been generally considered as of recent introduction, occur in wri ters who preceded the Christian era, or lived in the centuries immediately following it. The Byzantines, by continued study of the works of their predecessors, must, without question, have preserved, to a late period, the knowledge and use of many words of the ancient language: they composed in it, we find, with facility and purity; they collected and transcribed manuscripts, and illustrated the productions of the best authors with Scholia and Commentaries. The dispute relating to the comparative merits of Aristotle and Plato, in which Bessario, Pletho, Gennadius, Theodore Gaza, George of Trebizond, and other Greeks were engaged, is a proof of the popularity of the works of those philosophers in the fifteenth century. Constantinople continued, until its capture by the Turks, to be frequented by the Latins, who were distinguished for their love of literature. 'The same reputation,' says Eneas Sylvius, which Athens had in the days of ancient Rome, does Constantinople appear to possess in our time.'

[ocr errors]

But the language, in the course of succession, had sustained various alterations in its syntax, in the termination of nouns, in the loss of tenses and cases, in orthography, and accentuation. Two questions, therefore, arise which offer a subject of curious and not uninteresting inquiry: First-to what circumstances the preservation of the Greek tongue, for so long a period, are to be attributed? Secondly, what were the causes which led to the corruption of the modern idiom, and of what nature were the changes introduced, either by the ignorance and barbarism of the Greeks themselves, or by their intercourse with other nations? The discussion of these points will, we conceive, throw considerable light on the history and formation of the Romaic tongue.

The Macedonians, by their conquests, carried the language of Greece to the most remote districts of the East. Many cities in Lesser and Upper Asia were founded by them; among which we may mention Synnada in Phrygia, Stratonice in Caria, and Thyatira in Mysia. They built also towns in the vicinity of Sardes; and various parts of Armenia and Mesopotamia were peopled by them. The terms Syro-Macedones and Syro-Hellenes prove the establishment of their language in Syria; and some of the coins of the sovereigns of the Macedonian dynasty in this country bear Phoenician and Greek characters. The influence of the Greeks, their commercial activity, and their numbers, contributed to preserve the use of the language throughout the East: it is seen on the coins of Daretas and the Abgari, on those of the Parthian monarchs; it is united with the Samaritan on the money of the Asmonean princes; and it occurs in the inscriptions of Palmyra.

Under the reign of some of the kings of Pergamus and Alexan


dria, valuable libraries were formed in those cities; they rivalled one another, says Bentley, in the magnificence and copiousness of them; and the protection afforded to literature by the Ptolemies is without example in the history of the world. In the civil wars which followed the death of Alexander, and in the revolutions of Greece and Asia during the progress of the Roman arms, Alexandria was frequented by men of letters from all parts of Greece; they were liberally entertained by the Ptolemies, from whom many of them received annual pensions; and in the Museum they were able to prosecute their studies without obstruction. These princes spared no expense in procuring the most valuable copies of the writers of Greece; and the varied erudition which so strongly characterizes the works of some of the poets of the times was in a great measure derived from the valuable library preserved at Bruchion. The sciences of physic, mathematics, astronomy, were cultivated with great ardour by the Greeks of Alexandria; and to the same school belong the grammarians and glossographi. The Ptolemies themselves were authors; the son of Lagus wrote the life of Alexander; Euergetes II. left twenty-four books of Commentaries. The language of Egypt was not neglected; but the Greek tongue seems to have been predominant: it was used in matters of business and commerce, and it is found in the public monuments of the country, sometimes by itself, sometimes associated with that of Egypt.*

The study of the Greek language formed a necessary part of the education of the children of the Romans. After they had received some instruction from a Greek rhetorician, they were sent to complete their studies at Rhodes, Mitylene, Apollonia (ad mare), and at Athens. Every well-educated Roman was conversant with the Greek language, and wrote in it with facility. On the other hand, Rome was crowded with physicians and artists, who came from the states of Magna Græcia, or the neighbouring continent. Philosophers, sophists, grammarians, received the protection of many of the Emperors, who had themselves been instructed by Greeks. Athenodorus of Tarsus and Apollodorus of Pergamus were two of the preceptors of Augustus; Theodore of Gadara, who wrote on the Dialects, was the tutor of Tiberius; Herodian, the son of Apollonius Dyscolus, was patronized by Marcus Antopinus, and dedicated to him his προσωδία καθολική.

The New Testament, as Jortin observes, being written in Greek, 'caused Christians to apply themselves to the study of that most copious and beautiful language.' In consequence of the various readings and alterations in the text introduced by the negligence

* See the Rosetta stone, and the Ptolemaic inscriptions in Hamilton's Egyptiaca.


or ignorance of transcribers, a critical examination of the different copies became necessary; and without a considerable acquaintance with pagan literature, the Greek fathers would have been unable to defend themselves against the attacks of their adversaries. Origen, Eusebius, Basil, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzum had diligently perused the authors of ancient Greece, and marks of imitation are frequently discernible in their works; the writings of Plato in particular were familiar to the Greek fathers: the lofty speculations of that philosopher relating to the Deity and to the immortality of the soul had excited their admiration; and many of them had belonged to the Academy before they came into the church of Christ.

In fact, no author of ancient Greece was more studied by the Greeks who wrote in the decline of the Roman, and in the first periods of the Byzantine empire, than Plato; and Ruhnken has remarked, as a singular proof of it, that many passages in Plutarch, Maximus Tyrius, Synesius, Libanius, may be still corrected after the labours of learned commentators by a reference to his works. The pupils of the different sophists also derived from him many expressions to ornament their 'Horta, and Meλéral, or Declamations; though it must be confessed that, in their imitations, either from want of judgment in the selection of their words, or from an abuse of Attic phraseology, they frequently exposed themselves to ridicule. The letters of Alciphron are an example of the mode adopted by the sophists in teaching Greek these epistles were probably composed for the sake of shewing his scholars how the language might be written with purity and facility; hence his ploughmen and fishermen are made to talk as correctly as Demosthenes and Lysias.' The knowledge of the ancient language enabled the sophists to practise their literary forgeries with some success; and they probably made those additions which are occasionally met with in Greek writers. A great part of the Myriobiblon of Photius did not come from the pen of that patriarch; and Heyne discovered in a cursory reading of Manetho more than fifty insititious verses.

[ocr errors]

The compilation of Dictionaries and Glossaries, and the collection of different Scholia, and of observations relating to the Dialects, assisted the Greeks of the Roman and Byzantine empires in their study of the ancient authors. Some valuable explanatory works had been written by the Alexandrian critics; and from these, succeeding grammarians drew many of their best remarks. In consequence of the change of the language, it became impossible to understand some parts of the Attic writers without consulting them. The yλora of Plato,' says Timæus in his address to

Lexicon, p. 3.


[ocr errors]

Gentianus, are not only obscure to you Romans, but also to most of the Greeks.'

From the first to the fifth century many cities in the East were crowded with students who attended the lessons of professors in rhetoric and theology. Tarsus, Berytus, and Antioch were celebrated places of instruction. The anniversary of the birth-day of Plato was commemorated at Athens, where a school, supported by rents* from land bequeathed by different persons, long flourished under the superintendance of some of the Platonists. Philosophers and sophists travelled through the provinces, and delivered, publicly, essays or declamations. Various specimens of their ingenuity have reached us; and though, in their extemporaneous discourses, they appear inaccurate in their quotations and inconclusive in their arguments, yet they may be considered as having contributed to preserve and diffuse the knowledge of the language.

After the schools of Athens were suppressed by order of Justinian, and Alexandria was taken by the Saracens, in the seventh century, Thessalonica and Constantinople were the only cities in which any attention was paid to literary pursuits. In the former, according to the testimony of John Cameniates, law, music, eloquence, and the liberal arts were taught in the tenth century. The Byzantine emperors afforded occasionally some protection to letters; this praise is particularly due to Bardas, Leo the philosopher, Constantine Porphyrogennetus, the Comneni, and Manuel Palæologus. Under their patronage, and in the quiet retreat of the monasteries, many copies of the most valuable works of ancient Greece were transcribed. It might be supposed that ecclesiastical writings would particularly engage the attention of the later Greeks; and accordingly we find that the manuscripts of Chrysostom are very numerous; the prose and metrical works of Gregory of Nazianzum were also exceedingly popular; and his namesake, the Bishop of Corinth, in speaking of the Attic dialect, cites, to our surprise, the testimony of that Father; but there is no reason to believe that the poets, orators, and philosophers of antiquity were neglected. From the colophon of the copy of Plato brought to England by Dr. Clarke, we learn that it was written in the ninth century; the Scholia on the Iliad, edited by Villoison, were transcribed in the tenth; in the twelfth, Eustathius wrote his commentaries on Pindar and Homer; and in the fifteenth, Arsenius, Archbishop of Monembasía, collected Scholia on the plays of Euripides.

In addition to the circumstances already mentioned, which contributed to promote a knowledge of the Greek tongue, we must not omit to point out the assistance derived from innumerable in

* Habebat hæc schola reditus annuos non mediocres. Vales. in Euseb. H. E. x. 142.


scriptions which might be found in all parts of Greece, in Asia Minor, and the Greek islands. Many of these preserved remarkable forms of the ancient language, and idioms peculiar to the dialects of different provinces; some were seen in Italy so late as the time of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Pliny; others at Byzantium in the sixth century; and the Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius had probably perused the characters on the Sigean stone.

Having stated the causes which preserved the language for so many centuries, we proceed to point out some of the changes introduced between the period when it began to decline in Greece, and received its last corruption under the Byzantines.

The first alteration was effected by the Macedonians about the time of Alexander. The expressions, phrases, and idioms of that people became nationalized at Athens. They were used by Menander and other writers; and perhaps some of the vulgarisms which were remarked in the style of Epicurus may be attributed to the mixture of Attic and Macedonic. The different states of Greece, after their subjection to the Macedonians, were blended into one large community; and the idiotisms and peculiarities hitherto employed in separate provinces yielded to the communis lingua which began gradually to prevail, and continued to be the language in general use. The Attic writers were indeed still read and studied with great attention; Ionic and Doric idioms were employed also to a late period; Philopoemen uses his native language; and Mandricidas answers Pyrrhus in Laconian. We learn from Strabo that Doric with a mixture of Æolic was spoken in Peloponnesus during the reign of Augustus; a passage in the Scholia of Diomed on Dionysius Thrax mentions the use of A for Z by the Dorians of his time; in the age of Pausanias the purest Doric of the Peloponnesus was used by the Messenians, and this idiom was preserved so late as the days of Eustathius. To these, other examples might be added, to shew the local prevalence of the dialects; but the general language of composition in use from the time of Alexander was the Communis Lingua.†

The highest degree of purity aud correctness of style, as Salmasius has observed, is to be found in writers who preceded the age of Demosthenes, or were contemporary with him. After that time, the alteration in the language is very perceptible. In the works of the Alexandrian scholars, we meet with a polished and beautiful diction; but there are also idioms and innovations ori

* Μακεδονίζοντας οἶδα πολλοὺς τῶν ̓Αττικῶν διὰ τὴν ἐπιμιξίαν. Athenæus, p. 122. Α. That general manner of speech, says Bentley, called Kovǹ Aihextos, the common dialect, which the writers after Alexander's time commonly used, was never, at any time or in any place, the popular idiom ; but perfectly a language of the learned, almost as the Latin is now.' Phalaris, 406,


« VorigeDoorgaan »