Greece Literary Philology and Historiography Part II

The same varieties and the same characteristics that we have observed in the field of real philology, that is, of literary and scholarly studies, are naturally also found in those of general historiography and political historiography, which cannot fail to be tinged with philologism. Here, indeed, the scarcity of an animating synthetic thought becomes particularly visible. Political history writers are usually analogous to Alexandrian grammarians and conform as they do to peripatetic principles: they almost only care to collect the material; they oscillate between the forms of pure erudite research, which aims to establish the facts, and the fictional forms, rich in anecdotes and marvelous tales.

Therefore on the one hand we have the regional chronicles, such as those of Duride Samio, of Philocorus and of many others; on the other hand, the novel of Alexander the Great (by Pseudo-Callistene), the travels of Hecateus of Teo, of Iambulus, the Sacred Writing of Evemero, etc. In between are the more complex works, such as History by Timaeus of Tauromenio. Only one great historian appears to us in the century. II a. C., Polybius of Megalopolis (about 201-120), who drew from principles that were not so much peripatetic as stoic, and, due to the events of his life, which led him to live in Rome, he was attracted to a sphere of experience new and fruitful, witnessing the formation of Roman power. Then he conceived his story (which has come down to us only in part, five entire books and extracts, of which 40 were) in which he not only tends to the accuracy of the facts, with the rigor of the method, with the criticism of the sources, with the means learned from philology contemporary, and not only brings his military and political competence into the interpretation of these facts, but subordinates everything to real historical problems, investigating the reasons for enlargement of Rome and its substitution of Greece in the conduct of civilization. Polybius had a continuer in Posidonius of Apamea (about 135-51), whose historical treatment, now lost, extended up to the time of Sulla. It was only one aspect of the manifold activity of this writer, who was above all a Stoic philosopher, an innovator of Stoicism; and in fact he turned to arranging all the branches of knowledge in a new Platonising mystical vision. The figure of Posidonius, for such universality characters and for the influences that he exercised particularly among the Romans, rises far above his contemporaries; and can only be compared with the great philosophers of the classical period. He was one of the few who faced the great speculative problems in an original and passionate way. Since even philosophy, in the Hellenistic age, it almost never attempts to ascend to the highest regions; it is preferably restricted to the practical purposes of life: it satisfies the needs that the loss of freedom and the new political conditions of the Greeks had brought to the fore. For this reason, at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, the new philosophical schools arose, especially of the Stoics and Epicureans, which served to shape and direct consciences rather than to advance ideas.

Therefore, considering as a whole the whole movement of scientific, philological, rhetorical, historical, philosophical culture, etc., one observes that the strength of truly original and creative thought is scarce. Therefore, even in the scientific field, despite the appearances of a rich production, the same unhappy condition that we have noticed in the field of art, where poverty is evident from the scarce fantastic value, is to be recognized at the bottom. Crisis of the imagination and crisis of thought are closely linked in the Hellenistic age or follow each other at a short distance; and they depend on a single cause, that is to say on the general decay of the Greek character: a character that falls apart with the loss of political freedom, strength and moral dignity; character that becomes frivolous, mean, empty, and therefore as incapable of great feelings as of great ideas. In fact, the Greeks of the continent first (146 BC) and then those of the Hellenistic monarchies are subject to the dominion of Rome. Even Egypt, the main seat of culture of this age, ended up being reduced to a Roman province, in 30 BC. C.

Rome possessed a new strength, made up of moral energy, magnanimity, tenacity. Therefore, even in the literary and spiritual field, no less than in the political one, it is destined to rise in evidence, gradually taking the place of Greece in large part. Precisely at the moment in which Greek literature, through the Alexandrian period, fell into aridity and emptiness, on the other hand, Latin literature began to assert itself, with its robust features. This too naturally grew on the same stock of Hellenism, and indeed, in its first rise, during the century. III a. C., could be considered as a branch of universal culture, of that culture that Hellenism caused to spring up throughout the civilized world: not only in the East therefore, but also in the West. But even the Latins little by little.

Greece Literary Philology 2