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T. W. Lumb

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.

I count it an honour to have been asked to write a short introduction to this book. My only claim to do so is a profound belief in the doctrine which it advocates, that Greek literature can never die and that it has a clear and obvious message for us to-day. Those who sat, as I did, on the recent Committee appointed by Mr.

Greek literature opens with a problem of the first magnitude. Two splendid Epics have been preserved which are ascribed to “Homer", yet few would agree that Homer wrote them both.

Towards the end of the sixth century before Christ, one of the most momentous advances in literature was made by the genius of Aeschylus. European drama was created and a means of utterance was given to the rapidly growing democratic spirit of Greece. Before Aeschylus wrote, rude public exhibitions had been given of the life and adventures of Dionysus, the god of wine. Choruses had sung odes to the deity and variety was obtained by a series of short dialogues between one of the Chorus and the remainder.

In Aeschylus' dramas the will of the gods tended to override human responsibility. An improvement could be effected by making the personages real captains of their souls; drama needed bringing down from heaven to earth. This process was effected by Sophocles. He was born at Colonus, near Athens, in 495, mixed with the best society in Periclean times, was a member of the important board of administrators who controlled the Delian League, the nucleus of the Athenian Empire, and composed over one hundred tragedies.

No-Man's Land was the scene of many tragedies during the Great War. There has come down to us a remarkable tragedy, called the Rhesus, about a similar region. It treats first of the Dolon incident of the Iliad. Hector sent out Dolon to reconnoitre, and soon afterwards some Phrygian shepherds bring news that Rhesus has arrived that very night with a Thracian army.

At the end of the Symposium Plato represents Socrates as convincing both Agathon, a tragedian, and Aristophanes that the writer of tragedy will be able to write comedy also. That the two forms are not wholly divorced is clear from the history of ancient drama itself: Each dramatist competed with four plays, three tragedies and a Satyric drama.

Greek historical literature follows the same course of development as Greek poetry; it begins in epic form in Ionia and ends in dramatic type at Athens.

History, like an individual's life, is a succession of well-defined periods. Herodotus took as his subject a long cycle of events; the shorter period was first treated by Thucydides who introduced methods which entitle him to be regarded as the first modern historian. Born in Attica in 471 he was a victim of the great plague, was exiled for his failure to check Brasidas at Eion in 424 and spent the rest of his life in collecting materials for his great work. His death took place about 402.

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