صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

rest on certain portions of the Pelasgian epoch, melt away

beneath the glories of the Heroic Times. The Athenian type of those times is Theseus—uniting in himself the two great attributes which have commanded the veneration of true poets from Homer to Scott : αμφότερον, βασιλεύς τ' αγαθος, κρατερος τ' αιχμητής...

• In council-balls à monarch sage,
A warrior bold in battle's rage.'

Mr Thirlwall calls him the Hercules of Attica : Mr Bulwer calls him the Athenian Alfred. Both are right. He deserved, as a chivalrous adventurer, the throne which he adorned as a politic King. As a knight-errant, he cleared the land of pests, and redeemed it from oppression. As a sovereign, he consolidated the strength of Attica, and confirmed bis own title to the auspicious name of Regulator.* The catastrophe of Theseus is melancholy; yet even his usurping successor Menestheus must fill a goodly place on the platform of our second scene, -not as a popular intriguer--not as a notorious encroacher on the tenure and extent of the royal prerogatives—but as leader of the Athenian bands in the war of Troy. Then were that people dwellers in a 'fair* built city't for whose broad streets Minerva was fain to quit the splendours of the island of Alcinous. Then had their munificent devotion already honoured the guardian power and her hero-nursling with a sumptuous temple.' Bulls and Rams bled in their yearly sacrifices. Fifty dark gallies' sailed from their harbour to the Asiatic shore. And then, too, their chief, unlike the majority of later demagogues, was one

* With whom could cope no mortal wight
To marshal chariots for the fight,

Aud men who bore Ibe sbield !’S

Passing over a list of six succeeding princes, unarrested even by the singular tragedy of Codrus, more of an ancient Roman

than a Greek’-passing over two centuries of hereditary First Magistrates whose very title suggests the prevalence of a wish to limit the sovereign authority--passing over seventy years of decennial Archons, and other steps whereby aristocratic was gra

Θησέυς from θέσθαι. + Hom. II. B. 546. # Hom. Od. H. 9. li Erehthens. Hom. Il. B. 547-551. S T% δ' ούπως τις ομοίος επιχθονίων γενετ' ανήρ, Κοσμήσαι ίππους τε και ανε'ρας ασπιδιώτας. --Ηom. Β. 553.

dually substituted for monarchical government-passing over the bloody laws of Draco, a mere attempt on the part of the

oligarchy to check the growth of free principles--and the conspiracy of Cylon, which though fruitless to its author, was pregnant with consequences most important to his country,—we behold the central figure of the third great era in Solon THE ARBITER. In that transcendent function we may be content to merge the character of the soldier and the poet, but not of the man. Honour be to him, especially in contrast with the elder reformer of a rival statehonour to him who esteemed not, like the Spartan Lycurgus, morals as subordinate to policy, but policy as subservient to good morals ! Honour to him, who thought it a higher duty of the lawgiver to train his fellow-citizens to live in happiness than to die with constancy! Honour to him who, tempted on the one hand to self-aggrandizement, and goaded on the other by the sight of a tyrannous nobility and a tortured people, yet suffered the moderation of his personal character to dictate his whole code and political system ! His constitution, but for the single blot of permitting the continuance of slavery, might be cited as the most felicitous compromise between power and right ever effected by the wisdom of an individual mind. But in what age or country has the course of innovation been stayed at that particular point which individual sagacity would recommend? The nicely balanced constitution of Solon could not long remain in equilibrium. The elective franchise and judicial function of his Popular Assembly provided a legitimate organ for the democratic tendency; and every subsequent event—the usurpation of the Pisistralidæ not excepted-helped on its ulterior developement.

“The next age shifts' into the grand spectacle of the PerSIAN Invasion. At the most terrible crisis of that soul-stirring time, the Athenians,' says Herodotus, were the preservers of

Greece. At the same crisis, adds Mr Bulwer, when even the deities themselves seemed doubtful, Athens was unshaken.' It was the epoch of her greatest men, and of incidents the most stupendous she was destined to witness. She was at the zenith of her true glory, whilst her buildings lay in ashes, and the vision of her future supremacy was still confined to the brain of Themistocles. From those ashes to the marbles of the Parthenon was only a descent on the scale of moral greatness. haps, it is not less a descent to pass from the contest of Themistocles and Aristides to that of Cimon and Pericles.

What a host of recollections gathers round the latter of those names, as the land-mark of the Fifth great period in Attic history! --the private virtues of Pericles, and the public vices of his ad

And, perministration --new weapons thrust into the hands of the democracy

-the selfishness of Athenians as citizens predominating over their patriotism as Greeks—art triumphant-manners degraded morality debased! With Pericles, too, commences that fatal war, whose progress showed how inevitably the constitution of Athens, converted—and mainly by his means-into the will of a despotic majority, was too strong for the maxims by which he himself would have controlled its working. A noble subject for the hand of genius! were it only for the sake of transferring to fresh canvass the bold strokes of Thucydides, or of retouching the feebler pencillings of Xenophon.

The curtain which falls upon the humiliation of Athens must rise on her renewed ascendency. One generation has scarcely passed since she was groaning beneath the thirty tyrants and their reign of terrorher native energies prostrate, her external resources rest away. Seventy-five cities now hail her the head of their confederacy. Ægean Isles are numbered among her foreign settlements. Lacedæmon recognises her dominion of the seas. She is confessedly, and without a rival, first of the Grecian communities.

Look at her half a century later! An enemy more deadly than Thebes or Sparta bas fought his way to tyranny. Against the craft of Philip, and the valour of his son, the eloquent thunders of Demosthenes have pealed in vain. And if the last sparks of antique heroism do not expire with Phocion, yet the fitful gleams they throw out from time to time serve but to mock the ruins they adorn.'

Again, four hundred years have fled. The Athenians are creating a thirteenth tribe in honour of Adrian; and their city is receiving its latest embellishments from the bounty of Emperors and Sophists!

Century after century rolls on in merited obscurity. Athens is insulted by the name, without the substance of freedom, until her conquest by Omar. She is an appendage of the harem, and

a pandar and eunuch governs her governor,' until the Greeks of our own time show something of their fathers' spirit. Then—

6

last scene of all
That ends this strange, eventful history--"

a Bavarian prince builds his palace in the city of Theseus----bis subjects address him in a jargon which mingles Turkish, French, Italian, and German with remnants of the lowest Hellenic dialect--and the traveller, who has been landed by a steam-boat at the mole of the Piræus, returns from a day's shooting in Baotia to an English Hotel in Athens, kept by a native of Wapping!

On these signal epochs, or some such as these, separated in deed by very different intervals, but exhibiting the true stages of Athenian elevation and decline, Mr Bulwer might have lavished, with admirable effect, the stores of his knowledge, and the shrewdness of his philosophy. At each of them it would have been an enviable task to trace out the effects of accumulated causes;—to portray successive states of manners, literature, art, and policy; and to call up, by a few magic touches, the images of statesmen and warriors, orators and poets. Here, too, would have been ample room for that tone of levity or sarcasm, to which Mr Bulwer occasionally inclines, and which does not so exactly harmonize with the regular march of historic narrative. And, that such isolated pictures would have been drawn by him with vigour and enthusiasm, may be proved at once by a few sketches, of a kindred nature, which these volumes supply, and which we quote with infinite pleasure, though the first of them is not exclusively Athenian. lis subject is the Olympic festival :

• If warmed for a moment from the gravity of the historic muse, we might conjure up the picture of this festival, we would invoke the imagination of the reader to that sacred ground, decorated with the profusest triumphs of Grecian art,--all Greece assembled from her continent, her colonies, her isles, -war suspended,-a sabbath of solemnity and rejoicing, -the Spartan no longer grave, the Athenian forgetful of the forum,-the high-born Thessalian, -the gay Corinthian,—the lively gestures of the Asiatic lonian ;-suffering the various events of various times to confound themselves in one recollection of the past, he may see every eye turned from the combatants to one majestic figure-hear every lip murmuring a single name-glorious in greater fields; Olympia itself is forgotten. Who is the spectacle of the day? Themistocles, the conqueror of Salamis, and the saviour of Greece! Again, the huzzas of countless thousands following the chariot-wheels of the competitors, whose name is shouted forth, the victor without a rival?--it is Alcibiades, the destroyer of Athens! Turn to the temple of the Olympian god, pass the brazen gates, proceed through the columned aisles, what arrests the awe and wonder of the crowd ? Seated on a throne of ebon and of ivory, of gold and gems—the olive crown on his head, in his right hand the statue of victory, in his test, wrought of all metals, the cloud-compelling sceptre--behold the colossal master-piece of Phidias, the Homeric dream embodied, the majesty of the Olympian Jove! Enter the banquet-room of the conquerors ;-to whose verse, hymned in i solemn and mighty chorus, bends the listening Spartan ?– it is the verse of the Dorian Pindar! In that motley and glittering space (the lair of Olympia, the mart of every commerce, the focus of all intellect) join the throng, earnest and breathless, gathered round that sunburnt Traveller ;-now drinking in the wild account of Babylonian gardens, or of temples whose awful deity no lip may name, ---Now, with clenched hands and glowing cheeks, tracking the march of Xerxes along exhausted rivers, and over þridges that spanned the sea ;-what moves, what hushes that mighty audience? It is Herodotus reading his history!**

Or, take the reception of Aristagoras at Athens, after he bas failed to obtain the aid of Spartà in the Ionian revolt :

• The patient and plotting Milesian departed thence to Athens : he arrived there just at the moment when the Athenian ambassadors had returned from Sardis, charged with the haughty reply of Artaphernes to the mission concerning Hippias. The citizens were aroused, excited, inflamed; equally indignant at the insolence, and fearful of the power of the Satrap. "It was a favourable occasion for Aristagoras !

* To the imagination of the reader this passage in history presents a striking picture. We may behold the great assembly of that lively, high-souled, sensitive, and inflammable people. There is the Agora ; there the half-built temple to Æacus ;-above, the citadel, where yet hang the chains of the captive, enemy;-still linger in the ears of the populace, already vain of their prowess, and baughty in their freedom, the menaces of the Persian—the words that threatened them with the restoration of the exiled tyrant; and at this moment, and in this concourse, we see the subtle Milesian, wise in the experience of mankind, popular with all free states, from having restored freedom to the colonies of lonia—every advantage of foreign circumstance and intrinsic ability in his favour,-about to address the breathless and excited multitude. "He rose : he painted, as he had done to Cleomenes, in lively colours, the wealth of Asia, the effeminate habits of its people-he described its armies fighting without spear or shield—he invoked the valour of a nation already successful in war against bardy and heroic foes—he appealed to old hereditary ties; the people of Miletus had been an Athenian colony-should not the parent protect the child in the greatest of all blessing's--the right of liberty ? `Now he entreats-now he promises,-the sympathy. of the free, the enthusiasm of the brave, are alike aroused. He succeeds: the people accede to his views..." It is easier,” says the homely Herodotus, " to gain (or delude) a multitude than an individual ; and the eloquence which had failed with Cleomenes enlisted thirty thousand Athenians.”+

The next extract must be longer. It paints the condition of Athens about the period of Cimon's death, thirty years after the battles of Platæa and Mycale,-eighteen years before the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war:

- A rapid glance over the events of the few years commemorated in the last book of this history, will suflice to show the eminence which Athens had attained over the other states of Greece. She was the head of the

* Baudry's Paris edition, vol. i.

P:

62.
+ Baudry's Paris edition, vol. i, p. 192.

« السابقةمتابعة »