You are here

Chapter 8: Pindar and Herodotus

HELLENIC life and culture in the broadest sense during the early years of the fifth century B.C. are mirrored for us with considerable fulness, together with much that had preceded, in the Epinikian odes of Pindar, and in the histories of Herodotus. A few of Pindar's extant songs are perhaps earlier than the struggle with Persia, but the great bulk of those that remain are subsequent to that event, and, though not referring to it explicitly except here and there, their interest is heightened by the general sense of added glory and security which now pervaded the Grecian name. Though his allusions are marked with severe reserve, ‘to tie up envy evermore enlarged,’ the poet had evidently some feeling of what was involved in the heroic action of Sparta, Athens, and Aegina. He comprehends in his wide-sweeping glance, from an aristocratic and conservative point of view, all that was most significant in the political movements that were at work, from Thessaly to Cyrene. He thus enables us to gauge the level to which Greek thought and feeling rose at this time, elsewhere than in Athens. In poetising men's beliefs, his genius sublimates them into a vehicle for consolation or admonition. The fluidity of Greek mythology and legend makes this possible without any consciousness of violent or abrupt modification. Pindar cannot be fully understood without taking into account the mystical and also the philosophic movements briefly touched in the preceding chapter. We note in him therefore a phase of feeling and reflection on the highest themes, in which an incipient rationalism is consistent with the heartiest faith and reverence.

Pindar was a Theban, and although when occasion calls for it he duly recognises the great achievements in which Thebes was prevented by her rulers from taking part, it is not without surprise that on a survey of his odes we find so little reference either to Athens or Sparta. The victory of Megacles celebrated in the sixth Pythian was gained in the year of the battle of Marathon, and the chief historical allusion in it is to the renewal of the temple at Delphi by the Alcmaeonidae. The second Nemean is in honour of Timodemus, whose fathers came from Salamis, and the only trace of the battle is that Athens is spoken of as ‘great.’ Even here Marathon seems to be known to Pindar chiefly as a place where annual games were held.

In selecting Pindar and Herodotus as representing the transition period of which the pivot was the Persian war, we are the more fortunate in that Pindar on the whole reflects the conservative, Herodotus the progressive spirit of the time. Both are pan-Hellenic, and the period to which they belong was one in which the Hellenic name came nearer than before or afterwards to harmonious unity. But broadly speaking Pindar is Achaean and Dorian, or rather simply Greek, while Herodotus is virtually an Ionian and a frank admirer of Athens. Pindar also appreciates the great deeds of Athens, but holds them in the balance with those of Pausanias and of Theron; Herodotus too is ready to speak of the victory at Plataea as the fairest which any general ever won, but he does not conceal his hearty friendship for the Athenian people, nor the value which he sets on the liberty which they enjoyed. In reading Pindar, as has often been observed, we breathe an aristocratic atmosphere, and are in constant intercourse with the scions of great houses in whom the blood of gods still flows. The men who are celebrated in the Epinikian odes are mostly descendants either of Herakles, or of Cadmus through the Aegeidae, or of Apollo. The Aeolian and Lydian elements in his music tend to soften a little his Dorian exclusiveness and austerity, but the loftiness of his air throughout has a twofold source, the pride of genius, and the pride of race. That is his attitude towards the world at large, but the stores of legend and of earlier mythology, which it had been his cue to master, are handled by him not only with unwavering reverence but with a freedom inspired by ruling ideas, drawn partly from a wide experience and partly from the genius of Greek thought, which had now reached an advanced stage of reflection.

The singer is closely associated with great families and with the priesthood; yet his mind is not made rigid or conventional as one might expect. The expansiveness of the Greek intellect asserts itself afresh, and the spirit of the poet moves along a higher plane than that of the traditions which afford the material for his art. He shrinks from attributing to the gods any motive that in human life would involve the charge of meanness. Not Hera but Themis is, in his mythology, the first bride of Zeus and mother of the Hours, because Themis is the goddess of law and order, and supreme over the Dorian states. It is observable that while the gods, in his poetry, retain all the fulness of individual life, the generalised use of θεός for a divine being occurs in him more frequently than heretofore. The lives of heroes, including Herakles, are celebrated in such a way as to insinuate some lesson suitable to the character and circumstances of the person for whom the ode is written, and towards whom the poet bears himself with the dignity of a friendly monitor, as well as with the most penetrative and delicate sympathy. Moderation is constantly inculcated. Patience and hope, quietness and confidence, fear of the gods, the avoidance of envy even while contemning it, the changefulness of life, in which a single achievement may compensate for much labour and trial, are other thoughts repeatedly suggested. ‘Excellence’ (ἀρετή) is a word of constant recurrence, and in Pindar may be generally rendered ‘splendid achievement.’ Intrinsic worth, rather than meritorious service, is the leading thought. The aim continually set before the athlete is that of equalling or surpassing the excellence of his sires. Sometimes it is that of restoring the reputation of a house, whose fame has for a while been silent.

That the Olympic crown was a reward of bodily exercise,which according to Christian teaching ‘profiteth little,’ is not the whole account of the matter. What Pindar values is the energy, the perseverance, the training in endurance and in courage, which in warlike times was really the height of virtue. He also recognises that success is not always given to the strong or swift, that fortune conquers where strength fails. This is only a fresh instance of the limitation of the human lot. Two leading thoughts of frequent recurrence are law (νόμος) and time. The famous passage quoted by Herodotus, ‘νόμος the king of all,’ does not stand alone. But in Pindar's view this great conception was associated with Dorian (not necessarily Spartan) institutions. The notion of time is more abstract, and even more characteristic of Pindar's thought. Time is the chief of the immortals (Fragment 4). It is he who alone realises the decrees of fate. There is a striking coincidence here between Pindar and Milton, at least in one of his moods, and the parallel of expression is so close that it seems difficult to resist the inference, very interesting if true, that our great poet read Pindar at the age of twenty-two. The words in the seventh sonnet on his twenty-third birthday—

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,

It shall be still in strictest measure even,

To that same lot however mean or high

Toward which time leads me, and the will of heaven—

are a close if somewhat Christian rendering of the sixty-seventh line of the fourth Nemean, ‘but to me whatsoever excellence sovran destiny gave, well know I that time in moving onward shall accomplish that as decreed.’

The Epinikian odes are steeped with the spirit of the religion of Zeus and of Apollo. Athena, if less often present, is conspicuously recognised. The conquest of the Giants, the suppression of Typhon, the slaying of the serpent Python, illustrate the supremacy of the divine order over rebellious powers. The release of the Titans, on the other hand, is an example of the clemency of Zeus held up for imitation by kings. But there are significant references to other worships, which show the range of the poet's interest, and in the case of the Great Mother, perhaps, betray a personal feeling. It is observable that he combines an adhesion to orgiastic rites with his austerity, and that his worship of Apollo does not exclude an allusion to Ammonian Zeus when he is celebrating a Cyrenaic victor. He is also ready to personify attributes, such as the goddess of Tranquillity, or ‘Memory with the bright frontlet,’ or Mercy the divine; the mythopoeic spirit was still active in him. The religion of the Graces, whose ancient worship at the Minyan Orchomenos under the names of Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia is the main theme of the fourteenth Olympian, is continually present to the mind of the poet. Originally nature goddesses of springtime, they had become the embodiment of all that cheers and soothes the lot of men—associated with all genial powers, above all with the power of song. Professor Bury well observes: ‘The poems of Pindar “burn bright,” to use an expression of his own, with the presence of the Graces. Χάρις may sometimes be translated the spirit of art, but the sphere of the Charites was wider and cannot be better defined than Pindar has defined it himself:

σὺν ὔμμιν

τὰ τερπνά τε καὶ γλυκέα

ἀ=ατέλλεται πάντα βροτοι?ς,

κεἰ σοφός, εἰ καλός, εἴ τις ἀγλαὸς ἀνήρ.

(“On you depends the rise of all things pleasing and delightful for mortals, if any man be wise, if any noble, if any brilliant in renown.”)

It was natural that they should be sovran ladies in a world of art, which was conversant mainly with “the delightful things in Hellas,” and…in all his epinician hymns, except three…of very small compass, Pindar either mentions the Graces or alludes to their influence.’ Χάρις in Pindar might often be translated in Tennysonian language ‘The Gleam.’

In speaking of the altar of Zeus Hellenios in Aegina the poet simply preserves the traditional title of the father of the Dorian race and of the Aeacidae. The ode in which this title of Zeus occurs was written at all events before the battle of Salamis, to commemorate the victory in the boys' Pancratium of Pytheas, a namesake of him who received so many wounds at Artemisium. The same victory of the boy Pytheas was celebrated by Bacchylides with a similar allusion to his trainer, the Athenian Menander. But the two odes in which the word ‘Pan-Hellenes’ occurs are probably subsequent to the Persian war.

The growth of heroic legend may of course be largely illustrated from Pindar. We may select as an example the development of the fable concerning Castor and Pollux. In the third Iliad, where Helen looks in vain for them on the field of Troy, they are both already hidden beneath boon earth. In the Odyssey, they have a partial immortality which they share on alternate days. In Pindar we have this beautiful tale, that although twins they were one of mortal and one of immortal birth, and that when Pollux was wounded to the death, Castor prayed to Zeus for him. The Father granted him either to enjoy his immortality, or to share it with his mortal brother, and he chose the latter. An earlier version of the legend appears in the eleventh Pythian, v. 63. Here they still live and die on alternate days, while in later allusions six months is the period alternately assigned to each; and in Euripides the brothers of Helen are identified with the constellation of the Twins.

Pindar's pan-Hellenic spirit does not prevent him from showing personal preference; his love for Thebes and pride in her appear continually. It must be remembered that he was bound to please the Hellenes generally—those also who had joined the Mede, and that his Aeginetan friends, who by the consent of Hellas had won the prize of bravery at Salamis, had not long since been openly hostile to Athens. Yet it is strange that he should so little have anticipated the full significance of the repulse of Persia or the unique position which it secured for the Athenians. Once indeed, in praising the Aeginetan Cleander, he expresses the relief to all Hellas when the impending danger had passed away; and in celebrating another Aeginetan, Phylakidas, the brother of Pytheas, he refers briefly to the part taken by Aegina in the battle of Salamis. ‘Even but now in war might Aias' city Salamis bear witness to her deliverance by Aegina's seamen and the destroying tempest of Zeus, when death came thick as hail on the unnumbered hosts. Yet let no boast be heard. Zeus ordereth this or that.’ And in the dithyramb of uncertain date, of which two fragments remain, composed for performance in the Athenian Agora, he celebrates the ‘violet-crowned city’ as the prop of Hellas, for which he was rewarded by the Athenians, and is said to have been fined by his own countrymen. This tradition rather confirms what has just been said, in accounting for the scant praise of Athens in his Epinikian odes. Almost the only encomium of her which occurs in them is that a good trainer of athletes, such as Menander was, may be expected to come from Athens. In the praise of the Athenian Megakles, we seem to perceive some suspicion or dislike of the forward liberal movement which threatened to place the great families at a disadvantage. ‘I agree with this, that envy is the requital of fair deeds. They say, however, that prosperity is then more stable when it is not unmixed.’ It can hardly be accidental that the man whose victory called forth this strain was an Alkmaeonid, and that in speaking of him the poet expressly refers to the merit of that family in having renewed Apollo's temple.

Nor can the fact be overlooked that the lover of the Dorians and their order (εὐνομία) is not known to have celebrated any Spartan victor, and that while acknowledging the achievements of Lacedaemon, and reverencing her sanctities (or rather those of Amyclae and Therapna), he hints once not obscurely that the Spartan Heracleidae forgot the rock whence they were hewn. His own family pride, as one of the Aegeidae, repeatedly shows itself, and through another line he claims affinity with Argos; thus the close relationship between Thebes and Aegina, as well as the pure Dorian stock that ruled that island, may help to account for the large proportion of Aeginetan lays. The Thessalian Aleuadae were his first employers (cp. Bacchylides, Ode xiv.), and in spite of drawbacks which are clearly felt, he heartily admires the splendour of his patron Hiero. But his friendship for Theron of Agrigentum has less of reserve, and one is bound to recognise the reality of the good side of the tyrant's character which is put forward by the poet, while the deeds of violence are suppressed in silence. He seems equally ready to praise (when paid for it) both tyrants, though they were ready to fly at one another's throats. He is at home in Rhodes, and hardly less so in Cyrene, although here again his encomium is dashed with notes of warning. His love of nobleness and of all things high and great, while held within religious limits of moderation, is commensurate with his scorn for what is base, especially of the envy which proves an empty mind.

Pindar's pride of birth appears also in his contempt for excellence that is merely acquired. Native genius, not learning, is what he values, yet in the eighth Pythian, which some think his latest ode, he expresses a well-considered recognition of the value of training, which may be set against some extravagant utterances on the other side. It must be acknowledged, however, that in some respects he does not rise above the level of his age and class. Experience had not yet taught the value of chastity as such, or the accumulated misery which the breach of it involves. The lesson which Plato only learnt in age was not taught by Pindar; it is with a strange feeling that one turns from the first Pythian to the fragments of the scolion written for Xenophon of Corinth, who had set up a house of fifty girls in fulfilment of a vow, presumably to Aphrodite. Greek euphemism could hardly go further than in the line ‘In all that is pretty there is compulsion’; ignoring the fact that the ‘necessity’ (ἀνάγκη) here is but organised brutality (ὕβρις). Well might the poet wonder what the Lords of the Isthmus would say of him. Some lines addressed to the young Theoxenus of Tenedos also prove that Pindar was not exempt from the special taint which by this time had become established in the social life of Hellas. In both these respects he has fallen far below Homer.

We turn gladly from these lapses to the passages in which, almost for the first time in Greek literature, there is expressed the hope of a blessed immortality. In the Epinikian odes, he imagines the dead ancestors as in some way affected by the successes and the glories of their descendants. In the odes of lamentation which were written for the consolation of persons suffering from recent loss, he sang more distinctly of a happy life to be. The hope, as in Plato, is associated with a doctrine of transmigration (see Fragment 4), and is also connected with the value attached to the Eleusinian mysteries (Fragment 7). But the most significant passage on this subject is the second Olympian, in which he appears to have in mind that Theron, who was afflicted with a lingering and fatal disease, must be looking forward, like Cephalus in Plato, to the life beyond the grave:—

‘The deed once done must have its issue, be it right or wrong. Not even time can uncreate it, time who fathers all things. Yet god-given success may bring with it forgetfulness of what is past. Sorrow dies hard, but yields to the prevailing power of present joy, when destiny lifts up the life and sends prosperity…When one hath gained the victory for which he strove, ill thoughts relax their hold. Wealth adorned with excellent endeavour brings opportunity for divers aims, suggesting eager yearnings for high enterprise; a conspicuous luminary, enlightening the path without fail. Only let him who hath it be aware of what ensues, that when men die their thoughts on earth shall perish, and forthwith all earthly debts are paid; but in the underworld there is a judge, who sums the account of all the sins committed in this realm of Zeus; and from that dire sentence there is no reprieve.1 But for the good remains a life exempt from toil, where equally by day and equally by night for evermore the sunlight cheers them: not harassing the stubborn glebe with stalwart arms, nor ploughing the wide sea to eke out a scanty livelihood; but companioned by deities of high renown, who delighted in their faithfulness on earth, they share in an existence free from tears. The others are yoked to torment too terrible to see.

‘Now all whose constancy hath thrice in either world endured to keep the soul entirely apart from wrongdoing, ascend by the way Zeus wendeth to the high place of Cronos; where breezes from the ocean stream are ever blowing round about the islands of the blest; and flowers all-golden glow, some blossoming on stately trees that hold the ground, others nourished by the living waters: with chaplets and festoons whereof they enwreathe their arms.

‘Even so determineth the righteous doom of Rhadamanthys, whom father Cronos ever keeps beside him on the judgment seat, Cronos, whom Rhea, enthroned above the world, still owneth for her husband. Peleus and Cadmus too are conspicuous thereamong, and thither too the mother of Achilles brought him, when she had prevailed upon the heart of Zeus. 'Twas he that o'erthrew Hector, Troy's resistless unsubduable stay: 'twas he gave Cycnus to his death, and Eôs' Aethiopian son.’

It remains to notice the advance in ethical reflection which is marked in Pindar, and the deficiencies which are equally marked. The solidarity of the family awakens his keenest sympathies; the inheritance of excellence in a household is prized above everything; the fathers are blessed in the sons. The poet's power of entering sympathetically into the varied circumstances of the men of noble birth who employed him, and giving them spiritual counsel suited to their truest need, is, ethically speaking, the most interesting aspect of his work. Order is the preserver of states, especially when combined with hospitality (θέμις σώτειρα Διὸς ξενίον), and faction is their destruction. Opportunity (καιρός) is another favourite idea: there is a time for speech and a time for silence; often the word left unspoken hath the greater honour. Pindar himself has but a moderate fortune, although he tells us that he has funds deposited in the temple of a neighbouring hero Alcmaeon; but with all his admiration of personal excellence, he is by no means insensible to the glamour of wealth and power where these are accompanied with liberality in spending and energy in use. In praising Hiero (‘Olymp.’ i.) he frankly says that kingship is the highest thing: so far is he from sharing the hatred of tyrants as such, which Athens felt and Sparta professed. Gold, he says, the child of Zeus, gladdens the heart of man. His praise of Theia, the goddess of the golden gleam, is not purely symbolical, nor, as some have thought, merely associated with the gilding of the Olympian crown. Yet he would not have men trust in riches, or be the slaves of fortune. ‘Truth’ is often on his lips, but he acknowledges that beauty χάρις) may sometimes obliterate truth; what he most deprecates is the indolence that shrinks from enterprise. Time, as before observed, is a dominant idea. ‘The days that follow are the truest witnesses; and time befriends the righteous.’ His morality is still merged in opinion and convention, yet he has several noble maxims in accord with Aeschylus: ‘It irks me not to suffer, where all are to suffer with me,’ he says when overawed by the eclipse of the sun. ‘The road of virtue is direct and leads to a good end.’ ‘War is sweet to the inexperienced’ (compare Thucydides); yet he disdains not to say that ‘stolen waters are sweet.’

While sympathising deeply with his aristocratic friends and employers, he has none of that pure human feeling for the people which Aeschylus shows, and but little tenderness for man as man.

‘Euphemia’ is one of his chief notes, and is apt to conceal from inattentive readers the deep tone of melancholy which often prevails in him. Thus in praising the Pelopidae, he appears as ignorant of the horrors of that house as if he had never heard of Atreus or Thyestes. Yet the tale of Pelops' line must have been well known to him, and he knew more than he cared to tell of the fall of Polynices and the fatal son of Laius, to whom he traced his stock. His strange silences are partly due to the fear of awakening envy.

Pindar is aware of Scythian customs and of some Egyptian rites to which he refers with scorn (fr. inc. 64; cp. Herodt. ii. 46).

Not Sparta but Argos in Pindar is spoken of as a lover of brevity. Pindar's Achaean pride is ultra-Dorian. The chief interest of Pindar for us lies in his comprehensive survey of the Hellenic world, from Rhodes and Tenedos to Agrigentum, Cumae, and Cyrene. We thus gain a glimpse of the condition of greater Hellas before Greek life and culture drew closely about Athens as its centre.

Herodotus like Pindar has a keen interest in all things Hellenic, but he enters with more of sympathy into the forward movement, of which Athens was the head and front. There is hardly a page of his history that does not testify to the reality and power of religion amongst the Greeks of his time. To collect into one view the more striking aspects of the subject, it will be well to treat separately (1) of his representations of contemporary belief, and (2) of the indications which he gives of his own thoughts on the subject of religion.

1. In his far-reaching survey of the world surrounding him, he takes notice of many religious customs amongst barbarians also. We may begin with these.

There is the Scythian tribe, who shoot their arrows upwards into the sky as a menace to their god when he displeases them by too much or too little rain. There are the Atarantes in Libya, who curse the mid-day sun. There are the Psylli, who made a warlike expedition against the south wind when he brought famine on them, and who perished in the desert. Then there are the Carians, who repented of having admitted some foreign worship, and marched in armed array to the border of their land, declaring that they thus expelled the foreign gods. Or to turn to more humane features of non-Hellenic rites, he describes how the Persians appeased the river Strymon by sinking white horses in his stream; how Boges the Persian rather than fall into the hands of men burned himself and his whole family on the pyre; how the outrage done by Xerxes to the corpse of Leonidas was inconsistent with the Persian habit of admiring bravery in an enemy, of which the treatment of Pytheas, the son of Ischenoös, when taken captive off Artemisium, is a striking proof. We read, moreover, how the Nasamônes worshipped their ancestors only; and how the Atlantes abstained from flesh and saw no dreams. An illustration by contrast of ordinary Greek beliefs is supplied by the Getae, who claimed immortality, and the Trausi, who wept at every birth, and rejoiced at funerals; and again, by the Thracian tribe whose widows joined their husbands on the funeral pyre.

The tendency of Herodotus, and of the Greeks generally, to identify the gods of other nations with their own appears most prominently in his account of the religion of Egypt. This should make one cautious in accepting such statements, however they are to be interpreted, as that the Thracian kings considered themselves children of Hermes, or that the worship of Athena was indigenous in the neighbourhood of Barca. That the Cyrenaeans, although Greeks, revered the Egyptian goddess Isis may, on the other hand, be accepted as a fact, and this cult, as well as that of Zeus Ammon, is known to have early found its way into central Hellas. In the time of Callimachus it still flourished at Cyrene. En revanche it appears that the Lydians and Persians also paid respect to some of the Greek deities in whose wisdom and power they had been led to believe. We know that the Egyptian king Necho sent offerings to Apollo at Branchidae near Miletus, and that Amasis gave presents to the god of Delphi. These instances and others that might be adduced raise the whole question of the contact or contamination of religions, which will be more conveniently treated of by and by. They are mentioned here merely to illustrate the wide range of the historian's survey.

To come now to purely Hellenic worships, Herodotus supplies many illustrations of characteristic peculiarities of Greek faith and Greek superstition.

Take first, as an evidence of religious feeling allied to superstition, the power which sacred persons exercised: note, for instance, the ascendency gained by Telines at Gela in Sicily, solely through his possessing the sacred things of Demeter and Persephone, and coming amongst a people who had them not. Other examples are afforded by the prayer of the Athenians to the north wind, who had married their sister Orithyia, to come and help them, which he did effectually at Artemisium; whereupon they raised to him the temple near the Ilissus, not far from the place where Socrates and Phaedrus afterwards conversed; the cruelty of Periander to the women of Corinth, to which he is moved by a gloomy superstition about the dead; the addition of the name Sôtêr, saviour, to Poseidon, after the storm before Artemisium; the conception of the power of Zeus implied in the saying that when minded to destroy the Greeks he need not have appeared as a Persian monarch, bringing millions behind him, since his own power would have sufficed; the dread which the Greeks felt of the burning of their temples, showing the reality of their belief in the divine presences, a belief more clearly evinced by the minority of the Athenians, who sought shelter on the Acropolis behind their wooden wall; the worship of Artachaeus, the Persian, at Acanthus, because he was more than seven feet high. The intense love of country and fatherland, which lay so near the heart of every Greek, displays itself sometimes in strange forms, as for instance in Hippias plotting for his return to Athens, where the people execrated him: an attitude which occurs repeatedly in subsequent history. In this connection it is instructive to observe the matter of fact way in which Herodotus employs the data of poetic legend and mythology, as in his version of the stories of Medea, Io, and Europa, in the opening of his history, and numberless other statements which, without the aid of the earlier literature, it would have been impossible to translate into the imaginative form which was really essential to them. This feature of his style may be described as a naïve and superficial rationalism.

2. Herodotus not only abounds with indications of contemporary religious conceptions, but in many parts of his work conveys, not obscurely, his own thought and feeling about sacred things. Indeed the personal element in him is larger than might be inferred from the objectivity of presentment, which makes his history one of the masterpieces of Greek art. For example, if the places in which Samos and the Samians are referred to were collected in one view, it could not fail to be perceived that the author's own feelings had been engaged in the incidents which he records. So also a special interest is betrayed in his references to Sybaris and Croton, since these towns had been supplanted by the colony of Thurii in which he had joined. But it is not to be assumed that the ethical and religious sentiments which dominate the history were peculiar to him; they rather bear witness to the growth of a new stratum of reflection on things divine and human, which may have been due partly to the indirect influence of early philosophers, especially the Heraclitean philosophy of change, but which also has a value and interest of its own.

The chief vehicles of these newer conceptions are the maxim and the apologue. The simple genuine wisdom of the time appears in sayings obviously proverbial, which are thickly scattered throughout the work (see esp. iii. 53). Solon as a poet and a statesman had spoken earnestly of Justice as the daughter of Zeus. Herodotus makes him talk rather as a pessimistic philosopher. It is not the real Solon, but Herodotus for him, who speaks of the malignity of the divine nature. The apologue, or story with a moral, is exemplified in such passages as the elaborate account of Solon's meeting with Croesus, or of the ring of Polycrates, or again more briefly in the story of Glaucus and the Delphic oracle (vi. 86 § 12 ff.), and of Artabanus and Xerxes (vii. 46). The most remarkable change in the mode of conceiving the divine working is the generalised use of the words for god (as in Pindar) and deity. The latter expression (τὸ θει̑ον) is found in Herodotus for the first time. He seems to have attached more reality to such abstract names as τὸ θει̑ον or τὸ δαιμόνιον than to individual personalities, such as Apollo or Hera. Thus when Cleomenes goes within the temple of Hera at Argos, the portent which he sees there is said to indicate the meaning of the god (θεου̑), the sex of Hera being neglected as unimportant.

The use of the word deity or divinity gives distinct evidence of a new stage having been reached in the process of abstraction, or in other words the growth of thought and the decline of polytheism. It has been said that this neuter abstract is a poor exchange for the rich variety of the Homeric Olympus. It may be so for those who cherish Wordsworth's hankering after a ‘creed outworn.’ Others may see in it, on the contrary, a great and significant advance towards a clearer and worthier conception of divine action. But there remains much confusion as to the attributes of the being who is thus conceived. Everything extraordinary and unaccountable is referred immediately to the divine working, and human interference with natural phenomena is regarded with superstitious dread. To make a channel through the isthmus and to bridge the Hellespont are alike impious undertakings. On the other hand some general provisions of nature which tend to the preservation of life are referred to divine forethought or providence almost in the spirit of Socratic teleology. But in regard to human life the ruling thought is that of the divine envy or malignity, which is exemplified in the countless miseries of mankind and the insecurity of all good fortune.

The conception of divine government has hardly risen beyond the notion of action and reaction. God will hot suffer human beings to exalt themselves, and to provoke him by success. In this there is a continuation of the Ionian pessimism already spoken of, and a tinge perhaps of Heraclitean philosophy. But there is also a germ of ethical reflection, though only partially developed. ‘A great Nemesis came upon Croesus, because he thought himself the happiest of men.’ Here thought is in transition from the danger of prosperity to the sinfulness of pride. What at first seemed to be malignity is now rather viewed as just severity. Nemesis thus passes over into retribution (τίσις), a conception which often recurs. The fate of Oroetes, the Persian, whom Darius put to death for many misdeeds, is regarded by the historian as an act of divine retribution for the cruel death of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, years before. And similar to this is the story of the wrath of Talthybius, the herald, which took effect in the third generation on the Spartan family who were responsible for the death of the Persian heralds. This Herodotus speaks, of as ‘the most divine event’ of his time (Herod, vii. 137). Some applications of this idea of retribution are quaint enough, as in the account in book ii. of the manner of the birth of snakes, where the baby snake, like another Orestes avenges his father on his mother. But in telling Pheretimee, the historian himself observes that of vengeance too provokes the gods, and in this he rises above the general level of his history, much as Iliad xxiv. (the ransoming of Hector) goes beyond the morality of the poem.

Passing from the divine into the human sphere we find in Herodotus what was conspicuously absent from the Homeric poems, the idea of Nomos,—law and custom in one. The historian gives it as his own decided opinion, that while the customs of different nations are diverse and contradictory, the sacredness of custom ought to be respected everywhere. This saying exemplifies a singular phase of thought. We can see why each people may be expected to revere the customs of their ancestors; we can see why at a later time the difference of customs and laws led to scepticism as to the existence of any universal principles of law; and again, why this doubt should have induced serious minds to attempt the elaboration of universal principles. But the position of Herodotus is different from all these. He lays stress upon the fact that law and custom in different countries differ irreconcileably; but the inference which he draws is the predominance of law and custom as such, and to this he attributes a divine sanction (iii. 38).

The distinction between Nomos and Themis (the Homeric counterpart) turns partly on the more abstract nature of the conception and partly on the growing idea of the State, to which a powerful impulse had been given by Dorian and other legislative institutions (Pindar's εὐνομία). Themis in the singular is little more than established habit or the custom accepted by mankind generally; and in the plural the same word, as Sir H. Maine has pointed out in his book on ‘Ancient Law,’ is used to signify the particular judgments, decrees, or commandments of the king. But before the commencement of the fifth century the idea of law as an independent authority, or dependent only on the word of the lawgiver, had acquired all the constraining force of an ideal.

The idea of destiny in Herodotus is already more fully developed than in the Homeric poems, where it is hardly distinguishable from the will or nod of Zeus, as the supreme god. Apollo answers the expostulation of Croesus by saying that even a god cannot prevent the fulfilment of destiny, though he may defer it by his influence for a time. In this and other ways the historian reflects the stage of Greek culture which is presupposed in tragedy and lies behind it. The ideas of fate and Nemesis, for example, which are so pervading in Herodotus, and the maxim that none can be called happy before he dies, are present in almost every tragic fable. But in handling them the tragic poet is inspired by other thoughts than those of Ionian culture, and especially by the consciousness of a great life which had been realised by the Athenian community. Xerxes, in Herodotus, is led onwards by a spiteful deity; in Aeschylus it is the wilfulness of Xerxes himself which precipitates before its time the doom or weird which Darius had foreknown. The ethical advance which this implies is manifest.

Some separate points may be noticed. The sacredness of the person of heralds is a genuine feeling (see vii. 133 ff.). Quite genuine also is Herodotus*' belief in the essential service that the Delphians had done to Hellas in reporting to them the Pythian oracle bidding them pray to the winds; though he appears sceptical upon the subject of the Magian prayers in answer to which (‘or perhaps of its own accord’) the storm desisted after blowing for two days. The union in the same person of an almost mystical reverence with intellectual doubt affords a curious subject for reflection, and has perhaps been never more clearly exemplified than in Herodotus. Here and there he distinctly anticipates later philosophy, as in the discussion about forms of government, where he recognises the difficulty of finding a monarch free from envy, though if he could be found that would be best of all; or where, as already remarked (in. 108), he discourses of the wise arrangements of the author of nature. Yet he is continually dwelling on the divinely caused fatality which prompts human folly, and appears to sympathise with the Spartans when they broke from their friendship for the Pisistratidae, in obedience to a spurious oracle, ‘for they preferred divine to human obligations’; and he is deeply impressed with the warning which the Chians had had before the onslaught of their successive calamities. The earthquake at Delos also is regarded by him as a divine premonition of woes to come.

A curious indication of Herodotus' conception of religion as a human growth with some underlying divine reality is afforded by his remark that the attribution of the ravine of Tempe to the action of Poseidon was reasonable on the part of those who regarded Poseidon as the causer of earthquakes. He thinks of the Greek gods as real beings, and yet conceives of a time when either they were not or had not yet been discovered or invented. We may observe also what may be called the scientific curiosity of Herodotus (so vainly exercised about the sources of the Nile); as when he wonders why the lions in Thrace should have attacked the camels, a creature whom they had never seen, apparently suggesting some pre-established harmony or rather discord, and perhaps implying that the race of lions came originally from a country where there were camels.

Something should be also said of the pan-Hellenic patriotism of Herodotus. He suppresses many names, but, no doubt at the risk of odium, he deliberately names various persons who had betrayed the cause of Hellas, including the Pythian priestess Perialla, who had been bribed to give a false oracle. In other cases he mentions individuals who have deserved universal commendation, as Callias, the son of Hipponicus, whom he praises for his munificence. He also shows large consideration and indulgence for some of those who had failed in the crisis of Greek independence; and in this he does not seem to be moved by partiality, but by equity; for example, in speaking of the odium which the Argives had incurred by their conduct at the time of the Persian war, he dwells upon the calamities which had exhausted them and on the difficulty of their position, and says that if every Greek state would only consider its own shortcomings, Argos would not be found to have behaved the worst; to which he adds the moral, that few men would like to take upon them other men's evils in exchange for their own.

The large and comprehensive outlook of Herodotus may suggest some further observations on what I have already called the ‘contamination’ of worships; although in reverting to this subject some awkward repetition is unavoidable. The theory of Tiele that the growth of the higher religions has been promoted by contact and assimilation is peculiarly fruitful in its application to Hellenic religion, or rather might be expected to prove so, if our knowledge of the early history were not still so shadowy. This does not mean that the Greeks borrowed their religion from others. The effect of contact is to call forth inherent powers, and assimilation, in the only sense which makes for development, is the result of an inward vital principle acting on materials supplied from without. Each race has its special character, but this is only brought out through intercourse with other races, and the result is most apparent in those who have contributed most to the sum of human culture. The native force and vivacity of the Greek spirit, of which the lyric poetry of the islands perhaps affords the strongest proof, transmuted what it received, not only by surrounding it with the atmosphere of beauty, but through the presence of a deeper aspiration and a loftier ideal.

The Phoenicians were a Semitic people, who brought some things from their earlier home in Mesopotamia, and derived others from their intercourse with the Egyptians. The result was a crude syncretism which they cannot fail to have communicated to the races on the Mediterranean shores, whom they visited in their commercial intercourse. That they were long settled at Cyprus, on the coasts of Crete, in Thasos, at various points in Sicily, at Gades, and of course at Carthage, cannot reasonably be doubted; although their scattered empire shrank and faded, from the time when the Assyrians threatened the independence of Tyre. Nor is there any sufficient ground for questioning the constant tradition of the Greeks, that the Cadmeians, who long held the citadel of Thebes, and checked the growing power of Orchomenos, were of Phoenician origin. If that be admitted, it points the way to a further speculation. The way from Thebes to Delphi is not far, and an early occupation by Phoenician priests and prophets of that mountain height, perhaps already the seat of an earlier religion, is, to say the least, not inconceivable. The altar of Poseidon on Onchestus appears to have been of great antiquity, and his attributes both there and at Corinth have been thought to betray indications of Phoenician influence. The Ismenian Apollo may possibly be not inferior in antiquity to the ‘Far-darter’ of Pytho, and the Herakles of Thebes may have been worshipped before his derivation from the line of Perseus had been imagined. The island supremacy of Minos, confirmed by recent discoveries, is associated with the myth of Europa, and Europa, in the belief of Herodotus, was a princess of Tyre. There are traces of an early association between Crete and Delphi. If Delphi was at any time a Phoenician shrine it would naturally be visited by Phoenicians from Crete. There was a tomb of Dionysus at Delphi, and a tomb of the Idaean Zeus was long an object of reverence in Cretan worship. Other legends, such as that of Dionysus and Ariadne, have an oriental colouring. The goddess whom Herodotus identifies with Aphrodite Urania had a temple at Askalon, as well as at Paphos, and in Cythera off the Laconian coast, also at Côlias on the shore of Attica. The armed Aphrodite in the Peloponnese, the Despoina of Lycosura, and the Athena Onka at Thebes had all some attributes of an Oriental divinity. The worship of ‘Urania’ was always liable to sink to the level of the Syrian ship-master, although the higher minds in Greece refined about her as the inspirer of a spiritual love. Castor and Polydeuces, specially worshipped in Laconia, have in one aspect a family resemblance to the Pataici of the Phoenician mariners, and their sister Helen has some attributes of Aphrodite. Tyre was visited by the historian with the special object of examining the temple of Herakles there, which he believed to be the oldest in the world, and that of Thasos, in the neighbourhood of the Phoenician gold-diggings, appeared to him to have been founded on the same model.

When the land afterwards called Boeotia was overrun by its mountain conquerors, there followed an exodus, at once of the Minyae from Orchomenos, and of the Cadmeians from Thebes. And the Aegeidae to whom Pindar traced his descent boasted of a Cadmeian, that is to say a Phoenician origin. The island of Thera, according to Herodotus, had in yet earlier days been colonised by a kinsman of Cadmus, and from Thera went forth the expedition which colonised Cyrene, and the history of that settlement bears manifest traces of a more than Greek intensity of passionate resolve. Thales was originally a Cadmeian, that is, as Herodotus expressly says, a Phoenician. Once more, in the Eleusinian mysteries there were associated with the Eumolpidae in the performance of the most sacred rites the family of Gephyreans, immigrants from Eretria or Tanagra, but tracing their origin to a Cadmeian stock. Herodotus says that they had brought with them a peculiar worship of Demeter Achaia, not the Achaean Demeter, but that mother of sorrows of whom the sculptor of the Cnidian goddess has preserved a most impressive type. It is rather strange that the historian speaks of this as a particular or family cult, while he is fully aware of the universal sacredness to all Athenian hearts of the mystic song of lacchus. Had the worships not yet been amalgamated, or is he drawing his information from diverse sources? In either case he seems to point to the once independent existence of rituals which were finally assimilated. He also tells us that the assassins of Hipparchus—Harmodius and Aristogiton, the patron saints of Athenian liberty—were Gephyreans. And in the intense resentment for a personal affront, to which that memorable act was due, is there not perceptible something of a Semitic strain? Herodotus tells us, in his matter of fact way, that Io was carried to Egypt by Phoenicians. The resemblance of the horned maiden to the Egyptian Hathor has often been observed (it was afterwards accentuated by Callimachus), and in the birth of Epaphus there is an obvious reminiscence of Apis, the incarnation of Ptah. The question is, whether this myth, which had approached completeness by the end of the sixth century, can have grown up in the interval which separates that epoch from the foundation of Naukratis. If that is impossible, it would seem necessary to suppose a still earlier contact, of a closer kind than could come through the Phoenicians, between Argolic and Egyptian religion. This, however, for reasons given elsewhere, I cannot but regard as improbable. That the ‘Orphic’ influence, which became so powerful about the opening of the fifth century, had a root in some imperfect knowledge of Egyptian rites is clearly manifest. The dismemberment of Phanes by the Titans, his rebirth as Dionysus Zagreus, and other features of that new mythology bear too close an analogy to Egypt to be accounted for by accidental coincidence. The avoidance of woollen garments, the tabooing of the bean, and other Pythagorean ceremonies, point to the same origin. Of this, however, more will have to be said hereafter.

The religion of Phrygia, so far as known to us, is of a different complexion from that which we recognise as essentially Greek, yet through the colonies of Asia Minor it exercised an early influence that is not to be ignored. The great matriarchal goddess, whose worship had already passed into Greek religion in the form of Hera, is recognisable in the Asiatic Cybele and the Ephesian Artemis. The huntress deity of central Greece, and still more the dignified Athena, are widely separated from this mode of worship, tending as it did on the one hand to an extreme asceticism, and on the other to wild orgies. The Greek spirit assimilated this only so far as to burst out occasionally into passionate reaction from the monotony of social life, and into music and dancing, accompanied with the Phrygian flute; but the true Hellene tasted only intermittently, and in measure, of such savage delights. Yet though the foreign influence does not predominate, it is certainly there. It would be impossible to account for the varying forms of Artemis, including the Thracian Bendis and the Cretan Dictynna, without assuming some contact or contamination.

Dionysus, whom the Greeks themselves regarded as a late comer, had a stronger and more universal influence. For his worship became naturally amalgamated with the village festival of vintage time, which it is natural to suppose to have originally spread from Thracian and other centres with the cultivation of the vine. The effect of the wine of the Ciconian Maron on the Cyclops is suggestive of this. Whence came the various elements that were ultimately blended in the Greek conception of Dionysus, is an obscure question. Homer knows of him as the mad power whom Lycurgus in Thrace resisted in vain. At Delphi, and in Crete, he seems associated with the winter or midnight sun, and as a consequence of the same notion, he is the Zagreus, a form of Hades, whom the Orphics developed into the Iacchus of the mysteries. We recognise again the blending of foreign elements, Thracian, Cretan, Egyptian, that had their meeting-points at Naxos and in Thebes.

But the contact of Hellenic with foreign religions must always have been of a more or less superficial kind. It is not to be supposed that the jealousy of a priesthood like that of Memphis or the Egyptian Thebes would allow their mysteries to be penetrated by the intellectual curiosity of a Greek traveller, and the Greek spirit itself was too positive, too restlessly active in moulding all that was submitted to it, to take over alien forms unmodified. The intercommunication was, however, more frequent, and more intimate, than has often been supposed. Herodotus speaks more than once of free intercourse and even intermarriage between Phoenicians and Hellenes settled in the same locality in his own time. The Carthaginian Hamilcar, who, in the great battle with Gelon and Theron on the day of Salamis, stood all day sacrificing in vain, and lastly threw himself into the fire, had a Syracusan mother, and was called in to support the claims of Terillus, the Greek tyrant of Himera who had been exiled. Greek followers of Terillus must on that occasion have fought side by side with Phoenicians, Libyans, Iberians, Sardinians, and others. Thucydides the Athenian was the son of Olorus, or in other words had Thracian ancestry.

The assimilation was not wholly on the Hellenic side. The Persians respected the sanctuary at Delos, and Croesus, Necho, and Amasis, as we have seen, made offerings to Apollo at Branchidae and at Delphi. The Persians when they conquered Miletus spared the priests of Branchidae, and transferred them to a village where their descendants were found by Alexander. Is it possible that in the interim these exiles should have broken off all communication with their former countrymen? The son of Miltiades, the victor of Marathon, was taken by the Phoenician fleet of Persia, and was married to a Persian wife, by whom he had children. Although Xerxes and Mardonius were said to have meditated violence against the Delphic sanctuary, the conduct of Datis and Artaphernes to the people of Delos shows that in some way they recognised in Apollo a, congener of their own sun-god. Even Xerxes spared the precinct of Athamas out of superstitious fear. Croesus not only sent offerings to Delphi but to Abae and elsewhere in Greece, and built a temple for Athena at Sparta. Letters of his name can still be traced on one of the columns of the old temple of Artemis at Ephesus. These facts are sufficient evidence of an intermingling of reverence which must naturally have left an impression.

The case of Cyrene is peculiarly instructive. She retained Hellenic institutions down to the fifth century A.D., longer, in fact, than any other Grecian state. Yet her non-Grecian affinities are not less marked. The marriage of Amasis the Egyptian king to Ladike (a Cyrenaic princess), the adoption of the religion of Isis, including abstinence from cow's flesh, by the Cyrenaic women, the appeal of Pheretime to Cyprus, in preference to other allies, all give evidence of the Phoenician or Semitic blend.

Two questions remain in this connection: 1. Had the sacred places which became the rallying points of Hellenic culture been already in prehistoric ages the centres of a widespread influence? Achilles, in adducing the wealthiest seats on earth, names Pytho and Orchomenos and Egyptian Thebes in the same breath. Whence came the wealth of Pytho at such an early time, if her priesthood had not long been recognised as a religious power? May not the readiness with which Necho and Amasis sent gifts to Branchidae, or founded temples for the Samian Hera and the Athena of Lindos, have been partly due to an earlier knowledge of the sacredness of those shrines; and conversely, may not a similar account be given of the acceptance of the religion of Ammonian Zeus in Hellas?

3. Granting the possibility of this, and remembering what was said above of the lines of communication between distant parts of the world in prehistoric times, is it not also possible that some mutual intelligence may have existed between the priests and seers in such favoured spots, who may have owed something of the spiritual power they exercised over their immediate neighbours to the secret wisdom which they attributed to an immediate inspiration, but really derived from a far distant human source? The legends connecting Dodona with the Ammonian oasis, and Delos with the Hyperboreans, may be interpreted as indicating something of this kind. One more conjecture is suggested by the consideration of these external influences. May not the extraordinary fascination which Argive and Theban fables had for the cultivated Athenian have been due to the strange contrast which Tantalid and Cadmeian legend presented to the spirit of moderation and of sane reflection so deeply inherent in Hellenic thought? Here, then, were two distinct channels, through which the traditions of Phrygia and of Phoenicia severally operated by the force of contraries in the moulding of Greek religion.

  • 1.
    Cp. Hamlet iii. 3:

    There is no shuffling, there the action lies

    In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled,

    Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,

    To give in evidence.