Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Chartered libertines, of their minds as of their actions, they were left free to pursue the bent of their natural talents, to sip at the fountain of every science, to cull the flowers of rhetoric, to rifle the whole hive of knowledge, and to possess themselves of the treasures of philosophy.

Thus gifted, they obtained a mastery over all that was eminent in the male population ; and, possessing the hearts of statesmen, orators, and philosophers, became influential on the destinies of the people. Standing half way between virtue and vice, a class apart, in the social distinctions of the sex, the Hetæræ,* or "fair friends,” frequently exhibited the qualities of honest men, though they wanted the purer virtues of honest women. Such estimable qualities, however, were but happy accidents—an anomaly, not a general rule. The position of these women was a false one, dangerous to the best interests of society; and their privileges and their influence (for rights they had none), though uncontrolled by the lawgiver, and freely permitted by the conventional manners of the times and country, became a deteriorating principle, which worked out the political ruin of Greece, through its moral depravity.

It was the early and fatal mistake of the Greek legisla. tion, under the impressions of Asiatic influence, to fear the developement of the mind of woman, to make ignorance the guarantee of chastity, to separate virtue from the graces, and to deprive modesty of all those attractions which rendered even vice respectable.

- The wife for house and honour, the Hetæræ for our solace and delight,” was the dogma of the philosopher, as of the voluptuary; and the personal egotism that adopted it, became in the end the ruin of the state, which it demoralized and enervated. *

* The Hetere and Parasites of Greek society were two orders of persons, whose influence on domestic manners and happiness has scarcely any parallel in modern times ; of the former, Beloe observes in his Alciphron, “a very long and perhaps useful account might be written. The various accomplishments which they studied to acquire, and were known to possess ; the influence they had, not only over private manners, but over public affairs: the rank which was assigned them in the state of society, and the deference which was on many occasions paid them by the best of men, (and this not with a view to sensuality, but to mental improvement,) must tend to make their history well deserving of notice.”

The term Parasite, however degraded and contemptible it became in succeeding times, was not so in its original signification. The office annexed to the name was once highly honourable, and the word, according to Athenæus, was considered synonymous to guest.

The mental cultivation of the “ Hetæræ,” like the mag. nificent robe and gems assigned them by a law of Solon's (to mark the degradation of their class) threw a splendour over their humiliating position, veiling the moral delin. quencies, to which their uncontrolled passions and sordid conduct inevitably led. Irresponsible, as they were influ. ential, these companions of heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, were not, till the last corrupt days of Pericles, allowed to pollute with their presence the society of the wives of these faithless husbands.

Well studied in human nature, the Hetæræ knew that they held their tenure not so much by the personal charms that subdued, as by the cunning which mastered the weakness of men, whose passions and vanitiest they considered as their natural instruments. They felt that, in the midst of all their fascinations, there was still wanting that natural bond of holy affinity between them and their enamoured masters, which in married life is created by parental ties avowed, by parental pride shared, and reciprocally encouraged. The son of the Hetæræ, however he acknowledged her genius or influence, blushed to call her mother ; and he was even released, by a special law, at variance with those of Nature, from all the tender duties imposed by filial sympathy, towards a parent who had entailed on him only an heritage of shame.*

* Whether Alciphron compiled or composed his “ Epistles," it may be assumed that he adopted the style, manner, and phraseology of the persons in whose character he wrote; and enough comes forth in this curious and almost unique sample of “the domestic manners of the higher and of the lower order of the Greeks,” and of their epistolatory style, to prove the charms, mental and personal, of the dangerous Hetære. Meneclides, speaking of the death of his beautiful mistress, Bacchis, says, “She has left me many a tear, and the remembrance of an attachment, oh! how sweet an attachment, never repented of to the last. How she spoke ! how many lyrics were there in her conversation! persuasion sat upon her lips; and she wore the cestus that included all the graces! The little songs she sung while the wine went round-the lyre she touched with her ivory fingers!-all is gone! and she who was the care of all the Graces now is mute! a stone-a heap of ashes.”—Alciphron's Epistles, letter xxxviii. book i.

+ Both the cupidity and the contempt of the Hetære for many of their illustrious and philosophical friends, is humorously depicted in the Epistles of the heroines of Alciphron.

While contumely and suspicion were sometimes the portion of the beautiful and intelligent Hetæræ, even in her bloom of youth and genius, poverty and neglect were frequently her doom in age. The chaste Athenian wife, on the other hand, generally speaking, found her apartment deserted by her husband; while the luxurious villas of the mistress were the rendezvous, not only of the young and wealthy celibataires, but of the middle-aged and the married-of magistrates, military chiefs, legislators, poets, and philosophers. In both instances, the sense of right or wrong, of moral feeling, and of political principle, broke down under the universal corruption; and the result proved that public liberty cannot long subsist, where social demoralization prevails.

The terms of equality on which the Hetæræ lived, not only with the most eminent geniuses, but with the most despotic sovereigns of their times, are clearly shown in the power which Lamia obtained over the heart of Ptolemy, King of Egypt, and over the ceremonious pride and state grandeur of Demetrius, who in vain endeavoured to awe her humour into respect, by visiting her in a complete suit of armour, and crowned with a jewelled diadem. I

Menander hesitated between the tempting offer of Ptolemy, King of Egypt, and the society of the witty but frail Glycera.* Plato, who had written and said so many fine things of " celestial love,” laid aside his philosophy to pen sonnets on the dawning wrinkles of his fair friend, Archeanassa ;t and Sophocles, the most moral of dramatists, attested how little his life accorded with his doctrines, by his infatuation for his young mistress, Archippa, to whom he bequeathed his property by will. The many philosophic sects of disputatious Greece, divided as they were, forgot their sophistical disputes and their metaphysical subtleties, in the boudoir of that young slave of Corinth, who first inspired the genius of Apelles, subdued the cynicism of Diogenes, vanquished the epicurean indolence of Aristippus, and put to the test the stoicism of Anaxagoras.

*“Un fils est obligé de nourir dans leur viellessé ceux dont il a recu le jour; mais les enfans qui sont nés d'une courtisane sont dispensés de cette obligation à l'égard de leur père ; car, après tout, ils ne lui sont redevables que de l'opprobre de leur naissance."--Diog. Laer. in SolonPlutarch. This “ opprobrium” marks, in the strongest manner, the condition of the courtesan.

† Still the Hetæræ defended themselves from the imputations urged against them by the stoics and sophists, in their humorous attacks upon both. When Thais was reproached by Stilpo for corrupting the youth of Athens, she replied—“We, too, prefer a similar accusation against you; for the disciples of your corrupt philosophy turn out useless, as well as disputatious; and if corruption is the result, whether through the Hetærze or the sophist, it comes to the same point.”-Athenæus. Alciphron has availed himself of these arguments, in his epistle of Thais to the affected and would-be philosopher, Euthydemus.

See Plutarch and Alciphron's Epistles.

CHAPTER II.

The Domestic Life of Pericles. Aspasia.

TAE influence obtained over society by these accomplished but dangerous agents of its pleasures and its passions, at last induced the most brilliant and able demagogue of any age or nation to adopt their demoralizing power as a state engine; and Pericles chose the salon of Aspasia as the scene of those corrupting experiments, which preceded the downfall of liberty in Athens, and ended in the entire ruin of Greece.

The character of Pericles was one of those lucky adaptations to cotemporary times and circumstances, which insure success,—not by the highest qualities that ought to command it, but by that peculiar fitness (for evil or for good) which almost always wins it. Of illustrious birth, great wealth, brilliant talents, and refined education, the gifted pupil of Xeno, and ardent disciple of Anaxagoras, was born for the epoch he illustrated. His quick, if not profound, perceptions gleaned a rapid view of the laws of nature from one preceptor, and a contempt of superstition from the other; and he obtained the reputation of a philosopher, from his intimacy with both, though it subjected him to the imputation of being a free thinker. The circumstances of the times gave him an early oppor. tunity of signalizing his intrepid and petulant courage; and, at a moment most favourable to the triumph of so. phistry, they also afforded the occasion for exerting that natural eloquence, which adapted its variable character to the passions of each successive audience, to which he addressed it.

Vous corrompez la jeunnesse,” disait Stilpon à Glycère—“ Et toi sophiste, tu le corromps et tu l'ennuies.”--Lync. ap Athen.

+“ L'aimable Archéanasse a merité ma foi;
Elle a des rides, mais je vois
Une troupe

d'amours se jouer dans ses rides.
Vous qui pûtes la voir, avant que ses appas

Eussent du cours des ans reçu les petites vides,
Ah! que ne souffrites vous pas !"

Politian-Traduction de Fontenelle.

With a person distinguished by nobility, and a voice which recalled the traditional melody of that of Pisistratus, (his accomplished type,) ambitious, corrupt, voluptuous, and daring, this brilliant demagogue succeeded in giving his name to an age, for ever memorable in the history of the human mind. By his private vices and selfish views, if he did not originate, he hurried on that revolution in the manners, morals, and institutes of Greece, for which the influx of wealth and luxury had already prepared the way.

The successor of Aristides and Themistocles, the rival and persecutor of Cymon, had already established a personal despotism over the most democratic republican government of the earth. Under frivolous pretexts, he had annihilated the authority of the Areopagus, (the last barrier against licentious innovations both on public and private virtue,) when a new view of demoralization was suggested to him, by the peculiar endowments of one, whose influence over his mind and actions was referable to institutions, giving to vice that power which should alone belong to virtue.

Aspasia of Miletus, called the Sophist, was one of those notable personages, whose character and influence best record the manners of the age in which they flourish.

« ZurückWeiter »