Abbildungen der Seite

celebrated Brasidas, who, (when some Thracians brought her the account of her son's glorious death, generously adding that never had Sparta produced so great a general,) replied, "Stranger, my son was a brave man; but know that Sparta boasts citizens still braver than him.”*

Deprived of all worldly sources of competition, by institutions which forbid the vain distinctions of birth, fortune, dress, and ornaments, or even the more ennobling advantages of wit and poetry, which made the glory of the Leontiums and the Aspasias,-the Spartan women were obliged to seek super-eminence from the superior number, the worth, and valour of their children, or the devotedness of their own patriotism.

In the latter days of Sparta's declining greatness, the women partook of the comparative degeneracy of the men; the exaggeration of public spirit succeeded to its reality; and their genuine devotiont to country was exchanged for an idea of abstract patriotism, that absorbed all rational motives of conduct, and extinguished almost all natural feelings. But they fell by the fundamental error of their laws, more than by the imperfection of their nature. To the last, the remains of their virtues, like the fragments of a noble ruin, attested their original grandeur; and their faults, like their merits, were free from all littleness. Extravagant in their stoicism, they were still inaccessible to meanness: though buoyed up by a desire for false glory, they were proud without vanity, and ambitious without intrigue; and they rose and fell with their country, by the same virtues and the same defects as the men.

Of the women of Greece in general, during its glorious classical antiquity, it may be affirmed that they displayed every endowment by which humanity is honoured, graced, or ennobled; and if the intention of nature in their behalf was frequently frustrated, and their endowments perverted or degraded, law, and law only, was in fault. Wherever they were permitted to exercise the faculties given to them, they were not found wanting. Intelligent, prudent,

* Anacharsis, vol. iv. p. 231.

+ Elles ont une haute idée de l'honneur et de la liberté. Elles la poussent quelquefois si loin, qu'on ne sait alors quel nom donner aux sentimens qui les animent.”—Anacharsis.

enduring, sagacious, brave, or patriotic, according to the institutes under which they lived, they justified the evidence given in their favour by the brightest of their philosophers and purest of their compatriots. Had every other item in the code of Plato's republic been founded in principles equally true to nature and to her unerring philosophy, as those which concerned women, the name of his Utopia had not now passed into a proverb of legislative ideality.

The history of Greece, the most intellectual of all histories, furnishes, beyond every other record of the species, proofs of the power of adaptation inherent in the highly moral organization of woman. The faithful and enduring wife of Athens, the gifted and accomplished Hetæra of Ionia, the citizen-patriot and devoted mother of Sparta, contributed, each in her separate way, to the triumph of a great legislative experiment;-an experiment not always, indeed, favourable to the interests of the many, (as it was frequently based in the egotism of the few,) but evincing in its success the possible combination of qualities, vulgarly deemed incompatible in the female character, and their co-operation to the highest purposes of a beneficent philosophy and a wise legislation.



The Women of Italy. Before the Romans. Under the Roman Republic.

THE Vestiges of some great physical revolution in the Peninsula of Italy have accredited the hypothesis that Sicily, originally part of the main land, was separated from the continent by that concussion. Whatever were the races which then inhabited the main land, (if, indeed, this event did not precede the appearance of man in the region,) they must have been driven by the inundation which accompanied it, to those cloud-capped mountains that rose above the world of waters, raging at their base.*

Without, however, recurring to such an hypothesis, there are sufficient evidences that the plains of Italy, such as they now exist, have been the creations of a compara tively recent date; and that at an epoch not very remote from the dawning of traditional history, the soil must have remained too loaded with water and unconsolidated, to admit of cultivation, or to form a healthy abode for the human animal. There seems good reason, therefore, for believing that the so-called aborigines were a rude and simple race, ignorant of agriculture and the arts, and scattered with their flocks through the ravines of the Ap. penines.†


When the settling of the elements, the progressive elevation of the soil, and the sinking of the waters, had changed the face of nature, a region was opened to the

* Michale, L'Italia avante i Romani. Dolomieu, La Sicile Antique. +"Genus hominum agreste, sine legibus, sine imperio, liberum atque solutum."-Sallust, cited by Michale.

Alpine colonists, the most beautiful and fertile that imagination can portray. A paradise, in all the freshness of creation, must have burst upon the delighted senses; promising a prompt reward to labour, and hastening the progress of a precocious civilisation.

In the task of social developement, the natives of the soil were not abandoned to their own resources. Seated upon the most beautiful of seas, looking from their lovely shores upon the coasts of Africa and Asia Minor, with Egypt the policized, Phoenicia the lettered, and Tyre the enterprising, opposite to them, the Italians, in all likelihood, maintained intercourse with these populations, even before the supposed colonies arrived, to dispute in the first instance with them the soil, and afterwards to bestow upon them, in a political and social union, the arts, and the instruction of their own native lands.*

In times more nearly approaching to the certainty of history, the Greek colonies came, hiving like bees, on the flowery shores of the Mediterranean, ennobling them with the name of Magna-Grecia, and bringing a preponderating moral influence to bear upon the crude political institutions of early Italy. On the other hand, Italy was exposed, from the side of the Alps, to the invasions of whatever nations may have possessed, or wandered over, the immense forests of northern Europe: of these, the Gauls have left the strongest traces of their presence in the traditions of the country. It cannot, however, be imagined that civilisation derived much from such a


Michale, not without good ground, attributes the early

Michale doubts this eastern colonization, and considers the Greeks as the earliest settlers: but his own mode of reasoning from the nature of things, favours the supposition, that if any communication subsisted between Italy and Asia Minor, &c. navigation must have passed from the most polished to the rudest shores, and not vice versa. It is further clear, that the gigantic and massy architecture called Cyclopean, of which such early traces are found in Italy, was not indigenous, but of Eastern origin.

It is singular that, though this is the case, the language of Rome proves, beyond all possibility of dispute, that tribes of a Teutonic origin must have obtained a more durable seat in Italy. In the Latin language, nearly the whole, which is not of Greek origin, is said, on good authority, to be derived from a common source with the German and Saxon tongues.

constitution of the Italian population in small and independent communities, to the same cause which to this day has impeded the formation of a feeling of Italian nationality—the geographical aspect of a soil, broken up by mountain chains, and divided by large and frequent rivers : and it is most probable that the occasional invasions from the north, of stranger populations, must have contributed to knit and strengthen such federal unions, wherever they prevailed.

But the early Greek adventurers, also, who settled in Italy, were exiles from republican states; and their hatred of tyranny, whatever might be its denomination, may have added its influence, in giving a character to the free and independent cities which they joined. The Sabines, Latins, Rutili, Equi, Volsci, and other little states (resembling the Lilliputian dukeries of modern Italy) were thus congregated in frequent alliance; and Etruria, (superior to all, the Athens of ancient Italy,) was distinguished by an intimacy and permanency of its federal associations, which gave it almost an air of distinct nationality.

The condition of the Etruscan women was among the social and political miracles of Italy before the Romans. Called upon for equal labour and equal endurance with the men, they enjoyed almost equal rights. Their high estimation may be collected from the one fact, that they were admitted to all social meetings, public and private. In the representations of their solemn national festivals, the women are depicted reclining on the same couch with their husbands, and under the same covering, round the festive table. The tutulus,* a national head-dress, adopted by the Etruscan matrons, was, doubtless, regarded as a token of high distinction; for Italy herself, in her majesty, is found symbolized in the proudest works of art, diademed with that pyramidical ornament, which was exclusively dedicated in those early ages to crown the mothers of the country.†

* "Matres familias crines convolutos ad verticem capitis quos habent uti velatos, dicent tutelos."-Varro de Lingua Latina.

+ There is a fragment still extant, representing an Etruscan woman in her flowing tunic, her brow diademned, her feet sandaled, the whole figure bearing a strict resemblance to the Minerva of the Parthenon. Another

« ZurückWeiter »