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

Hugo, In a grand parliament of intelligence

From Les Miserables, tr. Ch. Wilbour


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

      WE ARE tending towards the union of the peoples; we are tending towards the unity of man. No more fictions; no more parasites. The real governed by the true, such is the aim. Civilisation will hold its courts on the summit of Europe, and later at the centre of the continents, in a grand parliament of intelligence. Something like this has been seen already. The Amphictyons had two sessions a year, one at Delphi, place of the gods, the other at Thermopylae, place of the heroes. Europe will have her Amphictyons; the globe will have its Amphictyons. France bears within her the sublime future. This is the gestation of the nineteenth century. That which was sketched by Greece is worth being finished by France. ... Races petrified in dogma or demoralised by lucre are unfit to lead civilisation.

Genuflexion before the idol or the dollar atrophies the muscle which walks and the will which goes. Hieratic or mercantile absorption diminishes the radiance of a people, lowers its horizon by lowering its level, and deprives it of that intelligence of the universal aim, at the same time human and divine, which makes the missionary nations. Babylon has no ideal. Carthage has no ideal. Athens and Rome have and preserve, even through all the thick night of centuries, haloes of civilisation.

France is of the same quality of people as Greece and Italy. She is Athenian by the beautiful, and Roman by the great. In addition she is good. She gives herself. She is oftener than other peoples in the spirit of devotion and sacrifice. Only this spirit takes her and leaves her. And here lies the great peril for those who run when she wishes to walk, or who walk when she wishes to stop. France has her relapses of materialism, and, at certain moments, the ideas which obstruct that sublime brain lose all that recalls French greatness, and are of the dimensions of a Missouri or of a South Carolina. What is to be done? The giantess is playing the dwarf; immense France has her childish whims. That is all. ... Matter is, the moment is, interest is, the belly is; but the belly must not be the only wisdom. The momentary life has its rights, we admit, but the permanent life has its also. Alas! to have risen does not prevent falling. We see this in history oftener than we would wish. A nation is illustrious; it tastes the ideal; then it bites the filth, and finds it good; and if we ask why it abandons Socrates for Falstaff, it answers: "Because I love statesmen".

   Cf. Hugo: Variety, Eternity, Proportion: Time was the architect—Europe was the builder Schiller, A glorious humanity Emerson, When the Gods come among men  Papacy

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