Friday, August 30, 2013



Aubrey de Sélincourt (1894-1962), The World of Herodotus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), pp. 80-81:
The smallness of the Greek political unit gave rise to a kind of patriotism which has no parallel in the modern world. A Greek belonged to his community in a way no one nowadays can understand without an effort of the imagination. In it and through it he found, or failed to find, all the satisfactions that his life demanded. We get a hint of how much he loved it by the sort of epithets which Greek poets applied to towns or places: violet-crowned Athens; lovely Salamis—the word has nothing to do with scenery: it means 'inspiring himeros' which is properly the longing of a man for a woman—the holy citadel of Troy. I do not know exactly what Pindar had in mind when he called Athens violet-crowned; but at least it is not the sort of epithet a man nowadays would think of applying to Birmingham. The word was often used of the Graces and the Muses; so perhaps when Pindar thought of Athens he connected her in his mind with those fair creatures. And everyone remembers how Pericles, in his funeral speech at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian war, urged his fellow-Athenians to be 'lovers' of their city; and the Greek word he used was no vague or general one, but precisely that which means a man who loves a woman—like Solon's word when he wrote of lovely Salamis.
Id., pp. 186-187:
Place, and the asssociations of place, had for a Greek a deeper meaning than they can possibly have in our more diffused and undifferentiated world, where a man can move a hundred, or a thousand, miles and still feel himself at home. But the Greek was rooted in his little community; there it lay, on some lonely hill, perhaps, or in the corner of some deserted inlet of the coast, isolated and alone, the symbol to him of everything he held dear, his only protection, such as it was, against wild nature, and the enemy who might at any moment be at the gates. Every stone of it was sacred, every yard of its surrounding fields and olive-groves and scanty pasture. He knew it all, and loved it all, as he loved his own house; it was his intimate possession, haunted and blessed by its own guardian spirits and gods. And because it was in perpetual peril, he only loved it the more. I have said something in a previous chapter about the adjectives which Greek poets found it natural to apply to their towns and islands—adjectives which to us seem more suitable for a lover to apply to his beloved; and perhaps it was this same passionate attachment which made the Greeks lavish so much labour on the adornment of their homes. Even the defence-walls which surrounded a town were works of exquisite craftsmanship, the stones which composed them being cut and squared with ungrudging labour, to endure for ever. It is hard for us to think of Homer's phrase 'the holy citadel of Troy' as anything but a piece of literary grace; but for a Greek, in every age, his citadel was in fact, and not in metaphor, a holy place: his gods lived with him there, the projections of his own love.
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