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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
The Greeks Us / Greece in West  

Emerson, When the Gods come among men

From Essays, First Series


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 2

The costly charm of the ancient tragedy, and indeed of all the old literature is, that the persons speak simply- speak as persons who have great good sense without knowing it, before yet the reflective habit has become the predominant habit of the mind. Our admiration of the antique is not admiration of the old; but of the natural. The Greeks are not reflective but perfect in their senses, perfect in their health, with the finest physical organization in the world. Adults acted with the simplicity and grace of boys. They made vases, tragedies, and statues such as healthy senses should- that is, in good taste. Such things have continued to be made in all ages, and are now, wherever a healthy physique exists, but, as a class, from their superior organization, they have surpassed all. They combine the energy, of manhood with the engaging unconsciousness of childhood. Our reverence for them is our reverence for childhood. Nobody can reflect upon an unconscious act with regret or contempt. Bard or hero cannot look down on the word or gesture of a child. It is as great as they. The attraction of these manners is, that they belong to man, and are known to every man in virtue of his being once a child; beside that always there are individuals who retain these characteristics. A person of childlike genius and inborn energy is still a Greek, and revives our love of the muse of Hellas. A great boy, a great girl, with good sense, is a Greek. Beautiful is the love of nature in the Philoctetes. But in reading those fine apostrophes to sleep, to the stars, rocks, mountains, and waves, I feel time passing away as an ebbing sea. I feel the eternity of man, the identity of his thought. The Greek had, it seems, the same fellow being as I. The sun and moon, water and fire, met his heart precisely as they meet mine. Then the vaunted distinction between Greek and English between Classic and Romantic schools seems superficial and pedantic. When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me- when a truth that fired the soul of Pindar fires mine, time is no more. When I feel that we two meet in a perception, that our two souls are tinged with the same hue, and do, as it were, run into one, why should I measure degrees of latitude, why should I count Egyptian years. (...)

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   Cf.  Schiller, A glorious humanity  Gogol, We recognise in them the divine origin of man  Bryant, Saintly and criminal  Ortega y Gassett, The birth of the city  Chesterton, Sanity and imagination  Papacy

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