THE RISE OF HISTORICAL CRITICISM
3. CHAPTER III
THE investigation into the two great problems of the origin of
society and the philosophy of history occupies such an important
position in the evolution of Greek thought that, to obtain any
clear view of the workings of the critical spirit, it will be
necessary to trace at some length their rise and scientific
development as evinced not merely in the works of historians
proper, but also in the philosophical treatises of Plato and
Aristotle. The important position which these two great thinkers
occupy in the progress of historical criticism can hardly be over-
estimated. I do not mean merely as regards their treatment of the
Greek Bible, and Plato's endeavours to purge sacred history of its
immorality by the application of ethical canons at the time when
Aristotle was beginning to undermine the basis of miracles by his
scientific conception of law, but with reference to these two wider
questions of the rise of civil institutions and the philosophy of
And first, as regards the current theories of the primitive
condition of society, there was a wide divergence of opinion in
Hellenic society, just as there is now. For while the majority of
the orthodox public, of whom Hesiod may be taken as the
representative, looked back, as a great many of our own day still
do, to a fabulous age of innocent happiness, a bell' ete dell'
auro, where sin and death were unknown and men and women were like
Gods, the foremost men of intellect such as Aristotle and Plato,
AEschylus and many of the other poets (1) saw in primitive man 'a
few small sparks of humanity preserved on the tops of mountains
after some deluge,' 'without an idea of cities, governments or
legislation,' 'living the lives of wild beasts in sunless caves,'
'their only law being the survival of the fittest.'
And this, too, was the opinion of Thucydides, whose Archaeologia as
it is contains a most valuable disquisition on the early condition
of Hellas, which it will be necessary to examine at some length.