Hellenism And the Modern World by Gilbert Murray

By Gilbert Murray

Excerpt from Hellenism and the trendy World

We of the West may perhaps research from Mr. Toynbee's publication should be to take nice care, after we are bringing aid to a few 'barbarian' or 'less complicated' kingdom in want, that what we predict of as beneficiant aid won't appear to the recipient extra like contemptuous almsgiving or maybe conceited interference.

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Example text

No Greek community was ever comparable in size, wealth, population and the like to the great river civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The greatness of Greece depended on quite other qualities. Compared with those oriental empires, a central fact which strikes us is that in Greece there was no divine or semi-divine Great King in the Babylonian or Egyptian sense. For one thing, Greek states were all on a small scale and all more or less equal. They could, and did, fight each other freely, but none had any thought of establishing a vast empire over all the rest.

The law secures equal justice for all; but that does not mean that men are all on a dead level. Some are better than others, and those who excel in any way are more esteemed and honoured. There are rewards and privileges for real merit, but not for mere rank or wealth. Poverty is never a bar: the poorest citizen has the right to take part in the Assembly and try to make his contribution to the guidance of his country. Again, life is free. No one in his private life is frowned at, or treated with intolerance if he chooses to live in a way different from the common.

In Greece we meet here and there fragmentary relics of such taboos: sects which abstain from beans or from animal flesh, or families which practise some special form of worship. But they seem to be merely relics of systems that have long passed away, of tribes and ancestral communities that have been broken up. In private life, indeed, a man's duty might be summed up in three commands: to obey the gods, to honour his parents, and to do -23- no injustice to strangers. But in public political life there was no traditional head of the family, or tribal chief taking his place; a man's duty was not to his ancestral or tribal chief, but to the Polis and its Laws; and even those Laws were recognized as man-made, to be criticized if they were not Just.

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