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Schools of Hellas: An Essay on the Practice and Theory of Ancient Greek Education from 600 to 300 B. C.

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The meeting-place of two streams has always a curious fascination for the traveller. There is a strange charm in watching the two currents blend and lose their individuality in a new whole. The discoloured, foam-flecked torrent, swirling on remorselessly its pebbles and minuter particles of granite from the mountains, and the calm, translucent stream, bearing in invisible solution the clays and sands of the plains through which its slow coils have wound, melt into a single river, mightier than either, which has received and will carry onward the burdens of both and lay them side by side in some far-off delta, where they will form “the dust of continents to be.” To the student of history or of psychology the meeting-place of two civilisations has a similar charm. To watch the immemorial culture of the East, slow-moving with the weight of years, dreamy with centuries of deep meditation, accept and assimilate, as in a moment of time, the science, the machinery, the restless energy and practical activity of the West is a fascinating employment; for the process is big with hope of some glorious product from this union of the two. Those who live while such a union is in progress cannot estimate its value or its probable result; they are but conscious of the discomforts and confusion arising from the ending of the old order that passes away, and can hardly presage the glories of the new, to which it is yielding place. It is in past history, not in the contemporary world, that such combinations must be studied. The chief historical instance of two distinct civilisations blending into one is the Renaissance, that mighty union of the spirit of ancient Hellas and her pupil Rome with the spirit of medieval Europe, which has hardly been perfected even now. But it is often forgotten that there were at least two dress-rehearsals for the great drama of the Renaissance, in the course of which Hellenism learnt its own charm and adapted itself to the task of educating the world. Alexander carried the arts, the literature, and the spirit of Hellas far into the heart of Asia; and, though his great experiment of blending West with East was interrupted by his early death and the consequent disruption of his world-empire, yet, even so, something of his object was effected in the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria, Syria, and Asia Minor. Within a century of his death began the second dress-rehearsal, this time in the West. Conquered Hellas led her fierce conqueror captive, and the strength of Rome bowed before the intellect and imagination of the Hellene. Once more the great man who designed to unite the two currents into one stream without loss to either was cut off before his plans could be carried out, and the murder of Julius Cæsar caused incalculable damage to this earlier Renaissance, for the education of Rome, the second scholar of Hellas, was not too wisely conducted. Yet the schooling produced Virgil and Horace and that Greco-Roman civilisation in which the Teutonic nations of the North received their first lessons in culture. After several premature attempts, medieval Europe rediscovered ancient Hellas and her pupil Rome at the time of the Renaissance. Since that time the influence exerted by Hellenism upon modern civilisation has been continuous and incalculable. How much of that influence remains unassimilated, how far it is still needed, may perhaps be realised best by passing straight from the Elgin marbles or a play of Sophocles to a modern crowd or to modern literature.