Soul of Archilochus: The Religion of an Historian

I

ON Paros, island of the gleaming rock, my eyes first caught the light of Helios. Fathered by an impetuous man, my mother a slave, childhood with me was passionate and my youth a storm. Our city’s walls held more hate than love. Breaking away from some fierce dispute, an angry clique might take ship and look for a new home. I, long called a maligner, would speak truth. Our men were united against foes. In peace common prejudices and like pursuits fostered a working fellowship. There was comradeship among those of us who had shared danger together. Strong impulse as well as ingenious thought marked our Ionian towns. Life was eager with each man and with the people when assembled in the market place.

My own life, now mirrored in memory, is no longer distracted as when in the flesh. It was cast on circumstance. I recall its rancors and can measure its violence. I can still laugh, as once I jested, at my shield thrown away in flight — a deadly shame in Sparta, where they drove me out with jeers. No shame was felt by one who chose to live, knowing how to lose as well as win and raise his head again above the waves. My nature is put best in those iambics spoken to my soul: ‘Soul, soul! stricken with overwhelming troubles, bear up! Thrust back the onslaught and the ambushed danger, breast to foe. And neither, conquering, foolishly exult, nor, conquered, wail and cry. But in joys rejoice and in evils grieve not overmuch. So learn what rhythm holds men.’

I could endure as well as another. Speaking from myself, I counseled a friend that for irreparable ills the gods had given the medicine of steadfastness. I fought and hated. My verse tore those who thwarted the fevered eros that was loosening my limbs. Yet throughout the anger and violence of my life consideration knocked at the door. I could praise valor in a foe, and heeded Odysseus’s chiding of the old nurse not to exult over the dead. The unforeseen might descend on any man, like the darkening of the sun at noon. But Zeus gave mind and mood to meet what might befall, and toil brought forth things useful for mortals. I knew that Father Zeus beheld men’s knavish as well as lawful deeds, and could raise from the black earth those struck down by ills.

The best was that I ever followed, cherished, and increased within me, the Muses’ lovely and mighty gift of verse. Knowing and chanting Homer’s poems, I was no imitator. Of myself, above all other men, I moulded those quick iambics to pithy form, made them to sting and bite; made them beautiful in their power to tell the passions and the fates of men. The poet Homer spoke from himself, out of his nature. How else could he? Yet his chant was of what all men might wish for or would shun, with no word of his own chequered lot. I had no song of Zeus-born kings. My verse was of myself — voicing my hates and longings, the passions of the men about me, which often touched me sore: men like myself entangled, driven, reaching a brief success. It was myself, my setting, my needs, often my own dire lot, I sung.

Verse brought me renown in life and fame thereafter. That man called Korax, whose spear let out my breath, might not purify himself before the Pythian priestess, swearing that he killed me fairly. As having slain one sacred to the Muses, he was driven out till he should appease my ghost. I am praised by men in the far times to come; in my island city is set my monument, and men are still bidden to pause before one whose fame had flown from the rising to the setting sun.

I am a mind reflecting and absorbing: doing nothing, I experience. The lusting, fighting body, which was part of me, could endure its present, look back regretfully, or ahead, dreading yet hopeful of the future. But now occurrences no longer succeed each other. Thought carries what once had seemed to go before, and points to what shall be disclosed more clearly. Though a temporal sequence may order events which feed my mind, past and future are manifested in each other. It is all actualization, a flowering rather than succession.

The exertions and endeavors, the turmoil, struggle, and killing that went on through the Ionian islands and coast cities when I was in the body, and the dire times that saw the barbarians enslave our peoples — this complex of struggling or despairing life, the panorama of it all, is in my thought. Alas! there seems always to have been some clever Ionian whose grasping selfishness wrecked the fortunes of his city, and ruined those civic liberties which are a springboard for intellectual achievement. But my thought swells proudly as it turns to the victory of our Athenians over the Persian foe. And what a flowering followed of civic fullness, and art and drama and philosophy. The mind which now is me takes in the far event and sees the measureless import of Athens for mankind.

There is no rancor in me, and scarcely regret for ill fortune; what seems the past opens to me its why and wherefore reassuringly. Reminiscence as well as thought’s fair prospect brings a genial expansion of spirit. Genial, I say, because, while violence and sense-riot do not enter, I am interested and often moved. Discrimination brings desire for whatever discloses itself as truth.

There are sequences in the visible world; also in human knowledge. I have been turning to the thoughts of men who were unborn when I was in the flesh. Then the gods were often on my tongue; I have since queried as to the source of things and their ways of action — the causes, so to speak. There is a Milesian who foretold that on a given day a shadow would push across the sun. Such a shadowing, once seen by me, seemed to overtop all other wonders. Is it such a wonder if a man can foretell it? Its cause lies not in my old gods whose action none could guess. This same Milesian says all things come from water, while a friend of his finds a more unlimited and total source. Heat and cold, and the wet and dry things, separate themselves out of this, while living animals are bora of moisture and its warm evaporations. This seems to me real thinking and not just accepting what we used to put in poetry and daily speech.

I see that men will answer such questions in many ways, which shall show their progress in thinking. For myself I mark that these Milesian schemes take no account of that which I am, θυμs — soul, mind, will, purpose. So their insufficiency appears. Other thinkers offer me other thoughts. A certain sage makes over this basic matter into numbers and their relationships. He applies like thoughts to human conduct, hoping that through them men will learn to adapt their lives to social needs, eschew violence and gain moderation. I am with him here, little as my bodily life conformed. But as yet my own experience does not agree with his idea of souls passing from a dead body to a live one.

This man lives far to the west, where there are others who are showing how insecure is man’s reliance on what his eyes and ears and fingers tell him of the world. One must have thinking, thinking to purge such evidence from contradiction and reach a thought of stable and sure being. I too am drawn to realize how little we can trust the quick message of our senses till thought has gone over and over it, and sifted what they have told us.

But what do I hear from Ephesus of still one who denies that there is any stable being to be tested by thought? He thinks nothing abides; indeed that nothing is, but only becomes. All is ceaseless change and flux. He calls it fire, and sees it kin to the human soul and the rational principle of the Kosmos. Out of this change and strife comes harmony! Dark are his words; but perhaps a new name for his thought comes echoing dimly from the future — process. From still another I hear there is a power outside the whirl; a thing of might: he calls it υoȗs, or mind. And still another younger man will solve the dispute between the Ephesian and the western sages, by cutting up matter into an infinitude of infinitesimals moving eternally throughout the void.

II

Surely my mind has grown thinking these pregnant thoughts of younger men. They shall be called philosophers. Yet all wisdom is not with them. I might have known this while still in the rioting body. For I was myself a poet; and I knew the wisdom of the epics; how they fitted life to the ways of things, and the ways of things to life, and called it fate. Fate might be hard, but it had fitness, as it moved along paths made by the man’s temper and conduct, bringing him to a terminus not unforeseen. There was wisdom too in that plodding poet of the Works and Days, who died before I was born. Surely the poet has his share of wisdom from the Muse. His inspiration may be a glimpse of the divine ordering, and his verse carry a fuller round of life and truth than the reasonings of my good philosophers.

I am thinking of a great choral poet whose songs are sought and well rewarded by the victors in the games. It is given him above other men to show the golden truth of meaning in these triumphs. Magnificent his odes in words and thought, as they sing how men win in the games as in life by the favor of Zeus, themselves not lacking in valor. God and man’s hero nature bring him to the goal of fame, immortalizing him in his passing deed. I am stirred by the lyric wisdom of this great Theban, whose city at this time is far from glorious, to his pain.

I am soon to learn a deeper lesson of life’s sure retributions — still under Zeus. Fate had been suitable and fit with my first epic teacher. Its justice and righteousness were now to be revealed. From the Attic stage come the words: ‘It is the impious act that begets its kind: righteous houses are blest with fair children. The ancient Insolence engenders an offspring of insolence in evil men, an avenging dæmon not to be put off.’

I hear the complement and crown of this dread principle: for the man not wholly bad, enlightenment follows retribution; from suffering, wisdom. First among men an Athenian makes clear the web of crime and punishment held in an old story: ‘He is wise who sings in praise of Zeus, Zeus who leads mortals to be wise: whose law it is that suffering shall teach. Mindfulness of past woes drops on the heart in sleep and makes men wise against their will.’ Those fixed unwritten laws of Zeus — let no man-sprung edict attempt to override them, sings another poet. From this younger man I gain the subtle principle that intent makes the crime; he whose ill deeds were sufferings, rather than acts, may gain acquittance in the end — win through to expiation.

Drawing wisdom from these men, I became sentient and perceptive through their minds. With them I moved through those great days when we fought off Persia and slavery. In these experiences human life became weightier and gained a new significance. The need was more insistent to understand the good and ill of it, the worth of its perceptions; also the reasons of its fateful courses. Insistence upon man himself began to vitalize and humanize the thinking of men I call philosophers. Those who found ultimate being in the atoms tried to draw the principles of human conduct within the atomic whirl; the ideal of knowledge must include the ideal of life. Philosophy turns to the doer and thinker. I seem to discern man the thinker as henceforth the pivot of his thought, though it embrace the world he lives in — immense, fate-driven, or Godcreated. The unity of man’s nature will insist that what is best for man must be at one with what is true. Philosophy becomes a test, a consistency of thought.

A snub-nosed Athenian goes up and down the city streets, pursues men to the nooks and crannies of their business, questioning, arguing on names and words, seeking meanings that will stand sifting. Some men, and I among them, see the foolishness of current talk as well as the pitfalls in the thinking of the old philosophers. We are nearing new heights, and I perceive that the way up is not merely a path but verily a part of whatever height is reached. Now I see that earlier thoughts, and experience from decade to decade enlarging, still work in the conduct of later men, and in later thought become springs of energy and light. I feel around me a careful weighing of conduct, discernment and skill in sculpture, deepened significance in drama and lyric. New verses are sung in music made for them. Music and line and strophe spring from old, still living, forms. My own iambics, bold and new in their time, — no one had used them so cunningly before,—have made the drama’s dialogue, and more. I am part of it all, and men recite my verses still.

And now I listen to the drastic thinking of men moving in our world. Old opinions are sifted, some thrown aside, but more of them given new form and life. Well-thumbed ideas jostle each other and take on a second youth with our philosophers here at Athens, which is my spirit’s home. Above them soars, and sometimes gambols, one who dwells in the conviction that the supreme reality is mind. I possess the proof of this in my own enduring life of thought. Yet I marvel at this philosopher as he fuses the thoughts of former men and of some still living in the flesh. He wields the reasoning power of such as upheld the scheme of being, one and absolute. They are perhaps the springs of his own spiritual truths. But his mind holds also the counter-reasons of the keen Ephesian, so destructive of everything except modes of change. Although repugnant, the atomic doctrines are well understood. Fully appreciating the sense-perceptive and relative nature of knowledge, his reason is steadied by its training in analytic definition from the good snub-nosed teacher. He raises his concepts to principles of life; would win through to a grasp of the supreme good as the surest reality. The impulse is love, purged of lust, straining on to beauty absolute and unchanging.

Alas, perhaps, all of these thoughts are not for me. I have heard the wonderful song of the Phœdrus which, in language almost beyond words, tells the passion of the soul divinely maddened by its yearning to fly upward to the beauty from which it fell at birth. I have also in the Symposium followed this passion from its genesis in lusts, up through the desire for the better, unto the yearning for the best. It loves souls rather than bodies, and seeks the beauty of laws, institutions, sciences, and that broadest knowledge, which is knowledge of the beautiful — the beauty which is not fair in one respect and foul in another, which neither waxes nor wanes, is neither a becoming nor a perishing: beauty absolute in which perishing beauties share without affecting it.

This is the ideal beauty, or the beauty of the ideal. All reverence for the soaring thought that has conceived and reached it. But I am still a poet and my thought of beauty lives and moves in poetry, in all art, if one will. In beauty, as I think it, there is δúυαμιs, which is power; and δúυαμιs is always in action. A mighty thinker, pupil of this high philosopher, opens his talk on Poetry with the words, ’Let us speak of poetry and its kinds and the δú#965;αμιυ of each.’ He discusses the excellence of poetry, the drama especially. Such excellence falls in with the methods of the poets and the best forms of conduct. Without using the word ‘beauty,’ he discloses the qualities of tragedy so as to make clear what is its ideal excellence. My great Theban poet had shown the beauty of the success won by noble striving. Looking further back, I recall the dynamic modes of beauty in the Trojan epic. Helen is most fair to look on and her words are beautiful; but her beauty is not unmoving and her words speak thought that moves so fitly. My great Athenian would agree that fitness, temperance, and the golden mean of self-control are elements of beauty; and one must ascribe the quality of power to his changeless beauty, even as this quality is held in the Unmoved Mover, the conception of his pupil.

Such thoughts as mine concerning beauty find form and life in the supreme trilogy of the master of tragedy. The story of Agamemnon is in everyone’s memory. That is the μȗθos, by some called the plot, of the tragedy. It forms and controls the drama. Each incident is held to the measure of its contribution to the action. The personages act and speak in and for the drama. They are sheer agents. Every line they speak reflects the situation and is portentous of what must come. The roots and causes of the tragedy are given in veiled allusion and forebodings understood by all of us. This drama is not invented or composed by the dramatist, but is revealed by him in its causal setting to show how it came to pass. In the energy of its language and the suggestions of its images, in the fitness and right functioning of every incident, the play called Agamemnon possesses the excellence of power — δúυαμιs — and so is beautiful. Its beauty is manifested in its dynamic being and the action of its qualities. I find the same beauty in the second play of the trilogy, which brings the over-vengeful murderous queen to her fit and proper death. The third play frees Orestes from the horrors of matricide by proving that his deed was guiltless under the prompting and promise of the gods.

This trilogy may justify my halting criticism of the Athenian philosopher. Doubtless our minds pass upward, as in his Symposium, from lower to higher beauties or conceived excellences or powers (δυνάμϵιs, and thus may reach perhaps a highest thought of beauty. Still, all beauty is dynamic, an activity working in power. At all events, such seems to me the beauty of art and poetry. The structure of a poem sets its dynamic quality, and metre, rhythm, rhyme, are elements of power. Yet no formula can exhaust the depth and riches of fact — of our perception or experience of anything. The recognition of this throughout the talks of that great Athenian is one of the sure proofs of his greatness. To say that beauty is power does not exhaust our experience of beauty. If this dictum applies to drama or to oratory or to the epic, does it touch our feeling for an acanthus leaf or the significance of any deed or human form? Much remains untold, perhaps ineffable.

III

If an immortal spirit, freed from the rancors of the flesh, could be torn by the anguish of those who are near and dear in mortal kinship, immortality would be intolerable. Yet my sympathies are sadly moved by the long war in which Greeks will not give over destroying each other. From the courses of events I foresaw how internecine rivalry was leading to an insatiable war. My grand Athenians need not have been overthrown had they been prudent. Folly in the people and selfish vanity in those who misled them brought on the fatal Sicilian venture. Alas for temperance lost and self-control!

I foresee no end of wars to come: no end to pseudo-patriotism and valor misdirected, all masking cupidity. Foolish mankind will continue even as I was once. Fighting is in the blood; keen minds do not perceive its futility. Yet people are becoming concerned with feeling, interested in the softer as well as the more violent emotions. Love’s passion and its counterpart of hate are displayed in tragic drama. The art of sculpture is sensitized in statues showing human moods and emotions; it has abandoned the old calm.

The age of Macedon’s semi-barbarian dominance in Greece is here. Hellenism is no longer free. Neither will it liberate itself through Alexander’s conquests, nor in his genial effort to make East and West absorb each other. His overarching might and the warring dynasties succeeding him make Greeks feel their powerlessness. Doubtless they were never quite masters of their destinies; now they are conscious of their impotence. The more thoughtful are trying to establish their souls in a self-determined freedom. Prevailing ways of thinking are looking to the welfare of the man within himself. The impelling mood, if not the constructive thought, of these systems enters into me. Not that I am oppressed by any resistless mortal power, seeing that I am all soul and subject to no assault. Am I free? I feel free and yet am a market for whatever human experience comes to my consciousness. I am most deeply affected by what seems truth.

It may be that I reflect the minds of men in every passing present. But I am also a growing soul, and feel growing pains. I have needs and yearnings for a larger adjustment with the universe than had touched my immaturity. If aforetime I tried to propitiate sundry gods, that is now too casual. I must reach accord with the universal and infinite Godhead. For I need to think within the compass of his power. I would yearn and think and act in accordance with his will. I am no mere thinker, but a yearner too.

So I have nought in common with a certain Epicurus who will have it that the gods take no part in men’s affairs. They are contented and supine and deaf to prayer. Let men also keep to the least disturbing pleasures, leaving the rest to pass undesired. Then there is no place for fear. Such thoughts suit godless men who scarcely look beyond comforts alike ignoble whether of the mind or body.

The other system has many reasonings that do not appeal to me; otherwise with its ideals. It sets man’s peace, even content and happiness, within the conduct of his will, but views his will as part of universal law. With limping arguments it makes that law divine, to wit the will of God — for men an all-ruling providence. It even looks to God as a helpmate within each soul. So it would turn to him in prayer, but with slight rational assurance of response.

A sense of human impotence seems to move both these systems. They lack the energy which lifted the thought of the Athenian philosopher to an assured spiritual reality. Not for long will these systems give strength and gladness to their advocates. Even now do they help men widely? If stronger souls can make a fortress of the human will, that is an empty notion for the masses who have little strength and many fears. They need outer aid and comfort, say from the gods and dæmons touching whom they are anxious day and night. Men and women are making a careful stepping anent the gods. They see omens everywhere, and watch the turning of a feather to find what fortune or misfortune awaits their acts. More than formerly they seek their fortunes in the inexorable stars. It is all an anxious stepping.

Yet Stoicism, the better one of these two systems, has raised the thought of God. Looking back upon my fellows in the flesh, I recall how all of us feared the gods and would buy their favor by silly acts and gifts. We imagined the gods to be like our own grasping or groveling selves, only secure from mischance. There was too much of man and of the unaccountable ways of nature in our religion. Even Zeus in Homer was far from fixed and righteous, and could be deceived, lured by his own whims or lusts. There was too much of me, Archilochus, and too little of the divine in Zeus. Only afterwards Æschylus made him a righteous dispenser of justice. Probably my own thoughts of God are broader still.

In these many years after Alexander’s death we Greeks go here and there among the peoples less disdainfully. Stoicism expresses the new feeling that there is something of the same in men everywhere. It even teaches that all men are brothers — a shaky kinship, as it still seems to me. The rule of Alexander and his successors is being replaced by the power of a great republic in the west, soon to become imperial. If these mighty kingdoms and their supplanter have made men know the individual’s impotence, the Empire begins to make its subjects behave as citizens of a world. They are governed by a single ruler and a central ministration of law. There is a state religion, somewhat thin. Under its ægis various religious practices and many curious superstitions minister to the prejudices of races and the wants or weaknesses of men and women. All people borrow religion and rites and superstitions. What is thoughtful blends with the absurd. Religion flourishes through the common need of protection in an all too chancy world. This need reaches out beyond the life of the present body, looking for some ghostly safety for the shade. Hope plots the ways and means of its fulfillment.

Our Greek religion gave scanty aid beyond the funeral pyre, only certain ‘mysteries’ lending a rather particular support. Roman religion has nothing more. So we Greeks and dumbly Hellenized Romans, finding our own cults wanting, are willing to try out assurances from the stocks of other nations. The choice is wide indeed.

IV

A certain restless Jewish people pushes about the world. They are unsocial and uncomfortable, not like other men. They call the rest of the world gentiles, just as we Greeks used to call them all barbarians. They pull back their skirts as from defilement with gentile touch, and yet seek converts for their faith. For religion is a faith with them; there is passion in their relation to their god. I am a Hellene and never cared for Jewish views. They have no thought of natural law; everything hangs on the will of their Jehovah-god. Reading their books, I find his will was frequently violent and cruel. This people was carried captive into Asia, and suffered dire discipline of body and spirit. Their captivity may have brought new thoughts, possibly some notion of a future life and a conviction that they had a mission in the world. It would seem that the sins of the Jews and their calamities inspired their prophets to elevate Jehovah from a jealous God of one small people to a righteous ruler of all the peoples of the earth. He is made a universal god, and yet is still a person with a will and character having no kinship with natural law.

Here was something new for me: that a god should become God universal and supreme and yet continue sheer personality and not a symbol or element or phase of law, into which the Stoic god was always turning. With all his righteousness and might, Jehovah had also love, at least for his own people. Elements of like thoughts had harbored in my own Greek self, but had never formed a convincing personality. It seems to me that personality is needed in a ruler over human destinies and for the purposeful creation of the world.

Renovation and new life for the Jewish faith are emerging out of Judaism itself in its old home of Palestine; no building out of ceremonies, but a flowering of the spirit likely to burst the old bonds of the Jewish law. Righteousness had lain in its strict fulfillment. Now a man arises, a prophet or perhaps more than a prophet, who declares that he comes to fulfill the law, but in a way that destroys its letter. He teaches that righteousness does not lie in doing or refraining, but in the spirit of the obedient man and the reason of his conduct. I can look back to a similar spiritualizing of our old Greek morality as stress was laid on the intent with which an act was done. But this man lifts such principles above mere ethics, sees them as final forms of the divine command. He draws two precepts from the Jewish law: ‘ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment; And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ This is indeed a spiritualizing of righteousness — of the entire contents of human conduct. He shows its application among men: ‘All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them; for this is the law and the prophets.’ Our Stoicism was groping towards the love of God and man; but it lagged far behind the inspiration and command of these living words, which set the spirit of man’s life and filled it with acts of love.

Then this man declared the outcome of such living and its reward to be life eternal — which is what men are looking for with all mortality’s yearnings. If only they could believe it! As a disembodied spirit I could speak to them: but that is barred. Only I will here set down — is it for me; for whom is it? — how this doctrine was presented at its best and highest, and how it touched myself.

The man wrote nothing, but was always speaking to those about him; to his followers or to individuals, or to multitudes. When not angrily rejected, his teaching was accepted and afterwards recorded according to the tempers, spiritual aptitudes, and intelligence of his hearers. It survives in different forms. One is that of the kingdom of heaven for those who will believe and follow Christ

— which he proclaimed himself to be. The Kingdom is set forth in images — parables, as they are called. These represent ways of God’s redeeming love and the manner of man’s acceptance of the Kingdom or failure to enter in. They are phases of the relationship between man and God, a relationship that may comprise the sum of human life. The teacher points to himself as the embodiment of the Kingdom of God and as the way to it.

Another record gives a profoundly complementary disclosure of the nature of life eternal. Its problems or dilemmas are put in statements that appeal to an educated and intellectual Greek, because of linkages with his philosophy. Such a one had learned that the life of mind is most desirable and that luxury and wealth might well be abandoned for it. We Greeks could understand the words: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’ Also the command laid on the disciples to love one another as the master had loved them, or even as God loved them. We who knew the great Athenian’s philosophy could understand this. Now the discourse becomes profounder, esoteric perhaps, showing some likeness to what was taught in our own ‘mysteries.’ The Son of God was sent as an offer of eternal life: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ Belief begins as the Father draws the man to Christ; it strengthens through the believer’s love. Life is set forth as knowledge of the truth that frees man from bondage to sin and death; in fine, as knowing God and him whom He has sent. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’ The record contains further revelation of the believer’s life in Christ and God: ‘That they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one.’

As I consider the tendencies of thought and feeling in the years before and those which followed the appearance of this man, I see how his teaching — the Gospel, as it came to be called — carried an answer and fulfillment to prevailing religious yearning. I who am a mind and soul reflecting men’s fervent thoughts find my own religious feeling responded to and satisfied. The Stoic god was vague and material, and the thoughts on the divine held by the Athenian philosopher never quite reached a living focus. I needed personality in God, even though one built out of human aspirations. No living divine personality had ever been conceived such as was revealed in this Gospel set upon Jewish thought but reaching so far beyond. Besides this, some kind of imperishable existence is desired by all sorts of mortals. The Gospel promised it in promises snatched at and understood in many ways.

But the reasoning mind continued in Greeks and Greek-taught Romans — certainly in me. The Greek philosophic reason could not be so Judaized as to accept the Gospel as at first set forth. Its statements had to be made over in terms acceptable to Hellenic thought. So in my case. I followed sympathetically the disputes and labors of the Christian Fathers to make the relations between the divine Son and Father and mankind thinkable. These modes of Hellenized Christianity appealed to me and satisfied my philosophic nature.

What a fortune lay before these dogmas, in which the Gospel core lived on through its appeal to the hearts of men and women. Yet I, who feel the stirrings of what history would call the future time, already know that the reasonings of the Hellenic setting of the Gospel and the arguments of the mighty Apostle to the Gentiles will eventually lose the power to convince. For they will cease to correspond with any sense of reality present in men’s minds.

V

For the time my religious feeling is satisfied by the Gospel of the Saviour Jesus Christ, and I accept its dogmatic rendering. My reason, unimpaired perhaps, is redirected by a faith that has made me introspective and furnished new matter to be fitted into an intellectual frame. I would never admit that we Greeks lacked the faculty of observing nature as well as man. The promptings of mathematics pushed us to discovery. Personally I have always been drawn to poetry and art and have done my thinking along the ways of reasoning rather than through observation. In my present state observation does not interest me. Mythology and religion find symbols and look for allegorical meanings in history. I may come to recognize that these images turn us from reality. But allegory will dominate the period into which our peoples are passing.

The turning of the world to Christianity is affecting intellectual taste as well as mood and feeling in another way. One would hardly call the Greeks unemotional. Passion inspired our art and swayed our history. But we never deified emotion, and looked always to its control. That it might be without limit and absolutely righteous did not occur to us. The Christian love of God is bringing a change. It is an overmastering emotion with those who feel it, and is deemed the essence of righteousness. No temperance, no μηδὲν ἄϒανhere. The devoted soul cannot have too much of that which should embrace its entire nature. This boundless intellectual passion inspires the writings of the bishop of Hippo, whose genius I revere. I foresee the same passion moulding poetry and art. Our old Greek measures imposed emotional limit and control. They are dropped. The Christian hymn is taking on rhythms and rhymes which will gather power to express limitless yearning. Christian prose also will become emotional. Emotion will give new forms to poetry and new qualities to sculpture and painting.

Nevertheless, in these earlier centuries of conversion the masses of mankind go on much the same. They have merely redirected their superstitions. Is it not always so? The intellectually and spiritually chosen are sensitive to the impact of ideals originating in unique individuals or arising from human growth. From the first, such men were reinspired by the Gospel and gained in mental and emotional power. They reached new heights of righteousness — of intolerance, perhaps. Creative in thought and feeling, they are the great Fathers of the Church and saints as well. I feel their power. But I see that common men, with affections and desires good and bad, are unchanged. Wars go on, and internecine struggles among Christians still grasping at the Empire. The birth throes of dogma are violent enough, and bring forth subjects of rancorous dispute.

Men hate each other still. I fail to see that bishops and their shouting factions are any better than pagans used to be. They are certainly less pleasant. Yet the tough old world may be about to receive a novel impress.

I am thinking of another aspect of this problem. Our antique world held much strength and life when Jesus was born. Its energies seemed to sink while his teachings, more or less altered, were reaching general acceptance. My own experience through this period of spiritual intermingling and renovation impresses me with the impossibility of distinguishing the causes of these two phenomena or even the phenomena themselves — to wit, the apparent weakening of GræcoRoman civilization and the Gospel’s spread. Men are evincing new susceptibilities and capacities of feeling, which tend to develop into creative faculty, thus making amends for what is lost. The antique Greek and Roman character, although subject to superstitions, was strong and self-reliant. The staunchness relaxed under a deepening need of religious solace and support. This need brought forth the means of consolation. The times of the Church Fathers were creative of Christian art as well as Christian dogma. The Fathers themselves in the fourth century after Christ were not mentally inferior to Epicurus and the founders of Stoicism in the fourth century before his birth. Christian art was less skillful than the art of our Skopas and Praxiteles, but more original in its accomplishment of the novel task of presenting the Christian epic.

Thus I saw new elements of faculty and character replacing the antique strength. One hesitates to speak of a human deterioration. But disasters press upon my thought. I see the resources and population of the Empire wasted by war, disorder, and disease. The impact of barbarian peoples is now a calamity rather than a renewal of strength. Our civilizaton is no longer able to assimilate and fashion them.

VI

I am moved by the tendencies of each passing time, and yet consider them detachedly. This is my freedom. I see the world entering a period of downfall and ignorance to be followed by a gradual recovery rich in possibilities. The course of disruption and recovery passes across my vision. Through the centuries I hear the beat of thought and feel the gathering passion of the Faith. I think in terms of the Summa Theologiæ and almost gain the gift of tears. Then I become aware of a dawning freedom struggling through the need of the antique heritage. Eyes are opening to the natural world. Observation becomes active and experimental, prying into movement and growth. Religion holds a smaller part of human interest. Man’s earthly life bounds forward as if unfettered. There is delight in art; and the passionately human world asserts itself with glorious violence in Shakespearean plays.

Moving on to what seems the present, I am dizzied by the novel facilities of daily life and intercourse. In the whirl of opportunity it is humanity that stays the same. What though men talk across the ocean if they have but small things to say? Inventions are a fool’s test of progress. The cry is for application and utility. But applied science is baneful as well as beneficial: neutral between good and ill. Easement and facility are well when leading to broader purpose and the uplifting of the mind. It is an insult to knowledge to accept surface utility as a criterion of its worth. We Greeks kept the balance between philosophy and science. Now the efficiency of rational thinking is denied. Men forget that in sifting nature perception is fashioned by the perceiving mind with the concurrence of its reasoning faculties. The gain is valid when harmonized with the background of well-considered thought. This court of last resort passes on every fact. Natural knowledge broadens the basis of that ultimate rational consideration which is philosophy.

Though the world perplexes me, I know whither I have come. A touch of the divine in the liberated soul enables it to see all things in the light of eternity. I can also view my own experiences as successive. With the passing of mortal breath, the distraction and contentions of composite existence gave way to quietude and gentle tolerance. I became hospitable to others’ thoughts, would consider novel opinions and recognize new drifts of feeling. I absorbed the early philosophers and the laws of conduct declared by the Theban poet and our Athenian drama. Having soared with Plato, my thoughts were sobered as man’s helplessness appeared in the times of Stoicism. The pathos of mortality brought home the need of divine deliverance. I gained a new intelligence from the conviction that God, once the All-mover, now the Father, held human qualities in the divine harmony of his nature. He had made us unto himself. There was scope along that path for human energies, and content and peace. Thus I fared onward. Insistence upon living within the divine purpose remains unshaken. I, Archilochus, have found the peace of God which passeth understanding. And I also am an allegory.

  1. An Ionian Greek poet living in the first half of the seventh century before Christ. The ancients placed him next to Homer. Only casual fragments of his poems remain. They deeply influenced Greek poetry and drama. — AUTHOR