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311
CHRONOLOGY

might seem an extremely difficult question to answer. Indeed, to answer it to the satisfaction of all concerned might well be pronounced impossible. Yet it would seem as if a candid and impartial historian could not well be greatly in doubt in the matter. On the one hand, the general agreement everywhere between the Hebrew accounts and contemporaneous records from Mesopotamia proves beyond cavil that, broadly speaking, the Bible accounts are historically true, and were written by persons who in the main had access to contemporaneous documents. On the other hand, the discrepancies as to details, the confusion as to exact chronology, the manifest prejudice and partizanship, and the obvious limitations of knowledge make it clear that the writers partook in full measure of the shortcomings of other historians, and that their work must be adjudged by ordinary historical standards. As much as this is perhaps conceded by most, if not all, schools of Bible criticism of to-day. Professor Sayce, one of the most distinguished of modern Assyriologists, writing as an opponent of the purely destructive “Higher Criticism,” demands no more than that the Book of Genesis “shall take rank by the side of the other monuments of the past as the record of events which have actually happened and been handed on by credible men”; that it shall, in short, be admitted to be “a collection of ancient documents which have all the value of contemporaneous testimony,” but which being in themselves “wrecks of vast literatures which extended over the Oriental world from a remote epoch,” cannot be understood aright “except in the light of the contemporaneous literature of which they form a portion.” From the point of view implied by such words as these, it is only necessary to recall the mental attitude of our grandfathers to appreciate in some measure the revolution in thought that has been wrought in this field within the last half-century, largely through the instrumentality of Oriental archaeology.

We have seen that the general trend of Oriental archaeology has been reconstructive rather than iconoclastic. Equally true is this of recent classical archaeology. Here no such revolution has been effected as that which virtually Archaeology and classical history.created anew the history of Oriental antiquity; yet the bearings of the new knowledge are similar in kind if different in degree. The world had never quite forgotten the history of the primitive Greeks as it had forgotten the Mesopotamians, the Himyaritic nations and the Hittites; but it remembered their deeds only in the form of poetical myths and traditions. These traditions, finding their clearest delineation in the lines of Homer, had been subjected to the analysis of the critical historians of the early decades of the 19th century, and their authenticity had come to be more than doubted. The philological analysis of Wolf and his successors had raised doubts as to the very existence of Homer, and at one time the main current of scholarly opinion had set strongly in the direction of the belief that the Iliad and the Odyssey were in reality but latter-day collections of divers recitals that had been handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another of bards through ages of illiteracy. It was strenuously contended that the case could not well be otherwise, inasmuch as the art of writing must have been quite unknown in Greece until after the alleged age of the traditional Homer, whose date had been variously estimated at from 1000 to 800 B.C. by less sceptical generations. It had come to be a current belief that the Iliad was first committed to writing in the age of Peisistratus. A prominent controversialist, F. A. Paley, even went so far as to doubt whether a single written copy of the Iliad existed in Greece at the time of the Peloponnesian War. The doubts thus cast upon the age when the Homeric poems first assumed the fixed form of writing were closely associated with the universal scepticism as to the historical accuracy of any traditions whatever regarding the early history of Greece. Cautious historians had come to regard the so-called “Heroic Age” as a prehistoric period regarding which nothing definite was known, or in all probability could be known. It was ably argued by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, in connexion with his inquiries into early Roman history, that a verbal tradition is not transmitted from one generation to another in anything like an authentic form for a longer period than about a century. If, then, the art of writing was unknown in Greece before, let us say, the 6th century B.C., it would be useless to expect that any events of Grecian history prior to about the 7th century B.C. could have been transmitted to posterity with any degree of historical accuracy.

Notwithstanding the allurements of the subject, such conservative historians as Grote were disposed to regard the problems of early Grecian history as inscrutable, and to content themselves with the recital of traditions without attempting to establish their relationship with actual facts. It remained for the more robust faith of a Schliemann to show that such scepticism was all too faint-hearted, by proving that at such sites as Tiryns, Mycenae and Hissarlik evidences of a very early period of Greek civilization awaited the spade of the excavator. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Schliemann and his successors, we can now substitute for the mythical “Age of Heroes” a historical “Mycenaean Age” of Greece, and give tangible proof of its relatively high state of civilization. Schliemann may or may not have been correct in identifying one of the seven cities that he unearthed at Hissarlik as the fabled Troy itself, but at least his efforts sufficed to give verisimilitude to the Homeric story. With the lessons of recent Oriental archaeology in mind, few will be sceptical enough to doubt that some such contest as that described in the Iliad actually occurred. And now, thanks to the efforts of a large company of workers, notably Dr Arthur Evans and his associates in Cretan exploration, we are coming to speak with some confidence not merely of a Mycenaean but of a pre-Mycenaean Age.

As yet we see these periods somewhat darkly. The illuminative witness of written records is in the main denied us here. Some most archaic inscriptions have been indeed found by the explorers in Crete, but these for the present serve scarcely any other purpose than to prove the antiquity of the art of writing among a people who were closely in touch with the inhabitants of Hellas proper. Most unfortunately for posterity, the Greeks wrote mainly on perishable materials, and hence the chief records even of their later civilization have vanished. The only fragments of Greek manuscripts antedating the Christian era that have been preserved to us have been found in Egypt, where a hospitable climate granted them a term of existence not to be hoped for elsewhere. No fragment of these papyri, indeed, carries us further back than the age of the Ptolemies; but the Greek inscriptions on the statues of Rameses II at Abu-Simbel, in Nubia, give conclusive proof that the art of writing was widely disseminated among the Greeks at least three centuries before the age of Alexander. This carries us back towards the traditional age of Homer.

The Cretan inscriptions belong to a far older epoch, and are written in two non-Grecian scripts of undetermined affinities. Here, then, is direct evidence that the Aegean peoples of the Mycenaean Age knew how to write, and it is no longer necessary to assume that the verses of the Iliad were dependent on mere verbal transmission for any such period as has been supposed.

But even were direct evidence of the knowledge of the art of writing in Greece of the early day altogether lacking, none but the hardiest sceptic could doubt, in the light of recent archaeological discoveries elsewhere, that the inhabitants of ancient Hellas of the “Homeric Age” must have shared with their contemporaries the capacity to record their thought in written words. We have seen that Oriental archaeology has in recent generations revolutionized our conceptions of the antiquity of civilization. We have seen that written documents have been preserved in Mesopotamia to which such a date as 4500 B.C. may be ascribed with a good deal of confidence; and that from the third millennium B.C. a flood of contemporary literary records comes to us both from Egypt and Mesopotamia. But until recently it had been supposed that Hellas was shut out entirely from this Oriental culture. Historians have found it hard to dispel the idea that civilization in Greece was a very late development, and that the culture of the age of Solon sprang, in fact, suddenly into existence, as it seems to do in the records of the