ARCHAEOLOGY OF LITERATURE AND ART
Of the decline of Greek Literature.
78. From its brilliant state previous to the time of Alexander, Greek literature gradually declined. Among the causes were the increasing luxury and consequent effeminacy and remissness of the people, and the various internal political commotions, which followed the death of Alexander. In fact, the declension began with the first loss of their independence under the supremacy of Philip. And when at last they became a prey to Roman ambition, at the fall of Corinth, and when, somewhat later, Athens herself was plundered, partially at least, of her stores of learning and art by Sylla, the Greeks, by being wholly deprived of liberty, were bereft of their highest motives to exertion. Their native vigor and originality nor longer showed itself, except in a few single efforts, and finally sunk prostrate under foreign oppression and domestic corruption.
79. It is worthy of remark, that the knowledge and use of the Greek language was greatly extended after the conquests of Alexander. Many cities were built by him in the east, which were inhabited chiefly by Greeks. Before the time of Christ the language had become familiar throughout Palestine. The Latin writers bear ample testimony to the general diffusion of Greek. The Romans were obliged to adopt this for their official laguage, in the eastern provinces. Even when the seat of the Roman government was removed to Constantinople and a special effort was made to introduce the Latin, it was but partially successful. The emperor Justinian found it necessary to publish his Institutes, Code and Pandects in Greek, as well as Latin, because the latter was so imperfectly understood by his subjects and civilians. — In the fourth century the Greek language seems to have been employed to some extent in Nubia and Abyssinia.
80. From the period whence we date the decline of Greek literature it appears less national in its character. This probably was not owing wholly to the circumstance that the Greeks were no longer their own masters. Something must be allowed for the fact, that the literature of the subsequent periods was not the growth of the native soil of Greece, but the product of places without her proper limits and remote from the scene of her early struggles and successes. It was chiefly at Rhodes, Pergamus and Alexandria, that letters were cultivated. Athens was no longer the capital and mistress of the literary world; although for a long time after her submission to Rome her schools were the resort of youth for completing their education. Even in this respect, however, she had rivals. Apollonia on the shore of the Hadriatic was celebrated for its cultivation of Greek literature, and honored as the place where Augustus finished his studies. Massilia in Gaul, now Marseilles, a little later gained still greater celebrity for its schools of science. Antioch, Berytus, and Edessa may also be mentioned as places where Greek was studied after the Christian era.
81. At different times during the decline of Greek letters, royal and imperial patronage was not wanting. Very liberal encouragement was afforded by some of the first Ptolemies at Alexandria to all the arts and studies, especially by Philadelphus. At Pergamus, also, great efforts were made by Attalus and Eumenes to foster learning. Among the Roman Emperors, likewise, there were patrons of Greek literature. Under the Antonini there was a little fresh blooming both in Greek and Roman letters; and Aurelius Antoninus especially befriended the cultivation of philosophy and bestowed privileges upon Athens. Julian the Apostate cultivated and patronized Greek studies, and allowed considerable stipends to teachers in the schools of pagan philosophy. He is said to have erected at Constantinople the royal portico, where was lodged the library already mentioned, and where also was established a sort of College for giving instruction in the arts and sciences. At a later period some emulation was awakened among Greek scholars in the east by the zeal and inquiries of the Arabian Caliphs, who were liberal patrons of learning, especially at Bagdad.
SUPPRESSION OF SCHOOLS.
82. In speaking of the circumstances connected with the decline of Greek literature, the suppression of the philosophical and rhetorical schools at Athens, by the Emperor Justinian, is usually mentioned and lamented. These schools had existed from the time of Socrates and Plato. In them the most distinguished philosophers and rhetoricians had taught numerous disciples native and foreign. While sustained they kept alive a taste and love for Greek literature and philosophy. They were only partially interrupted by the subjection of Athens to Rome, and afterwards were warmly supported by some of the Roman emperors, particularly by Julian, who, as has just been mentioned, allowed a stipend to the teachers in them. Hadrian also is said to have furnished them with the means of procuring books. But they were entirely suppressed by Justinian, A.D. 529; not, it is said, because he was hostile to schools or philosophy, but because the teachers opposed his efforts to extirpate paganism. Dimascius, Simplicius, and other philosophers were obliged to leave Athens, and fled to the protection of Chosroes king of Persia. Although Greek literature had been declining for many centuries, and these schools had not hindered its wane, still their suppression probably hastened the entire oblivion, into which it soon fell in the west : because after this event there was less literary intercourse between the west and the east.
83. The essential and fundamental contrariety of the Christian religion to the whole spirit of pagan philosophy and mythology, is a circumstance proper here to be noticed. It was not at all strange that Christians should neglect to study the pagan writings, except as they wished to arm themselves for the defence of their own faith.
1. Opposition to the cultivation of heathen literature early appeared, but there was not perfect agreement among the Fathers on the subject. The council of Carthage, A.D. 398, formally condemned it. Yet many distinguished Fathers recommended the study of Greek learning. Basil wrote a treatise in favor of it. Origen carefully taught it, and was applauded for the same by one of the most eminent of his disciples, Gregory Thaumaturgus. Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzen also advocated this study. Indeed the Eastern or Greek Church as a body appears to have been inclined to favor it, while the Western or Latin Church was strongly opposed to it. There was, nevertheless, a general disrelish for every thing connected with paganism, which would naturally tend to accelerate the growing neglect of the productions of Grecian literature. The Christians had their seminaries designed for the education of the maturer class of youth, and such especially as were to become religious teachers. But the sacred Scriptures were the basis of instruction.
Nothing in the above remarks implies that Christianity has been in its influence unfavorable to the progress of mind. On the contrary it has unspeakably elevated the human intellect, and advanced, on the whole, more than any other cause, the interests of science and literature. It proposed and has accomplished a mighty mental revolution, opening wider and more extensive channels of thought, imparting keener sensibility to the feelings of the heart, and giving ample scope to all the noble energies of man. The happy results of this will go on accumulating to the end of the world.
LOSS OF BOOKS
84. The great loss of classical manuscripts, after the Christian era, is justly regretted by all. The chief source of this loss was the destruction of the great libraries, which has been previously mentioned. The destruction of the Alexandrian library was especially felt, because it was in connection with this library that the greatest establishment for copying and multiplying manuscripts had existed.
There were other causes that contributed to diminish the number of classical manuscripts. Private hostility to the writings of particular authors occasioned some losses. It was a custom, both with the Greeks and the Romans, to sentence the writings of individual authors to the flames, as a kind of punishment or to hinder the circulation of objectionable sentiments. The practice was adopted in the Christian church. In the middle ages this hostility was in some instances directed against classical authors, and different emperors at Constantinople are said to have been induced to burn the existing copies of several of the ancient poets.
Some loss also may be ascribed to private negligence and ignorance, if we may conjecture from the statement, which asserts that three of the lost decades of Livy were once made into rackets for the use of a monastery. "A page of the second decade of Livy, it is said, was found by a man of letters in the parchment of his battledore, whilst he was amusing himself in the country. He hastened to the maker of the battledore, but arrived too late; the man had finished the last page of Livy about a week before."
Another way in which such losses occurred, was by obliteration. The papyrus becoming very difficult to procure after Egypt fell into the hands of the Saracens, in the 7th century, and parchment being thereby rendered more costly even than before, copyists very naturally began to seek some remedy. They adopted the expedient of obliterating the writing of an old manuscript. The parchment, after the obliteration, was used again, and thus the manu- script, which originally contained perhaps some valuable work of a Greek or Roman author, received in its stead, it might be, the absurd tales of a monk, or the futile quibbles of a scholastic.
This practice of deletion was known in the time of Cicero ; and a manuscript written on a second time, as above described, was termed Codex Palimpsestus. — Some MSS. of this kind have been deciphered.
85. To notice particularly the civil history of the Greeks after the Christian era would be foreign from the design of this glance at some of the circumstances attending the decline of Greek letters. We ought, however, to observe, that they underwent a series of political changes, very few of which were calculated to exert any beneficial influence upon learning, while many of them were exceedingly unpropitious. Among the former, the removal of the Roman Court to Constantinople was probably the most favorable. Among the latter, we may mention the early inroads of the barbarians; the encroachments of the Saracens; the capture and plunder of Constantinople by the Latins; the internal dissentions after the recovery of the capital; and finally the attacks of the Turks, which were renewed from time to time until the final overthrow of the Greeks, A.D. 1453. By the various disasters thus suffered, the supremacy of the Greek emperors was ere long confined to a narrow corner of Europe, and at last to the suburbs of Constantinople, and here learning found its only refuge.
On the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, many of the Greek literati fled to Italy and other parts of western Europe, and by their oral instructions and their writings contributed greatly to the revival of letters, and especially to the study of the Greek language, in the west.
Notwithstanding all the disasters above suggested, and a subjection of
nearly 400 years to the tyranny of Turkish masters, the Greeks have still an
existence. By a painful and protracted struggle, commenced A.D. 1820,
they secured their independence. Their present language differs from that of
classical times, both in pronunciation and in structure, and contains as yet
but a slender literature. The hope, however, has been awakened, that Greece
may again rise to eminence in letters and in arts.