Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/214

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

dowed people. This government is that in which the idea of the city and that of the state are merged; in which each city is a living body, all the members of which take a more or less direct part in the administration of public affairs.

It is not without some surprise that we learn from history how at once intense and scattered was life in the whole Hellenic world, from the eighth to the third century b. c., and what organic potency, what intestinal activity, and what expansive force were possessed by each of the little states which the vigor of Grecian genius had scattered over all the Mediterranean shores. This municipal life was endowed with a mobility and variety that were not exhibited elsewhere. The minds of the people, easily receptive to the beautiful and the true, were stimulated to reflection by letters, philosophy, and science, and matured rapidly. Rhetoric, placed at the service of private and public interests, bred an eloquence which was fed by broad ideas that raised the dignity of party strifes. On all the theatres of action, before which the attention of the audience was never relaxed, the politician, artist, poet, writer, or orator—the man always in sight and in action—never ceased to display his passionate energy; while the lively emulation of these cities, at once rivals and sisters, none of which would submit willingly to be less than the others, or let them achieve a glory in which it could not have a part, augmented the ardor of the universal effort. Thus we find in the creation of the city the source of the high, originality of Greece, and the stimulant to its real work—the building up of ancient civilization.

The relief of the land in the Hellenic peninsula and its dependencies gave rise to the city. The nature of the country and the climate had a salutary influence on the development of what Alfieri calls "the human plant." The land co-operated with the sea in promoting the supple and robust development of the body and the alert action of the mind. The life of the sailor inures the limbs and adapts them to all kinds of motion; with its constantly imminent perils, it exacts coolness and watchfulness and makes the mind quick to perceive and precise in observation. There were few Greeks who had not lived more or less on the sea and received some education of this kind.

Even those Greeks whose occupations kept them habitually ashore were subjected to somewhat similar influences. The land is one of sharp contrasts. One can pass in a few hours' walk from the vicinity of almost eternal snows, through forests of beech and fir, to plains where the palm-tops wave. Marked contrasts appear in the distribution of water. Gravelly ravines, in which ribbons of verdure, of laurels and tamarisk, are the only sign of the existence of a stream beneath the surface, are a predominant type; on the western slopes of Hellas are limpid streams,