Greek literature is more modern in its tone than Latin or Medieval or Elizabethan. It is the expression of a society living in an environment singularly like our own, mainly democratic, filled with a spirit of free inquiry, troubled by obstinate feuds and still more obstinate problems. Militarism, nationalism, socialism and communism were well known, the preachers of some of these doctrines being loud, ignorant and popular. The defence of a maritime empire against a military oligarchy was twice attempted by the most quick-witted people in history, who failed to save themselves on both occasions. Antecedently then we might expect to find some lessons of value in the record of a people whose experiences were like our own.
Further, human thought as expressed in literature is not an unconnected series of phases; it is one and indivisible. Neglect of either ancient or modern culture cannot but be a maiming of that great body of knowledge to which every human being has free access. No man can be anything but ridiculous who claims to judge European literature while he knows nothing of the foundations on which it is built. Neither is it true to say that the ancient world was different from ours. Human nature at any rate was the same then as it is now, and human character ought to be the primary object of study. The strange belief that we have somehow changed for the better has been strong enough to survive the most devilish war in history, but few hold it who are familiar with the classics.
Yet in spite of its obvious value Greek literature has been damned and banned in our enlightened age by some whose sole qualification for the office of critic often turns out to be a mental darkness about it so deep that, like that of Egypt, it can be felt. Only those who know Greek literature have any right to talk about its powers of survival. The following pages try to show that it is not dead yet, for it has a distinct message to deliver. The skill with which these neglected liberators of the human mind united depth of thought with perfection of form entitles them at least to be heard with patience.