Page 0457



AS already said in the preceding chapter, the people known as Greeks were by themselves

called HELLENES-the descendants of Hellen, their ancestor. Though a primitive people, they

were by no means as remote in their origin and development as were many nations of the

East. Indeed, it is safe to say that the Hellenes were among the younger races who

contributed to form the population of Old Europe, and that, as compared in age with the

peoples of the Nile and Euphrates valleys, they were as of yesterday in their origin and


When the Phoenicians, themselves of Semitic descent, had peopled the eastern shore of the

Mediterranean and begun their maritime discoveries, they came first of all upon Cyprus,

and then by easy stages among the Cyclades. From one of these islands to the next was but

a step until the south-eastern promontories of the mainland of Hellas were reached. In all

the little isles anchored in these beautiful waters a people were found, numerous, active,

well-formed, light-complexioned, quick to appreciate the advantages of commerce. Thus

was opened up an acquaintance between the great maritime nation of the eastern

Mediterranean and the Greek populations of the Aegean islands and the main peninsula of

Hellas. In the further extension of their commerce it was found by the Phoenicians that a

people of the same race occupied the shores of Asia Minor. These were the IONIANS, who,

like the. Phoenicians, were expert sailors, devoted to commerce and adventure.

These Ionian or Asiatic Hellenes were the oldest of the Greek populations. By them it Was

that bands of their countrymen, carried to the west, came upon the islands of the Cyclades

and finally into Hellas, finding there others of their race

already established. Thus it was that the Ionians became competitors of the Phoenicians in

a half-friendly contest for a predominant influence in the islands of the Aegean and even

in Greece proper.

If we consult the Greeks themselves with regard to their origin, we receive ambiguous

answers. In the first place they held strenuously to the tradition that they were

autochthones, that is, born of the earth. There was no myth of a settlement by immigrant

tribes from abroad. Their ancestors had always abode in Hellas from the time when Earth

gave them birth. On the other hand, there were traditions in almost every state of Greece

that the beginnings of arts and institutions had been brought in by illustrious

foreigners, whose supernatural wisdom furnished a basis of social life. All of these wise

strangers came from over sea, bringing from distant shores the dawn of civilization. Such

legends are substantiated, moreover, by the Greek theology; for all of the gods of Hellas

were the deities of foreign lands disguised in the fine drapery of Greek thought.1 Nor is

it conceivable that a foreign pantheon should thus have been established but by migrating

tribes who brought with them their gods from distant homes.

The science of language has within the present century clearly determined the race-

position of the Greeks. They belonged to the Aryan or Indo-European family of men, being

thus allied with the Hindus, Medes, and Persians of Asia, and the Latin, Celtic, and

Teutonic races in Europe. As already said, the tribal home of this wide- branching tree of

human life appears to have been in the country of Bactria; but at what particular point in

the tribal migrations the Hellenic stock took its rise, it is

1 The historian Curtius makes an exception of Zeus, whom he regards as native to the Greek

imagination; but recent investigations in philology have established beyond doubt the

identity of Zeus Pater with the Dyaus Pitar of the Vedic pantheon.