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A History of Ancient Greece

The Greek World.
Author: Hegel, G.W.F.
Date: 1857
Translation: Sibree, J., M.A.



Section II. The Fall Of The Greek Spirit.

This third period in the history of the Hellenic World, which embraces
the protracted development of the evil destiny of Greece, interests us less.
Those who had been Alexander's Generals, now assuming an independent
appearance on the stage of history as Kings, carried on long wars with each
other, and experienced, almost all of them, the most romantic revolutions of
fortune. Especially remarkable and prominent in this respect is the life of
Demetrius Poliorcetes.

In Greece the States had preserved their existence: brought to a
consciousness of their weakness by Philip and Alexander, they contrived to
enjoy an apparent vitality, and boasted of an unreal independence. That
self-consciousness which independence confers, they could not have; and
diplomatic statesmen took the lead in the several States - orators who were
not at the same time generals, as was the case formerly - e.g. in the person
of Pericles. The countries of Greece now assume various relations to the
different monarchs, who continued to contend for the sovereignty of the Greek
States - partly also for their favour, especially for that of Athens: for
Athens still presented an imposing figure, - if not as a Power, yet certainly
as the centre of the higher arts and sciences, especially of Philosophy and
Rhetoric. Besides it kept itself more free from the gross excess, coarseness
and passions which prevailed in the other States, and made them contemptible;
and the Syrian and Egyptian kings deemed it an honour to make Athens large
presents of corn and other useful supplies. To some extent too the kings of
the period reckoned it their greatest glory to render and to keep the Greek
cities and states independent. The Emancipation of Greece had as it were,
become the general watch-word; and it passed for a high title of fame to be
called the Deliverer of Greece. If we examine the hidden political bearing of
this word, we shall find that it denotes the prevention of any indigenous
Greek State from obtaining decided superiority, and keeping all in a state of
weakness by separation and disorganization.

The special peculiarity by which each Greek State was distinguished from
the others, consisted in a difference similar to that of their glorious
divinities, each one of whom has his particular character and peculiar being,
yet so that this peculiarity does not derogate from the divinity common to
all. When therefore, this divinity has become weak and has vanished from the
States, nothing but the bare particularity remains, - the repulsive speciality
which obstinately and waywardly asserts itself, and which on that very account
assumes a position of absolute dependence and of conflict with others. Yet
the feeling of weakness and misery led to combinations here and there. The
Aetolians and their allies as a predatory people, set up injustice, violence,
fraud, and insolence to others, as their charter of rights. Sparta was
governed by infamous tyrants and odious passions, and in this condition was
dependent on the Macedonian Kings. The Boeotian subjective character had,
after the extinction of Theban glory, sunk down into indolence and the vulgar
desire of coarse sensual enjoyment. The Achaena league distinguished itself
by the aim of its union (the expulsion of Tyrants,) by rectitude and the
sentiment of community. But his too was obliged to take refuge in the most
complicated policy. What we see here on the whole, is a diplomatic condition
- an infinite involvement with the most manifold foreign interests - a subtle
intertexture and play of parties, whose threads are continually being combined
anew.

In the internal condition of the states, which, enervated by selfishness
and debauchery, were broken up into factions - each of which on the other hand
directs its attention to foreign lands, and with treachery to its native
country begs for the favour of the Kings - the point of interest is no longer
the fate of these states, but the great individuals, who arise amid the
general corruption, and honourably devote themselves to their country. They
appear as great tragic characters, who with their genius, and the most intense
exertion, are yet unable to extirpate the evils in question; and perish in the
struggle, without having had the satisfaction of restoring to their
fatherland, repose, order and freedom, nay, even without having secured a
reputation with posterity free from all stain. Livy says in his prefatory
remarks: "In our times we can neither endure our faults nor the means of
correcting them." And this is quite as applicable to these Last of the Greeks,
who began an undertaking which was as honourable and noble, as it was sure of
being frustrated. Agis and Cleomenes, Aratus and Philopoemen, thus sunk under
the struggle for the good of their nation. Plutarch sketches for us a highly
characteristic picture of these times, in giving us a representation of the
importance of individuals during their continuance.

The third period of the history of the Greeks brings us to their contact
with that people which was to play the next part on the theatre of the World's
History; and the chief excuse for this contact was - as pretexts had
previously been - the liberation of Greece. After Perseus the last Macedonian
King, in the year 168 B.C. had been conquered by the Romans and brought in
triumph to Rome, the Achaean league was attacked and broken up, and at last in
the year 146 B.C. Corinth was destroyed. Looking at Greece as Polybius
describes it, we see how a noble nature such as his, has nothing left for it
but to despair at the state of affairs and to retreat into Philosophy; or if
it attempts to act, can only die in the struggle. In deadly contraposition to
the multiform variety of passion which Greece presents - that distracted
condition which whelms good and evil in one common ruin - stands a blind fate,
- an iron power ready to shew up that degraded condition in all its weakness,
and to dash it to pieces in miserable ruin; for cure, amendment, and
consolation are impossible. And this crushing Destiny is the Roman power.

 

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