John Gillies

Statut : academic


Notes : John Gillies was educated at Brechin, and at Glasgow University under Leechman and Moore. While at the University he wrote a “Defense of the Study of Classical Literature”. Soon afterwards he came to London to study literature, but gave up his engagements on going abroad as tutor to Hon. Henry Hope, second earl of Hopetoun. He lived some years in Germany and visited other parts of Europe. In 1777 the earl settled an annuity on him. Gillies was afterwards travelling tutor to the earl’s two younger sons. About 1784 he returned to England and took the degree of LL.D. The “History of Ancient Greece”, appeared in 1786, with new editions in 1790, 1792-1793, 1820 and 1825. In 1793 Gillies was appointed Historiographer Royal of Scotland on the death of William Robertson. Gillies was one of the first historians to study the Hellenistic period, in “The History of the World from the Reign of Alexander to that of Augustus, comprehending the latter ages of European Greece, and the History of the Greek Kingdoms in Asia and Africa”, published in two volumes in 1807. But he was also one of the last historians to adopt the model of parallel history, before this became completely obsolete, in his “View of the Reign of Frederick II with a Parallel between that Prince and Philipp II of Macedon” (1789). Gillies translated the “Orations of Lysias and Isocrates” (1778), “Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics” (1797 / 1804 / 1813) and “Aristotle’s Rhetoric” (1823). He was a corresponding member of the French Institute, a fellow of the Royal Society, and of the Society of Antiquaries. The “History of Ancient Greece” is firmly based in the Scottish tradition of historical writing. Gillies shows a particular interest in literature, philosophy and the arts of Greece as evidence of the gradual progress of Greek civilization. Published ten years after the American Declaration of Independance, the “History” is equally concerned with the colonial question : the « turbulences » of Athenian democracy are translated across the Atlantic and assimilated to the political life of the rebel colonists. From this viewpoint Gillies repeats, while placing them in a new perspective, the earlier criticisms of the Athenian democracy voiced by a number of the members of the Scottish Enlightenment : the instability of the direct democracy of the Greeks is once again judged against the moderation and political stability provided by the constitutional equilibrium of the British crown. The dedication to King George III is significant in this respect: “The history of Greece exposes the dangerous turbulence of democracy, and arraigns the despotism of Tyrants. By describing the incurable evils inherent in every form of the Republican policy, it evinces the inestimable benefits, resulting to Liberty itself, from the lawful dominion of hereditary Kings and the steady operation of well-regulated Monarchy. With singular propriety, therefore, the present Work may be respectfully offered to YOUR MAJESTY, as Sovereign of the freest nation upon earth; and that Sovereign, through whose discerning munificence, the interest of those liberal arts, which distinguished and ennobled Greece beyond all other countries of antiquity, has been more successfully promoted in YOUR MAJESTY’s dominions, than during any former period of the British annals”.

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