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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/189

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EVOLUTION AND ETHICS.

The sages of Miletus were pronounced evolutionists; and, however dark may be some of the sayings of Heracleitus of Ephesus, who was probably a contemporary of Gautama, no


    It would be difficult to find another three centuries which have given birth to four events of equal importance. All the principal existing religions of mankind have grown out of the first three, while the fourth is the little spring, now swollen into the great stream of positive science. So far as physical possibilities go, the prophet Jeremiah and the oldest Ionian philosopher might have met and conversed. If they had done so they would probably have disagreed a good deal; and it is interesting to reflect that their discussions might have embraced questions which at the present day are still hotly controverted. The old Ionian philosophy, then, seems to be only one of many results of a stirring of the moral and intellectual life of the Aryan and the Semitic populations of western Asia. The conditions of this general awakening were doubtless manifold: but there is one which modern research has brought into great prominence. This is the existence of extremely ancient and highly advanced societies in the valleys of the Euphrates and of the Nile. It is now known that more than a thousand perhaps more than two thousand years before the sixth century b. c, civilization had attained a relatively high pitch among the Babylonians and the Egyptians. Not only had painting, sculpture, architecture, and the industrial arts, reached a remarkable development, but in Chaldea, at any rate, a vast amount of knowledge had been accumulated and methodized in the departments of grammar, mathematics, astronomy, and natural history. Where such tracks of the scientific spirit are visible naturalistic speculation is rarely far off, though, so far as I know, no remains of an Accadian or Egyptian philosophy, properly so called, have yet been recovered. Geographically, Chaldea occupied a central position among the oldest seats of civilization. Commerce, largely aided by the intervention of those colossal peddlers, the Phoenicians, had brought Chaldea into connection with all of them for a thousand years before the epoch at present under consideration. And in the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries the Assyrian, the depository of Chaldean civilization, as the Macedonian and the Roman, at a later date, were the depositories of Greek culture, had added irresistible force to the other agencies for the wide distribution of Chaldean literature, art, and science. I confess that I find it difficult to imagine that the Greek immigrants who stood in somewhat the same relation to the Babylonians and the Egyptians as the later Germanic barbarians to the Romans of the Empire should not have been immensely influenced by the new life with which they became acquainted. But there is abundant direct evidence of the magnitude of this influence in certain spheres. I suppose it is not doubted that the Greek went to school with the Oriental for his primary instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and that Semitic theology supplied him with some of his mythological lore. Nor does there now seem to be any question about the large indebtedness of Greek art to that of Chaldea and that of Egypt. But the manner of that indebtedness is very instructive. The obligation is clear, but its limits are no less definite. Nothing better exemplifies the indomitable originality of the Greeks than the relations of their art to that of the Orientals. Far from being subdued into mere imitators by the technical excellence of their teachers, they lost no time in bettering the instruction they received, using their models as mere stepping-stones on the way to those unsurpassed and unsurpassable achievements which are all their own. The shibboleth of Art is the human figure. The ancient Chaldeans and Egyptians, like the modern Japanese, did wonders in the representation of birds and quadrupeds; they even attained to something more than respectability in human portraiture. But their utmost efforts never brought them within range of the best Greek embodiments of the grace of womanhood, or of the severer beauty of manhood. It is worth while to consider the probable effect upon the acute and critical Greek mind of the conflict of ideas, social, political, and theological, which arose out of the conditions