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Greek mythology of which Mr. Grote, we venture to think, has hardly given us the true account.
II. Mr. Grote gives a merely positive account of the Greek theology and mythology, professing not to offer any philosophical or historical solution, and repeatedly discouraging such an attempt in others. We rather bow than acquiesce. To us it still appears that the Greek theology is capable, to a very great extent, of being explained on physical principles. It was, indeed, far removed from gross adoration of the elements, or of striking natural objects. There was in Greece no mystic Nile, no mighty Ganges, and the sun-God of that delicious land did not tyrannise over the bodies and minds of its inhabitants like the burning luminary.which scorches the vast plains of Asia. The physical basis, too, was clothed upon, and almost hidden by the exuberant fancy of a nation of poets. But we believe that there was a physical basis, and we cannot help thinking it may be discoverable still.
So with the mythology, properly so called. We abandon, with Mr. Grote, any attempt to elicit real names or events from the legends of heroic Greece; but we do not abandon the hope of carrying the analysis further than Mr. Grote seems to think possible, and tracing the origin of some to monuments, some to places, some to words, some to pure imagination, and detecting under others some facts relating to the history of races, or of customs, or even a certain element of historic truth.
Having so far expressed our dissent from Mr. Grote, we gladly express our admiration of the casterly synopsis and history of Greek mythology
THE HISTORIAN AS A PHILOSOPHER.
which his learning, diligence, and sagacity have produced. The method of arrangement which he has adopted in grouping the various inyths in the form of local genealogies attached to the chief states of Greece is worthy of the name of a discovery, and will materially lighten the labour of all future students in this department. Most interesting, too, is his historic and philosophic account of the progress and treatment of the myths in the age of civilised and scientific Greece. From this we take a passage which will exhibit Mr. Grote as a philosopher, his chief character in the earlier portion of his work.
We protest, by the way, against the assumption of an “inevitable law of intellectual progress," as absurd in itself, and connected with much that is worse than absurd. There is a tendency in early philosophy to loose generalisation. There is a tendency in mature philosophy to accurate observation. But this will not warrant us in dividing philosophy into distinct eras, and supposing that in one era people were necessarily "metaphysical,” and that in another era they were necessarily “positive.” Much less will.it warrant us in confounding religion with Fetishism, and imagining that a belief in a Creator and a Providence is merely the earliest and most imperfect stage of physical science. We may observe, in passing, that the “human mind” is a metaphysical abstraction which philosophers of the positive school, on their own principles, have no business to employ.
“ In the scheme of ideas common to Homer and to the Hesiodic theogony (as has been already stated), we find nature distrit uted into a variety of personal agencies, administered according to the free will of different beings more or less analogous to man, each of these beings having his own character, attributes, and powers, his own sources of pain and pleasure, and his own especial sympathies or antipathies with human individuals, each being determined to act or forbear, to grant favour or inflict injury in his own department of phenomena, according as men, or perhaps other beings analogous to himself, might conciliate or offend him. The gods, properly so called (those who bore a proper name, and received some public or family worship), were the most commanding and capital members amidst this vast network of agents, visible and invisible, spread over the universe. The whole view of nature was purely religious and subjective, the spontaneous suggestion of the early mind. It proceeded from the instinctive tendencies of the feelings and imaginations to transport to the world without the familiar type of free will and conscious personal action; above all, it took deep hold of the emotions, from the widely extended sympathy which it so perpetually called forth between man and nature.
“ The first attempt to disenthral the philosophic intellect from this all-personifying religious faith, and to constitute a method of interpreting nature distinct from the spontaneous inspiration of untaught minds, is to be found in Thales, Xenophanes, and Pythagoras, in the sixth century before the Christian era. It is in them that we first find the idea of person tacitly set aside or limited, and an impersonal nature conceived as the object of study. The divine husband and wife, Oceanus and Tethys, parents of many gods and of the Oceanic nymphs, together with the avenging goddess Styx, are translated into the material
THALES, XENOPHANES, AND PYTHAGORAS.
substance water, or, as we ought rather to say, the fluid; and Thales set himself to prove that water was the primitive element out of which all the different natural substances had been formed. He, as well as Xenophanes and Pythagoras, started the problem of physical philosophy, with its objective character and invariable laws, to be discoverable by a proper and methodical application of the human intellect. The Greek word oois, denoting nature, and its derivatives, physic and physiology, unknown in that large sense to Homer or Hesiod, as well as the word Kóguos, to denote the mundane system, first appears with these philosophers. The elemental analysis of Thalesthe one unchangeable cosmic substance, varying only in appearance, but not in reality, as suggested by Xenophanes, and the geometrical and arithmetical combinations of Pythagoras—all these were different ways of approaching the explanation of physical phenomena, and each gave rise to a distinct school or succession of philosophers; but they all agreed in departing from the primitive method, and in recognising determinate properties, invariable sequences, and objective truth, in nature-either independent of willing or designing agents, or serving to these latter at once, as an indispensable subject matter, and as a limiting condition. Xenophanes disclaimed openly all knowledge respecting the gods, and pronounced that no man could have any means of ascertaining when he was right and when he was wrong in affirmations respecting them; while Pythagoras represents, in part, the scientific tendencies of his age; in part, also, the spirit of mysticism and of special fraternities for religious and ascetic observance, which became diffused throughout Greece in the sixth century before the Christian era. This was another point which placed him in antipathy with the simple, unconscious, and demonstrative faith of the old poets, as well as with the current legends.
“If these distinguished men, when they ceased to follow the primitive instinct of tracing the phenomena of nature to personal and designing agents, passed over, not at once to induction and observation, but to a misemployment of abstract words, substituting metaphysical eidóla in the place of polytheism, and to an exaggerated application of certain narrow physical theories, we must remember that nothing else could be expected from the scanty stock of facts then accessible, and that the most profound study of the human mind points out such transition as an inevitable law of intellectual progress. At present we have to compare them only with that state of the Greek mind which they partially superseded, and with which they were in decided opposition. The rudiments of physical science were conceived and developed among superior men, but the religious feeling of the mass was averse to them, and the aversion, though gradually mitigated, never wholly died away. Some of the philosophers were not backward in charging others with irreligion, while the multitude seems to have felt the same sentiment more or less towards all, or towards that postulate of constant sequences, with determinate conditions of occurrence, which scientific study implies, and which they could not reconcile with their belief in the agency of the gods to whom they were constantly praying for special succour and blessings.”