Contrast Of Greek And Persian Feeling In Certain Aspects by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay

Life, naturally the antagonism of Death, must have reacted upon Life according to its own development. Christianity having so awfully affected the [Greek: to] + of Death, this + must have reacted on Life. Hence, therefore, a phenomenon existing broadly to the human sensibility in these ages which for the Pagans had no existence whatever. If to a modern spectator a very splendid specimen of animal power, suppose a horse of three or four years old in the fulness of his energies, that saith ha to the trumpets and is unable to stand loco if he hears any exciting music, be brought for exhibition–not one of the spectators, however dull, but has a dim feeling of excitement added to his admiration from the lurking antagonism of the fugacious life attached to this ebullient power, and the awful repulsion between that final tendency and the meridian development of the strength. Hence, therefore, the secret rapture in bringing forward tropical life–the shooting of enormous power from darkness, the kindling in the midst of winter and sterility of irrepressible, simultaneous, tropical vegetation–the victorious surmounting of foliage, blossoms, flowers, fruits–burying and concealing the dreary vestiges of desolation.

Reply to the fact that Xerxes wept over his forces, by showing that in kind, like the Jewish, the less ignoble superstition of Persia–which must in the time of Balaam, if we suppose the Mesotam meant to have been the tract between the Euphrates and the Tigris, have been almost coincident with the Jewish as to the unity of God–had always, amidst barbarism arising from the forces moulding social sentiment, prompted a chivalry and sensibility far above Grecian. For how else account for the sole traits of Christian sensibility in regard to women coming forward in the beautiful tale of the Armenian prince, whose wife when asked for her opinion of Cyrus the Conqueror, who promised to restore them all to liberty and favour (an act, by the way, in itself impossible to Greek feelings, which exhibit no one case of relinquishing such rights over captives) in one hour, replied that she knew not, had not remarked his person; for that her attention had been all gathered upon that prince, meaning her youthful husband, who being asked by the Persian king what sacrifice he would esteem commensurate to the recovery of his bride, answered so fervently, that life and all which it contained were too slight a ransom to pay. Even that answer was wholly impossible to a Grecian. And again the beautiful catastrophe in the tale of Abradates and Panthea–the gratitude with which both husband and wife received the royal gift of restoration to each other’s arms, implying a sort of holy love inconceivable to a state of Polygamy–the consequent reaction of their thought in testifying this gratitude; and as war unhappily offered the sole chance for displaying it, the energy of Panthea in adorning with her own needle the habiliments of her husband–the issuing forth and parting on the morning of battle–the principle of upright duty and of immeasurable gratitude in Abradates forming ‘a nobler counsellor’ than his wife’s ‘poor heart’–his prowess–his glorious death–his bringing home as a corpse–the desolation of Panthea–the visit and tears of the Persian king to the sorrowing widow stretched upon the ground by the corpse of her hero–the fine incident of the right hand, by which Cyrus had endeavoured to renew his pledges of friendship with the deceased prince, coming away from the corpse and following the royal touch (this hand having been struck off in the battle)–the burial–and the subsequent death of Panthea, who refused to be comforted under all the kind assurances, the kindest protection from the Persian king–these traits, though surviving in Greek, are undoubtedly Persian. For Xenophon had less sensibility than any Greek author that survives. And besides, abstracting from the writer, how is it that Greek records offer no such story; nothing like it; no love between married people of that chivalric order–no conjugal fidelity–no capacity of that beautiful reply–that she saw him not, for that her mind had no leisure for any other thought than one?

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