Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/215

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THE ENVIRONMENT OF GRECIAN CULTURE.

flowing in little cascades like the Neda, or full to the banks like the Ladon; rivers like the Alpheus and Achelous, which can not be forded even in the dry season; with Lake Phenæa, in the Peloponnesus, resembling the lakes of Switzerland. Yet water is rare and inestimably precious; and that explains the worship that was given to the nymphs of fountains, and the care that was taken in art to give them forms of beauty corresponding to the honors which popular piety rendered to them.

The climates are as various as the physiological characteristics of the landscape. On the shores of the bays and on the islands the difference is slight between the mean temperatures of the cold and the warm seasons; but in the interior, in the closed valleys, the winters are severe and the summers hot. With such varieties of land with its hundred faces, and the sky with its hundred caprices, body and mind are kept under perpetual strain to adapt themselves to the complex and mobile conditions of media that are modified with a rapidity that discounts all forecasts. Within a very narrow space are men of the same race and language leading very different lives accordingly as they dwell on the mountains, the high pastures, the cultivated slopes, or the shore. One who removes from one of these zones to another is obliged to modify his habits, to add or take off something of his clothing or his food, and perhaps to learn and exercise a new occupation. This tends to stimulate the organs and give elasticity to the mind, which is constrained by the force of circumstances to improvise the methods of action which the conditions demand. Thus everything concurred to develop personal energy among the Grecian people, and to fortify and build up the race by virtue of the law of the survival of the fittest. While infant mortality has always been very high, in consequence of the abrupt contrasts, those constitutions which succeeded in adapting themselves to them acquired a singular elasticity.

The marvelously clear atmosphere and bright skies of Greece give the vision a delicacy which the sense can not attain where all the contours are enveloped in vapors. There is thus developed in it the habit of studying, comparing, and measuring forms from a distance; and it acquires in that practice those qualities of a just perception and a quick feeling of the exact relations of the different parts of a whole which, in the age when they were applied to the interpretation and reproduction of the living form, contributed to make the Greeks the first artists in the world.

Artistic excellence was further favored by the very composition and nature of the rocks of Greece. The rocks of some districts, when disintegrated, furnish an excellent plastic material, equally suitable for bricks or tiles, and for modeling under the fingers of the potter and sculptor; and when they retain their