Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

sical constitution, symmetrical, firm, powerful, and elastic, senses most acute and penetrating, sensibilities deep and susceptible, intellect subtile, accurate, and profound, an imagination glowing as their own luxurious climate and rich as their magnificent scenery. With these natural endowments they formed a language of corresponding excellence and perfection, a language which excels every other in that especial quality for which each one is distinguished. It has the simple grandeur of the Hebrew, more than the dignity of the Latin, the richness of the German, the colloquial grace of the French, with a greater precision even than is possessed by our native tongue. It was all this even before it possessed an alphabet, or before one sentence had been committed to writing. The oldest book we have, next to the Bible, we owe to this wonderful people. While Elijah and Elisha, those venerable forms, were seen in Palestine upholding by the sanctity of their lives, and the force of their prophetic powers, the tottering fabric of the Mosaic religion, a blind old man was wandering over Greece, chanting from village to village a poem, which he had composed on the siege of Troy. So delighted were his countrymen with his performance, that they were not satisfied with an occasional recitation. In the absence of books his verses were transcribed into other memories, and men made it their profession to repeat the poems of Homer.

About two centuries before, an adventurer from the coast of Phænicia, from the neighborhood of the country where the Mosaic law had existed for six hundred years, had carried the alphabet used by Moses to the shores of Greece. The elements of their destiny were now complete. Grecian genius seized at once upon the results of ages of Egyptian art, and rose at one step into the intellectual supremacy of the world. The poems of Homer are the greatest literary miracle of all time, the greatest unaided achievement of the human intellect. Without a master or a guide, he reached a perfection which has never since been surpassed, and became the master and the model of all succeeding ages. The influence of his poems upon the national character was controlling and decisive. They fixed the language, the religious opinions, and moral sentiments of a powerful people. They were themselves the highest manifestation of intellect, and served in turn to awaken the intellect of others. In short, the works of Homer were the Bible of the Greeks, and exerted nearly the same influence upon them, which the Pentateuch exerted upon the Jews. Like the Bible, they have lived through all ages, have been read in all, they have gone wherever civilized man has wandered, and formed the literary taste, as the other has the religious opinions of the world. And even now, when we have accumulated the spoils of all nations and all

times, and the choice is absolutely bewildered among the multiplied productions of human genius, there is nothing which the man who wishes deeply to move, or powerfully to persuade his fellow-men, will find more profitable as an intellectual discipline, than to study the poems of Homer.

Such was the wonderful impetus given to the mind of Greece by the introduction of a written language, such the wonderful genius of that gifted people, that within two hundred years from the first collection of the poems of Homer, almost every species of literature, which has since been known was produced, every form of poetry, and every kind of prose; the rudiments of every science had been discovered, and almost every art cultivated. Orators were produced whose works are even yet studied, philosophers investigated with such depth and accuracy as to have exhausted almost the whole field of human inquiry. Their investigations, their eloquence, their science were committed to writing, and they have made the most important part of literature for all succeeding times. Their admirable language furnished ample resources for all these diversified

Its graphic and pictorial beauty, its harmony and flexibility most admirably adapted it to the purposes of poetry. Its copiousness and clearness made it the apt instrument of the orator, and its accuracy and precision enabled the philosopher to grasp and define with it the minutest distinctions in subjects the most abstruse. Wherever men thought and reasoned, and availed themselves of the labors of others, it was impossible that the Greek literature should not find its way. As long as it is the law of the mind to seek the best things that have ever been said on any subject, it is impossible that the Greek language and literature should not be the literature of the civilized world. Such is the language in which it pleased Divine Providence that the New Testament should be written. Of the causes which led to this result I shall speak in the next lecture.

purposes.

Wherever this literature came, it produced a greater revolution than conquest or political institutions. It quickened mind, it produced an intellectual regeneration. It invaded the indolent and dreamy despotisms of Asia, and shook to the centre the mouldering fabrics of their ancient superstitions. It found its way into Egypt, and supplying that nation with a written language, divulged among the people that knowledge, which the priests had so carefully kept from them, and made the means of keeping them enslaved. It was carried by conquest into Judea. It enriched the Jewish mind, already possessing the pearl of great price in the knowledge of the true God, with a wide circle of ideas hitherto unknown. It led them to regard their sacred writings with the eye of philosophical speculation, as well as implicit belief. It made to them the great truths of their religion the subjects of reasonable conviction instead of dogmatic inculcation, and based their faith on individual persuasion rather than traditionary authority. It led them to see that their law was founded on the reason of things, instead of arbitrary enactment, and seeing the object of its forms and ceremonies, they perceived that it was possible to attain that object by a shorter and simpler process. Thus the Grecian philosophy served to prepare the Jews themselves for the coming of the Messiah, to appreciate and comprehend that sublime and spiritual teaching, which left not only their own law, but the sublimest flights of heathen wisdom far behind, and made them feel when they heard his wonderful discourses that they were listening to a teacher, who spake as never man spake.

The surprising development of mind which took place in Greece, and the vast extension of human knowledge, contributed to prepare the world for Christ and his religion in another way. It opened the eyes of mankind to the falsehood, the folly, and the abominations of the pagan religions. Before that period the strong religious faith and affections of mankind fixed themselves upon the imaginary deities of the heathen world. Their faith in them was real and practical. By their providence they thought all things to be governed, to then they thought them

« ElőzőTovább »