Зображення сторінки

and checks upon the conduct of the official servants of the republic, who, in spite of the democratic nature of the constitution, seem to have been generally taken rather from among the wealthy and influential men of the aristocratic party. Nor can we altogether condemn certain vehement outbreaks of political feeling, which add to the warmth and reality, and, amidst the general looseness of style, produce no great sense of incongruity.

If Thucydides was led by his political or personal feelings to deal hard measure to Cleon, the vindicator of Cleon has, we think, dealt rather hard measure to Thucydides. Mr. Grote pronounces, with some bitterness of exultation, that the great historian was justly banished for his misconduct at Amphipolis. But in his long diatribe on this subject, he fails to show either that Thucydides was absent from his post, or that he left Amphipolis insufficiently guarded. The contrary, indeed, of the latter proposition, is implied in the admission that if the bridge over the Strymon had been adequately watched and guarded, a task for which Eucles and his garrison may well have been sufficient, Amphipolis would have been safe. And as to the former point, it appears to us that the joint commission of Thucydides and Eucles, though perhaps nominally directed to the Athenian colonies and dependencies on the Thracian mainland, may very well have included the duty of maintaining the Athenian interest in the neighbouring important, and probably disaffected, island of Thasos. What was the immediate object which drew Thucydides thither, whether he or Eucles was first in command, whether he acted spontaneously or under orders,



[ocr errors]

and how he had been absent, we cannot tell; and without a knowledge of these circumstances we cannot confidently join in the condemnation of Thucydides for being absent from a place where there is no special reason to believe that he ought to have been present, and where there is reason to believe that the presence of his colleague was sufficient more especially as it appears that he acted with all possible alacrity and vigour on receiving intelligence of the danger of Amphipolis. The exasperation of Cleon, and the war party generally, at such a blow as the loss of Amphipolis, is quite enough to account for the condemnation and punishment of Thucydides, particularly as he was, in all probability, an adherent of Nicias, and an influential member of the conservative and peace party. And the touching magnanimity with which the historian records the circumstance of his banishment, together with the ample justice which he does to the character of Brasidas, whose enterprise was the cause of his misfortune, will always go far to prove that it did not poison the candour of his heart, or dim the clearness of his eye.

Another point on which Mr. Grote reverses, endeavours to reverse our old ideas, is what is commonly called the Melian controversy. This he ingeniously supposes to have been introduced by Thucydides for a dramatic purpose, to exhibit the pride of Athenian dominion at its most overweening pitch, immediately before its destined fall. The "capture of Melos," he conceives' ushers in the expedition against Syracuse with the same tragic effect as the proud language of Xerxes to his courtiers, and the magnificent muster at Doriscus usher in the


humiliations of Thermopylæ and Salamis. We do not deny that this tragic effect is, as a matter of fact, produced, and we are obliged to Mr. Grote's taste for pointing it out, but it still seems to us more probable that the object of Thucydides was to exhibit the full action of the Athenian spirit of those demoralising influences which he has delineated in the chapter on Corcyra. That he had the sophists in his eye we are not prepared to affirm, nor are we prepared with Mr. Grote to deny it. Of course the arguments of the Athenian envoys, being a barefaced enunciation of the principles that might is right, are not intended as a specimen of sophistical art, but they may still be intended as a specimen of the principles which sophistical art was employed to countenance and cover.

Mr. Grote speaks with extreme bitterness, and even violence, of the character of Nicias, and is very angry with Thucydides for bestowing a passing sigh in the fate of a good and religious man, who was probably his political if not his personal friend. Yet it will hardly be denied that goodness and piety deserve a sigh, more especially in an age of such spirits as those among whom the lot of Thucydides was cast. The superstition of Nicias was most gross ; it was a weakness and a vice, and has no claim whatever on our sympathies : but it seems to have been, as Thucydides intimates, the diseased side of a religious nature; and the same man who sacrificed his army by refusing to march because there was an eclipse of the moon, would probably, in a cruel and faithless generation, have shown mercy and kept his oath. His abilities were no doubt overrated by his countrymen, but we think they are underrated by



Mr. Grote. He had approved himself a good officer : his expedition to Cythera, if the conception as well as the execution was his own, reflects on him the highest credit. His conduct during the later part of the siege of Syracuse seems, so far as we can judge, to have been very weak. But we cannot tell how far his faculties were paralysed by disease. His most glaring error was that into which he was led by his superstition. But it is plain that he was wholly incompetent to the sole command of so great and difficult an enterprise. As a statesman he was at least consistent. His character must have been of great advantage to Athens in her dealings with other states. There is no ground for supposing that his desire for peace ever rendered him untrue to his duty as a patriot and a soldier; and the conduct of the aristocratic party towards its opponents, so long as he was at its head, appears to have been moderate and constitutional. The command, in which he so fatally miscarried, was forced upon him, and the expedition was undertaken against his advice, and at the instance of his political opponent. It is impossible to speak of him with admiration, and we think it would be wrong to speak of him with contempt or hatred:

There are few who, if asked in which of the states of antiquity they would choose their own lot to have been cast, would not name Athens. Nowhere was there so much good, because nowhere was there so much freedom. But that freedom was constantly threatened from two quarters—from the detestable gangs of oligarchical conspirators which remained after the extinction of the old and constitutional aristocratical party, and from the tyranny of the sovereign people. Philosophy and moral progress were equally threatened by the persecuting bigotry of the fanatical oligarch and of the fanatical democrat, and the two conspired to destroy Socrates. It seems strange that people cannot detest one of these forms of evil without embracing the other; that they cannot denounce Critias without defending Cleon.

It would be impossible for us, within our limits, adequately to analyse or criticise the two long and brilliant dissertations on the sophists and Socrates which conclude Mr. Grote's eighth volume. We can only say that whether his conception of the sophists, as the general educators of Greece, not chargeable with any peculiarly immoral doctrines, and of Socrates, as a sort of dialectic missionary, who differed from the sophists rather in the purpose and method of his teaching, than in his ethics, as has been hitherto supposed, be correct or incorrect, the learning and acuteness displayed in this, as in all other parts of his work, are truly admirable. And we take our leave of him for the present with the cordial acknowledgment that in spite of great defects of style, and, as we conceive, occasional errors of judgment, he is beyond all question the historian of Greece, unrivalled, so far as we know, in the erudition and genius with which he has revived the picture of a distant past, and brought home every part and feature of its history to our intellects and our hearts.

« НазадПродовжити »