Page 0461

461 GREECE.-THE PEOPLE.

could formulate and express his thoughts with a clearness and cogency never surpassed. He

could excogitate, imagine. In an age when the coarser senses and more brutal instincts of

human nature were rampant and lay like an incubus on the spiritual faculties of man, the

Greek mind rose like a lily above the pond. It opened its waxen cup. It gathered the dews.

It drank the sunlight by day and the starlight by night. It gave its fragrance first to

its own place and then to all the world, and then bequeathed its imperishable beauties and

perfume to the immortality of art.

Out of the mind of the Greek were produced the loftiest concepts of philosophy. In a time

of universal darkness there was light in Hellas. It is not intended in this connection to

sketch an outline of the work done by the great thinkers of Athens. That will appear in

another part. From the streets of that city, from her walks, her groves, her Academy, a

luminous effulgence has been shed into all the world. In the highest seats of modern

learning the reasoning of Plato and the formulae of Aristotle still in some measure hold

dominion over the acutest intellects of the world. Nor is it likely that the truth which

they evolved from their capricious understanding will ever be restated in a form more

acceptable and attractive to the human mind than that to which themselves gave utterance.

They are today in all the world,

"The dead but sceptered sovereigns who still rule our spirits, from their urns."

Besides the general intellectual superiority of the Greeks they possessed certain

peculiarities of mind for which they were specially noted. They were witty. However wit

may be defined, the Hellenes had it. They were able to discover farfetched analogies. They

could juxtapose the heterogeneous and produce an electrical shock by the touch of

contradictories. They liked that flash of light which scorches its victim. The paradox was

always a generous nut to the Greek who found it. To him the bitterly ridiculous was better

than a jewel of fine gold. An impossible verity was his delight. A pungent untruth made

true or a luminous and startling lie was to him a joy forever. A joke, even at the expense

of the gods, was better than the richest banquet flowing with wine.

Then came subtlety, lending to craft in action. All the fine lines of possibility in a

fact and its relations were discovered by the Greek intellect as if by intuition. To

perceive with delicacy the exact conditions of the thing considered-an impossible task to

the sluggish perceptions of most of the peoples of antiquity-was to the Greek but a

process of healthful exercise. He knew more than his enemy. He beat him and laughed at

him. He was the most capable animal of all antiquity. He was Reynard in the ancient

Kingdom of the Beasts. He planned and contrived while others slept. His were the trick and

the stratagem. He held up a false appearance, and smiled at his foci for being fool enough

to believe it real. He found more pleasure in setting a trap than in taking a city. He

seta snare and stuck a spearhead through the loop. He made cunning a virtue, and recounted

a successful wile with the same pride as if reciting the brave exploits of heroes. To

succeed by craft was nothing if it succeeded, and success without superior skill was more

shameful than defeat. The Greek met the enemy with ambiguous speech. He attacked him with

a riddle. He swept the field with a device, and slew the flying foe because he did not

understand! He entered the treaty room with a dilemma, arranged the terms with a

subterfuge, and went out with a mental reservation.

In the midst of his keen wit, his happy perception of the ridiculous and his profound

subtlety, the Greek retained in the highest degree a sense of the beautiful. He loved and

appreciated the delicate outlines of form and color to the extent of adoration. In a

beautiful land he awoke to consciousness. He saw around him a living landscape, and above

him a cerulean sky. He held communion with all the nude simplicities of nature, and under

her delightful inspiration felt the flutter of wings within him. He would imitate her

loveliness. He saw in his musings and even in his slumbers the outlines of radiant forms.

He caught at the vision. His thought