Greece in Fifth Century B.C.!
The common culture of the Greeks began assuming distinctive forms and elegance since early sixth century before the birth of Christ and the speculations of the Ionian philosophers by the end of the century or from the beginning of the fifth century B.C. had produced an intellectual movement which permeated the whole of Greece.
Shelley remarked that the period which intervened between the birth of Pericles and the death of Aristotle is undoubtedly, whether considered in itself or with reference to the effect which it has produced upon the subsequent destinies of civilized man, the most memorable in the history of the world.
Athenians in the Fifth Century B.C.:
The Athenians were the most distinguished among all the Greeks except of Sicily, in quickness of apprehension, subtlety of humour, fineness in pronunciation. Their sense of humour was developed to an extraordinary degree. The Athenians were good critics, capable of great enthusiasm, willing to recognise excellence in achievement, placing high value on moral worth.
An Athenian would persecute his great men with the same rapidity with which he had applauded them. With his natural acuteness he quickly discovered their weak points and was highly pleased when they were exposed in the public. This accounts for the great popularity of comic stage enjoyed in Athens.
The Athenians had a strong love of art, but what was more they had a refined artistic taste. This specially refined taste of the people of Athens explains their perfection in art and sculpture. Attachment to their ancient religion, both to its meaning and form was another important characteristic of the Athenian people.
Taking him altogether, the Athenian of the 310 fifth as also of the first half of the fourth century was a highly peculiar phenomenon. Excepting the high degree of refinement and the acuteness of perception which characterised the Athenians, they are comparable to the citizens of modern capitals.
In highly developed taste in art and marked pietism the Athenians stood far higher than the citizens of modern capitals. It has been asserted by some modern writers that the intellectual level of the ancient Athenian people was on an average the same as that of the modern working men.
Their knowledge was not far in advance of the children of the elementary schools of modern times. But as Holm points out, this is far from truth. The mechanical repetition of the same type of work cripples the intellect now-a-days, but the labour was done by the slaves in Athens and whatever work the poor citizens did were mostly of the nature of art and such work would not paralyse the mind.
The distinctions that are to be seen in modern societies, were not present in Athens and the means of education were more generally accessible to all than they are in modern times. All this naturally made the Athenians highly suitable for the new arts and sciences in the fifth century.
The feeling for form and rhythm, for precision and clarity, for proportion and order is the central fact in Greek culture; Athenians imbibed these in an abundant degree. Pursuit of wealth, beauty and knowledge was the absorbing interests of every Athenian. He would not choose, the power of the Persian King in preference to beauty.
The useful, beautiful and the good were almost as closely mixed in his thought as was in the philosophy of Socrates. Art, to his mind was first of all an adornment of the ways and means of life. The artist in the Athenian society was not a recluse in a solitary studio, but an artisan working with labourers of varying degrees of skill in a public and intelligible task.
Athens brought together, from all the Greek world, a greater concourse of artists, as well as of philosophers and poets, than any other city except Renaissance Rome and these men, competing in fervent rivalry and co-operating under enlightened statesmanship, realised in fair measure the vision of Pericles.
Athenian Economy in the Fifth Century B.C.:
Production and distribution of wealth are the bases on which every government has to depend. No wonder the base of the Athenian democracy, culture and imperialism was production and distribution of wealth. Agriculture, industry, trade and commerce are the source of wealth of every developed society but in the fifth century B.C. Athens’ economy was based on these. In one century, that is, the fifth century B.C. Athens passed from household economy to national and international economy.
In every society the most needed yet comparatively poor section is the peasantry. In Athens only free men could own land and the peasants were landowners and had the franchise. The Athenians held trade and industry as somewhat degrading, but regarded husbandry as honourable, for this was to their mind, the ground work of national economy, military power and personal character.
The Athenian soil was poor and impoverished by scanty rainfall, erosion by winter- floods, deforestation and aridness. One-third of the area was unsuitable for cultivation. But the Athenians knew the art of agriculture well and did not shirk toil for it. Irrigation, system of transplantation, use of fertilising salts, sewage of the city for increased production were known to them.
Yet the produce was only enough for twenty-five per cent, of the population. Without import of food, which they did from Byzantium, Syria, Egypt, Italy and Sicily, they would starve. This was precisely the motive force behind Athenian imperialism and the necessity for a powerful fleet, as also good ports.
Parsimonious grain produce was supplemented by the Athenians by generous harvests of grapes and olives, thanks to-Persistratus and Solon for introducing them. Periclean Greece was very rich in olive produce and many a landscape was covered by the olive trees. Vines were grown by terrace-cultivation.
The Athenians used olive oil for cooking, anointing, illumination and fuel. It was the richest crop of the country and Athens had a monopoly of export which paid for her grain imports. Fig trees were also grown and by special care rich produce of sweet figs was obtained. Figs were the main source of health and energy and as such Athens’ would not permit export of figs.
Agricultural produce of Athens comprised cereals, olive oil, grapes, figs which were the staples of diet of the Athenians. Cattle was a negligible source of food, the horses were bred for racing, goats for milk, sheep for wool, asses, mules, cows as beasts of burden, and chiefly pigs for meat.
Honey served the purpose of sugar. Fish was a common place delicacy and was taken both fresh and dried. Beans, peas, cabbages, lettuce, onions and garlics were the vegetables. Eggs were in common use. Porridge, flat loaves and cakes were the different forms in which cereals were taken. Wine was used as stimulant and used to be cooled underground by ice and snow.
The fifth century Athenians had developed mining, metallurgical, stone and marble quarrying and many other industries to a degree that forces our admiration. Soil of Athens is rich in silver, lead, marble, iron, zinc. The silver mines at Laurion or Laurium were very rich and in the language of Aeschylus, Laurion was a fountain running silver for Athens.
These mines were the main source of revenue of the government as also a source of private fortune for those Athenians who supplied slaves for the mines, some twenty thousand worked in the mines including superintendents and engineers for a ten hour shift. Mining operation continued night and day without interruption. When in the Peloponnesian War the Spartans captured Laurium the entire economy of Athens was upset.
Silver apart, the Athenians obtained zinc, iron, lead and marble from mines; Metallurgy also developed with the progress of mining industry.
Other industries were rather of smaller scale compared to the mining industries. These were wagon- making, ship-building, shoe and saddle manufacturing, harness-making, etc. Skilled artisans comprised moulders, carpenters, stone cutters, metal workers, painters, sword-makers, shield-makers, turners, millers, lamp- makers, blacksmiths, bakers, fishmongers, etc., who were essential for a busy and varied economic life.
Textiles for common use were produced in every home by women. Loom, spinning wheel, embroidery frame were to be seen in every household. Special fabrics, however, came from workshops as also from abroad from Egypt, Tarentum, dyed woolens from Syracuse, blankets from Corinth carpets from the Near East and Carthage, coverlets from Cyprus.
The development of the domestic textile industry into something like factory system began under Pericles who like Alcibiades after him, owned a factory. Availability of cheap slave labour resulted in absence of incentive to develop machineries. The Athenian ergasteria were workshops rather than factories.
Surplus in production is the beginning of trade. When Athens began to produce more than the consumption need of her people there arose the question of export. Likewise, the commodities Athens could not produce in sufficient quantity to meet the need of her people, there was the necessity for import. But the most serious obstacle to trade was the difficult transport system.
Roads were poor and the sea was infested with pirates. Sacred way running from Athens to Eleusis was the finest of roads but was too narrow for the vehicles. Bridges were precarious, often washed away by floods. Fragile wagons drawn by oxen would furnish a poor transport, for often there was breakdown in transit or would get bogged in the mud. Mule provided the safest and easiest transport and was a little faster too.
Roadside inns were dens of robbers and stay therein was a punishment, for beds were full of vermin. Transport by land was therefore very costly. Sea transport was cheaper, passenger tariff was quite low. But the ships carried no or very few passengers, they were used as carriers of goods or serve as battleships in times of war. Ships were run by sails and slaves who worked as oarsmen. Problem of trade next to transport was the medium of exchange.
Every city had its own coinage and system of weights and measures. It was necessary for traders to transvalue all values of commodities in terms of the currency of the city into which their merchandise would enter. What created the greatest difficulty was the debasing of coins by every city except Athens and thereby pay less value for the commodities received.
The Athenian government ever since the time of Solon gave the Athenian trade a powerful support by introducing a reliable coinage which would be accepted throughout the Mediterranean world and which tended to displace the local currencies in the Aegean. Currency was mainly of silver, copper, iron and bronze. Only very rarely gold used to be minted.
Trade was the soul of the Athenian economy. In the fifth century the individual producers used to market their commodities but with the growth of the number of the traders the need for the intermediary of the market, that is, the middlemen who would stock the commodities before they were purchased by the consumer was felt, at such stockists grew up. A class of retail sellers who peddled commodities in the streets, sellers in fairs, festival, etc., also grew up.
The foreign commerce developed even in quicker pace than the internal trade. In the fifth century the Athenian economy passed from household economy to urban economy and from urban economy to international economy. The advantage of an international division of labour was understood by different cities and each specialised in those products in which it was best because of the availability of raw materials and skilled labour. But Athens was the only city where every kind of commodity could be found. Isocrates remarks that The articles which it is difficult to get, one here, one there, from the rest of the world, all these it is easy to buy in Athens.
Warehouses, docks, ports and markets and the banks at Piraeus offered every facility for commerce and soon its port became the centre of distribution of commodities between the East and the West. Thucydides remarks that the magnitude of Athens drew the produce of the world into her harbour so that the Athenians could use the products of other countries as their own.
Foreign merchants carried wine, oil, minerals, marble, pottery, arms, books, works of arts produced in Athens while grains, fruits, meat, fish, nuts, copper, iron, timber, gold, wool, flax, dyes, spices, glass, perfumes, bronze, tin, boots, etc., from foreign countries like Syria, Byzantium, Italy, Sicily, England, Cyprus, Near East, Thrace, Thesos, Gyrene, Phoenicia, Corinth, etc.
The Athenian colonies not only served as markets for Athenian commodities but also as shipping agents to send the goods into the interior. Towards the end of the fifth century B.C. the Athenian import and export trade reached $144,000,000 a year.
The difficulty of sea borne commerce of Athens was the pirates of the Aegean. Athens for fifty years, from 480 to 430 B.C. had to keep the Aegean safe from the pirates.
In Athens of the fifth century there were no stock exchange nor joint-stock companies, for financing the growing needs of traders. But banks were there. Individuals used to lend money on mortgages at rates of interest as high as 16 to 18 per cent. But besides these money-lenders there were temples which were repositories of surplus savings of individuals, arid would lend money to individuals and to government at moderate rate of interest. The temple of Apollo at Delphi is in some measure an international bank for all Greece.
Another class of bankers arose in the fifth century Athens, called trapeza who were originally money changers but later on began to receive deposits and lend money at rates of interest varying from 12 to 30 per cent, according to the risk involved.
The foregoing narrative leaves us in no doubt that Athens attained an unprecedented prosperity in the fifth century B.C. but the danger lurking in it was the growing dependence of a faster growing population, upon import of foreign corn. This necessitated her controlling the Hellespont and the Black Sea.
Athens’ persistent colonisation of the coasts and isles to the straits and her expeditions to Egypt (459 B.C.) and Sicily (415B.C.) were mainly aimed at keeping her grain import undisturbed. It was this dependence that compelled her to transform the confederacy of Delos into her empire.
The fall of Athens was also due to this dependence. Starvation and eventual surrender of Athens in 405 B.C. was the inevitable result of her dependence on foreign corn. Yet, it must be mentioned that it was trade and commerce that made Athens rich and supplied her with the sinews of cultural development.
Through the incoming and outgoing merchants perspectives were changed, new ideas and new ways transcended the taboos and sloth of conservatism and gave rise to a mercantile civilisation. In Athens the East and the West met and shook each other into a new awakening and new spirit. Such were the contributions of trade and commerce to Athens.
From the last quarter of the sixth to the end of the fifth century B.C. was a period in which reason was striving to establish her rule in every sphere and may reasonably be called Greek Age of Illumination. The old philosophy and old sciences began to be substituted by Sophists who played a different role. It was the age of the Sophists’ and under them results of science were coming into contact with life.
Zeno of Elea’s reaction against the earlier philosophical speculations and his conception of time, space and motion influenced the intellectual activities of Protagoras, Gorgias and Socrates. There was a change in the mode of enquiry from macrocosm to microcosm. Reason substituted dogma and man was becoming more self-conscious.
Demand for knowledge by men aspiring to be cultured was due to enquiries and researches by scientific men in Ionia. Instruction in geography, mathematics, physics, astronomy, history, etc., was largely sought. Demand for higher education was also increased with the rise of democratic commonwealths, for cultivation of oratory was essential to persons having political ambitions.
Power of clear exposition and persuasion, argument and self-assertion was necessary in Assemblies as well as in law courts. This demand for higher education was met by Sophists, that is teachers of wisdom, synonymous with the term “professors”. Collectively they formed what may be called a university.
They were itinerant lecturers who delivered lectures in public halls to their pupils on payment. Almost all Sophists were versatile and could teach nearly all subjects. The Sophists imparted education to prepare their pupils-for a good life and all the duties that devolve on citizens.
Their work was not confined to lecturing only, they discussed current topics, criticised political affairs, diffused ideas and did in a limited extent the part of modern journalists. They set afloat new ideas, held varied views and doctrines. They contributed much to the fund of human knowledge.
The Sophists were nationalists and worked for the spread of enlightenment. Too much commercialisation of education by the Sophists earned denunciation of Philosopher Plato and the term Sopkistiy acquired its modern meaning, as some think, from it.
The most typical of the Sophists was Protagoras of Abdera. Even Plato which was not very fair to the Sophists respected Protagoras, called him a gentleman and a philosopher never, losing his temper, never jealous of another’s brilliance. Protagoras, as Plato himself observed, undertook to teach his pupils prudence in private and public matters, the art of persuasive speaking and the ability to understand and direct affairs of state.
Protagoras has a distinct and important place in the history of philosophy for it was he who had propounded the subjectivity of knowledge, which he expressed in his formula that man is the measure of all things, of the being of things that are, and of the non-being of things that are not. Protagoras was the first to distinguish the parts of speech and founded the science of grammar for Europe.
Protagoras worked in Athens and was very intimate with Pericles. On one occasion he argued with Pericles on the retributive theory of justice which would lead to punishment to even animals and inanimate things. But Protagoras put up a counter theory that the object of punishment is to deter.
As the Sophists were often engaged in training the aspirants to a political career, they were regarded as experts in Political Science. Pericles appointed Protagoras to draw up the constitution for the colony which he had set up at Thurii.
Protagoras wrote a book on theology and read it to a chosen audience. In this book he asserted that the existence of gods could not be a matter of knowledge. He was accused of impiety by a certain Pythodorus. To avoid trial, the philosopher fled and sailed for Sicily (415B.C.) and perished in the journey. It must be remembered when we speak of the spread of knowledge and reason in the fifth century Athens that the mass of citizens were still sunk in ignorance, and suspicious and jealous of the training received by the children of the well-to-do section of the people or persons of exceptional intellect. This explains why Anaxagoras before Protagoras, and Socrates after him were also charged with impiety.
Gorgias of Leontini carried on the skeptical revolution started by Anaxagoras and followed by Protagoras, but he was clever enough to spend his life outside Athens. He studied philosophy and rhetoric with Empedocles and became so powerful a teacher of oratory that he was sent to Athens as an ambassador by Leontini. His career was typical of union between philosophy and statesmanship in Greece.
Although he was a philosophical thinker and politician, his fame rested chiefly on his ability as an orator and a stylist. He taught Greece how to write a new kind of prose- not the cold style which appeals only to understanding, but a brilliant style, rhythmic, flowery in diction, full of figures, speaking to the sense and imagination.
He was received with greatest enthusiasm and esteem wherever he would go. In his book On Nature he sought to prove three propositions: nothing exists beyond the senses, if anything exists beyond the senses, these would be unknowable, for all knowledge comes through senses and if any super sensual thing would be knowable, it would not be communicable. After travelling in many states and enjoying their hospitality he settled down in Thessaly and died at the ripe old age of hundred and five.
Hippias of Elis was yet another Sophist who was a university in himself. He taught astronomy, mathematics, made original contributions to geometry, he was a musician, a poet, an orator and a historian. He lectured on politics, ethics, literature and laid the foundation of Greek chronology by compiling the chronology of the victors at the Olympic games.
He worked as an envoy of Elis to other states. He also possessed the skill of an artisan. Although his work on philosophy was little, yet his contributions were of great importance. He castigated the degenerative artificiality of city life and contrasted law with nature, remarking that law was a tyrant oh mankind.
Prodicus of Ceos was another Sophist, who was far inferior to Protagoras and Gorgias, but enjoyed a high reputation in Athens. He continued the work of Protagoras in grammar and fixed the parts of speech.
He specialised in the study of diction and taught cosmology in Athens. He wrote a treatise on synonyms. He was a pessimist and believed that bad things are more numerous in a man’s life than good.
Other Sophists such as Antiphon, Thrasymachus were of a lesser type. Antiphon like Democritus believed in atheism and materialism, and defined justice in terms of expediency. Thrasymachus identified right with might and asserted that the success that the villains normally attain point to the non-existence of gods.
In the history of Greece and for that matter, in that of Athens, the Sophists must be regarded as one of the most vital factors. Not only Greece, but Europe benefited from their learning. Grammar and logic for Europe were their invention. They developed dialectic, analysed the forms of argument and taught men how to detect fallacies.
The Sophists, through their teaching made reasoning the ruling passion with the Greeks. By applying logic to language they promoted clarity and precision of thought, and facilitated accurate transmission of knowledge.
Through them prose became a form of literature, and poetry became a vehicle of philosophy. Refusing to follow tradition, the Sophists tested everything by the yardstick of reason and shared in the rationalist movement which ultimately broke off the ancient faith of the Hellas.
Yet it will not be correct to credit the Sophists for all this. The new outlook was in the air and the growing wealth, leisure, travel and research as also speculation had their part to play in the above achievements. The deterioration of morals was also not due to their contribution. It was largely due to growing wealth unaided by philosophy which put an end to puritanism and stoicism.
The emphasis on knowledge raised the educational level of the Greeks but it did not develop, the intellect as it liberated intellect. Knowledge did not make man modest, on the contrary it made every man to consider himself the measure of all things.
Idea that Nature was superior to Law led to a belief that whatever Nature permitted was good regardless of customs and laws. This led to new experiments in living. Ancient supports of Greek morality was sapped. Old men mourned the passing of domestic virtues and domestic fidelity. Pursuit of wealth and pleasure made public men reject morals as superstitious.
The unscrupulous individualism led to chickenery and political demagogy and degenerated the broad cosmopolitanism into callousness about patriotism or even readiness to handover the country to the highest bidder. Conservative and religious minded people and the common people of the urban democracy began to consider philosophy a danger to the state.
Some philosophers themselves also joined in the attack upon the Sophists for the prevalent malady. Isocrates began his career- by delivering a speech against the Sophists. Aristotle also continued the attack on them. Too much commercialisation of knowledge by the Sophists and their charging of exorbitant fees became a matter of great contempt with many. Yet we must conclude that this was but the darker side of the shield, for without the Sophists Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would have been impossible.
Old beliefs and prejudices outraged and endangered by the new subversive ideas of the fifth century while made it possible for the political opponents to excite ill-will against their antagonists, worked as a good handle to the conservative religionists. Protagoras, and Anaxagoras before him, were indicted for irreligion, the turn of Socrates was to come next.
The two sources of information which we have to rely on, are Plato and Xenophon. The former wrote “imaginative dramas” while the latter wrote “historical novels” and neither product can be taken as history. But Plato throughout the Dialogues gives us a consistent picture of the philosopher and this has been largely corroborated by Aeschines in his work Alcibiades fragments of which have been discovered.
Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Banquet contain imaginary conversations in which Socrates is made to speak as the mouthpiece of Xenophon himself. Some of the ancient writers, Aristoxenus for instance, who on the testimony of his father observed that Socrates was a person without education, ignorant and debauched.
Son of a Sculptor, Socrates himself took to his father’s trade in his early life. His mother was a midwife. As a soldier in the Peloponnesian war he earned reputation at Potidaea, Delium and Amphipolis. It was he who saved the life and arms of Alcibiades in the Battle of Potidaea. In endurance, courage and perseverance in fatigue, cold and hunger Socrates set an example to others.
Socrates’ face is known to all the world. His features, judging from his bust, was not typically Greek. His flat nose, thick lips and heavy beard were suggestive of a non-Greek.
From Plato and Xenophon it is known that he would remain shabbily dressed and would like bare feet more than sandals or shoes. He was free from the acquisitive instinct of common man and would limit his requirements to the barest minimum. He was rich in his poverty. He was a pupil of Archelaus who was a disciple of Anaxagoras.
In 406 B.C. he became a member of the Council of Five Hundred. He showed his independence by refusing to agree to the joint trial of all the generals after the Battle of Arginusae. Under the rule of the Thirty he nearly risked his life by refusing to carry out an illegal order.
He showed moral and physical courage in all the public affairs in which he was concerned. Remarkable for courage and justice as he was, no less was his sobriety and temperance. He was a model of moderation and self-control, but was by no means an ascetic. He would drink like a gentleman, liked good company, rejected gifts and invitations from magnates and kings.
All in all he was fortunate, he lived without working, read without writing, taught without routine, drank without dizziness and died before senility, almost without pain. His morals, although not satisfying to all, were not unlike others of his time. His good humour and kindliness were so captivating that many would put up with his morals. Both Plato and Xenophon speak in the same strain on his passing away calling him truly the wisest and justest and best of all men.
Socrates was deeply influenced by Zeno who was the inventor of dialectic and Socrates learnt his methods. His intellectual curiosity had a blend of scepticism which he acquired from Zeno. Curious and disputant by nature Socrates was drawn to philosophy and was for a time fascinated by the Sophists.
During the first half of his life Socrates studied physical science. Archelaus, his teacher turned him to ethics. Gradually a small group of friends gathered round him by the stimulous of his conversation. He found his greatest good in daily conversation about virtue, examination of self, for a life unscrutinised is unworthy of man. Socrates and his circle soon became ‘notorious’ in Athens as thinkers.
He would spend much of his time not in his accustomed haunts gymnasia of the Academy and Lyceum but in the market place, workshops of artisans, and the streets, cross-examining people and exposing their erroneous convictions. His opponents objected that he tore down but never built, that he rejected other people’s answers but never gave his own. He would protect himself from being cross- examined on the plea that he was ignorant. When the Delphic oracle declared him to be the wisest man Socrates ascribed it to his profession of ignorance.
Socrates and his circle earned the ridicule of the comic poets. Ameipsias in his Comus and Aristophanes in his Clouds derided Socrates and his circle. But Xenophon testified that nothing was of greater benefit than to associate with Socrates, and to converse with him, on any occasion, on any subject whatever.
On Plato Socrates made a lasting impression and the two minds were mingled forever in philosophical history. Grito, the rich man, looked upon Socrates with much affection. There is, however, nothing to show what was the relation of Socrates with Pericles although it is quite reasonable to think that they were acquainted mutually.
Socrates was a philosophy which was elusive, tentative and unsystematic, but very much real and for which he lost his life. Of the Gods we know nothing he would say, and with imperfect knowledge of human affairs one should not meddle with the affairs of heaven. He applied this scepticism more rigidly to physical sciences.
One should, according to him, study them only so far as to guide one’s life, but not beyond that. Know thyself was what he wanted to impress on others. Socrates also argued that good was not good because the gods approve of it, but because it is good in itself.
There was nothing, Socrates thought, more useful than knowledge, it is the highest of virtues. Right action emanates from knowledge. Highest good is happiness, the highest means to it is knowledge or intelligence. He was the first champion of the supremacy of intellect and insisted that an individual must order his life by the guidance of his own intellect.
He was the founder of utilitarianism. Socrates was a critic of democracy since he believed aristocracy to be the best form of government. Choice of magistrates by lot is regarded by him as absurd, for no one would be filling to choose a mason, a pilot or a flute-player by lot. While the shortcomings of such men would be less harmful those of the magistrates would be dangerous. Tyranny or Plutocracy was equally disliked by him.
Many young-men who were attached to Socrates came from foreign countries who were destined to become great thinkers in future and founders of philosophical schools. In this, Socrates was the ancestor of all the later philosophers of Greece. Alcibiades and Critias who were enemies of democracy were his disciples.
This naturally created some antipathy to Socrates in the popular mind. Democratic leader Anytus’ son, a young man was so much infatuated by the discourses of Socrates that he would not respect his parents or gods, nor would he attend to his business. Anytus charged Socrates for being too ready to speak evil of men and asked him to be careful. The majority of the Athenians looked upon Socrates with irritated suspicion.
Those who were orthodox regarded him as dangerous, for he rejected tradition and wanted to scrutinise everything by reason. Morality according to him was founded on individual conscience, not on the decree of god or in social good. His scepticism confounded and unsettled every custom and belief.
To him was attributed the irreligion of the time, disrespect of the old by the young, loosened morals of the educated class and disorderly individualism that was consuming the Athenian life. Many of the oligarchic leaders were Socrates’ disciples and when one of them Critias led an oligarchic revolution and a ruthless terror, democrats like Anytus and Meletus branded Socrates as the intellectual source of the oligarchical reaction in Athens and determined to remove him from Athenian life.
He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, as also of irreligion and these were indictable offences under the law of Solon. He was a rebel against authority as such and did not hesitate to say that an old man has no right to be obeyed if he is not wise. Even ignorant parents are not entitled to obedience or support.
According to the provision of the Athenian law Socrates was found guilty and condemned to death by poisoning. But if his accusers succeeded in removing him they could not destroy his immense influence. His philosophy was passed down through Plato to Aristotle who turned it into a system of logic which has endured till today. Upon science his influence was however injurious for he turned young men from the pursuit of science.
The most powerful element in his influence was the example of his life and character. He became for Greek history a martyr and a saint. Posterity looks back at him as the most remarkable figure of the age of Illumination. Indeed there were no better men than Socrates although from the narrow legalistic point of view his accusers were perfectly right.
Normally, the knowledge acquired in one generation through research and speculation provide the background for literature- poetry, drama and fiction, in the succeeding generation. But Greece was an exception in this regard for their poets and dramatists were themselves philosophers and they did their own thinking and had been in the intellectual vanguard of the time. Euripides exalted reason and used the tragic stage to disseminate rationalism.
Rationalism and radicalism that came into conflict with conservatism of Greek religion, science and philosophy, found expression in poetry, drama as also in writing of history. The literature of the Greek Golden Age, i.e. fifth century B.C., reached such excellence as was not reached before the times of Shakespeare and Montaigne.
Decay of aristocratic patronage in the fifth century was the cause of less rich lyric poetry compared to that of the sixth century B.C. Pindar was the transition between the sixth and fifth centuries. While inheriting the lyric form of the sixth century he filled it with dramatic significance and after him poetry transcended its traditional limits and drama combined religion, music, dance, etc., and became greater vehicle for the splendour of the fifth century literature.
Of the numerous compositions of Pindar only forty-five odes have survived, of them again only the words survive, none of the music. In his odes, the first section stated the theme, the second a selection from Greek mythology, the third and concluding section of a Pindaric ode was usually one of moral counsel. He was, however, not popular in his lifetime yet he continued to enjoy the lifeless immortality of those writers whom all men praise and no one reads.
Sophocles came from Colonus, a suburb of Athens. He was the son of a sword manufacturer who earned a fortune during the Peloponnesian War. He was a pessimist and in addition to wealth which he had inherited he had genius, beauty and health. He was the most fortunate of men, won the first prize for tragedy and double prize for wrestling and music.
He was the friend of Pericles and held high offices under him and Pericles preferred his. poetry to his politics. He was popular with the people for his character. He was witty, general, unassuming and pleasure-loving, as also endowed with a personal charm that atoned for all his faults.
Sophocles was in harmony with the religion as it was and reverently modified religious legends, adapting them to his own ideals and interpreting them to satisfy his own moral standard. Throughout Sophocles works the prevailing theme was the nemesis of punishment by jealous gods or impersonal fate and the moral was wisdom of conscience, honour and a modest moderation.
Due to this blending of philosophy with poetry, music, dance and action that literature achieved grandeur. To Sophocles, life and art were two distinct thing’s. Life he took in a most realistic way sharing in all the pleasures available in Athens, in art he was an idealist without trying to influence the present.
The soul of Sophocles was in untroubled harmony with the received religion, but living in an atmosphere of criticism and speculation, even he could not keep his mind aloof from the questions which were debated by the thoughtful one of his time. His Antigone dealt with relation of the individual to the state and difficult question of political and ethical science.
He broaches the question whether an individual is bound to obey his government if it conflicts with his other duties and justifies disobedience in such circumstances, in his Antigone. His work besides its importance in the history of dramatic poetry, occupies a high place in the development of European thought by touching the very roots of ethical themes in presenting a problem.
He wrote altogether 113 plays and eighteen times he won the first prize at the Dionysian and twice the Lanaean festivals. The dominant qualities of these plays are beauty of style and mastery of technique. His Trachinian Women is a sensational melodrama.
Oedipus the King has been illustrated by Aristotle as the perfection of dramatic structure and as conforming to Aristotelian definition of a tragedy. Characters have been drawn more clearly than in Aeschylus’ dramas. Oedipus at Colonus, Ajax, Pheloctetes, Oedipus Tyrannous are some of his most celebrated works.
Born in the year in which the Battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) in the Attic town of Phyla, Euripides inherited some property and prominence from his parents. Euripides wished to be a philosopher but became a dramatist as Plato who wished to be a dramatist became a philosopher. It is known from Strabo that Euripides took the entire course of Anaxagoras’, read with Prodicus for some time and was intimate with Socrates. He was deeply influenced by the Sophists and Sophistic movement entered the Dionysian stage through him. He became the Voltaire of Greek Enlightenment, worshipping reason with the destructive innuendo in the midst of dramas staged to celebrate a god.
He was the author of seventy-five plays of which His works eighteen are extant, the important ones being Hecuba, Orestes, Hippolytus, Alcestis, Eledra, Helena, Andromache, Medea and the Bacchae. The themes of these plays were the legends of early Greeks. It has been remarked by the Cambridge historian that Euripides fixed his eyes on Athens. His imaginative world was peopled by Athenians. He, however, made a sceptical protest against the existing beliefs. Euripides was
a great teacher of rationalism and a daring critic of all established institutions and beliefs. His influence was also deep upon the comic poets. Time was then pregnant of new ideas, a new world was being born. It’s midwives and its educators were Euripides and Socrates. In his play Alcestis he secured a place for Attic tragedy in the ancestry, both of new comedy and of the romantic novel.
His Hippolytus was the first love tragedy in the extant literature. Likewise in Merfea Jason falls in love with the royal princess Medea, and vows eternal love to her, but the lover’s perfidy changed Medea’s love into monstrous hatred. Here a ruthless intellectual analysis is applied to a highly tragic theme. It has been remarked that Euripides blurred those Hellenic ideals which were common man’s best without substituting them with anything, hence his scepticism was simply destructive. But as the dam- bridge historian points out, it is not correct. For, when Heracles in his agony, wants to commit suicide, Theseus, his friend inspires him to harder and more heroic choice of life.
The Bacchae was his masterpiece of extant authentic tragedy an unrivalled study of religious ecstacy, its heights and depths, its perils and allurements, the splendour of its promise and the cruelty of its effects. He died in 406 B.C.
Athenian success against the Persians gave the Athenians the pride and stimulus, so necessary for an age of great drama. Aeschylus felt both pride and stimulus, for he not only wrote and spoke, but fought in the Battle of Marathon, Artemisium, Salamis and Plataea. He practically created Attic Tragedy and dominated the Athenian literature for a generation, lost his position of pride to youthful Sophocles, but recaptured supremacy with his work Seven against Thebes.
He diminished the choral element in the drama and gave chief part to spoken words on the stage. It needed a man of Aeschylus’ energy and ability to mould the Greek drama into its classic form by adding a second actor to the one, followed by Thepsis, Aeschylus’ forerunner, and transformed Dionysian chant from an oratory to a real play. His works numbered seventy, ninety according to some, of which only seven have survived.
Of these the most famous is the Prometheus Bound and the greatest the Oresteia triology. Only fragments of his Prometheus Unbound have remained which do not give us any clear idea of the meaning of the play. In Prometheus Bound the play opens with the scene of Prometheus being chained to a rock in the Caucasus, at the command of Zeus for teaching men the art of making fire. Helpless and bound Prometheus hurls defiance to Olympus. The entire earth mourns with him.
After even greater sufferings Prometheus at long last makes his peace with Zeus. This showed the struggle of human being against inescapable destiny which was the theme of human life in the fifth century Greece. Prometheus’ rebellion is another Paradise Lost. Aeischylus’ Oresteia is greater than Prometheus Bound and has been by common consent the finest achievement in Greek drama, perhaps in all dramas.
Greek comedy assumed definite shape later than the Greek Tragedy and not until 460 B.C. Earliest Greek comic poets were Chionides, Magues, Crates and Cratinus. The last mentioned poet was the most famous. He took social and political aspects of Athens as his subjects for ridicule. The ablest competitors of Aristophenes were Eupolis and Phrynicus.
Aristophanes as the comic poet was the mouthpiece of the opposition to the men in power and democracy. He had reasons to be in sympathy with aristocracy as he came of a cultured and prosperous family, and had some landed property in Aegina. He was in the spring-time of his life when Athens and Sparta began war.
He was the spokesman of those who were dissatisfied with the existing institutions democracy, new culture represented by science, sophistry and rhetoric. His immediate object was to raise a laugh and laughter is not approval but it conveys censure. Democracy and passion for education were the dominant forces in Athens and comedy necessarily attacked them to attract attention.
The Athenians were to be made to laugh, whether at truth or falsehood was a matter of importance. On Pericles’ death Cleon who represented the rich commercial interests, was subjected to such criticism by Aristophanes in his The Babylonians that Cleon had him prosecuted and fined.
The reply came in Aristophanes next play The Knight. But in his Wasps and The Acharnians, Aristophanes’ ruling interest was to ridicule war and to promote peace. In The Peace, Aristophanes was triumphant, Cleon was dead and Nicias was about to sign the peace treaty with Sparta.
To Aristophanes’ mind irreligion and democracy lay at the root of the disintegration of the Athenian public life. He endorsed Socrates’ view that the sovereignty of the people had become the sovereignty of the politicians but held Socrates, Anaxagoras and the Sophists responsible for loosening the moral bonds which once made for social order and personal integrity.
In The Clouds he made wild fun of the new philosophy in which an old man was represented as delighted to hear that Socrates had a Thinking Shop where anyone can learn the arguments to justify anything even if it were false. The old man Strepsiades was in debt and wanted to know the arguments to repudiate his debt. His The Thesmophoriazusae and The Frogs were attacks upon Euripides. In The Ecclesiazusae Aristophanes turned his laughter on the radical movement in general.
It has been remarked that Aristophanes is an unclassified mixture of beauty, wisdom and filth. When the mood is upon him he can write lyrics of purest Greek serene, which no translation has ever yet conveyed. His dialogue is life itself, or perhaps it is swifter, racier, more vigorous than life dares be.
He belongs with Rabelais, Shakespeare and Dickens in the lusty vitality of his style, and like theirs his characters give us more keenly the shape and aroma of the time than all works of the historians; no one who has not read Aristophanes can know the Athenians.
But Holm is of the opinion that Aristophanes’ authority is no more than that of a modern comic paper. He remarks that “Quite apart from the opinions he expresses and which no one need adopt, even the facts stated by him are not necessarily true. It is enough to bear in mind that his Socrates has no resemblance to the real Socrates’. ‘His jokes about the origin of the Peloponnesian War ought never have been utilised for history”.
Yet the plays of Aristophanes afford ample evidence of the instincts of the Athenian people. We know from Aristophanes that in the country-side the small farmers would look up to the wealthy landowners and follow their lead. In town areas no such sentiment bound the old families and the population. It was in the urban proletariat that the demagogues found their chief support.
The majority of the voters in the Athenian Assembly was from the urban population. Aristophanes’ evidence shows us that the Athenian people was conservative by instinct and the Assembly was radical in its outlook. In his Peace Aristophanes reflected the growing desire for peace and the fratricidal strife that was grinding Greece into smithereens, now that the two enemies of peace, Brasidas and Cleon having vanished to the prospect of peace was brightest.
The trend of religion and morals from Sophistic scepticism to Epicurian individualism which posed a basic danger to the Athenian life was vehemently criticised by Aristophanes. He commended art, wit, old-fashioned piety and a life of pleasure and derided science, free-thought and an energetic one-sided devotion to political life.
In the hey-day of dramatic poetry prose was not completely forgotten. In the fifth century B.C. the art of oratory was stimulated by democracy and law courts. Techne Logon, a treatise on the art of addressing the Assembly and the jury was produced in prose by Corax of Syracuse as early as 466 B.C. Gorgias, Antigihon, Lysias, Themistocles and Pericles, by their writings or speeches proved the effectiveness of simple speech.
But by far the most important achievement of the Periclean prose was history. In a sense it was the fifth century B.C. that discovered the past and consciously sought for a perspective of man in time. In Herodotus historiography has all the charm and vigour of youth, in Thucydides fifty years later, it has already reached a degree of maturity which no later age has ever surpassed.
Born in Halicarnassus in 484 B.C. of a family that had participated in political intrigues and in consequence was exiled. Herodotus was then thirty- two years of age and began those far-reaching travels that supplied the background of his Histories. Wherever he went he observed and enquired with the eye of a scientist and the curiosity of a child, and when he settled down in Athens, he was armed with a rich assortment of notes concerning the geography, history, and manners of the Mediterranean states.
With these materials and with some help taken from the works of Hectaeus, Herodotus composed the most famous of all historical works on Egypt, the Near East and Greece to the close of the Persian War. In appreciation of the account of the part of the Athenians in the Persian War, the Athenian people rewarded him with 12 talents.
Herodotus brought into his narrative all the nations of the Mediterranean; it is more or less in the nature of a universal history and certainly much broader than Thucydides’ narrow subject. In his narrative an unconscious contrast between the Persian despotism and Greek democracy is found.
Despite the confusing digressions and halting pace of his narrative, and despite Strabo’s remark that there is much nonsense in Herodotus, his narrative has in it a thousand interesting illustrations of the dress, manners, morals and beliefs of the societies he has described. He has, however, made mention of literature, science, art, philosophy, etc., only in an incidental way. But he has presented not only the kings and the queens but also men and women of all degrees with their charm, beauty, scandal, and cruelties.
Herodotus of course had no need to explain Greek geography to his Greek readers or Greek customs or political system. But what he had in mind was to describe the political situation at the relevant times, of many Greek cities. And this he did by means of digressions skillfully worked into the main narrative.
There is a special feature of Herodotus’ History which is of much importance and most remarkable. This was his love of and gift for story-telling. In other words, he loved to narrate history in the story-teller’s manner. For this, he uses dialogues and speeches in the words of the speaker.
Herodotus began with a story told in this manner, of the accession of Gyges to the throne of Lydia the first of the dynasty of kings of which Croesus was the fifth and the last. Such stories occur throughout his History. We can get an idea of Herodotus outlook on life from the story of the conversation between Solon and Croesus.
This story generalised the meaning of the Persian Wars, that great prosperity is a slippery thing, in other words pride goes before a fall. It has also been pointed out that for Herodotus man is a puppet of the omnipotent fate. This again will prove that his belief in pride and fall, loses its moral significance. For, if one is a puppet of fortune, one will have no occasion to correct himself, fate will override his person al efforts. But it cannot be asserted that Herodotus did not believe in man’s responsibility for his own actions.
The quality of Herodotus as historian lies in the fact that he had an eye for details as well as for the whole. A good geographer, and a man with an indefatiguable interest in customs and past history of fellow men. Herodotus was also man of tolerance without any bias for his own countryman as against the Persians. He was neither naive nor easily credulous. It is this which makes the first half of his work not only so readable but of such historical importance.
In the second half of his work he is largely writing military history. But his detailed battle pieces are scarcely consistent. Yet the political meaning of the struggle between the great empire of Persia and small city-states of Greece, of the Battle of Marathon, has been brought out in his work. He believed that war, irrespective of victory or defeat brings undesirable consequences in its train.
He remarks “The ships which Athens sent to help the Ionians in their revolt were the beginning of suffering for Greeks and non- Greeks”. Herodotus’ work despite all his mistakes, remains the leading work and he the leading authority not only for Greek history but for much of the history of Western Asia and of Egypt.
Born of a rich Athenian who owned gold mines in Thrace and of a mother belonging to a distinguished family of Thrace, Thucydides was a phenomenon of the Greek Enlightenment. He was a descendant of the Sophists as Gibbon was a spiritual nephew of Bayle and Voltaire.
He received all the education then available in Greece and was influenced by scepticism. He kept a day to day record of the Peloponnesian War from the time of its outbreak but could not finish it up to the end.
He suffered from plague in 430 B.C. himself and wrote a description of the malady. He was appointed one of the Generals in 424 B.C. to command a naval expedition to Thrace but his failure to come in time to relieve the siege of Amphipolis led to his exile. The next twenty years were spent by him in travels mostly in the Peloponnesus. He returned to Athens in 404 B.C. after the oligarchic revolution.
Thucydides opens his narrative where Herodotus had left off at the end of the Persian Wars. He prefaces his narrative with an introduction emphasising the importance of his subject and thence to prove that the war which he described was of greater importance than any other war waged by the Greeks. This was an obvious comparison with Herodotus whom he attacked without mentioning his name.
As to the treatment of his subject he asserts that his narrative is no reproduction of others but results of his personal enquiries and his aims are not to amuse or please but relate facts for the future historians and to leave the guidance of precedent for future statesmanship.
In his attempt to be at once brief, precise and profound, Thucydides writes at times in an involved and obscure style occasionally made all the more sombre by the use of Gorgian rhetoric, whose pupil he had been. But on occasions he is as terse and vivid as Tacitus and intensely dramatic as Euripides.
As a rhetorician Thucydides displays refined and impressive qualities in the introduction of speeches into his history. He, however, yields accuracy to interest when he puts elegant speeches into the mouths of his characters.
He admits that these speeches were imaginary but he prefers direct narration to explain and vivify personalities, ideas and events. Nevertheless the substance of the speeches are accurate. For instance the Funeral Oration of Pericles is one of finest grace and excellent words dwelling on the virtues of Pericles. But factually, Pericles was famous for simplicity of speech rather than for rhetoric. But Thucydides is not without his defects.
He is severe and austere, lacks wit, humour and the vivacity of the Athenian spirit. He had his eyes a bit too much on the military details but makes no mention of any artist or any work of art. Writing for the future generations though, he tells us nothing of the constitutions of the Greek states or of the life of the cities or institutions of society.
Further For an active politician and placeman, for an historian of his own times, for a Greek, Thucydides may be a miracle of impartiality, but he is not quite impartial. He depreciates the historical importance of the Persian War, he is full of animosity against Cleon, turns his blind eye to the flaws of Pericles’ statecraft.
He forces his story into a rigid chronological frame and leans towards impersonal recording and the consideration of causes, developments and results. Thucydides writes as if he was an eye-witness or as one who has had occasion to hear things from an eye-witness or seen the documents. Yet, he has an extraordinary keenness for accuracy.
He is fair to both sides. He is the father of scientific method in history. His aims having been limited, his accuracy was the greatest. Even his topographical descriptions are surprisingly accurate. Thucydides was more in sympathy with oligarchy than democracy, but our greatest and most accurate information concerning the misdeeds of the oligarch is obtained from him.
His sympathies were mainly with Pericles and his policy, his eulogy of which he has compressed into the funeral oration delivered by Pericles. As the Cambridge historian remarks, Thucydides was a rationalist and his conception of historical methods is abundantly rationalistic. Although with the ability of a good psychologist Thucydides realised the importance of individual character in history, his narrative is highly impersonal and conforms to highly objective, annalistic, congruous and matter of fact standards.
Further, Thucydides’ world is a world of men; gods and women do not find place in his narrative. But his religious agnosticism has not diminished the quality of his history. He is austere and puritan in his outlook. Thucydides is a master, if not the author of mob psychology.
Thucydides is modem, for even though we may find it hard to understand Dante or Milton, Thucydides or Euripides is kin to us mentally, and belongs to our age.
In general, posterity has accepted Thucydides at his own valuation. There are supplements to his history in the Inscriptions; in the extant comedies of Aristophanes; in later writers, more especially in Plutarch’s lives of Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades, Lysander; last not the least in the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens, which in particular calls for some readjustments in the story of the Revolution at Athens in 411 B. C. as narrated in unfinished Eighth Book, but Thucydides will never be dethroned as the sovran authority for the history of the years 433 to 411 B.C.
Contrast between Herodotus and Thucydides:
That Herodotus and Thucydides, despite their working on very different lines, were both alike creative, historians and literary artists, admits of no doubt. The historical value of their works surpasses easy assessment. With Herodotus and Thucydides, History as an art was born, indeed twice born, in romantic and in classic perfection; and to their supremacy as a literary artists may be ascribed the triumphant survival of their works. Yet there was much to be contrasted with between these two historians whose works supply us with a continuous narrative of the sixth and the fifth centuries Greek history.
First, while in Herodotus historiography has all the charm and vigour of youth, in Thucydides it has reached such a degree of maturity that has not been surpassed in any later age. The difference between the mind of Herodotus and that of Thucydides is almost the difference between adolescence and maturity.
Secondly, Sophist philosophy had influenced Thucydides considerably and it was Sophism that distinguishes and separates Herodotus from Thucydides. Thucydides is a descendant of the Sophists as Gibbon was a spiritual nephew of Bayle and Voltaire. In fact, Thucydides was a phenomenon in the Greek Enlightenment.
Thirdly, Herodotus work may be, although in a limited sense, regarded as Universal history, dealing with all nations of the Eastern Mediterranean, that of Thucydides is narrow, as it has only the Peloponnesian War as its subject matter. Yet while Thucydides takes a rationalist view of history and deals with the anthropological aspect of history presenting the actions and fortunes of political communities in the light political, economic and psychological factors, Herodotus makes his narrative at times no better than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. Thucydides excludes women from his pages, Herodotus enlivens his pages with their scandals, their beauty and their cruelties. For this Strabo remarked there is much nonsense in Herodotus.
Fourthly, the vast field that Herodotus covered made him to err on many occasions and many affairs. He could not get over the contemporary prejudices and superstitions. Although his account is patriotic yet it is never unjust and has many praises of the Persians. But as he depended on foreign informants many inaccuracies crept into his narrative and he thought that Nebuchadnezzar was a woman and the Alps a river.
He swallows many superstitions, records many miracles, quotes Oracles piously, and darkens his pages with omens and auguries. Thucydides on the other hand depended on his personal enquiries. He had a keen conscience for accuracy, even his geography has been verified in details.
Fifthly, Herodotus wrote partly to entertain and amuse the educated readers but Thucydides wrote to furnish information for future historians, and the guidance of precedent for future statesmanship.. If Cicero is correct in calling Herodotus Father of History, Thucydides must be regarded as the Father of Scientific History. Thucydides history is anthropomorphic, analytical, chronological and rational.
Sixthly, while Herodotus wrote in terms of personalities rather than processes in his feeling that historical processes works through personalities Thucydides although recognising the role of exceptional personalities in history such as a Pericles, an Alcibiades or a Nicias, leans to impersonal recording and the consideration of causes, developments and results.
Seventhly, Thucydides’ agnostic, austere, puritanic outlook made his narrative somewhat sombre and lacked the vivacity and wit of the Athenian spirit, but Herodotus had mixed a romantic story-telling quality in his narrative. When political events have passed through the brain of Herodotus they come out as delightful stories.
With the insatiable curiosity of an inquirer, he has little political insight he has the instinct of a literary artist, his historical methods are rudimentary. But Thucydides’ narrative, severe in its reserves, written from purely intellectual point of view, unencumbered with platitudes and moral judgments, cold and critical showed the greatest quality of dramatic and narrative art as well as of historical criticism.
Appreciation of Herodotus and Thucydides have Conclusion sometimes suffered due to the exaggerated notions about the two regarding Herodotus a child of Nature producing his great work without any conscious design, without any forethought and simply in sport, and Thucydides as an incarnation of scientific narrative and of scientific spirit.
Although there is some justification of the above remarks, these are much too superficial. For while Herodotus cannot be denied his position in the school of history by regarding him as an anecdote-monger, Thucydides likewise cannot be denied the position of a literary artist. Both Herodotus and Thucydides are mutually indispensable and complementary, one depicting the great deliverance
of the Greeks from the Persians, the other depicting the fundamental dualism underlying the Hellenic order, its hegemonic rivalries, centrifugal ambitions, class wars, insular atomism, treacheries, disloyalties and disintegrations. Both are alike creative historians and consummate literary artists.
Attic Drama: A Resume:
Attic dramas, both tragic and comic were offshoots of the rural festival of Dionysus. Pisistratus, the Tyrant of Athens built a new temple for Bacchic god Dionysus and instituted a new festival called the Great Dionysia; the chief feature of the festival was choir of Satyr, the attendants of God who danced in ship skin and masks and sang their goat song.
In course of time the goat song of the days of Pisistratus grew into the tragedy of Aeschylus’. During the fifth and the fourth centuries B.C. theatres arose in Eretria, Epidaurus, Argos, Mantinea, Delphi, Syracuse, etc., but it was on the Dionysian stage that the major tragedies and comedies were first played. These dramas fought out the bitterest phase of the conflict between the old theology and new philosophy, which binds into one vast process of thought and changes the mental history of the Periclean age.
The great theatre on which the Attic dramas were staged was open to the sky with fifteen thousand seats rising in tiers in a semi-circular form towards Parthenon, facing Mt. Hymettus and the sea. It was thus in a great natural setting that the plays were staged.
There was a realistic scene when the actors would invoke either the sun, sky, stars or the ocean. At the foot of the auditorium was an orchestra or dancing space and at the rear there was a skene or scene which was a wooden building representing a palace or a private dwelling as suited the action of the play.
Furniture, dress, etc., were used as the story might require. There was a revolving arrangement by which different scenes painted on a prism, might be shown as according to need. There was also a mechane, i.e. machine, to lower gods or heroes from above.
The tragic drama in Athens used to be staged as a part of the annual celebration of the feast of Dionysus as also at the time of lesser Dionysia or Lenaea. Each of the ten tribes of Attica used to choose one of its rich citizens to serve as the director of the chorus and would bear the cost of the play. This was regarded as a privilege and might win a prize on the merit of the play.
Usually, the dramatist himself would train up the choir, the chorus being the most important and costly part of the play. But the dominant position of the chorus was gradually lost under Thespis and Aeschylus and the number of actors was increased and after Aeschylus rose to fifteen.
They would sing, dance, act and through their motion interpret the words and moods of the play. Next to action and words came music which was usually produced by the dramatist himself. Singing was simple, accompanied only by flute. These plays cannot be judged by reading them silently; to the Greeks the words are but a complex art form that weaves poetry, music, acting, and the dance into a profound and moving unity.
Acting was the most important part of the play and on its success prizes were won. The incomes of the leading actors were very high and others quite low. Fluctuating between luxury and poverty, moving from place to place, the actors were incapable of normal life and their morals were what might be expected in the circumstances.
In both tragedies and comedies, the actors wore masks fitted with a thin brass diaphragm for making the voice louder. Facial expressions could not be seen by the audience. The masks which had their origins in religious performances found their place in the stage. These were made as instruments of horror or humour.
Citizens, men and women were equally interested in the play. Two obols were required for entrance. Sitting arrangements for men and women were separate. The audience would eat nuts, and fruits and drink wine as it listened to the play. The amount of food eaten during a presentation of the play, as Aristotle humorously proposed, was the measure of success or failure of the play.
Clappings, shoutings, hissings, kicking of benches, throwing of stones, figs, etc., were resorted to by the audience according to their reactions to the play. Deliberate noise would sometimes bring the play to abrupt end. During the three days of the Dionysian festival five plays, three tragedies, one satyr play and a comedy would be staged every day. In early days, the prize for the best tragedy was a goat and for the best comedy a basket of figs and a jug of wine. But in the fifth century three money prizes for tragedies and one money prize for comedy were given.
The Greek drama is a study of fate or of man in conflict with gods; Elizabethans drama is a study of action, or of man in conflict with himself. Throughout the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles the theme is the nemesis of punishment, by jealous gods or impersonal fate, for insolent presumption and irrelevant pride; and the recurring moral is the wisdom of conscience, honour, and a modest moderation. It is this combination of philosophy with poetry, action, music, song, dance that makes the Greek drama not only a new form in the history of literature, but one that almost at the outset achieves a grandeur never equalled again.
Aeschylus was the creator of Attic Tragedy. In his Supplices we see him as a master dramatist. He introduced a second actor and dramatic dialogue in the play. It was from his tune and due to him that chorus which occupied a dominant position in the Greek drama lost its position and action took its place. He wrote seventy, ninety according to some, dramas of which only seven are extant of which again Prometheus Bound is the most famous and the Oresteia the greatest. Fragments of Prometheus Unbound have survived which show the work to be a quite different combination.
The theme of Prometheus is excellent. He is bound at the bidding of Zeus to a rock for teaching men the art of making fire. Hanging helpless on a crag Prometheus like Satan in Milton’s Paradise lost, hurls defiance at Zeus Olympus and in pride recounts how he brought civilisation to the primitive men by teaching them the art of fire but mourns: And I who did devise for mortals all these arts, have no device left now to save myself. The whole earth shares his sorrow and mourns with him.
Oresteia has been regarded as the greatest of the Greek drama and perhaps of all drama the finest achievement of the Aeschylus. The theme is violence begotten by violence and the inescapable punishment of insolent pride and excess, for generation after generation. Agamemnon married Clytaemnestra who bore him two daughters Iphigenia and Electra and a son Orestes. Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia to induce the wind to blow on way to Troy in his ship. Clytaemnestra was wooed by Aegisthus during Agamemnon’s absence and both plotted to kill Agamemnon on his return, which they did.
In 468 B.C. Sophocles a new-comer won the first prize for tragedy. He wrote 113 plays of which only seven have survived including his Oedipus the King, Oedipus Tyrannus. Oedipus learnt from the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He fled from the country Corinth believing the King and Queen of Corinth to be his father and mother.
He killed an old man on his way to Thebes not knowing that it was his father. He answered the Sphinx which put the riddle to him and as per promise, the Sphinx killed herself. The Thebans in joy made Oedipus their King and according to custom gave their Queen in marriage to him. Four children were born and then to his horror he knew that his wife was his mother. When the identification is complete his mother kills herself and in remorse Oedipus pulls out his own eyes and leaves King Thebes as an exile.
Aeschylus cleared and set the form for Greek drama with his harsh verse and stern philosophy, Sophocles fashioned the art with measured music and placid wisdom and Euripides completed development in his works. Aeschylus was a preacher. . . Sophocles a classic artist. . . Euripides a romantic poet who could never write a perfect play because he was distracted by philosophy.
Author of seventy-five plays beginning with The Daughters of Pelias (455 B.C.) to The Bacchae (406 B.C.). of which eighteen are extant. His Hippolytus is the first love tragedy in extant literature. In the Medea he transforms the story of Argonants into a powerful play. But Aristotle observes that these plays fall far short of the dramatic technique and the standards set by Aeschylus and Sophocles.
The Attic Tragedies are more sombre than the Elizabethan tragedies, for they seldom bring comic relief to the audience through any humorous interruption in the play. The Greek dramatists liked to keep the tragedies on a high plane.
There flourished many comic dramatists before Aristophanes. Cratinus, Pherecrates were forerunners of Aristophanes. Eupolis was his ablest competitor. The comedies, at first followed tragedies on the stage as a Satyr play. But gradually comic drama became independent of tragedies and a day would be allotted to it for being stage when three or four comedies would be held on the same day and would compete for a separate prize.
Aristophanes who belonged to a rich cultured family had his natural sympathies for the aristocracy and a hatred for democracy. In a lost play, The Babylonians parts of which survive, Aristophanes subject Cleon and his policies to such stinging ridicule that he was prosecuted and fined. In his The Knight through an allegory he ridiculed Cleon and democracy.
Aristophanes reluctance for war is seen in his The Achamians in which he sees no reason for war with Sparta and would like to have a treaty signed for peace. In his The Peace the poet was triumphant, Cleon was dead and Nicias was about to sign the Peace of Nicias with Sparta. Politics and religion were the dominant features of the works of Aristophanes. The two basic factors that wrought the ruin of the Athenian, public life, according to him, were democracy and irreligion.
Aristophanes is an unclassified mixture of beauty, wisdom, and filth. When the mood is upon him he can write lyrics of purest Greek serene, which no translator has ever yet conveyed. In the vitality of his style he belongs to the class of Rabelais, Shakespeare and Dickens. His works are of much historical value. Yet his humours are generally of low order. Coming to him after any Greek author worst of all after Euripides he seems depressingly vulgar and we find it difficult to imagine the same audience enjoying them both. Yet in his writings he had the insight to see in the trend of religion and morals to scepticism and Epicurean individualism the basic dangers to Athenian life and society.