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ledge of philosophy* with the rich gifts of nature; and the splendid prize, which had for so many years been the reward of his profound accomplishments, seems to have stood before the eyes of his young and admiring fellow-countrymen till it absolutely dazzled and blinded them. All wished to be like Periclest-all would be at the head of public affairs-all would command men, and have their fame spread, like his fame and that of Themistocles, from their own city to Greece, and from Greece to the remotest regions of barbarism. But how was this knowledge to be acquired?-For those of younger years there was no deficiency of masters in those branches, which formed the system of education in Athens: but for young men of riper age, who had passed through the hands of the grammarian and the music-master, and who had acquired that limited knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, history, and astronomy, which the state of science could supply, no establishments, like our universities, were in being, where further opportunities were held out to that dangerous age, when a course of instruction, fitted to fill and enlarge the mind, to form the taste, and, what is still more important, to perfect the morals, becomes so imperiously necessary. But where a want is felt in society, it is not long before some one starts up to supply it; and a race of men soon made their way into Athens, who, under the name of Sophists, undertook to supply all deficiencies of schools, halls, and colleges. The first person who' acquired distinction in this profession, sufficient to have an influence upon the age in which he lived, and to make his name known to posterity, was PROTAGORAS of Abdera. Originally a faggot-maker, his mode of tying up bundles excited the attention of Democritus; and the instructions of that philosopher subsequently enabled him to quit a trade, in which he might have been humbly useful, for a profession in which he unfortunately became splendidly mischievous.§ Bred up in that school of philosophy, which
*Pericles had been a scholar of Anaxagoras; and from his intercourse with that philosopher, he is said by Plato (in Phædro, 354 D.) to have derived that forcible and sublime spirit of oratory, which distinguished him above all his contemporaries, For an account of Anaxagoras see Brucker's chapter de Sectâ Ionicâ, § xix. The learned German, who might have been expected, from the bulk of his enormous tomes, to have thought away all feeling, becomes almost affecting in his account of this real and most enthusiastic philosopher.
+ Plato in Theage, p. 9. H.
Xen. Mem. lib. iii. cap. 6.
The human mind never losing altogether the impression of its first employments, the inventor of the porter's knot became also the discoverer of the knots of language; and accordingly to Protagorasa is ascribed the pernicious proclamation, that with him might be acquired, for a proper compensation, that species of knowledge, which was able to confound right and wrong, and make the worse appear the better cause: a doctrine which strikes us with amazement and confusion, but which was propagated Arist. Rhet. lib. ii. c. 26. Diog. Laert. in vitâ Prot. lib. ix. seg. 51.
which taught that there was nothing fixed in nature, this flagitious sophist carried the uncertain and dangerous language of physics into the business of human life, and thus poisoned the stream of truth in its very fountain and source. The direct language of Thales, Epicharmus, and Heracleitus, and the allegorical genealogies of Homer were brought to prove, that all things being in a state of continual* motion, nothing actually is, and every thing is in a state of becoming: that an object therefore, considered in itself, is not one thing more than another;, but that through motion, mixture, and the relation of one thing to another, the same object both was and appeared one thing to one person, and another thing to another. What are called heat and cold, changed their situations, it was said, even in the time of pronouncing the words; and before the enunciation was completed, heat ceased to be heat, and cold ceased to be cold-nothing, therefore, it was inferred, can be affirmed or even seen with certainty: heat is no more heat than cold, white is not more white than its opposite, knowledge is nothing more than sensation, man is the measure of all things, of things existing, as they are, and of things non-existing, as they are not, and all thoughts are true. For, every one thinks according to the impression made upon him, impressions are made by what is in motion, motion is created by agency, agency can proceed only from the things which are, and the things which are, must be true. From these sentiments it naturally followed, that not only what is wholesome and useful had no actual substance in themselves; but that honour and virtue, being the beginning and aim of what is useful, existed only in the opinions and habits of
In such a town as. Athens, we may easily imagine that the small wits and humbler sophists eagerly fastened upon doctrines, so well suited to the meridian of their capacities. When the great Belial himself first began to advance them, and more particularly those odious ones, which ought to heap the curses of posterity upon his head; viz. the doctrine of sensation, and the offer to teach, how in disputation the worse cause might be made to appear the better, we cannot say: but we find it declared by Socrates+ that the hoary impostor had for a space of more than forty years been advancing them, and that from the practice of this baneful trade he
with such success, that in the days of Aristophanes and Plato it appears to have excited little surprize in those who professed it, and to have been rather expected than otherwise in such persons as set themselves up for teachers of wisdom.
It is most probable that the Aristophanic VORTEX, or substitute for Jupiter, (in Nub. v. 300.) was derived from this doctrine of the school of Protagoras. The word Αναξαγορείων in the scholium on the passage is easily rectified.
In Menoue, 21. C.
had derived more gains than Pheidias* and ten sculptors to boot. So much more agreeable to Athenian minds were cunning, trick, fallacy and deception, than those noble specimens of art, which were then growing up among them, and on whose mutilated remains, the more accomplished of our own countrymen are too happy to be allowed to fix their eyes in fervent admiration!
The market was now successfully opened and adventurers of a similar cast soon flocked in abundance to Athens, who insinuated in terms much more intelligible and in language much more palatable, the doctrines which Protagoras had delivered in the abstruse and often obscure terms of physical or metaphysical science. Among a crowd of persons, who now, under the names of sophists, took the public education of the young Athenians into their hands, and had more or less a fatal influence upon their intellects and manners, history has preserved the names of Prodicus of Ceos, Gorgias of Leontium, Hippias of Elis, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus of Chios, Theodorus of Byzantium, Evenus of Paros, Polus of Agrigentum, Callicles, Thrasymachus, Tisias, Licymnion, &c.; and before adverting to the doctrines which they taught, the state of Athenian society will be traced more accurately by dwelling a little longer upon the actual introduction of the sophists into it. The greater part of these men, as the reader will see by their names, were strangers, not natives of Attica; but their abilities in their own country had pointed them out for distinction, and when business was to be transacted with other states, and more particularly with the imperial town of Athens, none seemed more fitted to conduct it to the advantage of their mother-country. Many of them therefore made their first appearance at Athens in the capacity of public ambassadors;† and their manner of conducting public business, their ostentatious professions, the boasted extent of their attainments, the charms of their language, and even their personal appearance, all tended to captivate in an astonishing manner the minds of a people naturally greedy of what was new; nothing indeed could be more calculated to fix their attention than these men. They appeared in sumptuous robes, followed by a numerous escort of noble youths, who thus acquired by oral communication that knowledge which books could not supply, or which, from the costliness of books, was difficult of attainment:-their language was rich and artificial; full of splendid antitheses and far-sought metaphors, they were subtle in argument, and where argument failed, they amused the imagination by the most fanciful tales. Their language had
*In Menone, 21. B.
+ Plato in Hippiâ Majore, 95 (D) 96 (E). In Prot. 203. Arist. Rhet. I. 3. c. 17.
also the additional charm of novelty to recommend it; for the knowledge of physics and almost all other science had hitherto been communicated in verse, and the language of prose, as far as artificial beauty was concerned, remained yet to be discovered.
In terms thus persuasive, and with a confidence the most unlimited, they professed themselves ready to answer every* question, leaving the choice of the manner to the will of the questionist. Considering nothing as too high by its abstruseness nor too mean by its lowness, they professed to have acquired, and they engaged themselves to teach all knowledge. To make good this boast of universal talent, one of them actually exhibited himself at the Olympic games, not merely with what might be supposed the travelling stock of a person of his profession, a set of epics, tragedies, dithyrambics and speeches, but with the annunciation that every article about his person, his ring, his seal, his body-coat, his perfume-box, his upper and under mantle, his girdle, and even his shoes, was the work of his own hands. Their boast of what they could do for their pupils was as pompous as the exaggerated declarations of their own attainments; the first day was to make an impression; in the second, this progress was to be still more visible; in the course of a month or two they engaged to make them every thing that could be wished: neither age nor capacity was to be any obstacle, and all was to be done without lett or hindrance of business; and business in the happy, polished and poetical town of Athens, was what it is, we suspect, in most other towns-money-getting. The price of knowledge was indeed high: a single lecture, or epideixis as it was called, sometimes cost fifty drachmæ, and one of these instructors, from the rewards of his professional labours, could afford to place a golden statue of himself in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. But when a mania took place in Athens, whether for cock-fighting or speech-making, for quail-feeding or philosophy, it was no slight obstacle that could oppose it; and Philosophy had now become the fashionable study. He therefore that had money, bought knowledge: he that had no resources of his own, drew upon his friends; and he who had neither resources nor friends, was told to beg, borrow, or steal, and at any rate not to be without some of the droppings at least of this precious banquet. Luckily the poorest needed not be hopeless; for an Athenian was a garrulous animal; and whoever had an egg to lay was, in gene
* Plato in Menone, 12. D. In Gorgia, 281. The learned and venerable President of Magdalen Coll. Oxf. (Dr. Routh) compares them in this sense to the itinerant scholars of the middle ages, whose practice it was to set up challenges, offering to dispute de omni scibili. Plat. Euthy. et Gorg. p. 363.
In Euthydemo, 228. Č.
ral, only solicitous for a corner in which he might deposit it. The manly diversions of the field were accordingly left for the Schoolsnot to be a philosopher was not to be a gentleman; and the arrival of a new sophist, who could add to the stores acquired, or recommend by any novelty of diction the knowledge already existing, was considered as a subject of national congratulation. The houses of the great and the wealthy were immediately thrown open to him-the young men crowded to hear and to admire-sleep itself was broken to attend his instructions; and those honours, fêtes, and caresses which in the fashionable circles of London are now lavished upon the great leaders of our poetry, were in those days reserved for the successful promulgators of sophistry, or, as it began to be called, philosophy.
We have now traced the course of Athenian education, and the masters under whom it was acquired; we shall just take a rapid glance at the effect of such a system of education upon manners, and then proceed to the more serious part of our subject, its influence upon the morals of the times. A little history, (for the delightful work of Herodotus had but just banished the marvellous prodigies of Cadmus and Eugæon, and the prosing narratives of Hecatæus and Hellanicus); a little geometry (for the Delphic oracle had not even yet promulgated the problem, whose solution was to carry geometrical science a step farther than the measure of surfaces); a little astronomy (for the Metonic discoveries, respectable as they were, are to the Principia and the Mécanique Céleste as a rush-light to the full blaze of the meridian sun):these, with whatever of poetry and music was laid as the substratum, were the utmost limits to which Athenian education could possibly reach; and we presume that any young person in the higher order of society among ourselves, who should be thrown upon the stream of life with no more ballast than this, would not have himself only to blame if he suffered shipwreck on the voyage; and the more discerning spirits of antiquity thought precisely of the attainments of their countrymen as we do. It is impossible to read the works of Plato and Aristophanes, the two great painters of the higher and lower classes of society in Athens, without being struck with the incessant* pains they take, to root out of the minds of their fellow-citizens the false notions of superior wisdom, which, upon the strength of these small acquirements, and the superficial lessons of the sophists, were growng up among them. The serious powers of the former and the un
*See among other of the Platonic dialogues that singular one called the Sophist. We do not hesitate to say, that the person who has not read this dialogue (utterly unsusceptible of translation) and the Comedies of Aristophanes, can have no idea of the powers of the Greek language.