust each other. The invasion of Athenian territory and the desolating effects of the plague at once reinforced the scepticism of strong minds, and drove the weak into wilder superstition. What is most hard to realise is that intermediate mental condition, perhaps the commonest of all, in which sceptical doubts and questionings grew side by side with religious anxieties and an increasing scrupulosity of observance. Such mingled states of faith and unbelief are frequent amongst ourselves, and yet thought sometimes refuses to admit their possibility. For there is a curious fallacy to which many persons in an intellectual age are liable: that of supposing that a mental attitude which is inconsistent or self-contradictory is inconceivable and therefore impossible. Whereas the possibility of the phenomenon is proved by its actual frequency. That such mingled states of mind existed actually at Athens at the time I speak of, is manifest in every page of Euripides. Even in the last plays of Sophocles there are not wanting touches in which such fin de siècle moods are reflected.

Let us first look at the contradiction between the facts of experience and traditional feeling, which is implied in that opposition of the just to the expedient so familiar to the readers of Thucydides. The colonist felt it right to support the mother state; to this he was bound by religious sanctions of the most stringent kind; but under the stress of circumstances these bonds were repeatedly loosened or broken through, when it appeared that prudence dictated the alliance of the daughter community with some stronger power. Thus simple piety was overborne by enlightened policy, and the prudence of such a course was proved by its success.

This is one of several rhetorical antinomies, of which the advocates of this or that course of action availed themselves, and it was now that the art of speaking came to be recognised as a source of power and instrument of ambition, and as such reacted on contemporary thought. The ascendency of Pericles was largely due to his highly cultivated gifts as a rhetorician. If any of the speeches ascribed to him by Thucydides truly report him, he had learned much in this respect from the rhetors of Sicily. So brilliant an example could not but be followed by others, whose ability was not always guided, as his had been, by a single aim for the good of the state. The advocates in the law courts and speakers in the assembly soon became aware that, as Protagoras of Abdera taught, every question admits of two lines of argument opposed to one another. The position of Athens as a tyrant state began to warp the sincerity of her goodwill towards those allies who had at first joined with her to defend Hellas from the barbarian. Thus old beliefs and rules of conduct were undermined, while no commanding spirit had as yet arisen to point the way towards a more comprehensive ideal. Action was determined at one time by the impetuosity of passion, at another by acute reasonings about the necessities of the hour. Pericles had advised the war, but he was no longer there to direct the conduct of it; had his life been prolonged he might have repented of having launched his countrymen on a course that could not but develop into one of ruinous ambition. The extraordinary fund of energy and resource which lay at the disposal of the state concealed even from her wisest citizens the hollowness of the motives which had prompted it. The Athens of that day was profoundly conscious of the obligation of the allies to her, but thought less of her obligation to the allies, or of the promises and professions under which the confederacy had at first been formed.

Meanwhile, the popular religion seems to have had only the effect of intensifying the passions of the people. The priesthood saw their opportunity in the anxiety and alarm which the plague, the repeated invasions, and the loss of valuable lives had awakened in many minds, and they used their power to counteract the tendencies which they regarded as hostile to religion. The embitterment of the last days of Pericles by the prosecution of his friends, Aspasia and Pheidias, the expulsion of Anaxagoras, and the like, although only known to us from comparatively late authorities, may be taken as a clear indication of the violence of this reaction. The laws against impiety were maintained in their full strength, and men suspected of irreligious acts were virtually excommunicated. They could not assist at any sacred function, such as the Eleusinian mysteries, except at the peril of their lives. This bore hardly upon those who in their early youth, had been led by the champions of enlightenment to mock at sacred things, but who, as they advanced in years, felt the need of religious sympathy and the support of those common acts of worship which their fathers had shared, and in which those most near and dear to them profoundly believed. The danger of impiety was, of course, greatly aggravated by the fact that in the popular belief the very existence and safety of the state, the growth of the harvest and of the vintage, the fertility and soundness of the race depended upon the right performance of certain acts of worship. Thus the spirit of fanaticism when once awakened was ruinous to all who defied it, and the danger was greatest in moments of popular excitement; for example at that great moment, the turning point of the Athenian fortunes, when the ill-fated expedition, so brilliant at the outset, was on the point of sailing for Sicily. Then came fixe mutilation of the Hermae and the panic that followed. Although some features of that strange incident must ever remain obscure, the attentive study of what is known of it is essential to a right understanding of the general condition of thought and feeling with reference to religion in the later years of the fifth century—the last decade but one before the death of Socrates.

The views of the ordinary Athenian of this time as to the supposed motives of divine powers may be illustrated by some quotations from the prose literature of the day.

1. Andocides had been accused of acts of impiety in regard to the mysteries several years before. He had been in exile since the time referred to, and was allowed to return, but his enemies refused to let the matter sleep. Here is the argument by which he tried to persuade his hearers that Demeter and Persephone were not angry with him. ‘My accusers would have you believe that the gods have brought me safely hither over seas that I might be condemned by you.’ (We are reminded of the belief that one who is saved from drowning is reserved for the gallows.) ‘But I, Athenians, do not think thus of the gods; if they felt that I had wronged them, when they had caught me in the midst of dangers they would then have taken their revenge. What danger is greater than a sea voyage in winter-time? Then they had power over my person, my life, and property, and they preserved me. Could they not have even prevented me from obtaining decent burial? Moreover, it was a time of war, and there were warships and pirates then at sea, by whom many have been caught and lost their all, and dragged out their life in slavery; there were also barbarous shores, where many ere now, having been cast, away, have been involved in torture and indignities even to the mutilation of their persons before death. Out of so many and great dangers the gods preserved me in order, as my accusers say, that Cephisios, the vilest of Athenians, should be their vindicator, an Athenian citizen in profession, not in reality, whom not one of you would entrust with anything of his own, because you know his character. For my part, sirs, I think such dangers as I now am in are human dangers, but those upon the sea are divine. If, then, it is right to speculate about the motives of the gods, I think they would be very angry and indignant if they saw those whom they had preserved destroyed by men.’

2. The following are the words in which Nicias, the most pious of the Athenians, tries to revive the hopes of the remainder of his army in their extremity after the disaster before Syracuse. He has a fatal disease upon him, but still leads his army.

‘Even now, Athenians and allies, you ought to hope. Others have been saved out of greater perils than surround us now. Do not think too slightingly of your remaining strength, either by reason of our disaster or of our present miseries, which you feel to be undeserved. Look at me, who am weaker than any of you, for you see how I am distressed by my disease. I have been counted fortunate exceedingly, both in my own career and in my public acts, and now I am in the same suspense of danger with the meanest of you. Yet the course of my daily life was full of religious observances, and I have been just and unoffending towards men. Wherefore I have still a confident hope of what is to be, although our disasters so far beyond our deserts are indeed terrifying. But maybe they will grow lighter, for the fortune of our enemies has reached the full, and if our expedition, so brilliant at the outset, provoked the envy of some one of the gods, surely we have already paid sufficiently for our pride; we are not the first who have been aggressors against a neighbouring power: it was a human error for which other men have not suffered beyond endurance, and we may reasonably hope that the hand of God upon us will be gentler than it has been. They cannot envy us now, but must rather pity us.’

In both these passages, which are couched in the language of contemporary piety, the gods are spoken of, not individually, but generally, and Nicias speaks once of God in the singular. This shows that the generalising movement, which tended to obliterate sharp distinctions between different deities, had influenced common language; but it is equally clear that such grand conceptions of the divine action as those to which Aeschylus and Sophocles had given shape were far from having effectually permeated the public mind.

On the other hand, the arguments of Andocides reflect a condition of popular belief which has been unconsciously modified by the reasonings of enlightened persons.

An important solvent, both of religious and moral continuity, was the violence of faction, and the activity of political societies within the state. The effects of this are described by Thucydides in speaking of the Corcyrean sedition, in language so admirably chosen that it would be a pity to paraphrase it. I give it here in Professor Jowett's translation:

‘Revolution brought upon the cities of Hellas many terrible calamities, such as have been and always will be while human nature remains the same, but which are more or less aggravated and differ in character with every new combination of circumstances…The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing…The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood, because a partisan was more ready to dare without asking why (for party associations are not based upon any established law, nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest). The seal of good faith was not divine law, but fellowship in crime…Neither faction cared for religion; but any fair pretence which succeeded in effecting some odious purpose was greatly lauded. And the citizens who were of neither party fell a prey to both; either they were disliked because they held aloof or men were jealous of their surviving…When men are retaliating upon others, they are reckless of the future, and do not hesitate to annul those common laws of humanity to which every individual trusts for his own hope of deliverance should he ever be overtaken by calamity; they forget that in their own hour of need they will look for them in vain.’ Thucydides iii. chap. 82–84.

The tendency of religion to become the tool of politicians, which is visible in Hellenic life from the first page of the Iliad, was naturally much aggravated in the Athens of this period. The party of enlightenment and progress was perpetually hampered and tripped up by reactionary conspiracies. It will be remembered that at Athens more than elsewhere certain priesthoods were hereditary in great families, such as that of the Eumolpidae, who were naturally prepossessed against religious change. Their influence worked on the superstition of the people, while the democratic leaders were equally unscrupulous in branding their opponents with impiety. Religion in the time of Socrates was altogether in a bad way. And yet a singlehearted devotion to the state upheld many a noble career.

To follow private interests, apart from the state, was a course which inevitably led to moral disaster. How completely morality for the average human being was bound up with the state is shown by a signal example in the case of Phrynichus, the Athenian general. In the earlier part of his career he was a noble servant to the Athenians, but when once exiled, and without a country, he broke down into utter unscrupulosity. In him, as in Hippias and Alcibiades, the love of the country which he had lost took the form of an endeavour to regain her by foul means. Nothing can more evince the need of a moral sanction transcending the narrow limits of the Greek community and linking the individual to the whole race of men. The great work of Thucydides, on the other hand, shows how a mind of exceptionally strong temper and essential dignity could retain its integrity, even when deprived of native country, while contemplating human affairs with an interest not less profound because detached from partial views, and subordinating present interests to a forecast of futurity. Whether his failure to save Eïon, which led to his banishment, was in any degree influenced by some natural care for his possessions further eastward in Thrace, we cannot know. But in his twenty years of exile his noble employment of that enforced leisure has earned him the gratitude of mankind. An adherent of Pericles when at the height of his power, he had shared to the full those intellectual novelties then so rife in Athens; but they had cleared his mind without enfeebling it, and unlike Themistocles, whose practical philosophy enabled him to adapt his way of life to any environment in which he found himself, he held firmly by the resolution to make use of his singular opportunities for the lasting benefit of Hellas, and of mankind at large. The most penetrating human sympathy was combined in him with a dry light of unembarrassed observation, or to use the phrase of Matthew Arnold, with ‘disinterested objectivity.’

A slave to no illusions, he sought for truth in the direct and simple record of facts laboriously ascertained, and through their help he obtained a grasp of the universal springs of human action which no preconceived theory or traditional doctrine could have given him. The contemporary of Socrates, he shows no trace of Socratic influence, and, indeed, he was absent from Athens during the greater part of the time when that strange personality was most prominent there. He has shown us many things, but amongst the lessons of his history, perhaps none is more valuable or convincing than the proof which it contains of what may be achieved by sheer strength of character and force of intellect in an age of confusion, while other men are the victims of passion and prejudice, and amidst the decay of old beliefs are distracted by the want of higher guidance:

The rudder of their course is gone, or only points in vain

The shore to which their shattered sail shall never make again.

For the condition of ordinary minds during this period of transition we must look to the early orators and to Euripides. The inscriptions also afford some guidance, but they only prove the scrupulosity with which, amidst all changes, ancient forms were maintained. Religious anxiety went hand in hand with doubt as to the substance of religion. In reading the orators one is struck by the frequency with which religious topics are brought in, the appeal to the sanction of the oath, to the authority of the legislator, to the sacredness of use and wont, to the fear of what the gods may do. Yet one feels that the speakers protest too much, that whichever side is the gainer in some disputed cause there must have been a good deal of perjury in the case and a good deal of secret contempt of things divine. In regard to religion the orators are chiefly valuable as showing what institutions were still in green observance, what notions had still a hold on the popular belief.

Euripides is an excellent witness if well employed, but the interpretation of his evidence requires unusual care. He is an artist and a poet, and in applying his words to any purpose one must know beforehand the conditions of his art. Now this is a subject on which there is still a good deal of dispute. Euripides is not only a poet but, like Edmund Spenser, a poet's poet, the favourite of Milton, of Goethe, and of Robert Browning, or perhaps one should rather say of Mrs. Barrett Browning, whose taste inspired the author of ‘Balaustion.’ And yet to the critic who approaches him in the expectation of finding the perfection of tragedy his work appears full of flaws, answering rather to the conception of our modern melodrama. Some ingenious theories have lately been propounded to account for this. It is argued that so accomplished an artist in producing works so anomalous must have done so with profound design. The tragic poet was still, it is assumed, the teacher of his age; but the age could not bear the lesson which he desired to impart. He was therefore driven to insinuate this, under the ancient, forms, so moulding the legends as to make it manifest to the more intelligent amongst his countrymen that these forms were morally untenable and inconsistent with the highest notion of the divine, while they were yet so handled as to entertain the common herd and to excite their emotions. Something like this had occurred to Mr. Robert Browning, whose Balaustion sums up the lesson to be derived from the poet she admires by saying, ‘There are no gods, no gods; Glory to God, who saves Euripides!’ I venture to think that in all this the poet is taken too seriously. It appears to me that in the latter part of the fifth century, no longer the tragic poets, but the rhetorician and the sophist, were the acknowledged teachers of the age. Sophocles, while with rare adaptability conforming himself to the requirements of the time, still upheld a noble standard of true piety, conveying moral lessons while retaining ancient forms in their integrity; but he belonged to the previous generation. The task of Euripides was rather to interest than to instruct. ‘What Plato calls the Theatrocracy or tyranny of the audience had already begun. The poet had not only to aim at producing an effect, as all dramatic poetry must, but he must produce the effect which the audience desired—like our fin de siècle politicians, watching how the cat would jump, and obtaining suffrages by catching at the passing breeze. Dramatic art was already sinking to the position described by Dryden, in which ‘those who lived to please must please to live.’ It is true that the tragic poet was still a sacred functionary, but we are approaching the time when priesthoods were bought and sold, and the price fixed by public edict, as we learn from inscriptions. Euripides stands, in fact, half way, or more than half, between the latest work of Aeschylus and the ‘Poetics’ of Aristotle, in which tragedy is regarded simply as a branch of ποιητική, with little reference to its religious origin.

We are told by the historians of Greek art that the vase-painter of this period is less serious than formerly in his rendering of legendary scenes, treating them rather as the vehicle for producing through some human group a beautiful or striking effect. Thus similar changes are observable in different regions of art. An apt illustration may be drawn from the Renaissance period of Italian painting, as compared with the deeper and simpler religious feeling of the preceding generation. Compare, for example, Paul Veronese with Giovanni Bellini or Cima da Conegliano; Guido or Correggio “with Giotto or Fra Angelico. Artistic convention, no less than religions prescription, confines the later artists within the same cycle of subjects; but in the handling of these, they assert their new-found liberty, and have descended from the type of superhuman holiness to the more familiar aspects of contemporary humanity. In Euripides the change is still greater, because of the more plastic nature of language, and the more intimate relation of the dramatic poet to a popular audience, which required him to adapt his work to the incongruous tastes of many sorts of persons at once.

But we are not to leap to the conclusion that the old traditions which are losing something of their reality are therefore consciously discarded and laughed to scorn. Men do not so easily divest themselves of the garments of the past; for a time at least they content themselves with shaping them anew, and patching them with vivid colours taken from present things. They do not at once realise that the new piece will rend the old; that the new wine will burst the outworn bottles. To ask whether Euripides believed in his version of the story of Orestes is like asking whether Milton believed in the fall of the rebellious angels, or Wagner in the Venusberg and the swan-chariot of Lohengrin. In popular belief the fables had still enough of substance and of actual hold to be accepted when embroidered afresh by the fancy of the poet, who, with his eye on present things, could give even ‘to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.’ This is not the place for a detailed discussion of the art of Euripides, which, as I have said, is more akin to melodrama, or at most to the romantic drama, than to tragedy, in the Aeschylean or Shakespearian sense; but the point of view I have indicated may enable us to glean from him something of the attitude of his contemporaries towards divine powers, and even of his own thoughts concerning them.

1. Men had begun to claim that the gods, if they existed, must make for righteousness, and in moments of despair they were prone to cry out, ‘This tyranny of iniquity proves that there is no God,’ They felt, also, at many points, the inconsistency of the old mythology with this requirement, and sought anxiously to find a reconcilement. The simple mind of Ion, a sort of Delphian Timothy or Samuel, is shocked by the discovery of Phoebus' apparent unfaithfulness. Yet the Delphic oracle maintains its authority, when merely human modes of divination are discredited. Thus the moralising of religious thought has begun, and men are half awakened to it, but they are at the same time eager to find a temporary resting-place in some superficial explanation.

2. The Orphic teaching is now less of a secret than at first, and has become a familiar fact of contemporary experience. Even the thought of a future life in the mystic sense is occasionally present. One who dies is said to have entered on a new phase of existence. Alcestis after death will be a blessed divinity (μάκαιρα δαίμων) to whom at her tomb the passers-by will pray. ‘The mind of the dead lives not but hath intelligence, being launched into the deathless aether’ (‘Hel.’ 1014).

3. How far the fusion of worships originally distinct had proceeded in the time of Euripides it is difficult to say. But there is hardly any limit to the freedom he assumes in combining kindred rites and weaving them into a single picture. There is a choral ode in the ‘Helena’ where the Greek captive maidens describe ‘the mountain mother of the gods’ as wandering in search of her lost mystic child (who has been rapt away from the cyclic dance). She is drawn by wild animals, surrounded with rattling castanets and Bacchic cries, and in her following is Artemis and Gorgo armed with the spear (Athena Gorgôpis). She passes the heights of Idaean nymphs (a Cretan touch), and the land is desolate because of her sorrow. Then Zeus sends the Graces and the Muses to allay her grief with the noise of cymbals and of timbrels; at the sound whereof Cyprian Aphrodite takes up the flute. After this description the Chorus proceed: ‘Sacrifice to the great mother, put on the fawn skin, take in hand the sacred reeds wound with green ivy, and Jet the booming of the rhombus fill the sky. Loose your hair wildly to Bacchus, keep nightlong vigil for the goddess’ (Cybele?). “What ritual answered to all this?

4. It is not to be supposed that the poet himself sets out with any consistent philosophical point of view. He is reported, indeed, by late writers to have been a friend of Socrates. But if he was one of the poets referred to in the ‘Apology,’ the friendship is not likely to have gone very deep, and we have the far better evidence of Plato for the existence of familiar intercourse between Aristophanes and Socrates, yet the comic poet was certainly not a Socratic philosopher. In adorning situations with reflections and observations suitable to them, or striking to the audience, Euripides often images forth to us contemporary modes of thought, just as Shakespeare has made use of the wit and wisdom of Montaigne. But that he does so more sympathetically when he asserts the just government of the supreme power, than when he complains of the blindness and cruelty of fortune, can hardly be maintained.

5. For his scepticism appears to me to be more profound than is commonly assumed. Aeschylus firmly believed in a divine order, fraught with blessings for those who sided with justice and maintained their integrity under trial. Sophocles, with equal firmness, upheld the supremacy of eternal laws of holiness and purity, the breach of which involved inevitable calamity; while for the innocent who suffered he foresaw divine compensation in another world. The bitter experience of the internecine warfare between Athens and Sparta had shaken the foundations of these beliefs. One fate appeared for the righteous and the wicked, for him that sacrificed and for him that sacrificed not. The cloud of pessimism, which the earlier tragedy in a somewhat struggling fashion had broken through, came down again with a more chilling power, because it seemed to be confirmed by the facts of life. The interference of the gods to bring disaster to a happy end, so often represented in Euripidean drama, had less reality, both for the poet and his audience, than the sorrowful complications which had preceded. It was a requirement of the contemporary stage, but had more to do with the framework than with the substance of the art. It was adapted to the weakness of those who could not bear a story to end badly, and may have led simple minds to ‘faintly trust the larger hope,’ but could leave no impression on the thoughtful spectator, compared to that of the troubles which had moved his sympathy.

6. These troubles came home to the audience all the more because they were such as occurred in daily experience. Under the transparent mask of Electra or Andromache, Peleus or Orestes, men saw themselves and their neighbours, in strange circumstances no doubt, but with the feelings, passions, reasonings and disputings of ordinary Athenian humanity. This effect was produced with an intimacy of realistic portraiture, which, more than anything in Euripides, is an evidence of commanding genius. The life of the Athenians during the whole time of the Peloponnesian war is as clearly visible in his pages as in those of Lysias and Andocides.

7. The life so represented is a strange mixture of nobleness and meanness, of tenderness and cruelty, of national prejudice with occasional gleams of an all-embracing humanity. We have only to compare Aeschylus's treatment of vanquished Persia with the invectives against Sparta in the ‘Andromache’; the pity for Xerxes with the hewing in pieces of Eurystheus by Alcmena, to appreciate the change which a few years of inter-Hellenic contention had produced in the Athenian mind. The pictures of domestic life are especially interesting. The troubles produced through any deflection from the strict law of monogamy, the rare but admirable virtues of continence and self-control, are exhibited in a manner which convinces us that the spread of licence in these respects, which marked this period of transition, had not corrupted the ideal of home affection and of personal purity. But revenge for individual wrongs is still regarded as a note of virtue and a ground for pride. In the emotions, characters and reasonings thus realistically depicted, while there is much that is specially Athenian, there is often something strangely modern. Persons who are impelled by passion and circumstance into some fatal action on insufficient motives hesitate long beforehand and repent immediately afterwards. This is utterly unlike the solidity of Aeschylean and Sophoclean dramatis personae. Both sides of some case of casuistry are carefully hammered out before a course is taken or a judgment pronounced. Local colour is minutely observed, and the phenomena of sickness, both of mind and body, are elaborately studied. These are the ‘touches of things common,’ of which Mrs. Browning spoke, but they do not altogether ‘touch the spheres.’

8. I have left myself but short space in which to speak of the most singular of the productions of Euripides, in a religious sense, and in some ways the most brilliant of his works, the play of the ‘Bacchantes.’ This goes beyond those ‘touches of things common’ which characterise what I have ventured to call the melodramatic manner of Euripides. The culminating motive, Agave returning in triumph from the unconscious murder of her son, is in all conscience tragic enough. But is the poet serious or ironical here? The meaning of the old legend must have been the power of Dionysus upon his enemies. The death of Pentheus had already been the subject of an Aeschylean drama; but in Aeschylus the play was one of a trilogy, and it was open to him, as in the Oresteia, to compensate the horror of this first advent of the new god with some gentler dénoûment in the concluding play. This does not seem to have been the case with Euripides. If he were serious, he must have simply intended to terrorise his audience into a revival of the worship which they were tempted to neglect. Such a motive would not be in accordance with the tenor of his other extant dramas. If, as has been supposed, the play was written for performance at the court of Archelaus, he may indeed have employed his genius in recommending to the Macedonians the revival of a worship once predominant in that northern region, or, as some have imagined, he may have repented of former impieties and thought it safer to propitiate Dionysus before leaving the world.

But let us suppose that his motive is ironical. Then the cruelty of Dionysus might be as effective in discrediting his worship for the enlightened auditor as his cowardice in the ‘Frogs’ of Aristophanes. But what then becomes of tragic effect? And one cannot but admit that there is a strain of seriousness in parts of the play, as in the passages which recommend a self-controlled enthusiasm which only vulgar minds confound with insobriety. ‘These are not drunken, as ye suppose.’ We are reminded of the curious juxtaposition of a gory mythology and ascetic practice in the Orphic religion. The puzzle remains, but belongs to what I venture to think the inherent inconsistency of Euripides, reflecting as he does the distracting influences of a time of transition. That the divine power of Dionysus should be asserted and at the same time his personal existence rationalised away is only too closely in keeping with what we find in the ‘Ion’ and other plays.

A partial clue to the difficulty may perhaps be found in the following considerations:

1. According to a tradition repeated by Herodotus, Bacchic rites were originally introduced by Melampus as a cure for some epidemic of mania or hysterics among women. This is one of many similar legends. The remedy was homoeopathic, to borrow a much abused word, curing like with like: an outlet for superabundant emotion, calming and purifying undue excitement, as in Aristotle's famous definition of tragedy.

2. The Orphic religion, which in the time of Euripides had become widely prevalent, was based in theory, as we have seen, on the most violent form of the Dionysiac myth, the tearing in pieces of Zagreus or of Phanes by the Titans. Yet the whole tendency of Orphism was to an ascetic life in which abstinence from animal food and from the slaughter of animals held a prominent place. The contradiction is a striking one, but is analogous to many other incidents in the gradual spiritualising of religion. I may instance the Epistle to the Hebrews, from which it appears that after the daily sacrifice had been discontinued the idea of sacrifice and of atonement through blood was dominant amongst the Jews of the dispersion.

3. In reviving the myth of Pentheus and thus emphasising the terrible power of a god whose worship was neglected, the tragic poet and sworn votary of Dionysus, by what may be described as a religious oxymoron or unresolved antinomy, encourages the belief in what Plato afterwards spoke of as divine madness, a temperate enthusiasm resulting not in vicious excesses but raising ordinary virtues to a higher power. (Compare ‘Is any among you merry, let him sing psalms.’)

4. This, however, I suppose him rather to have shadowed forth than consistently to have embodied in his drama. In dramatising the fable, he has been led onwards by the tragic motive to the development of the given situation apart from any moral, mystical or otherwise. The moralising as in his other plays is incidental and rather insinuated than expressed.

The old world was dying, the new world was not yet born. It was an age of intellectual growth, but of religious and in some degree also of moral decay. Yet humanising influences were at work, which were destined to have a far-reaching effect. The relation of the slave to his master was one, for example, on which a volume might be written: he is a chattel, and yet a human being, perhaps a captive prince, yet compelled to do another's bidding. The law requires that in the interest of justice he may be demanded for torture, yet bright examples of faithfulness and tenderness on both sides are not infrequent, although it is elsewhere taken for granted that slave nature is necessarily base and will always take the part of the latest master. The contrast of Hellene and barbarian is often emphasised with patriotic scorn,—‘the Greeks are freemen, in barbarous countries only one is free.’ Yet the conduct of Thoas and his obedience to Athena must be admitted to do him credit, and the spectator cannot but be sorry for Theoclymenus, the mild and ingenuous Egyptian, when he is over-reached by Hellenic cunning. Again the examples of self-devotion in Euripides, recurring as they do with almost monotonous frequency, belong to an ideal which had many counterparts in the actual life of the time. Altogether it was an age in which contradictory elements were fermenting together, which were afterwards separated,—the dregs of old tradition and convention still occupying the lower sphere, while exceptional minds were gradually shaping an ideal world of thought, which should have more lasting consequences than the round of commonplace observances which were continued even by those for whom they had lost their life and meaning.

No doubt it is possible, and would be more so if more of him had been preserved, to gather out of Euripides much of serious thought on religious subjects, as Bishop “Westcott has done, in the very able chapter on Euripides which he has published in his volume on ‘Religious Thought in the West.’ And it is only fair to the poet to credit him with sincerity, where the strain of reflection in him appears, deepest, as when Theonoë says, ‘I have within me, in my nature, a great temple of Justice.’ But in order to appreciate his spirit aright, it is necessary to break through the rule of criticism which bids us consider each great literary production as a whole. His best thoughts come in sudden flashes that surprise us out of dark places, amidst some thorny tangle of sophistry or verbal disceptation. One frequently recurring notion is that of the Aether, or Empyrean, which, with Euripides, as with the Aristophanic Socrates, often appears as the native home and nutriment of the human soul. ‘O mother earth, the wise of mortals call thee Hestia whose seat is in the sky.’

The influence of philosophy is perceptible, but in the secondary phase which is sometimes described as ‘theosophy.’ ‘The happiest man is he who contemplates the ageless order of immortal nature, and beholds how it is framed. The ruler of all things shall be worshipped, whether he chooseth to be named Zeus or Hades.’ Such vague beliefs have something of an Orphic colouring, and are not associated with philosophic speculation, which is scouted as a dangerous extravagance, not only by the chorus in the ‘Bacchae,’ but in many other places, for example in Fragment 969:—

‘Wretched and ill-starred is he, who, beholding these things, doth not perceive a god in them, and cast away from him the crooked deceits of theorisers, whose disastrous tongue throws out conjecture without sense about things unseen.’

Like other great poets Euripides reflects not always consistently the many-coloured atmosphere surrounding him, in which doubt and superstition were crossed with aspiration after better things, and imagination still played around the traditions of the past, remoulding them, and in the same act, melting them away or transfusing them with a light that was really alien to them. It has been sometimes said that religious music is the euthanasia of dogma; Euripidean poetry may be similarly described as the euthanasia of mythology. But the great influence which he exercised over later ages in Greece, evinced by the very frequent quotations from him, is enough to secure for him a lasting place amongst great poets. If his vision is often disturbed, it has gleams of a light beyond his age. And even his honest doubt claims respectful sympathy. For it carries with it the promise and the potency of a higher faith. He is oppressed with ‘the burden of the mystery,’ ‘the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world,’ yet at times he seems on the point of solving the great problem. It is a passing moment and associated with an unworthy desire of revenge, and yet a moment of true exaltation, in which Hecuba cries

O Earth's upholder that on earth dost dwell,

“Whate'er thy name, hard to be understood,

Zeus, or necessity of nature's course,

Or mind of mortals,—before thee I bow;

For on thy noiseless pathway thou dost guide,

As righteousness commands, all human tilings.

After the departure of Anaxagoras, whom they had not understood, the Athenians received the great doctrines of Heraclitus and Parmenides in a secondary phase from teachers whose aim was practical or even mercenary. In the first instance the interest they awakened came from the pleasure of keen discourse, and the practice thus obtained in public speaking, which was the way to power. The most intelligent of the Athenian youth, however, found a disinterested enjoyment in the novelty of abstract ideas, their oppositions and relations, which was an end in itself: while at the same time, the incessant activity of political and social life at Athens made it impossible that abstract thought should be long dissociated from actual reality. Protagoras of Abdera was the most prominent of the new teachers. In theology he professed himself what we should call an agnostic:—‘Concerning the gods, whether they are or are not, I refuse to say; there are so many things to hinder that knowledge; the matter is uncertain, and human life is short.’ He came from Abdera in Thrace, but if Plato is to be believed, he was in part a disciple of Heraclitus of Ephesus. This, however, may be only one of those combinations by which Plato indicates the manner in which he thinks philosophers ought to be grouped together. Yet, if an arbitrary combination, it is also a suggestive one. For the Heraclitean doctrine—that all is motion and transience, that nothing is but what immediately is not—has its human, application in the Protagorean doctrine of the relativity of truth. No statement can be held to absolutely; truth and goodness are alike matters of degree; human life, like animal and vegetable life, may be improved by circumstance and training, but there is no fixed standard; no irremovable good at which to aim. The man is the measure of truth, and custom is the only standard of virtue. This had its logical counterpart in the saying that about every matter there are two lines of argument, opposed to one another and equally tenable.

It is tolerably obvious how such theories might work upon minds prepared by those lessons of experience which are described above. Meanwhile Zeno, the younger friend of Parmenides, was amusing the finer intellects and sharpening the wits of youth, by his paradox supported with elaborate arguments, that Change and Motion were impossible; and Gorgias, from Leontini in Sicily, even at an earlier time, had impressed the Athenians with the stateliness of his antithetical style, imparting to them the graces of rhetoric, while professing a philosophy which was the negative counterpart of the great assertion of Parmenides. While Protagoras asserted the relative, Gorgias denied the absolute. Starting from a different point he came to a result hardly distinguishable from that of Protagoras, the incomprehensibility and the inexpressibleness of absolute being. The truth is that pure scepticism and pure transcendentalism continually pass over into each other; and something like this is really what Plato meant by his paradoxes in the ‘Parmenides.’ Thus what was most alive in the mental condition of the more enlightened Athenians in the time of Socrates was not the ritual, which the old priestly families sedulously maintained; nor the mythology, which, from being the expression of spiritual thought, was becoming merely the food of fancy and imagination; but a spirit of enquiry, keen and bold at the outset, and having as yet no clearly speculative aim; suspected by the older generation, but stimulated at once by sheer intellectual activity and by practical ambition. This last was for long the ruling motive, and philosophy, still immature, was in danger of being corrupted by it. John Selden has described the sacramentarian doctrine of the Middle Ages—the belief in Transubstantiation—as ‘Rhetoric turned into Logic’; the intellectual danger of the pre-Socratic age in Greece was that pure thought might be prematurely turned into rhetoric, and that logic might become a mere barren exercise in logomachy and verbal disputation. Sceptical doubts in matters of religion were threatening, as we should say in modern language, the very foundations of morality; for the ancestral laws and customs, whose sanction was religious, shared the suspicion which had begun to spread over religious convictions as hitherto received. Men had become aware of the variety and even contradictoriness of customs in different lands, and were not slow in drawing inferences. Yet amidst all these confusions, there was a spiritual force awakening that could not cease to work until it found a resting place. And while speaking of the great Sophists as forming a solvent of traditional morality, it is not implied that they were themselves conscious of an immoral tendency. The impression left upon the mind by the great figures of Hippias and Prodicus, imperfectly as we are able to distinguish them, and of Protagoras himself, is that of men who were seriously inclined to use their gifts for the improvement of their fellows. In recalling his hearers from convention to nature, Hippias, like Rousseau, believed himself to be inculcating a higher morality. The famous apologue of the Choice of Herakles, with which Prodicus is credited, was a permanent contribution to the literature of ethical exhortation. And Protagoras, even as Plato represents him, and probably more so in reality, presents the appearance of a moral teacher of no mean order. Meanwhile, the common morality was maintained, not without religious fervour, by the persistent teaching of Plato's dignified contemporary, Isocrates, ‘the old man eloquent,’ whom there is not room to consider at all worthily here.

In the intervals of the Peloponnesian war, as well as after its conclusion, when the democracy was restored and the aristocratic leaders retired to Eleusis, the lessening of interest in home politics turned the minds of cultivated persons towards foreign travel. They would thus be brought into contact with the original philosophies, which they had hitherto only known at second-hand. At Ephesus, Miletus, Elea, Thurii, Agrigentum, Syracuse, Tarentum they would find the actual disciples of the various schools. We may therefore now divert our thoughts from Athens for a while and look once more at other centres, where this love of truth for its own sake had sprung up and flourished in the preceding century. The Pythagorean league had been broken up long since, but the school scattered over the towns of Italy and Sicily had rather gained in influence when the political association was no more. Pythagoreanism had two sides, which seem hard to reconcile, and which perhaps at the time now spoken of were represented by different sections of the professing followers of the sage. 1. There was the mystical and ascetic doctrine, closely allied, as before said, to Orphism, and depending on the belief in immortality and transmigration. 2. There was the mathematical and scientific learning pursued in reliance on the first principle of the master, that ‘number is the world.’ Philolaus combined both these aspects by teaching that the soul is a harmony, which, as Plato shows in the ‘Phaedo,’ is an insecure foundation for the belief in an existence after death. The two sides are also linked together in the use of music as a means of religious purification. This notion still retained much of the formalism of a magical rite, and had little as yet of a really exalted morality; but it prepared a mould into which Plato's moral teaching could afterwards be poured. It is not to be forgotten that the Pythagoreans are credited with the scheme, already traceable in Pindar and afterwards adopted by Plato, of the four cardinal virtues. Nor was their ethical doctrine, negative as it may seem to us, by any means barren of great exemplars of true nobleness. Virtue, as we may remember, was described by the Pythagoreans, not only as the harmonising of life, but as the ‘following of God.’ In the scientific theory also, and its applications to cosmogony and psychology, much was crude and imperfect; but just as alchemy prepared the way for scientific chemistry, while it gave occasion to much quackery and self-deception for a time; and as the worship of Asclepius gave rise both to the science of medicine and to many forms of mere empiricism and imposture: so the Pythagorean school, while on the one hand degenerating into wild fancies about the occult virtue of numerical ratios and the like, was also the ground on which the true science of Archytas, Euclides, Hipparchus, and Archimedes built their enduring monuments. Meanwhile, the ideas of harmony, rhythm, proportion, symmetry, and of orderly evolution, in all their various applications, had become an inalienable heritage for mankind. This notion of the applicability of number and measure to all things is one of those anticipations of truth, which, as afterwards enforced by Plato and formulated by Aristotle, have obtained a fixed place in the development of thought, and are apt to seem to us mere truisms or original elements in the constitution of the human mind. If they have since been abundantly verified, that is not a ground for detracting from the merit of those who first clearly conceived them.

The strange and wonderful career of Empedocles of Agrigentum is a most striking example of the influence which could be exerted in Sicily and Magna Graecia, in the fifth century, by one who to a fervent belief in himself and his own destiny, and an irresistible impulse to excite and elevate mankind, drew from Pythagoreanism its magical power of forming men's lives anew, and from the Ionian philosophers, theoretic conceptions concerning the nature of things. The two elements are doubtless inconsistent, but when fused by his genius into a whole, they assured for him an ascendency over his compatriots, of a kind that is unique in Greek history. His bold assertion of his own immortal destiny raised not only wonder but a desire to follow him. And though he passed like a comet across the stage of Sicilian life, he could not fail to leave traces of spiritual influence behind him. His resolution of the universe into four elements,—earth, water, air, and fire, although in a manner borrowed from the Ionians, is memorable as having stamped itself on common language; and his employment of the principles of love and hate, or in colder words, of attraction and repulsion, as the efficient causes of natural phenomena, is also the anticipation of much that has been fruitful in subsequent philosophy. One of Matthew Arnold's early poems represents him in the hour before his tragical end; but as usual with this poet and thinker, the thread of the discourse ascribed to the Sicilian sage is strongly tinged with stoicism. Instead of quoting Matthew Arnold, therefore, I will make a few extracts from the genuine fragments of this strangely inspired being. Although they are meant to be an expression of universal truths, the form of them is full of what may be described as a noble Ego-mania.

1. ‘Human birth is one of a series of transmigrations which are the punishment of some original sin.

‘When one of the blessed has incurred bloodguiltiness, he must wander thirty thousand years away from blessedness, passing through all forms of mortal life: so now I am a wanderer and banished from heaven, a victim of the principle of strife…’ ‘Oh, from what a place of pride and high renown I fell to move amongst mankind!…I wept and wailed when I beheld the region in which I was a stranger…this joyless place, where hate and murder and many forms of death and dire diseases and corruption flow. Here wander we up and down the dark valley of disaster.’

2. ‘Friends who inhabit lofty Akragas, industrious in good works, receiving strangers, all hail! I come amongst you all, a god, immortal, not a mortal any more, but honoured as is meet with crowns and garlands; and when I come to any thriving town, both men and women reverence me, and follow in countless numbers, asking me the way to happiness and wealth; some for true oracles, some to heal disease when racked with tedious torments and with agonies. They learn from me the beauteousness of Truth.’

3. ‘It cannot be that one and the same thing is lawful in one city, and forbidden to others; but universal law stretches throughout the widely ruling sky and the immeasurable beam of light.’

The travelled Athenian would therefore find in his converse with the men of Italy and Sicily much to stimulate that intellectual wonder which is the parent of true philosophy. He would be led back from the ingenious paradoxes of Zeno to the words of Parmenides, conveying deep thoughts in poetic language, which would be a revelation to him, though he could not fathom their full significance. On the Asiatic shore, again, he might mingle with the little band of the adherents of Cratylus, who was expounding the dark sayings of Heraclitus to an enthusiastic audience. Their extravagances would at once amuse and interest him.

To puzzle him still further, he might come across adherents of the early atomistic school, whose scepticism as to sensible phenomena was as profound as that of any philosopher, but who believed themselves to have reached reality, to have got down to the granite as it were, by asserting that the world was made of irreducible, solid particles, moving in a void. The penetrating mind of Leucippus in dwelling upon the Eleatic philosophy, as represented by Melissus and Zeno, conceived the germinal idea of accounting for difference and relation through a primordial reality of two elements, the atom and the void. This thought was developed by his followers, including Democritus, into a consistent theory of perception and the object of perception. Mechanics thus became for them the basis of universal science. Their first motive, however, was controversial. Heraclitus had said ‘the non-existent is: all is and is not at once.’ Parmenides had asserted the absolute fulness of one Being, which is all in all. The atomists declared reality to consist of Being and not-Being in combination, of fulness and emptiness together. That conception, in a scientific sense, was the most fruitful of all, although it was lightly passed over or contemptuously ignored by Plato. Democritus was almost his contemporary; hence perhaps the impersonal manner of his rare allusions to him.

Once more our Athenian traveller might find himself in the Dorian island of Cos, amongst the worshippers of Asclepius, and might chance to come across the great Asclepiad who was destined to become famous as Hippocrates and had actually visited Athens. Here was an entirely independent origin of scientific thought, immediately based upon religion, and associated with practical life. It was a science relying on tradition, but on tradition concurrently with experience, and perpetually revised and corrected by fresh observation and investigation. ‘Life is short, art is long, opportunity flies, and judgment is hard’: so runs the foremost aphorism of Hippocrates. In the body of writings which pass under his name, there is much that is of later growth, and in his genuine work there are no doubt many theories, traditional illusions and rash anticipations which have been since exploded; but the spirit of the whole is that of observation, patiently conducted, cautiously generalised, and conscientiously recorded. There is no reason to suppose that the central conception of Nature was derived by Hippocrates from the Ionian physiologers. The connotation of the word was probably different for him and for them. As Professor Burnet has shown, the early Ionians in speaking of the ‘nature of things’ meant rather the substance whereof they are made than a process of growth or manner of becoming: although in Heraclitus the two notions seem to coincide. Nature in Hippocrates is rather the modus operandi, the process to be investigated, which goes on independently of human thought and action, but, when closely followed and understood, becomes the secret of right treatment and successful cure. This is not a borrowed notion, but rather what we may venture to call, in modern language, an original induction. And with all his untrammelled zeal of investigation, he never departs from an essentially religious standing-ground. He is the author of the great saying, as true for our generation as his own, ‘I believe these affections to be divine, as I do all other; no one affection is more divine or more human than any other, but all alike are both human and divine; each having its own nature, and none arising but in the way of nature.’ Any one who compares this saying with the passage from Andocides above quoted (p. 298) will see at once how far Hippocrates was in advance of the average Athenian mind. Plato himself was for a while impressed with the genius of Hippocrates, and sought to transfer his method from physical to mental philosophy.

If we now suppose our travelled Athenian to return to Athens, he will find Socrates there, towards the close of his career, in the city which he has never left, and to which he has devoted his life, still busied in awakening his compatriots to a line of enquiry at first sight very different from those hitherto described, and standing in no relation to them; but destined by and by, through the genius of Plato, to be interwoven with almost all of them, and to interpenetrate them with a new spiritual force.