« PreviousContinue »
all sciences the deductive metaphysical is the most barren, but it has always fascinated the contemplative, and as first in such science we must still place the Greek amongst the immortals. Alone to stand with these demi-gods of a past world is our own glorious Lord Bacon. In the realms of thought is he alone their peer. And he thus takes pride of place not so much that he would challenge what they taught as that he was the first to realize that new conditions now governed. It was not so much against Greek thought in its purity that he rebelled as against Greek thought as viewed and interpreted by an ignoble age. At Marathon we see the human race in one of the culminating points of its greatness, finding expression in its religious ideals, in the writings of the Jew, and in all else in the supremacy of the Greek. His fortunes are to be ever-changing, but there is to be little variation in its supreme influence on man himself. Since Marathon man had been more or less on the downward grade. Hellenism was but the distribution, not the development of that marvellous culture until, with ever-increasing velocity, he reached the miserable depths of our own black dark ages. The ignorance and grovelling superstition of those days, when to be dirty was to be holy, is almost past credibility. Well for the world's good fame had that millennium of years been blotted out. And then once more this old Greek thought bursts on mankind in all the fulness of its ancient brilliance. With its recovery our dark and middle ages pass away and our modern world has birth. And now we witness a new departure which with amazing prophetic instinct the prescience of the seer, Lord Bacon, had been first to sense and realize. The world we live in is the world he saw; the world in which he would have been far more at home than in his own. He was weary of a world of talk. Man's story had become talk, talk, nothing but talk. Mindless, aimless, brainless talk. That it took a religious cast was that the man was worthless, not his faith. A man found in his belief what he sought-himself; and
a sorry find. And Bacon revolt from these dark ages was anxious to get to realities of life. And thus his attitude to the old Greek philosophies, alike with the Bible itself, prostituted to the same base end, the all in allness of talk. And he craved for facts. But we must read his teaching in the light of times when notions, nonsense, and absurdities had to do duty for facts. This is the reverse of the position to-day; probably the reverse of the position of the old Greek himself before he also degenerated. In the heyday of his powers we see him not only with marvellous powers of mental analysis but also with Bacon's same insatiable appetite for knowledge--for facts as well. So ever is born upon us, Life is not philosophy alone nor conduct alone; not theory alone nor facts alone; but the momentum of the two. Now we have the swing of the pendulum in this direction, now in that. Now to-day facts so accumulate that we are simply overwhelmed with them, and above all our need is for another Bacon or Aristotle to collect and ordinate them, and above all see them in their true relation one to another. Our world is very much as a watch. Many to master every separate wheel, but we sadly need the comprehensive intellect of a Plato or a Bacon to master the watch as a whole. Starvation was the mode of their day; abundance, and still more abundance the gift of God to man of these times. And it is oh! for a teacher to tell us how to use it wisely; not to dissipate it in indulgence; not to fritter it away in idleness; not turn it into a curse in huge armaments; not lose its benefits in piled-up treasuries; not exhaust it in “a multitude of unprofitable children”; but to use it as God would have it used in making man a better, holier, and happier creature and more worthy of the great vocation to which undoubtedly he has been called.
5. We have thus dwelt upon the intellectual results of Alexander's triumphs, but not because they had not other most vital consequences as well. As mere conquests the changes effected were striking and farreaching, and in passing have to be touched upon. From his day new dynasties were to be given to a conquered mankind. Hitherto the ruling families had been mostly of those who traced their descent to the legendary heroes and demi-gods of a previous age. With his death, B.C. 323, a few years finds his empire divided amongst his generals from whom for the future until Rome overmasters all—sovereignty is alone to be derived. They were the founders of kingdoms through whom all later rulers were to establish their claims. Rare were the occasions when their position was challenged by any of the ancient houses, so completely had the new supplanted the old régime. In the break-up of the empire geographical considerations mostly determined the limits of the sub-divided monarchies. These changed with the evervarying fortunes of the respective possessors, but roughly we note a general persistence in main outlines. Thus one we see established in Macedonia and adjacent parts; another has a kingdom virtually coextensive with Thrace and much of Asia Minor; a third, Seleucus, secures Babylon and along with it much of the old Persian Empire; whilst to Ptolemy fell Egypt, and he heads a dynasty only to end with the death of Cleopatra, so famous in story. Marking these changes, we see how aptly the year B.C. 300 serves to divide ancient history into the two masses we have mentioned-Pre-Alexandrian and PostAlexandrian times.
But whilst the conquests of Alexander served to disseminate a higher civilization, in every other respect they were an unqualified curse to mankind. We are little interested in the varying fortunes of his generals and their successors, but their mutual jealousies, their intolerable ambitions, their unbridled passions were once more to let loose on miserable mankind all the horrors of unceasing war. For nearly two centuries the great Empire of Persia had virtually ensured a general peace, but this was now to have end. It is the custom to talk slightingly of this power, but
Zation, ito mankof his gerusies,
for all that it had a code of ethics, politics, religion and justice which secured a great deal of solid contentment to its subject people. The one happy period in the history of the Jews was this two hundred years, and above all they owed to it their sacred books which have had such mighty influence on their fortunes and those of mankind. If their tranquillity and prosperity is any criterion of this government of Persia as a whole it speaks well for her rule, and in her fallen fortunes a now distracted world had also to lament its own evil fate. Rome is to establish a like ascendancy, but till then these new Greek dynasties are to indulge in one long orgy of fighting in which millions of innocents are to be slaughtered that they may satisfy their hates or establish their grandeur. Whether the deadly lethargy which settled on the world with the Roman hegemony was an improvement may be matter of doubt and from that blighting influence, even with peace restored, Hellenism was helpless to save an enslaved world. With loss of liberty was loss of all else precious in humanity. The rebellious slave commands our sympathy: the slave who accepts his conditions has always proved abject and contemptible.
And man in chains, with ignoble masters, need we wonder that he is to plunge into the morass of degradation and darkness to which we have referred; in which Hellenism itself is to be swamped, and from which a thousand years of shame is not to suffice to deliver him.
6. Hellenism as a specific movement owed much to Ptolemy who had taken Egypt as his especial province. Once established, he resolved that his capital, Alexandria, should become the intellectual centre of the civilized world. It had been founded B.C. 332 by Alexander the Great to be metropolis of his empire. As such its site was well chosen. A glance at the map will show how accessible it was from every part of his vast dominions. But with his death and the breakup of his power this proud destiny was never to be materialised. And yet little would that mighty general have imagined that his successor, ruler of but a fraction of his kingdom, was to give that self-same city an eminence which was to make it deathless in a world's history. Some nine years it existed as potential capital of a temporal power; some nine centuries it was to exist unchallenged mistress of spiritual activity and thought. Its trend was settled from the first by this self-same Ptolemy. He was a remarkable man. If scandal be not wholly invention he was half brother to Alexander by the fair Arsinoe, a concubine of Philip. Pre-eminently handsome, to her he owed his looks, as he did his abilities to his reputed father. He was great in all kingly attainments, but above all in his love of learning and the arts. His mantle fell on his immediate descendants, who proved equally distinguished. Their rule of a hundred years (Ptolemy Soter, 323-285; Ptolemy Philadelphus, 285-247; Ptolemy Euergetes, 247-222) marks an epoch in man's existence. We see Hellenism in its full flood tide, it is still a living ennobling force. Behind it is the figure of the Greek, chiefest of mankind. But with his freedom lost, deterioration sets in, and from the proudest of master spirits he becomes the most contemptible of slaves. The esprit of the past survives, but it is to receive no further illumination from existing exponents. And the dynasty of Ptolemy lasts some two hundred years more and well reflects the characteristics of the times. It comes to an end B.C. 30, when Augustus, triumphing over Anthony and Cleopatra, makes Egypt a Roman province. But the Ptolemaic era has made its mark on the fortunes of mankind, and to the end the love of letters, the passion of its first founder, runs in the blood and seems hereditary in this family.
It was under such ægis Alexandria grew and prospered. The genial glow of royal patronage established an atmosphere which it never lost. In itself it was most magnificent of cities. Its Pharos or lighthouse, built of white marble, was one of the seven wonders of the world. In its very inception it was fortunate.