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The moral consciousness of the Greeks is very different from that of the Persians; though rising above it, it yet seems to throw the approximation to the Christian view, that lay in the Persian consciousness, farther again into the back-ground.. The heathen mind could not remain stationary at Persian dualism; the Greeks endeavor to bring about a reconciliation of the antagonism of the universe, by throwing this antagonism into the past, and by regarding the present as an expression of the harmony of existence as effected at the very beginning of history by a victory 63of the personal spirit over the nature-powers that opposed it; the dualism of hostile antagonism gives place to a dualism of love. No evil god and no nature-power hostile to the personal spirit, offer obstruction to the moral activity. Morality is not a struggle, but a progressive development of man as lper se good and pure; by following his own inwardly harmonious nature, by enjoying the intrinsically beautiful existence of the world, and by exalting sensuous enjoyment by means of spiritual culture, and by equally developing all the phases both of his sensuous and of his spiritual life, man arrives at the harmonious perfection of his personality,—at the highest goal of moral effort. The beautiful is per se the good; in enjoying and creating the beautiful, man is moral. The battle is not against a world of evil that is to be destroyed, nor in championship of a moral idea that is to be realized; but its end is simply to develop the full personality of the hero. The Greek battles for the sake of battling; the battle is even enjoyment, is heroic play. The Greek ideal is the vigorous, youthful personality,—in the world of gods,—the youthful Apollo, in the world of heroes, Achilles, until, at the close of Grecian history, it assumes a world-historical form in Alexander the Great. But the entire ideal element inheres in the person of the hero; a permanent moral world-historical reality, the Greeks could not create; they lacked the positively world-historical purpose; Alexander’s world-conquering deeds aimed at, and were able to effect, only an exaltation of the person of the hero, and necessarily ended in anarchy at his death, and the Greeks became an easy prey to that nation which aimed with iron-persistency at the positive purpose of a unitary historical reality, and 64absolutely subordinated the person to the same. The moral idea is, with the Greeks, more an object of artistic enjoyment than of moral realization. For the positive basis of the higher moral life, the family, their moral consciousness is extremely defective, and the idea of man as man, has not as yet come to consciousness; only the Hellene, but not the barbarian, is regarded as a truly moral personality. Slavery is the indispensable foundation of the free state.
The precedent antagonism of existence, which comes to consciousness in all heathen religions,—primarily as an antithesis of nature and spirit, which rises with the Persians to a moral character,—is, with the Greeks, not indeed entirely overcome (heathenism in fact never rises beyond it), but in fact reduced to harmony, a harmony, however, which, as viewed from a Christian stand-point, must be regarded as delusive. The consciousness of this antagonism comes to expression in myths concerning ancient combats between the spiritual gods and Titanic nature-powers; the gods came off victorious, and the present world expresses the peaceful reconciliation of the earlier antagonisms; every-where, both in the world of gods and of men, spirit and nature are in harmonious union; there is nowhere mere spirit, and nowhere mere nature. What appears as a hostile power over the personal spirit, was already vanquished anterior to human history; no inimical, evil god disturbs the beautiful harmony of existence; the Titans have been thrust into Tartarus. The foundation of Greek morality is therefore joy in existence,—love as enjoyment; man has not to sacrifice his existence and his wishes, but only to heighten the former, and to fulfill the latter, in so far as they express the character of harmony, of the beautiful; he has not, as with the Indians, to renounce the world, but on the contrary to enjoy it, as bearing every-where the stamp of the beautiful, and to remain in genial peace therewith,—has not, as the Persian, to battle against its reality as permeated with evil, but simply to pluck from it the fruits of happiness. Greek morality is the morality of him who is complacently self-satisfied, without any severe inner struggle.
The Hellene has, in his consciousness of the harmony of existence, 65on the one hand a powerful stimulus to virtue; he endeavors to preserve this harmony, and hence is in general amiable, frank, and honorable; to a certain degree he shows also magnanimity toward his enemies,—respects the moral personality; but, on the other hand, he has in this consciousness also the tendency to make light with the moral; he believes himself already to have attained to the good, and not to need to undergo a severe struggle for its possession,—believes himself to have already, in his natural proclivities, also the right. Hence he is inclined to take life unseriously; even unnatural lusts pass for allowed, if they only appear under the form of the beautiful. The beauty of the manner beautifies the sin, and the worship of Aphrodite lends to sensuality itself a religious sanction. Greek effeminacy and luxuriousness—despised only by the Spartans—became even a by-word among the Romans; and even the dark passions of hate and revenge found in the Greek consciousness little condemnation; no Greek took offense at the barbarous mistreatment of the hero Hector. The most virtuous citizens were not respected, but banished; sycophants were honored, and the friends of truth hated or killed.
A high sense for beauty raises indeed the moral consciousness to a high and harmonious conception of moral beauty, and the poets sketch moral ideals with master-hand; but these ideals are more for esthetic enjoyment than for moral inmitation. Even morality becomes to the Hellene a matter of mere spectacle, and in no heathen nation is the contrast between the ideal and the real life so great, as in that one which conceived the ideal the highest. For the practical life the requirements of the moral consciousness were other than for poetry; the same people which admired female ideals, such as Penelope, Antigone, and Electra, as presented in song and upon the stage, placed womanhood and marriage, and the family-life in general, much lower in real life than did the Chinese or the ancient Germans; and it was not merely in the censured license of the frivolous world, but also in the moral views of the most highly cultured, that talented concubines (especially after the example of Aspasia, notorious for her connection with Pericles, and also honored by Socrates) stood higher than house-wives proper, and became the real representatives of female culture, and ideals of female grace. Sparta, by its legislation, overthrew on principle the proper life 66of the family; the penal laws against bachelors which finally became a necessity, furnish proof, how popular this anti-family legislation was.2121 Plato: Symp., p. 192. Solon found it necessary in the interest of the State to protect by penal enactments the merest natural duties of the marriage-state, at least within the bounds of a minimum requirement;2222 Plutarch: Solon, c. 20.—so great was already in his day the general disinclination to wedlock, which, though forming the foundation of all true morality, was regarded in the Golden Age of Greece as little better than a necessary evil. The bringing about of abortion and the exposing of new-born children, was a right of parents, which was not only protected by laws, but even defended by the most esteemed philosophers. The perverseness not only of frivolous practice, but of the general moral consciousness, is manifested most strikingly in the prevalence of unnatural vice, as apologized for even by philosophers themselves; and the dark picture of St. Paul not merely of Greek morality itself, but also of the moral consciousness of the Greeks (Rom. i, 21 sqq.), is perfectly corroborated by historical reality. In certain efforts of recent date to clarify the Christian world-view by the help of the “classical” one, these facts ought not to be left out of sight. The heathen Germans stand in this respect very much higher than the Greeks.
However fully the moral consciousness of the worth and dignity of the personality is developed, still the dignity of true manhood is conceded only to the free Hellenes, who constituted by far the smallest number of the Greek population. (In Attica at its highest prosperity there were 400,000 slaves, in Corinth 460,000). The barbarian and the slave have no right to the full dignity of personality. Freedom without slavery is, in the eyes of a Greek, an absurdity. The generally prevalent mild treatment of their slaves was more an expression of natural kindheartedness, and of personal interest than of conceded right; the Spartan slave-massacres were the expression of an undisputed right of the State and of the free citizens; even Plato and Aristotle are unable to conceive of a State and of political freedom without the personal unfreedom of slavery. The so-called notion of “humanitarianism” limits the practice of this virtue to the possessors of slaves; and the higher the right and the might of the free citizens are placed, so much the more complete and 67striking becomes also the rightlessness of the slaves. That slaves are but domestic animals possessed of intelligence was a general maxim, recognized even by philosophers.
Though the reality of the moral consciousness and of the moral life of the Greek is in many respects far below that of other heathen nations, still the moral idea that underlies this reality is a higher one. That which, in the Christian worldview, forms the presupposition of all truly moral life, namely, the reconciliation of the contradiction and of the antagonism in the world of reality, the higher right and the higher power of the personal spirit over unfree nature, this is recognized by the Greeks, though indeed with heathen perversions, in a higher manner than is the case among the earlier heathen nations. Only man as redeemed by the historical redemption-act from the power of his sinful naturalness, and as now for the first having risen to a truly free moral personality, is capable, according to the Christian view, of accomplishing true morality;— also the Hellene makes the reconciliation of the antagonism, the actual harmony of human nature and of existence in general, the presupposition of morality, and conceives this reconciliation as one that falls indeed before human history, but yet is accomplished by the free act of the personal spirit; whereas with the earlier nations (where the consciousness of the inner antagonism and contradiction is also recognized) the right of the personal spirit is either rejected, or else thrown for its realization into the far future, either into the life after death, or at least toward the close of the world’s history. It is true, this thought of a reconciliation is made possible only by the fact that the consciousness of moral guilt is kept away from the antagonism that is to be reconciled, and that this antagonism is conceived rather as of a primitive cosmical character, and moreover that not man but the personal gods enter into the sphere thereof, and, battling, overcome,—so that there is left for man nothing further than the enjoyable repetition of the same in artistic play; the Olympic games are a commemoration of the battles of the Titans; and, accordingly, the entire moral life becomes to the Greek an artistic play;—nevertheless the ground-thought is still of high significancy,—the thought that only man as having become free through the reconciliation of the antagonism of real existence is capable of morality. But that the carrying-out of 68this thought is weakened down on all sides, that the Greek does not in his moral consciousness rise out of his esthetic play to full earnestness of life, this is in fact simply the heathen character of this consciousness. And even in the fact that to the Hellene, morality appears so easy, there lies a presentiment of the true thought, that to the morally emancipated man the moral law appears no longer as a yoke or burden, but is, on the contrary, the direct, unforced, bliss-inspired and blissful life-outgush of sanctified human nature. To no nation of heathendom does morality become so light a task as to the Hellenes. The Hellene knows no moral code of laws compelling the moral subject to obedience, with objective authority; and even the moralizing philosophers themselves, in striking contrast to the Chinese, the Indians, and even the Persians, tarry almost exclusively in the sphere of general thoughts, and give only seldom definite precepts for the details of life. The moral subject bears the law within himself, and bows himself under no foreign objective law. And this is in fact but a heathen perversion of the per se true thought, that with the spiritually-regenerated the law of God is: written in their hearts,—that to them his yoke is easy and his burden light. As the Chinese and Persian consciousness shows some resemblance to that of the Hebrews, so the Greek consciousness has analogies to the Christian, especially as the latter is presented by that Apostle who labored among the Greeks. That with the Greeks the analogical thought rests upon an untrue foundation, and worked hurtfully in its carrying-out,—that it led to sinful presumption, and created a morality actually inferior in many respects to that of the Chinese, the Indians and Persians,—this evinces not the fallaciousness of the thought per se, but only the perversity of the natural man, who turns all the truth attainable by him into the service of sin, and thus confirms the weighty utterance that only he “whom the Son makes free is free indeed.” He who is inwardly unfree, and yet imagines himself free, is morally in greater danger than he who is unfree and also knows himself as such. The Greek appears morally more responsible and more guilty than the other heathen, because he has a higher knowledge; and the Apostle’s moral sentence upon the heathen [Rom. i, 18 sqq.] falls upon the Greeks with much greater force. than upon the other heathen.69
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