I was talking with Jimmy Britt about life and we got onto some history and I mentioned this book entitled: "The Heritage of Greece and the Legacy of Rome" by E. B. Osborn published in 1925. I had started it before and put it down when it began to awaken intellectual pursuits that I never was able to capture (mainly reading Thucydides’ history). Legacy, heritage and inheritance are preaching words so I read it getting ready for church tonight. Here are some excerpts:
In his introduction he quotes Maurice Barres, “…come to me with your dreams that I may cleanse them from worldly dross—bring me your strong enthusiasms that I may direct them aright…”
Greece was conquered in the great explosion of Roman energy after the downfall of Carthage, but in Horace’s immortal phrase she “took captive her rude conqueror.”
Theory is derived from the Greek; action and transaction from the Latin. Theology is Greek; religion is Latin. Poetry and philosophy are Greek; verse, morality, and conduct are Latin. Nearly all the terminology of the arts and sciences is Greek…On the other hand, nearly all our terms of governance are of Latin origin; among them are state, colony, dominion, municipality, representation, suffrage, election, administration, jurisprudence, justice, legality, Conservative, Liberal, Labour, majority, minority, public, orator, national, rational, to choose a few…
…our Graeco-Latin heritage is of vital importance,…And nowhere will you find this heritage more vitally inwrought than in the Christianity which is still, I feel assured, the chief motive-power in the progress of the various nations onwards and upwards.
Speaking of Greece: …he (the ordinary Athenian) can teach us the vital nature of the truth expressed in his maxim “know thyself”—that, for example, no social reform can be lasting or truly progressive which is not based on the knowledge of what man is, both as individual and as a member of his community. Character is destiny and character-building the end of all statesmanship—such was the teaching of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and it is a lesson we still have to learn.
Speaking of Rome: She bequeathed to the modern world three great gifts. First…administrative work, which no statesman can neglect, so full is it of object lessons for this undisciplined world of ours. Second comes the priceless boon of Roman Law, which is the basis of nearly all modern legal codes and a part of all the rest. Thirdly, there is the Latin language and its literature,….
The Roman Church is the Roman Empire spiritualised—“no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof,” according to the immortal metaphor of Hobbes of Malmesbury.
From the Greek Spirit chapter: In all the works and days of man the spirit counts for more than the letter. The idea or ideal is the vital thing—not the imperfect attempts to express it…It is especially so in the case of Greek achievement….For it was this spirit, not the tangible expressions of it such as books and statures, which caused that great awakening of the human intellect known as the Renaissance and so brought into being the mobile modern world out of the fixed mediaeval order…
The Greek spirit…proved a noble contagion. It taught men to trust their intelligence and imagination once more, to question the authority of medieval theologians and philosophers, and to steep themselves again in Nature. It persuaded them to see the world as it is and to enjoy it—not to make life a period of penances undertaken in the hope of winning a place in a feudal Heaven.
But how is the Greek spirit to be defined? In point of fact, it is more easily felt than defined. …its chief attributes: Truth-seeking; Beauty; Sanity; Simplicity; and Freshness or, if you will, Youngness.
The elements of beauty, which are lost in the process of translation, are of two kinds. First, those which arise out of the very nature of the Greek language which can express the finest shades of thought or emotion with an easy grace impossible in English, Latin, or even French. Secondly, there are the felicities that are the reward of consummate technique—of an ear for the music of the words that is for us an alien thing, not to be reproduced on our own modern instruments of expression.
Onto Greek History: …indeed there is an extraordinarily close resemblance, both social and political, between the English of today and the Athenians when they were the citizens of an Empire based on sea-power like our own. The three greatest Greek historians—Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon—were all men of action and travelers, and their books show us men as they are (not as they might be or out to be) faced by the tremendous crises which bring out the points of strength and the weaknesses that are constant terms in human nature.
Speaking of a bust of Thucydides: …still in the unbreakable will power, which could outface the catastrophe that had befallen his unkind and ungrateful, yet passionately loved, Athens.
But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out to meet it.
Onto Greek Science: He and Pythagoras, who also visited Egypt and is said to have become initiated into the temple rites there, not out of religious enthusiasm, but so as not to miss any scrap of knowledge worth having, had a very important advantage over the Egyptians. They were not hampered in turning what they found to good account by an orgainsed and dominating priestly caste which always has a tendency to see mystical meaning in certain numbers…and is apt to cover up scientific results in religious ordinances. They were able to give their reasoning powers fair play and so to make generalizations.
Speaking of Archimedes: His theory of proportion, applicable to incommensurable as well as commensurable magnitudes, is still accepted as bed-rock work after the lapse of twenty-three centuries.
“Give me a place to stand on and I will move the earth,” he said, having in his mind the principle of the lever.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene, had, by noting the difference between the shadows cast by the sun at Syene and Alexandria, estimated the diameter of the earth at about 7,850 miles (only 50 miles less than the modern measurement for the true polar diameter).
The Arabic scientists, working on a basis of Greek culture, were to carry the torch of mathematical discovery onwards and upwards in the centuries to come. But there is no more surprising victory of the Greek spirit of truth seeking for truth’s sake than the mathematical activity which, in less than 350 years, rose from the land-surveying of the Egyptians and the sterile star-gazing of the Babylonians to brilliant anticipations of the achievements of Copernicus and Galileo, Descartes and Newton.
Just as the Israelites discovered God, so the Greeks discovered Man.
Speaking of Aristotle’s honeymoon: That may have been the happiest period of his life—a joyous open-air holiday from which he gathered sun born energy for the great tasks to come, the teaching of Alexander the Great, and the instruction of the Hellenic and Hellenised cities from the Lyceum.
Quoting Aristotle: “The heavens are lofty and remote, and of heavenly things the knowledge that our senses give is sparse and vague. The living creatures, on the other hand, are at our very door; and if we so wish, we may have ample and accurate knowledge of them all. We take pleasure in the beauty of statue; then shall not the living fill us with delight? And all the more if in the spirit of philosophy we search for causes and r3ecognise the evidences of design.
Speaking of the Greeks: Only they among the peoples of antiquity had, not “medicine men” in our anthropological sense of the term, but “physicians” (the word is derived from physis=Nature) who regarded diseases as natural phenomena (not as punishments for sin or the results of supernatural possession) to be cured or alleviated by means suggested through nature study.
Speaking of Hyppocrates and his oath: Here it is in original form, today most have removed the prohibitions against euthanasia and abortion.
I swear by Apollo the healer, and by Asclepius, and Hygieia, and Panacea, and all the other gods and goddesses…that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this agreement—to count him who taught me this art as dear to me as my parents…to look upon his offspring as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they would learn it, without fee or stipulation…I will follow that system of treatment which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is injurious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; nor will I aid a woman to produce abortion…Into whatever house I enter, I will go there for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every act of mischief and corruption; and above all seduction. Whatever in my professional practice—or even not in connection with it—I see or hear in the lives of men which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge.”
About Greek Philosophy: …the vital test of any principle is in its helpfulness in the art of living and to state their conclusions, as far as possible, in the language of ordinary people…philosophy was the “love of wisdom” that its name implies—the earnest and enamoured quest for the truth which enables men to live in harmony with the unseen powers about them and with one another. ….philosophy was regarded as the master-science of living.
Speaking of "Sophists": Since every citizen took a speaking part in politics and had to plead in person in the law courts, oratory was a necessary accomplishment, and instruction in the art of persuasive speaking was the basis of the course provided by a sophist for his pupils. Gradually these teachers fell into disrepute for three reasons—first, because many of them taught how an audience might be deceived by rhetorical cleverness; secondly, because they sold their wisdom for money, often making very large sums; thirdly, because they lacked as a rule any kind of local patriotism.
Socrates, who was deeply interested in all arts and crafts and in teaching his fellow-mortals, was the greatest of the Sophists. But he did not take money from his pupils and was not content with the showy, superficial knowledge which makes for immediate political success. So he escaped the condemnation of Plato who gave the word “sophist” the bad meaning which it has kept ever since.
Alcibiades describing Socrates: He, to be sure, used to charm the souls of men with his compelling breath in his instrument and the players of his music do so still. But you produce the same effect with your words only, and do not require the flute: that is the difference between you and him.
About Socrates: His mission was to convince the world of its ignorance by the conversation method (dialectic), by asking and answering questions, treating the most absurd or outrageous opinions with tolerant respect, and with unruffled patience exposing the fallacies underlying them.
Speaking of Plato: For him, as for his master, philosophy is always a “way of life.” From Socrates he had also learnt that goodness is knowledge, and that the only secure foundation of conduct is a comprehension of the principle of good in itself as well as in its application.
…he was led to the belief in a world which contains, as everlasting realities, Forms or Ideas, of which the qualities we recognize when we call an action good or a picture beautiful are changing and imperfect copies. And these eternal originals the soul of man knew before it was born into the flesh, and it must return to a knowledge of them, through the shadows or copies which make up the universe perceived by the senses, by the power of reasoning. It is a theory which has influenced poets and preachers, more than any other, to this very day and it is one of man’s inevitable moods.
Plato’s philosophy or poetry, call it which we will, is part of the very texture of Christianity as a way of life.
Quoting Aristotle: We should not listen to those who tell us that human beings should think like me, and mortals like mortals, but we should achieve such immortality as we may, and strain every nerve to live by the highest things in us. They may be small in substance, but in price and power they are far beyond all else.
To the Epicurean (unjustly contemned in the modern use of his name, especially when worn down into “epicure”) true wisdom consisted in the rational enjoyment of all life’s good things—not the mere gratification of the senses, but the rewards of passionless self esteem, such as study and social intercourse. Stoicism, however, which attracted the Roman temperament, was by far the more influential. It appealed to the will, which was a man’s very own, unconquerable by the pangs of tyranny or the pains of disease.
Touching Greek Drama: Emotions were depicted by changes in the voice, to which the Greeks were far more sensitive than we are.
These plays are always a criticism of life in some soul searching crisis.
On Aeschylus: Three vital conceptions—ate, the law of blood for blood; Bubris, the insolence that breeds sin and brings punishment; and Sophrosyne or the golden mean which is the root of all virtue…Aeschylus also accepts the primitive idea of a curse pursuing a family generation after generation provoking its members to rush with blind infatuation into the courses that lead to ruin.
On Euripides: His “Trojan Women,” in which Astyanax, the little son of Hector and Angromache, is ruthlessly murdered (for Odysseus says that, if he lives the Greeks may have the Trojan war over again) is the deadliest indictment of war ever known.
On Homer’s Ulysses: …again we meet the heroic adventurer, bravely enduring all the toils and terrors of a world that is still half wonderland; a lover of his wife, too, to the end, and unable to find, even in the embraces of an ageless goddess in her garden close in a fairy isle, any cure for his homesickness—for, if he had no word equivalent to our “home” on his lips, yet he had the thing itself in his much enduring heart.
Above all and before all there is Helen, the innocent cause of the wars of the Greeks and Trojans, who is all the more impressive because we see so little of her, and because Homer, unlike the makers of medieval romances, is far too wise to attempt a catalogue of her charms—here is an early example of the “nothing too much” which is the secret of so many triumphs of Greek art! Because of this reticence the beauty of Helen has lived through the ages and made flaming altars of the hearts of innumerable poets.
Finishing up the Greek section: Only for a brief period in a small country were the Greek gifts regarded with suspicion, and refused—by the Maccabees in Judea.
Onto the Romans.
The Roman, a type that endured for ten centuries, had not the creative intelligence of the Greek. He was a great artisan, but no artist; his chief ability was adaptability.
The Greek temple was the final expression, complete in itself, of the Greek genius for architecture. But it had no future, it could not provide a line of development for the designing of great secular buildings, and there, it would see, the Roman architects displayed a genius of serviceableness.
The wholesale spoliation of Greece, the most shameless looting the world has ever seen, adorned the great houses of Rome with the masterpieces of Greek art.
Next to the lust of power for power’s sake, their contempt for the artist is perhaps the worst thing in Rome’s legacy to the modern world.
Yet the Romans achieved one priceless boon for the advancement of the world’s civilization. They realized in their private life an ideal of the family, as a nursery of kindly discipline and the simple, every day virtues, which was far nobler than the best in the life of ancient Greece.
It may almost be said that the Romans invented home life—the only possible work shop for the making of the character that is destiny. The family was the unity with which the ancient Roman commonwealth was built up and from which it acquired its tremendous resistance-power against the assaults of enemies and the shocks of circumstance.
Religion to the Roman was the reverence for these various influences—a sense of the viewless bonds (religio—a binding-back) which were about him, like the silvery gossamer-threads floting in the still air of a bright far-listening morn. And the house itself was a veritable temple of these spirits—Janus, spirit of the door; Vesta, spirit of the hearth; the Penates, spirits of the store-room; the Lares, perhaps spirits of dead-and-gone ancestors; and the Genius of the father of the family, whose will-power enabled him to fulfill his duties and use his rightful authority aright.
Over all the human beings of his familia dwelling in this sacred hold the father had absolute authority, a power of life and death in practice as well as theory….In theory this awful authority was too much to be entrusted to any human being; in practice, however, it was seldom or never abused.
In practice, however, marriage was a real partnership—as in most Latin countries today, especially in France—and in accord with the inner signivicance of the famous phrase Ubi tu Caius, ego Caia (Where you are the lord, I am the lady). Divorce was esy, but most marriages were a success, and the familiar S.V.Q. (for sine ulla querela, “without a quarrel”) on monuments erected by the surviving partner, husband or wife, must have expressed the truth much more often than not.
Charaacter was the chief product of the Roman home life; it was a nursery of the peculiarly Roman qualities, gravitas, pielas, simplicitas, benevolentia. Gravitas is not easily defined, though a glance at certain portrait busts of Roman worthies tells us what it was. It was the feeling of responsibility in matters both great and small which prevents a man being carried away by ephemeral passions or the reckless enthusiasm which flouts old, well-tried traditions. …Pietas was the habit of paying due respect to traditions and institutions and all duly constituted authority. …Simplicitas was the quality of the man who will not be misled by any pompous look see into losing his grasp of realities. Benevolentia was the spirit of goodwill to relations, dependants and neighbours, the exercise of which made one happy in the happiness of others.
The Romans were the pioneers of organized agriculture, the first real experts on rural economy.
Character was Rome’s chief asset, the real “Fortune of the City,” yet the days of her far-reaching greatness seem to present a picture of unbridled licence among the men and women in the world’s eye. The city itself when Roman power was at its height was a maze of huge tenement blocks thronged by a proletariat living on doles of grain and kept amused by the brutal shows in the Coloseum and the orgies of immorality )perhaps non-morality is a juster expression) in the huge Baths of Caracalla. Rome is unique among the world’s great capitals in that it has never become the eat of great industries.
The women of fashion were heartless and abominably cruel, for such moral degeneration is the inevitable result of an unceasing close contact with a retinue of slaves…Home life was impossible on antique lines in the steep slums of the tenements—the Lares and Penates and the other gentle household spirits count not enter there.
Yet, away from Rome certain degenerate towns, the old tradition of Roman home life endured, and we should not be so often inclined to overlook that significant fact if the searchlights of the satirists and social historians had not been constantly directed to high-placed criminals, prisoners and adulterers and degenerate aristocrats or brutish plutocrats maddened with luxury, with the lootings of the whole world.
Hadrian, that heaven-sent autocrat, a perfect type of the essential Roman, whose high qualities had a background of indefatigable virtus, the capacity to play the man at all times and in all places.
Roman law, which was Rome’s one great and original contribution to the intellectual equipment of the world, grew out of the life of the Roman family with its traditions and strong sense of discipline. The father in his house was the first judge;…he was an anticipation of the Imperial autocrats of the far future.
The spirit of reverence for law in being and custom, which was so often law in becoming, created in the family an atmosphere of law-abidingness (if I may coin an ugly, but useful, term) which passed the portals of the home and was breathed throughout the city.
The Roman constitution, like Roman law, was not deliberately planned; Polybius points out that it was formed “not on a theory, but through frequent conflicts and actual crises,” the sagacious course being chosen in each situation as it arose.
To the legal genius of the Romans we owe wills and contracts—the latter a really wonderful achievement; for, as Maine says in his “Ancient Law”: “The positive duty resulting from one man’s reliance on the word of another is among the slowest conquests of advancing civilization”.
Thus arose jurisprudence, that philosophy of law which seeks and finds the general principles of justice…This law, which embodied the universal rules of conduct, flowing from the nature of man as a rational creature, has profoundly affected political thought in Europe, and is even to this day a power in public morality.
By being incorporated, to a greater or less extent, in all the legal systems of the West the study of Justinian’s code enabled centuries of legal development to be accomplished in a night, as it were. Except in England, Roman law is the concrete-bed of western civilization, and Scotland and South Africa are two of the countries whose legal systems are securely based on it The “Reception” of Roman law, as the humanized product of Roman character, was one of the greatest events in the history of modern civilization.
Quoting Livy : “Into no other commonwealth, were greed and luxury so long in entering; in those later days” (under the Empire “avarice had grown with wealth, and the frantic quest of pleasure is rapidly leading to the ruin of the whole fabric of society; in our ever-accelerated downward course we have already reached a point where our vices and the cures for them are both intolerable.”
From Tacitus: “The ancient time saw the utmost bounds of freedom, we the limit of slavery; robbed by an inquisition of the common use of speech and hearing, we should have lost our very memories with our voices, if it were as much in our power to forget as to remain speechless. Now at last our breath has returned; yet it is in the nature of human weakness that remedies are slower than the diseases they affect, and genius and learning are more easily extinguished than recalled.”
We are shown the epoch of the Julio-Claudian Emperors, on which Romans under the settled government of Trajan looked back as on a long nightmare thronged with monsters in the guise of human beings, as a time of prodigies and super human crimes, of terrible men and even more terrible women.
During all these dreadful years for Rome, the storm center of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements, the provincial administration was carried on, wisely and well for the most part, by able permanent officials.
These were necessarily abnormal me; the fear of assassination, for which the murder of Julius Caesar was a fatal precedent, was ever before their mind’s eye, even their nearest and dearest were corruptible and corrupted, and the burden of responsibility was too vast to be borne. In such cases, as history shows, men lose their moral essence and behave like madmen, in their lust to grasp pleasures that drug their forebodings for a few moments. It was not until the Imperial system was firmly established and universally accepted, after these generations of storm and stress the “good” Emperors appear on the Roman world-stage.
This history gives us the only complete picture mankind as yet possesses of the rise, culmination, decline and fall of an Empire which was not purely a product of brute-force (as were Assyria and the colossal creations of Mongol conquerors)…the majestically drama of the rise of Rome from small, dubious beginnings to the overlordship of the world, civilized or capable of civilization, has a special interest for us—for it was not the result of brilliant individual genius (as was the ephemeral Empire brought into being by Alexander the Great) but the outcome of the slow but sure expansion of racial energy.
The story of the Roman Republic is ennobled by the deeds of commonplace men, the vast majority of them nameless, who could always subordinate self-interest to the welfare of the whole community. They would die for Rome; what was of far greater consequence, they would willingly live for Rome. St Augustine saw in this spiritual strength,…He pointed to the patriotism of the Roman private citizen who bore “toil, poverty, exile, bereavement, loss of limbs, and even of life, in the effort to enrich the public good.” Such unselfish loyalty, he thought, must be imitated by those who wished to be worthy citizens of the City of God, shining fair and calm and far beyond the flaming walls of the earthly world. The Roman manly courage (virtus) was the basal quality of all the Christian’s enduring virtues.
Once the struggle began, they went on with it to the end; they would never make peace while a foot of the invader remained on the sacred Roman soil. They were always willing to learn from the enemy, and that was one reason why they were always victorious in the end.
She gripped her conquests with the great military roads, built to last for ever, which ran through all the Mediterranean lands, and by colonies which were garrisons of soldiers planted out on the land. “Divide and rule” was the basal axiom of Roman policy which crushed out all factors of local union, even forbidding in Trajans’s reign the formation of a fire brigade and persecuting the Christian Church as being an unsanctioned corporation.
A defeated general marched in the Roman victor’s triumph and was taken down into the dismal dungeons of the Tullianum just as the procession came in sight of the Capitol-so that the moment of deepest humiliation for the vanquished might coincide with that of the wildest exultation of the victors.
From that time on the dictator in domestic politics was the successful general with a professional army at his back. Sulla, Pompey, and finally Julius Caesar, were in succession the Napoleonic dictators. And it was the last-named who laid the foundations of the Empire, after conquering Gaul and thereby removing the haunting fear of Gallic invasions, but was assassinated at the foot of Pompey’s statue in the senate-house (44B.C.) before he could pacify the East by force of arms. This murder was perhaps the most grievous blunder in history, for it removed the greatest practical intelligence Rome possessed and involved a prolongation of the death-pangs of the Republic. When the Roman Empire became the organization for propagating the Christian faith, ordained for that very purpose as it seemed by the will of God, the political crime of Brutus and Cassius took on a darker colouring and appeared as the worst of human crimes. So it came about that these arch-assassins were placed by Dante in the lowest circle of his Inferno in company with Judas Iscariot.
By degrees, however, the saying Civis Romanus sum came to connote a feeling of the essential equality of all men as men, and this sentiment evolved, even during the slow decline and swift dissolution of the Roman world-State, into a noble ideal that still lives on in the heart of man and may not for ever prove ineffectual.
Now to preach on Legacy and Heritage.