IN the present lecture, we have first to examine the theology of Hesiod; and afterwards we shall endeavour to see how the principal religious ideas of Homer and Hesiod were further developed and expanded in lyric, elegiac, and iambic poetry from Archilochus down to Bacchylides. Although Pindar falls within the period we are about to discuss, his importance is so great that he must be reserved for separate treatment hereafter.
The poems of Hesiod which require to be considered are the Works and Days and the Theogony. That the bulk of the Works and Days is from the hand of Hesiod, may be taken as generally admitted. Pausanias, indeed, informs us that it was the only Hesiodic work which the Boeotians of Helicon conceded to be genuine. About the Theogony there is more doubt. In his Histoire de la littérature Grecque, M. Croiset maintains that the poem is later than Hesiod, though emanating from the Hesiodic school: he is inclined to assign it to the early part of the seventh century B.C., whereas Hesiod belongs, he thinks, to the first half of the eighth. Other historians of Greek literature, for example, Wilhelm Christ, while admitting the presence of interpolated passages, consider that far the larger portion of the poem is by Hesiod; and with the exception of the testimony already quoted from Pausanias, it would seem that the Hesiodic authorship was never seriously questioned in antiquity. There is, moreover, every reason to believe that both the Works and Days and the Theogony were read by the Greeks of the fifth century B.C. in nearly the form which they now present; so that we may use each of the two poems indifferently in order to illustrate the religious ideas which the ancients associated with the name of Hesiod.
Whether or not the Theogony is later in point of date, there can be no doubt that it represents an earlier stratum of religious thought than we meet with in the Works and Days. The poem is at once a cosmogony and a theogony; but as the primitive cosmological causes—Chaos, Earth, and Eros—are deified, it has the appearance of a theogony from first to last. Many, if not most, of the genealogies and legends were doubtless borrowed from earlier and in some cases pre-Homeric hymns. The poet attempts to sift and simplify the mass of current mythological detail, and embody it in a kind of imperfectly co-ordinated system. Here and there we seem to have a purely aetiological myth; and a few of the deities are little more than poetical personifications. In following the successive generations of the Gods, as described by Hesiod, we are sensible of a gradual progress from anarchy and violence to order and law; but it would be too much to say that this is the dominating idea of the poem, since the writer is for the most part satisfied to narrate his story, without betraying, except perhaps in a single passage, any consciousness of its ethical or religious import.
The doctrine which concerns us chiefly in the Theogony is that of separate dynasties of Gods succeeding one another in order of time—the dynasties of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus. The poet of the Theogony is the first Greek writer who gives full and definite expression to this idea. In Homer there are only a few faint traces of the doctrine. The Iliad speaks of Cronus as overthrown by Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus “below the earth and the unharvested sea.” But Homer says nothing about a dynasty of Gods antecedent to Cronus and under the sway of Uranus; and, as Mr. Leaf remarks, “the whole question of these dynasties before Zeus, as they are presented in Homer, is too vague to admit of a certain solution; when we come to Hesiod we find that Greek belief has passed into quite another stage, that of harmonizing the incoherent and inconsistent legends handed down, probably from sources differing by wide distances both of race and place.” Does the author of the Theogony recognise any principle or power above and beyond these transitory Gods, and determining their succession? We shall afterwards see that this question is indirectly touched upon by Aeschylus, who appears to find such a principle in Destiny or Fate; and in Hesiod, too, there are one or two suggestions of this idea. For the rest, it should be noted that the Theogony, as was inevitable from the subject of which it treats, is full of those grossly naturalistic legends to which Greek philosophy took just exception. From the later or ethical point of view, Hesiod's theology in this poem is incomparably cruder than that of the Iliad and Odyssey. “There is violence and rudeness,” says Grote, “in the Homeric gods, but the great genius of Grecian Epic is no way accountable for the stories of Uranos and Kronos —the standing reproach against Pagan legendary narrative.” Throughout the whole poem the conception of the Gods as moral beings scarcely appears at all; the assessors even of Zeus himself are Violence and Force rather than Justice; and the only ethical powers, strictly so called, would seem to be the Μοιķραι or Fates, who “visiting the transgressions of men and Gods never cease from their dread wrath, until they have inflicted dire retribution on him who has sinned.”
Turning now to the second poem, we may say, I think, that no work of ancient literature more faithfully reflects the moral and religious beliefs of its author than the Works and Days of Hesiod. The simplicity and sincerity of tone leave no doubt that here at least the poet is speaking “true things.” As in the Iliad, so also in the Works and Days, man is wholly dependent on the Gods in every relation of life Zeus, the king of the immortals, is also the supreme governor of men: his eye is all-seeing, his mind all-knowing—πά ντα ἰδὼν Διὸς ὀϕθαλμὸς καὶ πάντα νοήσας: but we can with difficulty spy out his thought: “there is no prophet among men upon the earth who shall know the mind of aegis-bearing Zeus.” Among the attributes of Zeus, the poet chiefly insists upon Justice. It is from Zeus, he says, that straight judgments proceed. The maiden Justice is “daughter of Zeus, glorified and honoured by the Gods who dwell in Olympus. And whensoever one doeth her an injury with wrongful chiding, straightway she takes her seat by the side of father Zeus, the son of Cronus, and tells him the thoughts of unjust men, that the people may pay for the infatuation of princes, who with baneful thoughts turn aside from the straight path through wrongful judgments.” In his capacity as guardian of Justice, Zeus is served by a host of invisible daemons or messengers. “Thrice ten thousand are the servants of Zeus upon the all-sustaining earth, immortal, watchers of men that are doomed to die; who watch deeds of justice and works of wickedness passing to and fro upon the earth in a garment of mist.” Hesiod is the first Greek writer in whom we find the notion of daemons, or beings intermediate between Gods and men. In Homer it is not the daemons but the Gods themselves who “in the likeness of strangers from another country roam throughout the cities, surveying the insolence and righteousness of men.” The difference between the two poets in this respect is one among several indications that in Hesiod's time the Gods were felt to be more distant from men than in the heroic age: though he believes in a common origin for Gods and men, it is of the golden age that he is thinking when in a fragment preserved by Origen he speaks of the “common feasts and common meeting-places of immortal Gods and men that are subject unto death.” We may regard the Hesiodic conception as the earliest symptom of a tendency that afterwards became prominent in Greek philosophical thought—the tendency to remove the Supreme Being from direct and immediate participation in human affairs, by the hypothesis of an intermediate order of beings who are as it were the vehicles of communication between God and man. But in Hesiod these daemons are still no more than the invisible police of Zeus. They resemble the recording angel of later Greek popular belief.
We have seen that in Homer the justice of Zeus is chiefly shown in the punishment of insolence or sin. On this topic Hesiod also lays the greatest stress: in one place he enumerates among the calamities that overtake the country of evil men, famine and pestilence, barrenness, destruction of armies and walls and ships. Though Justice may delay her coming, she comes at last; and others besides the guilty individual may be involved in the catastrophe. But Hesiod dwells more fondly than Homer on the converse of this doctrine; and he regards the prosperity vouchsafed to the virtuous as descending also to their sons. Peace, the nurturer of youth, makes her home in the city whose rulers are just: the inhabitants are free from the scourge of famine and sin-engendered woe, and enjoy abundance of good cheer: “the earth yields them plentiful subsistence; on the mountains the oak-tree bears them acorns on its topmost branches, and in its trunk bees make their home; and fleecy sheep are laden with wool. Wives bear children who resemble their parents. They flourish in continual prosperity: nor do they go to sea on ships, for the grain-giving earth yields them fruit.” This is one of the passages selected by Plato to illustrate what he considers the immorality of Greek poetry: virtue should be praised, he argues, not for its results, but for itself. We must allow that Hesiod generally points to their consequences as a sufficient motive for choosing virtue and rejecting vice: but the same criticism might, of course, be applied to popular teachers of morality in general, and particularly to many parts of the Old Testament.
The observances by which in Hesiod men are to express their obligations to the heavenly powers are the same as in Homer—libation, sacrifice, and prayer; but the sentiment associated with them hardly attains so high a level of religious feeling. The most characteristic embodiment of the poet's view of worship is contained in a passage that clearly indicates the self-regarding nature of Hesiodic morality. “Offer sacrifice to the immortal Gods according to thine ability, with pure heart and hand (ἁγνω̑ς καὶ καθαρω̑ς), and burn withal the goodly fat of thighs: at other times propitiate them with libations and incense, both when thou retirest to rest and when the sacred dawn has come, that they may have a heart and soul propitiate unto thee: that so thou mayest buy thy neighbour's lot of land, and not he thine.”
As between man and man, the divinely appointed rule of conduct is “be just.” This is the ever-recurring exhortation throughout the poem. It is justice, in Hesiod's view, as in that of the Platonic Protagoras, which is the distinguishing feature between man and the lower animals: “This law hath the son of Cronus ordained for fishes and wild beasts and winged birds, that they should devour one another, for there is no justice among them: but unto men he hath given justice, which is far the best.” If we press this sentiment for all it is worth, we may see in it a conception of the universe according to which man is placed in the world not to conspire with, but to fight against the law of brute force that prevails throughout the rest of the animal kingdom. It is a condemnation in advance of the “cannibal morality” sometimes advocated in the age of the Sophists: and Hesiod indeed expressly inveighs against the χϵιροδίκαι of his own times, men whose principle of conduct is that “might is right.” Among positive duties, the poet lays stress on kindness to suppliants, strangers, and orphans, on respect for parents and the marriage-tie, and on hospitality to friends. While praising riches, if justly acquired, he applauds contented poverty, and disapproves of the mad pursuit of wealth. A multitude of additional precepts is contained in the poem, some of them relating to ceremonial obligations, and reminding us frequently of the Pythagorean symbola: but the only other point which it concerns us to notice is that Hesiod regards it as hardly less incumbent on the virtuous man to requite evil for evil than to return good for good. “If thy comrade is the first to do thee an unkindness either in word or in deed, forget not to requite him twofold; howbeit, if he would lead thee again into friendship, and is willing to make restitution, do not say him nay.” We have here what is perhaps the first expression in Greek literature of the sentiment sometimes held to be the most distinctive mark of Pagan morality, “Love your friends and hate your enemies.” This maxim is not, however, exclusively Pagan, but characteristic of primitive ethics in general; not a few illustrations of it might be quoted from the historical books of the Old Testament. In Greek literature it is all but universal down to the time of Socrates, although, if we trust our authorities, there was at least one famous Greek who at an early period withheld his assent. To Pittacus of Mitylene were ascribed the sayings, “Forgiveness is better than revenge,” and “Speak no evil of a friend, or even of an enemy.”
We have hitherto considered the moral and religious teaching of the Works and Days without regard to Hesiod's general view of the course of human affairs. This is contained in the legend of five successive ages of mankind. Whatever the immediate sources of the legend may have been, it has its roots in man's innate tendency to glorify the past, and the underlying notion is that of a progressive though not altogether uninterrupted deterioration from a primitive state of innocence and bliss. In each of these respects the myth offers a curious contrast to the Theogony, in which order gradually prevails over chaos.
The main features of the golden age, which Hesiod places in the reign of Cronus, are such as we find in later descriptions of the same period. Men and Gods were united in a far closer harmony than now, and pain and sorrow were unknown. “Like Gods, they lived with hearts void of care…nor did pitiable old age come upon them, but with hands like feet and feet like hands (πόδας καὶ χϵι̑ρας ὁμοι̑οι) they had joy in banquets evermore, beyond the reach of woe; and they died as though subdued by sleep.” The earth spontaneously yielded all manner of fruits; and vegetarianism was universal. After death, the men of the golden age become “good daemons above the ground, givers of wealth to mortal men”—apparently a different order of spirits from those already mentioned. The obscure words which I have italicised receive perhaps some light from the burlesque account in Plato's Symposium of the structure of the human frame before the creation of women: in those days man, we are told, was androgynous and round, with four hands and four feet, constructed, it would seem, on the same plan, and rendering it easy to travel rapidly from place to place by a series of somersaults. In any case, it is tolerably clear that women were unknown in the Hesiodic golden age: for with women evil came into the world; and Pandora, the mother of womankind, was created in the reign not of Cronus, but of Zeus.
We should stray too far from our subject if we described the three races that intervene between the period of gold and the period of iron: still less can we here attempt to discuss the many unsolved problems in Hesiod's account of the silver and bronze races. It must suffice to say that the age of heroes, which the poet interposes between the bronze age and the iron, is a reversion to a higher type, prompted by the almost universal impulse of Greek writers to idealise the life depicted in the Homeric poems. As for the ultimate fate of the heroes, some, says Hesiod, were exempted from death, and transported by Zeus to the farthest limits of the world; where they “dwell with hearts free from care, in the islands of the blest, by the deep-eddying Ocean stream, blessed heroes, for whom the grain-giving earth yields sweet fruit abundantly three times a year.” Last comes the age of iron, in which the poet laments that his own unhappy lot is cast. “Would that I had never lived among the fifth race of men, but had either died before or been born later! For now it is the iron age; nor ever shall they cease from weariness and woe by day, nor from destruction by night: but the Gods will send cruel cares. Yet even for them shall good be mixed with evil. But Zeus will destroy even this race of mortals, when men have grey hairs at their birth.” In point of morality, mankind will reach the lowest depth: the bonds of friendship and family life will be dissolved: there will be no respect for parents and Gods, no regard for truth and justice: might is right, and the workers of evil deeds alone are honoured, until at last Aidos and Nemesis, folding their white robes about them, leave the world and seek refuge with the immortals. Some have asserted that Greek literature holds out no hope of a golden age in the future as well as in the past. But it is clear from the words in italics that Hesiod believes the iron age to be not less transient than the others, and anticipates a happier period after the present era is fulfilled. The end will come, according to the poet, when children are born grey-headed. Now in a Testament quoted by Dr. James in his discussion of the Revelation of Peter, we are told that among the signs of the end shall be “children whose appearance shall be as of those advanced in years: for they that are born shall be white-haired.” And according to the myth of the Politicus, between which and the Hesiodic form of the legend now under consideration there are several points of contact, the golden age returns just when disorder is at its worst; and in the golden age, instead of being born young and growing old, men are born from the earth with grey hairs, and pass through middle age to youth and childhood, till they fade away. In view of these and other parallels, it seems highly probable that the Hesiodic story of five ages is part of a general theory of recurrent cycles in the life of the universe, such as we meet with in Empedocles. In any case it contains, as we have seen, a hint which is fulfilled in the later doctrine of the ἀποκατάστασις or restoration of all things.
The pessimism which shows itself in Hesiod's description of the iron age is one of the most noteworthy characteristics of his poetry. “The earth,” he says, “is full of evils, and so is the sea—πλϵίη μϵ̀ν γὰρ γαι̑α κακω̑ν, πλϵίη δϵ̀ θάλασσα: by day and night diseases visit men unbidden, bearing evils to mortals, silently; for Zeus, the lord of counsel, hath denied them speech.” What is the origin of all this woe? The answer of Hesiod is given in the legends of Prometheus and Pandora. In the days when the Gods were at strife with mortals, Prometheus, the champion of humanity, attempted to deceive the king of heaven in the matter of sacrificial offerings. Though fully cognisant of the fraud,—observe how the divine omniscience is again implied,—Zeus allowed himself to be cheated, “for he was brooding evil against men, evil that should be accomplished.” In revenge, he deprived the human race of fire: but Prometheus stole it back. Thereupon Zeus bound his enemy with indissoluble fetters and sent an eagle to prey upon his liver, till in the fulness of time came Heracles, who with the consent of Zeus slew the eagle and released Prometheus. Mankind was punished by the creation of woman. Out of earth and water Hephaestus compacted a female shape, which the Gods and Goddesses invested with every charm; and Epimetheus or Afterthought received her from the hands of Hermes, forgetful that his brother Prometheus had forbidden him in advance to accept any gift from Zeus. The woman opened the casket of evil, and did not replace the lid until all the calamities of human life, Hope only excepted, had streamed forth.
The legend of Prometheus is one into which an infinite amount of meaning can be read. The quarrel between God and man, the appearance of Prometheus on behalf of mortals and his sufferings for their sake, his ultimate deliverance by the son of Zeus and the consequent reconciliation between man and God: these are topics on which much might be said. But Hesiod was probably quite unconscious of the deeper religious ideas which the story is fitted to suggest. As for the Pandora myth, though in part, perhaps, an allegory, it seems clearly to imply that the creation of woman was later than that of man, and initiated his misfortunes. The strain of misogynism in Greek literature begins with Hesiod.
In Hesiod, as little as in Homer, are the miseries of human life alleviated by the prospect of a happier existence after death. The earthly paradise of which we read in the Works and Days—the so-called “islands of the blest”—is inaccessible to ordinary mortals, being reserved for a few divine favourites of the heroic age. We have seen that the departed spirits of the golden age become daemons on the earth: those of the silver age occupy a somewhat similar position in the underworld. Of the men of the bronze era it is said that they descended to “the dank halls of chill Hades, and were no more known.” Hesiod is silent as to the future state of the men of iron: but the presumption is that they too enter all-receiving Hades. In the Theogony, we read of the dog Cerberus, pitiless gatekeeper of the house of Death, who fawns on those who enter the dismal abode, but “suffers them not to leave again; but keeping strict watch devours any whom he catches trying to go outside the gates of mighty Hades and dread Persephone.”
The only way of mitigating the ills of life, according to Hesiod, is by stern and unremitting toil. It is vain to sit idle and hope: Hope is ever a deceiver: we must be up and doing. Nothing is more characteristic of the Works and Days than exhortations to work. The inherent dignity of labour finds apt expression in the famous verse, ἔργον δ̕ οὐδϵ̀ν ὄνϵιδος, ἀϵργϵίη δϵ́ τ̕ ὄνϵιδος. Heracles, the type of the strenuous life, is called πονηρότατος καὶ ἄριστος “the best and most laborious of men.” In Hesiod the duty of work, like the other duty on which he insists so much—that of being just—derives its sanction from the divine ordinance; and Virtue is the prize of toil. “Unto Wickedness men attain with ease, and in large numbers: for the road is short, and she dwells very near. But in front of Virtue the immortals have set labour and the sweat of the brow: the path is long and steep, and rough at the first; but when the summit is reached, the way, though hard before, is thenceforth easy.” We are reminded of the Christian sentiment, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many be they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it.”
So much, then, for the moral and religious teaching of the poetry of Hesiod. The main difference between Homeric and Hesiodic poetry is that the former is predominantly ideal, the latter predominantly practical and realistic; and it is just this presence of idealism which gives to the Iliad and Odyssey a higher religious as well as poetical value than either the Theogony or the Works and Days can claim.
Before proceeding to consider the further development in gnomic poetry of the ideas we have hitherto examined, a word or two must be said in passing about the body of poems known as the Homeric Hymns, the oldest of which probably date from the period intervening between the Works and Days and the rise of gnomic poetry. The best known and perhaps the earliest of these hymns is the hymn to the Delian Apollo, which in the form in which we have it is combined with a later and inferior poem in honour of Apollo of Delphi, the production, it would seem, of a writer of the Hesiodic school. In the first of these two poems occurs the already quoted description of the festival of Apollo at Delos, whither the Ionians gathered with “their children and shame-fast wives” to do honour to the God. Apollo in the hymn stands next in dignity to Zeus, and is the prophet of his unerring counsel to mankind. The whole poem is pervaded by the sense of abounding vitality and joy which the worship of Apollo usually inspired among the Greeks. The later hymn, which relates the slaying of the Pythian dragoness by Apollo, and the founding of the Delphian oracle, contains a curious passage in which the sufferings of humanity are represented as furnishing a theme of song to the immortals. When Apollo plays the lyre before the assembled Olympians, “all the Muses together with sweet voice in antiphonal chant replying, sing of the imperishable gifts of the Gods, and the sufferings of men, all that they endure from the hands of the undying Gods, lives witless and helpless, men unavailing to find remede for death or buckler against old age.”
Of the other Homeric hymns, those that celebrate Hermes and Aphrodite exhibit the divine nature in a far from favourable light: but the hymn to Demeter is of quite another kind; and the story of the Goddess seeking for her lost child is told by the poet with a tenderness and purity of feeling seldom surpassed in ancient literature. In the history of Greek religious thought the poem is chiefly remarkable as the earliest literary document in which the promise is made of a happier lot hereafter to those who have been initiated. When Demeter's anger is appeased by the restoration of her daughter for two parts of the year, she revealed to Eumolpus and Celeus “the manner of her rites, and taught them her goodly mysteries, holy mysteries which none may violate, or search into, or noise abroad, for the great curse from the God restrains the voice. Happy is he among deathly men who bath beheld these things. And he that is uninitiate, and bath no lot in them, hath never equal lot in death beneath the murky gloom.” Whether or not the Eleusinian mysteries expressly taught the doctrine of immortality,—and the prevailing view since Lobeck is that they taught no positive doctrines at all,—it is clearly established by the testimony of the ancients themselves that initiation was believed to be a passport to happiness in the future world.
Turning now from epic to lyric and elegiac poetry, let us endeavour to see how the foundation laid by Homer and Hesiod was built upon by their successors from Archilochus in the seventh to Bacchylides in the fifth century B.C. Our material is in most cases too scanty to permit us to frame a theory of development, and assign to each particular poet a definite place in the historical evolution of religious thought. On this account I will take the important topics singly, and illustrate them from the period as a whole. One general statement may be made in advance: the connexion between religion and morality is not less close in the poets we are about to consider than it is in Homer and Hesiod. The moral law still derives its binding force, not, indeed, from the example, but from the ordinances of Zeus.
A notable feature in the theology of these poets is the way in which the figure of Zeus dwarfs and obscures all the other divine personalities. Whereas in Homer the inferior Gods play a large part in the economy of the universe, and are frequently in opposition to the will of the supreme God, there is now hardly any trace of divided counsels in Olympus, and we hear comparatively little of the secondary deities: the divine working in nature and especially in human affairs is generally associated with the name of Zeus. “Zeus, the loud thunderer, controls the issues of all things, and disposes them according to his will”: he is “the source of all, the leader of all,” the “all-ruler,” the “father most high” (μϵγιστοπάτωρ) and so on. To assert that Zeus was uniformly represented as more powerful than Destiny, would doubtless be incorrect: on this subject Greek thinkers were seldom quite consistent with themselves. But in early lyric and elegiac poetry there are, I think, no examples of conflict or antagonism between the two powers; and beyond doubt the prevailing rule is to identify Fate with the ordinance or law of Zeus and the immortals. Like Homer, Solon also speaks of the αἰ̑σα Διός, the destiny that proceeds from Zeus, and treats the dispensations of Fate (μοι̑ρα) as equivalent to the gifts of the immortals from which there is no escape. In Bacchylides, too, we meet with expressions like “the destined ordinance of Zeus,” the “all-powerful Fate that cometh from the Gods.” Here and there, where Zeus is distinguished from the Fates, the same religious veneration which Zeus himself inspires is offered to his ministers. A remarkable fragment of a prayer by an unknown author, who lived, perhaps, in the time of Bacchylides, furnishes a case in point. Aisa, Clotho, and Lachesis, nearest of all the Gods to the throne of Zeus, the powers who ratify his will, are invoked to send down the blessings of law and justice and peace upon the poet's country. There is also, perhaps, a touch of half-religious resignation in the curiously Stoic language of Theognis: “All must suffer what Fate has decreed; but what Fate has decreed, I will suffer without fear.” We may compare the words of Cleanthes the Stoic: “Lead me, O Zeus, and thou too, Fate, wherever ye have appointed me to go. I will follow fearlessly: or if I play the coward and refuse, I needs must follow just the same.”
The complete dependence of man upon the Gods is a common theme of lyric and elegiac poetry. “No man,” says Theognis, “is happy or poor or bad or good without divine agency.” And in Simonides we read: “Unto excellence none attaineth, neither city nor mortal, without the Gods.” The language in which we are bidden to put our trust in them is not unfrequently steeped in religious feeling. “P ray to the Gods: with the Gods is might, surely without the Gods is neither evil nor good to men.” τοι̑ς θϵοι̑ς τιθϵι̑ν ἅπαντα—“trust all to the Gods; many a time they lift from out their troubles those who lie on the black earth.” Tyrtaeus encourages the Spartans by reminding them that “Zeus hath not yet bowed down his neck”: the Lord God still reigneth. At the same time, we feel that there is now a greater distance between the Godhead and mankind than in the Homeric age. Can man by searching find out God? Solon's reply is in the negative: the mind of the immortals is altogether hidden from men. “All our thoughts are vain,” cries Theognis, “and we have no knowledge: but the Gods accomplish all according to their will.”
As in Homer and Hesiod, so also in the elegiac poets, Zeus is above all things the dispenser of justice. A striking quatrain of Archilochus represents him as the rewarder of right and the avenger of wrong not only among men, but also among the lower animals. “O father Zeus, thine is the dominion of heaven: thou seest men's deeds of wickedness and right: thou regardest the insolence and justice of beasts.” As usual, however, the punishment of sin is dwelt upon more often than the reward of virtue. Both Solon and Theognis declare that Wealth, if justly acquired, stands sure: but they lay decidedly most emphasis on the converse principle, that ill-gotten gain leads to destruction. “Justice,” according to Solon, “though she keep silence, knows what is and what hath been, and surely comes to take her fill of vengeance at the last.” In a highly poetical passage he compares the vengeance of Zeus to a wind that springs up suddenly, spreading devastation on sea and land, till rising to heaven it scatters the clouds, and the sun again shines forth. God “is not a man, that he should be quick to anger at each offence; yet he will not always ignore the sinner, but will reveal him in the end. One pays the penalty now, another afterwards. If the guilty escape, and the doom ordained of Heaven fall not upon themselves, it will surely fall hereafter: the innocent will suffer for the guilty, their children, perhaps, or later generations.”
The passage just quoted is the more deserving of our attention, because in the literature of Greece it is one of the earliest passages in which the sins of the fathers are explicitly said to be visited on the children. The doctrine is characteristic of a particular stage in the development of the moral consciousness; and you will remember that in its Hebrew form it is emphatically condemned by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. “In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity.” More than any other of the elegiac poets, Theognis is afflicted by the moral chaos of the world; and he, too, condemns, not indeed the doctrine, but the stern reality which it expresses. “When the children of an unjust father follow after justice in thought and act, dreading thy wrath, O son of Cronus, loving righteousness from the first among their fellow-citizens, let them not pay for the transgressions of their sires! As it is, the doer escapes, and another is punished.” The same poet elsewhere remonstrates with Zeus for treating the righteous and the unrighteous alike. “Dear Zeus, I wonder at thee: thou art the lord of all; thou hast great power and honour, and knowest well the thoughts of each man's heart. How then, son of Cronus, dost thou think fit to deal the same measure to sinful and just, careless whether their hearts are turned to moderation or to insolence?” Nay more, the wicked prosper, and the righteous are forsaken: why then should we reverence the Gods? This is the familiar difficulty which has always been felt by those who would fain believe in the justice of God. “Righteous art thou, O Lord…yet would I reason the cause with thee: wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they at ease that deal very treacherously?”
It is plain from these extracts that the moral and religious problems which occupied the mind of Aeschylus were already beginning to be raised in the sixth century before Christ. The truth is that several of the characteristic doctrines of Greek tragedy appear in the gnomic poets. Thus, for example, Theognis tells of the daemon that leads men into sin, making evil seem to them good, and good evil; and the conception of the origin and nature of sin which we meet with in the fragments alike of Solon and Theognis has many parallels in Aeschylus. Undue prosperity or wealth (ὄλβος) produces κόρος, that is, fulness, satiety, or pride; from κόρος comes ὕβρις, showing itself in want of moderation, in neglect of the golden mean; and the child of ὕβρις is ἄτη, “destruction.” Although an attempt is sometimes made to distinguish between God-give riches and the wealth to which the unrighteous by themselves attain, at other times the prosperity that leads to sin is equally attributed to the Gods: so that the final responsibility is with God, and not with man. Hybris, Theognis says, is the first and greatest evil; and God is its authors. So long as the Gods maintained their position in Greek thought as the sole and universal causes, it was inevitable that the sins of mankind should continue to be laid at their door. At the same time, this view is not, of course, consistently maintained throughout the period we are now discussing. Bacchylides, like the Homeric Zeus, makes man himself responsible for sin and its consequences: “Zeus, who rules on high and beholds all things, is not the author of grievous woes for mortals. No, open before all men is the path that leads to unswerving Justice, attendant of holy Eunomia and prudent Themis: happy the land whose sons take her to dwell with them.”
The view of Theognis, that the Gods deliberately lead men astray, is, in principle at least, as old as Homer. Other unfavourable features of the Homeric theology seem to be less prominent in the poets of this time. It is remarkable that the fragments of Greek elegiac poetry seldom or never impute the grosser immoralities to the Gods. Occasionally they are said to be deceitful and envious: perhaps the “envy of the Gods” is also to some extent implied in the belief that overmuch prosperity is fatal. So far as we can see, the Godhead appears to be regarded as both omnipotent and omniscient.
One or two other points may be briefly mentioned. The conception of prayer and sacrifice throughout this period is still in the main Homeric, though the lyric poets sometimes strike a more spiritual note. As for the rule of conduct between man and man, we have repeated illustrations of the precept “do good to friends and evil to enemies,” with little that is suggestive of a more generous spirit. In Homer we noted a tendency to look upon wickedness as a condition of the intellect rather than of the will. The same tendency appears in Solon; and the other Homeric maxim, that character depends upon environment, is echoed by Archilochus.
It only remains to say a word about the view of life and death reflected in the poetry of this time. The shade of melancholy has, if anything, grown deeper. Of all the gnomic poets, Solon is perhaps the least inclined to pessimism; and it is Solon who wrote, “No mortal man is happy, but all on whom the sun looks down are miserable.” We hear much about the instability of human life and happiness, the rapid flight of youth and its pleasures, the evils of poverty and old age, and the sure approach of death. “Small is the strength of man,” writes Simonides, “and his cares are irremediable: toil upon toil in life's brief span, and the shadow of inevitable death hanging over all: for good and bad have equal share in death.” Theognis pathetically laments that the Gods have not revealed to man the road which he must follow in order to find favour in their eyes. The contemplation of the moral and political chaos of his own times, added to the general misery of man's existence, produces in him a feeling of despair: “Best it is not to be born; and next best, when you are born, to pass the gates of Hades as soon as possible.” By way of antidote the duty of resignation is generally enforced; sometimes the lesson drawn is carpe diem: nowhere do we find the hope held out of compensation or redress hereafter. Heroic deeds are rewarded by an immortality of fame; but all men, heroes and cowards alike, pass to the “shadowy abode of the dead,” whose “dark gates enclose the souls against their will.” There “Persephone giveth forgetfulness to mortal men, depriving them of thought” (βλάπτουσα νόοιο). “As soon as the earth covers him, and he descends into Erebus, the home of Persephone, no man rejoices in the strain of the lyre or flute-player, or in quaffing the gifts of Dionysus.” A pathetic fragment of the poetess Erinna tells of the silence and darkness of the underworld—σιγα δ̕ ϵ̓ν νϵκύϵσσι, τò δϵ̀ σκότος ὄσσϵ καταγρϵι̑. In all essential respects the poetical conception of the future life is still what it was in Homer.