History of Greece, Volume 01 (of 12)
HISTORY OF GREECE.
I. Legendary Greece.
II. Grecian History to the Reign of
Peisistratus at Athens.
GEORGE GROTE, Esq.
REPRINTED FROM THE SECOND LONDON EDITION
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
329 AND 331 PEARL STREET.
PART I.—LEGENDARY GREECE
Ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται
Ἡμίθεοι προτἐρῃ γενέῃ.—Hesiod
PART II.—HISTORICAL GREECE.
... Πόλιες μερόπων ἀνθρώπων.—Homer
The first idea of this History wasconceived many years ago, at a time when ancient Hellas was known tothe English public chiefly through the pages of Mitford; and my purposein writing it was to rectify the erroneous statements as to matter offact which that History contained, as well as to present the generalphenomena of the Grecian world under what I thought a juster and morecomprehensive point of view. My leisure, however, was not at that timeequal to the execution of any large literary undertaking; nor is ituntil within the last three or four years that I have been able todevote to the work that continuous and exclusive labor, without which,though much may be done to illustrate detached points, no entire orcomplicated subject can ever be set forth in a manner worthy to meetthe public eye.
Meanwhile the state of the English literary world, in reference toancient Hellas, has been materially changed in more ways than one. Ifmy early friend Dr. Thirlwall’s History of Greece had appeared a fewyears sooner, I should probably never have conceived the design of thepresent work at all; I should certainly not have been prompted to thetask by any deficiencies, such as those which I felt and regretted inMitford. The comparison of the two authors affords, indeed, a strikingproof of the progress of sound and enlarged[p. iv] views respecting the ancient world duringthe present generation. Having studied of course the same evidencesas Dr. Thirwall, I am better enabled than others to bear testimony tothe learning, the sagacity, and the candor which pervade his excellentwork: and it is the more incumbent on me to give expression to thissentiment, since the particular points on which I shall have occasionto advert to it will, unavoidably, be points of dissent oftener than ofcoincidence.
The liberal spirit of criticism, in which Dr. Thirwall stands somuch distinguished from Mitford, is his own: there are other featuresof superiority which belong to him conjointly with his age. For duringthe generation since Mitford’s work, philological studies have beenprosecuted in Germany with remarkable success: the stock of facts anddocuments, comparatively scanty, handed down from the ancient world,has been combined and illustrated in a thousand different ways: andif our witnesses cannot be multiplied, we at least have numerousinterpreters to catch, repeat, amplify, and explain their brokenand half-inaudible depositions. Some of the best writers in thisdepartment—Boeckh, Niebuhr, O. Müller—have been translated into ourlanguage; so that the English public has been enabled to form someidea of the new lights thrown upon many subjects of antiquity by theinestimable aid of German erudition. The poets, historians, orators,and philosophers of Greece, have thus been all rendered both moreintelligible and more instructive than they were to a student in thelast century; and the general picture of the Grecian world may now beconceived with a degree of fidelity, which, considering our imperfectmaterials, it is curious to contemplate.
It is that general picture which an historian of Greece is requiredfirst to embody in his own mind, and next to lay out before hisreaders;—a picture not merely such as to delight the imagination bybrilliancy of coloring and depth of sentiment, but also suggestive andimproving to the reason. Not[p.v] omitting the points of resemblance as well as of contrastwith the better-known forms of modern society, he will especially studyto exhibit the spontaneous movement of Grecian intellect, sometimesaided but never borrowed from without, and lighting up a small portionof a world otherwise clouded and stationary. He will develop the actionof that social system, which, while insuring to the mass of freemena degree of protection elsewhere unknown, acted as a stimulus to thecreative impulses of genius, and left the superior minds sufficientlyunshackled to soar above religious and political routine, to overshoottheir own age, and to become the teachers of posterity.
To set forth the history of a people by whom the first spark wasset to the dormant intellectual capacities of our nature,—Hellenicphenomena, as illustrative of the Hellenic mind and character,—is thetask which I propose to myself in the present work; not without apainful consciousness how much the deed falls short of the will, and ayet more painful conviction, that full success is rendered impossibleby an obstacle which no human ability can now remedy,—the insufficiencyof original evidence. For, in spite of the valuable expositions ofso many able commentators, our stock of information respecting theancient world still remains lamentably inadequate to the demands of anenlightened curiosity. We possess only what has drifted ashore from thewreck of a stranded vessel; and though this includes some of the mostprecious articles amongst its once abundant cargo, yet if any man willcast his eyes over the citations in Diogenes Laërtius, Athenæus, orPlutarch, or the list of names in Vossius de Historicis Græcis, he willsee with grief and surprise how much larger is the proportion which,through the enslavement of the Greeks themselves, the decline of theRoman Empire, the change of religion, and the irruption of barbarianconquerors, has been irrecoverably submerged. We are thus reduced tojudge of he whole Hellenic world, eminently multiform as it was,
Such insufficiency of original and trustworthy materials, ascompared with those resources which are thought hardly sufficientfor the historian of any modern kingdom, is neither to be concealednor extenuated, however much we may lament it. I advert to thepoint here on more grounds than one. For it not only limits theamount of information which an historian of Greece can give to hisreaders,—compelling him to leave much of his picture an absoluteblank,—but it also greatly spoils the execution of the remainder. Thequestion of credibility is perpetually obtruding itself, and requiringa decision, which, whether favorable or unfavorable, always introducesmore or less of controversy; and gives to those outlines, which theinterest of the picture requires to be straight and vigorous, a faintand faltering character. Expressions of qualified and hesitatingaffirmation are repeated until the reader is sickened; while the writerhimself, to whom this restraint is more painful still, is frequentlytempted to break loose from the unseen spell by which a conscientiouscriticism binds him down,—to screw up the possible and probableinto certainty, to suppress counterbalancing considerations, and tosubstitute a pleasing romance in place of half-known and perplexingrealities. Desiring, in the present work, to set forth all which canbe ascertained, together with[p.vii] such conjectures and inferences as can be reasonablydeduced from it, but nothing more,—I notice, at the outset, thatfaulty state of the original evidence which renders discussions ofcredibility, and hesitation in the language of the judge, unavoidable.Such discussions, though the reader may be assured that they willbecome less frequent as we advance into times better known, aretiresome enough, even with the comparatively late period which I adoptas the historical beginning; much more intolerable would they haveproved, had I thought it my duty to start from the primitive terminusof Deukaliôn or Inachus, or from the unburied Pelasgi and Leleges,and to subject the heroic ages to a similar scrutiny. I really knownothing so disheartening or unrequited as the elaborate balancing ofwhat is called evidence,—the comparison of infinitesimal probabilitiesand conjectures all uncertified,—in regard to these shadowy times andpersons.
The law respecting sufficiency of evidence ought to be the same forancient times as for modern; and the reader will find in this Historyan application, to the former, of criteria analogous to those whichhave been long recognized in the latter. Approaching, though with acertain measure of indulgence, to this standard, I begin the realhistory of Greece with the first recorded Olympiad, or 776 B.C. To such as are accustomed to the habits once universal, andstill not uncommon, in investigating the ancient world, I may appear tobe striking off one thousand years from the scroll of history; but tothose whose canon of evidence is derived from Mr. Hallam, M. Sismondi,or any other eminent historian of modern events, I am well assured thatI shall appear lax and credulous rather than exigent or sceptical.For the truth is, that historical records, properly so called, donot begin until long after this date: nor will any man, who candidlyconsiders the extreme paucity of attested facts for two centuriesafter 776 B. C., be astonished to learn that the stateof Greece in 900, 1000, 1100, 1200, 1300, 1400 B. C.,etc.,[p. viii]—or anyearlier century which it may please chronologists to include in theircomputed genealogies,—cannot be described to him upon anything likedecent evidence. I shall hope, when I come to the lives of Socrates andPlato, to illustrate one of the most valuable of their principles,—thatconscious and confessed ignorance is a better state of mind, than thefancy, without the reality, of knowledge. Meanwhile, I begin by makingthat confession, in reference to the real world of Greece anteriorto the Olympiads; meaning the disclaimer to apply to anything like ageneral history,—not to exclude rigorously every individual event.
The times which I thus set apart from the region of history arediscernible only through a different atmosphere,—that of epic poetryand legend. To confound together these disparate matters is, in myjudgment, essentially unphilosophical. I describe the earlier times bythemselves, as conceived by the faith and feeling of the first Greeks,and known only through their legends,—without presuming to measure howmuch or how little of historical matter these legends may contain. Ifthe reader blame me for not assisting him to determine this,—if he askme why I do not undraw the curtain and disclose the picture,—I reply inthe words of the painter Zeuxis, when the same question was addressedto him on exhibiting his master-piece of imitative art: “The curtain isthe picture.” What we now read as poetry and legend was once accreditedhistory, and the only genuine history which the first Greeks couldconceive or relish of their past time: the curtain conceals nothingbehind, and cannot, by any ingenuity, be withdrawn. I undertake only toshow it as it stands,—not to efface,