Friedrich Nietzsche, Miscellaneous Maxims and opinions (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche).

Miscellaneous Maxims and Opinions, the first supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1879.  A second supplement, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten) followed in 1880.


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Previous Section   219. OF THE ACQUIRED CHARACTER OF THE GREEKS   Next Section

Of the Acquired Character of the Greeks.  We are easily led astray by the renowned Greek clearness, transparency, simplicity, and order, by their crystal-like naturalness and crystal-like art, into believing that all these gifts were bestowed on the Greeks — for instance, that they could not but write well, as Lichtenberg expressed it on one occasion.  Yet no statement could be more hasty and more untenable.  The history of prose from Gorgias to Demosthenes shows a course of toiling and wrestling towards light from the obscure, overloaded, and tasteless, reminding one of the labour of heroes who had to construct the first roads through forest and bog.  The dialogue of tragedy was the real achievement of the dramatist, owing to its uncommon clearness and precision, whereas the national tendency was to riot in symbolism and innuendo, a tendency expressly fostered by the great choral lyric.  Similarly it was the achievement of Homer to liberate the Greeks from Asiatic pomp and gloom, and to have attained the clearness of architecture in details great and small.  Nor was it by any means thought easy to say anything in a pure and illuminating style.  How else should we account for the great admiration for the epigram of Simonides, which shows itself so simple, with no gilded points or arabesques of wit, but says all that it has to say plainly and with the calm of the sun, not with the straining after effect of the lightning.  Since the struggle towards light from an almost native twilight is Greek, a thrill of jubilation runs through the people when they hear a laconic sentence, the language of elegy or the maxims of the Seven Wise Men.  Hence they were so fond of giving precepts in verse, a practice that we find objectionable.  This was the true Apolline task of the Hellenic spirit, with the aim of rising superior to the perils of metre and the obscurity which is otherwise characteristic of poetry.  Simplicity, flexibility, and sobriety were wrestled for and not given by nature to this people.  The danger of a relapse into Asianism constantly hovered over the Greeks, and really overtook them from time to time like a murky, overflowing tide of mystical impulses, primitive savagery and darkness.  We see them plunge in; we see Europe, as it were, flooded, washed away — for Europe was very small then; but they always emerge once more to the light, good swimmers and divers that they are, those fellow-countrymen of Odysseus.  

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