« PreviousContinue »
. CHAPTER III.
THE ARGUMENT FROM HISTORY (continued).
II. GREECE AND ROME.
Identity of Origin between the Greeks and Romans. — Practical
Character of the Greek Mind. — Greek Literature comprehended all known Science. — Date of the First Olympiad. — Mythological Character of Times preceding. — The Trojan. War. — Its Value in History and Chronology. – No Claim to an Antiquity exceeding Eighteen Centuries before Christ. — Date of the Foundation of Rome.
The Greeks and Romans were so connected in their origin, as is indicated by their language, religion, and mythology, that a separate consideration of their respective antiquities is not required by my present object. Indeed, the mythologic or prehistoric traditions of the two peoples are so interwoven and so nearly identical, that a separate consideration of them would scarcely be possible. It will be necessary, therefore, to exhibit only the fuller and older traditions embodied in the Greek literature, to show all that has a bearing on our subject.
The evidence drawn from this source, in relation to the antiquity of our race, is of great importance, in some respects more important than that afforded us by the literature of any other ancient nation. For the Greeks were eminently practical. History and philosophy, as well as poetry, were cultivated by them, and their writings embody nearly all that was known in their times. A literature which has · preserved in its poetry the most ancient traditions of the race, in its philosophical speculations the researches of the wisest men in antiquity as to the origin of things, and in its history all that the most learned men and travelers knew of other nations and people as well as their own, can scarcely fail to afford much valuable evidence in relation to the inquiry before us. We have already seen that we are indebted to it for nearly all the information we have of Egyptian antiquities, and its testimony can not be less trustworthy concerning those of Greece and Rome.
Omitting, for the present, what is purely mythological, the highest date in Grecian history, which · is accurately fixed, is the first Olympiad, usually
called the Olympiad of Chorebus, B. C. 776. There was history before that time, but no accurate chro- : nology. Many things are recorded, and many actual events described, but there was no era to which
to refer them, so that their true times can not be ascertained. Nor is this all. In Greece, as elsewhere, historic times emerge out of the dim ages of fable and legend, in which fact and fiction were • indistinguishably blended. The period prec ding the Olympic era can do little more than furnish a kind of background for the true historical picture of later times; and if it can not afford us accurate chronology, it may furnish some materials to aid in fixing its outlines and limits.
The most conspicuous event of which we have any account in that remote age, was the siege and destruction of Troy. It can hardly be called an historical event at all. A war in which the gods take sides, and enter into combat with each other and with men, whose heroes are demigods, and who fight in armor forged by divinities, can not be set. down as sober fact. We are told that the beautiful Helen, the immediate occasion, of the war, was the daughter of Jupiter or Zeus. Achilles, the most illustrious chieftain of the Greeks, was the son 'of Thetis, an ocean nymph. Æneas, one of the Trojan heroes, was a son of Venus. The very occasion of the war originated in a dispute between
the goddesses Juno, Venus, and Minerva, as to -- which was the most beautiful. And so on to the
end of the chapter. Now, such a story belongs to
mythology, rather than to history. And yet there can be no doubt that there was some historical fact at the foundation. There must have been an ancient : city called Troy, which was besieged and taken by the Greeks. But that there ever were such personages, divine and human, as Homer describes, or such exploits as he attributes to them, may certainly more than admit of a doubt.
Though the narrative of the Trojan war can not, therefore, be set down as veritable history, yet enough of fact was embraced under it to give it a real value, both in history and chronology. The Greek writers made it an era, to which they referred the events and supposed events of their early ages. The highest assigned date for the fall of Troy was that of Herodotus, about B. C. 1263. The Parian marble places it at B. C. 1209. Eratosthenes fixed it at B. C. 1183, or about 156 years prior to the building of the temple by Solomon. The lowest date I . have found in any author is B. C. 1120.* The date of Eratosthenes was adopted by Eusebius, and seems to be the most generally received. This era was a convenient one for the Greek historians. For instance, the "dynasty of Pelasgic chiefs which ex
* Clinton's Fasti Hellenici. The dates now given are taken from that author's Epitome of Grecian Chronology (ed. Oxford 1851), compiled from the larger work. pp. 61, 63.
isted in Greece before any other dynasty is heard of in Greek traditions,” can be traced back only eighteen generations before the Trojan war. "Inachus, the father of Phoroneus, was the highest term in Grecian history.”* The latter was of the eighteenth generation before the war, in the fiftyfifth year of whose reign the flood of Ogyges is said to have occurred, B. C. 1796. " Excepting this line,” says Clinton," none of the genealogies ascend higher than the ninth, eighth, or seventh generation before the Trojan war.” |
The foundation of the Grecian states, then, was placed, by their own traditions, at a comparatively low antiquity, not exceeding, in any case, eighteen centuries before Christ. At that time the generations of men were accounted the immediate descendants of the gods. Inachus was a deity, and his sons were said to be autochthonous, i. e., sprung from the soil, or aborigines of the country. The Greeks did not claim, in their traditions, to be the oldest of nations, as did the Egyptians, Phrygians, and Scythians. S Danaus, Cadmus, Cecrops, and Pelops, the reputed founders of as many of their states, were immigrants from abroad, and brought with them arts and institutions already known in their native lands.
* Clinton's Fasti Hellenici. t Ibid. Ibid. § Ibid.