To set forth to the world, in a bare three-hundred and fifteen pages, the whole achievement of Classical Greece is an ambitious undertaking, more so, one feels, even than a History of the World, because, where such a History may skip, or may state bare facts and drift on, here one must stop and interpret master achievement in universality. War, Politics, Philosophy, Economy, Letters, Art, Trade, it is like taking "all mankind" for one's business.
Therefore one expects to find a bias, a slant towards one point of view with which the author is best able to deal, and in this case it is towards the Philosophical. One feels often, as one does in reading the "Achievement of Greece," that too few great artists have spoken in detail on the sculpture, the architecture, the painting and the pottery of the Achaeans. For Genius may talk to Genius across a waste of years, and without words; everyday man can only mechanically analyze and expose--which is, in sum, not art, but archaeology. But this is not said in derogation of Dr. Greene's book. The time has been when cultivated minds needed no mediator between themselves and Greece, but that time, alas, has passed. The Classics today sorely need scholarly and sympathetic exponents, and Dr. Greene is all of this.
He has chosen, wisely, to attack his problem from the philosophical standpoint, not, you understand, of abstract, empyrean, philosophy, but of that system and ordering of daily life that is in truth the most immediate concern of the more human letters--the Litterae Humaniores of the Scots Universities. "The Achievement of Greece" is, in fact, a study in the humanities. We cannot ask every man to be a Leonardo da Vinci.
In this book is set forth very clearly the doctrines of restraint, good taste, and rounded living that are, of all that Greece produced, of the most use to us today. Sometimes one feels that we are hearing a little too learned a disquisition of the Republic of Plato, or of Aristotle's more abstract theories, but such moments are well balanced by detailed and very interesting descriptions of the practical, lived philosophy of the everyday Greek. And much of this is material that the average course of instruction, for instance, does not bother to tell us. Thus a whole section is devoted to their national poverty. It is new, too, to learn of the barrenness of their soil, and its direct results upon the tillers. We are brought most interestingly into contact with a Greek audience at the theatre, and are made to understand from a new point of view the athlete at the Olympic Games. We find many of our new doctrines; some, in fact of our newest, such as the socialization of art and the work of artists, many other forms of socialism and experiments in democracy, tried thoroughly and already judged, favorably or unfavourably, four centuries before our era.
One does feel, at times, that Dr. Greene rates too high the average Greek, that he might have done well to have considered H. G. Wells' pessimistic verdict on the Athenian mob. We cannot believe that all Greece was populated by Leonidases and Pericles when we know that Cleon and Alcibiades also had their day. Just so the author quotes a quotation of Galton in support of his statement that the men of Athens "developed a type of citizen whose political experience and sagacity, whose contact with life in varied occupations, and whose capacity for appreciating beauty and reason has been surpassed by the average of no other race and time." With the statement one in part agrees, but certainly not on the point of political sagacity, at least. As for Galton's anthropological proof of this, it is a frankly arbitrary decision of private opinion, made so as to demonstrate the application of his intelligence scale to other peoples than the English.
But Dr. Greene is no blind worshipper of all things Greek. The balance and independence of the statement, "our color-sense had been more educated than that of the Greeks, though our sensitiveness to proportion is perhaps less acute" is a comfort in an age when all men either worship or else utterly contemn all things Greek. And it is a real joy to hear, in this hurried age, so safe and exposition of the doctrine of leisure.
One may miss all mention of the ring and clash of Homer, one may regret and archaeological attitude towards a living art, in this book, but one cannot deny that "The Achievement of Greece" ably fulfills its purpose, and that purpose is a most excellent one.