The Case of Wagner

Page 31 of 36

Homer is, in the world of the Hellenic discord, the pan-Hellenic Greek. The "" of the Greeks is also manifested in the Symposium in the shape of witty conversation.


Wanton, mutual annihilation inevitable: so long as a single polis wished to exist—its envy for[Pg 161] everything superior to itself, its cupidity, the disorder of its customs, the enslavement of the women, lack of conscience in the keeping of oaths, in murder, and in cases of violent death.

Tremendous power of self-control: for example in a man like Socrates, who was capable of everything evil.


Its noble sense of order and systematic arrangement had rendered the Athenian state immortal.—The ten strategists in Athens! Foolish! Too big a sacrifice on the altar of jealousy.


The recreations of the Spartans consisted of feasting, hunting, and making war: their every-day life was too hard. On the whole, however, their state is merely a caricature of the polis; a corruption of Hellas. The breeding of the complete Spartan—but what was there great about him that his breeding should have required such a brutal state!


The political defeat of Greece is the greatest failure of culture; for it has given rise to the atrocious theory that culture cannot be pursued unless one is at the same time armed to the teeth. The rise of Christianity was the second greatest failure: brute force on the one hand, and a dull intellect on the other, won a complete victory over the aristocratic genius among the nations. To be a Philhellenist now means to be a foe of brute force and stupid intellects. Sparta was the ruin of Athens in so far[Pg 162] as she compelled Athens to turn her entire attention to politics and to act as a federal combination.


There are domains of thought where the ratio will only give rise to disorder; and the philologist, who possesses nothing more, is lost through it and is unable to see the truth: e.g., in the consideration of Greek mythology. A merely fantastic person, of course, has no claim either: one must possess Greek imagination and also a certain amount of Greek piety. Even the poet does not require to be too consistent, and consistency is the last thing Greeks would understand.


Almost all the Greek divinities are accumulations of divinities: we find one layer over another, soon to be hidden and smoothed down by yet a third, and so on. It scarcely seems to me to be possible to pick these various divinities to pieces in a scientific manner; for no good method of doing so can be recommended: even the poor conclusion by analogy is in this instance a very good conclusion.


At what a distance must one be from the Greeks to ascribe to them such a stupidly narrow autochthony as does Ottfried Mller![11] How Christian it is to assume, with Welcker,[12] that the Greeks were[Pg 163] originally monotheistic! How philologists torment themselves by investigating the question whether Homer actually wrote, without being able to grasp the far higher tenet that Greek art long exhibited an inward enmity against writing, and did not wish to be read at all.

[11] Karl Ottfried Mller (1797-1840), classical archologist, who devoted special attention to Greece.—TR.

[12] Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker (1784-1868), noted for his ultra-profound comments on Greek poetry.—TR.


In the religious cultus an earlier degree of culture comes to light: a remnant of former times. The ages that celebrate it are not those which invent it; the contrary is often the case. There are many contrasts to be found here. The Greek cultus takes us back to a pre-Homeric disposition and culture. It is almost the oldest that we know of the Greeks—older than their mythology, which their poets have considerably remoulded, so far as we know it—Can this cult really be called Greek? I doubt it: they are finishers, not inventors. They preserve by means of this beautiful completion and adornment.


It is exceedingly doubtful whether we should draw any conclusion in regard to nationality and relationship with other nations from languages. A victorious language is nothing but a frequent (and not always regular) indication of a successful campaign. Where could there have been autochthonous peoples! It shows a very hazy conception of things to talk about Greeks who never lived in Greece. That which is really Greek is much less the result of natural aptitude than of adapted institutions, and also of an acquired language.

[Pg 164]


To live on mountains, to travel a great deal, and to move quickly from one place to another: in these ways we can now begin to compare ourselves with the Greek gods. We know the past, too, and we almost know the future. What would a Greek say, if only he could see us!


The gods make men still more evil; this is the nature of man. If we do not like a man, we wish that he may become worse than he is, and then we are glad. This forms part of the obscure philosophy of hate—a philosophy which has never yet been written, because it is everywhere the pudendum that every one feels.


The pan-Hellenic Homer finds his delight in the frivolity of the gods; but it is astounding how he can also give them dignity again. This amazing ability to raise one's self again, however, is Greek.


What, then, is the origin of the envy of the gods? people did not believe in a calm, quiet happiness, but only in an exuberant one. This must have caused some displeasure to the Greeks; for their soul was only too easily wounded: it embittered them to see a happy man. That is Greek. If a man of distinguished talent appeared, the flock of envious people must have become astonishingly large. If any one met with a misfortune, they[Pg 165] would say of him: "Ah! no wonder! he was too frivolous and too well off." And every one of them would have behaved exuberantly if he had possessed the requisite talent, and would willingly have played the rle of the god who sent the unhappiness to men.


The Greek gods did not demand any complete changes of character, and were, generally speaking, by no means burdensome or importunate: it was thus possible to take them seriously and to believe in them. At the time of Homer, indeed, the nature of the Greek was formed: flippancy of images and imagination was necessary to lighten the weight of its passionate disposition and to set it free.


Every religion has for its highest images an analogon in the spiritual condition of those who profess it. The God of Mohammed: the solitariness of the desert, the distant roar of the lion, the vision of a formidable warrior. The God of the Christians: everything that men and women think of when they hear the word "love." The God of the Greeks: a beautiful apparition in a dream.


A great deal of intelligence must have gone to the making up of a Greek polytheism: the expenditure of intelligence is much less lavish when people have only one God.

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