THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT OF THE GREEKS

NEARLY every literary form used in Europe originated with the Greeks. Poetry, epic, lyric, elegy, drama, history, rhetoric, and comedy, are all names of Greek origin. In each of these a perfection was reached which has rarely been equalled. Epic poetry starts with two poems by Homer, the Iliad, the story of Achilles' quarrel with Agamemnon and its consequences, and the Odyssey, the tale of Odysseus' wanderings on his return from Troy. Here, at the dawn of Greek and of European literature, we meet with all the qualities of the nation's genius perfectly united. An infinitely flexible metre and a rich vocabulary are handled with complete mastery. There is also that " simplicity, the greatest element in a noble character," which looks at things as they are and describes them easily and sympathetically. The Greeks do not " tear a passion to tatters." In the parting of Hector and Andromache, the meeting of Achilles and Priam, the death of Hector, we are made to feel the " pity of it all " with the utmost economy of means. The Odyssey remains the world's greatest adventure story, with its gallant refrain, " so we sailed further, grieving for our friends, glad at our own escape from death." Greece never recaptured the freshness of that early world, when the eye saw all things new. The new age, that of the lyric and elegiac poets, who sang of love and fighting, reached its climax in Pindar of Thebes (522-448 B.C.), the bard of the winners at the games. " The Theban eagle " soars in language of obscure splendour. His outlook on life is pessimistic. Life is shortdarkness broken by gleams of light. The glory of victory at the Olympic games can lighten the darkness for the moment. This view of life is reflected more deeply in the tragic drama. The drama grew out of the song of a chorus dancing at the festival of Dionysus. The addition of an actor in 534 B.C. turned this song into a dialogue. Later on, a second, and, finally, a third actor was added, thus making it possible to act a story instead of singing it. Within a century three composers of supreme genius developed the drama from a choric song to an action in which the problems of the universe are discussed. Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.) tries to justify the ways of the old Greek gods to man in language of overpowering grandeur. Macbeth's " the multitudinous seas incarnadine " would have appealed to Aeschylus. He taught that we learn by suffering, and tragedy, he said, came when men, " waxed fat and kicked " against the limits set by law or God, and a curse came upon the house where the " fathers had eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth were set on edge." The knot could only be cut by the intervention of the gods.