Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

gance of the public in punishing the greatest virtues as criminal, and repaying the services done to the state with banishment." [m] Quid obest quin publica dementia sit existimanda, summo consensu marimas virtutes quasi gravissima delicta punire, beneficiaque injuriis rependere ?

Without attempting therefore absolutely to justify ostracism, I shall enquire a little into the reasons of it, and examine the advantages that may arise from it. For I cannot imagine, that so wise a republic, as that of Athens, would have so long suffered and authorised a custom founded only upon injustice and violence. And what confirms me in this opinion is, that when this law was abrogated at Athens, it was not done because it was unjust; but because having taken place in the case of a citizen despised by all the world (he was named Ilyperbolus, and lived in the time of Nicias and Alcibiades) [n] it was thought that ostracism, degraded by this example, would ever . after be a dishonour to a man of probity, and inju. rious to his reputation.

[0] Thus we see, that Tully does not condemn this law with the same severity as Valerius Maximus; and that pleading against the banishment of Sextius, though it was his interest to decry all banishments, he contents himself with accusing the Athenians of lightness and temerity. Plutarch speaks of it in several places in a very favourable manner, at least without censure or reproach, as we shall see by and by. And this inclines me to believe that Valerius Maxinus judged very superficially of this law, and was too easily prejudiced by some inconveniences attending it, without considering thoroughly the advantages that might arise from it. We shall therefore now examine what those advantages might be.

[m] Val. Max. lib. 5. cap. 3: Græcos, longè à nostrorum homi.

[n] Εκ τότε δυσχεράνας και δημος num gravitate disjunctos, non deως καθυβρισμένον το πράγμα και προ- erant qui rempublicam contra poπεπηλακισμένον, άφηκε παντελώς, puli temeritatem defenderent, cum xj xa témuren. Plut, in Arist. oinnes, qui ita fecerant, è civitate [O] Apud Athenienses, homines expellerentur. Pro Sext, n. 141.

1. It was a very useful barrier against tyranny in a state purely democratical, where liberty, which is the soul and sovereign law of it, cannot subsist, but by equality. It was difficult for the people not to be suspicious of the power of such citizens as had raised themselves above the rest, [p] and whose ambition, so natural to mankind, gave a just alarm to a republic extremely jealous of its independency. It was proper to take measures at a distance for bringing them back into the sphere, from whence their great abilities or great services seemed to have removed them. [9] They had still in remembrance the tyranny of Pisistratus and his children, who had been only private citizens like the rest. They had Ephesus, Tnebes, Corinth, Syracuse, and almost all the cities of Greece before their eyes, which were all brought under subjection to tyrants at a time, when the citizens were under no apprehensions of losing their liberty. And who could be sure, that Themistocles, Ephialtes, the elder Demosthenes, Alcibiades, and even Cimon and Pericles, would have refused to reign at Athens, if they had been capable of attempting it, as Pausanias and Lysander did at Lacedæmon, and so many others in their republic, and as Cæsar did at Rome?

2. This sort of banishment had nothing shameful or ignominious in it. It was not, says Plutarch, a punishment for crimes and misdemeanours, but a precaution judged necessary against a pride and power, which became formidable; it was a mild and gentle remedy against that envy, which is apt to form jealousies and suspicions of too great merit; and in a word, a certain means of setting the minds of the people at ease, without carrying then to any violence against the party banished For he preserved the enjoyinent and disposal of his e-tate; possessed all the rights and privileges of a citizen, with the hope of

P] Τη δυνάμει βαρείς, και προς trati tyrannidem, quε paucis annis lootuta dmuongarinas dobumeteos. antè uerat, omniuin civivin suorum Plut. in Vit. Themist.

potentiam exi mescebant. [9] Athenienses, propter Pisis. Nep. in Milt. cap. 8.

being

Corn.

[ocr errors]

being restored within a fixed time, which might be abridged by abundance of incidents. So that the engagements which tied the banished man to his country were not broken by the ostracism; he was not driven to despair, nor forced upon extremities. Thus we see by the event, that neither Aristides, Cimon, or even Themistocles, or any of the rest, entered into engagements against their country, but on the contrary always continued faithful and zealous for it. Whereas the Romans, for the want of such a law, extorted imprecations from Camillus against his country, engaged Coriolanus to take up arms against it, as Sertorious did afterwards against his inclination. They came at last to declare a citizen an enemy to the state, as in the case of Cæsar, Mark Anthony, and several others; after which there was no remedy but in despair, nor any assurance of their own preservation but in violence and open war.

3. By this law the Athenians were also preserved from the civil wars, which so much disturbed and shook the commonwealth of Rome. With such a law as this the Gracchi would not have been assassinated. The Romans might perhaps have spared themselves the wars of Marius and Sylla, of Cæsar and Pompey, and the fatal consequences of the triumvirate. But as Rome wanted this mild and humane remedy, [r] as Plutarch phrases it, so proper to calm, soften, and assuage envy; whenever the two factions of the senale and people were a little inflamed, there was nothing left, but to decide the quarrel by arms and violence. And this at last drew upon Rome the loss of her liberty.

Perhaps therefore we may have good reason to differ in our judgment concerning this law from Valerius Maximus and some others, who were offended only at the abuse of it, without fully examining into the real motives of its establishment and its advantages, and without considering that there is no law so good, but it may have its inconveniences in the application. [r] Παραμυθία φιλάνθρωπος φθόνο και κουφισμός.

III. EMU

III. EMULATION IN ARTS AND SCIENCES. Diodorus Siculus, in the preface to the twelfth book of his history, makes a very judicious reflection upon the times and events I have now been speaking of He observes that Greece was never threatened with greater danger, than when Xerxes, after having subdued all the Asiatic Greeks, brought against it such a formidable army, as seemed to make the same fate an inevitable event. And yet it was never more glorious or triumphant than after the expedition of Xerxes, which, properly speaking, was the epocha from whence to date the prosperity of Greece, and was in particular the occasion and origin of that glory which made the name of Athens so famous. For the following fifty years produced in that city a multitude of men eminent in every kind of merit, in arts, sciences, war, government and politics.

To confine myself here only to arts and sciences, what carried them in so short a time to so high a degree of perfection, was the rewards and distinctions bestowed on such as excelled in them, which kindled an incredible emulation amongst the men of letters and excellent artists.

Cimon, returning from a glorious campaign, brought back with him to Athens the bones of Theseus. To preserve the memory of this event, the people proposed a prize to be contended for by the tragic poets, which became very famous. Judges chosen by lot were to determine the merit of the performances, and adjudge the crown to the conqueror amidst the commendations and applauses of the whole assembly. But the archon observing there was great caballing and par. tiality among the spectators, nominated Cimon him- . self and nine other generals to be judges. Sophocles, who was then but young, presented his first piece, and gained the prize from Æschylus, who till then had been the honour of the theatre, and incontestibly the best writer. He was unable to survive his glory, left Athens, and retired into Sicily, where he soon after died of grief. As to Sophocles, his reputation continually increased, and never left him, not even in his extreme old age. His children soliciting for a judgment against him, as being superannuated, instead of a defence, he read before the judges a piece he had lately finished, entitled Oedipus Coloneus, and unaniniously gained his cause.

The glory of carrying the prize in these disputes, where all sorts of persons took pains to produce something extraordinary, was held so distinguished an honour, as to become the object of the ambition of princes, as we learn from the history of the two Dionysius of Syracuse.

[s] It was a glorious day and the most affecting delight to Herodotus, when all Greece assembled at the Olympic games declared, whilst they heard him read his history, that they thought they heard the Muses speaking by his mouth; which occasioned the nine books of his work being called by the naine of the nine Muses. And the case was the same with the orators and poets, who spoke their orations, and read their poems there in public. How great a spur to glory must the applauses have been, which were received before the eyes and with the acclamations of almost all the people of Greece ?

There was no less emulation amongst the artisans of merit; and this was the reason, that under Pericles all arts were carried in so short a time to the highest degree of perfection.

[t] It was he that built the Odeon, or theatre of music, and made the decree, by which it was ordained, that the games and disputes for prizes of music should be celebrated on the feast of the Panathenæa; and being chosen the judge and distributer of the prizes, he thought it no dishonour to regulate and assign the laws and conditions of this kind of disputes.

[] Who has not heard of the name of Phidias, and the fame of his works? This celebrated sculptor, who

(s) Luçian. in Herodot. [+] Plut. in Vit. Pericl. [u] Ibid.

was

« ForrigeFortsæt »