« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
may, for aught that appears to the contrary, be an accomplished German scholar; but it is, we suppose, an undisputed canon of criticism, that a translator is bound to understand the language or languages of his version, no less than that of his original.
But our translator has laid himself open to another very serious charge. He has not merely altered Becker's arrangement, by throwing the excursus in each work together into an appendix, instead of interspersing them among the divisions of the story. In addition to this, which, as we think, was done wisely and well, he tells us, with characteristic elegance, that in Gallus “ a little lopping has been resorted to " ; and he adds, " The numerous passages from Roman and Greek authors have, in many instances, been only referred to, and not given at length ; matters of minor importance have been occasionally omitted, and more abstruse points of disquisition not entered into.” In the Preface to Charicles, too, in a paragraph which it must have cost him great pains to elaborate, he tells us that all iteration, to which the learned author seems unduly propense, has been avoided as much as possible ; and the multitude of quotations often merely referred to, some left unnoticed, when it seemed unnecessary to multiply authorities, or only the pith of them, and that part strictly apropos to the subject, inserted. In consequence of these alterations, some passages had to be remodelled, and rather adapted in English, than literally translated.” He hopes, however, that " the liberties he has thus taken in greatly reducing the bulk of the work will meet the approbation of the English scholar; and that the value of the book, which is in high estimation in Germany, will not have been diminished by this Procrustean operation.” The cool effrontery of “this Procrustean operation,” by a youth who has not learned to write his own mother-tongue, on the labors of one of the few great men of the age, outrivals the boldest myths touching American pretension and impudence, recorded in the pages of our least friendly Transatlantic contemporaries. It is a process which does atrocious injustice to Professor Becker. He has a right to be read in full, or not at all. His reputation as a thorough scholar and competent critic is wantonly placed at hazard. We make no doubt that essential matter has been omitted. We found, on our first reading of the excursus, lamentable
deficiencies both in facts and in illustrations, and missed some “ points of disquisition,” on which we had hoped to find ourselves instructed. These deficiencies we had charged upon the author, and should still have done so, had we not in our critical capacity made it a point of honor to read the translator's Prefaces. We now doubt not that on these subjects, which lack full elucidation, we should have it in Becker's own books. We hope that these volumes will not be reprinted in this country. We believe that an English translation of the entire works is authorized, and would be fully rewarded by the growing wants and ripening taste of the American public in the department of learning to which they appertain.
It would be of little interest to our readers for us to follow out in detail any one of the single topics of investigation suggested by these volumes. We prefer presenting some more general view ; and the very structure of these fictitious narratives affords one which we will ask leave to develop. Our author's problem was, to present a comprehensive and life-like portraiture, first of Roman, and then of Athenian civilization. In order to do this, he takes us into the circle of society nearest the imperial court of Augustus, and introduces us to a portion of the " moneyed aristocracy” of Athens. We see the interior of no poor man's house. We are made acquainted with no forms of modest elegance and lowly refinement. We have none of that beautiful blending of lights and shadows, which, in the hands of Crabbe, Wilson, Wordsworth, and a host of modern writers that we might name, have invested the “ simple annals of the poor with incomparable grace and beauty.
And Becker was right in attempting nothing of this kind; for neither ancient nor modern paganism affords materials for such delineation. For the plebeians, the burden-bearers, the toiling and suffering members of the body politic, pagan institutions have done absolutely nothing, and Christianity is far enough from having wrought its full work for them ; but one of the strongest points of contrast between pagan and Christian civilization is, that the former has neither promised nor attempted any thing except for the privileged few, while the latter embraces within the circuit of its influences all of every condition in life, and has done much, and given promise of infinitely more, for those in penury and depression.
In exhibiting the darker side of this contrast, we ought to take first into view the essentially aristocratic character of the religious systems of antiquity. The descent of the human race from a single parent stock was not recognized in the classic mythology. To be sure, those whose ancestral trees bore gods, demigods, and deified heroes on their remoter branches, probably had very little sincere faith in their own celestial parentage ; but such fables were sufficient to veil from their regard all traces of a community of origin between themselves and their poorer brethren, while these latter undoubtedly deemed themselves literally " terræ filios,” inherently and essentially base and vile. Indeed, it can hardly be said that the different classes in social life had a religion in common. From the earliest period of authentic history, there is no reason to suppose that men of intelligence and culture had any sincere belief in the popular theology. Atheism, universal skepticism, and every possible gradation of belief from pantheism up to a tolerably pure and rational theism, divided the educated classes, while the worship of the temples was supported and administered solely for its political uses, in sustaining the government and the aristocracy, and in repressing by supernatural terrors the tendencies of the popular mind towards revolution and a larger liberty. There can be little doubt that the Eleusinian mysteries consisted essentially of a purer philosophy of religion than it was deemed safe to promulgate openly ; and the crime of Socrates lay, not in his believing as he did, (for probably neither his accusers nor his judges were more orthodox polytheists than himself,) but in his initiating unqualified persons into his simpler, purer creed.
Yet worse, the classic mythology, while it claimed the abject submission of the unprivileged classes, promised them nothing. It had indeed its Elysium, but no place there for those who adorned quiet and lowly spheres by virtuous lives. Look at Virgil's enumeration of those who occupy the hap
“ Here a blest train advance along the meads,
And snowy wreaths adorn their graceful heads,
Worthies, whose life by useful arts refined,
Friends of the world and fathers of mankind.”
to pass into the genus of the gods, except such as through a love of learning have philosophized.”
We might trace the same features in the forms of paganism still existing among nations that have made any progress in the arts of civilized life. In China and Hindostan, a certain degree of culture and social elevation emancipates all who attain to it from the bondage of the popular superstitions, and initiates them into purer forms of belief or unbelief; while there has never been a pagan nation, in which the principle of social aristocracy has been fairly developed, where the paradise both of the popular and of the expurgate theology has not been aristocratic and exclusive.
We have spoken first of religious ideas in their bearing on the poor and depressed, because they always give the tone to political institutions, condemning those who rest under the frown of the gods to numerous civil disabilities and burdens. On this point the name republic, as applied to several of the ancient states, is apt to mislead the student of history. These republics were all of them, in their origin, military oligarchies, and retained much of their primitive spirit through the whole period of their history. Besides the numerous slaves, who were of course not represented in the government, the poorer freemen were ineligible to office ; and such was the arrangement of all public business, as to give them the mere empty show of participation in the councils of the state, while the whole power was actually lodged with a small minority of rich men. The constitution of Athens was such, that all the forms of a free election or a popular vote might be passed through, and yet the assembly of the
people be in fact little more than a court of registry for the decrees of the Senate, which, indeed, were in full legal force without the popular sanction until the next meeting of the citizens, though a whole year might intervene. Thus, as regards the actual administration of the republic, the people possessed little more than a veto power. In Rome, a hundred senators might outvote a thousand plebeians, and the voting of the crowded centuries of the populace was nothing better than a clumsy and unmeaning farce. Moreover, what show of liberty was possessed by the citizens of these republics hardly extended beyond the city walls; and dependent provinces were robbed and devastated rather than governed, hardly sufficient care being extended over them to suffer the fleece to grow for successive shearings.
The idea of the natural, inalienable rights of the individual citizen seems to have entered the mind of no statesman or philosopher of antiquity. The contrast between the ancient and modern doctrine on this point has left a curious memorial of itself in the various uses of the word privilege (privilegium), which literally denotes special legislation with reference to a private citizen. It was originally used in a
* Cicero in his oration Pro sua Domo makes long and bitter complaint of the privilege of having his house torn down. In even the most arbitrary governments in Christendom, it is tacitly admitted that the individual citizen has certain rights, which may be increased, but cannot be taken away, by special legislation ; and thus privilege has changed its meaning, so as to denote the immunities and exemptions, which may be conferred on some, without derogating from the natural and conceded rights of others.
But the legal possession of rights could have been of little avail to a poor man, if obliged to maintain them in any of the ancient courts of. judicature. An impartial judiciary has left no record of itself in Greek or Roman history, 6 To him that hath it shall be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath,” might have been inscribed, as the most appropriate motto, over the so-called halls of justice. A suitor without wealth or power to back him would have been drugged at once with hellebore, if he
*“ Leges privatis hominibus irrogari, - id est privilegium.” — Cicero Pro sua Domo, 3.