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in war. For we are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness. Wealth we employ, not for talk and ostentation, but when there is a real use for it.

To avow poverty with us is no disgrace; the true disgrace is in doing nothing to avoid it. An Athenian citizen does not neglect the state because he takes care of his own household; and even those of us who are engaged in business have a very fair idea of politics. We alone regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs, not as a harmless, but as a useless character; and if few of us are originators, we are all sound judges of a policy. The great impediment to action is, in our opinion, not discussion, but the want of that knowledge which is gained by discussion preparatory to action. For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act and of acting too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate upon reflection. And they are surely to be esteemed the bravest spirits who, having the clearest sense of both the pains and pleasures of life, do not on that account shrink from danger. In doing good, again, we are unlike others; we make our friends by conferring, not by receiving favors. Now he who confers a favor is the firmer friend because he would fain by kindness keep alive the memory of an obligation; but the recipient is colder in his feelings, because he knows that in requiting another's generosity he will not be winning gratitude but only paying a debt. We alone do good to our neighbors not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom and in a frank and fearless spirit.

To sum up: I say that Athens is the school of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian in his own person seems to have the power of adapting himself to the most varied forms of action with the utmost versatility and grace. This is no passing and idle word, but truth and fact; and the assertion is verified by the position to which these qualities have raised the state. For in the hour of trial Athens alone among her contemporaries is superior to the report of her. No enemy who comes against her is indignant at the reverses which he sustains at the hands of such a city; no subject complains that his masters are unworthy of him. And we shall assuredly not be without witnesses; there are mighty monuments of our power which will make us the wonder of this and of succeeding ages; we shall not need the praises of Homer or of any other panegyrist whose poetry may please for the moment, although his representation of the facts will not bear the light of day. For we have compelled every land and every sea to open a path for our valor, and have everywhere planted eternal memorials of our friendship and of our enmity. Such is the city for whose sake these men nobly fought and died; they could not bear the thought that she might be taken from them; and every one of us who survive should gladly toil on her behalf. .

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Dakyns, trans. in Francis R. B. Godolphin, ed. THE GREEK
HISTORIANS, II, (New York: Random House, 1942), 633-43 passim.

In this selection, the "old oligarch," as he has come to be known, satirically criticizes Athenian democracy. He argues that when everyone can participate in political decision making, mediocrity becomes the watchword of the day.



The golden age of Athens lasted only one hundred years. After the defeat of the Persians in 479 B.C. only seventeen years elapsed before Athens became embroiled again in war, this time with another Greek city-state, Sparta. The long series of wars that followed left both Athens, the loser, and Sparta, the victor, ravished of economic and political vitality. By the middle of the fourth century, both cities had been absorbed in the gigantic empire of Alexander the Great. Yet, within the lifetime of a man and his son, the Athenian culture synthesized the elements of the past into a glorious age. The two of them, father and son, would have seen the building of the Erectheum and the Parthenon on the Acropolis; they would have attended the first performance of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aristophenes; they would have heard Pindar, Bacchylides, and Simonides recite their own poems; they would have read the first editions of the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides; they would have listened to the philosophical arguments between Socrates and his most famous pupil, Plato; and they would have deliberated in the Assembly and the Council of Five Hundred with such great political leaders as Pericles.

What the old man and his son would have witnessed was the most dramatic explosion of artistic activity in what is now Europe. The most memorable aspect of this cultural explosion was not the quantity of artistic and literary works, but their quality. Its buildings, plays, poems, and histories are all excellent. They demonstrate what man can do when he pushes himself to the limits of his capacities. Hence they represent the essence of the Greek value system. The Greeks believed that man should live up to his potential, that he should do all that was humanly possible in every field of endeavor from war to philosophy. More than anything else, this basic ethic was responsible for the development of the golden age.

The values of the Greeks differed greatly from the value systems of people from the surrounding empires. In Persia and Egypt, rulers were revered as gods. Ordinary men were regarded as little more than beasts, fit only to carry out the ruler-god's will. The Greeks, on the other hand, held that human beings were exalted creatures with resources of mind and body capable of great achievements. Allow men the freedom to cultivate these resources, they argued, and they would produce great artistic works, perform remarkable physical feats, and develop outstanding philosophies. This was purpose enough in life--to develop one's potential to its ultimate limit. Life was to be lived not to serve a god-king but to serve oneself.

When all the peoples around them held such a lowly view of man, why should the Greeks have developed a sense of man's worth; why should they have recognized the great potential inherent in human beings? The historian can only speculate about the answers to this question. Perhaps the Greek view of man developed from their own experience in developing civilization on the thin, rocky soil of the Greek peninsula. Merely to get enough to eat required exhaustive efforts of mind and body. Greece is not a land of fertile soil such as the Sumerians and Egyptians found in their rich river valleys. Because the land was poor, the early Greek settlers had to call upon all the intelligence, strength, and stamina they could muster to make it yield enough food to survive. Perhaps their ability to meet the challenge posed by poor natural resources made the Greeks recognize what man could do if he applied his mind and strength to the task.

But if meeting the challenge of limited resources were the sole explanation for the development of Greek culture, then it follows logically that other men living in similar situations would also have produced great works of art and literature. We know that many did not. Similar cultural achievements did not emerge out of the Germah forests or the mountainous slopes of Tibet. The Eskimos, facing an even more severe limitation of natural resources, have not developed a great culture. Hence, additional factors must be involved in the case of the Greeks.

Perhaps the Greek religion contributed to their exalted view of the human potential. In contrast to men of other ancient civilizations, the Greeks believed in gods who were just like men, except that they were more powerful,

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beautiful, skillful, and intelligent and, of course, immortal. The Greek gods were inspirations to men; not regulators of men. Most ancient peoples looked upon the gods primarily as punishers of wrongdoers, but the Greeks regarded their deities as ideals to which men should aspire. To be as beautiful as Aphrodite, as powerful as Zeus, as athletic as Hermes, or as wise as Pallas Athena was the goal of the true Greek, though he knew he could never attain their full perfection. Nonetheless, the ideal gave the Greeks incentive because the ideals defined precisely the potentials of man. The Greek religion, therefore, held out to its believers goals for which they were to strive. In so doing, religion challenged the Greeks to develop every facet of their capacities to its utmost limit. The historian may muse, therefore, on the influence of religion in Greek life, and hypothesize that the Greek conception of the gods was in part responsible for the high regard in which the Greeks held mankind.

The Greeks held an exalted view of man, but they defined the term "man" narrowly. Greeks and only Greeks might aspire to perfection, and within Greek society itself, only citizens and not slaves or metics could share the advantages of the good life. As we wonder at the glories of ancient Athens and admire the remarkable outpouring of the human spirit which it represents, we should also be aware of its economic base--slavery--and its rationalization for this institution--a type of primitive racial philosophy. The Greeks included only their own kind within the definition of man. A11 outsiders were inferior--barbarians-- fit only for servitude. Greek society developed ideals of human equality for the privileged, but denied the most elementary freedoms for the men and women who slaved for them.

This unusual combination of values underlay the Greek economic system. Athens had to decide what to produce, how to produce it, and how to distribute goods. Since slaves could raise the crops and do the menial tasks for citizens, the men of ancient Athens were free to devote their energies to governing the city and creating great works of art. Moreover, a deep vein of silver lay just outside Athens. The Athenians used this silver to trade for wheat and other foodstuffs from Asia Minor, Italy, and even southern France. Timber cut from the Greek hillsides was used to build ships which carried Greek traders all over the Mediterranean.

Because labor was plentiful and cheap, the Greeks felt no necessity to invest capital in machinery. Greek science, unsurpassed anywhere in the world for the next 2000 years, never produced an industrial revolution. Athenians were great astronomers, great sculptors, great mathematicians, great architects, poets, musicians, and dramatists, but they were not great inventors of practical machines. Surplus was invested in buildings to glorify both man and the gods, not in tools to ease the lot of slaves.

The way in which goods were distributed also reflects the value system of the Greeks. In most ancient societies, surplus wealth was reserved for a tiny elite composed of priests, warriors, and rulers. Wealth went to the powerful, and power was inherited from one's ancestors. In ancient Persia

and Egypt, a wide gulf yawned between the tiny minority who llved lives of extreme luxury and the great mass of men who barely eked out a mere subsistence. In Athens, however, a much larger proportion of men shared the benefits of the economy.

The ordinary Athenian citizen did not have to toil long hours to obtain enough food to live; slaves did that for him. Hence most Athenian citizens, and not just a privileged elite, were able to devote their time and energy to the creation and appreciation of art, the development of philosophy, the running of government, the cultivation of athletic skills, and the writing of literary masterpieces. Nowhere else in the

Nowhere else in the ancient world did such a large proportion of the community contribute to and partake of the richness of the culture.

The distribution of wealth in the Athenian city-state among a large proportion of its inhabitants resulted from and contributed to the Athenian value system, The value system proclaimed the worth of man and the dignity of human life. Because of this attitude, the Athenians did not believe that wealth was the private preserve of a ruling elite but only one of the instruments which enabled all citizens to live their lives to the fullest. The Athenian, frced from exhausting toil, continually extended himself beyond his previous accomplishments, and in so doing reinforced the Athenian faith that man was capable of great wonders.

The Athenian social structure was also a product of this concept of man. The Athenians, believing that man should live up to his potential, argued that an individual achieved social status only after pushing himself to the limits of his capacities. Those with great possibilities who achieved great things were accorded great respect. Those with limited potential who made the best use of their talents were also admired. Those unworthy of respect were men with great potential who did not achieve anything of merit and those with pretenses of being better than they were. Social status in Athens was earned.

A man did not gain the respect of his fellows unless he had proven himself.

In other societies of the day, social prestige was not earned, but was prescribed by custom and tradition. Who deserved respect and who did not was generally determined by birth. The son of a king or a priest was accorded all respect, rights, and privileges of his exalted station while the son of a farmer or artisan could only expect to remain in his father's position for his entire life.

In contrast, the son of a lowly Athenian citizen, with proper application of his energies to the cultivation of his talents, could rise in the social scale to become one of the most respected men in the city. This social mobility was somewhat lessened, however, by the fact that a father who could afford to buy the best education for his son was more likely to assure his son's success than a father who could not. Nonetheless, movement up and down the Athenian social scale was much more easily accomplished than in the more rigid societies of Egypt and Persia.

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