Wednesday, December 05, 2007 12/5/07-First Rome, then Greece

In today's excerpt--America's founding fathers use Rome as an ideal; by the time of Lincoln, that ideal has changed to Greece:

"America as a second Athens was an idea whose moment had come in the nineteenth century. This nation's founders first looked to Rome, not to Greece, for their model. Like most men of the eighteenth century, they thought Athens was ruled by mobs [through its democracy]. If any Greek city was admired, it was Sparta, whose discipline inspired the severe moralists of the early Roman republic. The 'mixed government' of Rome--not Athens' direct democracy--was the model invoked in debates over the proper constitution for the United States. The great republican of the new era, George Washington, was regularly referred to as a modern Cincinnatus, after the Roman who left the plow to serve the republic and then returned to his fields, relinquishing power. When Jefferson laid out his plan for the University of Virginia, he fashioned everything to Roman architectural standards.

"All this changed very rapidly as the eighteenth turned to the nineteenth century. Archaeology in Greece brought the ancient democracy to mind just as modern Greece was beginning its struggle for freedom from the Turks. Greece would prove just as important to the romantic movement as Rome had been to the Augustan age. Byron died as a military participant in the war for Greek liberty. Shelley wrote a Prometheus. Keats rhapsodized on a Grecian urn. ... Architects looked to the Parthenon now, not the Pantheon. It is significant of this changed taste that Washington completed his inherited home (as Jefferson conceived his own house) in the form of a Roman villa, while Lincoln's additions to the house he purchased were in the Greek revival style. This was a 'democratic' style in the eyes of Lincoln's contemporaries. ... [America's] Greek Revival ... set it apart from the architecture of Europe in a way never before achieved ... [and] must be understood as America's first national style of architecture."

Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Simon and Schuster, Copyright 1992 by Literary Research, Inc., pp. 42-43.


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