Wednesday, August 26, 2015


What Would We Not Give?

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913), pp. 19-20:
Some of us, at least, have often wished that it were possible to live for a season in the beautiful vanished world of Greek culture. Inspired by our first acquaintance with the charm of Greek art and thought, this wish comes to us even before we are capable of imagining the true conditions of the antique civilization. If the wish could be realized, we should certainly find it impossible to accommodate ourselves to those conditions,—not so much because of the difficulty of learning the environment, as because of the much greater difficulty of feeling just as people used to feel some thirty centuries ago. In spite of all that has been done for Greek studies since the Renaissance, we are still unable to understand many aspects of the old Greek life: no modern mind can really feel, for example, those sentiments and emotions to which the great tragedy of Oedipus made appeal. Nevertheless we are much in advance of our forefathers of the eighteenth century, as regards the knowledge of Greek civilization. In the time of the French revolution, it was thought possible to reestablish in France the conditions of a Greek republic, and to educate children according to the system of Sparta. To-day we are well aware that no mind developed by modern civilization could find happiness under any of those socialistic despotisms which existed in all the cities of the ancient world before the Roman conquest. We could no more mingle with the old Greek life, if it were resurrected for us,—no more become a part of it,—than we could change our mental identities. But how much would we not give for the delight of beholding it,—for the joy of attending one festival in Corinth, or of witnessing the Pan-Hellenic games?

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