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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book I. - 10/29 -


slavery. A tribe of warriors possess and subdue a territory;--they share its soil with the chief in proportion to their connexion with his person, or their military services and repute--each becomes the lord of lands and slaves--each has privileges above the herd of the conquered population. Suppose again, that the dominion is acquired by colonizers rather than conquerors; the colonizers, superior in civilization to the natives,--and regarded by the latter with reverence and awe, would become at once a privileged and noble order. Hence, from either source, an aristocracy permanent and hereditary [67]. If founded on conquest, in proportion to the number of the victors, is that aristocracy more or less oligarchical. The extreme paucity of force with which the Dorians conquered their neighbours, was one of the main causes why the governments they established were rigidly oligarchical.

XXVII. Proceeding onward, we find that in this aristocracy, are preserved the seeds of liberty and the germe of republicanism. These conquerors, like our feudal barons, being sharers of the profit of the conquest and the glory of the enterprise, by no means allow undivided and absolute authority to their chiefs. Governed by separate laws-- distinguished by separate privileges from the subdued community, they are proud of their own freedom, the more it is contrasted with the servitude of the population: they preserve liberty for themselves-- they resist the undue assumptions of the king [68]--and keep alive that spirit and knowledge of freedom which in after times (as their numbers increase, and they become a people, distinct still from the aboriginal natives, who continue slaves) are transfused from the nobles to the multitude. In proportion as the new race are warlike will their unconscious spirit be that of republicanism; the connexion between martial and republican tendencies was especially recognised by all ancient writers: and the warlike habits of the Hellenes were the cradle of their political institutions. Thus, in conquest (or sometimes in immigration) we may trace the origin of an aristocracy [69], as of slavery, and thus, by a deeper inquiry, we may find also that the slavery of a population and the freedom of a state have their date, though dim and undeveloped, in the same epoch.

XXVIII. I have thought that the supposed Egyptian colonization of Attica under Cecrops afforded the best occasion to treat of the above matters, not so much in reference to Cecrops himself as to the migration of Eastern and Egyptian adventurers. Of such migrations the dates may be uncertain--of such adventurers the names may be unknown. But it seems to me impossible to deny the fact of foreign settlements in Greece, in her remoter and more barbarous era, though we may dispute as to the precise amount of the influence they exercised, and the exact nature of the rites and customs they established.

A belief in the early connexion between the Egyptians and Athenians, encouraged by the artful vanity of the one, was welcomed by the lively credulity of the other. Many ages after the reputed sway of the mythical Cecrops, it was fondly imagined that traces of their origin from the solemn Egypt [70] were yet visible among the graceful and versatile people, whose character was as various, yet as individualized, as their religion--who, viewed in whatsoever aspect of their intellectual history, may appear constantly differing, yet remain invariably Athenian. Whether clamouring in the Agora--whether loitering in the Academe--whether sacrificing to Hercules in the temple--whether laughing at Hercules on the stage--whether with Miltiades arming against the Mede--whether with Demosthenes declaiming against the Macedonian--still unmistakeable, unexampled, original, and alone--in their strength or their weakness, their wisdom or their foibles their turbulent action, their cultivated repose.

CHAPTER II.

The unimportant consequences to be deduced from the admission that Cecrops might be Egyptian.--Attic Kings before Theseus.--The Hellenes.--Their Genealogy.--Ionians and Achaeans Pelasgic.--Contrast between Dorians and Ionians.--Amphictyonic League.

I. In allowing that there does not appear sufficient evidence to induce us to reject the tale of the Egyptian origin of Cecrops, it will be already observed, that I attach no great importance to the dispute: and I am not inclined reverently to regard the innumerable theories that have been built on so uncertain a foundation. An Egyptian may have migrated to Attica, but Egyptian influence in Attica was faint and evanescent;--arrived at the first dawn of historical fact, it is with difficulty that we discover the most dubious and shadowy vestiges of its existence. Neither Cecrops nor any other Egyptian in those ages is recorded to have founded a dynasty in Attica--it is clear that none established a different language--and all the boasted analogies of religion fade, on a close examination, into an occasional resemblance between the symbols and attributes of Egyptian and Grecian deities, or a similarity in mystic ceremonies and solemn institutions, which, for the most part, was almost indisputably formed by intercourse between Greece and Egypt in a far later age. Taking the earliest epoch at which history opens, and comparing the whole character of the Athenian people--moral, social, religious, and political--with that of any Egyptian population, it is not possible to select a more startling contrast, or one in which national character seems more indelibly formed by the early and habitual adoption of utterly opposite principles of thought and action. [71]

I said that Cecrops founded no dynasty: the same traditions that bring him from Egypt give him Cranaus, a native, for his successor. The darkness of fable closes over the interval between the reign of Cranaus and the time of Theseus: if tradition be any guide whatsoever, the history of that period was the history of the human race--it was the gradual passage of men from a barbarous state to the dawn of civilization--and the national mythi only gather in wild and beautiful fictions round every landmark in their slow and encumbered progress.

It would he very possible, by a little ingenious application of the various fables transmitted to us, to construct a history of imagined conquests and invented revolutions; and thus to win the unmerited praise of throwing a new light upon those remote ages. But when fable is our only basis--no fabric we erect, however imposing in itself, can be rightly entitled to the name of history. And, as in certain ancient chronicles it is recorded merely of undistinguished monarchs that they "lived and died," so such an assertion is precisely that which it would be the most presumptuous to make respecting the shadowy kings who, whether in Eusebius or the Parian marble, give dates and chronicles to the legendary gloom which preceded the heroic age.

The principal event recorded in these early times, for which there seems some foundation, is a war between Erechtheus of Athens and the Eleusinians;--the last assisted or headed by the Thracian Eumolpus. Erechtheus is said to have fallen a victim in this contest. But a treaty afterward concluded with the Eleusinians confirmed the ascendency of Athens, and, possibly, by a religious ceremonial, laid the foundation of the Eleusinian mysteries. In this contest is introduced a very doubtful personage, under the appellation of Ion (to whom I shall afterward recur), who appears on the side of the Athenians, and who may be allowed to have exercised a certain influence over them, whether in religious rites or political institutions, though he neither attained to the throne, nor seems to have exceeded the peaceful authority of an ally. Upon the dim and confused traditions relative to Ion, the wildest and most luxuriant speculations have been grafted--prolix to notice, unnecessary to contradict.

II. During this period there occurred--not rapidly, but slowly--the most important revolution of early Greece, viz., the spread of that tribe termed the Hellenes, who gradually established their predominance throughout the land, impressed indelible traces on the national character, and finally converted their own into the national name.

I have already expressed my belief that the Pelasgi were not a barbarous race, speaking a barbarous tongue, but that they were akin to the Hellenes, who spoke the Grecian language, and are considered the proper Grecian family. Even the dubious record of genealogy (which, if fabulous in itself, often under the names of individuals typifies the affinity of tribes) makes the Hellenes kindred to the Pelasgi. Deucalion, the founder of the Hellenes, was of Pelasgic origin--son of Prometheus, and nephew of Atlas, king of the Pelasgic Arcadia.

However this may be, we find the Hellenes driven from Phocis, their earliest recorded seat, by a flood in the time of Deucalion. Migrating into Thessaly, they expelled the Pelasgi; and afterward spreading themselves through Greece, they attained a general ascendency over the earlier habitants, enslaving, doubtless, the bulk of the population among which they formed a settlement, but ejecting numbers of the more resolute or the more noble families, and causing those celebrated migrations by which the Pelasgi carried their name and arts into Italy, as well as into Crete and various other isles. On the continent of Greece, when the revolution became complete, the Pelasgi appear to have retained only Arcadia, the greater part of Thessaly [72], the land of Dodona, and Attica.

There is no reason to suppose the Hellenes more enlightened and civilized than the Pelasgi; but they seem, if only by the record of their conquests, to have been a more stern, warlike, and adventurous branch of the Grecian family. I conclude them, in fact, to have been that part of the Pelasgic race who the longest retained the fierce and vigorous character of a mountain tribe, and who found the nations they invaded in that imperfect period of civilization which is so favourable to the designs of a conqueror--when the first warlike nature of a predatory tribe is indeed abandoned--but before the discipline, order, and providence of a social community are acquired. Like the Saxons into Britain, the Hellenes were invited [73] by the different Pelasgic chiefs as auxiliaries, and remained as conquerors. But in other respects they rather resembled the more knightly and energetic race by whom in Britain the Saxon dynasty was overturned:-- the Hellenes were the Normans of antiquity. It is impossible to decide the exact date when the Hellenes obtained the general ascendency or when the Greeks received from that Thessalian tribe their common appellation. The Greeks were not termed Hellenes in the time in which the Iliad was composed--they were so termed in the time of Hesiod. But even in the Iliad, the word Panhellenes, applied to the Greeks, testifies the progress of the revolution [74], and in the Odyssey, the Hellenic name is no longer limited to the dominion of Achilles.

III. The Hellenic nation became popularly subdivided into four principal families, viz., the Dorians, the Aeolians, the Ionians, and Achaeans, of which I consider the former two alone genuinely Hellenic. The fable which makes Dorus, Aeolus, and Xuthus, the sons of Helen, declares that while Dorus was sent forth to conquer other lands, Aeolus succeeded to the domain of Phthiotis, and records no conquests of his own; but attributes to his sons the origin of most of the principal families of Greece. If rightly construed, this account would denote that the Aeolians remained for a generation at least subsequent to the first migration of the Dorians, in their Thessalian territories; and thence splitting into various hordes, descended as


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book I. - 10/29

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