By W.D.P. Bliss
The traveler who climbs the Acropolis at Athens will find that there is only one way of approach to the Parthenon. Seen, near at hand, from any other standpoint, the great temple appears out of drawing. There is, as is well known, in the whole edifice not a single straight line. Everywhere in the structure, from base to pediment, on column and on cella, there are only curves - ektasis and entasis - the curvings out and the curvings in of matchless lines. Viewed from all points save one, these curves are apparent and seem out of place, even as, from that one point of view, each marvelous line falls into place, seemingly straighter than straight, and giving to the great building that unequaled life, that sense of lightness and of grace, wedded to sublimity, which modern architecture does not know enough even to copy. Cunningly did the artful Greek compel the visitor to take that point of view by creating but one public access to the temple - that just at the right point - and erecting here the Propylaea.
It is the endeavor of this article to approach the social structure of ancient Athens, not from the ordinary, individualistic, nineteenth-century point of view, but from the ancient Greek point of view, from that conception of society where, as Professor Ingram tells us, "the individual is conceived as subordinated to the State, through which alone his Nature can be developed and completed, and to the maintenance and service of which all his efforts must be directed." So viewed - if one can look at bare facts, rather than at accepted explanations of those facts - he will be almost startled at what he will find. Did they try Socialism in ancient Athens? Let us turn to the indubitable record.
We begin by noting that they did, in one way or another, produce marvelous individualities in Athens. Says Dr. Francis Galton, of the highest authority in anthropological science, "A population of ninety thousand produced two men, Socrates and Phidias, whom the whole population of Europe has never equaled, and fourteen men of an ability to which the Anglo-Saxon race has only produced, in two thousand years, five equals." He asserts that the average ability of the Athenian race was about as much above that of the English race as that race is above the African negro. This is a strong statement, and yet J. A. Symonds, one of the foremost literary and artistic critics of our own or of any day, favorably quotes it, and says that the population of classic Athens, taken as a whole, was perhaps as superior to ours as our race is to that of the Australian savage.
But let us record some of these individualities, and put against each name the years during which they lived, or, if this is unknown, when they produced their greatest works, as it will be seen that this element of the period will play an important and a vital part in our argument.
What a record it is! Socrates (469 - 399 B.C.), Plato (428 - 347 B.C.), Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.); surely in the history of thought there are no greater names than these. In the drama Aeschylus (525 - 456 B.C.), Sophocles (495 - 406 B.C.), Euripides (480 - 406 B.C.) - here are the masters of the classic tragedy; while Aristophanes (444 - 380 B.C.) is the unique founder of the world's comedy. In history, Thucydides (470 - 404 B.C.) has perhaps no rival, while Xenophon (430 - 355 B.C.) has but few. In sculpture Phidias (490 - 432 B.C.) and Praxiteles (390 B.C.) stand supreme, while (Myron 480 B.C.) and Scopas (370 B.C.) occupy high place. In architecture Ictinus and Callicrates, the architects of the Parthenon (438 B.C.) and Mnesicles, the builder of the Propytea (437 B.C.) produced works, of their period certainly the most beautiful, and of all periods the most perfect buildings in the world. In painting, Polygnotus (460 B.C.) did work which cultured Athens placed on a par with her sculpture. In oratory, every school-boy knows of Demosthenes (385 - 322 B.C.), every college boy of Aeschines (389 - 314 B.C.); while their contemporaries compared Lysias (445 - 378 B.C.) and Isocrates (436 - 338 B.C.) with these. In statesmanship Pericles (495 - 429 B.C.), Cimon (504 - 449 B.C.), and Themistocles (514 - 449 B.C.) are names that stand out in any history; while in generalship, Miltiades (490 B.C.), the hero of Marathon, and Nicias, the leader in the Spartan wars, can never be forgotten. Other names, among them Alcibi-ades (450 - 404 B.C.), Cleon (422 B.C.), Thrasybulus (390 B.C.), Lycurgus, the orator (395 - 323 B.C.), and Myronides (457 B.C.), belong to this period. Thirty one names! Where in history is another city that can produce even approximation to such a record?
But notice the dates. Every one these great names appeared in the hundred and fifty two years between Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.) and Battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.). Was this an accident? Let Us seek the cause.
It has been said that this marvelous outflowering of genius was due to Athens's political and military supremacy during that period. But all through these years Athens was fighting often for her very life - with Persia, with Sparta, with the other Greek States; and, in spite of some most brilliant victories, was again and again defeated, the city itself being twice captured during this very time, once burned by the enemy, and once having her walls razed by the ground. Not a very large basis here for the theory of military and political supremacy. Let the advocates of the war basis compare the intellectual development of the repeatedly captured Athens with Constantinople, which during twenty five hundred years has been besieged thirty-one times, and captured only twice.
It is contended that the Athenian greatness was due to race. But the Ionic race was not limited to Athens. It largely peopled the islands and shores of the Aegean. Its colonies extended from Trapezus (Trebizond) on the Black Sea to Massilia (Marseilles) and Sagum-tum in the western Mediterranean. Nor did it exist only during those one hundred and fifty-two years. Classic Athens may be said to have endured at least fifteen hundred years, from the eleventh century B.C. to the closing of her schools of philosophy by the Christian Emperor Justinian in 529 A.D. If race was the cause, why did it only so operate in one city and during one comparatively short period?
Was the cause in the climate and physical environment? These remain in Athens yet, comparatively unchanged, but except during this period what have they produced" Still
"The mountains look on Marathon, And Marathon looks on the sea,"
but Marathon today has no Miltiades, and his modern successors defend no academies of Plato or of Aristotle, and only the ruins of the Parthenon of Phidias and of Pericles. Byron is right:
"The Isles of Greece! The Isles of Greece! Where burning Sapho loved and sung, -
Where grew the arts of war and peace, -
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet!
But all except their sun is set."
The glory of Athens during those one hundred and fifty years is scarcely more marked than the absence of great names in the remaining two thousand eight hundred and fifty years of Athenian history. What cause, then, was there operating during that unique period, but not operating before or since? We know of only one - an essentially and radically socialistic organization of the city. This did prevail, as we shall see, during that exact period, and that only.
What is a socialistic organization of a city? The ownership and operation of land and capital collectively by the city, for the good of its citizens. Did Athens under Pericles have this? No student of Boeckh's "Public Economy of Athens," nor one who can put together the statements of hundreds or thousands of passages in the classic Greek authors, can well deny this. Athens owned lands, mines, forests, farms, houses, markets, which it worked, under one form or another, for the profit of the citizens. Its citizens did not support the city; the city supported the citizens - at least all such as needed support. Out of the revenues derived from its possessions, Athens practically guaranteed a livelihood to every citizen. Have we not here the essence of a very complete Socialism? Yet how truly this prevailed in Athens can be seen only as we enter into some detail.
It is necessary to make some distinctions. There was in Athens no attempt at any community or even equality of goods. Aristotle scoffed at such ideals, and Aristophanes burlesqued them. Athens was not communistic. But then this is not Socialism. Socialism and Communism are distinct. Once again, Athens was not socialistic in any modern ethical sense of the word, as based on ideals of human brotherhood or theories of universal equal rights. The fellow citizens of Socrates and of Plato knew no such theories. The individual, per se, they did not recognize. He was an TSios - a no-man, an idiot. Athens's Socialism was distinctly selfish. Her citizens instituted it simply because they believed it to be for their own interests. It was of the city, for the citizens, and for no one else. Aliens, even residents in Athens, had no share in it. Slaves were not citizens, and scarcely considered human. Economically they were not men and women, but marvelous tools worked to produce for the citizens. They were a part of the capital of the day - as Aristotle distinctly asserts - and therefore, like other capital, often owned by the city and made use of for the citizens. Here is no modern ethical socialism. Nor any more was it "scientific" according to "Das Kapital." In many respects it was not a formal socialism at all. Yet in spite of all this, how virtually and radically socialistic it was we must now see.
It practically asked from each citizen according to his ability, and gave to each according to his need. This was accomplished in the main by two institutions: the so-called "liturgics," securing from the rich gratification for the less fortunate, and above all the "dicasticon," or daily money payment for public service, given to each citizen who wished it, and in quantity sufficient to enable him to live upon it in respectability and ordinary comfort. It was the latter institution which above all made Athens socialistic, and was introduced by Pericles, as we may clearly learn, among other sources, from Aristotle (Politics II., 12) and Plato (Gorgias, 575). We will consider the latter first.
The dicasticon was the daily money payment, first of one obol and later of three, to any Athenian citizen who did duty as a dicast or juror in the multitudinous courts of Athens. One obol is three cents - seemingly a small affair, and yet, as we shall see, measured by Athenian prices, sufficient to maintain life in respectability and comfort, and paid sufficiently frequently to form, Mahaffy tells us ("Old Greek Life,"p. 68), "An income on which most of the poorer citizens lived." It was paid for this purpose. Athenian courts were held not only for her citizens but for all the allied cities subject to her leadership. They were therefore numerous and practically continuous. It has been calculated that six thousand persons received the dicasticon each day, supporting perhaps thirty thousand persons (including wives and children), or some third of the free population.
And this payment was only the principal one of several similar payments. It was for service in the courts; but for attendance at the ecclesia, or popular assembly, to which also any Athenian citizen could go, there was another payment, an ecclesiasticon, varying at different times from one to nine obols(twenty-seven cents). Moreover, the city saw to it that her poorest citizen could enjoy the drama and the religious festivities, both of which were considered municipal functions which it was important that every citizen should attend. Therefore the poorer citizens were paid a theoricon of two obols for the drama and various payments for the different religious festivities which in Athens were more numerous than in any other city. Xenophon, indeed, tells that festivals like the Panathenia and the Dionysia were more for the benefit of the poor than for worship of the gods. At some of these festivities three hundred oxen were slain at city expense and given to the poor. Distribution of corn was of frequent occurence.
These payments were for any citizens; but to especial classes were given especial and larger sums. Those elected to the Boule, or council, were, of course, paid, as were all attorneys, clerks, soldiers, policemen, and minor officials of every kind; so also were orators, poets, singers, artists; to the orphans and widows of soldiers, to the unfortunate and disabled, abundant pensions were extended. No citizen of Athens who was in health and willing to do a little service of the state had any need of continuing in want.
and see what these payments meant. Professor Boeckh, in his "Public Economy of Athens," estimates that prices in Athens, under Pericles, were at least ten times lower than in modern times. He who received three obols a day therefore received the equivalent of ninety cents today. He probably received vastly more compared with modern city prices. Demosthenes speaks of a little house worth seven minae (about $126). Houses could be bought for half that, or rented for five dollars per year. An ordinary slave brought about thirty-six dollars; meat (prepared for dinner) cost half an obol, and a warm drink, a chalcus, or half a cent. A fashionable tunic could be bought for two dollars, and a workman's raiment for much less. Furniture was of the simplest, yet beautiful and durable. Demosthenes, with his mother and sister, were brought up on seven hundred drachmae a year ($126). It must be remembered, too, that the greatest Athenians lived in the simplest way. Therefore those who were paid their three obols a day could not only live, but live as did the best.
Whence did this money come? Largely in socialistic ways. The foundation of the Attic treasury was the State-owned silver mines at Laurium, worked or leased for the profit of the city. Besides these the city owned lands (farms and building lots), forests, pastures, salt-works, markets, storehouses, other buildings, and leased them or worked them with slave labor for the common good. Next to these sources of income, probably, was the tribute paid by the allies, subject in reality to Athens, by her colonies and conquered territories. Beyond this were the taxes on the large foreign population of Athens and the duties on imports and exports. Athenian citizens paid no tax, except, perhaps, one on slaves, through all paid dues or fees for services in the courts. Such were the main regular sources of Athens's Revenue.
But this was by no means all. The rich were made to pay, not indeed taxes, save on slaves, but the liturgics mentioned above. These were payments, virtually compulsory, made from time to time by wealthy individuals to establish and endow games, banquets, festivities, literary or musical contests, and largely for the benefit of the poor. Such were the Choragia or musical contests between drilled choirs, the gymnasia or gymnastic contests, the theoria or state festivals.
And be it remembered that all this expenditure for the poor was socialistic, not given in charity. The citizen worked for his pay. It was not the panis et circus of the Roman imperialism. Athens was democratic, not paternal. So far as her free citizens went she was fiercely democratic. Says bluntschli ("Theory of the State"): "Democracy found its most logical expression in Athens." Says Pericles in his immortal Funeral Oration, preserved by Thucydides: "We are happy in a form of government ... original at Athens; and this our form, as committed, not to the few, but to the whole body of the people, is called a democracy." Readers of Plato will remember how he makes Protagoras say of the Ecclesia, "When some question of civil polity is to be discussed, any one rises up and gives his advice, whether he be a builder, a brazier, a shoemaker, a merchant, a ship captain, rich or poor, of high birth or of low degree, and no one makes objection." The more one studies, the more one sees how socialistic was the city.
and now can we not plainly see how all this bore on the production of individuality? The Athenian was delivered, in the first place, from the necessity to worry and "hustle" for a mere livelihood. Any Athenian who wished it was allowed to devote his life to moneymaking. Some did, and accumulated wealth. But such were few, and those few were compelled to spend their money for the public good. The vast number of Athenians preferred, and were encouraged to prefer, other things. Commerce and trade were generally despised, and usually left to foreigners or slaves. Bankers were sometimes slaves. What Athens did encourage was art, learning, the intellect, philosophy. To accomplish this she did two things: first, she made it possible by her payments for all to enter these pursuits; and secondly, she created emulation and rivalry in those lines by her contests and public festivals. Athens believed in competition but not of the market. Athens's four hundred were artistic, not commercial. Can we wonder that such a system encourage, fostered, produced high individuality? Where else in history has such a system been tried?
The greatest tragedies of Aeschylus and of Sophocles were produced as plays in prize contests. Compare them with modern prize plays. They were not produced for money, and were for a different audience. The audiences were the judges; and they were capable, trained to judge. The drama, supported by the State, had no need for being ruled by the box-office, and the people, given money to go to the best and judge the best, became capable of the best. Hence the "Medea," "Electra," the "Prometheus Bound." It was so with architecture, with sculpture, with oratory. It was, above all, so with philosophy. The poorest Athenian citizen could go to Plato's Academy or Aristotle's Lyceum. Artisans could talk with Phidias and cobblers discuss with Sophocles. The city-State thus made possible and called out in every citizen the disposition to know and follow the Best. Now, this system of payments began, it is known, with Pericles; it ended in the downfall of Greece at Chaeronea.
But why, we shall be asked, did Greece fall? For many reasons. Greece was not moral. Her Socialism, we have said, was selfish. Her public men were often corrupt; her family life was impure. Greece, too, was not socialistic. She was at best a loose federation of competing republics. She fell before a united Macedon, even as Macedon fell before the larger unity of the Roman Empire. But did they not try a virtual Socialism in Athens? And while it endured, did it not produce an individuality elsewhere unequaled in the world?