Hellas and Hellenism: A Social and Cultural History of Ancient Greece

By Nicholas P. Vlachos | Go to book overview
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PREFACE

THE only justification for Hellas and Hellenism lies in the attempt here made to co-ordinate the political, social, and cultural elements of Hellenic history and to present these as so many aspects of what is after all an indivisible whole. Hellenic civilization is interpreted as the product of the Hellenic mind and therefore as the product of a distinct type of social environment. This book holds with John Dewey that environment is "the great conditioner of mind" and that "the kind of mind they [that is, the instincts] become, depends upon the kinds of objects of attention and affection which the specific social conditions supply." Hellenism and all its works can be rightly understood only when viewed as having sprung from a common social matrix -- the Hellenic city-state. Thus interpreted the history of Greek civilization becomes a social study; as such only is this book offered to the public. The chapters on religion, education, literature, art, and philosophy are not so many abbreviated histories on these topics, nor do they aim to offer complete catalogues of factual material; the pertinent facts in all these fields are presented as so many social phenomena, serving to illuminate the central problem, the character and the history of the Hellenic polis.

The chapter on the city-state therefore contains the heart of the book. Its comparative lateness may reasonably be justified by the necessity of first disposing of the preliminaries. The polis has its roots in the past; without the Heroic Age and Homer it must remain an enigma. And a sketch of the political history of Hellas gives the reader the needed opportunity for surveying the entire field; only after he has grasped the reasons for the tragic failure of the city- states to achieve national union, is he prepared to consider the other side of the question, why this same polis was yet to become the greatest factor in human progress that the

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