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ideas, were as the breath of life to the loquacious Athenians. What is God ? the philosophers therefore first asked. He is the most ancient of all things, for he is without beginning, said Thales. He is air, said Anaximenes. He is a pure mind, said Anaxagoras. He is air and mind, said Archelaus. He is mind in a spherical form, said Democritus. He is a monad and the principle of good, said Pythagoras. He is an eternal circular fire, said Heracleitus. He is the finite and immoveable principle in a spherical form, said Parmenides; he is one and every thing, said Melissus and Zenon,the only eterual and infinite. These were subjects in which the profoundest mind might have discovered the most ample exercise for itself; but to the Greek, a vacuity was still left: Necessity, Fate and Fortune or Accident filled it up.
The Universe furnished another set of disputations. What is, has ever been, and the world is eternal, said one party. The world is not eternal, but the matter is eternal, argued another party. Was this matter susceptible of forms; of one or many? was it water, or air, or fire? was it an assemblage of atoms, or an infinite number of incorruptible elements? Had this matter subsisted without movement in chaos, or bad it an irregular movement? Did the world appear by Intelligence communicating its action to it, or did God ordain it by penetrating it with a part of his essence ? Did these atoms move in the void, and was the universe the result of their fortuitous union ? Are there but two elements in nature, earth and fire, and by these are all things formed and produced; or are there four elements, whose parts are united by Love and separated by Hatred? Causes and essences, bodies, forms and colours, production and dissolution, the great phænomena of visible nature; the magnitudes, figures, eclipses and phases of the two heavenly luminaries; the nature and division of the sky; the magnitude and situation of the earth; the sea with its ebbs and flows; the causes of thunder, lightning, winds and earthquakes—all these furnished disquisitions, which were pursued with an eagerness of research and an intenseness of application, peculiar to the Greeks. Man, a compound of matter and of mind, having relations to the universe by the former, and to the Eternal Being by the latter,presented phænomena and contradictions, as puzzling to the old philosophers, as the universe of which he was the abridgement. While all allowed him a soul and an intelligence, all differed widely in their definition of this soul or intelligence. It is always in motion and it moves by itself, said one party—it is a number in motion—it is the harmony of the four elements—it is air, it is water, it is fire, it is blood-it is a fiery mixture of things perceptible by the intellect, which have globose shapes and the force of fire--it is a flame which emanates from the sun-it is an as
semblage of fiery and spherical atoms, like those subtle particles of matter, which are seen agitated in the rays of the sun.
Such were a few of the speculations, which science had devised, for employing the thoughts of active-ninded men in Greece; and if the mere enumeration of them on paper (without entering into the thousand shades and differences which had all their separate promulgators, advocates and abettors) has excited either a smile, or a sensation of wearisomeness in a reader, he may imagine what must have been their effects upon a man of lively and mercurial temperament, like Aristophanes, who found them crossing his path at every turn, and saw them operating with the most ridiculous effects upon the petulance of the lively, and the conduct of the sedate!
The hold which the philosophers, properly so called, acquired over the public mind at Athens was gradual, and perhaps at all times partial; that which a much more pernicious class of men, known since by the name of Sophists, assumed, was instantaneous, and almost universal; the very causes which operated against the introduction of philosophy, tending
to encourage and give entrance to the precepts of the sophists. The busy and stirring nature of the times, the change from monarchical to republican governments, the institution of popular assemblies, and still more the Persian contest, by making the Greeks act in bodies, where feelings were to be conciliated, prejudices consulted, and large sacrifices of private interest to be demanded in favour of public, all conspired to bring into vogue a knowledge more adapted to the transaction of human business, than the study of the heavens, and the properties of matter, the nature of God and the soul. Political wisdom soon became the leading object of attainment; and the splendid eminence to which political eloquence led, made it of essential importance to investigate and cultivate those rules which were found most effectual for working upon large bodies of men. It is impossible to peruse the interesting dialogues of Plato and Xenophon, without receiving a most lively impression of the strong ferment, which was then taking place in men's minds, and without recognising in them some of the marks of that agitated fermentation of the intellect, which, whether for good or evil, is working in our own days. To be able to distinguish themselves in the General Assemblies (nucywyıxov elvo.)—to make a figure in the courts of justice (Eixavix01)—to be ingenious in putting and ready in answering questions (Sladext1x01) —and what, in the now complicated affairs of Grecian politics, was becoming of still more importance, to become men of business (7 paxtix01), was the ruling object of every young man's ambition in Athens. The example of Pericles had taught experimentally the advantage of a union of the deeper know
ledge of philosophy* with the rich gifts of nature; and the splendid prize, which had for so many years been the reward of his profound accomplishments, seems to have stood before the eyes of his young and admiring fellow-countrymen till it absolutely dazzled and blinded them. All wished to be like Pericles-all would be at the head of public affairs—all would command men, and have their fame spread, like his fame and that of Themistocles, from their own city to Greece, and from Greece to the remotest regions of barbarism. But how was this knowledge to be acquired ?-For those of younger years there was no deficiency of masters in those branches, which formed the system of education in Athens : but for young men of riper age, who had passed through the hands of the grammarian and the music-master, and who had acquired that limited knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, history, and astronomy, which the state of science could supply, no establishments, like our universities, were in being, where further opportunities were held out to that dangerous age, when a course of instruction, fitted to fill and enlarge the mind, to form the taste, and, what is still more important, to perfect the morals, becomes so imperiously necessary. But where a want is felt in society, it is not long before some one starts up to supply it; and a race of men soon made their way into Athens, who, under the name of Sophists, undertook to supply all deficiencies of schools, halls, and colleges. The first person who' acquired distinction in this profession, sufficient to have an influence upon
age in which he lived, and to make his name known to posterity, was PROTAGORAS of Abdera. Originally a faggot-maker, his mode of tying up bundles excited the attention of Democritus; and the instructions of that philosopher subsequently enabled him to quit a trade, in which he might have been humbly useful, for a profession in which he unfortunately became splendidly mischievous. Bred up in that school of philosophy,
* Pericles had been a scholar of Anaxagoras; and from his intercourse with that philosopher, be is said by Plato (in Phædro, 354 D.) to have derived that forcible and sublime spirit of oratory, which distinguished him above all his contenporaries, For an account of Anaxagoras see Brucker's chapter de Sectà Ionica, § xix. The learned German, who might have been expected,' from the bulk of his enormous tomes, to have thought away all feeling, becomes almost affecting in his account of this real and most enthusiastic philosopher. + Plato in Theage, p. 9. H.
Xen. Mem. lib. iii. cap. 6. Ś The human mind never losing altogether the impression of its first employments, the inventor of the porter's knot became also the discoverer of the knots of language; and accordingly to Protagorasa is ascribed the pernicious proclamation, that with him might be acquired, for a proper compensation, that species of knowledge, which was able to confound right and wrong, and make the worse appear the better cause : 3 doctrine which strikes us with anazement and confusion, but which was propagated · Arist. Rhet. lib. ii. c. 26. Diog. Laert, in vità Prot. lib, ix, seg. 51.
which taught that there was nothing fised in nature, this flagitious sophist carried the uncertain and dangerous language of physics into the business of human life, and thus poisoned the stream of truth in its very fountain and source. The direct language of Thales, Epicharmus, and Heracleitus, and the allegorical genealogies of Homer were brought to prove, that all things being in a state of continual* motion, nothing actually is, and every thing is in a state of becoming: that an object therefore, considered in itself, is not one thing more than another;, but that through motion, mixture, and the relation of one thing to another, the same object both was and appeared one thing to one person, and another thing to another. What are called heat and cold, changed their situations, it was said, even in the time of pronouncing the words; and before the enunciation was completed, heat ceased to be heat, and cold ceased to be cold—nothing, therefore, it was inferred, can be affirmed or even seen with certainty : heat is no more heat than cold, white is not more white than its opposite, knowledge is nothing more than sensation, man is the measure of all things, of things existing, as they are, and of things non-existing, as they are not, and all thoughts are true. For, every one thinks according to the impression made upon him, impressions are made by what is in motion, motion is created by agency, agency can proceed only from the things which are, and the things which are, must be true. From these sentiments it naturally followed, that not only what is wholesome and useful had no actual substance in themselves; but that honour and virtue, being the beginning and aim of what is useful, existed only in the opinions and habits of
In such a town as Athens, we may easily imagine that the small wits and humbler sophists eagerly fastened upon doctrines, so well suited to the meridian of their capacities. When the great Belial himself first began to advance them, and more particularly those odious ones, which ought to heap the curses of posterity upon his head; viz. the doctrine of sensation, and the offer to teach, how in disputation the worse cause might be made to appear the better, we cannot say: but we find it declared by Socratest that the hoary impostor had for a space of more than forty years been advancing them, and that from the practice of this baneful trade he
with such success, that in the days of Aristophanes and Plato it appears to have excited little surprize in those who professed it, and to have been rather expected than otherwise in such persons as set themselves up for teachers of wisdom.
* It is most probable that the Aristophanic Vortex, or substitute for Jupiter, (in Nub. v. 300.) was derived from this doctrine of the school of Protagoras. The word 'Aragayopelw in the scholium on the passage is easily rectified. t In Menone, 21. C.
had derived more gains than Pheidias* and ten sculptors to boot. So much more agreeable to Athenian minds were cunning, trick, fallacy and deception, than those noble specimens of art, which were then growing up among them, and on whose mutilated remains, the more accomplished of our own countrymen are too happy to be allowed to fix their eyes in fervent admiration !
The market was now successfully opened and adventurers of a similar cast soon flocked in abundance to Athens, who insinuated in terms much more intelligible and in language much more palatable, the doctrines which Protagoras had delivered in the abstruse and often obscure terms of physical or metaphysical science. Among a crowd of persons, who now, under the names of sophists, took the public education of the young Athenians into their hands, and had more or less a fatal influence upon their intellects and manners, history has preserved the names of Prodicus of Ceos, Gorgias of Leontium, Hippias of Elis, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus of Chios, Theodorus of Byzantium, Evenus of Paros, Polus of Agrigentum, Callicles, Thrasymachus, Tisias, Licymnion, &c.; and before adverting to the doctrines which they taught, the state of Athenian society will be traced more accurately by dwelling a little longer upon the actual introduction of the sophists into it. The greater part of these men, as the reader will see by their names, were strangers, not natives of Attica; but their abilities in their own country had pointed them out for distinction, and when business was to be transacted with other states, and more particularly with the imperial town of Athens, none seemed more fitted to conduct it to the advantage of their mother-country. Many of them therefore made their first appearance at Athens in the capacity of public ambassadors;ť and their manner of conducting public business, their ostentatious professions, the boasted extent of their attainments, the charms of their language, and even their personal appearance, all tended to captivate in an astonishing manner the minds of a people naturally greedy of what was new; nothing indeed could be more calculated to fix their attention than these men. They appeared in sumptuous robes, followed by a numerous escort of noble youths, who thus acquired by oral communication that knowledge which books could not supply, or which, from the costliness of books, was difficult of attainment:—their language was rich and artificial; full of splendid antitheses and far-sought metaphors, they were subtle in argument, and where argument failed, they amused the imagination by the most fanciful tales. Their language had
* In Menone, 21. B. + Plato in Hippià Majore, 95 (D) 96 (E). In Prot. 203. Arist. Rhet. I. 3. c. 17.