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Hippolytus Veiled: A Study From Euripides
by [?]

CENTURIES of zealous archaeology notwithstanding, many phases of the so varied Greek genius are recorded for the modern student in a kind of shorthand only, or not at all. Even for Pausanias, visiting Greece before its direct part in affairs was quite played out, much had perished or grown dim–of its art, of the truth of its outward history, above all of its religion as a credible or practicable thing. And yet Pausanias visits Greece under conditions as favourable for observation as those under which later travellers, Addison or Eustace, proceed to Italy. For him the impress of life in those old Greek cities is not less vivid and entire than that of medieval Italy to ourselves; at Siena, for instance, with its ancient palaces still in occupation, its public edifices as serviceable as if the old republic had but just now vacated them, the tradition of their primitive worship still unbroken in its churches. Had the opportunities in which Pausanias was fortunate been ours, how many haunts of the antique Greek life unnoticed by him we should have peeped into, minutely systematic in our painstaking! how many a view would broaden out where he notes hardly anything at all on his map of Greece!

One of the most curious phases of Greek civilisation which has thus perished for us, and regarding which, as we may fancy, we should have made better use of that old traveller’s facilities, is the early Attic deme-life–its picturesque, intensely localised variety, in the hollow or on the spur of mountain or sea-shore; and with it many a relic of primitive religion, many an early growth of art parallel to what Vasari records of artistic beginnings in the smaller cities of Italy. Colonus and Acharnae, surviving still so vividly by the magic of Sophocles, of Aristophanes, are but isolated examples of a widespread manner of life, in which, amid many provincial peculiarities, the first, yet perhaps the most costly and telling steps were made in all the various departments of Greek culture. Even in the days of Pausanias, Piraeus was still traceable as a distinct township, once the possible rival of Athens, with its little old covered market by the seaside, and the symbolical picture of the place, its Genius, visible on the wall. And that is but the type of what there had been to know of threescore and more village communities, each having its own altars, its special worship and place of civic assembly, its trade and crafts, its name drawn from physical peculiarity or famous incident, its body of heroic tradition. Lingering on while Athens, the great deme, gradually absorbed into itself more and more of their achievements, and passing away almost completely as political factors in the Peloponnesian war, they were still felt, we can hardly doubt, in the actual physiognomy of Greece. That variety in unity, which its singular geographical formation secured to Greece as a whole, was at its utmost in these minute reflexions of the national character, with all the relish of local difference–new art, new poetry, fresh ventures in political combination, in the conception of life, springing as if straight from the soil, like the thorn-blossom of early spring in magic lines over all that rocky land. On the other hand, it was just here that ancient habits clung most tenaciously–that old-fashioned, homely, delightful existence, to which the refugee, pent up in Athens in the years of the Peloponnesian war, looked back so fondly. If the impression of Greece generally is but enhanced by the littleness of the physical scene of events intellectually so great–such a system of grand lines, restrained within so narrow a compass, as in one of its fine coins–still more would this be true of those centres of country life. Here, certainly, was that assertion of seemingly small interests, which brings into free play, and gives his utmost value to, the individual; making his warfare, equally with his more peaceful rivalries, deme against deme, the mountain against the plain, the sea-shore, (as in our own old Border life, but played out here by wonderfully gifted people) tangible as a personal history, to the doubling of its fascination for those whose business is with the survey of the dramatic side of life.