Front Page Titles (by Subject) 8.: Athens - Judgments on History and Historians
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8.: Athens - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Throughout the seventh century Athens does not seem to stand out especially from the other Greek communities. But from the sixth century on, these words gradually come to apply to it: “Verum haec tantum alias inter caput extulit urbes, Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.” [But this city towers above others as much as the cypresses do above the swaying viburnums. Virgil, Eclogues, I, 24–25.]
From then on the inhabitants paid attention to the old peculiarities, to the regional myths almost wholly sundered from the Greek ones, to the old characteristic of no intermingling with absolute hospitality toward the persecuted. A unique development came about: in the political sphere, all transitions were accomplished without frightful peripeteia and reactions; Solonian legislation meant the complete victory of speculative thought and of gentle and fair customs; the tyranny of the Pisistradae was the most enlightened; the subsequent refinement of democracy from Clisthenes on was the calmest and most gradual.
All this demonstrates, first of all, consummate political aptitude. At the same time, the Athenians rise far above all other Hellenes onto the throne of education, art, and superior social graces.
The central location helped greatly to bring this about, but a more basic reason is the happy blend of rural and commercial life and the most favorable set of conditions ever encountered on earth. It was as if Nature had for centuries saved up all its resources to expend them at that time.
Through the complete, and also false, unleashing of all its powers, Athens wore itself out politically rather fast. But it had salvaged its cultural position and remained the intellectual capital of the Hellenes when the sites of athletic festivals and the Oracle of Delphi had lost their central significance. It saved itself materially as well and was able to finish its life decently under the Romans.
The great parallel to this is furnished by Florence and the Renaissance. One city desires most and accomplishes what a whole people wants and would like to accomplish, just as specific family traits may predominate most strongly in one son of a house.
It is hard for us to give a fair judgment between Athens and Sparta, since we owe an infinitude to Athens and nothing to Sparta, and because Sparta did not hold on to any venerable primitive piety in the face of rapid Athenian progress, but from the beginning maintained a depraved rule of force over subjugated fellow Hellenes. We do not know, however, whether without such an adversary Athens would not soon have degenerated in other ways, e.g., gone in for conquests of the type of the Sicilian campaign and other adventures.